What Makes The Paleo Diet So Awesome

The title may come as a surprise to my readers. I’m a plant-based diet enthusiast, after all. I’ve written some critical things about the meat-centric, egocentric diet otherwise known as Paleo.

Da, da, dum!

Da, da, dum!

But here’s the good news: though I am outspoken and critical about things that I don’t like, I have no problem whatsoever mentioning praiseworthy aspects of those same things. Here’s an example: in an earlier article, Crossfit – A Cool Idea, Poorly Implemented, I was slightly more diplomatic and provided a list of Crossfit “PROS” before delving into the “CONS, or at least THINGS TO CONSIDER.” After all, I like Crossfit. I might even say that I love it. I love it as much as any hyper-driven, high-intensity athlete loves anything that throws her life out of balance. *jokes* I tip my hat to Crossfit athletes. I really do.

I never offered The Paleo Diet the same level of diplomacy. So here it is…

“Thank you, Paleo Diet, for drawing widespread attention to the outstanding merits of whole foods in the diet.”

The Paleo Diet has come a long way since its original conception. Fitness and diet enthusiasts, degree holders in nutrition, anthropology, etc., bloggers, trainers, and weekend warriors did their fair share of tinkering with science and the blogosphere to try and prove what probably went without saying all along: there are innumerable diets that work and do not work for all types of people. Here’s what we all concluded:

  • If you’re young, you need more of this.
  • If you’re old, you need less of that.
  • If you’re sick, you should consider this.
  • If you don’t eat meat, make sure to eat that.
  • If you exercise, don’t worry about eating such-and-such.
  • If you are sedentary, try this.
  • If you are overweight, have a hormone imbalance, or are on medications… try…
  • And so on and so on…

But you know what? It’s just about FOOD. Whole, gorgeous, unadulterated food. Minimally processed, responsibly prepared food. Eat food! 

That, fundamentally, is what Paleo has been saying. I’ve picked up carb-o-phobic paleo books to what I might call carb-friendly. The baseline is the same: food.

The result? More people are eating things like nuts, seeds, and berries (good whole fats and antioxidant rich foods). They’re packing down the greens (heart-healthy, anti-cancerous, nutrient-rich bouquets). They’re demanding more than their share of Five A Day in vegetables and fruits. They’re creating more demand  and attention for seaweeds. They are, at the very least, calling attention to cleaner, more human animal-sourced foods (the environmental impact and scalability of these market forces remains to be seen).

Dead simple.

Dead simple.

These Paleo diet people are not only carrying the Whole Food Mania banner, they are, in their laughably zealous way (not to imply that the plant-based/vegan camp is any less laughably zealous in the things they do), calling attention to functional movement–paleolithic movement, I dare say. Once extracted from the tangled Crossfit web of Olympic lifting and gymnastics, the functional fitness aspects of the paleo community can be pretty down to earth (e.g., minimalist running, climbing, etc.) and are totally endorsed by yours truly.

When I first real Cordain’s Paleo Diet book, I loved it. I went immediately to my grocer and bought organic fish, and beef, and liver, and chicken hearts. I loved how sublimely simple it was. I had recently been, after all, a low-budget backpacker, a modern-day forager: I was climbing walls to pick low-hanging grapefruit and pomegranates in Spain, gathering almonds in France, chestnuts and persimmons in Italy, nettles and dandelion greens in Ireland, blackberries in Holland. I was sleeping outside, bathing in waterfalls, getting good old-fashioned mountain air and daily direct sunlight. Life was good. There’s a lot to be said for naturalism. I also had the luxury of working on organic, small-holding farms, eating tomatoes right off the vine and chowing down on broad broccoli leaves. I took eggs straight from the hen house, laid by real free-range hens that ate little wiggly critters in the soil and pooped everywhere. I ate the flesh of freshly shot pheasants, the sausage from the farm’s very own pigs, whom I’d selected and held when they were wee piglets.

I cannot overlook what makes the paleo diet so awesome. My reasons for criticizing paleo as a diet, vs. a lifestyle, are varied. I end this by saying, dear paleo people, eat, be healthy, by happy–whatever that diet looks like.

Restructuring The Paleo Diet: Why Starch Makes Sense

It’s no secret I hate the Paleo diet. And before you get on my case about what paleo actually is, I am going to define is as Dr. Loren Cordain’s original version. The low carb version.

I’ve had a fun time over the past few days. I combed through the latest garbage on the internet, as well as the latest refreshing research and looks at diet and lifestyle. Not all of it, for sure. But a lot.

