I have wondered why it was so easy for me to give up the eating tastes and habits that most Americans find so compelling and ultimately cause most of us to become overweight or obese. My widowed Issei mother’s influence and early years so unwillingly spent on the Italian Riviera removed me from the pernicious influence of Big Food’s brainwashing advertising and addictive products. Mom was always suspicious of packaged foods. Interestingly, her objections had an almost moral angle. She would say that people who indulged in fast food and frozen dinners were too lazy to prepare real meals. But she also seemed to have an instinct for healthy eating. She knew that sugar and excess fat, particularly saturated fats, were bad. For me, a Coke was a rare treat, as with my beloved Fritos and fish sticks. Sugar frosted flakes, on the other hand, were completely out. She fully understood the value of lightly cooked vegetables and fruit, though her preference was based on taste rather than health. I remember her as a small, seemingly frail woman, who was remarkably healthy and with a will strong enough to stop smoking in the early 1960’s quickly when I started to bring home the ant-smoking messaging that I was getting in school. Years later, I came to suspect that she had experienced a bout of anorexia during time spent away from her home in Japan at a boarding school in England. She was miserable away from her family and home in Japan. I think this experience, along with being exposed to a traditional Japanese diet in her youth, influenced her food preferences. This was the genesis for her distaste for all food that nutritionists now refer to as hyperpalatable.

The other dimension to my immunity to Big Food’s influences is the several years that I spent in a small coastal town in Italy, far away from the reach of their advertising and junk products. I grew up inculcated by the Mediterranean diet. It was the reality of being in that location in the early 1960’s. I spent those key formative years acquiring a different sense of normal eating.

I was further aided by two other factors in avoiding the psychological and physical addition to Big Food. First, as an adult, I began to realize something was wrong with the diet pushed by Big Food while taking Vertebrate Zoology in college circa 1975. I knew that it is no evolutionary coincidence that humans have the highest density of sweat producing glands in our skin of any mammal. It is no coincidence that this trait is combined with bipedalism and all the advantages locomotion on two legs confers to running. Running under the hot sun at mid-day across the undeveloped portion of the University of Florida campus, it became obvious to me that humans were born to run and to run in the heat. I reasoned, not quite correctly, that healthiest and happiest, we need to live and eat as simply and naturally as possible. As long as we remained foragers, our ancestors’ brains remained small. When the Central African forests became savanna, our line of primate ancestors came down from the trees and began to roam. Bipedalism is a more efficient mode to traverse distance. When we became bipedal, we became hunters. The additional calories from meat allowed selection for larger brain size; larger brain size afforded a selective advantage to hunting. The thoughtful predator is more successful: thus, the ascent of man.

At 21, I didn’t take this line of thought much further, but I came away from Vertebrate Zoology with a firm understanding of H. Sapiens’ place in nature, the web of life, and the evolution of animals. The nearly four years as a zoology major taught me something else: an understanding of the value of peer-reviewed research. This laid the basis for my easy dismissal of so many who now proclaim some new dietary rubbish. If it is not evidence-based, then it is useless, usually self-promoting, speculation. If the diet guru is selling something, that prima fascie evidence of fraud.

Of course, during the 10 years after my return to the United States in my my late adolescence, the prevalence of Big Food’s advertising and availability pulled me into the bad habits that are universal today. I was a chunky teen. But by my early 20’s, informed by my experience in zoology, I had taken up running and laco-ovo-vegetarianism. Of course, my fitness and leaness grew, enhanced by years in the crucible that is the Marine Corps. However, this lasted until I became a professional, once again exposed to all the cultural influences that almost inevitably lead to growing waistlines with age. By 49, I was nearly clinically obese and my family practitioner was cautioning me that I “could expect my first heart attack within two years”.

In response, I ended my nearly 30 year hiatus from running and tried to clean up my diet. The zoology background formed a foundation to my approach: seeking peer-reviewed information on proper diet. My foray into the science left me with the impression that nutrition research and the typical grocery store must exist in parallel, mutually exclusive, universes. Almost everything in the stores is some sort of recombination of refined grains, fat, and salt. The mammalian meats, far from being remotely similar to what our ancestors ate, are full of antibiotics, hormones, and laced with fat from being unnaturally constrained under abusive circumstances. I quit all of that and embraced a holistic combination of running, strength training, and eating as healthily as I know how to do. I am hugely satisfied with the results.

A set of heuristics have guided me:

  • Sugar, like alcohol, is a poison.

  • Typical industrial meat is completely unnatural and nearly poisonous. As much as possible, grain-fed, free range only. No processed meats: they are poison. Prefer chicken to beef, fish to chicken, vegetarian protein source to fish. Limit flesh to one portion per day. Fry nothing.

  • As much lightly cooked vegetables and unprocessed fruits as you wish.

  • Whole grains only. Prefer legume carbs to grain carbs, but do not exclude the latter.
  • Salt, sugar, and fat are the basic ingredients to poisonous foods: avoid anything where these ingredients have been artificially added.

  • It is not natural to eat sugary foods. It is not natural to eat salty foods. It is not natural to eat fatty foods (unless you’re living in the tundra). Our bodies cannot properly digest them and they poison us.

  • Humans are structured to perform a lot of movement. If this is not done, our metabolism degrades rapidly with age.

  • Trust nothing on a restaurant menu. Shun items that are blended or mixed to the point where original ingredients cannot be discerned. Order nothing that doesn’t have an associated calorie count on the menu. If you’re not a serious endurance or strength athlete, you have no business consuming a 700 calorie meal.

  • Read packaging labels; pick ones with the shortest list of unpronounceable things. Unless it’s olive oil or avocado, greater than 30% calories from fat is a no-go. Likewise, greater than 300 or 400 milligrams of sodium per serving is also a no-go. While you’re at it