Book Review: The Body Keeps the Score

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This should be required reading for anyone majoring in psych. Associate’s. Hell, standard grade school curriculum, if that weren’t such a joke. We all need to know this. This book isn’t just going to change your treatment approach, or the way you think about trauma. It’s going to change your life.

The first thing you need to know about trauma in general and PTSD in particular is also the last thing, and they’re both the title of the book. The body keeps the score. Every time you experience a traumatic event, especially of the kind that are so severe that your brain goes offline, your body, like a sketchy 3rd party emulator, takes a save state. There’s an evolutionary reason for this. Every cell you’ve got is convinced you’re facing annihilation – whether this is brought about by physical abuse, incest, or getting royally and publicly dunked on in gym class is only relevant in terms of depth of response – and the system that is You agrees that if you make it out of this alive, whatever you did to survive is obviously the plan you’ll need to stick to the next time something like this happens.

It’s adaptation, and our capacity for it brought us from being tall, gregarious monkeys to owning the world. In PTSD, the triggering event to implement that survival script can get a little overeager. Better safe than sorry, after all, even if the safety save state is blackout violence, a dissociative episode, or full catatonia.

And that, my beauties, is the process a veteran undergoes when he returns from the atrocities he witnessed and, in many cases, committed, and tries to integrate back into society. The fireworks go off, and they sound like gunshots. The save state is quickloaded, and you have to understand, it’s not remembering what happens last time. It’s a complete neurochemical and hormonal overhaul to match the conditions of “the last time this happened”. His brain replicates the circumstances of the war, his endocrine system double-times the adrenaline and cortisol he needs to do whatever it was he did the first time to survive. Obviously, the neighbor kid playing with firecrackers in the suburbs is not the same as his 12th straight day of being shelled in Fallujah, but it doesn’t matter. His body can’t tell the difference, and neither can his brain.

Same is true of an abuse survivor. (Tap out here if you think this might trigger you).

Someone who lived through being molested in their early childhood, when they were dependent on the adults in their lives to literally keep them alive, they internalize the necessity of cooperation, often to the point where they identify with their abuser and condemn their victimized self, because it’s easier to hate yourself than to be without the anchor points of your childhood world. The desire to escape or to fight will necessarily give way to the freeze response, and that “compliance” will go on to fuse with the frustration, the trustlessness, the self-loathing to form a melange of cognitive dissonance that the victim internalizes and eventually spills over onto their adult relationships.

The thing to remember is, should a panic attack and dissociative episode emerge at a triggering point (most likely when the victim is having regular, consensual sex with a significant other who cares about them), it’s not that they’re being reminded of their assault, or drawing similarities or associations. They are quickloaded into their childhood bodies. A flashback is time travel. They are reliving it, and they need to follow the script that let them survive it the first time. It’s not a mind over matter situation, and it’s not a decision they’re making. As far as the whole system of their selfhood is concerned, it’s their only way they’re going to live through what’s happening.

Heavy, right? The whole book is like that. When I say it’ll change your life, I mean it. No matter how self-possessed you are, you’re not going to walk through this particular thicket without getting some scars.

Van der Kolk is the last word in trauma treatment. He’s a psychiatrist (boo hiss) but he rails against overuse of psychopharmaceutical interventions (wooooo yea), especially the widely overprescribed antipsychotics that blunt the physiological responses causing most of the problems. In PTSD therapy, as in most things, the only way out is through.

Van der Kolk suggests that it’s an issue of integration. A good way to think about it is corrupted data. Once upon a time, saving things on a computer took more than a microsecond. If you turned off the power before the file was saved, the data would be corrupted and unusable, and every time you tried to open that file, something bad would happen. Maybe it would just be computer code gibberish, or crash the program, or short out the whole computer. Maybe it would fry your entire motherboard.

That’s trauma. We encode memories on the fly, integrating episodic information into the personal narrative that comprises our life, and from this narrative we extract the information of who we are. Our concept of self comes from our ideas about identity, which we draw from the stories about ourselves, and the only place we can source those are from our memory.