Time and time again, I read angry comments from paleophiles about how the paleo diet “saved” them! How they are fitter and healthier than ever before.  All I could think was this:

The SAD diet is corn, soy, wheat, potatoes, dairy, eggs, beef, pork, and chicken (read: sugar, fat, starch, starch-fat, fat, cholesterol, fat, fat, and a little less fat) Not much else. ANY diet that displaces one of these majority share-holders with fresh fruits and vegetables will improve someone’s health and probably their waist line.

It doesn’t matter if you’re paleo, raw, vegan, macrobiotic, fruitarian, mediterranean… they all do the same thing: they cut out processed food, and they make the diet more micro-nutrient dense. Does anyone disagree here?

And yes, we KNOW the Paleo Diet is great for weight loss.  It’s effing excellent at burning fat!  Heck, increasing micro-nutrient density alone can encourage weight loss. And because it is a low-carb diet, it is practically fail safe.  Behold the following paleo pyramids I found on Google images:

Meat on the bottom. Very low starch. I see a carrot and a beet here.

Meat on the bottom. High-sugar reserved for special occasions. Pretty much no starch. I see a carrot and a beet here.

Looking better. Fresh plant foods take precedence over meat, but still... where is the starch? Root veggies under-represented.

Looking better. Fresh plant foods take precedence over meat, but still… where is the starch? Root veggies under-represented. Looks like this pyramid is flexible and allows our favorite processed grain treats at the top. Technically, this isn’t paleo.

Loads of meat. Very little starch.

Loads of meat. Few concentrated carbs.

This one is pathetic.

This one is pathetic.

Meat on the bottom. No starch beyond the carrot.

Meat on the bottom. No starch beyond the carrot.

Jesus Christmas...

Jesus Christmas…

When you fill up on meat, there isn’t a lot of space left for carbohydrates, be they starch or sugar. This means low carb. When you are glycogen depleted, you have no other option than to go into ketosis. This is what Paleo wants. This burns fat. No doubt about it. Obesity: check.

But this is in no way the natural way to eat. Check out this lovely Ted Talk by Christina Warinner, just for fun. She isn’t a paleo BASHER. In fact, much of what she says is supportive of the Paleo movement. I found it very middle-ground:

Debunking the Paleo Diet. TED Fellow Christina Warinner is an expert on ancient diets. So how much of the diet fad the”Paleo Diet’ is based on an actual Paleolithic diet? The answer is not really any of it.

(If you’re looking for a REAL Paleo bash, see Dr. John McDougall’s “The Diet Wars”)

Also have a look at Hunter-Gatherer Diets: A Different Perspective, by Katharine Milton, published in the American Journal of Nutrition.  It’s a gem:

The hunter-gatherer data used by Cordain et al (4) came from the Ethnographic Atlas (5), a cross-cultural index compiled largely from 20th century sources and written by ethnographers or others with disparate backgrounds, rarely interested in diet per se or trained in dietary collection techniques.   By the 20th century, most hunter-gatherers had vanished; many of those who remained had been displaced to marginal environments.  Indeed, using data from the same Ethnographic Atlas, Lee (1) found that gathered vegetable foods were the primary source of subsistence for most of the hunter-gatherer societies he examined, whereas an emphasis on hunting occurred only in the highest latitudes… Furthermore, although humans can thrive on a diversity of diets, we know of few specific genetic adaptations to diet in our species…In hominoids, features such as nutrient requirements and digestive physiology appear to be genetically conservative and probably were little affected by the hunter-gatherer phase of human existence. ..There is general agreement that the ancestral line (Hominoidea) giving rise to humans was strongly herbivorous (1415). Modern human nutritional requirements (eg, the need for a dietary source of vitamin C), features of the modern human gut (haustrated colon), and the modern human pattern of digestive kinetics (similar to that of great apes) suggest an ancestral past in which tropical plant foods formed the basis of the daily diet, with perhaps some opportunistic intake of animal matter.

This isn’t to turn you off your Paleo diet if it is working for your weight loss. It’s just to help you cut through the bullshit language of your Paleo DIET BOOKS that tell you ridiculous things like “humans evolved to eat meat.” No such thing occured. These books read like diet books. They are more motivational than accurate.

And here’s a reality check for you, because if you love Paleo, chances are, you’re also in love with the promoted Paleo physique. Look at the pictures that come up when I searched for Paleo promoters and Paleo athletes:

Paleo promoter Anthony Colpo

Paleo promoter? Anthony Colpo (recent hostile comments say he’s not. Hell, I don’t know anymore)

Paleo promoter Mark Sisson

Paleo promoter Mark Sisson

Paleo model, targeting the male ego.

