I Made a Book

When I was little, I wanted to be a cat when I grew up. I used to meow in response to questions and decapitate Barbies so that I could bat around their heads with my paw-hands. When Cat stopped seeming like a viable career goal, I decided I wanted to be an author instead.* I could think of nothing more magical than making words happen. And if I was stuck with my opposable human thumbs, I might as well put them to use.

*This is actually kind of a lie. In preschool, I learned the words “author” and “pilot” around the same time. Neither one made much sense (does an author “auth”? Does a pilot “pile”? What kind of convoluted language is this?), and I spent a while confusing the two. The worst was when a local news channel came in to interview my preschool and ask all the students what they wanted to be when they grew up. I was going to say “cat,” but my mom told me she would give me all my Hanukkah presents early if I didn’t say “cat,” so I decided to say “pilot,” which I thought was the word for a person who writes books. People kept giving me toy airplanes after that, which I tried to flush down the toilet. I never got my early Hanukkah presents, and it was the last time my mother succeeded at gift-bribery (hi Mom I love you!).

Anyway, I thought I’d open with that anecdote to distract you from the fact that I haven’t updated this blog in seventeen months and I disappeared without warning and it was weird and horrible. I’m sorry. But let’s not think about it that way. The real issue here is that I was a really messed up kid, and there’s nothing to be done about it now.

That said, I have some news! The reason I dropped off the face of the earth was this:


This is a book. Some of you know about it; some of you don’t. I started writing it in March of 2011. I thought I’d be done by September of that year. To which my now-older-and-wiser self responds,


I still think I should have majored in Cat instead of English.

But you know what? Something magical happened and the book became done. I’m still not quite sure how that worked.* The important part is that it’s a thing that exists now, and that the end product—with all the craziness it took produce it—is something I’m really super excited about.

*Actually, I am sure how that worked. It took lots of not sleeping, the help and support of my incredible editor Jessica Tudzin, the urging of the Primal Blueprint Publishing team, and making wishes at 11:11 and 12:34 EVERY DAY.

But before I go further with that, some radical honesty.

As it turns out, writing a book is hard. I wish I could say Death by Food Pyramid’s journey into existence was nothing but happy happy rainbow unicorn sparkles, and that I never once felt like smashing things or faking my own death and moving to a felt-lined yurt in Mongolia to live among yaks and my own unceasing shame. But those would be lies. In reality, writing this book sometimes felt like being stuck in a three-year abusive relationship with someone who didn’t let me sleep, go outside, or do fun things. All-nighters were pulled. Eating was forfeited or forgotten. Birthdays whizzed by uncelebrated. Relationships imploded under the pressure of Not Having Time To Do Anything Ever (I imagine the only thing more frustrating than being a writer is dating one). It was kind of awful sometimes, and there were moments where I truly thought the book-baby I’d conceived would be stuck in my womb forever, growing to monstrous proportions and slowly devouring my soul. Death by “Death by Food Pyramid!”, the obituary headlines would exclaim.

There were a few reasons for that long, drawn-out anguish (and the ever-moving publication date, which slid forward for over a year and a half). Part of it was because I’m a pathological idealist when it comes to estimating how long it’ll take me to do stuff, especially writing stuff, and very especially nutrition writing stuff. I often spend hours reading and researching before feeling confident enough to put a single sentence on the page.

Another part of it was because when I first started, I wanted to shove the entire universe inside this book. When I realized that wasn’t possible, I thought maybe half the universe would be sufficient. Surely this book should contain everything I ever learned about everything, and also the things I haven’t learned but will learn after my next eight-month-long research binge, and also the everythings that other people learned, which I will find a way to osmotically absorb. Apparently, books cannot, in fact, contain all of the things. Lesson learned! I’m not going to insert the laughing cat picture again, but now is a good time to retrieve that image in your mind.

But there was another component of this book’s rocky journey, too. Not long after I started writing it, I came down with a serious illness, one that’s generally uncurable and rarely discussed by the medical establishment. It’s called Disillusionmentitis. And it can happen to any of us.