During episodes of extreme trauma, the encoding process shuts off. Huge chunks of the brain shut off. You can’t be running all that extra hardware right now, you’re fighting for your life. We go into shock. So we save bits and pieces of the information coming through – impressions, sensory data, feelings – but not a comprehensive understanding of what happened, because at the time of the trauma, it’s too horrible for us to comprehend, and our thinking brain simply refuses to the task.

But the brain is continually referring to previous experiences for reference, especially in what it deems similar situations. So the brain tries to load that corrupted data, and the whole system crashes, and there’s the sudden onset of explosive PTSD symptoms, dissociation, panic attacks, numbing, crushing depression, and whatever might naturally follow from these experiences (risky behavior as self-soothing, self-harm, suicidality, etc.)

Van der Kolk’s answer is surprisingly direct and intuitive. Integrate the trauma. The flashbacks offer a doorway directly to the trauma, and if we can descalate the physiological response sufficiently to reintegrate the data into our story, we can accept the trauma as “something that happened in the past” and move on, rather than an ongoing experience we continually live and relive.

Since the brain is slackin’ ass, which is the entire problem, and trauma is stored in the body, the body is how treatment is approached. Trauma survivors usually have terrible relationships with their bodies. Eating disorders, obesity, dysmorphia, self-harm, chronic pain, alexithymia, you name it, all born of a disconnect from the body’s wants and needs, originally developing as a mechanism to survive the trauma. “If thine eye offend thee,” and all that. The first step is reconnecting the survivor with their body. Any physical modality will get them there, so long as there’s an element of interpersonal connection to it – martial arts, dance, gymnastics, theater, most forms of structured group exercise. In theory, crossfit would do the job, although weight training alone might be too isolationist, and can worsen things like body dysmorphia and eating disorders. Van der Kolk himself is absolutely horny for yoga. I’ve never heard anyone pop off about yoga with such fanatical adoration. Like, I’ve known a lot of yoga practitioners and teachers, and they tend to be like, “yeah, it’s pretty nice”. Van der Kolk is straight up yoga street-teaming.

It makes sense. The point of yoga is reintegration with the needs of the body, releasing the energy from the muscles, being kind to yourself and compassionate to others. Those are exactly the issues of PTSD. It’s an ideal counterbalance.

Once the body is grounded, the trauma work itself can begin. Van der Kolk is dismissive of “just talk therapy” to the point of contempt, which is not normally what you want to see from a guy who prescribes psychotropic drugs, but he acknowledges it’s a necessary component of childhood trauma processing. The trauma is stirred up, brought to the surface, then “experienced” and processed along with the new arsenal of improved bodily awareness, often “dipping the toe in” a little at a time until the whole of the traumatic experience can be mapped out and integrated into the memory. The reflexive responses that the body needed at the moment are manifested, allowed, and released. The system’s job queue is cleared, and the trauma can be accepted as something that happened, not something that’s happening. The physiological responses to it die off, and the PTSD just… disappears. It goes away. The spirits are exorcised.

Van der Kolk also talks about fringier approaches like EMDR, IFS, and biofeedback, all of which have seen fantastic results in certain populations of PTSD sufferers, and all of which are pooh-poohed by establishment shrinks and researchers because they’re expensive and difficult to understand empirically (beyond the demonstrable improvements in patients), and everybody in the field just wants to rave about how great CBT is, rather than gamble with their tenure.

It’s an incredible book, and everyone should read it. Not just every clinician, not just everyone who’s been traumatized. Every living person. If we all knew this information and we all applied it, it would be a much, much better world.



View all my reviews

Book Review: The Cancer Code

The Cancer Code by Jason Fung

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Nobody loves codes as much as iconoclast physician Jason Fung. This is his third code so far. Though it’s easy to suppose they’d be spiritual successors the Robert Langdon trilogy of shitty mystery novels, Doc Fung instead focuses his energy on street-teaming for intermittent fasting and pushing low-carb paleo living without ever saying the word “paleo”, for which we’re all grateful.

