Monthly Archives: May 2012

Weight Hacking

There’s a new IndieGoGo project “Weight Hacking” … a method for Geeks to reprogram their lifestyle in order to reshape their fitness.

If you spend too long in front of the computer, and too little getting some nature exposure, give it a try. I just signed up for the hard copy book.

Click the picture on the right to learn more.

I’ll keep you posted when the book arrives.

Update: March 2013.  The book hasn’t arrived.

The author, Craig Engler, has a fancy website: where you can order the book, and a FB page:

But no book. :(

[simpleazon-image align="right" asin="1481077783" locale="us" height="160" src="" width="107"]In the meantime, maybe this book will do the trick!

I know that I’m a bit of a pedantic thinker, but I am getting fed up with people who say that diets don’t work, especially when they don’t define what they mean by the word “diet”.  So let’s start with where the word comes form:

The term …  is derived from Medieval Latin dieta, meaning both “parliamentary assembly” and “daily food allowance”, from earlier Latin diaeta transcribing Classical Greek δίαιτα diaita, meaning “way of living”, and hence also “diet”, “regular (daily) work”.

That’s from the on-line etymological dictionary, by way of Wikipedia.  And looking at that, it’s not unreasonable to take the meaning of the word from the dictionary:

1. food and drink considered in terms of its qualities, composition, and its effects on health: Milk is a wholesome article of diet.

2. a particular selection of food, especially as designed or prescribed to improve a person’s physical condition or to prevent or treat a disease: a diet low in sugar.

3. such a selection or a limitation on the amount a person eats for reducing weight: No pie for me, I’m on a diet.

4. the foods eaten, as by a particular person or group: The native diet consists of fish and fruit.

5. food or feed habitually eaten or provided: The rabbits were fed a diet of carrots and lettuce.

So, by and large, “diet” means “what we eat”.  So what does the phrase “diets don’t work” mean?  It can’t mean “don’t eat anything”, a) because that’s silly, and b) because, logically, even if you’re on a hunger strike and have decided not to eat anything, that’s still your diet.

And we haven’t defined “don’t work”, either.  I think what people who say this are trying to say is:

“restricting the amount of food you eat, as a way of losing weight, is ineffective”.

Well, you could argue against that, too.  If you are strong-willed enough then, at least for a while, you will lose some weight.  You’ll probably (almost definitely) put it all back, and then some, and if you are very strong-willed, and manage to restrict what you eat for a significant amount of time, you will probably damage your health.

So let’s define our terms for this blog.  The blog is called “Live Free From Obesity”, and maybe I should have also said “and its co-morbidities”, because it’s possible (a good friend of mine has done it) to lose sufficient weight to no longer be considered obese (she’s got her BMI down to 25), but still have metabolic syndrome.  Her blood sugar is dangerously high, her blood pressure is also high, and she still has abdominal fat, and our business here is to help people deal with all these problems.

Jon Gabriel before and after

My chief protagonist in the “diets don’t work” wars is Jon Gabriel: he says it over and again in his book, The Gabriel Method, but I think it’s only said for effect, because Jon very definitely recommends changes you can (and should, for the sake of good health) make in the way you eat: he is recommending a different diet from the one that you are probably on.

However, his recommendation is radical.  What he says is, don’t deliberately cut out anything from what you currently eat.  He recommends starting to add in some extra “good stuff”, and he recommends doing some work on those conditions in your life that are causing you to be fat.  As he would put it, the conditions that are causing your body to want to be fat.  He says that when you do that, you will begin to automatically drop the foods that make you fat.  It won’t be a matter of willpower; it will just happen.  He gets you to work on your mind, and I certainly don’t have a problem with that.

You will find yourself just naturally changing to a different diet.

So maybe what Jon should be saying is:

“dietary regimes which require you to force yourself, against your body’s own bio-chemistry, to restrict your food intake, in order to lose weight, will, over the long term, be ineffective and probably counter-productive”.

