Saturday, February 5, 2011

Some Things I Like About "The New Evolution Diet"

by Chris Masterjohn

My overall review of Art De Vany's The New Evolution Diet probably came across pretty negatively, but there's a lot of stuff I like about the book that's worth summarizing. 

Unfortunately, many of the poorer ideas in the book shine forth with a brighter light simply because these good ideas have been discussed in many other places, and that tends to steal credit away from Dr. De Vany, who has apparently been discussing these ideas on his blog for years.  Some of them are also much more difficult than throwing away egg yolks, making it difficult to tell whether the person of average motivation would really benefit from the book. 

Nevertheless, here they are.

Intermittent Fasting.  My interest in intermittent fasting began just under eight years ago when many of us on the Yahoogroup Native-Nutrition, a spinoff of the Weston A Price Foundation that eventually took on its own life, began discussing Ori Hofmekler's book, The Warrior Diet: Switch on Your Biological Powerhouse for High Energy, Explosive Strength, and a Leaner, Harder BodyI never actually got around to reading The Warrior Diet, but I did read Hofmekler's later and more technical book, Maximum Muscle, Minimum Fat: The Secret Science Behind Physical Transformation, which discusses intermittent fasting as well as cold exposure and other ideas currently popular in the Paleo movement.   Hofmekler recommended eating most of your food in a four-hour window in the evening in those books, whereas De Vany recommends the gentler approach of skipping a single meal or a whole day's worth of food once a week

I don't think practicing intermittent fasting is necessary to be healthy, but I do think it has the potential to lengthen life, prevent cancer and other forms of degeneration, expand dietary flexibility in a practical way, and offer the opportunity for spiritual growth for those interested.

Against Snacking.  De Vany suggests three meals a day and comes out clearly against snacking.  He also recommends exercising in the fasting state.  In my experience, these recommendations are extremely helpful.  I first read of these principles in Byron Richards' Mastering Lepting: Your Guide to Permanent Weight Loss and Optimum Health, another book that was discussed on Native-Nutrition as an outgrowth of our discussion of The Warrior Diet.  Richards recommends eating two or three meals a day with no snacks, fasting at least three hours before beginning exercise, and at least three hours before going to bed.  While this book has some horrible grammar to trudge through and is often somewhat frustrating to read, these recommendations were extremely helpful to me in overcoming some of my sleeping problems.

I have encountered people with putative adrenal problems who could not handle the fasting involved in The Warrior Diet or even Mastering Leptin, so I would not recommend either of these approaches for everyone, but I do think the idea of three meals a day with no snacks and exercising on an empty stomach are very accessible and would benefit most people.

High-Intensity Interval and Strength Training.  De Vany recommends exercising in short bursts rather than for long durations, and getting cardio by doing intense and quickly repeated bursts of strength training.  I've been into kettlebells for years, which achieve precisely that.  These bad boys also came up in discussions on Native-Nutrition almost eight years ago.  I also generally do weight lifting routines with low bouts of rest between sets, about one minute in length.  I've only recently discovered what havoc four minutes of Tabata squats with only ten seconds rest between sets can wreak on my back and thighs through a session at CrossFit NYC

High-intensity interval training (HIT) is quite in fashion nowadays, and popular magazines you'd find at the gym like Men's Health often recommend it.  I've even seen discussions of intermittent fasting in these magazines.  And you can even buy kettlebells at Wal-Mart now.  I think one could probably make an argument for other types of exercise depending on your goals, but I do think there is some good research favoring HIT.

Against Calorie Counting.  De Vany writes that "a smart diet reduces the amount of energy (meaning food) you feel like consuming at the same time that it increases the amount of energy you feel like spending.  And this occurs spontaneously, without any thoughts of cutting calories, or exercising more, or anything else.  It just happens."  While I think many people would find themselves consuming too few calories on the low-fat, low-carb plan that De Vany provides, I agree with the general principle that a diet should be satisfying and make you energetic.  Of course, a diet that promotes leptin sensitivity and proper thyroid functioning, among other important physiological benefits, will improve even the energy you expend at rest.  I suppose Gary Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories, and Why We Get Fat will prove to be the quintessential deconstructions of the calorie-cutting myth, and I'll be reading and reviewing those books on this site soon.

