The following post is by professor Risa Stein of Rockhurst University.
For over 25 years I have counseled others in weight loss, researched weight loss interventions, and taught college students about obesity and weight loss strategies. For about 23 of those years I practiced and taught what I was taught – fat is evil and when calories in is greater than calories out, you get fat. I bought into this message whole heartedly and made sure to train my undergraduate Health Psychology students in the fine art of calorie and fat gram counting. (I also did an unfortunately good job on my parents).
About 2 years ago my family switched to a Paleo diet and lifestyle. It has been revolutionary. Teaching my students about it and the relationship between carbohydrate consumption and the obesity rate has been particularly rewarding. Fortunately, college students are much more open-minded than many folks. They are skeptical of the message at first, but once I present the history (both evolutionarily and since the McGovern administration), they are full of great questions. I also show them Fat Head and we discuss the biochemistry (best I can) of macronutrient metabolism. They seem to readily buy into the paleo concept, after all it makes good sense. However, they look like deer in headlights by the end of the lecture and video and the discussion quickly turns to “so, what should we eat then?” I hear a lot of “Well, do graham crackers count? How about peanut butter? Can I still have the toppings from pizza? BEER?????” We spend quite a bit of time on good/better/best food choices since they are somewhat limited to the food on campus.
During subsequent class periods we discuss heart disease, cancer, and several other modern illnesses – all of which are tied together by the unifying high-carb intake model. We talk at some length about how they, as practitioners, will be challenged to assist their clients in making a behavioral change. We review strategies aimed at meeting people where they are psychologically (stages of change or the transtheoretical model), obstacles to behavioral change, and factors related to increasing adherence. One of the ways I broach these topics with the students involves comparing them to the average person. They clearly recognize themselves to be among the best and brightest, educated, middle- to upper-class individuals. Yet, very few of them engage in all or even some of the leading health protective factors (e.g., maintaining a healthy weight, eating fruits and vegetables, exercising, not smoking) on a consistent basis. I ask them how they can expect their clients to remain healthy when young, intelligent men and women with numerous resources aren’t even engaging in the top health habits. Most assume that since they are young and in pretty good shape, it doesn’t matter too much. At this point, our talks typically turn to a discussion of telomeres, acne, and inflammation.
As we progress, I explain to the class, many of whom are athletes and/or interested in health related professions, that those folks who are noticeably overweight, particularly at their age, really have an advantage over the thin people with similar diet compositions. This is usually good for a few quizzical looks. So, I explain that none of us are built to run on grains and starchy carbs and those of us who respond noticeably by putting on weight are at an advantage because we have a clear sign that our bodies are rejecting this dietary component. It’s the rest of the relatively thin class who should really take note. I tell them that their bodies are reacting in a variety of similarly distasteful ways, but they likely have either failed to recognize the clues or attributed them to non-dietary sources. I challenge them to go 2 weeks without grains, rice and potatoes. I generally use the looks of sheer horror on their faces or their complete exasperation over the impossibility of such a monumental task as evidence that they are clearly addicted to carbs and that the detrimental effects of carbs are already manifesting themselves. The addiction is no better than smoking or using heroin. In fact, carb consumption is more insidious and potentially damaging since the impact can be stealthy and pervasive and carbs are so readily available. Gradually over the course of the semester I see fewer bagels, cereal, and Mountain Dew being brought into class. Kids start to rib each other whenever they “fall off the wagon” and eat starchy carbs. They bubble with pride and joy (which I effusively share) when they tell me they’ve gone a whole week without carbs and are feeling great.
We go on to discuss their parents (who are generally about my age). Several have already had heart attacks, many are on medications, very few are trim and athletic with few vestiges of midlife health problems. During most semesters, the 2-week carb-free challenge has included a short school break period when many students make a trip home. This is a crucial time. Of course mom and dad want to know all about what they are learning at school. Many students have reported back that they rented and watched Fat Head with their parents and that their entire family now intends to try and reduce or eliminate starchy carbs. These discussions, where they become the teachers of the paleo lifestyle for their parents, further reinforce the message for them.
