Kurt Harris, the messiah, the hype and the throwing of scales

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I think Kurt Harris is a smart man and makes some very good points now and then, not to mention his reading list resembles my own. But reading his blog recently I keep thinking of Monty Pythons Life of Brian. For those less versed in the film (shame on you!), Brian is mistaken for the messiah and tries his best to convince a rapidly growing crowd that he’s not. But whatever he does, it is taken as a sign and further confirmation that he is the messiah and he can do nothing wrong.

Dr. Harris stopped blogging for a while, which somehow seemed to increase his blogging status. He disabled his comments section and I bet that also increased his standing. In a recent post he talks about the important fact that people are focusing too much on stupid details and forgetting about true science, the bigger picture and how to relax and enjoy life. According to Harris in the “do no harm” post: “I’ve had more laudatory emails and fresh donations (Thank you all!) as a result of this post than any I’ve written in a long time.

Kurt is the new Brian. “Therapy versus Life,” has an important message and despite how obvious it is, it needs to be repeated. Worrying about the lectins in the beans you just ate or whether or not you should add an extra t-spoon of coconut oil to your daily diet will only take down a road you really don’t want to go. It will not make you live longer or happier!

Sure, a good diet can make life better, you might lose weight and be more toned. But life’s there to be lived. I advocate a diet mostly free of modern foods and I am really interested in finding answers about what foods affect the body in what way and what exercise is the most effective and so on. But I’m constantly working hard not to lose my head (and perhaps overcompensating a bit) and under no circumstance am I willing to give up beans with my bacon, beer or ice-cream or sugar (yeah that’s right, glucose AND fructose) in my daily cup of earl gray tea. Oh, and I’ve been exercising regularly once a week for about the last six months. Why? Because it doesn’t matter.

I’m not saying it’s easy to be happy. I’m saying we will definitely not get any happier by focusing on minor and insignificant details relating to diet or exercise.

Paleo is fad (fad = a temporary fashion; a craze, interest or activity that (some) people follow enthusiastically, but lasts for a short period of time). Sure it’s a good idea to not eat modern foods, but we must not start suggesting that a food is bad because it is modern. And we must not forget that a paleo diet is not actually a defined diet, but rather a some general guidelines based on not so strong evidence about what our ancestors ate.

Paleo is likely a fad because humans are crazy about inventing new words, labeling everything and grouping things together. The world is to complex not to make subgroups of everything and we’re so bloody good at it. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like the word paleo, but I bet a new craze will take over; the paleo group feel will dilute and hopefully integrate more into standard dietary advice.

But what about the throwing of scales? Talking to more and more people trying to lose weight just further convinces me that weighing is an obstacle for success. The first thing you should do if you want to lose weight is to chuck the old measuring tool in the trash. As I said, humans get to caught up in details and especially numbers on a scale. Have patience, in time you’ll know if you are losing fat. You were clothes, don’t you? Your clothes are the only reference you need. If you can’t get in or out of them, you’ve gained weight. Oh, and perhaps some getting to know your body and how you actually feel might help to.

And as for me? I feel an overpowering urge to tackle the “set-point” hypothesis issue. Something smells fishy about the standard theory which Harris and Guyenet, amongst others, find the most fitting.

17 kommentarer

  1. The scale are just a accounting of the progress, not something that should be use to set goals. They are a rapid way of crudely measuring progress, nothing more. It tells me day to day if I need to adjust my intake. Satiety is not something I ever know. I need to control my portions or I will be up 3-4 kgs in one week.

    Set points may be real for some people but not me.

    Paleo lite is the way my ancestors up to the 1850s, when grain became available to them. Up until then it was an occasional food at most. Some of you have been exposed for much longer. If I take out the sugar, and grains, that was the way I was raised. We had no n-6 oils nor money to buy manufactured goods of any kind.

    My goal is to not eat sugar, grain, lubricants, or manufactured eatable products for today. Life between meals is still to be lived as it always has been.


  2. I think your goals are wise and I know the scale can be a big motivational factor, but I still feel that its role should be downplayed. 3-4kg in one week is definitely not fat mass and if the scale is only thing indicating change I wouldn't bother with it. If you never feel sated, then something is definitely wrong and I hope you find out what, so you can chuck the scale in the end.


  3. I agree that the attention to «weight» is pretty stupid, but with nutrition details, I think there should be clarification. People are interested in different things and if someone is curious about glucose vs saturated fat (or vitamin D3 supplementation or whatever), go explore. I think the problem is, kind of like you said, people look to someone as the messiah and therefore just want a definite simple answer as to whether butter is better than coconut oil is better than tallow is better than a combination–of course these questions don't have definite answers because the work simply hasn't been done.


