Diet Guru FAILS?

Found this on Yahoo while traversing the on-ramp to the information superhighway:
Diet Guru Failures

Of course my favorite punching bag, Atkins is there, but so are Jim Fixx and Nathan Pritikin. It makes sense that some of the real wacky fad diet folk didn’t have great health, what about those who really did show the benefits of a healthy lifestyle?

Jim Fixx:


Fixx played a huge role in getting Americans off the couch and exercising. It was not long ago that doctors recommended against exercise, which seems ridiculous these days. Then again, doctors used to advocate cigarettes. Fixx himself was a poster child for lifestyle transformation going from an obese smoker to a marathoner, and then showed others how to do it for themselves. Unfortunately, Fixx thought smoking was the real demon, and that if he lost weight and gained fitness he was healthy. He never really changed his diet away from the Standard American Diet.  As far as I know, he thought that if he had cardiovascular FITNESS he was HEALTHY. Unfortunately he found out the hard way that fit does not mean healthy. The converse is also true. You can also be quite healthy without being very fit. Unfortunately, the nay sayers went bananas with this and used it to justify their couch potato ways, unhealthy lifestyle, and leave it all to genetics, absconding all personal responsibility.

The Jim Fixx Lesson:


A healthy lifestyle requires some attention, and consists of more than one factor. You can’t out-exercise a poor diet.

Nathan Pritikin:


Here is another example that confounds people. Nathan Pritikin was ahead of his time, just as Fixx was. He hacked his own health when he was diagnosed with heart disease. With the mind of an engineer, he researched heart disease, determined what caused it, created a solution, and tried it on himself. He cured his own heart disease, then began teaching other people at his health centers. Throughout the 1970s he demonstrated amazing health improvement for thousands of people. With that success, was he lauded? Of course not. Like Fixx he was ridiculed. His death likewise is used as criticism. While his heart disease was gone, as shown by his autopsy, his suicide from terminable leukemia is used by the critics as evidence that he was wrong.

The Nathan Pritikin Lesson:


Pritikin combined healthy diet and exercise to eliminate heart disease, so he was way ahead of Fixx. Unfortunately, not everything can be cured with lifestyle, and there may be some new things to learn. A good reminder to those of us to realize that our healthy lifestyle may not be a panacea.

Robert Atkins:


Regardless of whatever the real cause of Atkins’ death was, the man was not healthy. He peddled weight loss books despite the fact that he was seriously overweight. It’s pretty clear he had heart disease, whether or not that killed him. Why people still revere him, or pursue any similar diet or lifestyle is beyond me.



It’s important to see what the people behind any advice look like. If they stand behind what they advocate, are the results good enough to copy? At the same time, we need to be realistic about what lifestyle can actually do. We have really good information, but the full story has yet to be told.

What do you think about diet and health gurus? Was somebody missing from the list? Do they walk their talk? Should they be judged?


About vegpedlr

Plant powered off-road triathlete

Posted on November 6, 2013, in Nutrition, Reflection, Training and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. It’s interesting that you post about the importance of both diet and exercise, as I just booked a trip to Santa Rosa, Ca this morning to attend the “Holiday Extravaganza” at True North Health Center early December, where Chef AJ will be doing some cooking demonstrations along with the rest of the staff. The “Holiday Extravaganza” also features yoga, meditation and nutrition/health lectures, and all the food served is low fat, whole foods plant based, so it will be like a fun and healthy all inclusive active and educational vacation with like minded people. I spoke with Dr. Goldhammer this morning and asked about road bicycling in December in Santa Rosa and he said that although it is cooler in December, there should still be some good days for road cycling and also informed me that the city is very bicycle friendly. I’m going to take along my pedals, shoes, helmet and bicycling clothes and then rent a road bike when I get to the clinic. I’ve already met Dr. Lisle and Dr. Klapper when I was at the “Get Healthy Marshall” immersion hosted by Rip Esselstyn and his team (including Jeff Novick and Dr. Essy) a couple of years ago, but it will be good to meet Dr. Goldhammer and Chef AJ and some of the rest of the staff at True North. As you allude to in your post, diet definitely trumps exercise as far as health is concerned, but the best recipe is to engage in both healthy diet and adequate exercise, which I try to do in my everyday life and will definitely be able to accomplish while on my vacation! It will be good to get away from the colder weather where I live and then when I get back, maybe we’ll have some snow and I can start skate skiing and snow shoeing until bicycling season starts again in the spring. Thanks for your post!

