Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
14 Dec

The New Evolution Diet: An Excerpt (plus Art De Vany Answers Your Questions)

If you’ve been lurking in the Primal/Paleo community for any length of time, you already know who Art De Vany is. If not, here’s your chance to get a quick glimpse of the man who is billed as the grandfather of the modern Paleo movement. He’s been living this way for a quarter century, and his personal results speak to the long term benefits that come from emulating a hunter-gatherer existence. All of us who dabble in the Evolutionary realm owe Art a debt of gratitude for his early and continuous exploration of this lifestyle and philosophy that we all hold so dear. In fact, my own first few essays in the blogosphere were actually guest posts on Art’s site. And it was the enthusiastic response to those posts that helped convince me to try my own hand at this “blogging thing” back in 2006. Thanks, Art.

His long awaited book The New Evolution Diet goes on sale next week, and he has graciously provided an excerpt for you here today. I think you’ll find it thought-provoking on several levels (the math, the historical and personal perspectives, and especially that last line). While Art normally confines his comments and answers to his paid site (, he has agreed to lurk on MDA for a few days and answer as many of your questions in the comments section as he can. Make ‘em good, people. You can pre-order his book on Amazon right now (affiliate link), and it goes on sale officially December 21.

Chapter 7: The Metaphysics Behind the Diet

First came my boyhood passion for sports and strength. Next was my immersion in the world of nutritional science and metabolism because of my wife’s and son’s diabetes. The third and final element that connects all the dots and accounts for my fascination with the subject of this book: The ways in which the New Evolution Diet has intersected with my intellectual life.

A little background: A great deal of my work as an economist has been in the study of complex systems, such as how natural gas prices are determined by the marketplace. Not surprisingly, given that I had grown up in Southern California and taught at a university there, I eventually turned my attention to a notoriously murky, seemingly impossible-to-forecast industry: Hollywood.

Since its inception, the people running the motion picture business have tried to unlock the mystery of which decisions lead to financial success and which to failure. At some point, all the wisdom had been boiled down to this rueful admission by screenwriter William Goldman: “Nobody knows anything.” That’s exactly the kind of axiom that an economist cannot let stand untested. So in 1995 David Walls and I gathered box office revenue data on 300 Hollywood films and began to investigate what separated the winners from the losers.

This research produced a book, Hollywood Economics, and several scholarly papers, but the gist is this: Goldman was right. There is no way at the outset to plan a movie’s success. Neither the choice of stars or directors or writers nor the genre of movie nor the subject matter were found to make a reliable difference in how the films performed.

Meanwhile, my ad hoc study of health, nutrition, and fitness continued to deepen. I had already begun to discover that our ancestors’ lifestyle from 40,000 years ago could teach us how to live today. Now I was also beginning to perceive the full complexity of the systems and dynamics that determine whether or not we will be healthy.

At some point I realized that a human being is just another economic system. Indeed, your body contains an entire economy. There is the allocation of assets according to a hierarchy of needs. There are competing interests that sometimes struggle over resources and other times cooperate for the common good. There are surpluses. There are shortages. Like economies–like the movie industry–your body is a complex, decentralized system poised between chaos and order.

In the movie business, word-of-mouth reviews, more than anything, were what prompted fans to see one film instead of another. It is a powerful feedback loop made up of millions of small parts, each acting independently. This system has grown exponentially since the advent of the Internet. Where once millions of moviegoers chattered, now there are billions, perpetually in contact with one another, weighing in, arguing, linking, connecting and disconnecting, uploading and downloading.

It mimics perfectly what goes on inside our bodies. Billions of cells, all connected but working autonomously, with no central authority to guide them, take in information. react, then talk back and forth at the speed of electrons, each one responding in small ways that collectively add up to a powerful force.

“Information cascade” is an economics term to describe how even a small piece of knowledge can be amplified as it spreads from one decision maker to another. Your body is also controlled by cascades of information–your bloodstream is hit with a dose of carbohydrate, which is the signal for your pancreas to release insulin, which turns off fat burning and silences the signal from leptin, the hormone that would ordinarily tell your body that it has adequate reserves of energy and need not store any more.

Likewise, in the aging cascade, we lose metabolic fitness. And as a result, insulin rises and we grow more acidic, which further decreases metabolic health, and each event amplifies the momentum of what preceded it.

Hollywood wanted to believe that there was some stable, easy-to-predict dynamic that ruled the movie business. If there were, decisions could be made and investments taken with confidence in their outcome. Similarly, health experts use oversimplified analogies to predict how metabolism manages nutrition and weight. All you have to do is burn more fuel than you take in, we were instructed, and you will reliably lose weight. Burn precisely as much as you consume and you will maintain. Burn less and you’ll gain. Simple arithmetic that doesn’t add up.

We tend to simplify what otherwise seems overwhelmingly complicated. But as we now know, our metabolic function is infinitely complex. I found myself using concepts from other scientific disciplines to help me understand and explain the human body’s inner workings.

According to chaos theory, certain systems that seem to be random in fact are not–it’s just difficult for us to perceive, at the outset, all the subtle factors that set the course and determine the outcome. One landmark of chaos theory is the “butterfly effect.” This says that even a very small, unseen occurrence in a far-off place can have a large eventual impact–that if a butterfly flaps its wings in Hong Kong, the resulting breeze can trigger a cascade of atmospheric events and cause a hurricane in Brazil.

This can be used to explain many of our bodies’ inner workings. Here’s a simple one: If you go to the gym several hours after your last meal (so that you’re on a relatively empty stomach), your body will quickly burn through whatever glycogen is in your muscles and then move on to burning fat, which is the desirable state. But if on your way to the gym you have a sports drink, one with lots of carbs, you’ll need to burn off the glucose first. And depending on your workout, you might never get around to burning fat at all. Same exact exercise routine, very different outcomes, all because of your choice of pre-exercise beverage.

Another scientific concept, the power law, also comes up often in my discussions of health and fitness. It is based on the Pareto principle, named for Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. In essence, it describes the relationship between how common a factor is and how much influence it exerts. It says that the most unusual events will have the greatest impact. Pareto’s study determined that 80 percent of privately held land in Italy was owned by 20 percent of the population.

