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 Body. I 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 Back. Here'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 Markets, books 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.