Evil People in a Room

51qaynQa-hLI often admit to people that I’m attracted to fringe ideas.  This statement usually makes people pause, and ever-so-slightly withdraw to get a better look at me.  I then try to cast myself in a better light by saying that it’s really just the concept of extreme beliefs that interests me, and how and why people adopt them.  But people aren’t fooled.  Only cranks obsess about extreme ideas, even in the abstract.  Normal people have better things to do than to study arcane conspiracy theories, for any reason.

Ok, it’s not all that bad.  I can usually get the person interested, and on my side, by providing the example of how <<insert other political side here>> can possible believe their crazy views, contrary to all available facts and reason, as evidenced by that crazy news outlet of theirs.  We’re soon in agreement, and we work out the details of the other side’s craziness.  Tribalism works.

Of course, it’s more difficult to turn the mirror around, and get them to see how the other side may think we’re crazy, and how they justify their accusations.  All of a sudden, symmetry in the universe doesn’t apply here.

As you can guess, I’m blogging about this as I try to understand the otherwise confounding, often bizarre world of low-carb beliefs.  Their gurus make incredible claims that all of nutritional science is wrong, that governments and scientists are lying to everyone, causing world-wide diabesity through their nutritional guidelines, for Big Pharma profits, while spreading some nefarious vegan agenda.  (There are dubious hard-line vegan claims too, like meat gives you cancer, and the same governments and health organisations conspire to ignore it, etc.)

So what’s new about my understanding of these extreme points of view?  Them.  I recently discovered Jon Ronson’s Them: Adventures with Extremists, which pretty much was written for me.  Ronson deeply embeds himself with various extremists from widely different camps, to study the common denominator that makes them tick.  Ronson is sometimes described as a humorist, is himself Jewish, but takes the open-minded view of his subjects more as eccentrics than dangerous extremists.  What do the London Jihadist, American Militiamen, Alex Jones, the ADL, and the KKK all have in common?  In Ronson’s simplified thesis, they’re all convinced there’s a secret room where evil, all-powerful people conspire against them.

I’ve spent countless hours developing my own theories on what makes conspiracy theorists tick, which always includes deep analysis of distrust of government, wanting to believe it, alignment with political beliefs, etc.  But trust me, the simplified, quasi-literal belief of “evil people in a room conspiring against you” is the most minimal, elegant explantaion possible.  Note how it includes the very powerful tactics of personifying and demonizing the enemy.

Basically, it takes that visceral touch of envisioning actual people working against you, to push you over the conspiracy edge.  In fact, this is the literal definition of a conspiracy.  It’s a very believable, visual paranoia.  Why else would my pet ideas or worldview be suppressed?  How else could be intuition about diet be wrong?  And as Ronson humorously points out in his book, there really are kind of rooms where powerful people work against you.  (After introducing us to his anti-NWO eccentrics, he visits the ADL, who instantly and unconditionally labels them as dangerous anti-semites [who meet in secret rooms].  Then he visits a millionaire Hollywood director in the midst of no-cost-spared meetings to bring his anti-racist masterpiece, American History X, to the screen.)

And of course, you can find a similarly-minded community that will confirm all your fears and beliefs about the conspiracy, and how to fight them.  It all makes sense, especially when considering all the disparaging comments posted by low-carb’ers about “the anointed” like Ancel Keys, the Harvard School of Public Health, or dietitians, and how they’re committed to their lies, to save face, or because they’re working for Big Pharma.  And sure, the National Food Policy Conference disinvited Big Fat Surprise author Nina Teicholz so they could draft the USDGAs without her pro- saturated fat input.  In their room.  Made secret from the LCHF crowd.  And on and on.

So you run with your ideas, and highlight the science that supports your biases.  Everything else is wrong, especially when it’s argued by one of your evil opponents.  You can’t trust anything they say or do.  They’re lying, because they’ll never admit to their mistakes, because of big Wheat, or big Grain, or big Sugar.  Carbs make you fat.  It’s insulin, not total calories, that causes weight gain.

