Diet Obsession

A reader email this morning with an important question I ought to address here.

Let me preface this by saying I’m just starting out on my Paleo/Primal journey. I am also terrible at wading my way through scientific studies, and have the kind of luck where I think I’ve got something covered, and then some other group of studies pops up and I’m on my ass again. In short: as a layman I tend to steer clear of grand scientific statements, like "fat is good/bad" for fear of sounding like an ass. […]

However, I come across things like this. [A discussion on Mark Sisson’s forum as to whether too much fat can be bad. -Ed]

And I’m more than a little lost. This guy seems to have a rather solid case that one group, who I thought were a prime example of what a good diet could be like, actually have serious health problems. Things like this always leave me worrying that I don’t have my ass covered on the data here and, well, I just worry that I might have made a mistake and end up paying for it 20-30 years down the line. […]

I am serious about committing myself to a diet, even it means a major overhaul, but only if it’s right. I just think it’s obvious, given what we know about diabetes as well as what man’s body is designed to handle, that anything which is basically sugar must be avoided, so it didn’t take much to convince me to give these up… but going the other way, determining what I ought to eat has been a lot harder to figure out. […]

Do you recommend any method for really going about learning to integrate all this data about and learning what is right? I fear that, because I only come across scientific articles from what you and people like Mark recommend, that I’m getting a biased perspective, and not getting a really good, overall view of the data.

Have you read Good Calories, Bad Calories by Taubes? In that book and others (like The Great Cholesterol Con by Colpo) much in the way of studies that supposedly support the "lipid hypothesis" are cited. It should not be difficult to find studies that support conventional wisdom. Just look at the news outlets regularly.

Well I read that whole thread and was quickly reminded why I don’t generally partake in such discussions any longer. Yep, I think both the Kitavan diet of 70% natural carbs and the Inuit diet of 80% natural fats are extremes on both ends of the spectrum, are likely both healthful, but, as extremes, are probably not optimal.

I think a person does well to just eat real food better than 90% of the time and don’t worry and obsess about it. And, I think that what one likes to eat is something that changes — ebbs & flows — over time. Initially, I was big on lots of protein (big steaks). However, since getting better and better at the tasty, fatty sauces I make, I’m eating less protein and I feel fine. Sometimes I like veggies, and then I’ll go periods where by the time my fat & meat are eaten (often I end up leaving food) I have no appetite for veggies — and besides, I often skip the veggies altogether in preference for a couple of enormous teaspoons of full fate Fage yogurt with a few berries, cherries and/or nuts.

I have absolutely no idea — I have never had an idea — what my macronutrient ratios are beyond knowing my carbs are relatively low, my fat relatively high, and I’m getting enough protein. I have no interest in knowing specifics beyond that. The more variety and randomness in my diet, the better. I never count anything, never measure anything, and I never will. I tried FitDay for about 2-3 days once and promptly concluded that it was an enormous waste of time, and boring to boot.

Seriously, it absolutely drives me nuts, sometimes, the BLATANT OBSESSION going on out there, and it’s certainly not helpful for you and other newbies to the paleo / primal / evfit scene.

For a great book on diet that I’m currently reading, check out Nora Gedgaudas’ Primal Body Primal Mind. While Mark’s Primal Blueprint is indeed excellent and everyone should read it, it’s more of a total lifestyle work, whereas the former is a body and mind integration focused on nutrient intake.

I hope that helps. Don’t let people freak you out. This all makes sense and it would be extremely odd if it didn’t (make sure to read Part II of my Saturated Fat series that should go up later today or tomorrow). Eat Real Food — as much or as little as you desire, when you desire, and sometimes eat nothing and sometimes pig out, even on natural carbs.

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  1. Lucy on November 12, 2009 at 14:20

    I like Dr. Kurt Harris’ 12 step Paleo program

    It’s simple, easy and you don’t have to read any scientific papers to get the wisdom of it. The best part is, you will improve you health at every one of the 12 steps, and if you never get through all twelve, you will still be much better off than you were before.

  2. Grok on November 12, 2009 at 12:27

    I totally agree Richard (coming from a guy who blogs & tweets his FitDay stats every day).

    When just eating paleo/primal I did not worry about macros, although from past dieting experiences I had a pretty good idea about what I was putting in (unfortunately).

    My lifestyle is primal now and nothing else! I’m counting macros at the moment, but only because I have specific sports performance related weight loss goals. I’m using fitday, but absolutely hate it. It’s completely obsessive and stupid to use if you’re just trying to be healthy on a primal/paleo diet.


  3. Mike M on November 12, 2009 at 12:43

    Don’t fall into the paralysis by analysis trap, friend! With all due respect, I sense that you are almost making an excuse (likely unconsciously) by trying to learn and understand all the research that is out there. Knowing absolute certainty will never be possible. But the bottom line is that eating a Paleo diet should make sense logically. That is what made it so appealing to me (and probably many others). It is what our ancestors have done for the vast majority of our existence. It is what your body is genetically made to consume.

