There Is No Hammer That Nails Every Dietary and Health Issue

For a few years now I’ve seen more and more reference to Circadian Rhythm as the latest hammer, where everything is a nail.

As specialists, humans tend to do that a lot. If you are [a/an]…

  1. Paleo, then everything is explained by the consumption of non-Paleo foods.
  2. Low-Carb, then everything is explained by the consumption of carbohydrates.
  3. Fatphobe, then everything is explained by added or excess fat.
  4. Keto, then everything is explained by the absence of high levels of blood ketones.
  5. Vegan, then everything is explained by the inclusion of animals in your diet.
  6. CICO, then everything is explained by eating too much and moving too little.
  7. Obesity researcher, then everything is explained by brain chemistry.
  8. Gut biome fan, then everything is explained by probiotics, prebiotics, and their effects.
  9. Food purity fan, then everything is explained by mandatory food enrichment policy.

And so it goes. Over the years, while highlighting many of these things and promoting them, my true focus has always been to integrate new ideas and approaches as a part of the puzzle and not the hammer that nails all questions.

This is the problem with specialization and I think health and obesity science and research needs to be more generalized, where people who have a legitimate focus dialog, exchange ideas, and make the attempt to generalize and widen their thinking to all potentially relevant facts—not just those that support their narrow interpretations of probable causes.

And here’s the thing: for every single one of those holy-grail solutions to all problems, above, it’s easy to find individuals, cultures, and populations that don’t seem all that susceptible in terms of health or obesity. In each of those dietary paradigms, you can find those who die young, die way old, are skinny, are fat, of ill health, and those who make 90 and the last doctor they saw was when being born. In other words, it’s likely super-multifactoral and so complex we may never have “a pill.”

Everyone wants a pill, and to such an extent it’s its own metaphor.

So the latest thing is circadian rhythms. I’ve observed the pop fad over a few years, largely ignored it, laughed at people wearing yellow and orange glasses indoors—even at night—and generally considered it an instance where valid science (there is well established and understood circadian rhythm science) gets used to develop pop “theories” and various pseudoscience stuff to garner attention and sell products.

Is it a great idea to have all your lights on in the evening? Probably not when a couple of low-watt end-table lamps will do. How about a TV? Maybe, but most of the new flat screens have sensors so the darker, the dimmer. How about waking up in the middle of the night and staring at a phone or tablet screen? I doubt that’s “good”…but on the other hand, how long have people been turning on a light and reading a book until they get tired and for how long has it been touted as an insomnia cure? Does the act of engaging your mind intellectually bring on a fatigue that outweighs whatever effect the blue light has?

And consider all the millions and millions and millions of people who work at night and have done so for centuries, or work crazy shifts? Airline pilots and flight attendants, who get the double whammy of work and light at night, combined with huge and frequent time-zone shifts, seem predominately rather lean and, is there serious research that points to huge onset health problems later in life? Perhaps it takes a toll on longevity, but so do lots of things people want to pursue anyway.

…Without mentioning names, I got onto this mini-rant this morning by seeing a tweet by a well-known and respected dude in the general community, essentially saying that because of circadian rhythms, one ought not “skip breakfast;” and that bacon & eggs is a great way to do it. In other words, because of some—in my opinion—misapplied and exuberant stretching of facts and associations into a dubious hammer, not being particularly hungry in the morning is just another popped nail to be hammered down.

So, the message is, eat when you’re not hungry. Not eating when you’re not hungry is a problem, because circadian rhythm.

And sure enough, the first response is by a “keto” advocate in the health profession, who says ‘yep, I’ve eaten bacon & eggs first thing every morning for years.’ Then, you look at her profile pic, and you believe her.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More


  1. Jbg on February 19, 2017 at 17:10

    Great post. Denise Minger talked about the “magic” of both very low carb and very low fat diets. Both seem to work. How can that be? It seems that any of the dietary interventions you listed can have benefits. But like a course of antibiotics or a round of chemo therapy, they may not be optimal for all situations at all times. The only thing I’m pretty sure of is that we live in a unique time in human history such that our problems don’t revolve around calorie scarcity and infectious disease. Given that those two conditions have extended the length and quality of our lives significantly, it not really a bad spot to be in as a species.

    • thhq on February 19, 2017 at 18:48

      Read Guyenet’s review of Syndrome X yet? The author’s preferred diet for controlling metabolic syndrome was right in the middle of Denise’s dietary swamp….15% protein, and the rest equally divided netween fat and carbs. In other words, the SAD.

