Are We Overly Obsessed with Healthy Eating?

It’s impossible to generalize about this, but readers may be interested in an article in the Boston Globe Magazine by Jenai Engelhard, in which I was quoted:

Is our obsession with healthy eating out of control?

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  1. People try these “extreme” diets because nutrition as a science is very “soft,” with corruption and obsession with promoting pet theories, books, etc. Most people aren’t motivated enough nor do they have enough time to spend 5 hours a day reading through pub med and understanding the underlying physiology. So instead they hop from one guru to another. I’m not sure why people are so protective about their diet identities.

    I eat meat, seafood, eggs, dairy, coconut, cocoa, rice, potatoes, vegetables. I don’t eat packaged seed oil sh*t or desserts or alcoholic drinks, even on holidays. Some people would consider that obsessive or unnecessary, but I don’t crave those things or “deprive myself.”

  2. I disagree that thinking about how to eat healthy is “out of control.”
    Simply consider how many people suffer with a chronic disease. Good health is worth more than gold. If a person is truly sick, they will go to no end to try to get better.
    If doctors were actually healers, then people wouldn’t need to try ‘alternatives’ in order to get better. Has anyone actually had their chronic illness relieved by going to a doctor? No. You have to help yourself.

  3. From the article: “I’ve realized that even sound nutrition, however we define it, cannot solve all of my problems — and, more importantly, cannot substitute for a meaningful life.”

    The author of the article seems to be assuming that most people who are trying to eat nutritionally and be healthy share her unfounded expectations about that pursuit.
    (That doing so will solve all one’s problems and provide meaning in life.)
    I don’t think she’s correct about that.

    Many people are just trying not to have bloating, GERD, rashes, insomnia, diarhhea/constipation, joint pain, high cholesterol, anemia, diabetes, life-threatening allergic reactions, or whatever. Many people are trying to normalize their weight, or improve their strength and resilience, or become pregnant, or fight cancer, etc.

    Paul’s response to her was spot on:
    “As Jaminet says, “Good nutrition simply enables us to age gracefully — to get the most out of our genes. I think no one would deny that health is a means to an end.” ”

    Americans (and others) these days, especially the younger generations, fueled by “apps”, websites, YouTube channels, social media, etc., seem to obsess about many aspects of life, such as cosmetics, exercise, sleep, fashion, politics, fashion, travel, ‘tiny houses’, aspects of the music/film/tv industry, unboxing toys, video games, adult-content stuff, and so forth.

    It is not just an issue with the area of diet/nutrition.

    Yes, some people do follow diets / various lifestyles slavishly, and it becomes part of their identity and a way for them to judge others and define in- and out-groups.
    (At heart, that is just human nature, and it happens in most areas of human endeavor.)

    However, many people are just trying to be healthier and fitter, and are looking for simple guidelines and recipes and meal plans without having to become a full-time nutrition researcher in order to make head or tail out of the hundreds of choices they (conceivably) could make on a daily basis.

    The ‘standard American diet’, as it is today, is just not very healthy. Therefore, when it comes to eating in the US, being normal, average, standard, typical, going with the flow, accepting the lowest common denominator — is probably going to result in substandard health, more illness and pain, and a lower life expectancy.

    Not all people who are undertaking to eat in a certain way to see if it works better for them than their last way of eating did (such as moving to low-carb, or low-fat, or high-protein, or vegetarian, or intermittent fasting, or whatever) are attention-seeking, virtue-signalling, holier-than-thou-ing. Maybe it just looks more like that to a person who is in the author-of-the-article’s shoes.

    I don’t read the Boston Globe much, but I do read the Guardian (the UK newspaper) and others on a daily/weekly basis, and it seems that as newspaper journalism has shifted to a younger mindset and social-media style, there are more articles that feel like they could be mere blog posts, told from one person’s limited experience, complaining about certain aspects of an issue without delving into it too deeply or being that “journalistic” or authoritative about it.

