Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Inspired by a 1935 Magazine Article

I have been a believer, if not always a follower, of a low-carb diet since I read Jonny Bowden's Living the Low Carb Life in January 2006. Since then, I've read many low carb books and websites. One common story you read about is that of Vilhjalmur Stefansson, a Harvard anthropologist turned arctic explorer, who lived with the Eskimos for several years.

He observed that the Eskimos survived on a diet consisting almost entirely of meat (defining meat as all animal flesh, including fish). But he not only observed it, he lived it. He found himself living with the Eskimos and eating their diet. At first, it repulsed him. But over time, he came to prefer it. The remarkable thing is, these Eskimos were completely healthy. They did not have heart disease, cancer, dental cavities, or even scurvy.

When Stefansson returned to the U.S., he shared his findings with the medical community. Alas, most people didn't believe him. So he and a colleague agreed to a highly controlled experiment, wherein they would eat only meat for a year. They succeeded at this, while remaining perfectly healthy. Stefansson wrote about his experiences in a series of articles in Harpers Monthly in 1935. Still, the world paid only passing notice.

I read about Stefansson many times, and found it interesting. But it's only recently that I found the actual Harpers Monthly articles on the Internet. Reading about Stefansson is interesting, but actually reading his articles is utterly fascinating. Here is a first hand account of a man who lived an existence the rest of us can only imagine. And his observations about the medical orthodoxy of the time are just as timely now as they were in 1935. You get the impression that Stefansson thought his work would change the opinion of the medical establishment, and thus change the eating habits of Western civilization. Sadly, we know that his optimism, at least to date, was misplaced.

But at least one person was inspired by those old magazine articles: Me! In addition to my intermittent fasting schedule, I am going to strive to eat a very low carb diet. Mine will consist primarily of eggs and meat. I'm sure I will occasionally have some fruit, nuts and seeds, but the vast majority will be eggs and meat.

The beginning will surely be the hardest part. Stefansson's description of how people adapt to the diet is very interesting. The bottom line is, it's difficult at first, but easy after you're used to it. The "benefit" Stefansson and his men had was that they had no choice. It was either eat like the natives or starve to death. I'm going to have to resist eating other foods, even when they're abundantly available. Will I be able to do it?

In case you thought I was going to leave you hanging about where to find the Harpers Monthly articles, fear not. You can find the first one here, and then link to parts 2 and 3: Harpers Monthly Stefansson.

Enjoy the articles, and let me know what you think. Are you as inspired as I am?

Bon repos,

1 comment:

  1. tom, i really enjoyed those three articles! wow, they're saved on my documents. i just cant seem to do low carb enough. its comforting to read accounts that show for at least some of us, low to zero carb can be a life sustaining diet that doesnt just support your health, but actually enhances it. thanks so much for the link, and ill be glad to see how this works out for a fellow faster!