Paleo model, targeting the male ego. (Obviously on steroids).

Paleo Crossfitter, I presume.

Paleo Crossfitters, I presume.

Dr. Loren Cordain, the author of The Paleo Diet (aka-The Paleo Bible). Oops! Well, maybe he doesn't work out?

Dr. Loren Cordain, the author of The Paleo Diet (aka-The Paleo Bible). Oops! Well, maybe he doesn’t work out?

The news: the Paleo Diet didn’t make them this way. NO DIET MAKES YOU LOOK LIKE THIS. Exercise does. And a SPECIFIC TYPE of exercise–largely anaerobic, short-duration exercise.  Perfect for a low carb approach.

Here are real hunter-gatherers:

Lean, scrawny.

Lean, scrawny.

Lean, scrawny.

Lean, scrawny.

Lean, scrawny.

Lean, scrawny.

Lean(ish), scrawny(ish).

Lean(ish), scrawny(ish).

So don’t buy the crap. Know that nice bodies take hard work. Got it? I’m not saying quit your Paleo diet.  I’m just trying to manage your expectations.

So where am I going with this?

Based on what I know about performance, endurance, happiness, sustainable lifestyle choices, cost-efficiency, time-efficiency, paleo approaches, raw food guru gospel, fruitarian extremism, macro-holistic-woo-hoo, ethics, environmental sustainability, and everything else I’ve given a fair chance; and based on all the material I’ve covered in the last ten years… I’ll cut to the chase.

The low-carb Paleo approach is pretty much excellent at only one thing: burning fat off you, quickly!

As for all other relevant considerations (such as cancer prevention, heart disease treatment, diabetes prevention, environmental ethics, sustainability, better allocation of resources, affordability, micro-nutrient density, and more), a whole-food high-carb/low-fat diet works better.

Whoa. Sounds confusing.  It just means eat plants. A lot of them. Unprocessed. And easy on the fat. (No oil, no binges on nut butters, no eating coconut oil by the spoonful.)

Plant based. Plant based!  Plant based! (If you want to be a vegan, great, but understand that veganism is about ethics; plant based is about health. Plant based diets, as opposed to veganism, offer you some wiggle room.)

Listen, including animal foods won’t instantly kill you (they are, however, routinely linked to cancer, diabetesheart disease, early onset puberty, high levels of IGF-1, and more) .  That’s not exactly the problem.  Rather, it is the displacement of whole plant foods that’s the problemthe corruption of our body’s system of checks and balances. I am not of the mindset that animal foods should never or can never be eaten. In the context of today’s society, I think they are convenient for things like… well… B12 (that’s about it). But they are not necessary.

By telling you to substantially reduce the amount of animal derived foods in your diet, I do not mean to suggest you go to some other extreme (nutrition bloggers, vloggers, and junkies like myself has a tendency toward extreme dietary behaviors). I respect raw (vegan) foodies for their diligence and enthusiasm, but I don’t think we need to go that far for optimum health. Cooking food is not all that harmful to the nutrient content of foods, and dietitians are not at all convinced by the enzyme theory. In many cases, cooking increases bio-availability of nutrients. And it certainly saves time on eating. I can chomp through all the vegetables I need for the day in a matter of minutes if they’re cooked.

But whole plant-based diets? Vegans? Raw freaks? They’re unhealthy looking! Well, the “scrawny” stigma, if anything, is more akin to the hunter-gatherer images displayed above; the truth is that we are so accustomed to seeing large and fat people that we forgot what size humans ought to be!

How about the physique? After all, the usual reason anyone ever diets is to look hot, right? Let’s have a look at the plant-based spokespeople and athletes, shall we:

Brendan Brazier, vegan Ironman with raw food emphasis.

Brendan Brazier, vegan Ironman with raw food emphasis.

Mark Martell, vegan bodybuilder.

Mark Martell, vegan bodybuilder.

Robert Cheeke, vegan bodybuilder.

Robert Cheeke, vegan bodybuilder.

Rich roll, vegan ultramarathoner.

Rich Roll, vegan ultra-marathoner.

Tonya Kay, vegan turned raw vegan, actress and dancer.

Tonya Kay, vegan turned raw vegan, actress and dancer. (The number of hot vegan women is overwhelming).

Not so bad, right? Remember! Everyone exercises. But something worth noting is that the high-carb folks gravitate toward endurance activities–clean blood and lots of glycogen; low-carbers gravitate toward short-burst anaerobic activities–little to no glycogen, but plenty of size-promoting protein.

High carb? Or high fat?

You can’t have both! Not without some struggle, at least. This is the underlying problem. High carb, high fat diets tend to make us sick and fat.