OK, I admit that isn’t as snappy as “diets don’t work”, but at least we know what we’re talking about now!

[simpleazon-image align="left" asin="1582702187" locale="us" height="160" src="" width="100"]I read Gabriel’s book immediately after reading Gary Taubes, and Gary had so switched me on to clear, logical thinking, doing good science, and writing very clearly, that anyone that I subsequently read would suffer in comparison.  In fact Gary’s book effectively gives us the science behind Robert Atkins’ diet, so I read Atkins’ “New Diet Revolution”.  Because Taubes had persuaded me of the science, I kept going through to the end, but if I hadn’t read Taubes first I would have thrown the Atkins book into the bin.  Too much anecdotal evidence, and too much blowing of his own trumpet, and not very well written, so it just irritated me.  But there was some good stuff there.

And because I had watched the Hungry for Change video (watch a trailer below)


and heard Jon say that he had had a stand up fight with Atkins in his office, I felt the need to get his book and see what the fuss was about.  Well, Jon also suffered a little by closely following Taubes in my reading list (pretty much anyone would), but he has some good things to say, and his testimonials, and his own example suggest that his method works.  After all, in the latest edition of his book and on his website he says that 350,000 people have read his book.  And he tells us (from a sample of one … himself) that the Atkins diet doesn’t work.

On the other hand, Atkins tells us that, from an exactly similar sample of one (himself) it does work … and as his first book was published in 1972, some time after he was using the method with his own patients, he has probably got a larger anecdotal database, and more testimonials than Gabriel.

Many years ago the founders of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (Richard Bandler and John Grinder) would introduce classes on hypnotherapy by one of them saying that “everything is hypnotism” and the other saying “there’s no such thing as hypnotism”.

By the same token I think we can probably say of almost any dietary regime, “this diet doesn’t work” and, at the same time, “this diet does work”.  Depends what you mean by “work” and depends what group of people you are talking about, and, I suspect, who it is that’s pushing the diet.

My experience of NLP was that sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t.  When I finally stopped going to NLP classes run by lesser mortals and went and got trained by Bandler himself I realised that a key factor that no-one mentioned was the powerful personality and charisma of the practitioner … and there are few people in the world whose personality and charisma outweigh that of Richard Bandler.

I haven’t met Jon Gabriel, but I have read his book, watched him on the Hungry for Change video, and on video clips on his own website.  He’s no retiring wallflower!  And he believes passionately in what he is doing, which is, I believe, another key factor.  I also notice that in most of his testimonials he either appears with the person who has lost weight, or has obviously worked with them.  I’m not decrying the method because of that, simply saying that if you can work one-to-one with him I believe you’re more likely to achieve success than if you just buy the book.  If you want to see more of him, this “Jon Gabriel You Tube link” will show you a number of videos featuring him.

So, both Gabriel and Atkins (and probably every other diet writer on the planet) has some anecdotal evidence (probably quite a lot of anecdotal evidence) that their diet (or method) works, and other people’s don’t.  It occured to me to wonder if we could learn anything from sales ranks, and was fascinated by these results:

[simpleazon-image align="right" asin="1439190275" locale="us" height="160" src="" width="106"]Atkins: Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,246 in Books
#33 in Books > Cookbooks, Food & Wine > Special Diet > Low Carbohydrate

[simpleazon-image align="right" asin="1582702187" locale="us" height="160" src="" width="100"]Gabriel: Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,369 in Books
#47 in Books > Religion & Spirituality > New Age > Mental & Spiritual Healing

[simpleazon-image align="right" asin="0307474259" locale="us" height="160" src="" width="104"]Taubes: Why We Get Fat: Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #607 in Books
#2 in Books > Health, Fitness & Dieting > Diets & Weight Loss > Food Counters
#9 in Books > Cookbooks, Food & Wine > Special Diet > Low Carbohydrate
#21 in Books > Health, Fitness & Dieting > Exercise & Fitness

[simpleazon-image align="right" asin="1400033462" locale="us" height="160" src="" width="105"]Taubes: Good Calories — Bad Calories: Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,002 in Books
#12 in Books > Cookbooks, Food & Wine > Special Diet > Low Fat
#41 in Books > Medical Books > Medicine > Internal Medicine
#53 in Books > Health, Fitness & Dieting > Nutrition

Much as I love Taubes’ writing, I just didn’t expect to see him so far ahead of both Atkins and Gabriel … even for his massive tome, Good Calories — Bad Calories.