Disillusionmentitis (disəˈlo͞oZHənməntˈītis), noun. A condition in which previously held beliefs become subject to obliteration, once-trusted sources reveal their fallibility, and the accepted course of history takes on new and grotesque shapes in the light of new information.

Let me explain. When I first departed from the raw vegan community a decade ago, I did so in the most bubble-bursted, broken-hearted, eyes-pried-opened way imaginable. I went from tightly embracing everything I’d heard from other raw vegans (we’re not adapted to cooked food! Animal products are toxic! We have the same anatomy as all those other vegan primates!) to believing it was all a spectacular amount of hogwash. I really hoped I’d never have to go through that experience again. You get a bit of whiplash when your world does such a rapid 180; a second round might actually snap some vertebrae.

Unfortunately, this book quickly sparked déja vu in that regard. My next post—which, come heck or high water, will not take another year and a half to write—is going to divulge the specifics, but the nutshell version is: wow, the paleo and low-carb communities hold a lot of unsubstantiated beliefs. Not just about nutrition and anthropology and evolution, but also about more recent history—including all that fabulous drama of the last century involving Ancel Keys, John Yudkin, George McGovern and the Dietary Goals for the United States, and the unfolding of our low-fat message. The process of untangling some myths, healing the face-palm bruises from my forehead, and reorienting myself to a more objective version of events slurped up a lot of time. But I think the delay was worth it. I cherish accuracy. Hopefully you do too. As much as humanly possible, I promise you nothing less.

To be fair, I don’t think anyone will ever top the raw vegans in terms of complete disconnection from historical reality (at least the corner of the raw-vegan world I experienced, which was probably more culty than others). And while I don’t identify with a specific diet, I absolutely support the ancestral health movement and the vast majority of what it pumps out—in terms of research, theory, and genuinely awesome people. But I’ve come to realize that every diet community has its own “creation story” about how our problems all started. And they’re all at least a little bit wrong. And then the depths of Hades rumbled, and from its fiery center emerged [carbs/saturated fat/salt/animal protein/fructose/vegetable oils/Paula Deen], forever destroying the state of human health! With great fervor, these tales are embraced and parroted. Their ubiquity becomes evidence of truth. And when we spend our time hanging out in niche diet circles where most people think the same things and eat same foods and gripe the same gripes, it becomes all too easy to stop questioning what we “know.”


More than ever, I want to help demolish the tribalism existing within the nutrition world—to encourage us to learn from each other globally, instead of listening only to the voices tumbling around whatever dietary echo chamber we’ve locked ourselves into. I think that’s the only way to advance our collective knowledge. Among the rivaling diet communities, we seem to get stuck in a scarcity mentality where the success of The Other is seen as a threat to our own. But that shouldn’t have to be the case. We should approach dietary anomalies with curiosity and intrigue, rather than the knee-jerk reaction to defend our own kind.

What’s it All About, Alfie?

Anyway, back to this book thing!

I’m pretty awful at summarizing stuff, and Death by Food Pyramid is no exception. So I’m just going to drop this little linky-link here and let you guys read the table of contents and first 26 pages, including the incredibly generous foreword by Chris Masterjohn. Hopefully that will give you a decent enough sense to decide whether Death by Food Pyramid is up your ally.

That said, I do want to clarify a few things:

  1. Death by Food Pyramid is not pro-paleo, per se. Nor is it anti-vegan. Nor is it a platform for promoting any particular eating plan (or excessively bashing another). I’m grateful to Mark Sisson and the Primal Blueprint Publishing team for letting me craft a book that respects the success of paleo and Primal diets, but doesn’t assert them as optimal for all people, and even critiques them in some regards.
  2. I do, however, explore the reasons why some people are genetically equipped to handle higher-starch diets; why the effects of saturated fat aren’t uniform among all humans; why we should focus on individually tailoring our diets; and where various successful eating programs seem to intersect.
  3. Although this book certainly takes a swipe at conventional wisdom, I hope it also opens a discussion about some of the dogma existing within the “alternative” health communities as well.