If all you want to do is to simply lose weight, you can do it both ways: high-carb/low-fat or high-fat/low-carb. 

But if I had to cast my vote, it would be for the high-carb/low-fat camp.

  • Diabetes from high-carb, low-fat whole plant diet? Good luck. Diabetes doesn’t happen without excess fatty acids in the blood getting repackaged into triglycerides.
  • Heart disease from plant based diet? Practically unheard of (but not impossible).
  • High cholesterol from a plant based diet? Nope. Still possible on Paleo.
  • Environmental pressure from plant based diet? Considerably less than from Paleo.
  • Cancer on plant-based diets? Why have we known… like… forever that consumption of fruits and veggies is just about the best thing you can do to lower your risk for cancer?

I could go on, but I prefer to go over these things in detail, and I can’t do that here.

So what’s up with Paleo? Even though the diet fad is based on pretty crappy evidence, the “natural” philosophy still appeals to people. Is there any way to be high carb Paleo to avoid the collateral damage from animal foods?  Sure.  Eat the fruits, roots and tubers liberally! 

Or get off the Paleo bandwagon all together and eat legumes (technically a fruit), or eat grains (or don’t, if you’re irrationally terrified of leaky gut and celiac disease), or eat pseudograins (amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat–technically seeds, not grains). There are so many useful, optimal-forage foods you’ve eliminated with your Paleo philosophy! Be reminded that prehistoric stone age people ate these things in varying quantities, contrary to what fad diet promoters tell you. No, you don’t have to be a vegan, but my suggestion is to limit your animal food consumption to less than 10% of the calorie load of your diet.


It’s pretty simple in terms of anatomy. We’re not carnivores.  Really, we’re not. But we’re also not herbivores.  We are specialized omnivores, technically, with a strong preference and anatomy for plants. We’ve all heard about grinding teeth, long intestines, slow speed, perspiration through the skin, etc. Let’s not forget that you can’t give a real carnivore heart disease, but you can do this to herbivores. What’s the current number one killer of humans? Anyone?

Gary Taubes.  Ooops!  I mean...

Gary Taubes

Ooops! I  mean…

HEART DISEASE (and stroke)

HEART DISEASE (and stroke)

But we can make it more simple by looking at our cousins: other primates, to whom our digestive systems are most similar. Though we have somewhat smaller guts, we have similar gut microbiota, most closely resembling the bonobos. Our closest cousins, the bonobos, eat a diet of primarily fruit (gasp! a carb!)–as much as 90% in some populations.  But more like 50-75%. Their second food preference is terrestrial herbacious vegetation (like leaves and shoots) to fulfill dietary requirements outside of carbohydrates obtained from the fruit (compare this to gorillas–to whom we are much less similar–who subsist mostly on terrestrial herbacious vegetation). In bonobo populations, the eating of animal species has been witnessed (such behavior is more common to chimpanzees), but amounts to very little: mostly insects; and the consumption of vertebrate species is very uncommon.  You know what else these guys sometimes eat? Insects, dirt, and shit. B12, anyone?

Fruit and herbacious terrestrial vegetation and insects! Yummy!

Fruit, herbacious terrestrial vegetation, and insects! Yummy! All of it low fat.

But back to the point… Which is so much fruit! But just because bonobos are fruitarians (“carbivores”), doesn’t mean you have to be (that much fruit can be cost-prohibitive, but not more so than the meat-centric Paleo diet).

You don’t have to be a frugivore because of this little thing called optimal foraging theory which explains our preference (and later selective breeding) for macronutrient-dense food (starches ). Once we figured out we could eat more starchy (calorie-dense, with little effort) foods, we did. This explains our subsequently higher levels of amylase, an enzyme found in our saliva and pancreatic fluid specifically for digesting starch; we have many times the level of amylase compared to our primate cousins. We selected for amylase… we selected for starch.

What is all this business about starches making us fat? Starch is nothing but long chains of sugar. Paleo fad diet books allow for fruit, and yet they’d lead us to believe that starches are somehow intrinsically more fattening. Starch only makes you fat on a high fat diet (or if you just eat too damn much, period).  And contrary to what blow hard Gary Taubes would have us think, we did not have a low fat revolution in The United States. Our diets were still over 30% fat:

During 1971–2000, a statistically significant increase in average energy intake occurred…The percentage of kcals from total fat decreased from 36.9% to 32.8% (p<0.01) for men and from 36.1% to 32.8% (p<0.01) for women.

Why did we get fat again? Because we eat too damn much!