  4. «In reality, the so-called 'paleolithic diet' followed by cavemen was not necessarily ideal for long-term health… Mother Nature didn't give a whit about eating for a long healthy life; she just wanted cavemen to make more baby cavemen.» –The Rosedale Diet

    I tend to agree with you that paleo/primal may be a fad simply because when I browse the forums, it seems like a lot of people are still looking for that magic diet that's going to make them lose weight. They continue to count calories because that's what they know. They don't seem to care why eating real, whole foods is intrinsically a good idea for maintaining hormonal balance. They just want to know about how it's going to help them «consume less calories,» as if somehow a measure of heat relates in any tangible way to mass outside of Einstein's mass-energy equivalence. Do most of these people even know how a Calorie is measured? And, that to even exist in this universe, energy will always be conserved? Counting calories is completely obsessive and superstitious.

    What I like about Dr. Harris is his simple list of the neolithic agents of disease and his very reasonable 12-step plan to avoiding or minimizing them. His recent series of posts about macronutrients seem really useful, especially if coupled with the Ned Kock's HCE software. One could start counting some really useful things. Like correlating one's macronutrient intake with body composition (fat and lean), blood work results, etc. But, I'm afraid doing useful measurements will be beyond what most people will be capable of.


  5. I'm a set point fan – but then of course I am brain-biased (though Peter's last post about the leptin infusion in the 3rd ventricle of STZ diabetic mice was very interesting). Coming from an experience as a physician and seeing lots of death and disability – well, we are all going to die. I'd like to die with as little ugliness as possible. I think paleo gives me a better shot at doing that.


  6. I was also intrigued by Peters last post. I still feel there is something naive about the set-point hypothesis, but it might just be a rhetoric thing – an actual point or just a biological self-regulating system operating around some sort of changeable average. Going to have to read up on the matter as soon as I find the time. In the meantime living paleo-ish is probably the best strategy for both looking and feeling good.


  7. Hmmm. «Weight» is only a rough metric, but when you are more than 30 pounds too fat, it's a god departure point.

    There is an extensive literature which shows that most obese people have no clue how obese they are, and when they point to a silhouette that they feel best represents their shape, they wildly underestimate how fat they are.

    Scales are not perfect, and they don't take account of body recomposition, but they keep a lot of people out of utter and complete denial. In the absence of weighing, when most people gain 15 pounds, they estimate that they have gained 5 or less.

    Not everyone needs to weigh themselves. But the majority of people who lose fat and keep it off weigh themselves with regularity.


  8. I see your point David. I know there is a lot of self denial related to body size and I know the scale can be a bringer of some realization and a good motivational tool. But I think we can achieve the same with other «tools» like using some functional exercises or every day movements. There are many ways to rid someone of self denial, weighing is not the only way. I really don’t like the exaggerated focusing on weight and numbers and whish that it could be more about the feeling of every day wellness, feeling good and being able to tackle every day challenges. I’m not sure it’s doable, but I know too many people are focusing far too much on numbers and I know that the scale can be an obstacle. If someone thinks they’ve gained 5 pounds but have gained 15 then that doesn't really matter. What matters is how the weight gain affects that person. If the goal was to lose weight they will know it’s still there and if they don’t care about a weight gain then there is no problem. If I had to rely on numbers I would rather use blood work or self rated wellbeing than scales as markers of success.


  9. Each time in a past when I discontinued to carry about my weight I payed the price in form of a weight gain. It is wise in general to relax and enjoy life and not to be over-concern about small things, but people are notorious in not being able to reach the «golden middle». Unfortunately, most of the time it is one way or another. Nowadays I would rather be less heavy then less relaxed.


  10. Paleo might be a fad like plenty of previous nutritional philosophies; very possible – we will see.
    But your criticism of Kurt Harris is some awkward rambling; he can be quite arrogant in his tone (which can annoy me) but I do not see anything brian-like there. So, you might have a more relaxed attitude towards processed food: enjoy it. But as long as we do not know Kurt and his lifestyle personally we can hardly judge. He always supports his statements with rational arguments and seems certainly open to discussion. Your criticism seems to lack facts and a real argument. Perhaps read his latest posts again?


  11. luc0815
    This post is not criticizing Dr. Harris. Dr. Harris is a remarkably intelligent man and a great blogger. I am criticizing, or rather just musing on the getting caught in the hype part of things. Kurt has gotten his popularity partially from not getting onboard any hype. He uses the word paleo as meaning old and he would not say a food is bad just because it is new He does not “follow” any particular diet guru or diet for that matter, but remains true to science and is equally skeptic towards anyone. The point is that paleo is a great guiding line, but we cannot lose touch with reality or science, which I illustrated with the Brian clip. Harris has gained a great number of followers by saying that we should think for ourselves, but this seems to have resulted in people following his advice as that of a messiah and forgetting that we have to be equally skeptic towards Harris. There is no room for messiahs in science.


  12. >And as for me? I feel an overpowering urge to
    >Tackle the “set-point” hypothesis issue.
    >Something smells fishy about the standard theory
    >which Harris and Guyenet, amongst others, find
    >the most fitting.

    I'm very interested in this. I agree that it doesn't «feel» right. I've yet to see anyone articulate any kind of clear mechanism where the brain would settle on some «point». I prefer to think of my body composition as a continuum that is constantly slowly changing as a result of the signals between the cells and the brain. But on the other hand… there's this worrying issue of how my weight loss did seem to occur in a very stepwise manner.


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