The alternative explanations are much less likely than the conspiracy against your Galileo-like revelations.  Epidemiology isn’t a real science, with no real place or purpose.  Except for pushing the murky agendas of governments and public health organizations.  No coincidence is too small to confirm your suspicions.  And your ideas only sound crazy to outsiders, because they don’t know what you know.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not complaining about anyone’s views and beliefs on nutrition.  How we eat is a very important, personal thing.  And outside of academia, it doesn’t even bother me how people want to interpret nutritional science, unless they’re just opportunists  (which is virtually impossible, except for the true psychopaths) .  I appreciate true passionate causes.  And anyways, low-carb’ers don’t hold secret meetings.

My Neo-Victorian Trolling Diet

Four years of health and food blogging and more recent arguing on Twitter has culminated in the current form of my diet, leaving veganism far behind, but firmly centered around 5 lbs of white flour a week.

Of course, this diet reflects everything I know about nutrition, and is perfect for me (now).  Which means it’s just what I currently want to cook and eat, out of the many possible healthy diets, and will likely evolve.  But I’ve been baking several loaves of natural yeast bread per week over the last year, and I just find bread more interesting than potatoes or rice at every meal.  Good bread requires craftsmanship, and you learn how to control the many variables, almost instinctively, to consistently produce the best bread most people will every try.

And I’ve returned to butter, eggs, cream, and meat, not because I’m no longer afraid of them (I never was), but because they’re traditionally prized items.  You can’t really appreciate the human culinary tradition without marveling at their richness and taste.  It’s a very visceral thing, that connects us with our past, and sets off all our reward centers, confirming that, yes, this is exactly what we want.

So, sure, a few years ago, I was satisfied with the taste of fresh veggies and starch, and was fascinated with their nutritional completeness and satiety.  But eventually, we want to try and taste new things (especially since I never had any ethical reservations about eating meat), and it’s always fun to experiment with your diet.  And there’s so much out there to learn and enjoy.

By default, I’m a little bit of a contrarian, even if I have to find a fringe group to be counter-counter-contrarian to.  So my diet will center around 5 lbs of white flour a week (ok, maybe 2/3 of that will be white, the other 1/3 will be spelt and rye) to make a daily fresh loaf of bread.  Yes, I love baking and eating bread, but more importantly, it’s basically the most universally feared food of the 21st century.  These days, bread is synonymous with “weight gain”, or even “poison” in some circles.

Oh, and of course, I’ll also use about 1/2 lb of white granulated sugar each week for my Kool-Aid.  Sugar alternates with bread at the top of everyone’s food paranoia list.

The inclusion of a whole chicken per week, with a dozen eggs, a 1/2 stick of butter, and occasional cream further confounds everybody, since no matter on which side of the carbohydrate fence you might sit, almost no one believes you can mix high carb with fat and cholesterol, and expect a healthy ending.

But don’t worry, the glue that holds this diet all together is some fruit, a bunch of fresh vegetables, and a lot of weekly exercise.  While it may sound scary, this grocery list doesn’t even add up to 20,000 kcal per week without adding another 10 lbs of potatoes, onions, and carrots, etc.  And we’ve all forgotten that this is basically how people used to eat.  In fact, I’d say my new diet is pretty close to what they ate during the mid-Victorian era, which is supposed to be the healthiest period of recorded human history.  There’s really not a lot of guesswork here.

So I’m going to this neo-Victorian diet partially to troll the ridiculous online health community, but also because I just love anachronisms.  I use a bike to buy groceries.  I have a manual pasta making machine, and  I like making a well of flour on the countertop and cracking an egg into it.  I like making chicken soup out of a whole chicken in my ceramic coated Le Creuset cast-iron dutch oven.  I like buying sacks of flour and sugar at the store.  And I buy very little prepared food.  People just don’t live like this anymore.  They haven’t in a long time.  (But more recently than the Paleolithic era.)

So what are the safeguards in this diet?  How can this work ad libitum?  Well, you try baking all your own bread.  It pretty much takes 9 to 24 hours to make a 1400 kcal loaf.  Plus, the 1/3 whole grain keeps me from eating it all in one sitting.  Also, a whole pot of my soup has about 800 calories, and it’s hard to finish it all in one night.  It’s also hard to drink 2L of Kool-Aid for the measly 250 kcal you’ll get from it.  And who wants to break the rules?  Do you see Civil War re-enactors drinking Coca-Cola?

