The controversial conclusion: The researchers say that now, 20 years after the experiment began, the monkeys are showing many beneficial signs of caloric restriction, including significantly less diabetes, cancer, heart and brain disease. In principle, people could fend off the usual diseases of old age and considerably extend their life span by following a special diet.
Roger: "Why would anyone want to extend his life if it meant giving up cheeseburgers & fries? Why inflict needless misery on yourself?" Read his opinion piece here. (I say, "Why would anyone want to risk an old age filled with disability just for the sake of eating cheeseburgers & fries?)
"Which brings me to low-cal Canto and high-cal Owen: Canto looks drawn, weary, ashen and miserable in his thinness, mouth slightly agape, features pinched, eyes blank, his expression screaming, “Please, no, not another plateful of seeds!”
Well-fed Owen, by contrast, is a happy camper with a wry smile, every inch the laid-back simian, plump, eyes twinkling, full mouth relaxed, skin glowing, exuding wisdom as if he’s just read Kierkegaard and concluded that “Life must be lived forward, but can only be understood backward.”
It’s the difference between the guy who got the marbleized rib-eye and the guy who got the oh-so-lean filet. Or between the guy who got a Château Grand Pontet St. Emilion with his brie and the guy who got water.
Maybe Roger doesn't know anyone who suffered a massive stroke because of atherosclerosis, and endured 16 years without being able to walk or talk. Maybe he hasn't seen someone whose life is cut short or severely restricted because of diabetes, heart disease, or vascular dementia. The list goes on.
Eating plant-based, vegan, nutritarian, or whatever you want to call it, isn't caloric restriction (eating 30% less calories a day) but it still is restriction of sorts--and it's definitely a change. No meat, no dairy, no chicken, no processed foods. But it certainly isn't deprivation. My eating repertoire has mushroomed way beyond cheeseburgers & fries.
Two Emails - Two Completely Different Points of View
Roger Cohen's flippant opinion piece made me think about the two emails I received recently.
One came from Michael F., who decided he was tired of being overweight and unhealthy and decided to do something about it.
The other came from Leonard J., who after having major heart surgery, thought about changing his diet, and decided, "Nope, don't think so! Life without cheeseburgers and fries just isn't worth it."
- "The China Study" & Dr. Fuhrman's "Eat to Live" Principles. Since the beginning of last November I've lost 107 lbs through following essentially the spirit of The China Study and really to the letter of Dr Fuhrman's writings.
1. Emphasize the most nutrient-dense foods: vegetables, especially greens, beans, nuts, seeds & fruit
2. Limit salt, sugar, processed foods, dairy, red meat, caffeine, saturated fat, added oils, white flour
3. Exercise, and understand the difference between real hunger & the addiction to fat, salt, and sugar--you really can change your palate.
- The addictive power of fat, sugar, & salt. I was and will continue to be successful this time because I approached it as an addiction. Explicitly, I knew I would have to eat to accelerate withdrawal, break addictions, and re-boot my mental and physical chemistry. It took around 4 to 6 weeks.
Keep Junk Food Out of the House. To be safe and get through as quickly as possible, my wife and I agreed to a few specifics. First, we purged the house of anything not allowed; if it had been there, I would have found it and eaten it. Second, we agreed to not eat out at restaurants until I was ready.
- Curb the Restaurant Habit First. I didn't eat out at a restaurant for two and half months. The first time I actually "ate out" was when we were driving to a concert and stopped at roadside fruit stand and we bought a banana, an apple and some citrus. I hadn't had a banana for months, even though they are fruit, merely because of the sugar content. I couldn't believe my reaction when I took my first bite. It was like eating a piece of massively overly rich cake some crazy aunt had foisted upon you during a holiday family gathering. I was stunned. It was so rich tasting it was sickening. Thinking I had got a bad banana I had my wife try it and she said, "Nope. It's just a normal banana." It was surreal. I couldn't believe what they books had said would happen had really happened.
- Changing Your Food Tastes & Cravings. After this I had re-trained my tastes to desire the healthy things I was eating. It took a little more than two months until I noticed one day I no longer had to grab the remote and change the station away from pizza commercials in fear of the stimulus-response.
- Avoiding Usual Food Traps & Falling Back Into Bad Habits. During the first few months it was exactly like quitting smoking. To break the late night habit of drive through at In & Out Burger, I changed into sleeping clothes early and read or watched TV in bed. I made up an extensive menu of meals I enjoyed where I could eat all I wanted (of vegetables, beans, and fruits) to attain a sense of fullness. I shopped daily at Trader Joe's for freshness.
- Cutting Caffeine, Sugar, Salt, Fat, and White Flour. I cut green tea which stopped the caffeine from spiking hunger. I have no sugar, salt, flour, wheat, or oil. I don't count calories. I eat when hungry but try to make time to eat three well spaced meals. I work out once if not twice a day.
- Easing Back Into the Restaurant Scene. Eventually, my wife and I began going to restaurants again (lots of time I would eat before-hand or afterward). Up until then, I had spent 39 years wherein when I saw or smelled delicious food I immediately wanted to eat it. Now, it was again bizarre. It was as if someone had severed the nerve connection between smell and aesthetic looks and the need to taste. I couldn't believe it. It looked good but I didn't want to eat it.
