September 08, 2014

Thoughts on the McDougall Advanced Study Weekend

For those of you who aren't familiar with him, Dr. John McDougall is a doctor and diet/health advocate who recommends a very low fat, high starch, whole food vegan diet to control weight and avoid chronic disease.  He's been at it for a long time, and he's a major figure in the "plant-based diet" community (i.e., a diet including little or no animal foods).

Dr. McDougall invited me to participate in his 3-day Advanced Study Weekend retreat in Santa Rosa, CA.  My job was to give my talk on insulin and obesity, and participate in a panel discussion/debate with Dr. McDougall in which we sorted through issues related to low-carb, Paleo, and the health implications of eating animal foods.  I was glad to receive the invitation, because I don't see myself as a diet partisan, and I believe that my evidence-based information is applicable to a variety of diet styles.  I saw the Weekend as an opportunity to extend my thoughts to a new community, challenge myself, and maybe even learn a thing or two.  It was particularly interesting to compare and contrast the Advanced Study Weekend with the Ancestral Health Symposium, which is more Paleo- and low-carb-friendly.

General Observations

The attendees were a lot older than AHS attendees.  I estimate that most of them were in their 60s, although there were some young people in attendance.

I don't place too much emphasis on peoples' personal appearance at conferences like this.  You don't know what a person's background, genetics, or personal struggles may be, you don't know how closely they adhere to the program, and you don't know to what degree a group of people might be self-selected for particular traits*.  But I will note that Dr. McDougall, his family, and many of the other starch-based/plant-based diet advocates tended to be extremely lean with low fat and muscle mass.  They also tended to have a healthy and energetic appearance and demeanor.  As I would expect, decades of exceptionally high starch intake hasn't made them obese or obviously ill.

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