Free The Animal

The [Potato] Hunger Games

My apologies in advance for the “SEO Brilliance” in the title

In what world would it be appropriate where, owing to the cheapness, ease and availability of of cheap carbohydrates, industrial oils, and soy protein, folks would see the light and discover a whole food paradigm…but then spurn potatoes because it’s not low carb?


It is about the carbs, a lot. It’s also about a lot of other stuff. It’s mostly about food engineering and marketing that in a land of plenty and cheap, you can pertty much eat all you want, when you want and that—THAT—is really the fundamental cause of obesity. Because almost any metabolically normal person could, with focussed effort, maintain a lean body comp on junk. I did it in my 20s. Lost 10-15 pounds on McDonald’s and going hungry….I had noticed that my Navy Khaki’s that were issued in Rhode Island as a Midshipman did not fit quite right almost 3 years later when I went to work for real. I got leaner at at 22, felt a lot better psychologically (connect dots).

But this is 30 years later for me. The general life damage was long since done: life, work, leisure…eventually not having to preen for pussy—and all the other stuff that got in the way year by year. And then, one day: I reached my own level of outrage.

Fast forward to now. paleo / Ancestral—just plain real food—is fantastic. And a potato is a real food. It just is. It grows in the ground, you dig it up, and you can eat it with little intervention. And it’s way easier to skin than a cat.

I haven’t measured my blood glucose once. In fact, I haven’t done that in years. I feel good eating a lot of potatoes mostly by themselves. Last night I had two, mashed, with some beef stock, reduced to thicken (zero fat, if it matters)…1.5 oz of roast beef chopped and added to the stock. It’s more than 16 hours later. I’m fine. Will eat soon. Took 6 hours after that 7pm meal to get tired enough to go to bed. But “I need to measure BG?” …And I don’t need to, should I happen to eat a 12-16 oz prime rib, baked potato with all the fixings and a salad smothered in blue cheese…and 2 hours later, I’m in a coma?

Occam’s razor?

This is just food. Probably the simpler you make it, the more one-off you make it, the less adverse consequences you’re going to feel. For example, I can eat just meat until I’m full, same result. Combine a lot of carb, protein & fat? Nope. It’s essentially scales of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner all year round when you do that, and it feels like shit to me and I’ll be goddamned that I still do it now & then. Do the same thing, but in extremely modest portions? I feel wonderful. That, and a toke or two of marijuana will have Robert & I kicking Bea and Julie’s asses in spades until 2 am, easy.

My conclusion? It’s partly about volume, partly about volume in the context of a lot of fat & protein with a lot of carbs. Single out macros in a real food context and that works too.

…But please don’t go all doctrinal on me. That’s why I highlighted Gene’s comment in the last post. Completely unexpected—and I had an email exchange or two with obesity researcher, Dr. Stephan Guyenet, about this potato hack—Stephan got a bit riled, which I don’t begrudge in the slightest; and if truth be told, love it. Try it. Like it. I also had no idea he had blogged about Poutine last Friday which was referenced in the comment; so yea, I got a bit Pwned there but it’s fine.

This commenter Gene is emblematic of the flippant, macho attitude toward understanding ancestral diets that is common in this community.

The argument about hunter-gatherers having sumptuous feasts eating aurochs is absurd. First of all, if you believe in the evolutionary logic behind the paleo diet, then you believe that we evolved mostly in African eating African game, which tends to be extremely lean (though there were other sources of fat such as nuts). Second, even if we did feast on relatively fatty megafauna for a couple thousand years before driving it to extinction in Europe (though there is actually no evidence whatsoever addressing the question of how much fat our ancestors ate during that relatively brief time), that does not mean the food was overall highly rewarding, give me a break! Imagine eating a meal that consisted mostly of unsalted, unseasoned, tough, possibly gamey, meat with no intramuscular fat (a characteristic of modern breeds) but lots of subcutaneous fat. Yeah, careful not to max out your food reward there. Third, we don’t even know that those HGs eating megafauna in Europe were our ancestors.

The comment on the Kitavans is particularly bizarre. The Kitavan diet is low in fat and low-ish in protein, 69% carbohydrate, and is mostly plain steamed/baked starch foods (cooked in an earth oven), in more recent times with a few flavorings such as ginger or chili pepper. Sometimes they do use grated coconut or coconut cream in their cooking, mixing it with the starches, but at a total fat intake of only 21% of kcals, how much grated coconut do you think they’re eating? Common sense please. The Kitavan diet is not the hedonic extravaganza the commenter makes it out to be. The average Westerner would not find the Kitavan diet particularly exciting, but it would certainly be considered more palatable than what most hunter-gatherers eat.

Gene said “I just don’t buy that it’s necessary, nor appropriate to our being to have to spend our days deliberately making our food as bland as possible – as though all of our taste and olafactory senses, and their links to our reward system were there by accident or as some kind of Devil-sent temptation”. This is 100% straw man. Who said we need to “spend our days deliberately making our food as bland as possible”? That seems a far cry from acknowledging that reward/palatability is a factor in food intake and body fatness.