Similar power laws exist all around us. This relationship between low frequency and high impact is found again and again, in various fields of science, business, and elsewhere.

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 far more than the amount of time you spend working out. This is why a series of 40-yard sprints at full speed benefits you more than half an hour of jogging. It’s also the reason why lifting a weight heavy enough to make your heart pound and your muscles burn counts more than spending hours at the gym. When a work-out becomes an unvarying, monotonous routine, it loses its effectiveness.

My average output of energy per week may look fairly modest. But the stretches of relaxation are offset by two or three sessions of extremely intense activity, which do most to determine my well-being. Ancient hunter-gatherers spent much of their time doing little or nothing. And then, every so often, they took action that would exhaust any 21st-century gym rat. Overall, they burned twice as much energy as we do.

A few of the personal trainers at my gym laugh at “cardio queens,” people who waste hours on the treadmill and Stair-Master, trudging away but never really pushing themselves to intensity. But many more trainers recommend the unproductive exercise of “doing cardio” because they still subscribe to the energy-in, energy-out model of body weight. By doing the same cardio workout day after day, their bodies adapt to that exact level of energy demand but nothing greater. The internal message these people send is that they don’t need much fast-twitch muscle fiber, and so it atrophies, and as a result, they lose bone mass, too.

I use other terms and concepts that are not normally found in fitness books. Stochasticity, for instance, means “randomness” or “chance.” A living human leaves a “trail” of events and accomplishments that is so complex that it appears to be random. That means there is no model that can compress the information that is required to describe a lifetime. The appearance of randomness is an acknowledgment of the limits of our knowledge. So it is in markets and in life.

My particular form of engagement with the subject of health and fitness has even proven to have a metaphysical side. Each of us has what I call an ensemble of stochastic life paths–the choices we make. You make each choice in life based on your understanding of the possibility that it will take you where you want to be. But you don’t determine the outcome, only the probabilities. Each path leads to more choices: a cascade to echo all the other cascades that rule our lives. Choosing the path is the extent of your control–beyond that, it’s out of your hands. You choose, and then life rolls the dice.

For example, you can determine what you eat and drink and how you will exercise. But then your genes express themselves as they will. They are beyond your control. You can’t even completely determine your genes’ environment, since outside factors (such as air and water quality) and internal ones (like emotional stress) also have a say. I learned about the limits of control when caring for my first wife, Bonnie, through her terminal illness. I learned it again in my studies of the movie industry, and now in the course of my ongoing education in health.

It has even allowed me to recognize, in this thought, the Zen of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle: There is no failure, only feedback.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Art can one follow your plan on a veg/vegan diet

    Jonathan wrote on December 14th, 2010
    • It is not called the New Devolution Diet.

      Sorry, can never turn down a jab at veganism.

      Paleohund wrote on December 14th, 2010
    • You could live AS a vegan, but you can never BE one. It is not in your genes or your metabolism to be other than a omnivorous carnivore because meat is where the dense nutrients and energy were trapped on the savanna. Anything else is merely a choice. I concede you may have reasons to make that choice, or give it up as many have done, most recently Angelina Jolie (she said it nearly killed her —I secretly get all my diet advice from the movie magazines).

      Cro Magnon homo sapiens were just about the wolf in nitrogen intake — they were hunters-fishers who moved above the wolf on the trophic chain because of their fish consumption. So, consider fish as an alternative. You may have to consume fish oil to manage your lipids; is consuming fish or krill oil eating part of a fish? Your call.

      Do begin with Mark’s post that he put on my site years ago and which he has now reposted here on his site, “Escape from Vegan Island.” I gave it that whimsical title because I imagined that I might have been trapped on that island surrounded by vegans. I would have to find a way out.

      I do have some successful vegans in India who are members of my site. But, realize diabetes has reached epic proportions there. This generation of Indians now have access to calories their mothers did not and being borne under nutritional stress the fetus becomes insulin resistant. With rising wealth in India, better access to food, and low protein intake, Indians borne under low nutrition in the pregnant mother tend to be what I call “skinny-fat” — quite a lot of fat but little muscle mass. They look thin, but they are fat and poor disposers of glucose because of their small muscle mass. Ergo: adult onset diabetes, which is about 12% of the population.

      The most successful vegans are probably the Amish. Of course, they work hard and live simple, less stressful lives than most. So, it is hard to tell how their veganism fits in with that. I don’t know anyone in the calorie restriction group who is a vegan. Certainly, their famous early practitioner, Dr. Roy Walford, was not a vegan (he passed away). Cutting calories while abstaining from seafood and meat may be quite dangerous.

      The main problems are a lack of essential fatty acids, too little protein, various vitamin deficiencies (meat is a vitamin powerhouse), and an excess of inflammatory intake from grains and lectin intake from both grains and tubers. A potato chip is not a vegetable, though I see many vegans who eat a lot of them and the ADA food pyramid event puts potatoes in the vegetable group.

      Be sure to supplement your food intake with amino acids or protein. You want a full complement of aminos because your brain will detect a deficiency in any one of them and will make you eat more. The high glycemic foods on which vegans often rely will challenge your insulin sensitivity. Be sure to monitor your basal insulin and keep it below 8 (mine is 2).

      You are walking a tightrope.

      Art De Vany wrote on December 14th, 2010
      • Looking forward to the book. I am accumulating quite a library of paleo/primal/evolutionary eating books! One thing I have to note on the above is that I live amongst the Old Order Amish in southern Pennsylvania and none of them are vegan. They raise sheep, cows, pigs, chickens, etc and eat plenty of them! Perhaps you are confusing them with the Seventh Day Adventists?

        Laurie D. wrote on December 14th, 2010
      • The Amish eat a lot of meat.

        Kurt wrote on December 14th, 2010
      • Check out the link to ‘a vegan no more’ from Mark’s weekend link page on 28 November, a very candid and heartfelt essay on returning to an omnivore life from ‘hard core’ veganism which was wrecking her health.

        Until February I was vegetarian and did manage to eat Primal but it is very limiting and all the best positives that have flowed from the dropping of grains and sugar came after returning to a full omnivore status.