Now the nuts and bolts. If you want to read Death by Food Pyramid, you’ve got a few options:

*To you lovely folks abroad: from what I understand, the cost of shipping this book to another continent is astronomical. I’m incredibly sorry about that. If you’re trying to be kind to your wallet, you should probably wait for the Kindle version.

I don’t know if it’s possible to really finish a book. There just comes a point where you stop working on it, and you call that the end.

But ultimately, a book is only part of an evolving dialogue. You might divide its physical space with two covers and a spine, and slap an ISBN on there to make it all official-like. But those boundaries are arbitrary. They keep some stuff out, but they hold nothing in. What matters more than a book is the ripples it leaves, the seeds it plants, the fires it sparks—the ways it shapes the course of what follows.

So for those of you who end up ordering Death by Food Pyramid, I hope that you view yourselves not as readers, but as active participants. I hope that when you reach the last page and close the book and go pick your kid up from school or check Facebook or take a shower and sing Journey songs at the top of your lungs, that you don’t stop there—but that the thoughts continue to churn and percolate; that you share what you learn and question what you know; that you never underestimate your own role in this untiring dialogue on health, one relevant to every human alive. This book was my baby, but I’m now handing it to you. (And not just because I’m sick of changing its diapers.)


  1. I finished your excellent book and restructured my entire diet based on it. I only have 1 question & hope to ask it on your Jan 8 webcast. If fish oils may be ‘bad’ & we could use vegan oils instead, but they turn out to be the same in plasma, what do we do? Not take any omega 3’s at all.

  2. Pre-ordered your long-awaited book (along with Chris Kresser: Personal Paleo Code) so Amazon only shipped on 31 Dec to Cape Town, South Africa. ETA Jan 15. Please restart your blog when you get your mojo back ;-)

  3. I got the book a few days ago and enjoyed it. Very balanced view of the situation at hand and I learned a few things I didn’t already know. The comments section here turned in to 1 big pissing contest which is regrettable given all the work you did to write this baby of yours. I think you should have gotten out the ban hammer much sooner. Stay strong.

  4. When I checked at Powell’s bookstore on SE Hawthorne they didn’t have it yet.

    Questions: Have you read “Grain Brain?” If so, any comments? I think it is very good, but a little extreme on carb restriction.

    Can carb restriction lead to “starve mode” even when there is no associated calorie restriction?


    1. I can leave you with a story that will probably just confuse the subject for you further, but confusion can lead to research and new information if you have the time.

      I hiked the Appalachian Trail in 200-and something. I was already fairly familiar with some of the newer ideas on nutrition, weight loss, good fats-bad fats….blah blah.

      Here was something I observed that still intrigues me. Hiking, well to be accurate, thru-hiking a long distance trail of 500+ miles, changes people’s bodies in different ways. I talked with enough hikers who had done other long distance hikes to learn that 500 miles was about the point that your body settled into whatever metabolism it would pick. One thing is that thermodynamics dictates that you are going to burn an amazing amount of calories a day hiking, especially the Appalachian Trail (AT) because of the elevation changes. We called them Mudds and Pudds, Mindless or Pointless Ups and Downs. When they drew a line for that trail they were very linear and disregarded that people would be one day walking the entire thing. I digress. Funny thing is, some people leaned out, some didn’t. Why? Genetics sure, but what genetics? Some kind of weird variation on “the thrifty gene”? For the people that actually hiked the entire 2000+ mile trail, most found out how to lessen pack weight and we would start copying each others tactics (and food choices) in order to do so. So by copying each other’s food choices for decent tasting calorie dense foods, a lot of us were eating the same things. It would take too long to tell the whole tale so suffice it to say that within the last 200 miles you are familiar with a group of about 100 individuals that you have spent time with at some point on the trail. You pass back and forth as your mileage varies. I was amazed then and still am, that some people, who were at least 15-20% body fat at the start of the trail, remained that way through the entire hike. Others, as I said, became very lean and out of those some became too lean, they were forced to take more downtime, and some simply had to quit. That was very interesting, for some reason there were this small percentage of people that never could adapt to being able to take in enough calories, even if people shared food with them, carried food with them….etc. They simply could not adapt. It was enough people to be statistically significant I believe. This has always stuck in my head and I think that within this oddity might lie some interesting information about metabolism.