So, my conclusion in all this is the same one I began this whole website with:

  • You will need to change what you eat, but hopefully the change will happen naturally when you change what you think.
  • You will need active and trained support from other people when you change what you think
  • You will need and want to do some exercise, but hopefully that will happen naturally, too!

You pays your money and takes your choice!

BTW.  The New Atkins book was written by Phinney and Volek, who have their own books out:

[simpleazon-image align="left" asin="0983490708" locale="us" height="160" src="" width="107"][simpleazon-image align="right" asin="0983490716" locale="us" height="160" src="" width="107"]

Having read Taubes exhaustively, and tried the regime he recommended, and having read Atkins and Gabriel, and starting to read Holford’s Low GL regime someone said, “but this high protein, high fat, low carb diet causes cancer and heart disease … have you read The China Study?”

And, of course, I hadn’t.

So I checked it out:

The science is clear. The results are unmistakable.


Change your diet and dramatically reduce the risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity.


Respected nutrition and health researcher, Dr. T. Colin Campbell reveals the truth behind special interest groups, government entities and scientists that have taken Americans down a deadly path


Even today, as the low-carb craze sweeps the nation, two-thirds of adults are still obese and children are being diagnosed with Type II diabetes, typically an “adult” disease, at an alarming rate. If we’re eating healthier, why are Americans stricken with heart disease as much as we were 30 years ago?

says their website.  Oh dear: Gary was SO clear, SO persuasive, and here’s a “respected nutrition and health researcher” contradicting all I had just learned.

What to do?  Because I don’t have the skill, clear thinking, and research ability that Gary has, so I went searching.
First thing I came up with was the Diet Detective interviewing Gary, and asking him about the China Study.  Gary says:

Diet Detective: What if you’re mistaken, too? What about all the research showing that saturated fat may cause cancer — the China Study, for example? And the research showing that whole grains are good for the body? Was there any leap of faith in your interpretation of the scientific literature, or were you just reporting on evidence that should be perfectly clear and obvious to everyone?

Gary Taubes: Well, if I’m mistaken then I apologize. I do say in my books that this is a hypothesis that has to be tested, but I also say that the evidence — in my mind, at least — is sufficiently compelling that it should be treated as the null hypothesis. That is, the hypothesis that needs remarkable evidence to reject. As for the China Study, the study itself — not to be confused with Colin Campbell’s book by that title, which I will discuss shortly — is just a list of associations between hundreds of variables and health conditions in different counties in China. If you actually look at the raw data (page 106 of the massive academic publication on the data, Diet, Life-styles and Mortality in China, which I own), there is no association between animal protein and mortality from cancer. None. People who ate more animal protein did not have more cancer, or at least no more of them died from cancer than people who ate less. And it’s cancer that the Colin Campbell is concerned with in his book, The China Study.

In that book, Campbell massages the evidence through a series of steps until he can make the opposite claim. So he doesn’t tell you that animal protein is not associated with cancer in this study, but he says that blood markers of protein consumption are so associated, even though he gets this wrong as well. He never makes the claim, nor do any serious researchers anymore, that saturated fat causes cancer. Although it’s always been an open question whether poly–unsaturated fats do.

(the emphasis is mine.  You can read the entire Diet Detective-Taubes interview here).