        Kelda wrote on December 15th, 2010
        • I was vegan/vegetarian for 5 years, maybe longer. I also did the raw foods thing for a while. My wife bought “Good Calories, Bad Calories” and I started reading it, and it blew my mind. Then I found Mark’s book and decided to give it a try. I started on April 29 of this year. Right now I am in hiatus/limbo, whatever you want to call it (I’m starting again in January), but the point is…not only did I rediscover my lost love for meat, but I lost 25 pounds and have kept it off. It seems my body has “reset” and even though I’m not eating optimally, I’m not gaining back the pounds. No more veganism for me! Vegetables, yes.. soy products, no!

          Art wrote on December 16th, 2010
      • The Amish are vegans? That’s news to me.

        I found out the hard way I can’t do without preformed vitamin A. I tell people about this whenever I can because small preliminary-type studies seem to show that almost half the human population can’t make an effective enough conversion of beta carotene to live on that as a vitamin A source. Nobody seems to want to follow up the preliminaries and I’m unclear whether the researchers (both in the US and the UK) controlled for conditions such as hypothyroidism and diabetes, which both affect BC conversion–but my own experience is enough for me, as I’ve been diagnosed with neither.

        Dana wrote on December 17th, 2010
        • The conversion of beta carotene into vitamin A requires saturated fat. Because of scare tactics most people get way too little sat-fat. Just eat meat with the fat on and chicken with the skin and full fat dairy and vitamin A won’t be a problem.

          andre wrote on May 28th, 2011
      • In regards to walking the vegan tightrope, what do you think of the Dr Garams 80 / 10 /10 diet? Im also curious as to why everyone on it is so skinny. They seem otherwise healthy.

        Are there hormonal dangers with having only 5-10% of your calories from fat?

        Would there be any long term dangers associated with it?

        pixel wrote on December 18th, 2010
      • Not to mention the possibility of anemia. The body gets iron from animal and plant sources, heme iron and non-heme iron respectively. However, the body can only use non-heme if it is also getting heme, i.e. animal. If you want to be healthy EAT a vegan~

        James Wallace III wrote on December 30th, 2010
  2. Professor De Vany – One of the many techniques of yours that I’ve implemented with some success is the ‘hierarchical’ workout. While this is relatively straightforward to implement with weights (especially machines), many of us primal folk use bodyweight exercises. What are your thoughts on working out so as to fatigue the muscle fibers in ascending order, as with the hierarchical sets, using bodyweight exercises where one cannot add weight? Is this possible? I’ve had a hard time coming up with a satisfactory approach to this. Thank you for all of your contributions – it’s a real pleasure to be Q&Aing with you!

    Mike wrote on December 14th, 2010
    • The hierarchical technique really works well. I think Mark does it too. I call it 15-8-4 because you do about 15 reps of an exercise with a lighter weight to drop out the slow twitch muscle fibers (ST) and then go right into a heavier set of 8 reps with a heavier weight and then onto a final set of 4 reps with a lot of weight. I sometimes finish this off with negatives, pushing the weight up with two hands or legs and lowering with one.

      You are moving up the muscle fiber hierarchy from ST to FTa and on to FTx, where each fiber is faster and takes stronger force production to trigger. Works like a charm.

      Doing that sort of thing without weights is not difficult. In sprinting, you sprint a longer distance at a more moderate speed, walk a bit and then go harder, but shorter, walk, then harder and shorter still. Go up to 6 or these or to your taste and then sprint a few times downhill. This is overspeed training and it will train your nervous system to be faster and more efficient. Running downhill also puts more eccentric load on your muscle; it is like a negative in weight lifting.

      I sprint in my Five Fingers on the grass of the golf course. Then I put my shoes on and scramble on the rocks. I make sure to leap off rocks onto the soft sand, another kind of negative that loads the FT fibers. Negatives recruit the FT fibers, so do negatives on your chin ups and push ups. Careful on the push ups not to drop too far and rip your rotator cuff, particularly you women.

      Then I push and pull my Rover in my driveway, you may have seen the films of this. Push-pull trains symmetry and full body mass.

      Sprint, rock scramble with drop jumps, push pull my Rover may be my favorite work out. If you use Harder, Faster, Shorter you can turn any outdoor exercise into a hierarchical routine.

      Art De Vany wrote on December 14th, 2010
      • Art,

        I always was curious regarding your recommendation to begin with slow-twitch (15 reps) and move up the hierarchy, rather than beginning with fast-twitch (4 reps) and dropping down in weight. What’s the basis for this preference?

        James M wrote on December 14th, 2010
        • I am working to drop out the ST, then the FTa, then kill the FTx fibers. That puts the max load on the FTx because they are not helped as much by the other fibers. You have to go quickly through the sequence though or the slower fibers will recover and assist the FTx.

          Art De Vany wrote on December 15th, 2010
  3. De Vany is a beast. I will be buying this book. At just over four months of becoming primal, I have begun to heal a serious bout of Sebhorreic Dermatitis, am stronger than ever (doing Stronglifts 5 x 5 twice weekly, Yoga twice weekly), and hover around 6% body fat (I was already “in shape” before my transformation – ha!) Fifteen pounds just melted away, and I feel better than ever.

    Great stuff.

    James wrote on December 14th, 2010
  4. That is the kind of material I love to read… a mix of scientific with anecdotal; theory with real. I’m buying that book.

    CS wrote on December 14th, 2010
  5. What an awesome article.

    It feels like much more than a blog post. Many, many profound thoughts in this and much to think about.

    I loved how you introduce us to systems theory, economics and Hollywood all in a post about primal living.

    Thank you for writing. I will definitely be checking out your book.

    Alison Golden wrote on December 14th, 2010
    • I think this is not a blog post, but a chapter from the actual book…

      Rebecca Latham wrote on December 14th, 2010
  6. Reading Art De Vany’s blog was my first introduction to the paleo (or paleo/Med) diet, and eventually led to huge improvements in my health. Thank you Art!

    JD Moyer wrote on December 14th, 2010
  7. I finished it last nite. It is available right now from Kindle. Good book with excellent points. Encouraged me to think differently about a couple of things.

