Obesity

Should We All Be Like Mike?

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The New York Times reports that calorie restriction, which extends the life spans of worms, flies, fish, and mice, may do the same for rhesus monkeys. In research at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, monkeys fed 30 perce

nt fewer calories than a standard diet provides are healthier, and their mortality rate so far is lower. If the results are like those seen in mice, the lean and hungry monkeys could live as much as 40 percent longer.

Although "several thousand" Americans—including Mike Linksvayer, "a 36-year-old chief technology officer at a San Francisco nonprofit group" (right)—already have embarked on restricted-calorie diets, there is no human-specific experimental or epidemiological evidence that they will live longer as a result (it may just seem longer). In fact, the study on which the CDC relies for its current estimate of the death toll due to obesity found that thin people tend to die earlier than pudgy (but not obese) people, while the super-thin (such as Linksvayer, who is six feet tall and weighs 135 pounds) fare even worse. That finding is not definitive because it's hard to control for all the variables that might be associated with both thinness and higher mortality. Even tracking people like Linksvayer would not yield conclusive results, because they're a self-selected group who may be healthier (or less healthy) to begin with and probably have atypical lifestyles in other respects. 

But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that what works in worms, flies, fish, mice, and (maybe) monkeys also works in people, and let's leave aside the possibility (discussed in the Times article) of a pill that can achieve the same results without all the hunger. In that case, minimizing morbidity and mortality would mean getting everyone to live like Mike Linksvayer, who subsists on a a diet of 2,000 or so calories a day that features delicacies such as fermented soybeans for breakfast, tofu and carrots for lunch, and vegan sausage, kale, and salad for dinner, supplemented by occasional weekend fasts. Linksvayer says he feels better than he did before he started this regimen six years ago, and if he happens to live longer too, that would just be icing on the cake (which I assume he does not otherwise get to enjoy). But under the expansive understanding of "public health" that is now almost universally accepted by academics and public officials, if the Linksvayer lifestyle really does postpone death, it's the government's duty to cajole, hector, tax, and regulate everyone into following it. Given how resistant Americans are to meeting the current weight recommendations, this is a project that should keep the government busy for a long time.

The New York Times article is here. I called for a ceasefire in the War on Fat a couple years ago and revisited the subject in the November issue.

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  1. Jesus, I think I saw Mike Linksvayer clawing his way out of his grave last night while I was waiting for the Great Pumpkin.

  2. Yikes! I’m not too fat and my thigh is thicker than that guy’s chest. I’d rather die a few years sooner than be unable to go outside in 15MPH wind.

  3. who subsists on a a diet of 2,000 or so calories that features delicacies such as fermented soybeans for breakfast, tofu and carrots for lunch, and vegan sausage, kale, and salad for dinner, supplemented by occasional weekend fasts

    Are fasts diet supplements? Now there’s a niche.

    Marketing slogan: S-t-r-e-t-c-h your diet with Supfast – there’s nothing to it!

  4. Jacob, with all due respect, since we want the Outlanders to distinguish between talking about what is or isn’t “good” and what should or shouldn’t be “legal”, shouldn’t we refrain from so casually tossing them both into the same salad ourselves?

    Anyway, we can all take your point that this diet is not quite likely to be very popular, whatever its possible benefits!

  5. “…fermented soybeans for breakfast, tofu and carrots for lunch, and vegan sausage, kale, and salad for dinner, supplemented by occasional weekend fasts.”

    Um, I think I’ll eat whatever I feel like and go with comparatively-early death, thanks.

  6. Other factors to consider here are bone density and the increased propensity to be injured due to lack of muscle mass. For example, it is widely known strength of the core (ab/lower back) muscles play a large part in back and spine health. If you’re nothing but a walking skeleton with some skin and stuff on top, my guess is that your risk of serious injury increases immensely, thus countering the whole “they’re healthier” argument. Maybe I’m wrong, but I doubt it. Just look at that dumbass—one tumble down a couple stairs and he’d crumble like one of those little stick-men toys that are tied together with string.

  7. I love the look on his face. One part undeserved smugness, one part “oh, holy shit, I’d cut off my left arm in exchange for a porterhouse”. Priceless.

  8. The longing for death a life of tofu and kale would bring just makes it feel like you’re living 500 years.

  9. Maybe Linksvayer can find work as a stunt double if they make The Machinist 2 starring Cary Elwes.

  10. thin people tend to die earlier than pudgy (but not obese) people,

    Not thin but “underweight.” According to the height/weight charts, I am 10-15 lbs overweight. But to look at me, I have a medium leaning to skinny build. I’m just below average on BMI.

    I’ve always thought those charts were off and designed to tell everyone they were overweight…even if they obviously weren’t.

    But the thing I realy want to know is do they factor in mortality to just natural causes? Or do they included super-skinny guys like Mike getting their asses kicked because they were unable to defend themselves.