"Posture Is a Full-Time Event."  I definitely agree with this statement, and believe that posture is incredibly important to health.  One of the coaches for the ballroom dance team I'm part of, Mark Sheldon, often drills home the point that a few hours practicing dance a week isn't going to compensate for spending 6-8 hours hunched over a laptop every day.  I have little doubt that disruptions of posture have significant metabolic effects.  I'm looking forward to reading Esther Gokhale's 8 Steps to a Pain-Free BackHere's a lecture of hers:

Nassim Nicholas Taleb on Randomness.  Taleb, author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable and Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and In the Marketsbooks I should probably put on my to-read list, wrote an excellent afterword to De Vany's book.  He makes some great points about the limitations of science, the importance of tradition, being blinded against empirical evidence by pre-conceived notions of "what makes sense," and the importance of variety, change, and occasional intensity in one's diet and lifestyle.  If you're the type to cough up $14 for a ten-page essay, this is the best part of the book.

Some Good Food Recommendations.  Despite trashing egg yolks, fat, and red meat, the diet does get rid of junk food and eliminates non-Paleo foods, which might represent common food sensitivities.  Of course, opposition to junk food can be found almost everywhere in the health world, and there are a lot of Paleo books already out now.  And I agree with Chris Kresser that Paleo restrictions should be seen as a starting point, and that many neolithic foods should often be included in a person's diet according to their individual needs and tolerances.  I also think a comprehensive diet book should discuss food preparation methods to render grains and legumes non-toxic, even if these are deemed impractical or imperfect, and a diet purportedly based on "evolution" should cover variation in human responses to these foods, as well as how these responses might change over time with genetic, epigenetic, non-genetic (e.g. intestinal flora), and technological adaptations. 

Unfortunately, many of these ideas are overshadowed by the inconsistent and incoherent presentation of physiology, the difficult and likely often hypocaloric recommendations of low-fat, low-carb eating, and some of the bizarre ideas about metabolism, genetics, and evolution presented in the book that I covered in my primary review

Had this book come out eight years ago, much of it would seem revolutionary to me and I would be inclined to overlook some of these negative attributes.  As it stands, it seems to have little to offer to the "inititated" who are already familiar with these concepts, and has potential dangers for the newcomer who might be more enamored with negative recommendations like trashing egg yolks while intimidated by some of the better, but harder suggestions.  Certainly, this book has something for many a curious person that lies somewhere in between, so I won't make a blanket recommendation against the book.  Instead I'd like to give kudos to Dr. De Vany for all the good he's done over the years, but just provide the warning: reader beware.

Read more about the author, Chris Masterjohn, PhD, here.


  1. Chris:

    Taleb's Fooled by Randomness is the better book, in my view.

  2. I haven't read Fooled by Randomness. The Black Swan is really a few pages worth of (very crucial) ideas expanded to an entire book. If you read a 10 page essay from Taleb you probably don't need to read The Black Swan.

  3. Thanks for the review, I found myself agreeing with it. I too loved the afterward by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the best part of the book!

    I enjoyed Esther Gokhale's book, and even though I don't have back problems her recommended postures make such a difference in daily activities - they feel far less stressful on my back.

  4. You can't discuss intermittent fasting without mentioning Martin Berkhan. It's interesting to see that he advocates DV's three meal a day advice whilst condensing the feeding period to 8 hrs which is half of what Ori recommends. He is also an advocate of HIT from what I understand.

    But most importantly however, he has proved with numerous before/after pictures that you can get amazing results without having to resort to the incessant feeding regimens so common in the fitness mainstream.

    BTW his latest article is well worth reading, I think.

    I am actually following a bastardized version of Berkhan's fasted protocol. It's surprisingly effective and easy. There is something well worth considering here as a lifestyle diet.

    Anyway, now I'm off to order DV's book. Even though you didn't quite like it I always find something worth taking away even when I don't agree with people fully.

  5. Richard, thanks! I added the link. Greg, thanks for the warning. Julianne, you're welcome, and thanks for the comments! John, thanks for mentioning Berkhan's work. I hope you enjoy De Vany's book.


  6. Chris,

    There is a lot of intuitive appeal to the idea that posture is an important part of health. It is something I believed myself for a long time and there is some real logic there. However, there is significant evidence suggesting that this hypothesis is simply incorrect, (or at least massively overstated) and as far as I know there is very little evidence supporting it.

    For example, if poor posture is a cause of back pain, you would expect that persons with measurable postural deviations would have more back pain. But that is not what the studies usually find, as discussed in an excellent article by Eyal Lederman called the Myth of Core Stability. Here is a quote from a blog post I wrote summarizing some aspects of the paper:

    “In one study, researchers looked at the posture of teenagers and then tracked who developed back pain in adulthood. Teenagers with postural asymmetry, thoracic kyphosis (chest slumping) and lumbar lordosis (overly arched low lack) were no more likely to develop back pain than others with “better” posture.