Now, full disclosure, I haven’t read the Diabetes Code, but my high IQ and longtime Rick and Morty enjoyment makes me pretty good at recognizing patterns, so I’m still going to take a stab at cracking all three codes for you, right now, to save you the thousand or so pages it would take to assemble the whole picture of “the Wellness Code”, which apparently contains the cancer code, but neither the diabetes nor obesity code. Fung moves in mysterious ways. Coded ways.

Here’s the Konami code to health: Insulin is the devil. Minimize insulin exposure, maximize everything else from disease resilience to longevity to looking sleek and sexual at the beach.

Fung’s money is where his mouth is. I googled him, and he looks pretty ripped, especially for a doctor. He’s not massive or anything, not like that one doctor on Instagram who keeps trying to sell you special rubber bands to use in place of weights. All other things constant, I could beat up Dr. Fung, but I would never, as he inspires me.

The Cancer Code details the sordid history of attempting to treat cancer and its repeated, catastrophic failures. It’s implied that cancer is a disease of civilization, as outside of agrarian societies it’s rare to the point of mythical. Immunotherapy seems to be the most effective, if the least profitable, treatment option, but Jason Fung gently suggests (as most of my favorite practicing scientists, psychologists, and medical professionals tend to) that we don’t know shit about dick and consequently fall back on tried-and-true Hail Marys like radio- and chemotherapy, which poisons everything in hopes of killing the cancer.

Cancer is a disease of irregular cell growth. Normally, cell growth is a pretty good thing, but only if the cells cooperate with what is expected of them within the confines of the tissue they comprise. Cancer is the wires getting crossed and the cells in, say, the liver deciding that cooperation is too chancy and they’ll go it alone from here. The cells revert from eukaryotic function to a more primitive, prokaryotic function, remembered in the DNA from back in the days when each cell was fighting for its own life. And that’s what cancer is. These cells grow and propagate individually as fast as they can, sabotaging and consuming the surrounding cells (who are still being team players). The meme of cellular primeval psychopathy bounces all over the body, setting up satellite colonies, and that’s metastasis. Since these cells only care about individual survival now, the health of the organism isn’t taken into account, and it typically dies, taking the newly expanded cancer empire with it.

So how do we protect against cellular mutiny? As in most nutrition books, the message refines to Michael Pollan’s dietary dictum: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.

Doc Fung is always pushing intermittent fasting, so that’s step one. After that, low carb. Step 2. Get some exercise, the human body needs to move. Step 3. Voila. You’re… not quite cancerproof, but you just improved your chances enormously.

Here’s the why.

He repeatedly likens cancer to a sort of weed that grows in the garden of your body. The thing is, it needs specific soil conditions and nutrients to take root and strangle out the rest of the garden. The most important of these conditions, these specialized weed-foods, is IGF-1, or insulin-like growth factor, released whenever we have an insulin response. The more insulin circulating in our system, the more IGF-1 comes with it. Insulin is pivotal for growth and development, especially for things like protein synthesis, testosterone production, and building muscle. We need some insulin, but we need it to serve its purpose.

Keeping the body perpetually inundated with insulin causes all sorts of stupid, avoidable problems, and it turns out cancer is a major one of them. A nonstop stream of IGF-1 keeps cells growing, and growing, and growing, and as soon as one flips the switch and decides it would do better on its own, baby, you a got a tumor goin’.

Caloric restriction, weight loss, and increased insulin sensitivity all help to shrink tumors, sometimes pushing them into full remission. Cancer needs insulin to grow. Burn the granaries and starve the empire.