The argument based on religion (“Judeo-Christian self-flagellation”) is nothing more than a cheap rhetorical trick. I suppose he thinks the research on food reward was funded by the Vatican, or perhaps that Christian fundamentalists changed the results of these experiments to trick us into thinking that food reward is relevant. Give me a break.

Making up just-so stories and arguing based on philosophy/religion is always more fun than taking a critical look at the evidence from a position of scientific knowledge, but it only leads to confusion.

Probably, that’ll be the last comment like that I’ll be lucky enough to get from someone I have as much esteem for as I do of Stephan. On the other hand, he’s known me and read my blog—and we’ve chatted in person—enough over the years to have no illusions about me. So, having been delighted by him, it would be untoward of me to not reciprocate in kind. Just the way I do shit.

I count myself lucky for having motivated Stephan to go there. Do you have any idea what a temendous value Stephan has been to me, this blog, and by extension, readers over the years? Without a doubt, I have linked to him more than anyone else and why? Because he did very good posts about many primitive societies doing very well on a wide range of diet—from the almost all meat & fat Inuit & Massai, to the high carb Kitavan and Kuna, and much in between. And how about his huge series on the Tokelauans? You know, the super healthy island population that gets about 50% of their whole calories from saturated fat? That link gives you the links to all 8 parts of his series.

I’m not a Stephan basher and it’s difficult to imagine I ever will be. I have my very own sense of propriety in the actions that span a lifetime, I rarely consider small trivial ones, and I always count on character to win out in the end. Call me an optimist. So how did I respond? Here.

“This commenter Gene is emblematic of the flippant, macho attitude toward understanding ancestral diets that is common in this community.”

Perhaps. That really doesn’t draw any conclusion as to whether that’s 1) a good thing (you’re just assuming it’s not) or, 2) a logical and well deserved backlash to the morass of bad science that is the root cause of perpetuating the obesity epidemic (I’m drawing a distinction between origination and perpetuation).

Occam’s razor, a bit? After all these decades and all the research, it’s not crazy to ask the question: would we have been better off in terms of increasing obesity if nary one single scientist had ever looked at it, one media outlet had ever promoted them, one university—or food company that makes earmarked donations to universities—ever funded them? I think it’s an excellent question.

Obesity research, in terms of _effectiveness_, has been a dismal—actually, laughable—failure. Top to bottom and wall to wall. One may argue that obesity researchers do now have the (or many/most) right answers, but that the right message is not being delivered, whatever. Fine, then stop researching and shut up. Eh? Go find work that at least shows some results. We’re talking DECADES, here. Decades of abject failure.

I say this as someone who actually does find merit in the reward/palatability thing and I have no doubt that obesity is primarily a multi-factoral (based on individuals) result of:

  1. eating too much
  2. too often
  3. of foods designed and engineered to entice eating too much and too often

But this is not really a characteristic of ribs, ribeye steaks, prime rib or many/most other real foods for most people when eaten in the context of an overall real food diet regardless of individual macronutrient ratios.

And you know this, Stephan. You’ve seen what tremendous benefits the Paleo/Ancestral movement has bestowed upon tons and tons of people over the last five years. It puts obesity researchers in short pants. Sorry, but it does. Yep, all these silly bloggers out there doing not only what the research community has failed to do for decades, but has arguably made worse.

Gene’s comment would be a perfect target for your criticism were it aimed at a group of Weight Watchers or any other group punishing themselves with various forms of crap in a box, denying themselves the pleasure of eating well—and he was admonishing them to raid the bakery and live it up.

Instead, his comment was in the context of a paleo group where people are trying to decide whether to eat potatoes plain, or with a bit of butter, salt, fat, etc.

And so after due consideration, I find your criticism pretty non-sequitur.

I hope everyone judges and evaluates that however they would. My indictment of obesity research is not directed at Stephan—he’s only been at it a short while formally. But I stand by it nonetheless.

There are a few things that puzzle me; so I’ll put them in bullets.

Stephan knows what the real solution to obesity is. I’m banking on the fact that he’ll make a mark somewhere, sometime. When and if he does, there will be those like me who knew he’d do it eventually. Others will call it redemption…because when they got a PhD in biology and went to work for a respected obesity research lab, they all immediately—after proclaiming their principled resistance publicly—tossed their lean weight all over the place, told the media to fuck off, and changed the world within the space of a year. In that, Stephan ought hang his head in shame…had it happened.

…Yep, Stephan also had the option to just shut up on his blog. Sure, he could have lost that important social influence while working from zero on zero where he was. Good Choice!

He also had the option to add more perspectives of hypothesis and knowledge to what interested parties such as you and I already knew or suspected. Now, he’s in the belly of the beast. And we get a free front row seat. I’ve never been one to look a gift horse in the mouth, while at the same time, I can be shocked at the raw, never-done-anything-much presumptuousness of almost everyone else.

Entitlement is a fucking epidemic.

I’ll finish with this. I have never once been offended, threatened, or in the slightest sort been taken aback or perturbed by a thing Stephan has ever said. In the end, this may be my most important point. I have never thought that by his posts on reward/palatability, he was doing a thing to make his readers care less about real food.

Quite the contrary.

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