Most rewarding are the comments I get back from students by the end of the semester or later in the year that fall along the lines of, “Dr. Stein, my dad switched to a paleo diet and he’s not diabetic anymore (or his cholesterol is great and he’s off medicine, or substitute any of the other benefits of which you are well aware). Recently, I was talking to a young lady who has not been a student of mine but recognized that I teach psychology. She very excitedly said “Oh, I went shopping with my boyfriend the other day and he was in your health psych class. He told me all about all the foods we should eat and all the ones to avoid”. The boyfriend was in the first class I began discussing paleo with – two years ago! Score!!!
When I teach Health Psych again in the spring semester of 2012 my only required text will be Robb’s book. There will of course be additional numerous journal articles on a variety of topics, but the principles Robb outlines are fundamental to so many of the health and illness topics I cover in class. It will be very useful for students to have a resource to which they can repeatedly return to study the physiology of macronutrient metabolism, as well as advice on creating healthier dietary habits. I also know college students will enjoy his sense of humor, Buttercup.
My experience has been that college students are a very open-minded and receptive group. They also live in a rather closed-community. With each new class I instruct, a new set of Paleo devotees are born. Some students may never give up bread and ice cream, but I feel pretty confident that every student I impact spreads the word to another group. Just like grain seeds spreading in the wind, I hope my students will go out and pollinate the minds of numerous others with the paleo message. Maybe if there are enough of them, they will eventually choke out the fields of grain.
Risa J. Stein, PhD
Professor of Psychology
I loved reading this post. I also teach college (behavior analysis) and try to find a way to work these concepts in for my students. More power to you!
This is awesome.
Hope you have tenure! 😉
Thanks! I do. My school is very supportive. They paid for me to go to the Ancestral Health Symposium. Last night I gave a very-well received lecture on obesity and thermodynamics to a large Physics class. So, it appears as though I have university backing.
What an inspiration! Like “grains blowing in the wind” spreading the message. Something sure has to be done on a larger scale and it is truly inspiring to hear this success and the spreading of this knowledge especially after just reading the book “Wheat Belly” by Dr. William Davis. Way to Go Risa! Thanks for sharing your story.
That is so AWESOME! I wish I had a class similar to that one here at my university.
Amy B. says
THIS. IS. AWESOME.
You are SO right, Dr. Stein:
“As we progress, I explain to the class…that those folks who are noticeably overweight, particularly at their age, really have an advantage over the thin people with similar diet compositions…I explain that none of us are built to run on grains and starchy carbs and those of us who respond noticeably by putting on weight are at an advantage because we have a clear sign that our bodies are rejecting this dietary component. It’s the rest of the relatively thin class who should really take note. I tell them that their bodies are reacting in a variety of similarly distasteful ways.”
I’ve felt this way about myself for a long time. If I *hadn’t* been overweight (despite my lowfat diet and constant cardio exercise), I never would have been forced to question the “conventional wisdom” about diet. You hit it on the head: With our modern, grain-heavy, fat-phobic diets, *some* people become overweight. *Some* people remain at a “healthy” weight, but have migraines, IBS, allergies, acne, indigestion, constant colds and infections, and simply never connect it to diet because they’re “not fat.” The people who have visible evidence (obesity/extra weight) of what their lifestyle is doing to them *do* have an advantage, because it’s tangible. They can see and feel it — and then DO something about it.
One question for you:
“For over 25 years I have counseled others in weight loss, researched weight loss interventions, and taught college students about obesity and weight loss strategies. For about 23 of those years I practiced and taught what I was taught – fat is evil and when calories in is greater than calories out, you get fat.”
How successful were you? How successful were the clients of the people you taught? During those first 23 years, did you ever stop and wonder whether those lessons were *accurate,* based on their effectiveness? (Whether people lost weight and got healthy or not?) Sorry, that’s not a ding at you at all. I’m just curious how you, as a professional, came to reconcile what amounts to a 180 in your philosophy about food and weight loss. Did you read a specific book? Hear a certain speaker?
Thanks! And thanks for using Robb’s book in your class – that’s GREAT!
That’s a great question. I never really doubted the conventional wisdom although I was always chagrined over the poor results. But we didn’t read a lot of biochemistry in the psychology field, so I really wasn’t even aware of the vast literature. My husband actually got me intersted in the Paleo lifestyle the more he got into Cross Fit. After reading Gary Taubes’ Good Calories Bad Calories, a lightbulb went off and it all suddenly made sense to me. I made the empirical choice to give a different eating style a shot and I felt great and lost several pounds the first couple of weeks. Since then, I have been a convert, read every book I could read, and have never looked back.