    Just wondering.

  11. Dogs, would you live forever?

  12. Is the purpose of life to live as long as possible? Or should there be some consideration of enjoyment?

    We don’t want people to live old anyhow, that’s just kills the Social Security system.

  13. The Times article also mentioned an anti-oxidant with potential anti-aging effects found in red wine. Regardless of the science behind that particular theory (and I’m sure evidence is pretty thin), I’m going to forgo the starvation and significantly increase my red wine intake. All I need now is to clone my liver, which seems well within the realm of possibility: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=413551&in_page_id=1770.

    Fat and drunk is the new skinny! Hooray!

  14. I think it’s appropriate to note that my two Chicago-style hot dog lunch was delivered just as I started reading this story. I’m sure I’ll enjoy my lunch a lot more than this guy will enjoy his.

  15. 2000 calories a day is restriction? I don’t know if I even consume that in an average weekday.

    Anyway, eating healthy isn’t necessarily a drag. I don’t care for a vegetable-heavy diet, so I just live off of fruit and yogurt smoothies, wheat grass juice, protein supplements, egg noodles, cottage cheese and olive oil. A shot of wheat grass juice can make up for about three servings of veggies- it tastes awful, but one little shot glass and you’re done for the day; no need to sit and chew over a salad for twenty minutes. All-organic power smoothies are available on every streetcorner in most large Southwestern cities. The excuse that fatty burgers and fried chicken are the only quick meals available doesn’t hold water anymore.

    On the weekends, I take a break and enjoy whatever I want, whether it’s tempura, green chili cheeseburgers, or calzone.

    Judging by my grandpa, who lived to 87 on the beer, cigarettes and red meat diet, or my father, who kicked the beer and cigarettes and is still athlete-trim at 57, I’ll probably live to 115 without sacrificing much (if anything). 😉

    Anyway, healthy eating can be its own reward, if not taken to ridiculous extremes.

  16. …there is no human-specific experimental or epidemiological evidence that they will live longer as a result

    Well, ‘experimental/epidemiological’, maybe… but this thing about reduced calories lengthening average lifespans has been old hat for quite some time. I remember in college they’d mentioned that the longest lifespans of people in the 20th century (not on average – but where they found the largest populations of people over 100yrs old relative to overall pop) were indians and Japanese… and that researchers had established that what almost all the 100yr+ people shared in common were long periods of severe calorie deprivation and a high diet of ‘raw foods’.

    The specific findings I recall was that metabolisms responded to reduced caloric intake by becoming significantly more efficient at processing key nutrients from unprocessed foods. I.e. eating fruit peels and shit was great nutrition if very low-cal.

    I think these studies tend to result in hyped generalizations “the LOW CAL DIET THAT WILL MAKE YOU LIVE FOREVER!!!” – when the actual facts of the sitch are that in order for these effects to really take place, you’d need to live spartanly on a subsistence farm for 10yrs or so…

    Hmmm. Now I must go outline “Gulag Diet! Lose weight and lengthen your life in 6 easy years of hard labor and extreme deprivation!”

  17. Um, I think I’ll eat whatever I feel like and go with comparatively-early death, thanks.

    I’m on your team. Bring on steaks, and beers, and desserts. I’m 6′ 175 and happy. Fuck that guy

  18. Re: Mike Linksvayer-The word is “cadaverous.”

  19. More evidence that, by gaining an average of 20lbs each, Gitmo prisoners are being tortured to death by the Bushnazis.

  20. The mice, etc. that live longer live in sterile labs. If you introduced a random mix of pathogens, similar to what a social animal would naturally be exposed to, I wonder how that would effect the lifespans.

  21. fermented soybeans for breakfast, tofu and carrots for lunch, and vegan sausage, kale, and salad for dinner, supplemented by occasional weekend fasts.

    Just think, all that for the possibility of spending an additional couple of years drooling away at the nursing home.

    Everything I’ve read (not much) indicates that lifespan is overwhelmingly based on genetics. Not to say that a healthy diet is a bad thing, though.

  22. Let’s say I eat a normal reasonably healthy diet and live a reasonably healthy lifestyle and live a slightly above average lifespan and kill over when I am say 85. In contrast, I can live this calorie restrictive lifestyle and deprive myself like a medieval ascetic and get to spend my life looking the emaciated pencil neck geek in this picture and I get to live instead of to 85 to the ripe old age of 115. And that is assuming that I don’t’ get cancer or die in accident depriving me of my full lifespan; in which case I starved myself for absolutely nothing. Is the extra 30 years worth it? I don’t think so. What quality of life do you really have in your 90s? Most of your friends and family are going to die during your lifetime. Even with medical advances you are not going have the same vitality in your 90s or 100s that you had in even your 50s. What exactly are you living for at that point other than to hang around long enough to bury your friends and loved ones. I guess if you are a complete nihilist who thinks that death is just eternal nothingness; going to such extreme efforts to stay alive for a few more doddering decades makes sense. If, however, you have any belief in an afterlife or something beyond this world, to do this kind of thing is just nuts. I am all for living longer, but the point is to live longer not just to exist. It sounds a lot better to me to be Red Auerbach and kick ass and take names your whole life and die at 89 than be this guy counting calories and starving to death and live to 115.

