Smokescreens, lies and marketing bull…
There is a lot of disingenuous, deceitful and totally misleading information being promoted online in the name of so-called healthy living.
Let’s start with a hypothetical example.
Imagine a bodybuilder who built a huge, powerful, heavily-muscular physique over a period of years taking anabolic steroids, growth hormone and weekly testosterone shots. After a decade of this, he quits all the drugs and goes clean. Six months later he does a photo shoot and interview for a magazine, posing his huge muscles and claiming “See what clean, natural bodybuilding looks like!” and the interview is full of talk about how he is ‘clean’ and doesn’t take steroids. The interview conveniently neglects to talk about his decade taking steroids, and focuses instead on how he is ‘natty’ or ‘clean’ and doesn’t use drugs. The interview implores young lifters reading that they too can look like this guy if they lift hard and stay away from steroids.
Of course, the ‘stay away from drugs’ message is great, but the article is bullshit, outright lies. The guy is promoted as ‘clean’ when his physique was built on a decade of steroid use, and there is no way other lifters could ever reach his size without the same level of ‘chemical enhancement’ that he used.
Now, this is a hypothetical example, but the reality is that these disingenuous marketing tricks are used in diet and health promotion every day. You might say ‘sure but what harm is it doing…promoting the no drugs message is good, so why not let it be?’ and of course I would agree that promoting the ‘no drugs’ message is good. But that same magazine packs every other page with adverts for protein shakes and other supplements, selling these products to readers who want to emulate the physiques they see in the articles. It’s selling false promises, in my opinion.
No smoke without fire
If someone smoked for 40 years, then felt rough one day and decided to quit, then three years later was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer…well, would you blame the smoking? Right, of course you would. He or she may not have been puffing on a cigarette during the 15 minutes before being told the fatal diagnosis, but anyone can see the 40 years of smoking, despite the three years they quit, is the likely underlying cause.
Yet we see this flawed logic being used every day to promote certain diets, lifestyles, supplements and so on.
Let’s check out a great real life example.
The vegan bodybuilder
In 2014 PETA, the sometimes-infamously-aggressive People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (as it goes, I am very much in favour of treating animals ethically) started using a vegan bodybuilder by the name of Jim Morris to advertise the health benefits of a vegan lifestyle.
They photographed his lean, muscular 77-yr old physique and made posters proclaiming “Muscle your way to better health: go vegan.” Their own blog boasts “PETA’s newest ad urging people to go vegan to improve their health and increase their life expectancy.”
They released these posters (there was more than one as I recall) with a Press Release claiming “Jim Morris Builds Muscle and Beats Old Age With Plant-Based Meals” - that is a direct claim that he built muscle eating a vegan diet.
Yet, if we read Jim Morris’s own words, we find a slightly different story.
Rest in Peace
Sadly, at this point, I should note that Jim Morris passed away, aged 80, in January 2016, approximately two years after the PETA posters were released.
I wish to make it clear that I totally respect Jim Morris, I read his blog extensively and he was a gentleman and a real character, he had a fantastic career as a bodybuilder and his passing is a sad loss.
In the context of this article, I want to be clear that I don’t think Jim Morris was ever disingenuous, and his quotes used by PETA seem to me to be 100% honest and on the level. My issue is with how his image was used and promoted, as an example of veganism, suggesting that his looks were achieved thanks to a vegan diet.
Jim used to blog at http://www.gymmorris.com and luckily I have a cached version of some of his blogs. Since his passing, his blog site is now gone, so I am afraid you won’t be able to visit the site yourself now, you will have to take the quotes I give you on trust.
PETA promote images of his body with claims he “builds muscle and beats old age” because he’s a vegan.
This is not true.
In an October 2007 interview with David Young for Iron Man magazine in the US, Jim said -
JM (Jim Morris): The desiccated liver…although it was not tasty it did improve my physique.
DY (David Young, the interviewer): Wait a minute, Jim, how much desiccated liver did you take?
JM: I’ve never been one to measure anything in my intake-calories, grams, anything. I’m pretty sure it would have been considered a lot. My guess would be about a half-pound a day. At one point I was taking several hands full of liver pills a day. But that was not at the same time I was taking the powder in the drink.
Making shakes with desiccated liver doesn’t sound very vegan to me!
More from Jim:
JM: Looking back on my diet now I wonder how I ever won anything. My favorite meal during that period was a pound of ground beef, which I would brown in a large frying pan, add in a large can of Campbell’s Chunky Minestrone Soup, heat and eat. Some days I would have this two or three times. Most of the other meals were KFC buckets of 15 or 20 pieces, extra crispy or BBQ, of which I would just eat until I couldn’t breathe. The tuna drink was health food compared to this. For me contest prep was cutting out the pastries.
Three pounds of beef per day! Buckets of KFC chicken every day! Liver drinks and “tuna drinks”!!!
