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“To call a [low-carb] diet on which humans lived for millennia a fad is just ignorant. In fact, it is the modern fad of eating a high carb, high grain, high sugar diet that is harmful.” Arthur De Vany, PhD
“Physically and genetically, we are built to run fast and climb trees easily. But few of us over the age of 11 do so. Which is why we’re now at the gym.” Arthur De Vany, PhD
The New Evolution Diet
Art De Vany, “Grandfather” of Paleo Movement, Launches His Book
Selected Reader Feedback Below
Ten years ago almost to the day, I wrote about Arthur De Vany and his evolutionary fitness plan. My article ended with a section titled “Can’t Wait for the Book.” Well, it’s finally here. THE NEW EVOLUTION DIET: What Our Paleolithic Ancestors Can Teach Us About Weight Loss, Fitness, and Aging will be released by Rodale Books in a few days; it can be preordered now.
Art says that we have virtually the same genetic makeup as our Paleolithic ancestors who lived 40,000 years ago. The problem, he and many others believe, is that our environment has changed dramatically. De Vany contends that we would be healthier, fitter, and live longer if we adopted a modern version of the Paleolithic lifestyle. Having spent more than 30 years studying and practicing how to do that, he is regarded by many as the “grandfather” of the Paleo movement.
It took a decade, but Professor De Vany delivers the goods in his long-anticipated book. Breaking out of the academic mode, he explains his approach to diet and exercise in a flowing and conversational style that regular people can understand, appreciate, and apply. If you didn’t fully understand the reasoning and theory behind his approach—many didn’t, including me—you will after reading his book.
Art and I are a lot alike. We are both turning 73 in unusually good health. We are also very fit and lean (fat under 7%). We don’t always think alike, however. Like Art, I believe the ancient blueprint makes sense, but I’m not wed to it. We agree far more on exercise than on diet. In a few areas, we appear to be in polar opposite orbits that somehow end up in essentially the same place. I’ll highlight some of the main differences as we go along. Most people will probably find information they can use in both approaches.
(You might want to review my previous article at this time for background information and photos of Professor De Vany that will not be included here: http://www.cbass.com/EvolutionaryFitness.htm )
Much to his credit, De Vany developed what came to be known as “The New Evolution Diet” before learning of the Paleo diet connection.
Journey of Discovery
Art’s youngest son (and later his wife) developed type 1 diabetes. This was at a time when some doctors were recommending or condoning consumption of refined carbohydrates, and then attempting to control the resulting rise in blood sugar with adjustments in insulin dosage. This was not working well, so De Vany—with little or no help from his family doctors—set about controlling the problem by restricting carbohydrate intake.
“My son’s doctors wanted him to eat cereal or pancakes with syrup and orange juice for breakfast…Carbs were friendly, the doctors maintained, and fat was the enemy,” Art writes. “It was evident to me that my son was not eating the right foods. He was getting too much carbohydrate and injecting too much insulin.” If they didn’t inject enough insulin, his blood glucose would rise too high. On the other hand, if they injected too much “his glucose level would drop dangerously, and he would become jittery and angry.”
Through trial and error—and meticulous record keeping—he gradually switched his family to a diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, meat, and seafood. It was successful beyond anyone’s expectations, especially the doctors. “One doctor refused to believe [my wife] was a diabetic because she was injecting so little insulin,” De Vany reports proudly.
This breakthrough happened without any help from ancient man. “It was still just our little family project,” Art relates. “Then one day in my office, I was talking with an anthropology graduate student….We were talking about meat sharing, and I brought up our new diet….She told me that the tribal members she studied ate the same way. It should have been obvious to me, but I hadn’t thought about it. I had come up with a typical hunter-gatherer meal plan.”
(You’ll find many more details on how all this came about in the book.)
I guess you could say, “The rest is history.”
Eating was, of course, only half the puzzle. Exercise is the other half of De Vany’s evolutionary fitness plan.
Near the end of the book De Vany, fearing that his presentation may have been a bit pedantic at times, summarizes the practical aspects of his approach on a single page. We’ll start our discussion there, and then go back and dissect a few of the more controversial features.
