Meet Dr. Caveman
(I’m posting this not because somebody somewhere needs to sell you a book, DVD, programme or nutritional supplement – there IS NO SALES PITCH – it is just interesting – and, of course, it was Roy who persuaded me to start Paleo nutrition last September)
Dr Roy Bennett BDS MGFDP(UK) DipDentSci DipFOD
Partner in specialist referral private practice
Turning the clock back.. meet Dr. Caveman
I want to tell you a story. This story is about me. That may seem a little vain, but I am hoping that this story will inspire some other colleagues.
After being a reasonably successful GDP for twenty five years and running a successful private referral practice I was losing sight of a critical factor – my health !
I was 48.
Weighing in at a portly 189lbs . I’m only 5’8”. I didn’t even know what my body fat percentage was but it had to be over 30%. I had gotten to this point slowly but surely. It took me nearly 15 years to reach this milestone in life. I was so ashamed of what I had become. My wife didn’t have a clue that I had come close to being obese as I “looked” ok. Baggy t-shirts helped. I hid the BMI scale in the practice.
I tried the crash diets and sporadic exercise. Sporadic exercise means I would ride my bike a little bit or go for a session on the treadmill at the gym while watching a movie after finishing at the Practice
Nothing changed over the years. I grazed on snacks of chocolates/pastries to feed the stress at work. Like many a practice owner in the UK, I was becoming more and more stressed and unhappy. My team started to comment and I became very negative. I was in free fall.
Then I came across a concept about eating as we did in pre-historic times.
An article about Dr Arthur De Vaney a retired 73 year old statistician living in California (of course!).
No one had ever told me about metabolic syndrome disease processes.
I bought the book from Amazon. I couldn’t put it down. The wife said “I give you 10 days max !”
I ate a strict paleo diet for 30 days. I dropped almost 6% bodyfat and lost 12 lbs. I can’t tell you how great I felt. Not just from losing weight, but the foods I ate made me feel good as well. I didn’t have heartburn anymore. I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night, feeling like I was dying because the heartburn was so bad. I could tie my shoes without getting winded. I could play with my teenage kids without getting exhausted. I used to get migraine headaches. Not anymore. I don’t take any medications at all. Ever.
I never realized how sick I actually was until I got better.
But then I hit a plateau. I stopped losing weight. But I was still losing inches. I was burning fat and putting on muscle. Now I look 10 years younger (according to my kids!) A flat stomach has returned after it went awol 29 years ago !
My stress levels have plummeted and everyone keeps saying I look so well.
I usually attribute a lot of my success to exercise. But in truth, 90% of it is attributed to clean eating.
I haven’t completely reached my goals yet. But I’m not so concerned about that anymore. I don’t weigh myself anymore. I go off my body fat percentage. Which continues to drop – muscle weighs more than fat !
Paleo has changed my life. It has literally saved my life..
One of my patients who I hadn’t seen for 6 months commented ..
“ Roy you look 10 years younger. Why?”
I was 21lb lighter than the last time they’d seen me. But note they said younger, not just thinner.
The diet is simplicity itself: eat well and lay off the booze or at least in moderation . All other dietary schemes struck me as over-elaborations or, in many cases, cunning excuses to keep eating. Calories in, calories out was, I thought, the only rational basis on which to lose weight. The body is a bag that gets lighter if you take out more than you put in. This time, however, I had a more sophisticated plan and boy, did it work for me.
I adopted the Arthur De Vaney plan because it seemed simple and do able.
The first benefit is I never get ill anymore not a cold , nothing.
I’m not on any medication. My insulin is unmeasurably low; insulin is the ageing hormone – it tells you to go ahead, reproduce and die. My HDL [good cholesterol] is enormously high, my triglycerides are way down, my blood pressure is perfect and I now have bags of energy
Ah, you ‘re thinking, here we go the author of this ‘plan’ was a fitness freak no hinterland, no brain, all biceps; we may be slobs, but were smart. Sorry. Arthur De Vaney studied economics at the University of California, Los Angeles, and now, in retirement, he is professor emeritus of economics at the Institute for Mathematical Behavioral Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. He has written the most important works on the economics of the movie industry and he worked out the best ways of privatising the electromagnetic spectrum: broadcast frequencies.
This isnt just background, it is essential to an understanding of De Vaney’s approach to diet and fitness. It is very rigorous and thoughtful.
The first point is that economics happens inside the body as well as outside. His work is all about the dynamics of complex, adaptive systems; he calls himself a complexity scientist. Central to this is the overthrow of old statistical models. Basically, we have all been taught that events human wealth, earthquakes, blockbuster movies cluster round an average forming a graph in the shape of a bell curve. This is an illusion and the concept of the average leads to fatal errors.