Okay. Back to “evolution.” Starch breaks down into sugar… and what do our giant hungry (expensive) brains eat? It isn’t meat. It’s glucose–sugar–that thing provided in abundance from starch. Yes, okay, we can make glucose from protein… theoretically we could have hunted down all those unpredictable, quick, fast-to-rot-when-killed animals and survived that way… But starch just sits there. It doesn’t run away. And it grows back.  Crazy.  Ever heard of Occam’s razor?

Our primate cousins never migrated into colder latitudes because fruit wasn’t available all year round. But starch is, and if it isn’t, it stores very well.  We knew about starch, we ate starch as long as 105,000 years ago. Starch is the reason we have civilization. Starches are good, clean calories: suitable for brain function, suitable for endurance, suitable for storage, suitable for human metabolism. There are 1.7 billion Asians on a low-fat high starch diet–and they’re skinny for crying out loud!

“But my body is more pre-disposed to fat metabolism!” the Paleohack, or raw food whack job, David “Avocado” Wolfe (who got fat on all that plant fat) claims.

Says who? That desk you sit at all day long? You can change your metabolism’s direction and preference with diet modification and movement. Frankly, the body favors carb consumption; the shift from fat to carb metabolism is significantly quicker than the shift from carb to fat metabolism. You need only look at human athletic performance to understand that carbs are friendly and efficient; protein catabolism and ketosis isn’t going to take you far, physically or mentally.

So, again, why are you low-carb Paleo?

  • Simple, easy-to-follow weight loss?
  • Disease management?
  • Part of the “nature” movement?
  • You’re an arrogant jerk?

You can address any one of these concerns with a low fat plant-based diet (except for maybe the jerkiness factor). More cleanly. More cheaply. More ethically. More “naturally.”

Bottom line is that you can be a responsible and successful Paleo-follower if you simply RE-STRUCTURE your pyramid.

plant pyramid

Go plant-strong!

The Genetics Of Body Weight: Genetics Loads The Gun, Environment Pulls The Trigger

“Don’t people know that body size is genetic for some people! It’s not my fault. I diet and exercise. I think I have a healthier lifestyle than my friends. I don’t eat as much as they do, but I fail to lose an ounce.”

I’m tired of hearing this mantra. All I hear is excuses.

We’ve been told not to shame fat people for being lazy, sloppy, and other prejudicial terms. That weight bias is a real thing, a painful thing, and that shaming fat people does not lead them to lose weight. In fact, a fat person who has been shamed is more likely to remain fat. This has been clearly demonstrated.

Does that mean we should accept fat? Should we sit back and agree that it isn’t the fat person’s fault? That they are a victim of their genetics?

No. A thousand times no.

I listened to a discussion between Kelly Brownell, Phd., Director of the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity and Dr. Rudolph Leibel, professor of diabetes research, professor of pediatrics and medicine at Columbia University, who studies genetics of body weight regulation, adiposity, and cellular metabolism. In other words, he is an expert on genetic bases of obesity.

What did I learn/confirm?

The genetics of obesity, like the genetics of heart disease, is a complex genetic issue–meaning there is more than one gene implicated. Compare this to something like sickle cell anemia, which is a single gene.  Complex genetic issues are more determined by the environment–hence, they require different techniques for analysis. The best way to study a complex genetic issue is through twin studies. Scientists look at how frequently the disease is correlated between twin pairs–both identical and fraternal twin types. When they compare how commonly obesity occurs in monozygous (identical) twins, it appears that 60% of the risk of obesity is heritable. Risk.

How can we interpret this? Does that mean that 60% of obese people are obese because of a genetic reason? No.

To state it another way, within a given environment–a given circumstance with regard to access to calories and physical activity–if you compare a person with genetic predisposition to obesity to a person without it,  the risk of the former becoming obese vs. the latter is 40%.  But the environment must be adequately permissive for the expression of obesity. If the environment is not permissive enough, than neither of them will become obese. If the environment is permissive enough, the there is a 40% likelihood that the high-risk (high genetic predisposition) person will become obese.

 The environment is the responsible agent for the expression of obesity.

People tend to overstate the degree of genetic responsibility as some insoluble or insurmountable problem. But it is clear that if you change the environment, you can change the degree of obesity.

Scientists have identified 40 to 50 genes that are clearly implicated in weight regulation, but they do not yet understand the ways in which these genes interact with each other or with the environment to ultimately determine the risk of obesity clearly demonstrated by monozygous twin studies (that 60% figure mentioned earlier). They cannot look at any kind of genetic map and make an accurate prediction about who will become obese.