On a personal level, my dad died a few years ago from colon cancer. When he did, I got a colonoscopy and also already had pre-cancerous tumors in my colon. Since changing my eating habits, I have had healthy colonoscopies (maybe TMI?). After reading about how some cancer cells essentially ferment and grow on sugar, I have a hard time not getting an visual image of cancer growing in my body any time I eat something sugary. :o)
Robb Wolf says
Never TMI around here!
Amy B. says
GCBC was the specific book I had in mind when I asked that question. Dr. Stein, you’re a great example of what a professor *should* be: someone very knowledgeable and experienced, but not afraid to change their approach when presented with contradictory (but CORRECT) information. Too many academics and medical professionals, sadly, are so wedded to their ideas that it’s almost like we have to wait a generation or two for the “old guard” to retire or die out before we can have a real turnaround with this stuff. Thanks to people like you (and Robb and all the others who are getting the word out), maybe we don’t.
Eric Anondson says
“After reading Gary Taubes’ Good Calories Bad Calories, a lightbulb went off and it all suddenly made sense to me.”
I had a similar path, though mine has been in the past few weeks. I’m technology geek. Spending most of my time sitting at work, in the car, and at home. One of the bloggers I regularly follow linked to Gary Taubes’ article in the NY Times “Is Sugar Toxic”. I read it and was utterly gobsmacked. I was sort of in a daze for a couple weeks on it, not believing it was really as stark as it presented everything.
Then I went and bought both how books, GC BC and Why We Get Fat. Half way through the lightbulb went off. I went back to the NY Times article again and followed the link to the YouTube lecture by Lustig. After watching it the fear of God hit me. I stopped eating sugars and cut carbs back steeply. I felt awful for about a week and a half. Really awful. Considering my weekly consumption of carbonated drinks and candy (shamefully barreling to diabetes I’m sure), not surprising.
But it was working. I started feeling energetic as I was losing weight. I was taking Zantac to “control” my GERD symptoms and now I don’t have to at all. Cutting carbs though was starting to get boring after a few weeks and I began doing further research on how others were coping, I found twitter feeds for Low Carb followers. Instantly Twitter started suggesting twitter feeds for this thing called the “Paleo Diet”.
Off I went to get some more books as many of these Paleo-Caveman-Ancentral diet bloggers/tweeters were authors. AND more this time it was a theatre marquee full of lightbulbs. Bought a bunch of books on all the related topics (reading many as an ebook on my iPhone), found more websites, I’m drinking from the firehose.
8 weeks after changing my eating habits, I dropped from 170 to 150 plus cutting the medication I mentioned above.
Though I wasn’t overweight, I saw the rolls in the mirror that weren’t there 20 years ago. People now can see the difference and are asking. I’m telling them what changed and I’m getting screwed up faces not believing anything I’m saying. Especially my vegetarian friends.
I got my mom to stop taking statins and the year-long body wracking pains she was suffering from vanished (the doctor said the pains must have been from something else). Now I’m working on getting my mom to change her diet, I got to, she’s overweight and diabetic. I’m buying her Rob’s book and praying she reads it.
I love the way you use the visual of cancer growing in your body when you eat sugar… I think I may just steal that when I get hit with a craving or an unhealthy choice!!
I think people are used to dismissing failure of the conventional wisdom as moral weakness on the part of the dieter… It’s not the diet’s fault, the fat person just didn’t do “it” right. Soul crushing.. it’s no wonder so many people resign themselves to being fat after starving on low fat, high carb diets over and over just to have what little weight they lost come right back. I think we women tend to naturally blame ourselves when a diet doesn’t work. We also tend to very compliant, especially when it’s a doctor (our own or a celebrity) telling us what to do… Dr. Oz says eat “healthy whole grains” so it must be right, no matter how crappy I feel.
Brian Kerley says
This is great Robb. Congratulations!!!!!