Minimum Weekly Provisions
Item Calories
5 lbs of flour (2/3 white, 1/3 rye) 9,000
Dozen Eggs 1,000
Whole Roasting Chicken* 4,000
10 lbs of Potatoes 3,500
1/2 Stick Butter 500
1/2 lb Sugar* 900
Minimum Total 18,900 kcal/week
= 2,700 kcal/day
+ more fuel/ingredients as required
*Not sure who could have afforded this.

Everyone is the Aggrieved Party

If you don’t already live by this huge life lesson, then let me please remind you:

In any genuine heated argument, no matter how asymmetrical the sides may appear, both parties always perceive themselves as the victim.

This is often apparent to a dispassionate third party, but remember it’s also true when you find yourself in the middle of a huge argument.  By “genuine”, I mean a bona fide argument, and not where some sociopath is pushing the other guy’s buttons for fun.  Generally, when an argument is “heated” on both sides, it’s a bona fide one.  And even in an asymmetrical argument, the aggressor feels he’s acting in self-defence, or has been wronged (maybe not listened to?).  Or, however lopsidedly right/wrong you see a party, I guarantee you, they’ll insist they’re the actual victim in the whole matter.

Of course, since I’m writing about this from my blog, it means I’ve gleaned this gem from endless soul-searching over the low carb vs. low fat diet wars.  It really took me a long time to come up with this, but it’s based on countless hours following various Twitter wars.  And it explains everything.  At first, I couldn’t believe how the #LCHF fans could possibly believe that the obesity crisis is the result of Ancel Keys & the Seven Country Study, the diet-heart hypothesis, the USDA Food Pyramid, etc.  Did they not believe any of the metabolic ward studies showing no metabolic advantage for their ketogenic diet, or what?

As usual, a deep, unbridgeable gap occurs when two people unknowingly argue about different things.  Both parties may think they’re debating about a narrow issue like “in terms of fat loss, is there any difference between a calorie of fat or a calorie of carbohydrate?”  But communication always breaks down, because both sides remain convinced they’re right, and interpret all studies as backing their position.  And of course, they accuse the other side of willful misrepresentation, being ignorant, dishonest, or otherwise victimizing them.  One side thinks they’re arguing about the First Law of Thermodynamics.  The other side thinks they have a better understanding of causality, the government is lying to them again, or sugar is killing everyone.

That’s the problem in arguing someone obsessed with a fixed idea.  This can happen for any reason.  People often have a fixed theme for viewing the world.  It’s their filter, and is pretty much described by the famous Far Side cartoon (replace “Ginger” with, say, “carbs”, or if you prefer, “calories”)

gary-larson-far-side-cartoon-what-we-say-to-dogs-blah-blah-ginger

Yeah, I know I could be totally wrong, and Prof. Tim Noakes could go down in history as the next Galileo, falsely charged with heresy and all, and we’ll look back at the #LCHF movement in shame for ridiculing the likes of Jimmy Moore and Gary Taubes.

But I recognize that they (mostly) truly believe in their cause.  I try to take their point of view, and understand why they feel victimized, or at least sympathize with their cause.  That goes a long way to bridging the otherwise insurmountable gap.  It’ll basically end the argument.  Why argue about anything?  No one is going to change their mind.  Better to just understand where the other side is coming from.  Believe me, they’ll feel a lot better when you just listen to them.

Confessions of a Zealot

Ok, I’m going to make some shameful confessions here.  I’m going to fess up to some recent indulgences in conspiratorial thought-crime.  You’re the third person I’ve told about this.  The first person that knew was my conservative friend.  Then I discussed it with a liberal friend a few days later.  Now, I’m going public, and confessing to it all, so that we might learn how conspiracy-mongering can lead us down paths we just kind of want to be true.

First, in my defense, let me first tell you that I’m drawn to all conspiracy theories.  It’s my kind of fun, because it’s controversial, and it’s like solving a mystery, figuring out who’s right and who’s wrong, wasting your advanced degrees to interpret crackpot evidence, and so on.  And I usually find conspiracy arguments irresistible, because they’re so juicy and titillating.  It’s an offer to get in on the ground floor of being right while everyone else is wrong.

And even when they all turn out to be “fake”, it was still worth the effort, especially when they’re well-constructed and intelligent conspiracies.  (Good ones are long-lived, and have a continuous body of research growing around them.)