    The best thing about this article is that if she thought it was enough to interview only one expert in the area of nutrition/diet (she quoted from someone else’s book, too), she made a smart choice to consult Paul, a voice of reason, moderation, and compassion.

  4. There’s nothing wrong with an obsession about being healthy, as long as it doesn’t adversely affect others too much. However, there are a lot of diligent persons who are both misled and who focus narrow aspects of nutrition, in no small part to the complexity of nutritional science. In that regard, the PHD simplifies things in a sensible way and I like it.

    Could I ask for your opinion about the benefits and drawbacks of two soy based foods that I commonly encounter here in Indonesia. A previous blogger asked the same questions some time ago, but was left unanswered.

    Natto: I make my own and take it for benefits with K2 intake, and for flavour. Is it a viable substitute for K2 supplementation and what are its potential adverse effects, being a fermented soy product?

    Tempeh: prepared completely differently to natto and other fermented soy products, being more of a cultured fungus. Unfortunately a legume, but to what extend wpuld the culturing process reduce the risks?

  5. hi there, I tried to join the Facebook closed group a couple days ago, in order to get some questions answered. I haven’t heard back, could you help me out what else I need to do? Thank you.

    • Hi Ella,

      I just approved some pending requests, if you are not in then please apply again. It’s possible your Facebook account looked like a spam account and was rejected by an administrator.

      Best, Paul

  6. Truth is, nobody can say one is “overly-obsessed” with healthy eating.

    Eating (i.e. food intake) should always be healthy as it is our main source of nutrition. Eating unhealthy food is a risk we take daily.

  7. Part of the difficulty in attaining clarity concerning these issues lies in the fact that we think of ourselves simultaneously within moral as well as substance concepts. That is, we think of ourselves as persons, on the one hand, and human beings, on the other. Qua person, defined purely as a rational agent, health is a means to an end; but, qua human being, defined as a living teleological being essentially oriented towards virtue in a just democracy, health is a central part of one’s telos, though not the most important part, as it is the teleological part of our being we share in common with plants. From this point of view, it is not wrong to see diet as related to at least an aspect of one’s telos. For, were a plant to have a meaning of life, it would be nothing other than the biological realization of its telos. By contrast, the meaning of life of a person, in its modern form, would be defined by the worthy goals the person has set, whereas the meaning of life, or distinctive good, of a human being, by contrast, is the realization of virtue in ethical life, and where the complete good of humankind includes this as well as the goods of the zoological and plant levels of being.

  8. FYI Your newsletter sign up fields do not work. I have tried it 4 times and have also checked my spam box.

  9. Hi Paul, I’ve read the entire website and check back occasionally to see if anything new has been added. I guess your cancer research is keeping you busy. I hope that’s all it is! Any plans for a new article or two? Or an update on your research?

  10. Hello Paul, I have been following your website for a long time and enjoy it. But I am conservative, and only now got around to ordering vitamins. But right as I was about to pull the trigger, I stumbled upon this article/research:

    Do you know What the story is with this? (This reminds me that when I have previously asked my doctor about vitamin/mineral supplementation, he answered me that I don’t need it if I am eating normally. Maybe he is basing his recommendation on this type of research.)

    Thank you very much.

  11. Hello Ary, concerning that article, here is one answer:

  12. Paul, I know you’re busy curing cancer, but I have to ask: any ideas why I would react with insomnia / feeling mentally wired after eating white rice and sweet potatoes, but not regular white potatoes or even white bread? I’ve tested this so many times. I can’t for the life of me figure out a plausible reason why white rice gives me issues but white bread is fine…

  13. Paul, where does bacon stand nowadays? 🙄

    • Bacon is good but the pork fat from commercial producers is excessively high in omega-6 fats. The two ways around that are (1) buy bacon / pork belly from pastured pigs, which will be expensive, or (2) cook them well (but not to a crisp) and discard/remove any liquid fat.