Intermittent fasting becomes a magic bullet in this situation because not only does your insulin sensitivity improve when you phase out snacking, 16+ hours of fasting promotes increased autophagy, which is sort of like defragmenting your hard drive, if your hard drive was your body. Autophagy means “eating your own damn self” and it’s like a concerted effort within your body of looking for dying, damaged, or junk cells, then catabolizing them into component proteins and energy, potentially stopping fledgling cancer before it has a chance to foment rebellion.

It was a truly fascinating book, and a talisman against the 21st century’s answer to the Grim Reaper. Now that I think about it, it’s kind of ironic that he carried a wheat scythe.




View all my reviews

Book Review: The Furious Method

The Furious Method: Transform your Mind, Body and Goals by Tyson Fury

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Hands down, the best depression book I’ve ever read. And I’ve read a lot of depression books. Especially for being such a happy-go-lucky fella.

I picked this up expecting it to be a diet book. Tyson Fury lost 10 stone, which means 140 lbs in units used by real people. He mentioned in interviews he did so via “Dirty Keto” which meant a bunch of eggs, sausage, and Diet Coke, for some reason. Health and wellness book, written by a pro athlete who had just lost a manlet worth of weight in preparation for a championship match, it’s reasonable to assume the book would be about nutrition and exercise.

And in a way, it was, but only as a vehicle to battle depression. The Furious Method is the best compendium of practical coping skills I’ve found. It’s part self-help instruction manual, part mental health confessional, part autobiography, but the whole thing is done with a directness, an honesty, and a compassion I found totally disarming.

I didn’t know a lot about Tyson Fury before picking up this book. I knew he was a 270 lb British heavyweight champion who looked like an ogre but didn’t fight like one. I knew he stressed fundamentals and finesse. And I know he goes by “Gypsy King”, which I don’t think I’m even allowed to say, but I also know it’s a title earned by beating up all challengers within the traveller community. Yeah, you go ahead and tell him he’s cancelled.

So I naturally assumed this lumpy monolith was going to be a braying oaf. I was mistaken. He’s down-to-earth, eloquent, and a hell of a writer. The book is a forthright account of his struggle with bipolar depression and addiction, and exactly what was going through his mind at his highest highs and lowest lows. It’s a book that needed to be written, and a powerful blow against the stigma surrounding mental illness. There’s this lingering Puritanical boomer belief that if you got the depresso you suck it up and tough it out and you don’t talk about it. Don’t be a pussy. Well, Tyson Fury is the heavyweight champion of the world, and he’s a real piss-and-vinegar fighter, none of that slick cherrypicked Mayweather trash. If he struggles with mental illness, then it’s not strictly the purview of pussies, huh?

The advice is salt-of-the-earth, direct, and clinically accurate. Exercise. Eat well. Sleep enough. Get outside. Push yourself to do it. Reach out and get help. It’s the stuff we all know, but nobody really takes seriously, like mom telling you to make sure you wear a coat. Yeah, yeah.

Well, it’s fuckin cold out. Wear the coat.

If you’ve ever dealt with depression, I urge you to read this book, and do what it says. You can probably skip the My First Warmup sections of every chapter, but replace them with some other kind of functional cardiovascular exercise, because that is deadass THE way to beat depression. The studies have demonstrated, conclusively, that it works as well as or better than all those magic pills they keep heaving into our collective mouths like the Big Bertha arcade game.

Great book. Great fighter. Great dude. Yeah, okay, so he’s British. We all have our shortcomings.




View all my reviews

Book Review: Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live

Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live by Nicholas A. Christakis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Three stars for dry writing. It was an interesting enough read. Christakis gives the impression of being called in as an expert witness to uphold the Quiz Broadcast – REMAIN INDOORS – narrative, and he does, enthusiastically, before contradicting it repeatedly.

“Once again, everything that we’re doing is exactly what we should be doing. This is the only way we’re going to beat it. It is your moral duty to listen to government. Here are the many and varied ways the government in general, and Trump in particular, has done everything wrong since this started. I will now list the data as to why none of these methods work. BUT, I cannot stress enough that these methods work.”