Denise Minger

Denise Minger

Wondering if I was getting a little too committed to my hero, Taubes, I started to look at what other people have been saying about Campbell and The China Study, and came across a truly remarkable young woman, Denise Minger.  She is as sharp as Taubes in her ability to spot bad science and to analyse bad statistics.  She did a really thorough, point by point critique of Campbell’s work, which he then critiqued in turn.  She then provided a really comprehensive analysis, and posted it on line.  Here’s what Denise says in her introduction:

When I first embarked on an analysis of T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study, I did not anticipate the range or magnitude of responses it would invoke—reactions that have been at times controversial, at times impassioned, and at times downright heated, but above all else intellectually provocative. It seems “The China Study” is a book that, in many cases, is either intensely revered or vehemently criticized, and its ability to generate ongoing discussion signifies a deep-seated division in the scientific community.


I would like to thank Dr. Campbell for his cordial response to my critique, as well as for the time he has taken to elucidate his philosophy of nutrition and his approach to research. While I do not agree with some of his conclusions, I honor his contributions to the field of health and nutrition, and deeply admire his courage to promote an unpopular message amidst a research sector dominated by special interests and opposing views.


I propose that Campbell’s hypothesis is not altogether wrong but, more accurately, incomplete. While he has skillfully identified the importance of whole, unprocessed foods in achieving and maintaining health, his focus on wedding animal products with disease has come at the expense of exploring—or even acknowledging—the presence of other diet-disease patterns that may be stronger, more relevant, and ultimately more imperative for public health and nutritional research.


Having lit a proverbial fuse, I feel called and compelled to make the sum of my findings available to the public so that they may add, in whatever extent or direction, to the symphony of voices engaged in this discourse. My intent with this paper is not to discredit Campbell as a scientist, nor to promote or discourage a particular diet—but rather, to present new ways of looking at the China Study data and related research while highlighting the shortcomings in Campbell’s specific conclusions. I hope this information can be valuable to readers while—above all else—encouraging the use of independent, critical thought to advance our understanding of health.

She has oodles of stuff about the China Study on her blog, as well as stories about her contributions to Wikipedia being summarily deleted.  You have to understand that Campbell’s book provided all the evidence that Vegetarians and Vegans needed to persuade us all to follow their paths to health and happiness, and here was a raw-food aficionado and one-time vegan preaching apostasy.  It got some people really mad at her.

However, I would say, having read through her stuff until very late at night, and given myself a severe headache from studying her statistics (never my strong subject), that all she is doing is showing us what Gary has already told us: there’s a lot of really bad science in the field of public health!

Here’s Denise’s final response on the subject, and here’s her blog page that summarises all the various claims and counter-claims.

One last thing.  If the logic and science and math and statistics in Taubes’ work, and Denise’s work (I’m sorry, I just can’t call her “Minger” … it’s a slang word in British English, and anyone less of “a minger” I find it hard to imagine!) … if they faze you, here’s a quick summary of what it’s all about.  To quote from Denise’s paper “The Truth About Ancel Keys” (the man who started the whole “fat is bad for you” shtick):

Correlation isn’t causation. Correlation isn’t causation. Correlation isn’t causation. Correlation isn’t causation. Correlation isn’t causation. Correlation isn’t causation. Correlation isn’t causation. Correlation isn’t causation. Correlation isn’t causation. Correlation isn’t causation. Correlation isn’t causation. Correlation isn’t causation. Correlation isn’t a cucumber. (Just making sure you’re awake.)

Let me give you an example.  Aspirins alleviate headaches.  Taking daily low doses of aspirin has been shown to lower the risk of stroke.  So, clearly, if aspirin cures headaches and aspirin prevents strokes, it must follow that headaches cause strokes.


That was a correlation, not a causation.

You may also find both Denise and Gary using the term “confounder”.  Here’s an example.  We do some research and discover that a high proportion of the residents of Town A die from cancer.  We also discover that a high proportion of people in Town A eat red meat.  So we draw the conclusion that eating red meat causes cancer.  But we fail to mention (because it doesn’t suit our cause) that Town A is heavily industrialised, has chemical factories whose effluents are poorly controlled, and has a nuclear plant.  And a high proportion of the residents smoke.  You see, adding in some extra data confounds our original hypothesis.  Of course, it may still be that it’s red meat that’s causing the cancer.  But is it because the red meat comes from cattle that graze on pasture downwind of the chemical plant?

