Bryan Appleyard thinks he has found a diet that really works: it took him three weeks to shed 14lb with healthy ease. But he had to go back 5,000 years to discover the science behind it
“The average,” says Arthur, “is always misleading and may not exist.”
The obsession with the bell curve and the average has corrupted us. We tend to think of stable models not just of the human world but also of the human body. Almost all dietary and fitness regimes are based on a homeostatic view of the body – meaning it is a self-regulating system that maintains itself in a continuous, stable condition. The average is the ideal. So we are told to eat regular meals consisting of a balance of the food groups and to take regular exercise, dominated by steady aerobic activity like cycling or jogging. This is all wrong.
But though Arthur’s economics feed into his Evolutionary Fitness regime, that’s not how he got there. He married his first wife, Bonnie, in 1957. They had three children, two of them adopted. Their biological son, Brandon, was diagnosed with type-1 diabetes at the age of two. “I went down to the Chicago University bookstore and bought everything I could on metabolism, including the big, thick textbooks, and I started ploughing through all that stuff.”
Some years later, Bonnie received the same diagnosis. By now, Arthur had decided most of what they were being told by doctors was wrong. “We had to neglect a lot of advice from doctors.”
He began experimenting with diets. Prolonged high blood sugar is fatal to diabetics.
It is lowered by insulin injections. But, Arthur reasoned, why not keep the blood sugar low in the first place? “I was frustrated with the doctors. We were having reactions day after day. So I decided to start testing. Something was driving her blood sugars up, so I started systematically eliminating foods that drove them up. Beans – something as simple as beans sent her blood sugar sky-high. Pasta was disastrous. There was something wrong here, this can’t be the case, you’re shooting her blood sugar up like this.”
It was clear that carbohydrates were the problem. By removing them from the diet, Bonnie and Brandon’s need for injected insulin dropped dramatically – so dramatically that one doctor refused to believe Bonnie had diabetes. But it wasn’t enough for her. She developed a rare complication – systemic vasculitis – that was eventually to kill her. Brandon, though lapsing from the low-carb diet, has done well.
But why are carbs such a problem? The very persuasive answer to this is why I went on the diet. Humans evolved over millions of years, probably on the African savanna. We were, for almost all our existence, hunter-gatherers – agriculture and settlement began only 10,000 years ago. Both sides of the dietary debate agree that this means we are omnivorous – hunter-gatherers have to be – and that because of our massive brains we have unusual energy requirements. Both sides also agree that settlement and civilisation changed our diet and living conditions radically. We may live longer because we are better protected from predatory beasts and all the other traumas that would have afflicted early man, but we also have new diseases, new miseries.
“We live,” says Arthur, “like lab rats. A lab rat has a life expectancy three times that of a wild rat because it is protected from accidents or disasters… But it doesn’t live better.”
Advocates of FBCG believed that the big dietary change behind our new miseries was increased consumption of animal fats on the basis that, for early man, there were lots of vegetables and fruit lying around, but a good kill would be rare. Recent research, however, suggests that kills could be very large and our ancestors did not, as we do, carve out the best bits; they ate the whole animal. Their fat intake was, in fact, much higher than we thought.
First, you free yourself of the homeostatic delusion. We are not made to eat regular meals or take regular exercise, nor are we meant to suffer chronic stress in an office. Our ancestors ate when they could and kept moving. Most of their life was stress-free, but occasionally they would be subject to acute stress in the form of an attack by a predator. So Arthur e-mailed me these recommendations. “Don’t eat three square meals a day. Skip meals now and then. Work towards an extended overnight period of no eating. This means eat sometime before you sleep and don’t be in a hurry to eat breakfast… Do not fear hunger. Nothing but good will come of it, but it must be episodic, not chronic.”
And on exercise: “First, everybody over-trains. Don’t do it. Don’t trudge away on a treadmill, count sets or repetitions, or work out according to a top-down Soviet model. You will hate it and it does not produce results. You must let it happen. You must have a playful, intermittent form of exercise. And you must exercise. The benefits are profound… Make it fun, intense according to your own fitness and goals, and brief. The goal of an exercise session is to promote growth-hormone release, to build muscle, and to elevate insulin sensitivity. Brevity and intensity are keys. Intensity means a little burn in the muscle, not heaving and straining. Brevity means you do not release stress hormones. So, you are favourably altering your hormone profile.” Superman’s grandad, it turns out, gets by on no more than 45 minutes in the gym and only when he feels like it.
Getting the food right is hard work. Arthur shops only on the outer edges of the supermarket, where they keep the fresh stuff.
Arthur drives me down to the golf club in his perfect Range Rover. It is still blindingly hot; the red desert is shimmering. We sit down for lunch. I stare critically at the menu.
“The turkey wrap’s good,” says Arthur.
“Wrap! Are you mad? It’s carbs.”
“You’ve got to live in the real world, Bryan.”
We end up with salads. Mine arrives with a cigar-shaped toasted bun on top.
“He doesn’t eat bread,” says Arthur, whipping it off and handing it back to the waitress.
He’s right, I don’t. I am early man, hunting and gathering, fighting lions, treading the outer reaches of the supermarket, spear in hand, picking up armfuls of celery. Celery? Yep, that’s what I meant to tell you – it works wonders for the testosterone.
I tend to eat last night’s leftovers: turkey with jarlsberg cheese and fruit, bacon with red grapes, omelettes with rosemary, olives and spring onions.
Usually salads, with red cabbage, romaine lettuce, spring onions, garlic, kale, broccoli or cauliflower, with salmon, tuna, turkey, chicken, pork or steak.
I sometimes eat a whole rack of ribs with salad and vegetables. Or a large steak, trimmed of fat. Almost always there is a beautiful salad and vegetables.