“It is imperative that we remain indoors and avoid everyone else, in order to flatten the curve. But it shouldn’t be social distance. The last thing we want right now is to socially isolate, as that suppresses immune system and leads to mental health outcomes that can be as bad or worse than the virus in terms of casualties.”

“The vaccine will dramatically reduce the number of deaths and save us all. Rescue is on its way! Unrelatedly, vaccines take 10 years to make, at which point they’re often unsafe, and historically, most pandemic diseases have been dealt with by herd immunity, with medical interventions occurring well after the pandemic is in remission and the infection line has flattened or begun to drop.”

He says masks kind of sort of work, but only as a means of blocking you from spraying your grotesque fluids onto the people around you. They do nothing to protect you unless it’s one of those N95 respirators. Wearing a mask is a show of good faith, demonstrating that you acknowledge we are in a pandemic situation and, yes, it effects you, too. It’s solidarity and altruism both, and that’s the kind of thing that got us through all the past pandemics.

Oh yeah, that’s a big point. These unprecedented times? Don’t buy the hype. They’re not all that unprecedented. Christakis rattles off a laundry list of other crippling pandemics, drawing the most comparisons between COVID and the Spanish Flu of 1918. He’s of the belief it was easier to get people to behave like responsible adults because Americans were in the midst of WWI, and “flattening the curve” or whatever euphemism they had for that around the turn of the century was seen as doing your part to support the troops.

He also rolls through some survey data, presumably to make good on his promise to discuss the impact of Coronavirus you can’t get from a glance at the grocery store. People are lonely and isolated. Women report greater anxiety and loneliness than men. Mental illness self-report for everybody is way, way up. Small businesses are collapsing, and the world looks like it’s on fire.

At the same time, there are these huge, sweeping grassroots efforts from individuals and nonprofits trying to fight the virus and help their neighbors. Overwhelmingly, people report being totally down with observing quarantine and distancing procedures. Charitable donations are higher and more frequent. People are pitching in their time to provide essential services to those who don’t have them, and everybody seems to be trying to protect health care workers; Christakis was especially fascinated by a sort of volunteer nanny service organized by furloughed workers to watch the children of health care workers for free while they’re out there working triples, tending the afflicted, burning out, and dying at much higher rates than the rest of the population. And that last part held true even before the pandemic.

The take home is wash your hands and wear your li’l mask, but manage your expectations. The vaccine probably isn’t going to return us to Eden. Vaccines take a decade to get out of trial stages, and even those kill people in droves. The vaccine we’re working on attacks the portion of the viral RNA that binds to our proteins and communicates the blueprint of how to do the same to our immune system. It’s a new frontier. We’ve never tried to make a vaccine like this before, we’ve never attacked it from this angle before, we’ve never tried to push it through on this timetable before, and it’s never been so obfuscated and politicized before.

Historically, medical interventions have done very little to control these major disease outbreaks, since they tend not to hit the scene until long after the damage is done and the population is already recovering. It’s usually some combination of widely dispersed antibodies (the same way as they used to do chicken pox, unfortunately), herd immunity, and the virus itself mutating into something less severe. This last part is naturally selected for being beneficial to the virus, too. It wants to propagate, and if its host dies, so does the virus’s efforts at propagation.

Rescue is not coming. Not in a timely fashion, anyway. But that’s okay. We don’t really need rescue. We just need to be accountable for ourselves, empathetic to our neighbors, and exhibit a modicum of hygiene.

If you really want to fight Coronavirus, stop drinking soda and eating Pop-Tarts. Take a walk in the sun. Adopt a dog and take care of it. Hang out with the friends you can safely hang out with. Exercise, eat well, sleep enough, meditate, and have emotionally gratifying sex (probably not with strangers). If the American people were healthier in general, COVID wouldn’t be able to capitalize on the pre-existing epidemic of chronic diseases of civilization.

And stop smoking, you stupid bastards.