      Okay, long story that probably didn’t mean much, but I was tired of lurking on this blog. Back to lurking.

      1. Addendum: And no, it was not due to people changing fat to muscle. I accounted for that in my purely unscientific observations. There were some pretty smart people on the train, doctors, medical professionals of different types. It was a common enough subject of conversation, this whole weight/fat loss oddity.

      2. Hey Shaun, that is fascinating. Roger Williams did a lot of work on nutritional individuality, and his 1956 book, Biochemical Individuality, might be of some help in teasing out some answers to your questions.

  5. God, Denise, you are FUNNY! I will read the book simply for your humor! Congratulations on completing the book. Also, I’m sorry you have to contend with so many nimrod comments.

  6. I just have to tell you that I love your book. The scientist in me appreciatess the painstaking detail with which you’ve investigated the science finding all sorts of studies and associations never before spelled out so clearly. The literature lover in me delights in your plays on and with words, you turn a phrase elegantly. What moved me to write to let you know all this is that the rower in me perfectly understands your sculling analogy.

    Thanks so much: one more link in the chain we need to drag our sorry selves away from conventional nutritional wisdom.

  7. p.s. Denise, if you have any interest in recording an audio book of Death by Food Pyramid, I know the folks who produce a lot of the audio material for Audible.com and for a skilled reader, can set you up in a professional sound studio and help you produce an audio version of your book. If you are at all interested, email me at Deborah@DrDeborahMD.com (I think you’d be a great reader of YOUR own material.)

  8. Just finished your book, Denise. It was a real page turner. I was hoping to enjoy it over a few days, but it paralyzed me almost as bad as a whole back season of “Sons of Anarchy”.

    Thanks for all the great info and great wit!!!!! Teachers living at school…that was a great one.

  9. Great book Denise! One thing – Barnard’s diet actually sucks for diabetics (p222), leaves them with a fasting bg of 150 mg/dl (HbA1c of 7%) and therefore still at risk of complications. Of course, the conventional diabetes diet suck even worse, but I’ve eaten Bernstein’s low-carb diet for 15 years, my HbA1c is 5% and my coronary artery calcium score is zero. Barnard may be just another zealot trumpeting his prejudice.

  10. Hi, Denise. Started reading your book. Excellent work.

    FYI for the 2nd edition: Fig 5 on page 27 is not from the 1930s. As mentioned in the ad text at the top, the actress pictured, Eva Six, was in the movie, “4 for Texas” released in 1963. Therefore, the ad was most likely from the same year.

  11. Would you be offended if I said the thought of you dressed up like a cat sound really hot? (to be clear I’m referring to the older version of you, not the one who wanted to be a pilot)

  12. Denise!!!!! You are back. Happy dance! I’ve missed you so much. Downloaded the book to my Kindle before I could finish your post. I’m so excited.
    (My daughter is going to kill me for finding yet another distraction from finishing her FAFSA).

  13. Great book Denise. One glaring omission I thought, nothing in there on your “infamous” critique of The China Study (though there was of Framingham and several other big ones). Are you saving that for your next book?

  14. Denise,
    I read part of your critique of Campbell’s work a few years ago so was looking forward to getting your book. Since I am not vegan or vegetarian, his book was not that interesting to me.

    I did get the Kindle version and am impressed with your thoroughness and the lack of bias you maintained very well. Thank you for that.