- Going Through Food Rehab. When my wife and I were watching a recent Oprah she had on a few celebs and others who had lost and then regained tremendous weight. They all seemed to frame it as a battle of mental will and discipline. It was perfectly clear to me why they and all others who regain lost weight do so: they haven't gone through what Terry Gross calls "Food Rehab" in her interview with David Kessler.
GROSS: So what are some of your suggestions for effective food rehab?
Dr. KESSLER: There are things I can do just to decrease the amount of stimulation. So don't cue me. You know, take that bread away. I don't want to see that because that's only going to increase the stimulation. Or don't deprive me because if - deprivation's only going to increase the reward value. So taking away the cues, not being primed, decreasing feelings of deprivation, all those can decrease being stimulated. But how realistic is that in our current environment? So, you know, the ultimate goal is to cool down the stimulus. And the way to do that is to want something more. So I can set rules for myself. I can eat in not a chaotic way and say boy, I don't want this now, I'm going to want something better later. So rules work. Structured eating, eating in - in meals. But ultimately is to have what psychologists call a critical perceptual shift. If you look at a huge plate of fries and say wow, that's great. But if you can get to the point of looking at those - that food, that plate of nachos and say boy, what is that? That's just fat on fat on sugar and fat. If you can change what, you know, what scientists call the reward value of the stimulus, then when you are cued by that stimulus, your brain doesn't get stimulated, you don't get activated.
It's Not About Discipline or Willpower--Surround Yourself with Healthy Options--Taste Preferences Can Change. I am convinced that the "key" (if there is one, sorry to be dramatically reductionistic) is to change the physical to control the mental. Friends and loved ones cannot believe I happily survive on either steamed/raw vegetables, beans, fruit, nuts/seeds. They say "you are so disciplined, I could never do that." Actually, at this point there is no discipline. The only remaining challenge is to be tolerant of the waiting for the rest of the weight to melt.
Conquer Food Addiction First. Mental discipline is no match for physical craving. I am convinced that someone ought to write a book addressing purely the "how to" of weight loss around the thesis of addiction. Change the body and the mind will follow.
Dear Healthy Librarian,
I just read your post on the Legacy of a Father's Heart Disease - Can Prevention Overcome Genetics - Steve McKee's Memoir. I found it quite interesting.
I had the good fortune to have my heart attack while in the cafeteria at Tripler Army Hospital for another appointment. My wife quickly found a Doctor in the dining room and I was taken in a wheelchair to have tests done. The test results indicated I needed surgery. They did 5 bypasses and the surgery had some bad problems with bleeding and I was in there for 13 hours.
I remember seeing a Colonel later on. He told me, "I can't believe you're alive." His people did a great job.
Prior to the surgery, I had received an email from the son of a classmate. He told me that his mom had died after refusing to do a surgical procedure on her heart. For some reason it was the first thing I thought of when I regained consciousness in recovery. I immediately thought, "Beverly was right." After a few weeks at home I no longer felt that way, of course.
What I am writing about is the approach people take after surgery. Initially I was going to change my diet and do all the "right things."
Eventually I realized I won't be around forever and was already 70, so I decided to enjoy my bacon and eggs and all those things I was denying myself. I won't gain a few months of life through boring behavior, but I will enjoy every waking minute I have left.
Now 73, the only thing that keeps me from doing more, is the lack of energy I once had. I am leaving in another hour or so for a cold beer and great cheeseburger by the ocean in Waikiki.
In A Later Email, Leonard Wrote Back To Explain Further:
Dear Healthy Librarian,
I am aware of all the possible risks to having heart disease, having been a Type 1 diabetic since 1967 (at age 31). Didn't ever think I would still be around now.
I'm not worried about having a stoke and dealing with that sort of long-term disability. I take three different meds for blood pressure which work well. It was 94 over 46 a few minutes ago. It makes one a little dizzy, but I really prefer it this way. No one has ever had a stroke in our family, but heart attacks are the norm. I hope I can die in my sleep as my mom did.
Good luck with your health. I find it hard to believe that it is 2009 and we can't come up with a pill that dissolves plaque. Oh well, I have been fortunate to say the least...
Me Ke Aloha...Leonard.
Me: I still stand by my comment at the end of "Legacy of a Father's Heart Disease" -- the post that prompted Leonard to write to me:
Steve McKee's story strikes so close to home for me. My dad suffered a massive stroke at age 69 that left him alive, but unable to talk, read or communicate for 16 years. What saddens me the most is that he never had the chance to really know his grandchildren.
My dad never went to a doctor until after it was too late. He never knew he had high blood pressure or high cholesterol, or that he was considered obese by today's standards. He's the reason I started exercising and eating right over 30 years ago. Steve's story makes me glad I did!
Yes, I loved cheeseburgers & fries. But I'd prefer to stay healthy for as long as I can. Besides, I've really grown fond of Boca & Dr. Praeger's Burgers.