The Mystery of Fast-5 and D.I.E.T.: Bert Herring at TEDxRiversideAvondale (Transcript)

Good morning and thank you. It’s an honor and privilege to be here. I feel very lucky to be one of those invited to do so.

So, I’ll begin. First of all, if you came here to hear about the Fast Five movie, or you’re Vin Diesel fans, you got the wrong ticket. Okay. So, we’re kind of doing a bit of time traveling this morning, so let’s do this again.

Imagine you’re 100 years old, celebrating your 100th birthday. Imagine what that feels like, what you look like, and what you’re doing. Now, imagine that you’re celebrating your birthday on water skis. The water’s skidding underneath your skis, you approach your dock, you wave to your kids, your grandkids, your great-grandkids, maybe some great-great-grandkids and their friends, who wave back to you. And then you cut wide and you splash them all with water.

Now, is that sort of vitality a dream or can it be reality? Well, let’s look. This is a cartoon, a sketch, based on an MRI image. It shows what it looks like to slice through the thighs of a 40-year-old athlete. The red’s muscle, the yellow’s fat and the white’s bone. So there’s lots of muscle, pretty thick bone and just a rim of fat.

Now, this is a similar image of a slice through the legs of a 74-year-old sedentary male. With muscle withering away like that in the 70s, is the kind of energy and strength you need to water ski at 100 even possible? Well, let’s look at what stands in the way of getting to 100.

The top ten killers: heart disease, cancer, lung disease, stroke, accidents, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, kidney disease, lung infections and suicide. Those are some pretty big horsemen of the apocalypse that we have to get by.

So what can we do? When I was at NIH, I had put on 20 extra pounds, and that was since leaving the Navy and the Marine Corps, and I didn’t consider that to be a threat, because it wasn’t one of those ten that I just listed, and I was just overweight, not even obese.

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But I also knew what to do to cure that: eat less, exercise more. And I was eating a good diet, I was eating something similar to this. You may recognize it — this is the current recommendations of the United States government, and — what they call healthy. And this is similar to what I was eating. And you may not recognize that there’s a lot of industrial influence that goes into these recommendations. Harvard took a look at this and said, “We can do better than that,” and so they made some changes. And they called it “Healthy Plate” instead of “My Plate.”

And so they said, more vegetables, less fruit, cut out dairy, there’s some people who can’t even eat dairy, and whatever’s in dairy we can get somewhere else, so it doesn’t have to be a recommendation, that’s just the influence of the dairy industry. And they also brought healthy oils and staying active up onto the front page instead of burying it in the fine print.

And the MyPlate recommendations, even after decades of epidemic obesity, didn’t even include the advice to eat less until 2010. Again, that’s industrial influence — they want you to eat healthy or don’t eat healthy; as long as you eat, they’re happy. So it’s eat, eat, eat.

Now, at NIH, my day was sandwiched between my childcare drop-off and pick-up. So to try to get more work done, I started skipping lunch. One of those days, I also skipped breakfast, which, at the time, felt a little bit sinful. And that shows you how strong the dogma is about breakfast. But that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” thing, that’s advertising, not science.

So anyway, I skipped breakfast, and I noticed that I was less hungry during the day than I’d been when I ate breakfast. So I sinned again, I tried it again, and again, and again, and kept it up, and after a few days of that noticed that that 20 pounds of flab I was carrying felt a little thinner. So I checked on the scale, and sure enough, my weight had dropped. So I kept it up — week after week for 20 weeks, my weight was dropping by a pound per week.

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And the key here is appetite. My appetite had dropped. I wasn’t trying to eat less at this time. My appetite had dropped, so I was eating less and feeling full, having eaten less food. Sounded great to me. And so that was my way of getting rid of that extra 20 pounds.

Fast forward to 2005. My wife tried the same thing — what I called it then was a study of one, I tried it on myself. My wife tried it on herself. She had the same result — the same kind of study of one. In 2005, we wondered, can we share this? Can this work for other people? But there was a problem — calories in, calories out. Timing wasn’t supposed to make a difference. We’re physicians, we know this stuff, right? Why would timing matter? We had no good explanation for that.

So I dove into the scientific literature trying to find out, trying to solve this little mystery. And looking through stuff that dated back to the 1930s, I started seeing how much influence industry had had on our perceptions about diet and eating, and that’s where I learned about things like “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”

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