I really enjoyed this article! You are doing a huge service for the current and future generations. I spent tons of time with nutritionists growing up between accompanying my mom to her classes after being diagnosed with diabetes and being “counseled” on my weight during my time in the military. I haven’t personally seen a psychologist, but I definitely have friends who have been down that road for weight and other issues. It breaks my heart knowing that they are missing out on such a huge factor. You can only deal with psychological issues and particularly weight gain so much before you hit a brick wall that denies the opportunity for growth because your hormones are so out of whack.
Do you spend any significant amount of time discussing the hormonal implications of insulin resistance? I think that hormone balance and energy levels are a great way to get through to the people without “obvious” indicators of intolerance as well. My wife has been a healthy, skinny woman her whole life, but she has always come along for the ride to support me in my nutrional requirements. When I started eating paleo in April she was skeptical, but the immediate results in the first week had her convinced so she read Good Calories, Bad Calories; The Primal Blueprint; and all of the links I sent her from this site. Information about adrenal fatigue, hormone imbalance, and the insulin roller coaster have been important in helping her understand that the way she felt before was not healthy. She now has the benefits of more energy and no shakiness from “low blood sugar” in the mornings.
Keep up the great effort! I can’t wait until more professionals understand the benefits of a paleo lifestyle and start bringing about the change that our society needs.
Thanks for the post Jeremy. I try to explain the hormonal problems associated with insulin resistance. I mostly discuss them in pretty general terms involving IGF-1, AGEs, and inflammation. Since I am teaching myself biochemistry to try and get a handle on all this information, I don’t yet go into too much detail.
A note I just received from a former Health Psych student. I HAD to share!
Congratulations on your publication on Robb Wolf’s website! THAT IS SO COOL!
I follow his website and twitter religiously haha.
After you educated me on the Paleo nutritional plan last year I read Cordain’s book and was left overwhelmed and confused at the end. That same night I finished Cordain’s book I went online searching for help using names you gave us in class and I found Robb’s website. I understood what he was actually saying on his website so I decided to try his book, LOVED IT. He explains things in ways that make sense to students not previously highly educated on nutrition and adds humor! So I think his book is a FANTASTIC addition to the course! It makes me want to take the class again haha.
I don’t think I have ever thanked you for educating our class on the Paleo movement so I must say it now, THANK YOU! This nutritional plan is amazing and I will never go back to the SAD (standard american diet, love that acronym because the diet is, well, sad). It helped with so many of my digestive problems, that I didn’t even realize I had till I quit eating like (for lack of better words, excuse my language) shit, and improved my overall daily energy drastically.
I could go on about my excitement after seeing your article on the website and how Paleo changed my life but I will stop it here ha.
This is so incredibly great! Kudos to both Robb and Dr. Stein. A great step to influencing “the right people.”
Amy Kubal says
Seriously AWESOME!! We’re talking – “One small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.” – AWESOME!!
Humankind, please. Young women are reading this and NEED to see an all encompassing and gender neutral message.
Robb Wolf says
Melissa- the 70’d called and the gender wars are over.
Thanks, Rob. LOL
Jenna Shannon says
This is incredibly exciting to hear, Robb! When I took Health Psychology in college, we had some MAJOR conversations about low-carb vs. high-carb diets. It was the overweight people who were adamant about the healthy benefits of high-carb. I remember thinking that the results they were getting weren’t very impressive. Professor Stein is changing lives. This is a very big step forward!
This is great and made me think that it might be even more beneficial for Robb to target universities and students and teachers instead of doctors.
Currently doctors are already set in their ways, trying to get them to change their thinking is tough. New doctors would be much more open to this new way of thinking.
I know!!! Don’t you think Robb should come speak to my university to start!!!??? :o)
Robb Wolf says
I’d live to!!
I’m going to hold you to that (assuming you meant you’d LOVE to!). You will hear from me when I construct my syllabus.
Robb Wolf says
Josh Kwon says
Wow….I wish I had professors like you at my University. Keep up the good work!
This is fantastic. Gotta brainwash ’em young!
On the topic of teaching ancestral diet principles in the classroom, has anyone encountered or thought about high school teachers (biology, anatomy, history, geography) incorporating these diet and evolutionary ideas into their lessons? It seems like it would be a huge spark for the evolution vs. creationism crowd, and not in a good sense. Is there a way to keep it from being a part of that discussion?