    Embrace Paleo for six months and see how you look and feel.

  4. Danny Roddy on November 12, 2009 at 13:02

    Good post Richard,

    I have a similar post about this on my weblog. It seems some of the primal/paleo crowd is rather obsessed with sharing exactly what they had for breakfast, lunch & dinner. Macronutrient numbers are the real red hearing here, letting this go has helped me out a lot.

  5. Matt on November 12, 2009 at 13:12

    I just wanted to mention that I downloaded an app for my IPOD called “Lose it”. It’s a calorie counter but it can track your macro levels. I find it useful because I can manage my carb level to stay where I want, and allow for occasional splurges. I just mentioned it because there were two mentions of FitDay not working. This might be something else. Having it at my hand works great and having a constant reading of my carb levels allows me to figure out what to eat. ie, a rough morning carb wise leads to reduction at night or vice versa. it works for me to stay under my 150 (100 right now). I need that monitoring and control otherwise I can power through a few cookies or a donut and ruin my efforts rather quickly. But, if I feel the urge and can fit in one cookie (and track it) it keeps me on track more easily.

  6. Marc Feel Good Eating on November 12, 2009 at 13:22

    I have been saying this since 2006…..stop worrying, eat real food….enjoy your life.
    And for the record….I tried fitday 2 times also. the first and the last time. What a pain in the ass. I plugged in food to get numbers once for a post I did.


  7. Aaron Blaisdell on November 12, 2009 at 13:29

    “The more variety and randomness in my diet, the better.”

    Here, here, Richard. I agree! Fractal patterns are the spice of life. Move fractally, eat fractally, explore all that life has to offer fractally! I think the Epistemocrat would agree (hat tip).

    • epistemocrat on November 12, 2009 at 16:16

      Indeed, I would agree.

      A high entropy diet appears fruitful on many fronts.

      Also, this post frames the Qualitative Self vs. the Quantitative Self balance.

      I like the intuitive, fractal, Qualitative Self, personally: it seems more ancestral to me.

      That’s how I like to self-experiment.



  8. Mudbeard on November 12, 2009 at 13:36

    I never looked at the whole primal thing as a way of dieting.

    I just eat what I want. No complicated ‘healthy’ dieting. No restrictions. I just follow my cravings. After the primal ‘reset’ those do not include crap food anymore. Without any effort.

  9. John Campbell on November 12, 2009 at 14:31

    I can agree with everything here and particularly Richard’s post – get started eating primal. It becomes natural and as your body gets healthier, you can start listening to it. Eat what makes you feel good. Experiment and have fun. No one knows the absolute truth on health or diet.

    Know this – you will die regardless of how you eat – lots of people who eat some junk live relatively long and healthy lives. My point is that humans are robust and you can’t worry about every little thing – I am not saying eat junk. I do believe that psychology and attitude count for at least as much as diet for a lot of health issues. Primal eating will likely give you a longer journey in life – I guarantee that the journey will be better and more active with the primal life style.

    You were born to live a long and healthy life – get out there and enjoy that life, including food.

  10. Girl Gone Primal on November 12, 2009 at 14:46

    If the goal is health, macronutrients don’t matter. Real, primal food matters. Sometimes fat loss occurs just be bringing hormones etc into a normal balance. I went for a long stretch in the middle of this year just eating whatever primal foods I wanted, exploring culinary possibilities and creating recipes. I felt great, but I maintained my excess weight.

    Now that I know my hormones are in balance, I don’t really believe fiddling with macronutrients is going to help me much. I’m eating the right foods, living the right lifestyle… So for me, fat loss lies in carefully constructing a caloric deficit, whilst ensuring my carbs don’t get too high. It’s easiest to lose weight on a zero-carb way of eating, for me. But I don’t sweat it if I feel like eating a few veggies with dinner. I fiddle with my ‘bant’ for fat loss, but I will never change my Primal diet. In terms of banting, some people’s bodies respond differently to different techniques – I wouldn’t criticise anyone’s efforts to achieve optimal physical conditioning if they’re doing what works for them whilst ensuring their overall health isn’t compromised.

    My priorities – optimal health, and ideal weight. In that order.

  11. Patrik on November 12, 2009 at 15:01

    I second Nora Gedgaudas’ Primal Body Primal Mind. I recently lent it to a friend starting on the Paleo path. I also forwarded him the PaleoNu 12 Step link as well.

  12. Skyler Tanner on November 12, 2009 at 15:14

    The path that favors better outcomes…adequate protein, fat, fiber…all filling and tied to high-nutrient real food. Get that down first and if you feel the need to fiddle later (6+ months) then you get try and get mired in minutia. For most people’s goals, it’s simply not required.