    • Enjoy your stay in Sonoma County! There is lots of good riding there, even in winter. It is cold, and often foggy, so that damp cold can be a drag. It also rains a lot, monsoon like. But if you layer correctly and wear warm gloves you should enjoy it.

      • Thanks! I don’t really enjoy damp and cold conditions for bicycling, but I’ll bring my stuff with me anyway, just in case there are a few sunny days. I’m okay with cooler weather for bicycling if not too windy and the sun is out, but cool and damp just gets me chilled to the bone. My hands and feet are always cold at the best of times! 🙂

  2. By the way, I do think that Dr. McDougall, Jeff Novick, Dr. Esselstyn, Rip Esselstyn, Dr. Klapper, Dr. Lisle, Dr. Pam Popper, Dr. Neal Barnard, Dr. Goldhammer, Dr. Campbell and many others in the whole foods, low fat plant based movement definitely walk the talk and I admire each and every one of them!

  3. I enjoyed this post. However, I get worried when your average Joe or Sally makes a decision to go on the Mark Sisson diet because Sisson appears healthy and even if they go on the McDougall diet because McDougall appears healthy. I know it’s much harder to dig in and read their arguments and some of the scientific basis for their arguments. It’s easy to get lost in all of the PubMed journal articles with their hard to understand terminology. But still, just because someone has an internet connection, a book contract and a good photo of themselves looking healthy, this doesn’t mean that what they say is true. It might be a nutritional disaster waiting to happen.

    Ok. I admit that every now and then I reflect on my own whole foods, plant based way of eating that is low in sodium, saturated fat and calorie density and high in nutritent density. I sometimes wonder if I got snookered by Jeff Novick or Dr. Esselstyn or Dr. T. Colin Campbell. How does one know what is true and what is half-true? It’s a tough call.

    On the other hand, I am fairly certain that I would not be able to weight less than 160 pounds, probably not even less than 170 pounds, if I ate lots of bacon and ground beef. Goodness knows I tried!!.

    • Well said. I think there are many folks that appear healthy in spite of their diet, not because of it. Appearances can deceive. Health and fitness are interrelated, but not the same thing.

    • Mark Sisson advocates that others take steroids:
      “I would incorporate therapeutic amounts of testosterone (yes, I know it’s illegal, but I’m giving you the best-case scenario), to balance out high levels of cortisol when I have gone to the well too much.”

      He also made this gem of a comment in a debate:
      “I tell people that when I turned 40 my goal was to look fit, not be fit.”

      What does that tell you about a health guru? He advocates others should take testosterone in one interview, and admits in another his goal is to look fit and not be fit. He is never gonna state it, but the case is strong that he is using something to achieve low body-fat at old age to hawk more of his books, talks and retreats.

      • Mark Sisson’s six year old comment about testosterone concerns the effects of high level endurance training and racing. It’s why he quit professional triathlon. His logic is not far from advocating women to undergo hormone replacement therapy. I disagree with it all. If it seems that your lifestyle has necessitated supplemental hormones, it’s the lifestyle that needs to change. Using pharmacology to enable an unhealthy lifestyle will eventually self-destruct. But he certainly appears fit, and as Spiral correctly noted, that image is very persuasive.

  4. From what I understand, Pritikin survived a lot longer than would normally have been expected for someone with that strain of cancer. Even so, I don’t think his diet was really platinum-level anti-cancer. More like gold or even silver. I also believe when it comes to the war on cancer you need to start fighting as early in your life as possible. No last minute turnarounds like you can with heart disease.

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