Its not the first time that we have been epic-ly convinced that we were right, yet so epic-ly wrong in reality. Its not the last time that this will happen either. To demonstrate just how epic-ly right we think we can be, yet be nowhere close to being right, let’s examine how Western countries have performed in diagnosing and eliminating heart disease. Considering that heart disease became a concern in the 1940s, surely almost 70 years later especially with all the medical and technological advancements in health care… Western countries should have this disease fully figured out and cured by now… right?
Starting in the 1940s and then accelerating into the 1950s and 1960s, the US faced a rapid rise in the cases of heart attacks. The underlying problem had to be found, as the need for a solution was pressing.
In 1955, the heart attacked suffered by US President Dwight Eisenhower brought the significance of the problem to the forefront.
Physiologist Ancel Keys believed he had discovered the root cause of the rise in heart attacks.
The evidence was found in what became known as the 7 country study. This study looked at the diets of those living in Canada, the US, Japan, Italy, England & Wales, and Australia. The curve in the image to the left showed the near perfect correlation between the amount of fat in the diets of the citizens of each country and life expectancy or in this case mortality rates. In short, the more fat in the diet the greater the number of deaths.
And that was that: it was accepted that this was the evidence proving fat to be the underlying culprit causing the rise in heart attacks in the US.
As a result of this, Ancel Keys made the cover of TIME magazine.
So if the problem is too much fat in the diet… then what’s the solution?
The solution was to demonize fat, and turn carbs into our saving grace.
The diet recommendation from the American Heart Association was that we load up on everything low fat including cookies, candies, pretzels, and load on the sugary spreads of your choice to make sure you eliminate all the evil fat from your diet.
Is it any wonder how we ended up with an obesity epidemic when the American Heart Association encouraged everyone to gorge on cookies and candies?
But if all these heart attacks were being caused by fat, then shouldn’t there have been a significant uptick in the amount of fat consumed by Americans ahead of the rise of heart attacks?
But… there is no evidence of that in the chart: consumption of saturated fats held flat – nearly constant – before, during and after the rise in heart attacks!
Furthermore, the increased use of vegetable oil (an unsaturated fat) lagged the rise in heart attacks; so where is the evidence that fat leads to heart attacks?
Something isn’t adding up…
Almost six (6) decades later we have woken up and realized… we’ve cut all this fat out of our diets and heart attacks have not abated, in fact, heart disease remains THE #1 KILLER in the US and Canada, and on top of that we’ve created epidemics of obesity, in diabetes along with other lifestyle diseases as a result of cutting out fats from our diet!
Where did we go wrong? How could we have gone so wrong?
We were so desperate to make fat the enemy, that Ancel Keys despite being a career scientist was willing to cherry pick the data to make it seem that his 7 country study data was irrefutable when in reality his data – not just from 7 countries but all 22 countries studied – failed to reveal a conclusive correlation between fat and heart attacks. Fat never was the enemy it was made out to be!
What we failed to see was that it wasn’t fat, but a brand new fad of smoking that was directly correlated to the rise in heart attacks.
We believed and wanted to believe that smoking was good, healthy, fun… so an enemy, a scapegoat for heart attacks had to be found.
Ancel Keys found our scapegoat, and so we celebrated Ancel Keys as if he was a national hero.
Overlap the rate of cigarette consumption (chart to left) with the rate of heart attacks (chart at top of post) and the correlation is staggering.
I was personally awoken to the power of belief as a physiotherapy resident while working at the West Park Hospital in Toronto on a respiratory rehab unit. Specifically, I was working with patients who were hard core smokers and having smoked packs a day for years and years had destroyed such large parts of their lungs that the effort to simply breathe – forget walking or standing up in some cases – was exhausting. Some of the patients I worked with had not left their homes in years because the short walk from bed to couch was so taxing, that walking beyond their front door was inconceivable. The patients were coming to West Park Hospital to participate in a 3month rehab program ahead of a new lung surgery that would help the remaining healthy parts of their lungs work more effectively. Due to the post-surgical risk of infection, the patients had to gain enough strength and endurance to meet the surgeons criteria, hence the respiratory rehab. In addition to successfully completing the rehab, there was another criteria that had to be met by any patient who was to undergo the surgery: the patient would have to agree to quit smoking permanently, understanding that it was smoking that had destroyed their lungs.
