• Your life and health are your own responsibility.
• Your decisions to act (or not act) based on information or advice anyone provides you—including me—are your own responsibility.


What Was Your Wakeup Call? And A Review Of Jeff O’Connell’s “Sugar Nation”

“Why Are We Hungry?” will return next week.

Note that if you’re new to my ongoing blockbuster series “Why Are We Hungry?”, it’s best to start at Part I. Otherwise, if you haven’t already, you should read the latest installment, "When Satiation Fails"—because like the previous article "When Satiety Fails", it both presents important information and ties together a lot of issues that are currently vexing the community. And we’re not done yet!

Finally, I note with pleasure that several readers and regular commenters are already starting to pull together the Big Picture on their own. This is great! If I’ve explained the science correctly, the consequences and conclusions should follow logically and be non-controversial.

Ever since I was little, my mother used an analogy that, for me, is still the mental equivalent of worn-out disc brakes squealing in metal-to-metal contact—or the incessant, high-pitched, yelping bark of an obsessively manicured lapdog suffocating in a cloud of its owner’s perfume.

She called it the “pain thermometer”, and it goes something like this:

It doesn’t matter how much you don’t like something or how much it hurts. Until your pain thermometer reaches the top, you won’t do anything about it.

Typing that still makes me wince, so I’ll say it my way:

We don’t get what we want: we get what we are just barely willing to tolerate.

This is a powerful concept, and it explains so much about the world and our lives. We want honest politicians, but we’re willing to tolerate corrupt, venal liars. We want privacy, but we’re willing to tolerate a surveillance state. And we want to be healthy and fit, but we’re willing to tolerate being sick, obese, and diabetic.

Stated more explicitly, it doesn’t matter how crummy your life is or how much pain you’re in—unless you get so fed up that you finally do something about it.

“Network” was released in 1976—35 years ago—and that speech could have been made yesterday. Think about that for a minute.

Unfortunately, yelling out your window won’t solve anything, which is where Howard Beale’s ideas ran out. But until you’ve decided that you’re no longer willing to tolerate your situation, nothing will change. The change is up to you.

How Did We Get Here?

Based on the paleo eaters I’ve talked to, including the authors of more than one well-known paleo diet book, very few of us came to the concept of ancestral health from a position of strength. Most of us tried a paleo diet because of medical problems that the medical establishment was (and is) remarkably powerless to treat, or because the side effects of the medications were just as bad as the disease. GERD, IBS, arthritis, innumerable autoimmune syndromes, poor sleep and digestion, or just long-term malaise…and, of course, anywhere from 15 to 200 extra pounds of fat and its associated metabolic syndromes that both “heart-healthy whole grains” and “eat less, move more” were powerless to shed.

In other words, we had to become so broken that we were no longer willing to tolerate being broken.

This leads naturally into my review of “Sugar Nation”.

Congratulations, You’re Prediabetic: Jeff O’Connell’s Wakeup Call

Synopsis: Jeff O’Connell, despite being tall, slim, and apparently in decent physical shape (he’s been the editor of everything from Muscle & Fitness to Men’s Health to Bodybuilding.com), finds out that he’s not just stressed out from work: he’s inherited his father’s Type II diabetes. He doesn’t want to end up like his father, dying bedridden with amputations and on dialysis, and the advice he was given upon diagnosis seems remarkably inadequate:

    Dr. H, having told me that I was prediabetic, mumbled something about switching from white rice to brown. He also instructed me to come back in six months for another round of blood work. Wow, that’s it? I thought. I didn’t know much about disease, but managing it seemed like it should require more than tweaking my order at the local Chinese restaurant.

    What I didn’t receive, and what most patients don’t receive, is any advice that would address, let alone fix, the problem…”

Currently $14.36 at Amazon.com (price may change)

The rest of “Sugar Nation” recounts Jeff’s effort to understand what Type II diabetes is, and what he can do about it—with an additional twist that I’ll leave readers to discover. Though Jeff’s prescription will be shocking to anyone in the mainstream, its two pillars shouldn’t be a great surprise to most of my readers, or anyone in the paleosphere: T2D is a defect of glucose metabolism, it is treatable by diet and exercise, and you should therefore 1) stop eating so much friggin’ glucose, i.e. eat a low-carb diet, and 2) perform short, intense, glycogen-depleting exercise to help restore your insulin sensitivity.

Furthermore, he repeatedly hammers home that the progression from insulin resistance to T2D to numbness, dialysis, amputations, and blindness is a direct consequence of diabetes “treatment” that advises patients who cannot properly metabolize carbohydrates to eat lots of carbohydrates—and, with them, an ever-expanding pharmacopoiea of drugs that fail to mitigate their poisonous effects.