    Another study looked at increases in low back curve and pelvic angle due to pregnancy. The women with more postural distortion were no more likely to have back pain during the pregnancy.  Another study found that adults with lumbar scoliosis and increased low back curve were no more likely to have back pain than others. Other studies have shown no association between pelvic asymmetry, sacral base angle and low back pain. Leg length inequality seems to have no effect on back pain unless it is more than 200 mm (the average leg length difference is 5.2 mm). Hamstring and psoas tightness do not predict back pain, and there is strong evidence that orthotics do not prevent back pain.

    These results are particularly striking given that many studies have quite easily found other factors that correlate well with low back pain, such as exercise, job satisfaction, educational level, stress, and smoking.”

    The rest of my post can be found here:

    The Lederman article with citations to the studies can be found here:

  7. Todd, it doesn't matter if there are some studies saying posture doesn't matter if people are in fact achieving less pain and injury by adjusting their posture. I am one of the many that have achieved that, and highly recommend Gokhale's book. Moreover, the studies you cited are quite wide-ranging and only briefly touch on posture- I find them unconvincing on the subject of posture, particularly given the viewpoint of Gokhale that the mainstream does not give proper postural advice anyway.

  8. Might-o'chondri-ALFebruary 5, 2011 at 4:12 PM

    There are genetic factors contributing to who will absolutely suffer things - like lower back pain. Postural integrity improves pulmonary respiration efficiency.

  9. Greg,

    I’m glad you had good results from the Gokhale method. I would encourage everyone to experiment to find what works for them.

    However, I disagree that we should look to personal anecdotes over formal studies in trying to answer the question of whether bad posture causes pain or whether postural correction advice can help with pain. Anecdotes are interesting but they don’t control for many variables that may be causing improvement, such as placebo. I also disagree that studies cited above do not directly address the correlation between posture and pain. For example, see here: .

    Further, I have read Gokhale’s book, which I enjoyed, but most of her advice does not appear to be significantly different from mainstream advice - activate your core, reposition your shoulder blades, hinge at the hips, etc. I will admit that her recommendation for an anterior tilt in the pelvis is contrary to much mainstream advice, but most of her advice is familiar postural correction strategy that has been practiced for many years by PTs and other experts. To my knowledge there are no studies showing that such techniques have any advantage over general exercise in treating back pain.

    If there is any evidence in favor of any postural correction method I would love to see it, but my reading of what is out there leads me to expect that the Gokhale method would not generate significantly different results from general exercise.

  10. High Intensity Training (HIT) and High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) are different. Both are advocated by the Paleo movement though.

  11. Might-o'chondri-ALFebruary 5, 2011 at 9:34 PM

    Genetics of pain ....

    In regard to sensitivization to pain there is the enzyme (COMT) regulating the breakdown of catecholamine. Gene polymorphism of Catechol-O-Methyl transferase val 158(codon)met changes the rate/degree and affects both dopamine and adrenaline/noradrenaline action on nerves.

    When COMT gene has valine/valine program it means COMT is more active, the dopamine 2 receptors are less active to influence nerves and endogenous opiates' function is upregulated. In other words, it's 4 times quicker clearing the way for endogenous opioids functioning.

    When metionine/metionine genetic arrangement COMT is inhibited, opioid pathway suppressed and dopamine ( neurobiology holds sway. This is to say person reacts readily to incoming sensations with felt pain.

    Another genetic basis involved in chronic exposure to peripheral nerve irritation is the Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). The polymorphism BDNF val66met inhibits expression of this neurotrophin protein (BDNF); it is less active and the lucky individual is not constantly irritated.

    Third is the "Mu" opioid genetic polymorphism, OPRM1 A118G. With guanine switched for adenine the individual's Beta-endorphins are upregulated 3 fold. Shift for guanine means can sustain pressure sensation better, otherwise painful stimuli evoke less intense signal and Event-Related electrical Potential involving nerve component N1 modulate to lower spikes.

    Finally, a note regarding lumbar disc pathology studied in 1,264 U.S.A. caucasian patients. Those with first degree relatives having lumbar disc disease had a 4.15 times greater risk for also developing lumbar disc problems. Even those with third degree relationship to suffering relatives are 1.46 times more likely to develop the problem than the general public.