  15. Just finished reading it last night. Thanks for sharing your immense knowledge of nutrition. I esp. enjoyed the section on people who don’t produce enough amylase don’t do well on starches, but paradoxically might still do well on simple sugars. Looking forward to seeing more of your work!

  16. Would you kindly share your chapter on The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Nutritional Research with me by email? Thanks for your consideration if at all possible. :)

  17. I have just read chapter 4 – twice – and am halfway through chapter 5 of the eBook. SO well done!! I am a woman in my 60s who has for 2 years eaten Paleo-ish. But there are times I wonder – Am I nuts?? Am I just ‘bowing to the GF fad?” All my friends eat donuts. Could they be that bad? Have I been ‘duped’ by Paleo gurus? Thanks for giving a clear and unbiased look into this most murky subject. Thanks for explaining clearly how to navigate studies and how to figure out who to trust.

  18. Hey Denise.

    “I absolutely support the ancestral health movement and the vast majority of what it pumps out—in terms of research, theory, and genuinely awesome people”

    And they absolutely support you. In fact, I’m pretty sure they’re a vast majority of your audience.
    Speaking of which, you should do a blog post sharing Plant Positives new videos.

    I know that you know they REALLY need to be exposed to that information for the sake of getting their heads out of the paleoithic clouds. This includes your honest and righteous buddies leading the paleo movement and your blog readers.

    1. Two misleading claims from this video I’ll like to point out since they are cited so much.

      1) PP referring to LDL-apheresis claims that “This is not a drug like a statin, with the possibility of multiple effects. All this device does is selectively remove their bad cholesterol particles.”

      This is not true. LDL-apheresis does far more than simply lower cholesterol e.g. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20129375
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21920771. Furthermore it would be removing oxidized LDL which is increased in FH patients. Therefore if LDL-apheresis works it is actually consistent with Minger’s position.

      The really question is, does LDL-a work? PP cites this study (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9874053) which was a non-randomized study and as a result there were a few imbalances in baseline characteristics like less smokers in the LDL-a group. Being non-randomized, it is almost certain that other variables were also not equally distributed. Nevertheless, while the 72% reduction may sound impressive, when we look at the hard endpoints there were actually only 2 deaths in the study — 1 death in each group due to myocardial infarction.

      The evidence on LDL-a is limited mostly to small non-randomized studies. The only two randomized studies on LDL-a have been disappointing:

      In the FHRS study (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7898227), even though LDL apheresis combined with simvastatin was more effective than colestipol plus simvastatin in reducing LDL cholesterol and lipoprotein(a), it was less beneficial in influencing coronary atherosclerosis. 2 myocardial infarctions occurred in the drug group compared to 0 in the apheresis group. There were no deaths in the study.

      In the LAARS randomized study (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8635262), the mean reduction in LDL cholesterol was 63% in the LDL apheresis group and 47% in the drug-only group. This difference in LDL cholesterol had no incremental effect on halting of disease progression (using angiography) and when we look at the hard events, there was 1 cardiac death and 4 non-fatal myocardial infarctions in the LDL-Apheresis group compared to 0 cardiac deaths and 0 myocardial infarctions in the higher cholesterol drug-only group.

      2) Next PP states: “Another method of dealing with high cholesterol that has nothing to do with drugs is partial ileal bypass surgery. This long term trial has demonstrated that it is effective at lowering LDL cholesterol. Again, the only mode of action of this procedure relevant to heart disease is a lowering of cholesterol.”

      Again, a false statement. He is referring to the POSCH trial. Partial ileal bypass Increases cholesterol turnover which should result in reduced modified LDL — consistent with Minger’s position. Furthermore partial ileal bypass results in weight loss which occurred during the study. Nevertheless, even after a whole 10 years follow-up in the non-blinded study, there was no statistically significant difference in overall mortality.
      PP is referring to post-trial follow-ups which may be the result of long-term weight loss or other changes between the groups which were poorly documented.