In reality, almost all events of significance follow what are known as power law. This means, to simplify, that what are thought of as rare events are, in fact, more important than any average. We think of bank crises, like the present one, as rare and the rest of the time the banks go on making money. In fact, they dont. Bank crashes are so devastating that they wipe out all the investment profits of the banking system. Look at the average and you dont see this; apply power laws and you do.
The average, says Arthur, is always misleading and may not exist.
The obsession with the bell curve and the average has corrupted us. We tend to think of stable models not just of the human world but also of the human body. Almost all dietary and fitness regimes are based on a homeostatic view of the body, meaning it is a self-regulating system that maintains itself in a continuous, stable condition. The average is the ideal. So we are told to eat regular meals consisting of a balance of the food groups and to take regular exercise, dominated by steady aerobic activity like cycling or jogging. This is all wrong.
Arthur asked himself what was going on here and, basically, decided almost everything we thought we knew about diet and metabolism was wrong. There is a parallel with his work on the economics of movies. Hollywood producers sit around in meeting rooms telling each other stories about why a film succeeds or fails, the stars, the directors, the trailers, anything. Marketing men join them and tell them more tall tales. And everybody feels good about themselves. The stories give them the illusion of control, they reinforce prejudices and biases, and they all like to feel important.
But the stories are all false. The reality, as Arthur discovered, is that 5% of movies pay for the other 95%, and success or failure is unpredictable. The movie industry was what Arthur loves best: complex, adaptive, decentralised system. Exactly like the human body.
The trick is to look at what happens in the real world and not listen to stories , tales or medical theories. Similarly false stories are told about diet and metabolism, the big two concerning homeostasis and the diet heavy in hydrates and low in saturated fats. It didnt matter what stories the producers told they went on making money. But, with homeostasis and high-carb/low-fat diets, the stories mattered because they affected the behaviour and health of ordinary people. Bombarded with the fat bad/carbs good (FBCG) advice, they just kept on getting fatter and sicker.
But why are carbs such a problem? The very persuasive answer to this is why I went on the diet. Humans evolved over millions of years, probably on the African savannah. We were, for almost all our existence, hunter-gatherers . Agriculture and settlement began only 10,000 years ago. Both sides of the dietary debate agree that this meant we were omnivorous hunter-gatherers and that because of our massive brains we have unusual energy requirements. Both sides also agree that settlement and civilisation changed our diet and living conditions radically. We may live longer because we are better protected from predatory beasts and all the other traumas that would have afflicted early man, but we also have new diseases, new miseries.
We live, says Arthur, like lab rats. A lab rat has a life expectancy three times that of a wild rat because it is protected from accidents or disasters But it doesnt live better. Certainly not on an NHS treadmill!
Advocates of FBCG believed that the big dietary change behind our new miseries was increased consumption of animal fats on the basis that, for early man, there were lots of vegetables and fruit lying around, but a good kill would be rare. Recent research, however, suggests that kills could be very large and our ancestors did not, as we do, carve out the best bits; they ate the whole animal. Their fat intake was, in fact, much higher than we thought.
The truth is that the big dietary change was not fat but carbohydrate consumption. Agricultural settlement resulted in the cultivation of cereals and root vegetables. Bread, potatoes and rice became the staffs of life. The FBCG people didnt think they were a problem: pound for pound, they contained fewer calories than meat. But what carbohydrates do is stop you burning fat, so the fat you do consume gets laid down in your arteries and on your stomach. Its not the burger that bloats, its the bun.
Furthermore, carbs become sugar in the body. In the case of refined carbs white flour or sugar the effect is instantaneous. Some of these starches, as soon as they hit the saliva in your mouth, become sugars. Pasta is a bowl of sugar, briefly deferred.
This produces blood-sugar spikes that stress the pancreas and put millions in a pre-diabetic condition. They develop metabolic syndrome in which fat accumulates about the midriff and fundamentally alters body chemistry. This, it is thought, may well be either a primary or secondary cause of the diseases of modernity: cancers, heart attacks, strokes and, of course, all the woes that flow from obesity.
Arthur is not alone in understanding the lethality of carbs. The whole FBCG ideology is now on the run. One very successful book, The Diet Delusion by Gary Taubes, exposed how threadbare the science behind the ideology actually was. A recent study in The New England Journal of Medicine seemed to show conclusively that a low-carb diet was a better way of losing weight than either a low-fat or a Mediterranean diet. It also showed it reduced bad cholesterol “a clear refutation of most orthodox dietary advice. The Palaeolithic diet, meanwhile, a regime based on the diet of early man, was first advocated in 1975. And, of course, there was the most famous low-carb regime of all: the Atkins diet.
