In Defense of Matt Stone

This article is a response to an article Matt Stone posted on his blog.  That article is a response to a critical review of his latest e-book: Eat for Heat.

The reviewer states:

It alarms me that the author of this book has no credentials at all. He seems to just search out other peoples research and then puts it together into what he believes to be true. Perhaps if he were to somehow get a study funded into his nutritional beliefs it might be better then just printing a book which anyone can do.

What we’re really talking about here is legitimacy and it’s a huge problem for alternative health researchers.  The above review may be ignorant but its point is not invalid.  Be it a fallacy or not, deference to authority and group opinion is necessary in most endeavors in life.  It is simply not possible to gather all possible facts and process them all.  It is a biological/evolutionary adaptation and it is a valid strategy.

Belittling established institutions or pointing out that credentials don’t make a person’s arguments valid doesn’t actually get us anywhere (no offense to Matt).  It’s reactionary and won’t earn respect.  More importantly, it doesn’t explain why anyone should shift their trust from one information source to another: specifically from organizations like the American Heart Association and The Harvard School of Public Health to people like Matt Stone.  We live in a very successful and advanced society and much of that is due to science.  There is a deep level of trust in our scientific institutions and to suddenly challenge that in one field brings up too many questions.  Is our scientific community compromised or just getting it wrong?  Is there outside influence?  What other areas might be compromised?  Who can I trust?  Do I need to be an expert in everything?

People working in sustainable agriculture have similar issues challenging the established scientific dogma.  For them, it raises similar questions.  Trust me, the farmer row-cropping 1000 acres of corn and soybeans is not going to respect the “hippie” sustainable farmer.

For me, the question on who to trust is already resolved.  Similar to Matt, I have done my own nerding out on nutrition.  Unlike most people, I like to understand things at a very complete level.  When things don’t make sense to me or seem to contradict, I like to follow up on it.  Gary Taubes was the first to challenge my unquestioned trust in the nutritional establishment, and he did it with very cogent and well-stated arguments.  But I didn’t just take his word for it.

The problem with established institutions is they don’t have reply to criticisms.  Most of what’s out there in alternative health is a waste of time and I understand they cannot be burdened with continuously replying and sifting through a ton of garbage.  Unfortunately, what ends up happening is they rely on appeal to authority and ad hominem even for valid counter-arguments.  People like me never get to see a full debate.  It just looks like the establishment is turning their back, over and over.

The thing is you do not need to be an expert to make a counterargument.  You just need to understand some basics about formal logic, statistics, and the rules for conducting experiments according to the scientific method.  Anyone that understands these points can clearly see when a “non-expert” is making a counter-argument that is valid.  I’m using the term “valid” here in a very specific and formal sense.  Once such an argument is made, any established institutions that are promoting a contrary view must answer it.  To not do so is to lack integrity.

Anyone who has explored the alternative health world for a while has seen dozens of valid counter-arguments and virtually with response from established institutions.  The bottom line is there is no dialogue.  There is one unquestioned view and contrary evidence and counter-arguments that point out invalid interpretations of data, incorrectly organized studies, or the like are being ignored, even when they come from credentialed professionals.

My own experience trying to get around this problem was rather educational.  I decided to go straight to the horses’ mouth and contacted the U of M School of Epidemiology.  For those that don’t know, Ancel Keys’ Seven Countries Study is one of linchpins in the belief that we should lower cholesterol and saturated fat intake.  The U of M still supports this view despite many valid criticisms.

I was put into contact with Henry Blackburn, who worked on the study and took it over after Keys’ death.  He provided me with two things.  One was a paper he wrote titled “The Evolution and Culture of Mass Disease”.  The other was a recommendation to read The Cholesterol Wars by Daniel Steinberg, a book I ordered for fifty dollars and spent an intense amount of time reading and reviewing.