    That said, they are working to mimic the effects of a low calorie diet through pills. If it is eat what you want and take a pill every day and live to 112, I am all for it; otherwise, no thanks.

  23. Hey, if slowly starving to death on a diet of vegetable-y horrors makes this guy happy, well, that’s fine by me.

    Meantime, I’ve decided to go have a burger and a brew for lunch, and perhaps will opt for the onion rings instead of the usual side salad.

  24. Everytime a bully bumps into Mike Linksvayer, talks shit to him, or hits on his girl friend, Mike is going to have to tuck his tail and take it like a yellow dog. He can’t even back the guy down with a bluff. He should probably pack heat.

  25. When The Famine arrives there will be two types of last survivors. Large people who feasted for years and have some stores available around their middles and the Mike Linksavers of the world who require few calories to continue shambling about but who are both unpalatable and inedible.

  26. I’m with John. What good are the extra ten years if I have to live on kale to get ’em? As for the various examples of lower life forms that manage to live a really long time by not eating, they can’t cook. A mouse isn’t giving up much of any pleasure by reducing its calories. Humans, on the other hand, have an entire art form devoted to food. Yeah, I suppose it’s possible to make kale taste better, but it’s never going to taste as good as double-dark-chocolate ice cream with Heath bars mixed in.

    Besides, I have to go back past the Civil War to find an ancestor or collateral who died before age 70, so perhaps I’m biased here. I suppose if all my relatives died at 50, I might be more open this sort of thing, but unless it makes the difference between 50 and 80 instead of the diff between 85 and 90, it just doesn’t seem like there’s much point.

  27. Great. This guy invents a new twist on anorexia and the NYT features him as good example.

  28. Does he get an exemption to raise geese for pat

  29. Boy, that Mike guy must be great fun at Super Bowl parties. While the rest of us got the brats and beer going, he’s on the couch nibbling on a bit of watercress, and you gotta throw a bunch of phone books in his lap to keep him from floating in front of the television.

    Wasn’t it the whole point of Live Aid to end this sort of thing?

  30. “Wasn’t it the whole point of Live Aid to end this sort of thing?”

    Funniest post of the day.

  31. Manorexia should be taken seriously.

  32. But under the expansive understanding of “public health” that is now almost universally accepted by academics and public officials, if the Linksvayer lifestyle really does postpone death, it’s the government’s duty to cajole, hector, tax, and regulate everyone into following it.

    … until 5 years later, when they maybe wake up and understand that all that added time is going to be on Social Security and Medicare, and they start to cajole, hector, tax, and regulate everyone onto high fat diets supplemented with smoking tobacco.

    Mike should be arrested. In the public interest.

  33. My god. A living, breathing and true pencil-necked geek.

  34. This guy should take it to the next level. Imagine how much longer you could live using tools like an induced coma and a healthy vegan diet supplied intravenously

  35. Oh heck, I think I’ll just jettison the whole aging thing and have my mind uploaded into a computer. Then I can take a permanent vacation in the SecondLife VR eating virtual trans-fat laden junk food and having sex with multiple Cindy Margolis avatars, and beam myself to Alpha Centauri when the neighborhood gets too crowded.

    Sounds better than eating kale and tofu with fasting for dessert.

  36. “Everytime a bully bumps into Mike Linksvayer, talks shit to him, or hits on his girl friend, Mike is going to have to tuck his tail and take it like a yellow dog. He can’t even back the guy down with a bluff. He should probably pack heat.”

    Trust me, this guy doesn’t have a girlfriend or a girlfriend that would be hit on.

  37. I like to get erections. So I will keep eating.

  38. Hi there, I’m “Mike” and I don’t go to superbowl parties. And believe it or not, I’ve been reading Reason since 1988.

    My blogposts on the NYT article:
    http://gondwanaland.com/mlog/2006/10/30/cr-nyt/
    http://gondwanaland.com/mlog/2006/11/01/disgusting/

  39. Oh, and I don’t think it is feasible for everyone to be like me, nor do I think the government should try to force anyone to be.

    CR is just a stopgap for those who want to and can avail themselves.

    I want anti-aging pills and similar as much as anyone. See the last paragraph of http://gondwanaland.com/mlog/2006/10/30/cr-nyt/

  40. That’s good you read Reason. No point in reading Karen DeCoster, though.

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