(When we’re done you’ll want to rush to your bookstore or computer to get the full story on the new evo lifestyle. You may also want to take a peek at my books.)
Bare Bones Evo
The good professor did a masterful job distilling his message and we’ll stick with his words:
● Eat fresh vegetables, fruit, nuts, meat, and fish. Stay clear of grains, legumes, potatoes, carbs, and sugar. Limit alcohol consumption.
● Skip one dinner every week.
● Exercise with intensity. Lift weights, run sprints (but don’t jog or run long distances), play a sport. Your workouts should be brief and intense. Going to the gym two or three times a week, for a half hour each time, is plenty.
● Remember, the goal is to eat and exercise as humans did roughly 40,000 years ago, before the advent of agriculture or laborsaving technology. Just don’t overdo it. Be glad you’re here now.
● Give up the regimented approach to diet and fitness. Relax, enjoy the process, and let it happen.
De Vany devotes nine chapters and the better part of 240 pages explaining the rationale and nuts and bolts of his approach. This would be a good time to comment on a few of the chapters. They’re all comprehensive and well done, but I do have a query or two.
He takes the reader through a month on the New Evolution Diet. In many books, page after page of “breakfast, lunch, and dinner” is simply filler. I usually zip through those pages. This chapter is substantive and eye-opening. For one thing, it includes examples of how to gradually introduce physical activity into day-to-day living. That’s instructive and helpful, especially for people trying to break out of a mostly inactive lifestyle.
The 26 pages (in my advance copy) opened my eyes to the rigorous nature of the diet. Initially encouraged by the inclusion of fresh vegetables and fruit, the first breakfast—“half a ham steak, three hard-boiled egg whites, and half a cantaloupe”—brought me up cold. Cantaloupe was the fruit for the day. Where’s the fiber? What about bowel function?
Lunch and dinner didn’t lessen my concern; smoked salmon and barbecued baby back ribs are the main dishes, respectively. To be fair, lunch includes lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, red cabbage, olives, and avocado, and dinner has asparagus and red pepper.
De Vany’s Paleo guys must’ve been voracious carnivores. Constipation was/is apparently not a concern, because there’s not a word about it anywhere in the book. Hemorrhoids anyone?
Another chapter is devoted to exercise. Art takes us to the gym with him. I like it; short, hard, and varied training, strength and endurance. Just my thing. The randomness of it does worry me, however. I like to go to the gym with an eye on doing better than the time before. I understand, of course, that ancient man’s primary goal was survival. Still, the recovering couch potatoes among us may be tempted to take advantage of Paleo man’s apparent inclination to do nothing a lot of the time. That’s not a problem for Art and me, but we’re outliers.
This brings us to two specific areas of disagreement; there are more, but these are at the epicenter of our differences. Before beginning, I should emphasize that we agree on far more than we disagree. As suggested earlier, our goals are basically the same but the path sometimes diverges.
Art and I avoid refined carbohydrates—but part company on intact grains.
We agree that refined carbohydrates cause an insulin spike, followed by rebound hypoglycemia. The resulting low blood sugar leaves you hungry. The end result is overeating and fat accumulation.
Art goes further, however. He says we are not genetically equipped to process grains, in any form. Pre-agricultural humans didn’t have access to grains and we shouldn’t eat them. He feels strongly about this issue. “Grains cause allergic reactions, high insulin levels, obesity, and digestive disorders,” he writes early on in the book. He expands on his thesis as the book unfolds.
I believe that whole or intact grains are healthy for the vast majority of people and contribute in a meaningful way to eating pleasure. Whole foods, including whole grains, are a cornerstone of my diet philosophy.
As noted above, Art warns us not to go overboard in trying to mimic the ancient lifestyle. “Our goal is not to replicate exactly the paleo diet, just to learn from it,” he counsels. “Don’t overdo it.”
I respectfully suggest that banishing all grain products from the dinner table is overdoing it.