  14. Hi Paul/everyone,

    Just another success story in case it helps anyone. I’m 6’4″ and was around 240 pounds when I started in Feb. 2021 at 46. In about a year I’ve:

    1. Lost 50 pounds. I’m within 10 pounds of my college weight.
    2. Had cholesterol go from nearly 300 to 175 without medication.
    3. Had significant worsening eczema eliminated.
    4. Had significant dandruff eliminated.
    5. Had significant IBS, gas, bloating and fairly severe bowel urgency eliminated.
    6. Noticed significantly improved circulation. Went from running a few hundred meters causing significant knee pain for a week to being able to jog/race walk/bike essentially as much as I want without issue.
    7. Reached blood pressure as low as 105/65 and a heart rate that reaches the high 40’s resting during the day and the high 30’s resting at night.

    I’m sure there is more I can’t easily notice or quantify. I take a few of the recommended supplements – but haven’t taken anything else for any of this. I’ve evolved in my eating – but even when I started by doing it all buying stuff from Trader Joe’s and using only a microwave I still saw extremely positive and rapid changes. I feel so good I literally walk around feeling mildly high all day everyday a large percentage of the time.

    Not enough people know about PHD. Thank you for sharing your work with the world,

    • Hi Dan, that’s great to hear, thanks for sharing! Best, Paul

      • Hi Paul,

        I do have a question if you are willing. I’ve been mostly PHD on food since March 2021 and food and supplements since July 2021. This includes 225 mcg Iodine and 2 brazil nuts per day (most of the recommended daily and weekly supplements per current web). Reading some of the great stuff and comments on this website made me realize that I was quite possibly hypothyroid as part of all my pre PHD problems. I started tracking my morning temperature and am pretty sure it has gone up from averaging below 97 to close to 98 over the last year. I asked for a TSH test for the first time ever and sure enough it was 3.54 in July 2022 (this year). That is the only time it has ever been tested.
        Cholesterol has come back up to gray area numbers:

        July 2022 lab – TC 257 HDL 52 LDL 188 TG 85
        July 2022 home test – TC 226 HDL 51 LDL 158 TG 83
        December 2022 home test – TC 231 HDL 44 LDL 161 TG 130

        The lab and home tests were taken on the same morning in July.

        Other than testing my TSH again (which I plan to do as soon as I find a new doctor who will do it) – do you have any thoughts on whether an infectious problem that warrants more than continuing PHD could remain?


        • Hi Dan,

          It’s great that you discovered your hypothyroidism. It’s good to work from symptoms more than TSH, as those will be most convincing to your doctor and can identify problems missed by TSH (such as low T3 / high reverse T3).

          On your cholesterol, LDL is a bit high (130 optimal) and triglycerides high (50-80 optimal). The LDL may just be due to hypothyroidism, but the other cause is some kind of small intestinal microbial overgrowth (which can also generate high LDL through oxidation of LDL by microbial cell wall components, followed by slowed clearance; and tends to precede and cause hypothyroidism as well). Therefore I would assume there is some kind of small intestinal overgrowth and address that.

          – Circadian rhythm entrainment – daily morning exercise, bright white light in a 12 hour artificial day and orange-red light only in a 12 hour artificial night, eating only during the day with a focus on getting calories late morning/midday as much as possible, stress in the day but relaxation and intimacy only during the 12 hour night.
          – Time restricted feeding – stop taking calories, or take minimal calories (social tasting at dinner), after 3 pm. Ideally, start the day with black coffee and do some exercise before first calories.
          – Balanced natural whole foods diet a la PHD – avoid processed / purified macronutrient (starch/sugar/oil) foods.
          – Vitamins A/D/K2 for mucosal immunity
          – Extracellular matrix (shellfish and soups/stews made from bone/joint/tendon material) and healthy acids (apple cider vinegar / vinegar, vitamin C, citric acid) in the diet regularly

          Let me know how it goes.