  12. Chris, in the article "Vitamin A On Trial: Does Vitamin A Cause Osteoporosis?" you said: "cod liver oil, in fact, because of its vitamin A content, is the only source of essential fatty acids that can lower levels of harmful, free-radical lipid peroxides, while all other sources of essential fatty acids raise lipid peroxides." Yet in the article you used as reference for this ( you said: "Cod liver oil, on the other hand, has been shown to inhibit lipid peroxidation. One study found that cod liver oil depressed drug-induced lipid peroxidation in mice under the same conditions by which soybean oil increased lipid peroxidation.52 Another study found that feeding cod liver oil entirely abolished the increased level of lipid peroxidation found in diabetic rats.55 In both studies, the depression of lipid peroxidation was related to a sparing effect on glutathione peroxidase activity, which was also the case in rats saved from a lethal dose of dioxin by vitamin A supplementation, suggesting that the protective effect of cod liver oil is due to its high vitamin A content."

    When did a suggest became a sure?

  13. Hi Chris. If you were going to do an n=1 experiment trying to tease out the differences between your approach to dietary fat and Professor De Vany's, how would you set it up? Since I saw the biggest changes in body composition within 3 months, I think 3 months is a good time period to do such an experiment- not too long. In this experiment a person would get bloodwork done and then follow with your or Professor De Vany's approach for 3 months. At the end of three months the same blood work would be done, at which point the person would follow the different dietary guidelines for 3 months and then get blood work done. Exercise wouldn't need to change since you both seem to share the same approach.

    Cheap measures could be average fasting morning glucose (glucose meters are sold fairly cheaply everywhere), HbA1c (these monitors are also sold at places like Walgreens, but I'm not sure how accurate they are- I deal with anemia, so they aren't accurate for people like me), blood pressure, body fat readings using calipers (sold cheaply on amazon), and before and after photos taken from different angles. Maybe physical performance readings could also be included like sprint times. Of course there are going to be lots of variables, but if such an n=1 experiment were to be done testing your dietary approach vs Professor De Vany's, how would you set it up?

    PS Maybe tracking improvements is daily or weekly readings would be more useful than just comparing 3 month pre/post numbers.

  14. Re: posture. Aside from any health benefits to good posture, posture at rest and when walking seems to signal our mood. This in turn can affect how others react to us. That's why police are taught to walk a certain way. One of my daughters is very outgoing and bubbly, and she walks like she owns the room. The other daughter is introverted and sometimes feels inferior to others. Her posture reflects this. When she is feeling good about herself, her posture changes. So maybe posture can self-correct according to mood, and similarly correcting posture first will help change mood, which is what Professor De Vany often mentions.

  15. Chris,

    Regarding four minutes of Tabata squats, redo your sentence with 'havoc' in it. I think you misplaced that word.

    Interesting about no snacks and fasting before workouts and bed. i violate all of the above. maybe i will give those recommendations a try.

    Jack Kronk

  16. nevermind about havoc. i'm an idiot. signing up for online reading classes now...

  17. Vitamin A levels getting too low causes more of the enzyme acid hydrolase to come out of the cell lysosome (recycler organelle). This enzyme breaks down(catabolic action) that tissue and cells respond by boosting repair. Pushed, so to speak, into change some abnormal cells risk being formed. Vitamin A is also notably integral to how body synthesizes it's steroids.

  18. Chris,
    Fair review, and your Part II to this review further demonstrates to me why you are a polite gentleman and one of the best nutrition bloggers out there, with indeed a bright career in front of you. I forget sometimes that compared to your peers you're just really starting out, which is simply a data point that doesn't diminish of course what you are writing now, but does show that your body of work is minuscule today compared to what it will be in the decades to come. And that, indeed, is something to look forward to.

  19. HIIT is pretty silly for anyone who hasn't already developed an aerobic base.

  20. HIIT and HIT are not at all the same thing..

    The first is interval training - like Tabata sprints

    The second is in reference to resistance training - Arthur Jones, McGuff

    I see these two used interchangeably all the time. They are quite different ideas in principal.

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  22. Melissa McEwen makes the same point and adds that women are more likely than men to have problems converting the carotenes in plant foods to vitamin A that could otherwise be obtained in its final form from animal foods.

  23. My interest in intermittent fasting began just under eight years ago when many of us on the Yahoogroup Native-Nutrition, a spinoff of the Weston A Price Foundation that eventually took on its own life, began discussing Ori Hofmekler's book, otslabvane za 1 mesec

  24. I don't think practicing intermittent fasting is necessary to be healthy, but I do think it has the potential to lengthen life, prevent cancer and other forms of degeneration, expand dietary flexibility in a practical way, and offer the opportunity for spiritual growth for those interested. how to get taller

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