Where I find the book to be most interesting, and most valuable, is in two areas: the history of diabetes treatment (as with obesity, past treatment programs were often more effective) and the demographics of its relentless spread, and in the dysfunctionality and outright corruption of the medical industry. He lays bare the deep, incestuous financial relationships between the American Diabetic Association and the pharmaceutical and medical equipment manufacturers who profit so handsomely from diabetics—as well as the profoundly malicious cluelessness of the mainstream medical community, including the NIH and AAFP:

    During a 2007 interview with the American Association of Family Physicians’ then-president James King, M.D., a family physician in Selmer, Tennessee, I asked him how to eat properly as a prediabetic so that I could inform others in the pages of Men’s Health.
    “I tell diabetic patients to consume more carbohydrates—mainly from fruits and vegetables, not from simple sugars and starches—while decreasing the amount of meat and fat in their diet,” he said.

    I e-mailed the lead author, Philip E. Cryer, M.D., professor of endocrinology and metabolism at Washington University School of Medicine … “A glucose-tolerance test is never indicated in the evaluation of a patient for hypoglycemia,” he wrote back.

    “I’m sorry, but that item’s not recommended for your diet,” said the pleasant woman on the other end of the line. I had told the doctors that I was prediabetic. I was impressed that this information had been conveyed to the cafeteria.
    But I was also confused. “What, the peaches?” I asked.
    “No, the sausage.”

O’Connell is an experienced writer and journalist, and it shows: he exposes the rampant corruption and cluelessness in a remarkably neutral tone, without coming across as either paranoid or a crusader.

His understanding of the science is reasonably sound, too: he understands the role of glycogen depletion and how it improves metabolic flexibility, and even touches on the known issue of mitochondrial dysfunction in the obese. My only quibble is a whiff of saturated fat phobia here and there—but on the whole he does a solid job of understanding and communicating that low-carb necessarily means high-fat as well as high-protein, and that this is not a problem. And despite the title “Sugar Nation”, he is clear on the fact that “heart-healthy whole grains” are just as carb-heavy—and, therefore, unhealthy—as refined grains and refined sugars. However, I wish Jeff had summarized his hard-won knowledge at some point in the book: a short chapter, or even just a bullet list of “Here’s how I manage my Type II diabetes”, would have been welcome.

In conclusion, “Sugar Nation” is a hard-hitting exposé that reads more like a biography. While its basic prescription won’t be news to you, my readers, it’s a shocking accounting of the cluelessness and corruption of the mainstream medical establishment, and the extent of the suffering its terrible advice causes. It’s also a solid source of information for people in your life who can’t swallow “paleo” or “primal” but are still in danger of ruining their health. And it’s full of scary facts and trenchant observations, so I’ll close with one:

…The standard recommendation of consuming 50 percent of your calories from carbohydrates translates to 250 to 300 grams’ worth a day. Split over three squares a day…means consuming more than a glucose tolerance test’s worth of carbs at each meal. “We use glucose tolerance as a metabolic stress test and yet prescribe a diet that produces that at every meal,” says Raab. “It highlights just how ridiculous this advice is.”

Wrapping It Up: What Was Your Wakeup Call?

“Sugar Nation” is Jeff O’Connell’s story.
What was YOUR wakeup call?
What finally made you say “I’ve got to do something about this” and motivated you to start eating like a predator?
Leave a comment, even if it’s just a link to the bio on your own blog…it’s always fascinating to hear others’ stories.

Live in freedom, live in beauty.


Are you new to gnolls.org? Welcome! There’s a lot of good information here for you to read and discover: the index is a great place to start. My FAQ should answer many of your questions, and I do my best to respond to comments on my articles and questions in the forums.

The Overachiever's Week Off: Why Bother With Paleo? A Quick Book Review, Food Reward, and More

Well, it finally happened: after almost six months of regular weekly updates, I found myself completely unable to complete another in-depth nutrition post for this Tuesday. Between traveling all week (last week’s post was written on planes), an inopportune redeye flight, and successfully fighting off the resulting sore throat with sleep and real food, I was simply caught short.

I apologize.

Meanwhile, if you’re curious about what all the recent to-do about “food reward” is about, and wondering just what “food reward” means in practical terms, this recent article will be instructive: Why Snack Food Is Addictive: The Grand Unified Theory of Snack Appeal.

And if you’re wondering why you might not want to start binging on carbs despite several recent articles in the paleosphere, my classic series beginning with Mechanisms of Sugar Addiction might be interesting to you.