  13. David on November 12, 2009 at 16:05

    I really agree with what you say about sauces. I haven’t been able to make a consistently good one yet, but when one is good, it’s really good.

  14. Stephan on November 12, 2009 at 17:02

    Hmm, I guess I should be flattered that I’m being misquoted in the comments section of MDA.

    There is indeed good evidence that the traditionally-living Inuit were not in perfect health, including osteoporosis and atherosclerosis. That comes from a few frozen “mummies” from before European contact.

    But they were also living in an extreme environment, eating an extreme diet. Factors that may have contributed include: lack of sunlight/vitamin D insufficiency, excessive omega-3 polyunsaturated fat, excessive protein, zero carbohydrate, zero fiber and periodic starvation. Zero carbohydrate is tolerated by humans but in my opinion is not optimal.

    And it’s important to remember that atherosclerosis does not equal heart attacks. Partially modernized Canadian Inuit have one of the lowest CHD rates in the world, lower than the Japanese by a good margin.

  15. Stephan on November 12, 2009 at 17:03

    Another factor could have been excessive vitamin A and an imbalance between A and D. Some of the marine oils they ate were extremely rich in vitamin A.

  16. Shmaltzy on November 12, 2009 at 18:57

    When I embarked on changing my lifestyle changes, I too thought I wanted to delve into all the studies and satisfy for myself that what I was doing was the “right” thing to do – I am an engineer so have an analytical mind and though I could handle the technical/science stuff – but it drove me mad! I then came across some brilliant resources like Free the Animal, Mark’s Daily Apple and Dr Mike Eades which ultimately lead me to following a primal lifestyle. I now don’t worry about it. The proof is in the pudding (wheat free of course!). It’s the most logical blueprint/diet/lifestyle/plan/whatever-you-want-to-call-it – follow a diet that we evolved on by eating real food. Once you recognise that, lots of worries go out the window.

  17. Whitney613 on November 12, 2009 at 21:34

    Seriously, it absolutely drives me nuts, sometimes, the BLATANT OBSESSION going on out there, and it’s certainly not helpful for you and other newbies to the paleo / primal / evfit scene.

    **I really like this!
    I’ve been eating Paleo (hard-core for about 45 days) then started adding back a few things.
    I figured out what works and what doesn’t.
    No dairy, as of now, which is a bummer because I LOVE Fage, butter and creme fraiche.

    In the beginning, I mae a post-it:
    meat, veggies, nuts, seeds and some fruit.
    It helped m out a lot.

    Thanks for this blog! I’m lovin’ it.

  18. James Young on November 13, 2009 at 07:08

    High fibrous foods: One should increase the intake of high fibrous foods such as fruits and vegetables for lowering LDL levels. They contain anti-oxidants that help in flushing out toxins. Richly colored vegetables and fruits are mostly preferred. You should include lots of fruit salads and juices.

  19. Nicole on November 13, 2009 at 07:59

    The Great Cholesterol Con is by Dr. Malcolm Kendrick. Colpo is a horse of an entirely different color. :)

    • Richard Nikoley on November 13, 2009 at 09:43


      Actually, both books have exactly the same title. In fact, Kendrick wrote the Forward for Colpo’s book. I have them both and Colpo’s looks quite a bit more substantial.

      • Nicole on November 13, 2009 at 13:44

        I didn’t know there were two of the same name. Dr. Kendrick’s is written in a really entertaining style, and I enjoyed the interview I heard with him as well. I think it was on Jimmy Moore’s podcast. That’s not something I’d normally listen to – I just wanted to hear that interview.

        The Colpo of which you speak is the same Anthony Colpo that Dr. Mike Eades had the knock-down-drag-out blog argument, right? )

      • Richard Nikoley on November 13, 2009 at 14:12

        Yep, that’s the guy and I think he was being silly. Seems to have backed off — at least there’s nothing new on his website that I can tell in over a year.

  20. Erwan Le Corre on November 13, 2009 at 09:17

    I totally agree with you Richard. Same goes for “exercising” (which I prefer to call “movement”): some people are obsessively focusing on the 2% that COULD make a difference. Well, just make sure you take care of the 98% that DO make a difference and you’ll be thriving without having to think too much of the details, if at all.

    Last, I believe such individuals are “control-freaks” (of their own diet, fitness regimen or whatever in their life), and control freaks are usually people that deal with insecurity. They could count their hair twice a day just to make sure how many they have :D. As a matter of fact, you can read the words “lost”, “worry” and “fear” in that message you quote. That is where the whole thing starts, insecurity.
    Science is good, but scientific data will not fix your insecurity issues. Self-confidence and confidence in life happens somewhere else in one’s mind and psychology, not thanks to having the illusion to know and control external data.
    Don’t get lost in translation, just experience a good life when you eat simple and natural, breath good air, get good natural light, move naturally and think positively, that is the “98%” simple data that is quite easy to assimilate and “control:” :D.

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