Matt Lentzner says
While I think this is a vast improvement over the “fat is evil” view of the world, there’s a little throwing the baby out with the bathwater going on, unfortunately.
I think that “Paleo” has gone beyond “low-carb”. It works to a degree because the most commonly consumed carbs *are* bad. We also have to make a distinction between the “metabolically-broken”, as Robb describes them, and the metabolically-correct. As it turns out, most of America would fall into the broken category by adulthood and, as we see, the onset is coming earlier and earlier in life. For the broken, low-carb is the correct prescription.
I see “low-carb” as part of Paleo 1.0. It is a good start and will work well for many people. But there’s a new level of understanding developing.
My version of Paleo 2.0 goes like this: Most everyone (the broken) starts at “low-carb”. Once you get your metabolism under control you can start to introduce *healthy* carbohydrates (like starchy vegetables) to support your activity level.
If one chooses to be sedentary (which I don’t recommend) then your carbohydrate level may always remain low. However, if you are active (like an athlete) you will likely do better with moderate carb intake. This is consistent with primitive human diets since the gathering part of the hunter/gatherer duet was often gathering roots and not salad.
I’ve come to the conclusion that dietary macros are inadequate to evaluate food choices. We have good and bad versions of fat, carbohydrates, and protein (gluten is protein). We have to really appreciate the quality difference in these broad categories.
I love what you are doing, Dr. Stein so please don’t take this as any sort of criticism. I mention it because I want to encourage you, and everyone else, to keep up with Paleo as it evolves. It’s not a finished product. It continues to evolve and improve which is part of what it makes it so awesome.
Just trying to spread the message.
Excellent points, Matt! I try to approach Paleo from an entire lifestyle and developmental approach. Clearly after all the havoc I’ve imposed upon my body, the impact of various macronutrients would be different for me than for the 19-21 yo set. We do also discuss the difference between good/better/best foods (including various potatoes), the use of nutrition in physical training, appropriate physical conditioning, and as many of the other facets of the ancestral health approach as possible. But, it’s tough putting all that into a page or two blog – :o)
Regardless, your points are well-received.
Andy T says
This is great news! Science moves forward and folk tales of nutrition fall back. I wish my nursing school had forward thinking like Dr. Stein. However, low-carb and paleo are not synonymous. And potatoes and other roots are not to be lumped with grains. This erks me a little. Low-carb has a place, but not all should be low-carb (like the athletes, most likely).
We do discuss specific exceptions to the rules including diets for athletes (and the incorporation of sweet potatoes, yams, squash, etc.) and individuals with kidney problems.
I’ve always wanted a professor of logic or reasoning (or advertising!) to show the class first Supersize Me, and then Tom Naughton’as Fathead; and then assign: discuss. I think that would be a super exercise in logic AND get the students to consider their diets!
LOVE that idea. I think it will use it next semester!
Stephanie Greunke says
Man – I wish I had a professor like you in college!! What do other professors and/or the university say about your approach?
They invite me into their classes to speak! Actually, I alos butt heads with the Sports Science guy, of all people. We agree to disagree.
Consuelo Werner says
DAS IST TOLL!!! : ))))))))
Robb Wolf says
Topher Browning says
This made me really happy. Congratulations, Robb, for writing a book that could quite possible shape future generation’s view on health and fitness. What an accomplishment!
Risa, I applaud you for what you’re teaching your students. I’m taking a fun class at my local community college on the politics and culture of food. We’re reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. As a Paleo adherent who hasn’t been in a college classroom for years, it was interesting watching what type of junk these young students consume on a regular basis – potato chips, energy drinks, candy, you name it. Since we’ve began reading Pollan’s book, however, these items have become less prevalent. It’s amazing how far an ounce of awareness regarding what we’re eating can go. For your students, they’re finally discovering what what they’re eating is doing to their bodies. Good for them. Better now than when they’re 40 and diabetic.
On a different note, have you read Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston Price? It may be beyond the scope of your class, but in my mind it should be required reading for any health sciences student.
I have not. Will definitely look into it!! Thanks.
Nice post Risa. Thanks for sharing!
Primal Toad says
This post simply rocks. It’s a saver for sure!