World-renown researcher, Walter C. Willett, MD, chairman of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, discusses the advantages of switching from refined to whole or intact grains in Eat, Drink and Be Healthy (Simon & Schuster, 2001). Here’s the gist of it:
“Eating lots of carbohydrates that are quickly digested and absorbed increases levels of blood sugar and insulin, raises levels of triglycerides, and lowers levels of HDL cholesterol. Over the long run, these changes lead to cardiovascular disease and diabetes. In contrast, eating whole-grain foods is clearly better for long-term good health and offers protection against diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and gastrointestinal problems such as diverticulosis and constipation. Other research around the world points to the same conclusion.” (Emphasis mine) You’ll find chapter and verse on this in Willett’s landmark book.
I take the idea of intact grains a step further by avoiding products made with flour, including whole grain flour. I do not eat the “whole grain” breakfast cereals found in grocery stores. I prefer the “intact” grains found in health food stores (and a growing number of grocery stores), such as kamut, oat groats, hulled barley, amaranth, and other grains brought from the field to the store—with the absolute minimum of processing. The bread I eat is made with sprouted grains and no flour; you’ll find more details in “The Art of Choosing Bread” http://www.cbass.com/Bread.htm
Art and I have a basic disagreement on the need for carbohydrates to fuel an active lifestyle. Art sees carbs as a villain. I see carbs as a lead player in active living.
Our difference of opinion on the need for carbohydrates is writ large in the next section.
Training on Empty
Art and I disagree on whether to eat before and after training. He’s discourages both. I say eat carbs—and protein—before and after training. A pre-workout snack should, of course, be light and easy to digest.
“If you go to the gym hungry and stay that way for an hour after you’re through, you burn more fat and improve your hormonal state, therefore taking maximum advantage of all that hard work,” Art opines. In support, he tells us that our ancient ancestors were most active when they were hungry. As a kicker, he adds that hungry rats perform better on the treadmill, while well-fed rats sit on the moving tread and refuse to run.
I don’t know much about lab rats, but it’s hard to believe that ancient man hunted only or primarily when hungry. If squirrels stow away acorns for the winter, surely ancient man had the brain power to plan ahead for the next meal. That suggests to me that our ancient ancestors did plenty of hunting with food in their stomach. (At times, they also ran their ass off on a full stomach to avoid being dinner.) I don’t doubt that they were extra motivated when hungry. All such pronouncements are, of course, educated guesses.
For a more objective analysis, let’s look at the physiological factors. De Vany acknowledges that a diet low in carbs leads to a reduction in athletic performance. “This is the consensus view and has been shown in a long line of studies,” he writes.
He also agrees that the brain’s primary fuel is glucose. “Your brain will die if it goes more than a few minutes without [glucose],” he states unequivocally. That’s not a problem, according to the professor. “When your brain needs a hit, it broadcasts the message: Send glucose. Your liver responds first, releasing glucose it has saved for just this occasion into the bloodstream. Your muscles also contain amino acids that the liver can turn into glucose. Your fat cells, too, release energy they’ve stored which can be turned into glucose in the liver or can be metabolized to produce ketones, which the brain can use to offset its need for glucose.”
I maintain that the brain’s ever present need for glucose does present a problem, especially for those trying to build or maintain muscle and burn fat. Note the sequence cited by De Vany. First comes the glucose stored in the liver, which won’t be much after an overnight fast. What’s the next source of glucose? Muscle—and then fat. Do we really want to burn muscle before burning fat?
To me, this sounds like a flawed plan. Moreover, I question whether fat can be converted into glucose. I’ve never heard that before.
Let’s see what another expert has to say on the subject. Chris Carmichael, Lance Armstrong’s longtime personal coach and author of the book Food for Fitness, explains it this way: “Low-carbohydrate diets were devised to help overweight and obese people lose body mass in order to improve health. They were not devised with the intention of improving performance.” To the contrary, he says, such diets inhibit athletic performance.
The basic idea of the low-carb diet, Carmichael explains, is that depriving the body of carbohydrates will force it to burn fat. As low-carb dieters know, this is called ketosis. In the absence of carbohydrates, your body transports fatty acids to the liver to be converted to ketone bodies. Ketones provide the brain and central nervous system with the steady supply of energy required for survival. Ketones are also capable of supporting low-intensity aerobic exercise. Carmichael warns, however: “You can’t generate energy anaerobically with ketones, which is one of the reasons athletes on low-carbohydrate diets struggle to sustain even moderate-intensity exercise.”