    • Richard Nikoley on February 19, 2017 at 19:22

      Yea, lighten up. Drill down to your problems and fix them. While humanity has made it easier to succumb, it’s also easiest to fix than ever.

    • Richard Nikoley on February 19, 2017 at 19:26


      If you go to 30% protein and trade off fat or carb, as relatively mutually excluding, it becomes so easy. Toss in a 6-8 hour eating window, fasted 16-18 daily, and you can’t help but get lean.

      Bump protein to about 50%, and you get Leangains bodybuilding.

      That’s it, plus the training.

    • Mark J on February 20, 2017 at 12:39

      “Over the course of one year, the researchers compared four different conditions:
      normal protein, normal carbohydrate
      normal protein, low carbohydrate
      high protein, low carbohydrate
      high protein, normal carbohydrate.

      Interestingly, the two groups eating the high protein lost the most weight.
      And the real kicker? Varying the levels of fats and carbs seemed to make no difference to body composition.”

    • Mark J on February 20, 2017 at 12:50

      Also, reminds me of the Zone diet. Maybe ‘ole Dr. Sears was at least 1/3rd right 😉 (ie, on the protein angle).

    • johnny on February 27, 2017 at 14:32

      Richard, do you believe high protein (50%?) promotes cancer?

    • Richard Nikoley on February 27, 2017 at 19:33

      Well, 50% is damn high so who knows. Pretty hard to eat (chew) much more than about 30% long term.

  2. thhq on February 19, 2017 at 18:44

    The dietary hammer. A method of restricting eating using a blunt unthinking tool. Great concept.

    I always loved reading hacks for vegans who wanted to be paleo. What could they eat? No meat, no eggs, no fruit, no grain, no dairy, no sugar, no starch. By using two hammers at once you’re pretty much left with the celery diet.

    • ramon on February 20, 2017 at 05:06

      Vegans bother me the most as they feel they have a moral position to their diet. I can read the about the hammers from the other “experts” but can’t take the vegans.

      Denise’s “carbosis” comments make me think of the “potato hack” immediately.

    • ramon on February 21, 2017 at 11:18


      Funny story my only vegan friend I ever had stopped being a vegan when his “pet cat” stopped doing so well on “vegan cat food”.

  3. Hap on February 19, 2017 at 20:19

    This is why I posted that I would be paralyzed to recommend a diet to anyone….

    There are just too many factors to take into account with an individual. You need a quiver, not a magic bullet , and a very good understanding of the root problem for the individual in front of you.

    ADvice above, although not specific is about as terse and germane as advice gets with this issue.
    Reprised here:
    Drill down to your problems and fix them. While humanity has made it easier to succumb, it’s also easiest to fix than ever.

    It is fortuitous that some macro fixes…..normalize “micro” problems.

    • gabkad on February 20, 2017 at 11:06

      ramon, veganism isn’t a diet, per se. It’s a life style which eschews the use of animals for anything. Including leather etc. Intelligent vegans know that the diet itself has issues and they supplement whatever they know they can’t obtain from the food. It’s got to be done well or there are deficiencies.

      Too many vegans make a decision from emotion but don’t do their research as to what they must consume in order to maintain health.

      I’m not vegan and do not intend to be. I can understand why vegans don’t eat ‘sentient’ beings. Just I think they could get themselves a goodly feed of oysters, clams, and mussels sometimes and whatever else ‘brainless’ protein is available. The ones that don’t, I consider it to be an eating disorder.

  4. VW on February 20, 2017 at 06:45

    “There Is No Hammer That Nails Every Dietary and Health Issue”

    See “The Quilt” by Dr. Jack Kruse

  5. Gary on February 20, 2017 at 07:03

    Most of us who are reasonably healthy can do well on an omnivorous diet with a greatly varying proportion of carbohydrate to fat to protein, as long as we don’t get stuck in the same rut for too long.

    The commenter on the blog of Michael Eades cited a hammer/nail laundry list: everything from the Kitivan to the centenarian that eats fried chicken and ice cream (everyday) for decades.

    “Unfortunately, metabolic flexibility isn’t forever. Most of us experience a decline in metabolic flexibility as we age.” Michael Eades

    “Yudkin thought sugar was the initiating problem. Cleave thought refined carbs, mainly wheat and sugar, were the initiating problem. Those in the third camp believe all carbs are bad.” Eades

    “The three camps differ in what they believe is the cause, the triggering event, so to speak, but they all agree that once the problem sets in and metabolic flexibility is lost, and the only way to successfully treat the problem is with a low-carb diet. ” Eades

    And then Michael Eades provided this summation:

    As Hamlet said to Horatio:

    There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

    And in another almost as famous quote, when Willie Sutton, after being arrested for bank robbery for the umpteenth, was asked why he kept robbing banks. His reply: “Because that’s where the money is.”