    Jeff wrote on December 14th, 2010
  8. Good price for the book from Amazon, ordered mine for $18 including delivery charge.

    rob wrote on December 14th, 2010
  9. I feel smarter just reading these paragraphs. I will pick this book up for sure. Love the Chaos Theory, I see in my mind Mr. De Vany doing his best “Jeff Goldblum” when reciting this chapter!
    Thanks for introducing Mr. De Vany, I feel between him and Jack Lelanne, who have been doing this since the 50’s, we should have gotten this by now. How can any of this still not be mainstream? We still have a ways to go?

    Robert wrote on December 14th, 2010
  10. “There is no failure, only feedback.”.

    I’m going to carry those words for the rest of my life. Thank you and definitely picking up the book!

    Lars1000 wrote on December 14th, 2010
  11. Professor De Vany,

    As I understand, the most extreme workouts will lead to the most effects on our health. But we still need the other, more gentle and playfull physical activity, don’t we?


    pieter d wrote on December 14th, 2010
    • Play is the essential human quality. That and sociability which is so evident here on this happy site Mark has created. Is there a more informative, enjoyable site out there? Only Jimmy Moore’s comes close.

      My exercise is to give me the metabolic headroom to enjoy my play. You want to be able to make Max METS. You gain a sense of self-efficacy and fearlessness when you can move through life effortlessly. Max METS gives you that capacity, which we call physiologic capacity. It is a capacity for life.

      Art De Vany wrote on December 14th, 2010
    • Yes, we must play and use all of our muscles in many patterns of movement.

      Art De Vany wrote on December 15th, 2010
  12. “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 far more than the amount of time you spend working out. This is why a series of 40-yard sprints at full speed benefits you more than half an hour of jogging.”

    I’m not sure why, but this description just made more sense to me than anything else I’ve read about sprinting! In my non-pregnant state I definitely got to my leanest point sprinting rather than jogging, but this just reinforced that experience for me really well. I think I know how I’ll be able to get back in shape after baby is born without spending too much time “working out” :)

    Hannah wrote on December 14th, 2010
  13. Thank you for sharing a section of your book with us!

    I do have one question for you: In the aforementioned 40-yard sprints, who would win in a race, you or Mark?


    Paleohund wrote on December 14th, 2010
  14. Professor De Vany: Thank you for your pioneering work and your courage to question received wisdom. I have been following diet suggestions from your website and MDA for about a year, and my health has improved phenomenally. But I have a basic question about grains and the “New Evolution Diet.”

    Based on your writings and Mark’s I have virtually cut out grains from my diet. But as I’ve read more about glucose and insulin, I’ve learned that some fruits have glycemic loads as high as some grain products. For example, a banana and an apple together have a higher glycemic load than a good-sized piece of chocolate cake. In your view, what is the deeper dietary issue: grains or insulin?

    Matt wrote on December 14th, 2010
    • I realize you asked Art, but I figured I’d throw a gut reaction comment at you. That question will definitely depend on your level of intolerance (or lack thereof) to gluten.

      PartyLikeAGrokstar wrote on December 14th, 2010
      • I too will give my own perspective.

        Both cake and fruits do spike insulin. Their differnece is in nutrient density. Other than calories, grains have little to no nutrients while fruits do have some. Furthermore, grains contain anti-nutrients (toxins) whereas fruits generally have very little or none at all.

        Whether or not the price of the glucose/insulin spike is worth the nutrients in the fruit(s) depends upon each individual and their goals.

        If you are trying to avoid glucose/insulin spikes for whatever reason, it would be better to avoid both fruits and grains.

        Asturian wrote on December 14th, 2010
        • Let’s not forget that modern fruits themselves have been selectively bred to have toxic amounts of sweet-tasting fructose (a hunger-inducing leptin disruptor and, like alcool, a hepatoxin known to cause fatty liver disease and keep your liver from quickly processing glucose, leading to more prolonged hyperinsulinemia, when taken in excess)

          Better stick to dark-coloured veggies, and small dark-coloured berries.

          mm wrote on December 16th, 2010
    • The deeper issue is gene expression and over activation of the insulin/IGF-1 pathway. It is not insulin per se but the chronic activation of that pathway through continuous eating and provoking it with grains. The grains induce a burst of insulin, particlarly as the are found primarily in highly-processed foods, and they also induce insulin resistance. The lectins provoke the immune system as they interfere with self-labeling of cells. Friend and foe become harder for the immune system to distinguish because the glycoproteins that mark them are disturbed.

      So, grains are a double hit, at least.

      Art De Vany wrote on December 15th, 2010
    • I have heard that grains, and gluten grains in particular, can actually plug up insulin receptors and encourage or worsen insulin resistance. I’ve loved wheat my whole life, unfortunately, but if I were trying to avoid diabetes and still wanted to eat carbs, I’d eat fruit first.

      Dana wrote on December 17th, 2010
  15. I have a question for Art:

    In this excerpt, you mention “people buying into the energy-in/energy-out model of bodyweight”. Well, I’m one of those people. Total calories really does determine bodyfat levels from my experience; much more than the TYPE of calories. Don’t get me wrong, I’m primal to the core for a TON of reasons, but I definitely know people who are RIPPED and eat donuts fairly often! They just keep their calories low enough that it doesn’t matter. Granted, I’m sure they have to deal with insulin spikes much more often than I do or you do, and the resulting crash, and the resulting cravings, etc…but with will power they stay ripped, and they eat enough “real” food that they don’t have any obvious nutritional deficiencies. Less obvious ones…maybe/probably.

    Anyway – what is this “other” model of bodyweight (I’m assuming this means bodyfat levels by the way). If its not energy-in/energy-out, then what is it? Carbs? Hahaha.



    Graham wrote on December 14th, 2010
    • It’s a hormonal model of body weight/composition. Hormones are the biochemical interface between our environment (nutrition, activity, rest, stress) and our genetic expression.

      Asturian wrote on December 14th, 2010
    • i sure hope you come back as a woman in your next life — that calories-in/calories-out equation is the purest BS!

      tess wrote on December 14th, 2010
      • “that calories-in/calories-out equation is the purest BS!”

        Finally! The voice of reason!

        Rebecca Latham wrote on December 14th, 2010
      • I don’t understand. I’m not saying you’re wrong, but I’m a physicist, and I always figured it came down to the first law of thermodynamics. Simply put: You cannot create or destroy energy, only transfer it to different forms.