For an extended discussion of this issue, see “Training on Empty—Still a Bad Idea” http://www.cbass.com/TrainingOnEmpty.htm . The bottom line is that training on empty is a strategy for burning fat at any cost; it torpedoes performance, burning the fat in the muscles—and the muscles themselves.
Dr. De Vany maintains that athletes, with time, will adjust to The New Evolution Diet. “It takes weeks to adjust to a low-carbohydrate diet, and none of the studies allowed sufficient time for that,” he writes. “So in my opinion, the question remains open.”
Professor De Vany and his new wife (his first wife died) seem to be thriving on The New Evolution Diet. I urge everyone to read all about it in his book and decide if it’s the path for you. No matter what the decision, I believe you’ll agree that Arthur De Vany has written a book well worth the long wait.
For more information on the book, visit De Vany’s website www.arthurdevany.com or Google “Rodale Books.”
My advance copy of Art’s book was an “uncorrected proof” and contained no photos. I hope the final version includes exercise and other photos to add interest and inspiration.
I don’t expect any physique photos, however. I know from an email exchange with Art while Carol and I were selecting the cover photo for our book Great Expectations that he believes men of our age and accomplishment have a loss of dignity with such photos. That’s another area where we differ—and readers can decide for themselves.
Selected Reader Feedback
A great review and fair to your own beliefs.
What Willett does not say is that replacing lousy carbs and processed grains with whole grains is not as effective as replacing them with vegetables and fruits. Whole grains are simply less damaging than processed grains.
There is so much fiber in the Evolutionary Fitness diet that constipation is not an issue.
Try it for a couple of weeks and see how you do. I bet your lipid profile improves.
Try a work out starving and you will see you have no less energy and will turn on autophagy [automatic consumption of one's own tissue] and repair mitochondrial DNA. It alters metabolic gene expression for the better as well.
Thanks very much for your kind review.
Arthur De Vany, PhD
I've actually been following a variant of his dietary protocol (minus the intermittent fasting) for some time now. My carbs come exclusively from veggies and fruits. I eat lots of chicken and pork ribs and red meat and almonds. My cholesterol dropped by 40 points when I cut the refined carbs from my diet. I also lost about 12 lbs, mostly body fat. I find that if I drink lots of water, constipation is not an issue. Before and after a workout, I'll sometimes have a sweet potato. That seems to give me sufficient energy.
I read your article regarding Art's book and boy, I totally agree with your issues with the book. The diet stuff especially - things like sweet potatoes, beets, beans, whole grains - wow, keeps my insides happy!
BRI do not understand the fascination with the Paleo lifestyle. I agree with your thoughts about constipation on the diet. Having bowel movements every fortnight and when the urge made its way, squatting for hours, made you a nice treat for any local predator or human competitor. I imagine one day many years ago Paul the Paleo was on his way stalking his prey when he started nibbling on some wild grasses and noticed they had a interesting taste and found his time squatting to read the Paleo Times greatly reduced. This was not met with enthusiasm by the local tigers who were fitting him up for a high protein meal. Paul then probably tapped his wife Mrs. Bagel gently on the head with his club and asked her to do something with the grain. Cream cheese, lox and the rest is history.
Grains, Paleo Humans, and the Real World
And how many Paleo humans did concentration curls with dumbbells? (Reference De Vany's picture on his website.) Dr. Loren Cordain, another Paleo author, actually has a chapter devoted to an article by a college professor who spent time with a near-Paleo tribe and what did the author note was one of the main aspects of their survival? Running...up to six miles/day for food. One of my favorite thinkers on this subject, Frank Forencich, notes in his first book you'd never catch a "self-respecting" Bushman laying on the ground doing pushups nor would Grok (to borrow from Mark Sisson), our Paleo hunter, spend much time squatting a log or curling a rock. Our Bushmen and Groks of days gone by needed endurance to hunt or distance themselves from attacks and threats. Certainly strength was needed to kill an animal...strength developed that was functional to their era.