That’s enough … I just wanted you to get the idea that a lot of these diet books are based on what is NOT sound science, even when their authors have impressive-sounding academic qualifications.  One last quote from Denise:

In rebuttals to previous criticism on “The China Study,” Campbell seems to use his curriculum vitae as reason his word should be trusted above that of his critics. His education and experience is no doubt impressive, but the “Trust me, I’m a scientist” argument is a profoundly weak one. It doesn’t require a PhD to be a critical thinker, nor does a laundry list of credentials prevent a person from falling victim to biased thinking. Ultimately, I believe Campbell was influenced by his own expectations about animal protein and disease, leading him to seek out specific correlations in the China Study data (and elsewhere) to confirm his predictions.


It’s no surprise “The China Study” has been so widely embraced within the vegan and vegetarian community: It says point-blank what any vegan wants to hear—that there’s scientific rationale for avoiding all animal foods. That even small amounts of animal protein are harmful. That an ethical ideal can be completely wed with health. These are exciting things to hear for anyone trying to justify a plant-only diet, and it’s for this reason I believe “The China Study” has not received as much critical analysis as it deserves, especially from some of the great thinkers in the vegetarian world. Hopefully this critique has shed some light on the book’s problems and will lead others to examine the data for themselves.

Lastly, since I first wrote this, both my wife and I have fallen head-over-heels with Denise Minger.  This might give you an idea why:


Why We Get Fat

Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes

My lovely friend, Kali Harmen, recommended that I read Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes, and I sighed, deeply!

It is an occupational hazard of being overweight (in America the current politically correct term is “a person of size”!) that every second person wants you to read their favourite book, and when you run a website called Live Free From Obesity the frequency rises dramatically!

Why We Get Fat: Kindle Edition

Why We Get Fat: Kindle Edition

But I rate Kali’s opinion, so I thought I’d at least follow the link to Amazon, discovered that it’s only £4.05 on the Kindle (or on my iPad), thought “what the heck” and downloaded it just before Susan and I jumped into the car to head to Gatwick to catch the plane to Florida (to look after her sick Mom).

I had wanted to go to bed early, because we had to be at the airport early, but I started reading it in bed in the hotel and had to force myself to put it down and go to sleep at about 01:00am.  By the time we landed in Orlando the next day I had read it one and a half times.

Gary is a science writer, but/and a very good one.  He has been fascinated by all the bad (or non-existent) science behind nutritional advice, both in the USA and the rest of the world.

Gary’s theme is that we “people of size” (not his term) don’t get to be this way because we eat too much and exercise too little.  And in the first half of the book he completely demolishes “gluttony and sloth” as adequate explanations for obesity.  Gary says that we don’t get fat because we eat too much, but that we eat too much because we are growing fat.  Does that scramble your brain?  It did mine, until Gary talked about teenage boys.

We all know that teenage boys have growth spurts.  We know that teenage boys eat a lot, and any of us who have had anything to do with teenage boys know that they can appear very lazy.  But no-one would think to say “my son is growing tall because he eats too much”.  We wouldn’t think of saying that the boy is growing tall because he never gets out of bed.  We know that his hormones have triggered the growth spurt, and that his system craves more energy to fuel the growth spurt … and takes so much energy in making him grow tall, that he frequently doesn’t have the energy to get out of bed.

So why would it be any different if we’re growing width-wise as opposed to height-wise?

But why do we get fat?  Popular wisdom says that it’s all down to the 1st law of thermodynamics, and that you can’t deny the physics.  Take more calories in than you expend through exercise, and you’re bound to get fatter.  Hmm, says Gary.  Imagine there are a row of rooms and each of these rooms has an entrance door and an exit door.  Now imagine that a crowd of people is moving through the rooms.  But one room has many more people in it than all the rest.  You ask me why, and I say it’s because more people are entering that room than leaving it, and you look at me as though I’m losing the plot.  ”Well, obviously!”  but why?  I have just stated the obvious, without any sort of explanation.