Let me just tell you right now that I fell for the “Hillary Clinton has late-stage Parkinson Disease” conspiracy theory, at least for a day.  Of course, that day was Sept 11, 2016, when she suffered what looked like a seizure while Secret Service agents hurriedly tried to push her limp body (yet rigid neck) into her campaign van and cart her off the scene.

I’d been primed to believe in some Hillary brain damage, because I’d seen these conspiracy theory videos the month before.  The old ones weren’t convincing at all, but at least I knew there were some “researchers” trying to prove she was hiding something serious from all of us.  Then the Zdenek Gazda cellphone video of her Sept 11 collapse went viral on mainstream news and became the 21st century Zapruder film for a day.

Suddenly, I’m thinking, OMG … Hillary has Parkinson Disease or something.  Then the juicy titillation, “OMG, her campaign is over!”  (I’m not the only one who watches 24 hour news channels kind of hoping for apocalyptic events.)  Ok, I’m not a Hillary supporter, and I’m probably just like the 70% of people polled that don’t like/trust her.  But I think Trump is an idiot, and I don’t plan on voting for anyone in November.

Then I call up my conservative friend, who hates Hillary, and thinks Obama is “the worst president in US history, by far”.  We start feeding each other’s suspicions of the Left, and the Media (the same), and say-anything-do-anything-for-power Hillary Clinton, and before you know it, we arrive at the conclusion that she has some advanced, terminal neurological disease, but she just wants to get into power anyways.  (My friend led the way, since he’d seen a lot of this on Alex Jones’ InfoWars show.)  Of course, we had to dismiss her 90-minute turn-around appearance in front of Chelsea’s NY apartment, but that’s how brain diseases are (certainly it’s more consistent with the symptoms than the purported pneumonia).

So that how it goes.  If you’re suspicious of power/authority, for whatever reasons, and you think you have good reason to know they’re lying on some specific issue, you start filling in the picture with what you really think is going on (i.e., you see conspiracy).  It’s pretty natural.  And it’s probably even more pronounced with issues we care about emotionally, or viscerally.  Our brains are wired to perceive things along left/right political alignments, and we’ll make the facts fit our biases.

I calmed down after that phone call, because it all didn’t really line up with my current obsessions.  But I watched some Alex Jones videos the next day (Sept 12), and enjoyed the entertainment, and seeing him beside himself over the possibility that the Hillary brain disease conspiracy might actually be true!  It was like watching a kid at Christmas, and he give an on-fire performance.  All the over-the-top lines were delivered with a little more gusto than usual, because there was actually a chance he might be right (and more importantly, everyone else was wrong) this time.

When you notice the Alex Jones style, he starts by stating a few facts, then weaves them together in a semi-plausible way, then extrapolates them to new over-the-top cartoonish heights.  And it’s not that he expects to be taken literally, but again, he and his audience want to believe in their characterizations of the other side.  It makes them feel good.  It all doesn’t have to be true, but only some of it has to be true, in a way that proves the other side wrong.

So when Hillary held a press conference a few days later, and resumed her very active campaign, I figured she was as fit as a 69 year old would be under the stress of her office and obligations.  Of course she’s very mentally sharp, and it’s very unlikely that she and her doctors could or would hide a serious condition like PD or brain cancer from the world.  Yet the true believers will still make videos, and continually adjust the story to fit the facts as they see them.  Who knows, they might be right.  After all, Ronald Regan probably did exhibit some Alzheimer’s symptoms in office.

Anyways, I’ll admit to getting carried away with a narrative I want to believe in.  But I’ll also take credit for eventually examining the claims in detail, and separating my biases from the more objective truth.  My point is there’s always two sides to the story, and even though one side might be driven by more by emotion, it’s important to understand their point of view.

(If I have to spell it out, this is why some of the diet gurus you love-to-hate say the things they do.  At heart, they believe most of what they say to have some basis in fact, no matter what the “experts” say.   But it’s really just an extension of their dietary preferences and biases, cherished beliefs, fear and anxiety about gaining weight, and political beliefs.  They’re not trying to con you.  They’re telling you it *has* to be true.)