The absolute best predictor for obesity is to simply look at the family.  If there are obese parents, or obese cousins, etc., the risk of obesity is far more clearly indicated than by genetic analysis.

Further research in genetics, it is hoped, will unveil which environmental factors have more of an impact on individuals. For example, scientists hope to gain insight on which individuals would respond better to dietary intervention, and others to exercise.

There are a lot of traits being passed genetically–such as hunger and satiety signals, energy expenditure issues, slower and faster metabolisms between individuals, etc.  We know that in order for an individual to become obese, they must eat more than they spend, or spend less than they eat in terms of energy. Indeed, several genes that affect all aspects of these considerations–genes that affect satiety, energy expenditure, willingness to engage in physical activity, and more–have been identified. Perhaps scientists will identify more. But they still do not have enough understanding of these genes and how they interplay to make concrete determinations about individuals.

What we can say is that the difference in energy intake between a person who will become obese and a person who will not become obese is actually very small–lending support to frequent claims that obese people don’t really eat more than their peers. But these differences are expressed over long periods of time. Given the length of time, it becomes more difficult to accurately determine which aspect of lifestyle is really driving the obesity. It is impossible to accurately measure total caloric intake and total caloric expenditure, especially in regard to differing metabolic rates. We can make good approximations, but errors in nominal values, over time, can lead to an inaccurate result.

Given the margin for error, it seems much wiser for an individual to focus his attention more on energy intake, as opposed energy expenditure. It takes many hours of effort to burn energy; it takes only minutes to consume it.  Hence, the energy intake side of the equation is more relevant, but whether its an issue of hunger or satiety that drives the excessive energy intake, we cannot know at this point. We lack the measurement tools.

So what are we going to conclude from all of this?

We conclude that a fat person with a genetic predisposition towards obesity must change their environment to change the degree of obesity expression. For people with a greater number of those 40-50 genes working against them, the challenge will be greater; a larger environmental change will be required. Some people are dealt an easy hand; some people have to work harder. This is life. It isn’t fair.

Genes can’t change. But the environment can change.

Generally speaking, each of us can control what goes into our mouths, and how much we move. It’s still a game of energy balance.

I need only to look at my own family to know that I have genetics stacked against me. It takes me more effort than my peers to maintain a desirable body shape–a lot more. Over time, I have learned that certain things are guaranteed to fatten me, like alcohol. I choose not to consume alcohol at times, and this has a profound impact on my social life. For most, abstaining from alcohol isn’t worth it. But you cannot have your cake and eat it too.

I have 75% overlap in genetics with this woman, but we have radically different environments.

 My sister and I share many genes. But we have radically different environments.

I can’t change my genes, but I can change my environment. So don’t tell me it isn’t fair. I know this. Don’t adopt the same environment as people with more favorable genes. Create a non-permissive environment for yourself. This is what lifestyle change implies.

Fat Acceptance and Queer Acceptance Have Nothing To Do With Each Other

This morning, my girlfriend threw a fit.  I looked up from my keyboard and noted that she was harnessing her Super Power Gay Rage.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“This is bullshit.” She was referring to a couple of articles, Sized up: why fat is a queer and feminist issue, and Fat Liberation is Totally Queer.  “I get really irritated when the fat acceptance movement nudges itself into queer issues.  I understand that a lot of gay women do struggle with fat phobia, but I don’t think it’s my responsibility as a gay woman to get behind fat acceptance due to the sheer prevalence of fat lesbians.  Fatness and gayness are mutually exclusive.  They have nothing to do with each other.”

Several months ago, I’d written a piece on Jennifer Livingston, Fat Acceptance, Kelly Brownell (one of the leading spokespeople for Fat Acceptance) and bullying.

I began to open the articles to which she was referring as she continued her rant:

“I understand how many queer women are overweight, and they shouldn’t suffer discrimination because they are overweight.  They are shamed because it is their fault that they are fat, and they are being pressured to be a different way.  But unlike my degree of fatness, I truly cannot change my gayness.

“I actually have control over whether I am fat.  One day I finally woke up and faced reality.  I lost nearly 70 pounds and I’m barely 5’8”.  I’m not saying its easy; but what you put into your body and what you do to you body is in your control.  Your sexual orientation is not.

“Instead of putting their focus and energy into changing their problem, they put their energy into making it easier to live in a world with their problem.  They try to label fat as not a problem!”

Oh, but it is.  I already wrote about it, flippantly.

Unacceptable!  Here is a neat little write-up of the economic costs of obesity.Obesity accounts for 21 percent of health care costs.  Obesity, as far as the military is concerned is a national security threat.  Obesity contributes significantly to rising health care costs, how insurance policies are structured, time loss at work, sick days, ridiculous infrastructure modifications like larger seats in airplanes and restaurants, emergency medical responses, fertility complications, and more.