        This means: too much energy taken in, and that excess gets stored as bodyfat. Too little, and your body goes after its fat stores for the deficit.

        What am I missing here? To be clear, again, I’m primal and feel best off a high fat, low carb diet. But this decision had little to do with bodyfat levels. I was lean long before going primal (just had a bunch of other health problems way worse than above-average bodyfat levels).

        Graham wrote on December 15th, 2010
        • What you are missing here is that hormones control how much energy is burned, how much energy is stored as fat, and to a great extent (in our food dense environment) how much energy is consumed. People who have problems with obesity may be starving internally because, due to their hormones (insulin, leptin, ghrelin, thyroid, estrogen, cortisol, etc) they cannot access the energy stored in their fat and are then driven to consume MORE. And if they knuckle down and refuse to eat MORE, then their metabolism just slows down so they can live on 1000 calories a day without accessing any of their fat stores.

          Carrying excess and unhealthy amounts of fat is not a math problem. It is a dysregulation of metabolism, caused by hormones being completely out of whack. Some of the underlying causes may be chemicals, high sugar diets, low fat diets, inactivity, stress, and processed foods. Some are more resilient than others. But I feel safe in saying that anyone who really struggles with being overweight has a hormonal problem.

          Please read Gary Taubes – either his classic but dense book “Good Calories, Bad Calories” or get his new book coming out very soon “Why We Get Fat and What to do About it”. “Mastering Leptin” is another good book about the hormonal control of body weight and composition.

          What we eat affects our hormones and our hormones affect what and how much we eat. This does not violate the law of thermodynamics, just alters how it gets expressed.

          Barb wrote on December 15th, 2010
        • “What am I missing?”

          Poop, baby, POOP!

          The human body is an open system and you didn’t account for calories leaving the body and going into the toilet.

          In the case of fat and protein calories, your body sends everything it doesn’t immediately need down the toilet. Any excess calories go swirling down the bowl.

          In the case of grain carbs, some of those excess calories get earmarked for fat storage before the remainder gets sent down the toilet.

          CJ wrote on December 15th, 2010
        • Graham,

          The first law is honored and unbroken. The problem you are missing is that body composition is much more complex than just the first law of thermodynamics alone.

          Take mean global temperature for example. If the sun radiates a constant amount of energy (which it does over the long term), then the earth should remain at a fairly constant mean temperature (yet there have been many fluctuations with ice ages and warmer periods throught earth history). However mean global temperature is more complex than just the first law of thermodynamics alone. Mean global temperature is also a function of land surface albedo and its geographic distribution, the magnetic field, and the atmospheric composition which can also be affected by other parameters such as volcanic activity, forest cover, ocean plankton, anthropologic activities, etc.; with all kinds of feedback loops and interrelationships.

          In other words, body composition is a complex system consisting of a function of the 1st law + hormonal state (which happends to be a function of environmental stimuli), all of which change as a function of time and interrelationships.

          So a more correct energy balance equation for body compostiion might be:
          f(dE_in)dH/dt = f(dE_out)dH/dt + f(dS)dH/dt, such that all variables are a function of hormonal state at any moment in time with a feedback loop between each variable and the environmental stimuli (ie. quality and quantity of nutrition, activity, rest, and stress) as well as the body composition itself.

          As Gary Taubes has said “fat people are not fat because they eat more than average, fat people eat more than average because they are fat”. [paraphrased as I don’t recal exact words]

          BTW – Just because one is lean does not mean that they cannot have nutritional dysregulation of their hormones. Dysregulation of hormones leads to sub-optimal expression of the genes (ie. poor state of health). In other words, obesity does not cause other comorbidities as SW would have you believe. Obesity is just one of many possible disease states of hormonal dysregulation.

          Asturian wrote on December 15th, 2010
        • The calories-in-calories-out concept most people refer to here comes from the current, backwards way of thinking in obesity research.

          From Gary Taubes’ own interviews and research of the litterature in “Good Calories, Bad Calories”, it appears modern obesity researchers know less than they did a few generations ago. The current way of thinking is to completely dismiss hormones and see fat cells as mindless fat storage tanks.

          What Taubes (and other dissenting researchers) say when they talk about a calorie not always being a calorie is that our hormones and our brain has an ability to control how much fat we store or burn. This is completely ignored by “modern” obesity and weight management research.

          What they are not saying is that you can eat as many calories as you want and still not get fat as long as you control your hormones (i.e. keep a 1:1 insulin:glucagon ratio). Even they know, obviously, that after a while if you eat enough calories you will override your body’s weight regulation mechanism and get fat no matter what.

          mm wrote on December 16th, 2010
        • Sorry to necro an old post, but…

          What you are missing is that we are not talking about energy in a thermodynamic system. We are talking about chemicals which may be burned for fuel(energy) or used for other purposes… And about chemical processes which cause fuel to be stored rather than burned even when there is a short-fall in energy.

          james wrote on May 23rd, 2012
    • The balance equation is just an energy counting identity. It has no behavior behind it. Energy intake and expenditure are not independant; they influence one another through many feedback loops.

      There are many rest points in the energy dynamic, all of which are places where you will be in net balance, but at most of them you will be fat or skinny. The right poiint of balance to hit (it is really an attractor, not a single point but a group of points to which the dynamics are drawn) is a the correct body composition.

      At the healthy body comp, about 10% or less for a male, the brain is well-fed and your metabolism directs energy to muscle, brain, and organ mass.

      A poor body composition starves your brain and so you must eat to supply it with the energy it MUST have. If your metabolism routes that energy into your fat, your brain gets hungry again. So, you eat. And so it goes.

      The crucial organ that has a narrow range or tolerance for energy flow and use is the brain. Keep your brain well-fed, through healthy body composition and metabolism, and your hunger will be a proper signal of the need for nutrients.

      Final point: you are NEVER in energy balance. It changes constantly with your activity and eating. They are talking about average balance; but that leads to dumb thinking like eating many tiny meals. That means you never burn fat.

      Art De Vany wrote on December 15th, 2010
      • Thanks for the replies all. I truly enjoyed the response here.

        I guess there are people with healthy metabolisms where the occasional insulin spike is no big deal, but I do notice that fat people go crazy for sugar…while thin people typically don’t.