However, as I am an overachiever, I do have several things to give you this week and an important question to ask, and the first is a reminder: diet and fitness are not an end in themselves. Yes, a healthy, strong, capable body will help us live longer—but why bother? What good is more life if we just spend it sitting in an office chair or on the couch? And what good is strength and endurance if all we do with it is push weights around a gym, or ride bicycles that go nowhere?

Here are a few pictures of my winter. Perhaps they will inspire you.

We skied from mountains to valleys…

Looking down the eastern slope

…and to lakes.

Skiing in a postcard

We skied under clouds and storms…

Going deep

…and under the sun.

Just like being in a movie, except without the helicopter to get us to the top

We skied steep chutes…

The Emerald Bay Chute

…and deep powder.

Yes, that's me. No, I can't see.

There were waterfalls…

Glen Alpine Falls

…and beaches…

Yes, that's a beach down there.

…and sunlight refracted through snow crystals.

Last of the light

These pictures are just echoes: triggers for memories of all the time I’ve spent in the mountains with my friends, skinning uphill for hours, soaking up the view from remote mountaintops, enduring both blizzards and searing sunlight in order to enjoy those perfect turns through virgin snow.

And what will you do with your newly-earned health?

(Thanks to Jeff G. and Brett P. for the photos with me in them.)

Reading For When You’re Stuck In Uncomfortable Seats: Melissa Joulwan’s “Rollergirl”

It turns out that paleo dieters don’t just write books about how they eat and exercise. You already know about my novel—and it turns out that Melissa “Melicious” Joulwan, most famous in the paleosphere for her oft-linked list of paleo recipes, wrote a greatly enjoyable memoir called “Rollergirl” about…the revival of roller derby as a DIY, athlete-controlled sport on flat track, and her own transformation from bookish, mildly obsessive Austin hipster to hard-hitting, butt-kicking athlete/bombshell.

I’ll point you to Amazon for the summary and a grip of positive reviews, to which I’ll add that it makes solid travel reading: breezy, upbeat, and inspiring. And as a man, I’m thrilled to read an account of female empowerment that doesn’t make me feel like I need to slap on some painfully astringent aftershave, grill a steak, fix my truck, and climb a mountain to stop myself from lactating. The world needs a lot less therapy, and a lot more Roller Derby. Well done.

“Rollergirl: Totally True Tales from the Track”, by Melissa “Melicious” Joulwan

(Government-mandated legalese: We traded each other for copies of our respective books.)

Tell Me: What Do You Want Me To Write About?

Don’t worry, I haven’t run out of topics: all that happened this week is that I ran out of time. But I get many of my ideas for articles from talking with my readers, especially my regular commenters, and I want to know what YOU want to know.

So: if you have a question that you’d like to see me answer, or a topic you’d like to see me address, leave me a comment below!

Live in freedom, live in beauty.


Hunters Must Have Been Smart, They Invented Agriculture: A Review of Jack Brink’s “Imagining Head-Smashed-In” and George Frison’s “Survival By Hunting”

Imagining Head-Smashed-In, by Jack W. Brink

Imagining Head-Smashed-In,
by Jack W. Brink

One of the primary conceits of history is that nothing happened before agriculture. The Great Leap Forward! Between the Tigris and the Euphrates, the cradle of civilization! Page 1 of any sixth-grade world history textbook.

And before that?

Nothing, as far as we’re told. Unremitting savagery, a life nasty, brutish, and short, cavemen killing each other with clubs and dragging women by the hair. A life not worth a chapter, or even a page, to describe it.

Yet an awkward fact remains: these ‘savages’ were modern humans. In fact, they were taller, stronger, healthier, had larger brains and better teeth, and were longer-lived than the farmers that replaced them (see: Jared Diamond, Claire Cassidy).

And somehow these ‘savages’ managed to invent agriculture—a task much more difficult than practicing it. They discovered how and when to sow. They discovered how to plow, how to weed, how to protect crops against birds and rodents, how to harvest and thresh and grind and cook and bake…a suite of tasks that remained essentially unchanged for 10,000 years after their original discovery.

In other words, those ‘savages’ must have been pretty damned smart.

But how did they become so smart? It can’t have had anything to do with agriculture or anything we consider ‘civilized’, because they invented all that. What caused little 65-pound savanna apes with 350cc brains to evolve into Late Paleolithic modern humans with 1500cc brains?

Clearly there was much more to Paleolithic life than dumb savagery.