And we should just sit back and accept it because now everyone these days is fat?

Unlike being a minority, being young, old, gay, or handicapped, being fat is controllable.

I found myself annoyed by the author of the articles, Anna Mollow.  She appears to have read a few books and referenced a few articles.  Sometimes I found myself in agreement with what she says, but then I’d get thrown off the horse .  For example,

Risks associated with being “morbidly obese” are no greater than that of being male, and “overweight” people live longer than people of “normal” weight.

She is correct.  Level of fatness is a risk factor for other diseases.  If you’re fat, for example, is it statistically more likely that you have nutrition-related illnesses, like heart disease or diabetes.  But then she says that overweight people live longer than normal weight people.  I ask her to point to one obese centenarian, or to explain why restricted calorie diets promote longevity.

“Obesity is not a problem, and it certainly should not be labeled as a disease,” goes the rhetoric.

“We need to explicitly and unequivocally reject the notion that body size is a ‘lifestyle choice’ that can or should be changed,” writes Ms. Mollow.

Hold on a second!  How dare you mislead your readers into thinking that body size is interchangeable with body fatness?

Recently, the American Medical Association decided to label obesity as a disease.  Donald Bucklin writes,

My initial thought was — what took so long? This decision seems a little curious because we are 10-plus years into the well-established epidemic.

A well-established epidemic.  Look around, people!  Most of you can’t even see the fatness because we are all fat!  Leave the country.  Travel somewhere else.  Remark at the people who are tiny compared to your own countrymen, who eat smaller portions, walk more, and frequently seek out fresher food.  Go to Europe and see the continuum of fatness over northern latitudes, where the habits, wealth, and food variety of the peoples are more like that of the United States.  After some time acclimating there, you will be shocked when you see a morbidly obese person, just as Europeans are shocked when they step off an airplane at an American airport and see a sea of massive people.

Your perspective has changed.  Do you remember the stages of acceptance?  Denial is first.

We are fat.  Get over it.  It is a problem.  And obesity, perhaps, should be considered a disease.  After all, obesity is a degree of fatness, as heart disease is a degree of artery plaque.  The line must be drawn somewhere, and there will be a few casualties of the label–people like myself who have a BMI of 26 (overweight), but the body fat percentage of a healthy athlete, with perfect cholesterol, a low and steady heart rate, a resilient liver, and more.  I am a statistic, and I’m not pissed about it–because I’m not fat.  Or, more appropriately, because I know that lines must be drawn somewhere.

You think fat doesn’t mean you’re unhealthy because you find a few books and articles to support your position? Because you have combed the “literature” of the last ten years which sold to a market of fat people?  Go ahead, read Gary Taubes.  You’ll feel great.

Have you considered fatness as not only correlated with longevity, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and everything else, but as also a hazard?

“You have a social responsibility NOT to be fat.  If there’s a fire in my office building and the elevators aren’t working, your fat body is probably what’s getting between me and the fire escape.” –Anonymous

Ever think about your posture?  What your fat does to your spine? Your lack of control and balance over your own body, as well as your eating, drinking, and movement habits?  Do you spend 5+ hours a day moving?  Probably not.  Do you drink your calories?  I bet you do.  Do you starve yourself on a crash diet and wreck your metabolism and blame the set point theory later?  Did you damage your hypothalamus?  Hmmm… (Let the record state that I am 100% sensitive to weight issues when they are the result of medical problems.  Steroids, psych drugs, and many other things have a profound impact on a person’s ability to regulate his or her weight.  But this is not the epidemic we’re talking about.)

I get how fat is a feminist issue; I’ve read some Susie Orbach.  But do us all a favor and don’t taint the queer acceptance movement with the fat acceptance movement.

“I don’t think it’s okay to discriminate against someone or hate people or shame people.  But don’t pretend this isn’t a problem and go and say you are just a part of ‘diversity,'” your girlfriend adds.

“The war against fat, like efforts to “cure,” “convert,” or “repair” queer sexualities, will fail,” Ms. Mollow write.

God, I hope not.

The Food Reward Hypothesis: A Rule Of Thumb For All Successful Diets

Readers, I’m not an expert on anything (except for maybe shoestring travel in Europe).  But every now and then, I hit the nail on the head without thinking.

Literally, after just posting this comment on another fitness blogger’s post on Food Logging

Food diaries are the absolute best tool for facilitating weight loss. Statistical fact.
When I first woke up from my junk-food induced coma and realized I was (again) way too fat, I bought a book on diet and weight loss, written by a business man.

