Art DeVany Uncensored: Part I

Image Courtesy Arthurdevany.com

Often referred to as the “grandfather” of the Paleo movement, Art DeVany is the author of “The New Evolution Diet” and also has his own website and blog (Arthurdevany.com).  He has appeared on PBS and NPR, The New York Times and other national media as an expert on the Paleo lifestyle.  Most recently, he was seen towing his Land Rover SUV on an ABC Nightline program about “Paleo diets and caveman workouts.” 


FED:
Art, for those who are not familiar with your work, people may be surprised to know that although you were an athlete and fitness enthusiast, your real professional background is in Economics.  Currently, you are a Professor Emeritus in Economics and Mathematical Behavioral Sciences at the University of California Irvine and the UCI Economics department actually has an Art DeVany prize.  Would you mind briefly explaining how you transitioned from studying economics to advocating an evolution-based approach to health and fitness?

Art: 

Metabolism IS economics. Our bodies are decentralized in the sense that each cell competes for nutrients with all other cells; what they receive depends on hormonal and neuronal signals. The cells each have their own DNA to express; they only share a death program that takes out rogue cells as a result of signals from neighboring cells.

It is like an ant colony in some sense.  Each ant shares half the DNA of the other members of the colony, so they are inclined to cooperate, up to a point. When they fail in that task, they are killed by other ants, who are only expressing their response to signals received from the rogue member; there is no BRAIN or super ant who directs the balance of competition and cooperation.

To paraphrase Adam Smith, we are a colony of trillions of cells, each specialized in some function and each maximizing its fitness.  The complexity of human life and metabolism (metabolism actually came first and then life bootstrapped its way up from there by becoming able to reproduce) is beyond comprehension. So, how would you ever apply the kind of top-down control models that most diet and fitness programs preach. (It is preaching, because it requires a naive faith in a central control figure---the God or Dictator of the body.)

So, it was quite natural to apply economics to metabolism. My interest and experience in complex systems was just icing on the cake (a really bad metaphor that shows how much sugar means to most people).



FED:
Although you discovered The New Evolution Diet and have subsequently followed it for decades, the concept of eating “like a caveman” is unfamiliar and confusing to many people.  Could you express the most important principles of The New Evolution Diet and, if you could get someone who is currently eating the standard American diet (SAD) to change one thing, what would it be?  

Art:

It didn't begin as a caveman thing. It began as our family experiment that we had to do because my young son became a type-1 diabetic at the age of 2. My wife (also became type 1 diabetic) a few years later. This is an autoimmune disease, quite different from obesity-caused type-2 diabetes. So, I first began to see how we could reduce inflammation. This led to more fresh plants and fruits for their high antioxidant content. Then, we tried to knock down the elevated blood glucose by identifying the foods that caused glucose to spike. That killed off the simple carbs and grain-based foods, which are not only causes of glucose spikes, but are also highly inflammatory.

The evolution connection just happened because my anthropology colleagues told me I was eating hunter-gather diet when I talked to them.  

Of course, I knew the auto-immune disease we were battling was genetic in origin. So, the rest just fell together.



FED:
I have long been interested in fractals, geometric shapes in which individual parts generally resemble the whole, a property called self-similarity.  As far as I am aware, you are the first person to discuss fractals in the context of diet and exercise.  Could you explain how a concept like fractal-geometry can help us to understand why “regular exercise” is actually counter-productive and why skipping meals can be a good thing?

Art:
Fractals appear in all self-organized systems. The blood vessels form a fractal, like a mountain range. The healthy heart beats to a fractal pattern. Markets produce fractal statistics. Hormone release is almost like a pulsing quasar, with intermittent bursts of all sizes. The distribution of prey is a fractal as are the activity patterns of hunters, children at play, and most sports, but for dreaded jogging and other non-natural activities.

I decided to model the energy landscape of the Paleolithic and of the human forager searching over this fractal landscape. The obvious answer is that human foragers move in a fractal pattern and obtain prey in the same way. It is well-known that the movements of predators, such as penguine, are fractal. So, is the amount of energy they obtain with their deep dives of varying depths.

Hunter-gatherers move when hungry, not when they are fed. That is why well-fed individuals have a hard time getting up and moving. A hunter moves in a burst, rest, slow-fast pattern, varying energy expenditures over all scales of effort.

Intermittent fasting just comes right out of the model. Intervals between prey acquisition and the amount captured are fractal. A hunter has to be kept alive to forage successfully, so (in times of scarcity) the genes shift to repair and stress resistance. A well-fed human has energy to reproduce, so genes shift to reproduction since they have no interest in you, you are only a vessel to take them forward. If you reproduce they just jump ship to a better, younger vessel.

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About Tony Fed

Tony is the host of the Paleo Magazine Radio podcast, author of "Paleo Grilling: A Modern Caveman's Guide to Cooking with Fire", and Cofounder of Powerful PT, an innovative information resource for Fitness Professionals. He has appeared on numerous local and national television and radio broadcasts and regularly hosts healthy cooking workshops and informational lectures. He is also a full-time Personal Trainer and Wellness Consultant who lives in Jacksonville Florida with his wife Jamie.
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2 comments:

  1. link to Arthur's website is broken. Missed the first 'a'.

    Great article. Looking forward to part 2.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anon, thanks for the head's up (the link is fixed!) and glad you liked the article! You can check out part 2 of my interview with Art by clicking the link at the bottom of the page.

    ReplyDelete