I will now turn this essay over to Jack W. Brink, archaeologist and author of “Imagining Head-Smashed-In: Aboriginal Buffalo Hunting on the Northern Plains.” From the Preface:

The book isn’t about what are traditionally considered the great historic achievements of our species. There are no magnificent cities built, no colossal monuments erected, no gigantic statues carved, no kingdoms conquered. It was very much this deviation from classical concepts of “civilization” that motivated me to write this book. Modern society seems to equate human achievement with monumental substance and architectural grandeur. Asked to name the greatest accomplishments of ancient cultures you would certainly hear of the Great Wall of China, Stonehenge, the Great Pyramids, and the civilizations that ruled Greece and Rome. Shunted off to the side are many ancient cultures that achieved greatness through their skill, knowledge, and ingenuity – cultures that managed to survive in demanding environments for extraordinary lengths of time without leaving towering monuments to themselves. In the coming pages I hope to show how simple lines of rocks stretching across the prairies are every bit as inspirational as rocks piled up in the shape of a pyramid.

This is a book about one of the truly remarkable accomplishments in human history. It is the story of an unheralded, unassuming, almost anonymous group of people who hunted for a living. They occupied an open, windswept, often featureless tract of land. They lived in conical skin tents that they lugged around with them in their search for food. A life of nearly constant motion negated permanent villages and cumbersome material possessions. They shared this immense landscape with herds of a wild and powerful beast – the largest animal on the continent. In a land virtually without limits, people of seemingly unsophisticated hunting societies managed to direct huge herds of buffalo to pinpoint destinations where ancient knowledge and spiritual guidance taught them massive kills could be achieved. It was an that guaranteed survival of the people for months to come, a that ensured their existence for millennia. Using their skill and their astonishing knowledge of bison biology and behaviour, bands of hunters drove great herds of buffalo over steep cliffs and into wooden corrals. In the blink of an eye they obtained more food in a single moment than any other people in human history. How they accomplished this is a story as breathtaking in scope and complexity as the country in which the events unfolded.

What follows is a fusion of archaeology and narrative, as Brink attempts to reconstruct the details of a buffalo jump—an event that last occurred in the 1800s, far outside anyone’s living memory. As he puts it:

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump in southern Alberta, Canada, is but one of many places where herds of bison were brought to their deaths by the Native inhabitants of the Plains. It forms the nucleus around which my story unfolds. But this is not so much the story of one place, one people, or one time. It is the story of countless people who thrived over an enormous expanse of time and territory by orchestrating mass kills of bison. There were two reasons I wanted to write this book. First, to bring to a wider audience a story that I felt was so compelling and inspirational that it should not be allowed to fade from contemporary memory. And second, to do justice to the people who orchestrated these remarkable events.

The text of “Imagining Head-Smashed-In” runs to over 300 pages, which should be our first clue that this was not a trivial task. Indeed, reading it gives a nearly vertiginous sense of the skill, ingenuity, and sheer tenacity required to survive in the extreme environment of the Northern Great Plains. What we modern humans think of as “wilderness survival” basically consists of avoiding immediate death until someone in a helicopter rescues us—or, worst case, walking in one direction until we reach the safety and familiar problems of ‘civilization’, which is to say: other people. Obtaining food is not a concern, because humans can survive several weeks without food: ‘wilderness survival’ is a temporary state of privation, to be escaped as quickly as possible.

Yet for millions of years—the entire span of time and circumstances that shaped us from small, dumb apes into modern humans—daily life was far more challenging that what we think of today as ‘wilderness survival’. The problems of everyday life could not be postponed until we reached a hospital, a supermarket, or even a paved road—and they had to be addressed without maps, compasses, Gore-Tex, matches, or even a metal knife. Sickness, injury, and childbirth. Freezing cold, searing heat, pouring rain. And the continual, omnipresent drive of all life: hunger. The need to eat something nutritious so that you have the energy to live one more week, one more day, one more hour.

Yet Paleolithic humans met that challenge and mastered it—for we spread out of Africa and around the entire world, even to the smallest, most isolated Pacific islands. We survived in humid jungles and parched deserts, in howling blizzards and torrential downpours, on prairies and forests and valleys and mountains and beaches and anywhere there was living flesh for us to kill and eat. And we were such accomplished hunters and killers and eaters that we drove most of the big, slow animals to extinction.

Pyramids, in contrast, are uninteresting. All you need is tens of thousands of slaves to stack rocks until they die. Hunting is the real human history. Yet since it left behind nothing but stone points and bones smashed open for marrow, its stories are lost to us forever. All we can do is imagine.

And that is what Jack Brink does for us: he imagines one of the uncountable stories of the real human history.