    Despite the vast number of possibilities you mentioned, I suspect that for the greatest number of people, the insulin-carb hypothesis is where the money is.

    I agree that there are many factors out there.

    • Richard Nikoley on February 20, 2017 at 07:18

      I’m quite certain it’s not. Too many exceptions.

      I’d recommend Guyenet’s book, The Hungry Brain. Eades is likely going to, as well.

      Comparing blunt-instrument metabolic analysis to more laser-like neuroscience as presented in The Hungry Brain reminded me of reading all the classics in Enlightenment philosophy and then doing a study of epistemology.

      At any rate, in the context of higher protein intakes from good animal and seafood sources, some dairy, on the order of 30% calories, I believe the fat vs. carb war is a total wash. Just trade them off: fattier proteins, lower carbs, leaner proteins, higher carbs.

  6. Bret on February 20, 2017 at 08:10

    “Just trade them off: fattier proteins, lower carbs, leaner proteins, higher carbs.”

    The beauty is that this process started working automatically for me, almost on a subconscious level, once I got my appetite under control and trusted myself to eat as little as I felt like eating — rather than overeating now for fear of overeating later (yeezus, what a face palmer…those admonishing memes about “you must eat breakfast or you’ll wreck your metabolism” …or… “don’t eat too little at a meal, or you’ll be ravenous later” — treating oneself, both physiologically and psychologically, as a delicate little flower that must never be exposed to even a modicum of deprivation and never exercise even a shred of discipline). Once that transformation was complete, I learned that if I ate a fatty steak, I was not hungry for potatoes—and vice versa.

    Gary, I concur on the importance of not getting stuck in a rut. When people try to codify this stuff as black and white and do the exact same friggin thing day after day, in detail, forever (cough chronic keto cough), they’re losing their connection to their appetite and at high risk of plateau/regain.

  7. gabkad on February 20, 2017 at 09:59

    For the past number of months I’ve been watching YouTube videos of some homesteading families living in North Carolina not far from Asheville. Not preppers. Without exception, these people and others who are part of the permaculture movement and raising animals are not overweight. Whenever there’s video of the family sitting down for a meal, they sure don’t eat huge amounts of food. (They do shop at Wholefoods and buy ‘organic’ groceries. Must be cheaper in the USA than it is in Canada.) These people are physically active (not by going to the gym) and they are not stressing over how much to eat and proportion of fat/protein/carbs.

    Justin Rhodes and his wife and 4 kids have started on the Great American Farm Tour. They bought a school bus and had it converted into a sort of RV. Nice job. Yesterday he posted a couple of videos on humane pig slaughter (harvest they call it). My only qualm about it all is the pig is killed within eyeshot of the next pig. I think that’s wrong.

    To me, even just producing a daily vlog would be beyond my capacity. They do a great job.

    Just my 2 cents worth: seems an active life and not stuffing the face and cooking ones own food helps to keep a person from becoming overweight. That’s for sure. Stephen Guyenet’s point about how people used to have to be physically active in their daily lives to get stuff done is valid.

    North Carolina is gorgeous.

    • thhq on February 20, 2017 at 12:52

      Guyenet’s recent review of Syndrome X says 25% obesity, 25% inactivity, 50% genetics is what causes metabolic syndrome. I’ve paid attention to multifactorials like this for CVD, where sex/age/HDL/systolic blood pressure are the primary factors in the Framingham model. I can’t control genetics, sex and age. But I can control obesity, inactivity, HDL and systolic blood pressure. For me 75% of the benefit comes from exercise, which raises HDL (from 35 to 70), lowers systolic blood pressure and controls weight, and 25% eating so that my weight doesn’t increase. When I was obese, it was 75% eating less and 25% increasing activity, because at the start calorie restriction worked better for weight loss than exercise.

      The balance of macros is secondary to the main factors. There are some that argue that protein or fat can increase HDL, but I’ve never seen it.

  8. Hap on February 20, 2017 at 12:18

    I read Stephan Guyenets book….and I am substantially involved in neuroscience and medical imaging.

    I thought the book was very good and presented certain historical events in the progress of neuroscience and obesity, even touching on things like serendipity and petty professional jealousies and politics….as having significant impact. To be human is to be flawed. I guess that’s why I raise eyebrows at psychology and social science research.