I'm a type two diabetic, so I try to avoid grains and sugars as much as I can. Even complex carbs and natural grains will cause my blood sugar levels to skyrocket. If I stick to meats, greens and dairy, they stay at normal levels. I haven't noticed any kind of problems with endurance during higher intensity efforts, or any kind of constipation. I'm not convinced that humans aren't adapted to eat grains, but I strongly suspect that anyone who has had severe problems with their weight or their blood sugar would probably be better off without them.
I really don't like a totally randomized
approach to exercise - personally, the routine and progression is one way I have
of controlling my effort, avoiding injury, and progressing soundly.
Randomness at the center of his training? Although he obviously stays motivated, he’s missing out on incredible feelings of accomplishments, not to mention better conditioning. I tell people all the time that if I didn’t have a well thought out goal before climbing on the rowing machine, there is NO POSSIBLE WAY I’d put myself through that kind of pain. I love it and am in better condition because of it thanks to you!
One reader highlighted the following passage from Chapter 7, which discusses various economic principles which have application to diet and exercise. The "power law" says that the most unusual events have the greatest impact:
There is a power law of exercise, too: Your least frequent, most extreme exertions will have the greatest influence on your fitness. The peak moments of a workout count more than the amount of time you spend working out....When a workout becomes an unvarying, monotonous routine, it loses its effectiveness.
[Good point. Think about it. Overload anyone?]
I disagree slightly with both you and De Vany regarding the endurance issue. It pays big time...if I include a longer session (up to 1 hour) in my weekly training. And I think I feel better too. But, I do think some lean body mass is sacrificed in doing so. If I dropped it I’d be a little stronger with my lifts and have a bit more LBM. It’s a tradeoff I suppose.
Loss of dignity when sharing photo’s at your age? Looking at your photo’s through the years has unquestionably been one of my biggest motivators. Keep them coming.
Clarence has always been a bit of an exhibitionist. That said, with all the wild-ass claims and broad statements Arturo makes, he really needs to pony up to show that he's walking the walk.
All of the Above and More
Let me highlight some of your points that resonated the most with me.
I loved your point about De Vany’s diet and the issue of constipation. But you should know that this is coming from a guy whose hemorrhoids were so bad that I had a hemorrhoidectomy at age 28! Believe me, that is not an operation that I would wish on anyone. So fiber in my diet has always been a top priority. If I ate De Vany’s diet, I think it wouldn’t be long before I was back in the operating room for Round Two of a hemorrhoidectomy!
I definitely agreed with your caution about randomness in the gym, and I say that as someone who has seen enough unproductive randomness in the gym, more in my travels than when I’m at home (since I work out in my basement when I’m at home). The delicate balance here is that you need variety in your training, but you also need to challenge yourself. And what better way to challenge yourself than to measure your progress by trying to do a little more than you did the last time? So maybe the best of both worlds is to have a particular routine for a time, during which you keep yourself accountable, and then you change it after a time to a new plan that keeps you accountable. The alternative of complete randomness risks that you never make any progress, and you fool yourself into thinking that you are making progress.
Another place where I think that De Vany has it wrong is with the eating before and after training. Indeed, there have been so many great studies lately that have confirmed your wisdom on this score. I know that you changed your approach with respect to the post-workout snack so that you now make sure you get one sooner rather than later.
Also, the overall low-carb nature of De Vany’s diet reminds me of some of the accounts I’ve read through the years from bodybuilders who stupidly tried to go super-low-carb right before a contest. They fall into a state of ketosis such that they can’t train, and sometimes they even experience short-term personality changes as the result of extreme ketosis. Or sometimes they end up going crazy and pigging out after the contest by eating three entire cakes! This does not seem like a healthy way to live or eat.
What De Vany fails to realize with his disdain for guys “your age” doing physique photos is that those photos provide tremendous inspiration for guys my age that there is hope for us when we eventually reach your age!
Bottom line, the reason that I think your approach ultimately is better than De Vany’s in the areas where you disagree is that you generally go with the science and the research (coupled with testing it out yourself), whereas he seems to feel that his “instincts” are smarter than that. Kind of ironic, isn’t it, since he is supposed to be the Professor?
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