View all my reviews

Book Review: Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery

Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery by Christie Aschwanden

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Science lady identifies that there’s a such thing as a “recovery industry” and it has been playing us for suckers since at least the 70s. She laces up her fashionable but functional athletic boots and charges into the fray to determine what helps us recover from exercise and what is a scam.

Conclusions: virtually everything is a scam. Icing, infrared, cupping, massages, foam rolling, supplements (even those that include the word ISO and MATRIX in their names somewhere), overhydration, all of it, is pretty much one big pricey hustle. Controlling for all other factors, none of these things reduced DOMS beyond placebo thresholds or improved subsequent performance beyond same.

So what does the research show actually DOES lead to improved recovery?

Eat enough protein. Eat carbs relative to exercise levels. Manage stress. Sleep so much.

That’s it, fellas. Sleep = recovery, and sleep is free.



View all my reviews

Book Review: No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness

No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness by Michelle Segar

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A sound concept and valuable information that probably could have been a distilled to a couple of sentences, rather than an entire book. The take-home is that if you frame exercise as self-flagellation or a painful part-time job you don’t get paid for, you’re not going to stick to it, and you’ll wind up exercising even less as a means of rebellion. Segar suggests to her clients that they frame movement as “a gift to themselves”. Personally, if anyone ever told me that, regardless as to how sound the advice, I would do all in my power to never have to speak to them again.

The remaining couple hundred pages of the book are her rephrasing that concept and giving examples of little Socratic traps she set for her clients to trick them into giving themselves “the gift” of getting off their asses.

To distill it even further: If you don’t like running, don’t run. Do kung fu or something. Don’t like kung fu? Do croquet. Don’t like croquet? Don’t force yourself to play croquet. Go be a gardener, gardening is movement. 60 minute blocks of mandatory, unpleasant sweating isn’t the only valid kind of exercise, and you can still stave off knee degeneration and diabetes by doing quasi-exercise like walking around the neighborhood with your dog and/or friends. It won’t make you an Olympian, but you don’t have to sweat blood and hate yourself for it to count as fitness.



View all my reviews

Book Review: Nourishing Traditions

Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook That Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet DictocratsNourishing Traditions: The Cookbook That Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats by Sally Fallon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Female Alex Jones howls accusatory invective at the FDA, food lobbyists, and bought doctors, interspersed with complicated recipes for enzyme-laden meals from scratch to feed to your fussy babies.

It revisits the usual paths taken by this kind of nutrition book – Weston Price, that son of a bitch Ancel Keys, the AMA is bought by the Big Food, customers not cures, food is medicine, et cetera. It’s not a science book. It’s honestly more of a scrapbook comprised of excerpts from Weston Price’s journals, quotes from a couple of books with titles like Sugar Blues and Fighting the Food Giants, and elaborate recipes for fermented grandma foods.

Everything requires the addition of whey or creme fraiche. I’ve never even seen a cheesecloth, but it is mandatory for virtually any dish in this book. It also keyed me in on the importance of food processors, which I had gotten by without for three decades, but not no more. I picked one up and used it to make baba ganoush. It was okay. Probably suffered because I didn’t add whey.

The main idea is traditional food is easy to eat and generally comes with a starter’s kit of enzymes (pickles, sauerkraut, fermented foods) that plug into your gut microbiome, allowing you to extract more nutrition from each meal and thus be healthier. It checks out, but getting through the book was sort of a drag. Three stars because reading about things you’re highly interested in shouldn’t be a drag. But then, I’m certainly not the target demographic.

View all my reviews

Book Review: Deep Nutrition

Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional FoodDeep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food by Catherine Shanahan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A cute doctor’s lengthy exposition about how eating actual food will make you healthy and cute.

Well, maybe not cute, she clears that up in the beginning of the book when she talks about how she was a lanky teenage distance runner who subsisted entirely on spaghetti. It worked well enough to keep her crossing finish lines, right up until it didn’t, and her leg fell apart. Bedridden and busted-ass, she started tweaking her diet and noticed the more real food she ate – meat, vegetables, cheeses, the good stuff – and the less refined sugar and Demon Wheat she allowed into the gangly, crooked temple of her body, the faster her recovery.