        The ‘context of calories’, I suppose? Like, if I have fruit(or sugar) as a second or third meal in a day, I feel a bigger insulin response than if I eat fruit after a 24 hour fast. Context! I get it now.

        Graham wrote on December 17th, 2010
        • More specifically, fat people who eat high-carb diets are constantly craving sugar because their energy’s perpetually locked up and their lean tissue’s screaming for it.

          But you see the same with thin people. It’s not really about the weight. Thin people can have hyperinsulinemia too–and in my not-so-humble, it’s more dangerous for them because at least fat people have a visual warning that something is amiss, while thin people think they have a free pass to behave in unhealthy ways since “I’m not gaining weight, after all.”

          Dana wrote on December 17th, 2010
        • Dana wrote: “But you see the same with thin people. It’s not really about the weight. Thin people can have hyperinsulinemia too–and in my not-so-humble, it’s more dangerous for them because at least fat people have a visual warning that something is amiss, while thin people think they have a free pass to behave in unhealthy ways since ‘I’m not gaining weight, after all.'”

          Fat-thin people have less fat overall than overweight and obese people, so they have less hormonal disruption from metabolically active fat cells. Very overweight or obese people may or may not realize the severity of the problem, but awareness itself does not seem to prevent people from eating unhealthful foods anyway.

          Sonagi wrote on December 17th, 2010
    • It’s not an absolute of either you burn the calories or you store them. Any substance you can set on fire, by definition, has a caloric value. But some of the substances you eat become part of your lean mass, rather than being burned or stored as fat.

      Actually, from what I understand having read some of Taubes, any energy-producing stuff you eat gets converted to fatty acids and goes straight to the adipose tissue. Whether it comes back out between meals, as it should, depends on how high your insulin is habitually throughout the day. If it sticks around, you gain weight; if it’s released and is burned, your weight remains stable.

      So everyone stores fat. It’s what you do with the fat between meals that matters.

      Dana wrote on December 17th, 2010
      • I really like this line of comments.

        SAT, subcutaneous adipose tissue, is protective at some level against the metabolic damage of VAT and ectopic fat (fat in the wrong places, like organ). Once past that margin (non-linearity again) SAT also becomes part of the problem.

        The immune system faces a lot of dying fat cells that it has to mop up and inflammation results. Inflammation induces insulin resistance. There are no evolved protections against accumulating fat, since that would not have had selective value. Iimaging studies show macrophage infiltration into SAT. More inflammation results. More insulin resistance follows. Then more fat develops. A positive feed forward loop.

        Art De Vany wrote on December 21st, 2010
  16. It’s great to see Art’s work being published finally. As a paid member at, I can vouch for all the great info available there.

    Kishore wrote on December 14th, 2010
  17. Great excerpt for your site, Mark. Definitely putting this book on my Amazon wishlist. The thing I don’t like about Art’s site however is that you have to be a member to get all the good stuff.

    John wrote on December 14th, 2010
  18. Dear Professor De Vany,

    I understand your advocacy of sporadic, intense, randomized weight-training/resistance experiences (power law).

    In following this model, though, how do you account for gains? Let’s say you want to increase strength gains. Is a randomized approach and progressive overload mutually exclusive? If not, how would you recommend keeping track of progress in strength, speed, or any other measurable output?

    For instance, I have followed Crossfit main site wods for two years and found gains through their randomized, intense workouts. Now, I follow a more structured program that focuses on my goals of strength gains (Wendler 5 3 1); however, I prefer the variety of a randomized program. With that said, I have noticed more gains in a linear program. Is there a best model? Is it dependent on goals? Can the two (randomization and linear overload) be combined? If so, how?

    Thanks so much!


    Patrick wrote on December 14th, 2010
    • The whole problem is one of challenge and adaptation. Power law variation, which mimics the movement of wild animals and children, presents a fractal pattern which maximizes adaptation. There must be enough complexity to challenge adaptation but not so much that it exceeds adaptive capacity.

      The best gains of muscle mass and strength come from contracting a stretched muscle or lengthening a contracted one. I call this stretch-flex training. Example: if you do curls but never stretch the muscle to full range, it becomes smaller.

      Art De Vany wrote on December 15th, 2010
  19. Add me to the list of people who never thought of looking at evolution for health and fitness answers untill I found Art Devanny and his evolutionary fitness.

    My question.

    How do you aproach the basic problems of exercise program dessing? For example..

    How do you pick exercises? I remember you use to talk about an X look to a physique that you sought after.

    How do you manipulate volume and intensity? Is it by feel?

    What tipe of fitness/performance goals correlate positively with good health?

    Daniel wrote on December 14th, 2010
  20. ‘There is no failure, only feedback’

    Yes, that is the perfect description of the place I’ve found having completed my first year Primal.

    Hearing the feedback, from everything, is so important and life-changing.

    Will be ordering the book :-) thanks for sharing.

    Kelda wrote on December 14th, 2010
  21. Graham,

    In my experience it’s really not only calories-in/calories-out. Personally, my bodyweight has hovered between 125 and 130 for at least the last 5 years, despite fairly large swings in my caloric intake over the years. Is it likely that I’m eating exactly my maintenance calories? I don’t think so, especially when you factor the number of people I know with similar metabolisms. A point Art (and Mark) make is that plenty depends on how your genes express themselves. I’m guessing my body adjusts its metabolism to match my caloric intake, or I actually dump the excess glucose (is that even possible?).

    Caloric restriction on any diet has been shown to work. However, I imagine that a nutritional composition that encourages the burning of fats will out-perform one that encourages the storage of fat. Calories still matter, but so does their context.

    Andrea Reina wrote on December 14th, 2010
    • “I’m guessing my body adjusts its metabolism to match my caloric intake”

      I know that mine does that! Eating a wide range of calories and still maintaining, or gaining, has been my experience. In the face of Adaptive Thermogenesis or Homeostasis, what do you suggest, Art?

      Lowering calories or increasing activity just seems to cause my metabolism to slow down even further…

      Rebecca Latham wrote on December 14th, 2010
  22. Finally, someone with a lot credentials has said something I have come totally to believe in: “We tend to simplify what otherwise seems overwhelmingly complicated.”