The paper presents a perfectly viable hypothesis: that modern lifestyles have evolved too rapidly and we are those out of touch with the hunter-gatherer lifestyles we are adapted to.  Unfortunately the paper simply states things as fact that are contrary to available information, and it does so without citing references.  For example, it states that H-G tribes ate low in saturated fat and high in unsaturated fat.  Really?  That’s news to me.  Check out the second video in that link at about 30 seconds in and you will clearly see contrary data.

What about Steinberg’s book?  Bottom line: no solid evidence.  Nothing but specious and circumstantial evidence for a theory that got promoted to national attention in order to save public health.  That may have been okay except for two things.  First, it’s invalid and irresponsible to base public health recommendations on a supposition.  Second, the book contained a couple leads towards alternative theories that were not followed through on.   And it’s not a little thing.  Different hypothesis for heart disease lead to very different public health recommendations.  I was working on my own review of the book until I came across Chris Masterjohn’s, which already states everything I was going to state.  There’s too many details there for me to copy here but the end result of all this is I had a complete loss of faith in the nutritional establishment.

That’s a very serious problem.  I ended up following my own nutritional beliefs for over a couple years.  Like I stated in my first paragraph, subjects like nutrition are just too complex to become an armchair expert.  There’s too much information.  I thought I was being healthy but I ended up following some pretty bad advice, which is why the point made in the above review is totally valid.  I wrecked my health and my body is still recovering.  The only person that pulled me out of that mess is Matt Stone.

Matt’s no dumbass.  He’s read over 300 books and worked with dozens of clients.  He has experience but more importantly he has passion.  I’m good with computers not because I went to college but because I had a strong desire to understand how they operate from transistor to operating system.  I’m good with programming not because I have a degree, but because I like the beauty and satisfaction of a clean, well-structured program.  Matt’s been through the same crap as a lot of us: failed diets, orthorexia, etc., and he decided he was just going to damn well get it straight.

It’s been a long journey for him.  I stand behind him because I know his commitment to accurate and useful information goes above any desire to look good, achieve recognition, or make money.  His writing style might be fun and provocative but don’t let that fool you.  He always supplies cogent and straightforward arguments, and that’s why we respect him.  And unlike our established health institutions, I trust his integrity.

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6 Responses to In Defense of Matt Stone

  1. EmmaW says:

    Hi Aaron,

    I loved your questions to Matt on the current blog post. I hope he answers in a more thorough answer. It seems that no real answers are being given to those of us who are trying to work our way through this issue. I am trusting in what Billy, Gwyneth, and Matt are saying because it makes so much more sense than what we know the damages of dieting does. I’m going at this blind hoping for success at the end of it. I know that it can take a full year to see weight loss begin to happen, but I don’t want to be gaining that whole time. Why isn’t there anybody saying that they’ve made it to the other side of weight gain and are losing now??? Maybe we (Me, Nola, Corey, Shannon, etc.) are a handful of readers who are willing to take the risk, and others either aren’t,or started and abandoned ship because of the weight gain, so there are no long term success stories??? I wonder if another possibility of the lack of success stories, regarding weight loss, is that Matt does not stress the need for a minimum of 2500 calories, and this lack of enough calories is causing people to gain but then not be willing to give up the fat because they are still not eating enough calories. I don’t know, I’m just trying to figure out the lack of long term information about this process.

    • afontaine79 says:

      There was at least one guy who seemed to have made it through the hump and was losing weight. I can’t remember if that was Colden or somebody else. I received a reply from Matt that went to my email instead of to the blog for some reason. He basically said we don’t have all the answers yet but we are on to something pretty big. There may not be simple answers, or it may be different for everyone.

      I can tell you that for myself, calories do not seem to matter, nor does macronutrient composition or often even the quality of the food. I still have a bit of a reactionary attitude towards our culture and the way I used to be. I eat beyond appetite almost every day and my weight and waistline don’t change. I eat plenty of cookies and other things as well. That being said I’m not in the “don’t think about it at all, no health problems” zone that I used to be in prior to getting interested in health. I have my lingering health problems. It seems that for some of us, it just takes a long time to get these things cleared up. Lisa E. at http://healingendo.blogspot.com/ has been working on her issues for a while too, so simply eating more is not enough to make things magically clear up for some of us.