Doc Cate threw herself full force into studying the effects of nutrition on the body and, by extension, genetics, and came up with some beautifully problematic conclusions that I will outline with great relish.

The human body was designed to eat a specific kind of diet, and that kind of diet, along with regular exercise and adequate sleep, allows it to grow tall, strong, and hardy, all of which it’s supposed to be. Failing to get the nutrition required by the human blueprint results in errors in genotype and more readily visible phenotype programming.

In utero, these errors can cause catastrophic physical deformity like limbs not working or babies born without eyes or whatever. Shanahan also suggests a causal factor between poor prenatal nutrition and functional/neurological disorders, like ADHD and autism. She justifies this with a quick crash course in genetics.

I’m not smart enough to know real genetics. A psychology degree gives you roughly the same credibility in pure scientific fields as having a Top Member badge on the I Fucking Love Science! facebook, so I was thankful Doc Shanahan laid it out in a way that slack-jawed layfolk like myself could understand.

Coded into your genetic schematics, you have the potential for genes that do virtually everything, and interact with each other to increase or decrease likelihood of things like red hair, height, a full and luscious beard, tig ol’ biddies, et cetera. The coding is there no matter what, but whether or not a particular trait is activated is dependent on environmental factors. She likens it to toggling a switch on and off.

So our genome is full of these on/off switches for things like green eyes, clubfeet, proneness to addiction, or heart disease. Depending on what we eat, how much we move, what kind of movement we do, how much we rest, and how we manage our stress, some of these switches get turned on and some of them get turned off.

In an ideal situation, which is always a hunter gatherer society in this type of books, assuming ready access to a dependable animal protein supply, the toggles for “tall, strong, and hot” are going to be switched on. Most of the toggles for most cancer and heart disease are going to be switched off, and the toggles for diseases like diabetes and arthritis are going to be virtually nonexistent.

Horrifying, right? She goes on about physical attractiveness for most of the book, arguing that it remains one of the most reliable markers for physical and genetic health. Wrongthink in the extreme. You can’t just say uggos are more likely to suffer physical and mental illnesses, rate themselves as less happy, and wind up in jail, no matter what kind of research you’ve got supporting it. It’s 2020, dude. We’re all equally beautiful at any size/shape/mineral deficit.

And for the rest of the book, she issues a throaty, sustained Valkyrie war cry leveled against shills like that vegan doctor (Dornish, I think his name is), the vegetable oil industry, Big Agriculture, and that son of a bitch Ancel Keys.

She’s pretty mad about sugar and grain, which is normal for these kind of books, but she is absolutely livid about vegetable oil. She talks about the effects the trans-fats have on the arterial walls, resembling proteins that we use but functionally serving as trojan horses for compounds we can’t (deadass, it’s just poison), then sticking that along our cell membranes and functionally “deep frying us” from the inside out. And then that gets blamed on healthy foods like butter and meat, because our entire country runs on corn subsidization.

I was going to give it four stars, but I bumped it up to five. She just got so angry about vegetable oil. It was incredible. Damn, queen, you look adequately nourished when you’re mad.

View all my reviews

Book Review: The Primal Blueprint

The Primal Blueprint: Reprogram Your Genes for Effortless Weight Loss, Vibrant Health, and Boundless EnergyThe Primal Blueprint: Reprogram Your Genes for Effortless Weight Loss, Vibrant Health, and Boundless Energy by Mark Sisson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Another ungabunga paleo supremacy book winds up in my reviews, big surprise, but this one left me really conflicted, probably because the author was so flagrantly Californian.

The Good:
Our mans is a successful ultramarathoner, lifelong athlete, and current health coach, so he knows his stuff. He explained the function of insulin in a way I finally understood, after half a dozen books have tried with varying levels of success. (I still had to copy a paraphrase down in my sketchbook for it to fully land, though. Real science is hard.)