    I think I need to this book. I like how he has a total macro & insightful view on everything.

    Ryan Denner wrote on December 14th, 2010
  23. Professor De Vany

    Thanks for all the info you have provided over the years. I look forward to reading your book.

    Melissa bring ups some good questions in an early review ( I have similar questions as well base on reading your blog over the years. Any clarity you can provide around your thinking on fat/saturated fat would be much appreciated!

    Mark wrote on December 14th, 2010
  24. Dr. De Vany,

    I look forward to reading your book. I very much relate to the scientific concepts and terminology that you used in the excerpt above. I’m also very much in tune with your underlying message to live life with an awareness of our stochastic network of choices, paths, and possibilities.

    As many of us develop this awareness and adopt a lifestyle more suitable to our genome, do you think it is possible to significantly slow or stop the process of aging as Dr. Michael Rose has hypothesized ( Basically, Dr. Rose seems to suggest that as we age, our genes lose their capacity for environmental adaptation and therefore we must seek a more ancestral environment (ie. Paleolithic environmental stimuli) for our genes to express themselves free of disease and degeneration. Furthermore, he suggests that this capacity for environmental adaptation is dependent upon our ancestral roots such that Eurasians, who have lived a Neolithic lifestyle the longest, will lose their capacity for adaptation later in life (around 40 years of age) compared to say someone with ancestral roots from Native Americans who only very recently have been exposed to the Neolithic lifestyle.

    I would be very interested in your thoughts about this age related change in our genetic expression response to environment.

    Asturian wrote on December 14th, 2010
    • I have posted on Michael Rose’s theory (he and I were colleagues at UCI, though we did not meet).

      I will open that post to everyone. Go to my site and have a look at Biological Immortality.

      Art De Vany wrote on December 14th, 2010
      • Thank you for opening up that post for us.

        Myself, I noticed a somewhat rapid degeneration of my gene expression in my early 30’s as I became ill/injured more frequently and put on weight with great difficulty taking it back off. My ancestral genetics are European and Amerind leaning more towards Amerind.

        I suspect I should have transitioned to a more paleolithic lifestyle in my late 20’s instead of my late 40’s. So I guess I shorted myself out of about 20 good years of life, but as you said in your post, “… who knew any of the things we know now?”

        Thanks again for your valuable contributions to this body of knowledge.

        Asturian wrote on December 15th, 2010
  25. I have been following Art for years. He has significantly changed my life and for that, I am very thankful.

    primalman wrote on December 14th, 2010
  26. Art: Are you aware of any studies and/or commentary on how the Evolutionary/Paleo ways can prevent Prostate Cancer? All I have found, so far is a vegetarian approach. HELP. . .


    Kay Keith wrote on December 14th, 2010
    • My brother had prostate cancer. I don’t. There is a large difference in our diets. Having a good immune system and being low in inflammation stress gives you a good headstart to preventing cancer. The Paleo/Primal/NED diet is close to optimal in those respects.

      They may yet find that many cancers are viral in orgin. An enlarged prostate may create ischemia in the tissues which can promote inflammation and DNA damage.

      Art De Vany wrote on December 15th, 2010
    • Beat prostate cancer the same way you beat all cancers: go into ketosis, stop eating carbs. Stop eating anything remotely inflammatory. Fast at the very least, just before chemo.
      Starve the bastards, and allow your immune system to fight without the major compromising effects of elevated blood sugar.

      Cancer cells can only proliferate by eating sugar. 70% on your immune system’s ability to eat pathogen gets seriously compromised when you eat too much sugar.

      As for prevention… well pretty much the same as above except you don’t absolutely have to be in ketosis…

      (not that eating plant anti-oxidants really helps anyways if recent studies are to be believed. Plants don’t steal anti-oxidants from other plants, they make anti-oxidants in response to oxidative stress, and so should your own body)

      mm wrote on December 19th, 2010
  27. Art and I have had a great relationship for over three years now. He reads, dissects, and simplifies all the deep, complicated, scientific papers out there and I reap the rewards.

    SuperMike wrote on December 14th, 2010
  28. I have a question for Mark:

    Are there any differences between yours and Art’s diet plans?

    cathyx wrote on December 14th, 2010
  29. Art,

    What are you thoughts on the best eating patterns for folks with Hashimoto’s Tyroiditis and Psoriasis? I understand they are both autoimmune disorders, but don’t know if they have similar food reactions. Any particular food that one MUST avoid to help manage these conditions? I’ve had psoriasis for 40 years (since age 2) and been hypothyroid (diagnosed) for 12 years. Thanks.

    Dave wrote on December 14th, 2010
    • With autoimmune, you should be more concerned about what not to eat…

      mm wrote on December 19th, 2010
  30. Thank you for bringing this new book to our attention. I will definitely be ordering.

    Ginger wrote on December 14th, 2010
  31. Professor De Vany,
    What can one do to ease into exercising? I know some people who are very interested in the theories presented here, but feel discouraged due to already damaged joints- arthritis, hypermobile hip, damaged spinal discs, etc. How can I show them that they can still benefit from the exercises in your and Mark’s book?

    Amanda wrote on December 14th, 2010
    • I meant “yours and Mark’s books.”

      Amanda wrote on December 15th, 2010
    • Often it is found that damage is in the image not in the action. That is, something like disk degeneration is read from an MRI but the patient is asymptomatic. Meaning it doesn’t hurt or impair their function. So, clearly, it is possible to function even when there is damage.

      I think the main issue is to dampen the inflammation, which the diet will do to a great extent. Next, exercise will lessen inflammation too. You need good blood flow into the damaged areas to bring anti-inflammatory cytokines and nutrition there. Damaged tissue locks up and goes into anaerobic metabolism, producing a lot of lactic acid that hurts and promotes inflammation.

      Art De Vany wrote on December 15th, 2010
  32. How much damage done by the modern American diet over 20 years can be undone, realistically?

    Zora wrote on December 14th, 2010
  33. If running marathons is so bad for us, how in the heck did we evolve the ability to do it so well?

    Gordo wrote on December 14th, 2010
    • I don’t understand your point. Is it that if we CAN do something, it means that it is healthy to do it?