This is a long way from a vegan diet!
Here’s another segment from the same interview - sorry for the long newsletter today, but this is well worth a read, it’s a fascinating insight into the hardcore and often unhealthy world of elite bodybuilding:
DY: I have a funny story that I’ve posted on Ironage.us about how I read an article by you when I was just starting out as a teenager. You talked about tuna shakes with desiccated liver powder, so into the kitchen I went and mixed one up. I chugged it down and about three seconds later I projectile vomited the whole mess all over my parents kitchen.
JM: Ah yes, my famous tuna drink. I think that drink will be my legacy in the minds of most whenever my name is mentioned. One day I found myself unable to swallow a mouthful of tuna, after years and years and can after can of tuna. It just would not go down. Some years before I had mastered the art of pouring a quart of milk down my throat without actually swallowing as many college students can with beer. Determined to get that tuna down, I put it in the blender. The rest is history. The drink went through many transformations in the years following, finally ending up with peanut flour replacing the tuna and raw fruits and veggies replacing the liver as I became a vegan. Although I must admit I do have the ability to stomach things most people cannot. I do not use any seasoning at all on my foods now. No salt, pepper, nothing. My taste buds have readjusted to where I enjoy the taste of the food itself with no flavoring.
DY: Well the tuna shake thing was certainly memorable. It did give me a good understanding about the level of commitment it takes to become a champion. [Both laugh]
Downing can after can of tuna. Guzzling quarts of milk. Tuna in a blender?
This diet is a long way from vegan!
And I have one final share from this interview:
JM: Consider that leading up to the Mr. A I was dealing with a completely different body than I have now. I was 36, half my current age, in heavy training, taking lots of steroids, living in the Hollywood Hills, training in Pasadena, both very warm to freaky hot. And the goal of my diet was to build as much muscle as quickly as possible along with losing as much fat as quickly as possible.
DY: Okay, Jim, back up. You said back when you were competing you were taking “lots of steroids.” I’ve found that the dosages back then were nothing compared to today. Can you tell us what was a typical weekly dosage back then?
JM: I had the great good fortune to have a close friend who was a doctor who was willing to administer my steroid program and monitor my bodily functions on a regular basis. I got 200 milligrams of testosterone and 150 milligrams of Deca Durabolin a week and took 10 milligrams of…
OK, enough, you get the picture.
I have nothing against Jim Morris, God rest his soul, I just want you to understand something.
In his competitive days, Jim Morris looked like this.
And as he aged, he looked like this.
(Please note, images may be subject to copyright.)
There is no doubt the man was in fantastic shape at every age. But you can see his overall size, his total muscle mass, declined steadily from his late 40s til his late 70s. He clearly lost muscle mass form age 61 to 71, after switching to veganism at age 65.
PETA are being entirely disingenuous to suggest he “builds muscle” as a vegan. He clearly (as should naturally be expected of an ageing man who is not taking supplementary testosterone) loses muscle mass as he ages.
It might be true to say that Jim Morris is heavily muscular, especially for his age, “and he is” a vegan.
But it’s certainly not “because he is” a vegan.
He build his size on a diet of anabolic steroids, testosterone shots, beef, chicken, tuna, milk and liver.
Switching to vegetarianism at age 50, and to veganism at age 65 may have helped him to feel healthier in older age, after all those years of steroids and heavy training, but again we have to ask, how much were his health improvements due to adopting a plant-based diet, and how much were his health improvements due to stopping taking performance enhancing drugs (that’s called ‘cheating’ in most sports today!) and eating a 20-piece bucket of KFC every day!
Ultimately, life expectancy for a man in the USA is 79, and sadly Jim passed away at 80. It’s not entirely true to say his vegan lifestyle promoted any kind of life extension or particular longevity.
PETA promote images of his body with claims he “builds muscle and beats old age” because he’s a vegan.
This is disingenuous. Nothing against Jim Morris and his memory, it’s just not true to claim that he looked the way he did because he ate a vegan diet. His diet from age 65 to 80 neither helped him build any muscle nor helped him ‘beat’ old age.
I have not ‘picked on’ Jim Morris here, PETA picked on Jim Morris promoting nude images of him as a poster-boy for veganism. I have total respect for Jim Morris, but I do not respect any marketing in the diet, health and wellness sector that uses lies, misinformation, pseudoscience or outright bullshit to promote a biased agenda, or to sell questionable supplements.
This is a very prevalent trend in the health and fitness world. I see examples of this every day, especially on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. Beware these fitness stars, ultra-athletes and others ascribing their own results to their Paleo diet or their vegan lifestyle or their drug-free choices. All too often, there is a back story behind the facade that paints a very different picture.
Keep your bullshit-sensors on high alert!
Sorry for the long one today, well done for sticking it out! I hope you found it worth reading!
To your good health!