The laws of the primal blueprint are as instinctive as you’d expect of something called “the laws of the primal blueprint”. Eat food, don’t eat not food, exercise intelligently, sleep, play, use your brain, put down the goddamn nintendo and go outside. Conceptually solid. Mom was right. Outside of that, it’s the usual awakened caveman shtick — move how evolution intended, wheat and sugar are the devil, manage your stress, and everything will fall into place.

Nothing here I can argue with, and nothing I would argue with even if I could. This is how I keep my house in order, and it’s why I’m such a little fuckin’ ray of sunshine.

The Bad:
It’s a pyramid scheme. The clown name-drops his personal line of “primal supplements” constantly throughout the book. With names like “Primal Probiotics”, “Damage Control”, and “Adaptogenic Calm”, and at a measly $30 to $50 a bottle, you know you’re in good hands. Primal pill supplements! You know, like australopithecus used to order!

Or if you want to take it the rest of the way, how about becoming a “Certified Primal Health Coach”? That’s right, for a one-time payment of $4,495.00, Sisson will tell you the 10 steps to being a functional person again, then print you a little diploma. Hopefully he sprang for some Captain Caveman clipart, but I’d be hesitant to try to juke around Hannah Barbera’s copyright, too.

Now that we’re a nice round $5k in the hole, we can truly begin our Primal Adventure (note: actual Primal Adventure packages sold separately).

Most of the science in the book held up, but I took issue with the exercise part. Again, I’m sure we are all gawp-mouthed and astounded. Sisson presses for maintaining a heart rate between 55 and 75% of your max HR for the “comfortable pace” movement, which he advocates to get as often as you can. That, two days of weightlifting a week, and 20 minute HIIT sprints every other week and you will be a marvel of primal athleticism! You will be Caesar from Planet of the Apes, but smooth and sexy!

Thing is, I’m in good shape, and I can get my HR up to 55% walking my dog. And my dog is real slow, fellas. He’s huge.

But, benefit of the doubt, I tried that for a week. It was a massive drop-off from my normal regimen of what he would call “chronic cardio” and I would call “a pitiful 20-minute run every morning”. And what to my wondering eyes should appear but that week I barely lost any weight (half a lb) as compared to my consistent 2 lb/week loss I’ve maintained since January. I was also grinding my molars down to nubs with all my excess pent-up energy, because 3-5 hours of brisk walking a week is not an exercise regimen, as any extant hunter gatherer society will tell you.

Now, granted, I lost those 40 lbs following the primal blueprint, but only incidentally. If you exercise, sleep enough, and eat primarily meat and vegetables, you’re going to get healthier and trimmer no matter what. Even if you don’t spring for the year’s supply of Primal Fish Oil.

Sisson spends the whole book talking about how buying into his program will improve your generalized fitness, not only your health but your non-specific athleticism. Grok (the cringe-inducing fictional caveman he chose to represent primitive man in his contrasts between diet and lifestyles in the prehistoric and modern worlds) had to be ready for anything, so he had to be well-rounded. He achieved this by following the 10 laws, and they made him not only healthier and happier, but spry right up until the end of his days.

There’s some truth to this. You don’t need to be an anthropologist to see the difference between a modern hunter-gatherer elder and the shuffling ghouls that Westernization has inflicted on the rest of the world as a perceived inevitability after retirement.

So I was willing to buy it, right up until Sisson talked about how he busted his leg and wound up in traction for six months playing Ultimate Frisbee (which of COURSE he just referred to as Ultimate) in his early 50s.

All this can be yours for the low, low price of $4,495.00.

The only other gripe I had was all the middle-aged woman yard sale jokes he polluted the writing with, but honestly, after tallying the rest of the issues, it feels petty to take a star off for that.

Two stars. One for explaining insulin to me, the other for confirming my bias.

View all my reviews