Key point was to treat calories like money. Create a daily deficit, and you will lose weight and go broke.

Easy. I lost 40 pounds in three months.

But I am totally OVER food logging. As long as I don’t eat over-stimulating food, my body, which has thankfully repaired its hunger/satiety gauges through clean whole foods eating, tells me when to quit.

I eat a lot. 3,000-4,000 calories a day, on average, and no—I’m not working out.  Just living. I try to eat as much variety as possible, and tracking ALL THAT FOOD is a pain.

–I began to read an article I’d left open yesterday in my browser, on the food reward hypothesis.

From the article,

The food reward hypothesis of obesity states that the reward and palatability value of food influence body fatness, and excess reward/palatability can promote body fat accumulation.

In other words, when food is yummy, we eat more of it.  Too much eating eventually leads to overweight/fat accumulation, and/or possibly brain damage (i.e. damage in the hypothalamus, where appetite is regulated) and obesity.

Now, this might sound like a no-brainer, right?

Wrong, if you’re a low-carber.  If you’re like Gary Taubes (the “journalist” to which the fabulous article was written as a response piece), or a no-cash-crop-Paleo promoter, you probably want us to think that it is the type of calorie, not how tasty it is.  In other words, carbs, by virtue of their caloric type, cause fatness, and fats and proteins do not.

The author of the paper, Stephan Guyenet, explains the backwardation of this “no brainer” as follows,

I thought it would be more productive to discuss one of the core elements of [Taubes’] position, which has arguably been one of his greatest influences on the public.  This is the “paradigm shift” he promotes, away from thinking about obesity as a problem of energy imbalance (energy in vs. out), and toward thinking about it as a “disorder of excess fat accumulation” where energy imbalance is the result rather than the cause of fat tissue expansion (36)…He uses this argument to brush aside much of the last 60 years of obesity research, and the opinions of many seasoned researchers, arguing that they are largely irrelevant because they operate under the wrong paradigm (logical framework).

And the pages of Good Calories, Bad Calories came screaming back to me!  As well as the feelings I’d had after reading it, which led me to compose my longest article to date, which is little more than my amateur attempt to piece together the words of other experts and my own knowledge–a blunder, out of focus, but there, nonetheless, and I hope not far off the mark.

All I have to say is Taubes is reaching with his new paradigm.

Back to my little blog comment, though: “As long as I don’t eat over-stimulating food.”  Over-stimulating, aka, highly palatable food.

It did not take my subsequent years of voracious consumption (pun intended) of nutritional information to learn this.  It just seemed sensible.  I knew that if I bit into a cookie, I’d Tasmanian Devil the whole box.  Most women know this.

Me, especially after a workout.

I knew that if I wanted a slice a bread, I certainly wasn’t going to eat it as-is.  It would have been a vessel for delivering fat and/or sugar into my mouth!

Fat! Sugar! Married in a sandwich! NOM NOM.

I knew that some foods (like corn chips) are “like crack,” and other foods (like carrots) have a very rapid diminishing return on pleasure–and yet, both are high carb foods.

So if you don’t blow your brains out with fat, salt, and sugar, or any combination thereof, you’ll probably be on your way to weight loss until you’ve “kicked the habit.”

Yeah… the habit.  We can be addicted to food.  We can also be overly-habituated to certain food presentations (i.e., “I can’t eat Thanksgiving turkey without cranberry sauce!”).

I hate to strip food of its beauty–of its aroma, flavor, and interplay with our olfactory and visual senses.  I hate to strip away its relationship to culture: food as a gift, food as a gesture, food as religion, food as identity–but if we take a moment and identify food solely as fuel, and treat it as such, we begin to lose our psychological dependence on it, and allow it to guide our health in more appropriate directions.

Guyenet states is beautifully in this other article,

Diet trials have shown that a ‘simple’ diet, low in palatability and reward value, reduces hunger and causes fat loss in obese humans and animals, apparently by lowering the ‘defended’ level of fat mass (30313233). This may be a reason why virtually any diet in which food choices are restricted (e.g., Paleo, vegan, fruitarian), including diametrically opposed approaches like low-fat and low-carbohydrate diets, can reduce food intake and body fatness in clinical trials.

I said it on my Nutrition Page, “Whether you follow a meat-centered, vegetarian, vegan, macrobiotic, or raw food diet, there is one common denominator for success: that the foods are of high quality and unadulterated.

So here’s the rule of thumb, if you’re trying to eat less.  Eat whole foods, or process them in your own kitchen.


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