      Rebecca Latham wrote on December 14th, 2010
      • Exactly Rebecca, I commented on a friend’s blog just the other day – he was boasting about riding 191 miles in training that week mostly commuting in minus 15 … my comment

        ‘just because we can, doesn’t mean we should’

        Kelda wrote on December 14th, 2010
        • Yes. If you can push yourself to run a long distance, and it causes hormonal imbalances and other disturbances, that means that you are not designed nor “evolved” to do it. Not to mention the injuries that are caused by running. I heard this question is often asked of runners “Are you running right now or are you injured?”

          Rebecca Latham wrote on December 15th, 2010
      • Nature is efficient. We don’t evolve abilities that are not needed and used often. Why then, are we such incredible endurance athletes compared to the rest of the animal kingdom?

        Gordo wrote on December 15th, 2010
        • Our “endurance” relative to other mammals is due to our bipedalism and the fact that we are for the most part hairless. Moving on two legs is more energy “efficient” than moving on four and it also minimizes the surface area exposed to solar radiation. Evaporative sweating from hairless skin is much more “efficient” for staying cool than panting with your tongue. So perhaps nature is not so efficient since most mammals walk on all fours and have hair over their bodies making humans more of an outlier oddity in the animal kingdom. These evolutionary characteristics allowed us to hunt and gather in the mid-day sun when it was too hot for preadtors to hunt us or for prey to to run away from us. That was the selective influence for our evolution rather than running marathons for the heck of it or because we could do it so well compared to other animals.

          I think the point you are missing is that we are not meant to “chronically” maintain this endurance activity called marathon running. In the paleolithic, human prey animals were much larger than they are today and quitle likely we did not need to maintain a running endurance for more than about 20 or 30 minutes at most. Even today, hunter gatherers rarely run down their prey for more than an hour or 8 to 10 miles, NOT 26.

          So in short, we did NOT evolve to run long distances (over 10 miles) on a chronic or daily basis as you imply.

          Asturian wrote on December 16th, 2010
        • @Asturain –

          “Moving on two legs is more energy “efficient” than moving on four”


          “Even today, hunter gatherers rarely run down their prey for more than an hour or 8 to 10 miles, NOT 26.”

          Wrong again.

          “In the paleolithic, human prey animals were much larger than they are today”

          Wrong again. This was true for only a short period in our evolution. Wanna go 0 for 4?


          Gordo wrote on December 16th, 2010
        • Nah.

          By all means feel free to Darwinize yourself Gordo. Why would I care?

          Asturian wrote on December 17th, 2010
        • “Why would I care?”

          Isn’t the whole point that whatever exercise/diet patterns we evolved are the healthiest for us? Isn’t that why we’re here?

          Gordo wrote on December 17th, 2010
  34. Beautiful.

    I have always been a fan of what academicians call “interdisciplinary approaches” to an idea. Prof. DeVany, you’re a master. Thank you for bringing this level of insight and creativity to a subject that can’t afford to be reduced to sound bytes.

    Alhaddadin wrote on December 14th, 2010
  35. Dr. De Vany,
    My daughter was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes one year ago and you mention that your wife and son were similarly diagnosed. Did your whole family adopt this lifestyle and if so, how did it affect their health in relation to their condition? How did you propose this change to your family if you did? I have been following the Paleolithic diet for about 2 months, since I read Mark’s book and have found that the carbohydrates from more original sources (i.e. apples) as opposed to the same amount of carbs from grains have a drastically different effect on her blood glucose spike. Even if you take into account the fiber, it seems like there is something more going on. I would love any feedback.

    Rita wrote on December 14th, 2010
    • Rita,
      I applaud your efforts to help your daughter with a Paleo approach to nutrition. My 20 years with the disease have taught me many things, but only recently did I figure out nutrition. I’m certain Dr. DeVany can speak much more eloquently about the matter, but if you’d like a brief read, check out one of my articles, here:

      I wish you and your daughter all the best with her care.


      Eric wrote on December 14th, 2010
    • I discuss type-1 diabetes in my book. We decided to let the liver supply glucose to the brain rather than eating carbs and then trying to “cover” it with insulin. Safety requires that you leave a margin of carb lest the insulin trap it all in the body and deny it to the brain. This is the “energy on demand” concept which our bodies are evolved to do. Grains induce insulin resistance so does cheese and most dairy because of the IGF (bovine form).

      Art De Vany wrote on December 17th, 2010
  36. Looking forward to reading this.

    Scott wrote on December 14th, 2010
  37. Where does dairy fit into fueling your body. Milk good? bad? full fat or low? Yoghurt full fat greek or low fat greek. Cream, okay occasionally or consume til satisfied.

    shoreline wrote on December 14th, 2010
    • Dairy is allergenic and produces a huge insulin hit.

      Stay away.

      Steve Reeves and other body builders knew this.

      Art De Vany wrote on December 15th, 2010
  38. Dr. De Vany,

    I have been a serious tennis player for most my life (juniors, played college, etc), which means practicing 3-4 hours a day + gym 6 days a week. When I went on the evolutionary diet I found that I was loosing too much weight. I had gone from being 193 to being around 180 lbs (im 6’3 and was already skinny). Now that I’m not playing tennis seriously I have no trouble following the evolutionary diet, but I’m not sure what to tell fellow athletes who are still going through brutal practices. Do you think the evolutionary diet can also successfully be adapted by serious athletes? Should it be modified a bit like Cordain says in “The Paleo Diet for Athletes”?

    gian hodgson wrote on December 14th, 2010
    • Ivan Lendl did not become great until he shed some of his body fat. Power to weight ratio is the key in sport.

      Get strong and eat Paleo/NED and let it happen.

      Art De Vany wrote on December 15th, 2010
      • Dr. DeVany,

        Did you read his questions?

        Ned Rain wrote on December 16th, 2010
        • Yes, I did read them. Most tennis players are too fat because they carb it up. gran was probably a bit skinny fat as we say at my site. When people lose weight they think they are losing muscle, but they usually are not. They are dropping fat and decreasing the fat stored inside their muscles and organs.

          I am saying that gran should get strong and not worry about sports specific nutrition.

          Art De Vany wrote on December 16th, 2010

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