Blood Glucose Response Update

screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-12-31-55-pmConstant fear-mongering by low-carb cranks about blood glucose and insulin spikes causing/indicating diabetes got me a little worried lately.  Well, not really, but, I wanted to see how I measured up to the Kraft OGTT patterns that LCHF advocate Dr. Jeffry Gerber presents in his talks.  I saw the FreeStyle Precision Neo blood glucose meter for about $20, and 50 testing strips for another $20 at the store yesterday.  So I figured I’d spend $40 to see if 3 years of losing weight on a high-carb, low-fat diet is killing me or not.

Instead of 100g of glucose for breakfast, I ran the test with a more appetizing 140g of homemade sourdough Rye bread with 5g of butter.  This totals about 450 kcal, similar to 100g of glucose, but admittedly with a much lower glycemic index of 41 or so (like it matters).  Anyway, the current fear-mongering is that grains, especially bread, will kill you, so I figured I wasn’t cheating too much.

Surprisingly, my transient response was much better than I thought it’d be.  Based on all the Jimmy Moore podcasts I listen to regularly, I thought it’d spike to around 300 mg/dL, and maybe never come down 🙂  Instead, my fasting blood glucose (FBG) was only 83 mg/dL (lower than I remember a few years ago), and the post-prandial response was basically over in an hour.  Then I slowly returned to my FBG in the low 80’s.

This was pretty encouraging that my high-carb, low-fat (HCLF) diet isn’t killing me.  I eat ad libitum, and although I eat lots of refined flours, I make sure to exercise and eat a lot of greens and vegetables too.  I also drink a lot of sugar in the form of fruit smoothies (and Cokes on long bike rides), but I probably burn a lot of calories riding 200 km/wk.  So far, it’s been easy to maintain my >25kg weight loss, which I attribute to veggies and exercise.

#NoHandsWednesday Ride

OG reunion last night on the Dos Llantas #NoHandsWednesday ride, plus a little mix-in from #MondayNightSmackdown.  I’m more than 2x older than all these kids, except for Mark on my right.

Gary Taubes Proves a Calorie is a Calorie

Well, the first long-awaited results of the NuSI metabolic ward studies comparing high-carb vs. ketogenic diets were publicly released today.   Nutrition nerds around the world hung on to every word between interviewer Dr. Yoni Freedhoff and principal investigator Dr. Kevin Hall live via Periscope from an ICO 2016 poster session.

Take note.  This is not some “bro-science” nutrition video, but a walk-thru of actual pre-publication data from the first NuSI Energy Balance Consortium paper.  This was to be Gary Taubes’ RCT-to-end-all-RCTs, nobody-has-ever-measured-it-properly-before, let’s determine once-and-for-all if a “calorie is a calorie” or if “carbs make you fat” study.

This highly controlled laboratory study will help determine whether it’s the total amount of calories you eat or the proportion of fat and carbohydrate in the diet that most importantly drives body weight gain.

The study was seriously expensive, funded in part by the NIH and by $40M NuSI donors Laura and John Arnold. It was designed to measure as accurately as possible the total energy in minus the total energy out of 17 overweight-to-obese subjects, and to measure the body composition changes (DEXA-scan) resulting from about a 300 calorie deficit under a high carb/sugar diet, and then under a ketogenic diet.

The excellent interview tells you everything you need to know.  You’ll see that the subjects lost fat quicker on the 25% sugar high-carb diet than on the 80% fat / 15% protein / 5% carb ketogenic diet (while likely insulin-resistant).  RQ charts show the subjects quickly went to fat oxidation (“fat adaptation”), and C-peptide shows a quick 50% insulin drop in ketosis.  Interestingly, subjects lost lean mass in ketosis, but not under the high-carb diet.  Dr. Hall found no metabolic advantage for the ketogenic diet, and concludes that results falsify Taubes’ carbohydrate-insulin theory of obesity (the “Alternative Hypothesis”).

Well, this is awkward.  The whole point of the creating the NuSI non-profit was to validate the carb-insulin theory of obesity, and prove that a calorie is not a calorie.  These were to be the definitive metabolic ward studies to end the low-carb vs. high-carb debate.  Well, ironically, it’s first study might just have done that.  Just kidding!  This is just another study any true believer will simply ignore.  The tweets will go on.