Who could imagine that a book of North American archaeology could leave me near tears?

“Imagining Head-Smashed-In” is available directly from Athabasca University Press in hardback, paperback, and as a free Creative Commons-licensed PDF, or from Amazon.com.

Thanks to Tim Rangitsch (@acmebike, Acme Bicycles) for bringing this book to my attention.

Survival by Hunting, by George Frison

Survival by Hunting,
by George Frison

While “Imagining Head-Smashed-In” creates a strangely poignant narrative out of archeology, George Frison’s “Survival By Hunting” is a far more utilitarian book. If IHSA is a beautifully-constructed diorama in the museum located at the jump site, “Survival By Hunting” is one of the shovels used at the dig.

Just as IHSA is a combination of archaeology and narrative reconstruction, “Survival by Hunting” is a combination of archaeology and biography. Frison briefly tells his story as a child growing up in rural Wyoming on his grandfather’s ranch, and of both the culture and essential privation (he grew up during the Depression) that led to becoming a subsistence hunter at a young age. As a hunter he found many tools and traces of the Native American hunters who had previously inhabited the area, hunting the same game he had. An abiding interest in these remains led to a career in archaeology, which combines with his decades of experience hunting large animals to make him the leading authority on Prehistoric hunting techniques.

Though written very dryly, the book is an entertaining combination of factual academic recountings of artifact sites and his own personal experience. Instead of simply speculating how prehistoric hunters might have butchered mammoths with stone tools, Frison flies to Africa and tries it himself on an elephant carcass culled from a nature reserve—proving that stone tools are indeed sufficient to the task of cutting through elephant hide. And not content to guess at the force of a dart or spear thrown by an atlatl (spear-thrower) and whether it might be sufficient to kill a mammoth, he learns to make them himself—and tests them, again on an elephant carcass. Only someone with Frison’s experience at real-life game hunting, and Frison’s willingness to test his theories by experiment, could accumulate the knowledge he does—let alone assemble it into charmingly tentative hypotheses about the nature and significance of an archaeological site.

Reading “Survival by Hunting” is a bit like being on an dig oneself: startling artifacts of knowledge are strewn randomly about the narrative, often covered with dirt and mentioned only in passing. For instance:

Woodruff said that during the last half of the nineteenth century, [mountain] sheep were so plentiful that any time they were short of meat they hitched up a wagon, drove along the base of the steep east slope of the Absaroka Mountains, and loaded the wagon with sheep as they were shot and rolled to the bottom.

This offhand anecdote provides a glimpse of the cornucopia that must have been pre-contact North America, even after thousands of years of Native American hunting and subsequent extinctions. In contrast, our few remaining scraps of modern ‘wilderness’ are, for the most part, beautiful but lifeless high-altitude tundra. And hunting today is either completely prohibited or carefully managed, with thousands of would-be hunters vying for a tiny number of tags handed out by lottery—those tags costing many times in excess of the value of the meat.

As the book progresses, we learn that an elk antler tip can serve as an atlatl hook; that bison can squeeze through openings which cattle cannot; that pronghorn can run at over 45 MPH but refuse to jump or crash through a flimsy ‘fence’ made of brush; and hundreds of other small knowledge artifacts that only assemble themselves into a coherent whole in retrospect and upon reflection.

To summarize “Survival by Hunting”, I’ll quote the Preface:

Equally disturbing to me is the attitude students are acquiring towards hunting…students questioned about animal procurement strategies commonly respond, “When they got hungry, someone would kill a bison or whatever other animal was selected as the target for the day and bring it back to camp.” I believe such interpretations to be totally inadequate, and I hope that the contents of this book convince others of the vast reservoir of learned behavior involved in hunting.

All I have to say is: what George said.

(His criticism can be applied equally to many archaeologists, whose ignorance of basic physics, let alone hunting strategies, is blatantly obvious—but that’s another article for another time.)

“Survival by Hunting” may not have the grand narrative scope of “Imagining Head-Smashed-In”. But if you want to understand another tiny fragment of the real human history—which is how Plains hunters managed to kill mammoths, bison, and antelope on foot, using only sharp rocks and their wits—this book will get you there.

You can buy “Survival by Hunting” directly from the UC press, or at a discount from Amazon.com. (Sorry, no free PDF for this one.)

Live in freedom, live in beauty.


Did you enjoy this article? Don’t forget to share it—the buttons below make it easy.

You might also enjoy “How Glaciers Might Have Made Us Human” and “When The Conclusions Don’t Match The Headlines: Darwin Is Still Right“.