That’s the same as saying that I’m fat because I ate too much and didn’t exercise enough.  Yes.  Obviously.  But Why?  Again, popular wisdom would say that it’s obvious that I’m a greedy, lazy slob.

Well, maybe.

But nowadays we get children as young as 6 months old who are obese.  Can it be that they are already greedy and lazy?  Unlikely.

Gary explains how it’s all down to our endocrine system, and gives us a series of lessons: Adiposity 101, Endocrinology 101, etc.  I can’t reproduce the entire book here: go get your own copy!

But if you’d like to sample Gary’s writing before lashing out a whole £4.05 for the Kindle edition, or a massive £4.49 for the paperback, try some of his New York Times articles:

A good place to start is with “What If It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie“, published in the NYT in 2002.

Next try “Is Sugar Toxic“, a response in the NYT (April 2011) to the runaway viral success of Robert Lustig’s You Tube video, which I wrote about in my “Truth About Sugar” blog post back in early April.

But maybe you’d like to see and hear Gary.  He did a lecture at Crossfit (a physical training outfit for people serious about getting fit: that Crossfit link is scary, but Crossfit is actually for everyone: check out this story in Sydney, Australia.) and the lecture was videoed and posted in three parts on You Tube: here they are:

Gary Taubes Cross Fit Talk, Part 1


Gary Taubes Cross Fit Talk, Part 2


Gary Taubes Cross Fit Talk, Part 3


The Diet Delusion

The Diet Delusion

In that lecture Gary referred several times to his first (500 page) book, called Good Calories — Bad Calories in the USA, and The Diet Delusion in the UK.

If you want to study this stuff in depth, or you’d like to see what a serious scientific investigative journalist can get up to for five years, then this is the book for you!

It arrived Friday morning (today is Saturday) and I’m just a couple of chapters in, but already I am enthralled.

[simpleazon-image align="left" asin="1439190275" locale="us" height="110" src="" width="73"]Just by way of interest: having read Why We Get Fat on the plane to Orlando, I decided (despite having two week’s worth of Lipotrim in my case) to try Gary’s eating plan.  I ate really well: eggs and bacon for breakfast (with mushrooms and tomatoes), cold meats and salad for lunch, and steaks, broccoli, salads for dinner.  My weight dropped slightly (I had been worried it might soar!).  My blood sugar continued to fall, and my blood pressure fell slightly.

[simpleazon-image align="left" asin="0345484045" locale="us" height="160" src="" width="127"]I will return to Lipotrim, just as soon as I have the psychological and emotional support I need in place, to go through what Atkins would call the Induction Phase.  I will be writing blog posts about Atkins, The Gabriel Method, and about T-Tapp training, and will then start to tie all these together.

Watch this space!

George: Angel Dog

No posts for the last couple of weeks: we’ve been in Florida, looking after Susan’s mom after she got out of hospital after a fall (and taking her back after another fall!)

And then our beloved dog George died while we were away, so we have been grieving.  Best boy ever in the whole wide world.  George came everywhere with us (except Florida) so now, wherever we go we are reminded of George.

And I have been doing some studying.  I have discovered a new hero, Gary Taubes, an amazing physical regime, T-Tapp, and I’ve read the Atkins book and the Jon Gabriel method, and we’ve discovered a wonderful source of organic flax seed, flax meal and flax oil (good for omega-3, lignans, etc) in Sussex: The Flax Farm, run by the lovely Clare Skelton and her team.

More of all that when we get back from picking up some hay or straw for our chickens (whichever the wonderful Beechcroft Farm can spare), because with all the rain in April, the chicken run is a quagmire, and the poor girls have cold, wet feet!

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