  19. James: “Speaking of which, you should do a blog post sharing Plant Positives new videos”

    Yea, she should do a post on his videos to show just how misleading they are.

    James:”This includes your honest and righteous buddies leading the paleo movement and your blog readers.”

    Thankfully, her readers know better.

  20. Hi Denise,
    Stumbled on your blog by accident. Lucky me! Love your meticulous work and detailed critique on The China Study. And thoroughly enjoyed your writing style. Congrats on your book. My copy should be on its way from Amazon to Sydney in less than two weeks. Can’t wait to read it and looking forward to reading more posts. All the best.

  21. Denise, you are both brilliant and a gifted writer. I thoroughly enjoyed becoming less mis-informed, by reading your book.

  22. Loving your writing style and can’t wait to read the book but a snippet of your own personal comments raised a red flag. You mentioned a comment about not all bodies being able to handle a fatty diet but that is directly conflicting some heavy duty research and information published by Dr. Perlmutter (a neurologist) in Grain Brain. He presents vast amounts of information supporting fat consumption especially DHA for optimal brain and physical health. I would love to see you read and review Perlmutter’s book and research his material supporting his claims to see if you maintain your argument on not all bodies tolerating fat well. With the brain being mainly composed of fat, DHA and saturated fats and the correlation of mental degenerative conditions present with people having lower cholesterol levels, it seems there is one author that conflicts your ideas on that point.

  23. I had high expectations for this book based on Denise’s previous writings and I am happy to report that the book has lived up to those expectations. I see it as a much needed reorientation of the field of nutrition, showing how we took the wrong path and pointing the way to the future. I think that the future of nutrition is that of biochemical individuality, of finding biomarkers that can tell each one of us the best way to eat. Hopefully in a few decades we will have a DNA test and receive a prescription for the best personal diet for our own bodies, with best foods, foods to restrict and limit and foods to eat rarely or not at all. Only then will nutrition be truly scientific.

  24. Congrats on completing your book! I absolutely love the cover. The more information that we get out their the more people will start to wake up! Keep hope alive! <3

  25. Thanks very much for taking the time to pull the book together. It’s provided much food for thought :) especially the idea of personalising my diet rather than attempting to eat the average and the raising awareness of just the sheer variability of healthy human diets.

  26. Just finished reading your book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m always up for debunking myths and creating some. Congrats on a job well done. Keep your amazing sense of humor.

  27. I just bought the China Study and one of the companion cookbooks. Then I listened to your four session debunkation series of it on YouTube that had been a radio broadcast,

    A while ago, I remember either reading or being told that no one can diet forever. My husband and I have been on numerous diets for about the past 15 years, always searching for that ‘perfect’ diet.

    Then a friend ‘informed’ me of going organic. Wow! what a lot of hoopla there is in that ring! Sometime afterward, I read an article in Prevention Magazine September 2013 that spelled out USDA organic, organic, natural, etc. To top that, my friend’s spouse had asked Jack LaLanne about organic. Jack’s response was, how can you tell if some is really organic? (paraphrased)

    How does one go about finding what one should eat and shouldn’t eat and those things that should be consumed minimally? Is that covered in Death by Food Pyramid?

    We mostly follow the Levitical guidelines for eating meat for health reasons. Curious here. You state you eat raw meat. I read somewhere that you are of Jewish descent. How do you rationalize eating raw meat?

  28. Sez this fellow Portland left winga;
    Of our very own Denise (ms.) Minga
    She has deftly zapped the USDA
    With many a well aimed zinga

  29. This is the best book I’ve read on nutrition in a very very long time–better than a lot of medical/nutrition journal articles that I read. The mental pauses taken while reading are for reconsolidating information. It’s so nice to read a book where the author’s agenda is finding and promoting truth. Death by Pyramid belongs in a college level introductory nutrition course. Western medicine, complementary medicine and alternative medicine providers should read this too.
    I suppose I’d better buy this book so I can stop taking it out of the library when I want to refer back to it!

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