Secondly, he puts much more stress on vegetables, fruit and exercise than Atkins, and is convinced that, though carbs are the main problem, massive intakes of saturated fats are, at least, unwise. Thirdly, he is very smart. His reasoning is immaculate and he knows a lot more than your average doctor or nutritionist. Fourth, Evolutionary Fitness is not just a focus on weight. I feel better, not just lighter. And, fifth, as I say, he looks like Supermans fitter granddad.
The trick he is trying to pull off is to find a way of combining the Palaeolithic and the modern lifestyles; to free us from being lab rats. People in the wild like isolated tribes do not get fat and neither do other omnivores and predators. But, of course, they die younger. We cant drop the comforts and protection of modernity. But we can fight its sugary seductions. So how do you live the De Vaney life?
We are not made to eat regular meals or take regular exercise, nor are we meant to suffer chronic stress in a dental surgery. Our ancestors ate when they could and kept moving. Most of their life was stress-free, but occasionally they would be subject to acute stress in the form of an attack by a predator. Don’t eat three square meals a day. Skip meals now and then. Work towards an extended overnight period of no eating. This means eat sometime before you sleep and don’t be in a hurry to eat breakfast Do not fear hunger. Nothing but good will come of it, but it must be episodic, not chronic.
Everybody over-trains. Dont do it. Dont trudge away on a treadmill, count sets or repetitions, or work out according to a top-down Soviet model. You will hate it and it does not produce results. You must let it happen. You must have a playful, intermittent form of exercise. You must exercise. The benefits are profound but make it fun, intense according to your own fitness and goals, and brief. The goal of an exercise session is to promote growth-hormone release, to build muscle, and to elevate insulin sensitivity. Brevity and intensity are keys. Intensity means a little burn in the muscle, not heaving and straining. Brevity means you do not release stress hormones. So, you are favourably altering your hormone profile. I get by on no more than 45 minutes in the gym a week and only when I feel like it.
Getting the food right is hard work. Shops only on the outer edges of the supermarket, where they keep the fresh stuff. And cutting carbs completely, as I did, results in a few days of hell , raging hunger and gloom. On the fourth day I woke up so depressed I could barely move. Then I ate a peach and I was fine and stayed fine, more or less, ever since.
I’d suffered an enormous drop in blood sugar, which the peach instantly corrected.
Breakfast is hell at first no cereals or bread but you can have almost everything else. An example of breakfast Four thin pork chops, well trimmed and browned in a bit of oil with rosemary and pieces of fresh apple. Some canteloupe melon with it. Trust me, after a month or so, the spectacle of toast or a bowl of cornflakes will revolt you.
The fundamentals of Arthur De Vany diet: bin the carbs and packaged food, and delight in lean meat and at least two veg meals
Cook by colour and texture so that meals look beautiful. If busy, skip meals with little worry. You dont have to have three square meals a day. Snack on nuts or celery. Drink plenty of water. I also drink tea, coffee and a little wine.
Avoid bread, muffins, bagels, pasta, rice, potatoes, cereals, vegetable oils, beans or anything “in a package” empty, high-calorie foods with a high carbohydrate content.
Spice up your food with fresh ingredients such as basil, garlic, parsley, rosemary, spring onions, avocados and nuts, and use various oils, such as olive oil, for flavour. Celery adds texture (and is good for testosterone too).
Fresh fruits of all sorts are good; I focus on melon and red grapes. Fruit juice is out. I have one or two fruits with most breakfasts; now and then a piece with other meals.
Eat lots of freshraw, steamed, sauteed or grilled vegetables. I never use frozen, canned or packaged vegetables.
Eat plenty of meat, such as ribs, steak, bacon, pork loin, turkey and chicken, but trim fat from the edges. Fish, seafood and eggs are also good choices.
Breakfast I tend to eat last nights leftovers: turkey with jarlsberg cheese and fruit, bacon with red grapes, omelettes with rosemary, olives and spring onions.
Usually salads, with red cabbage, romaine lettuce, spring onions, garlic, kale, broccoli or cauliflower, with salmon, tuna, turkey, chicken, pork or steak.
I sometimes eat a whole rack of ribs with salad and vegetables. Or a large steak, trimmed of fat. Almost always there is a beautiful salad and vegetables.
In the end, I am not qualified to say that Arthur De Vaney is right. But I am qualified to say that it works for me 21lb lighter at the time of writing. Carbs, not fats, are modernities most deadly assassins. And, even if they dont kill you, they make you feel worse. I sleep better without them and I seem to have become a nicer person; what with that and the weight loss, my friends or were they enemies(?) barely recognise me. Also and most importantly , I now really enjoy my work again. I have more zest for the challenges that lie ahead in my life..
Thank you Mr De Vaney.