          Best, Paul

          • Hi Paul,

            Thank you for responding and the advice. I believe SIBO and hypothyroid are both highly probable before I started PHD in March 2021. There aren’t obvious symptoms of either at this point and it has been that way for some time. I just took another home cholesterol test (use the Curo L7 in case that is useful to anyone).

            Jan. 18, 2023. TC 194, HDL 39, LDL 139, TG 77

            Changes in the past 1-2 weeks.

            1. Getting outside for 15 minutes light and walking in the morning instead of using desk sunlamp (I got lazy over the rainy winter).

            2. Hitting 16 hour + fasting window near 100% of the time. Before – maybe 70% with snacking on nuts happening in the evening too much. Also taking first coffee black now.

            3. Added an aged garlic supplement since I haven’t developed the habit of cooking with garlic. (Added to iodine, d3/k, magnesium, C, and 1 mg lithium + weekly PHD recommendations).

            4. Switched to Designs for Health Whole Body Collagen instead of the cheap costco one. (i hope to be making bone broth at some point – but haven’t figured out how to fit that in yet). My gut says this one is much better based on so far consistent mildly “euphoric” experience after taking it. It specifically incorporates collagen not just from bones.

            5. I spent the week Jan. 1 – Jan. 8 in California on vacation walking and hiking multiple hours outside most days.

            6. Have been eating eggs more – 2-3 almost every day.

            I have the anecdotal impression that cholesterol can move around a lot based on cold/flu/infection and I might have been fighting something off around the Dec. 30 test.

            My diet otherwise is quite PHD. Beef, sardines, salmon, lots of varied veggies from a local CSA, good oils, a bit of nuts and chocolate 55% fat, 30% carbs, and 15% protein and this hasn’t changed a lot in over a year now.

            I think this all says my SIBO/Hypothyroid are gone or well on their way to being gone and I should just keep doing what I’m doing unless there are symptoms – but I’m happy to hear any thoughts you have.

            Thank you again for the book and this web site. They are truly amazing free/close to free resources.


  15. Hi, Paul. Thank you for such an entertaining and educational book. I was wondering, for the purposes of the fastest rate of the weight loss. Is it healthy to eliminate all the dietary fats from the diet and rely solely on the adipose tissue, keeping adequate amount of protein (300 cal) and carbohydrates(600 cal)? Looks like logical thing to do, but I wonder what’s the capacity of the body of getting energy from the adipose tissue and if it is not enough to cover our energy need then how low we can go? I understand that without any dietary fat we might get insulin spikes, but we can mitigate them by protein and fiber, so anyways. Thanks in advance!

    • Hi Denis, it is indeed a logical thought, but you do need some fats in your diet in order to fully absorb all nutrients including fat-soluble nutrients and nourishing lipids such as phospholipids. So trimming down unnecessary fats, especially oils, is good, but you shouldn’t avoid fatty natural whole foods like egg yolks, which are nourishing.

      Best, Paul

  16. Angela Cotroneo

    Hi Paul, my 76 yo father was just diagnosed with adenocarcinoma. It was in the fluid so apparently it is not contained to just the lung and surgery is not an option. We are seeing an oncologist in 2 weeks in Brooklyn, NY. He has many other health conditions including diabetes, an enlarged prostate, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, afib as well as aortic stenosis. He quit smoking 25 years ago but smoked for over 30 years, was a baker and worked nights most of his life so his sleep was always off. Since this diagnosis he says he is barely sleeping. My parents eat a lot of homemade meals although they do like their desserts. I am trying to get my mother to make more phd style foods. Is there anything you can recommend to help him through this? I was reading about IP-6 and wanted your opinion on that, but don’t want to aimlessly buy things I read about on the internet. I read your book years ago and try to follow the phd diet myself because of all the health issues my parents have had. Also if you have any input at all on what I can do to help him I would really appreciate it.

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