Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dr. Robert Atkins vs. The U.S. Department Of Agriculture

"Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint."

-Mark Twain

I grew up on a rice farm in North Mississippi, in a family full of big-time eaters.  In addition to rice with every meal possible, we also ate a lot of bread.  Lots of spaghetti. 
When I was working on the farm, and then in warehouses, I never had to worry about weight gain.  It didn't matter what I threw in the furnace, it was going to burn. 

30 years later.....well, you know what happens.  I got up to 235 pounds.  I could feel my heartbeat in my neck without touching it.  When I was younger, my blood pressure was borderline anemic.  Earlier this year, I found out I was in danger of the problems associated with high blood pressure. 

What the heck?  I was making a point (more or less) of eating "balanced" meals, as I understood them.  I didn't eat many desserts.  I had looked at the USDA Food Pyramid on the back of bread wrappers enough times to understand how a regular healthy diet was supposed to work.  I would often sit down and knock off a mega-bowl of rice, and consider it healthy.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Pyramid, for those of you reading in other countries, used to look like this:

See those 6-11 recommended servings of bread, cereal, rice, and pasta at the bottom?  Remember this picture from the back of your old bread, cereal, rice, and pasta packages?  Why was the government advising us to eat more carbohydrates than a Chinese village?  Here's Buzzle:

During this time (2003-2004) controversy arose between the food pyramid of Harvard and that of the USDA. Proponents and supporters of the Harvard model claimed that the USDA pyramid was flawed. The argument had to do with the fact that it was the USDA, and not the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), that created the food pyramid. Ergo, the food pyramid of the USDA was prone to influence from lobbyists in the food industry.
You can go here for an interesting set of links about the sugar, beef, wheat, and tater industries scratching and clawing to preserve their places on Uncle Sam's menu recommendations.  Based on pressure from other health experts, dieters, and the fact that we were all getting fatter than the Sunday newspaper, (and we were dying a lot) the USDA eventually revised the pyramid to cut way back on the carbohydrates.  You can go here to see that they're now recommending 3 ounces of grains every day.  That's a heck of a lot less than 6 to 11 servings. 

So, back to my point..... I had to lose some weight.  I used to be in the bookselling business, so I went to the all-time bestseller, a title that spent about 4 years on the NYT Bestseller List: Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution.  Guess what I found inside? 

* The U.S. is the fattest nation in the world.  Many of our homeless people are overweight.
* Much of this has more to do with insulin resistance caused by eating too many carbohydrates.  We consume so many of the foods pushed by lobbyists (my words, not Dr. Atkins') that our bodies don't/can't burn off any fat. 
* Our epidemics of diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure can be attributed to these habits. 

There has been sufficient evidence to make these assertions for more than 30 years now.  But the heavy hand of government and such powerful organizations such as the Department Of Agriculture blanketed the nation with messages about low-fat dieting from the 1970's to the present.  In fact, U.S. government statistics from this time clearly demonstrate that along with the dramatic decrease in dietary fat intake....there was also a dramatic increase in the intake of refined carbohydrates, not only sugar, but white flour. 
There is no doubt in my mind that this increase in refined carbohydrates has been spurred by the media attention given to The Food Guide Pyramid, created by the U.S. Department Of Agriculture, which made 6-11 servings of wheat derivatives the basis of the pyramid.  I believe that the Food Guide Pyramid's recommendations have directly contributed to the twin epidemics of diabetes and obesity we now face in this country. 
(The food combinations that were recommended by the U.S.D.A.) are bad for your health, bad for your energy level, bad for your mental state, bad for your figure.  Bad for your career prospects, bad for your sex life, bad for your digestion, bad for your blood chemistry, bad for your heart.  What I'm saying is that they are bad. 
About three and a half weeks ago, I started doing the exact opposite of what the U.S. Department Of Agriculture recommended, and went with Dr. Atkins' approach. 
I've lost almost 20 pounds. 
I've pulled in my belt by THREE notches.  Count 'em.  Three.  Yeah.  Three. 
I've lowered my resting heart rate by almost 10 beats per minute. 
I feel much better.  The sunshine looks brighter.  There's now enough room in my pants for a Mormon family. 
I don't have anyone to blame but myself for getting up to 235 pounds.  I've always known I shouldn't eat so much. 

But is there anything, anything at all, that our government can do better than the private sector? 

One more note: go to for the circumstances of Dr. Atkins' death. 


Harper said...

Congrats on the loss.

Any idea of the cost difference in your current diet vs four weeks ago? I know that it drives me nuts that buy fresh produce and minimally processed food for my family's meals is easily triple what I could pay to feed them off any fast food value menu.

The Whited Sepulchre said...

Thanks for the congrats.
It's a little more expensive, but not too bad. We're talking steaks, canned tuna, roast beef, lettuce, Paul Newman's Oil and Vinegar dressing, chicken, ham, shrimp, mayo, assorted other low-carb vegetables, and enough water to float a standard fishing boat.
It probably runs me about $50 - $60 per week.
For fast food, believe it or not, Waffle House has a salad with two chickens on top for $4.95

Am ready for a Camp Blownstar Meetup. NOW.

Anonymous said...

SO, how's the diet now? Any continued weight loss? Was it just diet or did you involve exercise as well?

Oh, one thing the government does better than private sector is regulate the private sector...

The Whited Sepulchre said...

I've gained some back because of a renewed appreciation for beer.
And yes, it gives me great comfort to know that the head of Monsanto is running the FDA.