Agreement and civility are mutually exclusive of one another
It's been a few weeks since I was given the unique opportunity to speak with low-fat diet guru Dr. Dean Ornish to discuss his new book entitled The Spectrum. Now that all four parts of the interview has been aired on my podcast show, I'd like to offer a postscript expressing my thoughts about what was said during the interview by Dr. Ornish.
Anyone who has not listened to the 100-minute interview, here are the direct links to each segment for your convenience. It's pretty fascinating stuff and quite confrontational at times, so give it a listen if you haven't already done so:
- My Second Interview with Dr. Dean Ornish
- Dean Ornish, Jimmy Moore Debate 'The Spectrum'
- Does Dean Ornish Now Support A Low-Carb Diet?
- Whatever You Do, Don't Call Dean Ornish A Low-Fat Vegetarian
Before I share my opinions about the interview itself, let me give you some background about how this came about. In early 2006, I decided on a whim that I wanted to try to get an interview with Dr. Dean Ornish to talk with him about his dietary philosophy. My modus operandi was nothing more than to hear what the man had to say about what he believes regarding diet, health, and nutrition.
I initiated contact with him through every means I knew to reach Dr. Ornish and was pleasantly surprised to hear back from him within a couple of months about setting up the interview. This was only about a year after I started my blog and many months before I had my own podcast show. In fact, I wasn't even sure how I was gonna record the interview since I didn't have ANY equipment to make it happen.
As it turns out, in the summer of that year Dr. Ornish got married to his wife Anne and our interview was delayed until October. It was a long time coming, but we finally made it happen and you can read all about it with the transcripts of that interview here, here, here, and here and even listen to the raw audio footage I taped using a digital recorder and a speaker phone by clicking here and here. I even wrote this post-interview challenge to Dr. Ornish and low-fat advocates to pursue those areas of common beliefs to help those who struggle with weight and health issues understand some of the basics of what is generally accepted by everyone as healthy.
Fast forward to early 2008 and this time around Dr. Ornish contacted me to see if I'd like to interview him again to talk about his new book. He explained that he wrote The Spectrum because he was inspired by our previous interview and those areas where we agreed. I was excited to hear that this man who had based his entire career on advocating a high-carb, low-fat, vegetarian diet was open to the possibility of finding merit in other nutritional approaches that run counter to what he has always believed. I honestly held out hope that The Spectrum would show progress in the way Dr. Ornish now thought about livin' la vida low-carb.
Unfortunately, that was not to be.
I will give him credit that the ideals espoused in his book are definitely a step forward in attempting to forge some common ground among those who advocate a low-fat or a low-carb diet, but it didn't take long to see that what Dr. Ornish believed was on the healthy end of the "spectrum" of food choices was the same old high-carb, low-fat vegetarian choices and the foods on the least healthy end were the more fatty, meat-based choices. In other words, not much has changed at all!
While our interview was indeed a cordial one because I am not the kind of person who seeks to rip the throat out of someone I am speaking with, I wasn't going to let Dr. Ornish dominate the conversation tee-totally as I did by design with my first interview. This time around I challenged him where I thought we disagreed as he requested upfront before our interview even began. Boy did I ever!
Let me tell you, though, it was quite nauseating for Dr. Ornish to implore a strategy designed to make it seem like we all agreed when in fact we didn't. You'll notice quite often during our interview, he made references like "we all agree" or "we're not in disagreement about" prior to making a point. The first couple of times he did that, I was only casually listening to what he had to say next. But when it became a habitual part of his communication strategy, my ears perked up every single time he did that.
You don't know how tempted I was to say back to him, "Oh, so since we all agree on what a healthy diet looks like, then that must mean you think a high-saturated fat, low-carbohydrate nutritional plan is needed to bring about improvements in weight and health. After all, we're not in disagreement about this at all, are we?" Dr. Ornish would have crapped in his pants if I actually said that and it would have been snarky for me to do so. That said, he KEPT on doing it and I finally had to call his bluff on it. When I did, he seemed to get perturbed with me and contend that I'm making this a "low-carb versus low-fat" thing.
And that's another issue I had with Dr. Ornish during our interview. Every single time I brought up a question about carbohydrate or fat intake, he'd use this excuse that he's not interested in the "diet wars" which he declared as over and done with now. How convenient for you, Dr. Ornish! While you say you no longer want to engage in the macronutrient debate (which is obviously not true as evidenced by this attack by you against the Atkins diet in March 2007), the fact is you have built your entire reputation on the high-carb, low-fat, vegetarian diet. It's what you will always be remembered for--good, bad or ugly.