    Enlightenment philosophy has focused our efforts at reductionism. While doing that for a living, it makes me uncomfortable because deep down I fathom how complex biological systems are and how susceptible to the many cascades and feedback loops, foiling cause and effect assessment. Maybe Watson can figure it out. Laser like neuroscience is starting to look like particle physics an unending series of neurons, smaller neurons, receptors, transmitters, circuits, peptides, signalling systems. If you look, they will come. throw on top of that, all the peripheral inputs and feedback… What comes out is emergent….at best. I guess that’s why Epistemology….as we have problems differentiating knowledge from opinion (which flourishes in this environment of complexity)……

    Anyway, Guyenet has made a nice contribution….perhaps the best of which was a series of small gray boxes with (mostly) common sense prescriptions, based on perhaps 100’s of millions of dollars in neuroscience research.

    However, I got really motivated after a CAC and a rising A1C.

  9. MAJ-13 on February 21, 2017 at 08:11

    Always, always, always do better with fat loss and body comp when I increase protein and drop carbs. Not to ridiculously low levels but enough so I’m at about 25% calories from carbs and eating my LBM in grams of protein per day (~100 g). Oh but that also means I eat hypocalorically…which the satiety of protein aids in the extreme. I once went on about 1000 calls a day for over a week without ever feeling hungry simply by increasing my protein consumption. Lost fat easily, no pain. Then an occasion for indulgence would arise and I’d get off track. So I yo-yo.

    I would say I eat mostly veggies and fat lately, fish/seafood, some meat mostly venison or wild turkey, no grains as I don’t tolerate them well (years of experimentation tell me so), some legumes, fruit and tubers when in season. So that would be mostly…paleo? Pegan? I guess. No labels. I ate a few cupcakes that my niece brought the other day. Felt like poop for a while, but back to normal now. Food is 90% in line.

    As for circadian rhythms, my schedule means I need good sleep, I must rise early and get several people, including myself, out of the house just as day breaks. I use the amber goggles when I read with the iPad at night. They help, but not as much as the pleasant exhaustion of a good day of work. I use them less frequently lately and have some agita at bedtime, but I’m also trying to cut back on nighttime blue light exposure via all sources. I have not been ambitious enough to do an N=1 of all possible variables. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Keep it simple, stoopid…

    • Jennifer Wilson on February 23, 2017 at 07:59

      If you always do well with fat loss, maybe what you’re doing isn’t working? Why aren’t you maintaining?

  10. JP on February 25, 2017 at 10:37

    This isn’t the ultimate hammer either, but it’s a surprisingly good article for Yahoo:

    “… spare Kitavans from chronic ailments like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and dementia: It’s also given them a lifetime of smooth, acne-free skin.

    The average Kitavan diet is, by all accounts, fairly unremarkable. It’s simple, with no purported “miracle fruit” or “rare nut” to speak of, and Kitavans don’t even exercise much…the current inhabitants still follow the same diet as the indigenous people. That diet consists primarily of yams, sweet potatoes, and taro (all part of a group known as tubers), local fruits (namely coconut), fish, and vegetables.”

    I can hear the LCHF group’s explanation already: “It must be the fish and lack of wheat and white sugar! Now if we can just replace their tubers and fruit with red fatty meats, eggs and ghee.”

    • thhq on March 2, 2017 at 06:09

      Reading diet blogs and books is like picking ponies using the Racing Form. When you’re focused on the next race you miss the big picture. Diet and health are lifetime exercises. Basically doing the same damn thing every day forever. 30 day shifts to get weight loss aren’t sustainable.

  11. David Brown on February 26, 2017 at 09:13

    You’d think that with upwards of 20,000 endocannabinoid system research papers available for perusal, someone would mention the effects of sleep deprivation on endocannabinoid tone. Google – circadian rhythms Endocannabinoid system

    “…sleep deprivation amplifies certain aspects of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) that increase appetite and cravings for energy-dense foods. Results from a recent study published in the journal Sleep suggests that a poor night’s sleep leads to an increase in the body’s cannabis-like chemical compounds (including the endocannabinoid 2-AG, or 2-Arachidonoylglycerol), and activates many of the same pathways as a THC-dominant, CB1-receptor-weighted cannabis that makes food more appealing and rewarding.

    “The researchers were especially interested in 2-arachidonoylglycerol, or 2-AG, an endocannabinoid known to help the body regulate appetite and energy levels. They found that the 2-AG levels vary much more throughout the day in sleep-deprived people. Not enough sleep, the researchers concluded, made the endocannabinoid system more active, compelling the sleepy people to eat more.”

  12. Jim on March 10, 2017 at 10:40

    Love this post mate , great work

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