It was while working with one patient in particular that I was awoken to the blind devotion to a belief, to the lifestyle that is built around a belief, to the choices and decisions made enforcing a belief, and to the unwillingness to unwind a life written by a flawed belief. This one patient despite making significant gains in the initial weeks of the rehabilitation program was unwilling to accept that smoking had any part whatsoever in their respiratory dysfunction. They understood their lungs were not functionally properly, but to them… smoking had absolutely nothing, n-o-t-h-i-n-g to do with it.
How far was this patient willing to hold onto this belief? Despite breathing while on oxygen therapy being exhausting, effortful to such a degree that at times it was almost painful to watch this person struggle to breathe in and out deeply enough to satisfy their brain’s desperate call for air… if life saving surgery required them to stab their best friend of smoking in the back and turn on them after all these years… then it would be no surgery for them because they could not bring themselves to accept that (a) they bought into a belief that was wrong – i.e. that smoking is anything but good, cool, & healthy, (b) they built a life and lifestyle around a flawed belief, and (c) that their decision to start to smoke would decades later result in such self-harm.
I was gobsmacked to witness a patient walk away from a medical intervention that would have radically changed their life, their lifestyle, their quality of life, and undoubtedly their life expectancy all because they committed to a belief that they could not accept was killing them. This patient chose to be ‘right’, chose to protect their ego instead of choosing to have an opportunity to live life.
I learned that day how far a person is willing to go to ‘not be wrong’ in their own mind: to death.
Where we are today…
Today, we are spoon fed a daily dose of ‘research’ from Ancel Key like physiologists all hoping to make a name for themselves in the world of health, wellness, fitness, and sport. The consistent message is that hi intensity interval training [HiiT] does it all… it will help you lose weight; it will help you get fit in a matter of days or weeks at most instead of months; it will turn you into a faster swimmer, cyclist, runner, triathlete, you name it; HiiT has been heralded as a potential vaccine to certain types of cancer; name it… HiiT has been named ‘the’ solution.
All that we need to do is head to our local gym and sign up for a bootcamp, a spin class, a Tabata or CrossFit workout, and suffer through the no pain-no gain mindset of hi intensity interval training [HiiT] until you succeed.
Meanwhile, bodybuilders whose training is the basis of HiiT die like flies of heart disease and heart disease related diagnoses from as early as their mid 20s, but more consistently in their 40s and 50s. The number of young cyclists (median age 23) who have died in the past year alone is staggering, yet the death of a 15yr old cyclocross champ whose coroner’s report identifies silent heart attacks and absolutely no evidence of congenital heart disease as an underlying cause of death makes no impact. Triathletes routinely die in the swim portion of major events, and there is always at least a runner or two who dies as a result of participating in a half or full marathon; but no one considers any of it an issue… its all within expected ranges for deaths at events we are told.
No different then our blindness to smoking for decades as the root of heart attacks, today we are blind to HiiT being the root of heart attacks among the ‘healthy fit’ and those aspiring to become an ‘healthy fit’. Despite HiiT failing in epic proportions as shown through the study of former “The Biggest Loser” TV reality series contestants who regained all their weight and now have to also deal with a decimated metabolism, HiiT is pushed by personal trainers and coaches alike. Why?
Because we so badly want to believe that we can live hi intensity unhealthy lifestyles by spending a handful of minutes doing hi intensity training to balance it all out; we want to believe that it will all end up allowing us to achieve our health and wellness goals.
Where are we today…
Its deja vu all over again: we want to believe that HiiT – like smoking – is awesome and in no way compromises our health. Today, criticizing HiiT is like criticizing smoking back when your own family doctor blew smoke rings during your annual check up, and also during the check ups of your kids.
Eventually, we will awaken to realize that HiiT – like smoking – is at the root of the physical, mental and emotional diseases we suffer today, and the diseases we are creating by continuing to live and train all-out, no pain-no gain, PR or ER, in 24-7 beast mode.
The charts above and a deep discussion which digs into the research that tried to vilify fat, and the research that has been performed since dispelling this untruth can be found in the video titled “The Roots of the Obesity Epidemic” by Dr James Fung.