While it's nice that you finally agree with low-carb advocates that refined carbohydrates are not as healthy as you once believed they were, even that's not entirely true based on your placement of this category of foods in the moderately healthy part of your "spectrum." What's up with that? Sure, you say that if they are eaten by themselves they should be considered among the least healthy, but that caveat is NOT explained in your book. And, I'm sorry, but eating more fiber with those carbohydrates will NOT significantly slow the blood sugar rise and insulin response in the body as you claim. It would send me into a sugar rush tailspin that would take days to recover from!
And that's another issue of contention I had with Dr. Ornish. While I can appreciate his insistence on looking at the data and the science behind what he recommends, it seems he quite conveniently neglects all the preponderance of the evidence that has come out in recent years regarding a high-fat, controlled-carbohydrate dietary approach. Every researcher he cited you'll notice was his "friend." People like Dr. David Ludwig, a low-carb researcher interested in issues involving childhood health (I recently reviewed his fabulous book Ending the Food Fight), are considered by Dr. Ornish to be on his side of the health debate. But something tells me this "friend" he cites would have something to say about being associated with the high-carb, low-fat, vegetarian diet that runs directly counter to what his research is showing him about a healthy diet.
Then, when I mentioned the name of Gary Taubes and his brilliant book Good Calories, Bad Calories, you would have thought I had just cursed his grandmother! Oh the vitriol that came out of Dr. Ornish's mouth about Gary Taubes was enough to see exactly who he is and what he's about. It very clearly showed me he was uninterested in the evidence and simply stuck on his own monopolistic viewpoints.
When I asked if he had read the Taubes book, you'll notice Dr. Ornish never really answered that question. He said it was on his desk, but that doesn't mean he read it. The disrespect he showed Gary Taubes by claiming he was "just a journalist" put his snobby, elitist attitude on full display for everyone to see. So, does it disqualify Gary Taubes from conducting over six years of research with 150 pages of references in his book because he's not a researcher with an MD or PhD behind his name, Dr. Ornish?
I think not.
I don't have those credentials either, Dr. Ornish, so why would you waste your time on a nothing blogger like me since obviously you look at me in a similar light as you do Gary Taubes? This is why low-carb supporters continue to be skeptical of any changes in you, Dr. Ornish--we don't see any evidence that you're different in either your message or the manner in which you communicate it. It's just more and more of the same old stuff that's been repackaged to seem different. But it's not.
Then there's the issue of people like me who have been highly successful at losing weight on a diet that runs absolutely opposite of what Dr. Ornish has been promoting his whole life. When I asked him about that, he skirted the question rather quickly and moved into talking about all his research about low-fat diets again. Ummm, that wasn't the question, sir. HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN JIMMY MOORE and others who have been successful at not just losing weight on low-carb, but keeping it off over the long-term? It's not a difficult question to answer and I'd STILL love to hear what he has to say about it.
Dr. Dean Ornish is very good at creating diversions from the difficult questions. If he wasn't involved in the health industry, then I'm sure one of the major political parties would LOVE to have him run for office since he can wiggle and maneuver his way out of all the tight circumstances. It's no doubt something he has to do nowadays in light of all the evidence that keeps pouring in from the research community shooting down every single theory he has ever held about a healthy diet.
That's fine that he declares his diet is the only one to be proven to "reverse heart disease" but I'm not buying it. To state as you have your entire career that the healthiest way to eat is a high-carb, low-fat, vegetarian diet is not only false, but completely misleading to a nation full of people who deserve better than that, Dr. Ornish. There should be just as much emphasis on the negative role of carbohydrate in your "spectrum" and not just the refined carbs. Even some whole grains are detrimental to the health of those who are especially insulin resistant--and it's a lot more people than you're willing to admit are out there, my friend.
I'm sure this blog post will be reason enough for Dean Ornish to never want to do another interview with me again, but that's no concern for me right now. I had to speak the truth and the truth is I couldn't remain silent about the continued lies he is sharing with people about his failed dietary philosophy. Get with the times already, Dr. Ornish. Whether you like it or not, livin' la vida low-carb IS mainstream now and here to stay. It's not low-carb versus low-fat--it's what works for the individual. Your refusal to even acknowledge that a low-carb program will work for some gets to the very heart of the matter.
Even I am the first to admit that low-carb will not work for everyone, but it's an option that should at least be promoted by health groups and tried by people who have struggled on a high-carb, low-fat diet as I did for most of my life before going on the Atkins diet in 2004. My mantra is for people to find the proven and effective plan that works for them, follow that plan exactly as prescribed by the author, and then keep doing that plan for the rest of their life. If that's an Ornish-styled low-fat diet, then I say GO FOR IT. But if it's an Atkins-styled low-carb diet, then that should be something you should openly encourage people to follow, too.
Now that's something we ALL agree about anyway, right Dr. Ornish?