      My feeling is the answers (to both health and weight) go beyond simple nutrition. There’s psychological, emotional, and sleep factors as well. It’s not always clear what the heck we’re supposed to do to bring everything in balance while managing modern life. I personally eat a lot of chocolate, but I’m losing my taste for that.

      I’d be up for forming a group of people to go deeper into some of these issues. I know that I have a lot of unresolved questions and it makes it difficult for me to offer any kind of non-diet advice. I feel like people like Chief and Billy Craig have a lot of answers, but good luck getting any real level of understanding. Matt I think is just focused more on being healthy and not on weight. Also, Matt doesn’t have as much client experience.

      • EmmaW says:

        Thanks. I appreciate and understand that there’s probably not a simple answer. I suppose I’ve just been feeling frustrated that there doesn’t seem to be any prior experience that anyone’s talking about to share with those of us who are willing to brave the journey. It would just be encouraging if we were getting support from others who have already gone through it, and getting answers to some of our questions. Since that’s not happening, I’m beginning to wonder if anyone has actually had long term success with it. I’m not complaining, really, and I’m sorry if it’s coming across that way. I just began to feel frustrated once I realized that there doesn’t seem to be anybody else with success stories stepping up to show us that it does work and offering support. I began to feel in the dark and alone in the situation, and only had my blind faith to keep me going instead of jumping ship, which I won’t do. I have already decided, and realized, that even if I never lose a pound at this point, I’m never dieting again. I guess I’m just looking for a speck of hope that things will turn around.

        Matt mentioned starting up a forum on his site. I’m looking forward to it and hope that more people will join in the conversation.

        Thanks for taking the time to talk with me about it.

        • sarah says:

          I too am embarking on this journey, and am about 2 weeks in, +/- a few days… I’m trying hard not to count ANYTHING 😉
          I gained a bit of weight at the beginning the way I always did when I’d binge for a day or two, but I put on all my pants last night for the first time in a week and they all fit the same. I was laughing. I know it’s early, but that is remarkable to me since I’ve been eating like a pig every day (when I’d go all out for a day, before, I would gain and it would not come off after). my stomach bloated up for the first 3-4 days but it’s now gone flat even after I eat a big meal, which I find hilariously remarkable. I’m seriously entertained and amused that something that sounds so ridiculous (EAT ALL THE THINGS) might actually be working… after years of sampling just about every other diet out there and them all failing… my body temp is not up more than a few points of a degree, which is pissing me off, but I have noticed my hands and feet are not as cold as often, and sometimes they are even, dare I say it, WARM.
          anyway, I wanted to say, check out some of the postings in the forums and the testimonials on http://www.youreatopia.com. it is a site for those eating disorder recovery (and ED’s wreak the same sort of havoc on the body that chronic dieting does) and there are posts of folks who have made it to the other side. matt’s readers may not be in exactly the same scenario, as those with an ED typically may have messed up their metabolism more than a chronic dieter (then again I don’t even know if I could argue this, given I spent 5-6 years on 1200-1300 calories a day but didn’t consider myself to have an ED), but the prescription is the same (EAT EAT EAT).
          emma, given that it’s been almost 2 months since your post, I’m curious as to your progress!

          • EmmaW says:

            Hi Sarah,

            Oh yes, I have been devouring Your Eatopia for months now. 🙂 I gave my update over at 180degree health in the comments of the anxiety blog, http://180degreehealth.com/2013/04/anxiety-a-meta-medicine-perspective

            You can head over there if you would like to read the conversation we’ve been having. And please, join in and let us know how you’re doing. I don’t consistently post anymore as I needed a mental break from reading, or talking about, anything that has to do with nutrition, including 180degree health. I will check in every now and again to give an update and see how everyone is doing though.

            Thank you for sharing and asking how I’m doing.

  2. Kamran says:

    Really enjoyed this article, nicely done!

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