This is awesome. I love to hear about spreading the paleo love. One tiny thing though. Having the post be entirely in a bold font is a bit tough to read. I’m not sure if that was intended.
Robb Wolf says
Yes it was, I tend to bold the posts of guests so it stands out from my comments.
Great post. What a great platform you have for spreading the Paleo word!
I recently finished my MS in Nutrition and learned all the “conventional wisdom” to help others acheive weight loss and a good health. It never seemed to really work-for myself and others. My daughter clued me in to the Paleo lifestyle about 6 months ago. That, combined with reading “Why We Get Fat” by Gary Taubes and Robb’s book along with a few others has totally changed my way of eating and thinking. After years of struggling to lose 10 pounds, by following the Paleo regimen the weight just disappeared. I love spreading the Paleo word.
C J Hunt says
Wonderful news Robb, and what an inspiring story. Congratulations!
Kane Augustus says
Congratulations, Robb! It must be quite a wonderful feeling to have your book slated for university use.
I’m currently reading your book, and it has helped me to explain some of the finer details of how grains are deleterious to our health; after explaining some of the contents of your book to a couple of friends, they both decided to give no-grains and no-dairy a go. I’m looking forward to seeing how their health improves.
Josh Frey says
Wow, this new whole movement is catching on faster than I expected. I wish my college had taught paleo-related health, rather than the standard lipid hypothesis BS.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve read through a book that says “while some experts continue to push other ideas, the fact remains that there is an incredibly large body of evidence supporting [insert random, unproven low fat/cholesterol idea]”. Even books that aren’t related to health sometimes have this kind of garbage thrown in somewhere.
Luke Mullen says
Risa Stein wrote: “They are skeptical of the message at first, but once I present the history (both evolutionarily and since the McGovern administration), ….”
Luke Mullen comments: There was never a “McGovern administration”. Do you perhaps mean the “Nixon administration”? Making such a mistake is akin to writing either “Gore administration” or “McCain administration”.
FWIW, a truly awesome history book for general reading is “A Pocket History of the United States” by Nevins & Commager … http://www.amazon.com/Pocket-History-United-States/dp/0671790234/
Robb Wolf says
No, she means McGovern Commission. Being an expert on presidents but not knowing that is why we have the shite healthcare situation we have.
Penny McIntosh says
Thank you Robb.
But at the same time; do you think that maybe paleo is just not the right way to eat for some people?
For example, I’ve been paleo for about three months now – mostly meat, veggies, and olive oil, with the occasional fruit and nuts. Yet I am bloated all the time. To the point where I look 8 months pregnant (no exaggeration here). And I also think that I have gained weight. Before starting paleo I had not eaten red meat in ten years and other meat in a couple years. I had been almost completely vegan fro a few years, and raw for about six months. I am now seriously considering reverting to my raw ways…and to eating gluten-free grains. Because, honestly, being this bloated all the time is horrible.
This is not a criticism, not at all, I think you are doing great work. Just something I’ve been contemplating.
Maybe you need to add some digestive support like the enzymes Robb has mentioned several thousand times
As maybe with such a long time not eating properly has depleted you of some stuff you need , hopefully you still have a gallbladder! Good luck Maria
Hi Brad, and thanks for trying to help. I should’ve mentioned that I am already using enzymes, and top-notch ones at that. Maybe I just need to cut back on the meat and see what happens.
I live about a block away from Rock U. I would love to meet some of Dr. Stein’s students. Any one of them. I often crossfit in my driveway/front yard/front porch and I eat paleo as well. I often get looks but no one ever stops to ask if I am crossfitting or to find out more. Whenever I am at the bar(Mike’s Tavern is right around the corner from my house and equal distance from Rockhurst) and I am only drinking water people often ask me why I am not drinking. It is extremely difficult to get into a paleo discussion with a drunk person. Since I have stopped being strict paleo the only thing I have that I don’t consider paleo is NorCal margaritas even though they are in the book. I love them they are freakin awesome. patron anejo is my tequila of choice, I think it’s price limits my consumption.
Awesome job Dr. Stein.
Thanks Nick! When I discuss CrossFit, I’ll ask if anyone is interested in findng an exercise partner and try to catch up with you! You can email me at my RU address.