How to eat yourself well – the rise of the ‘micropowers’


By Marika Sboros

Can you eat yourself sick? Of course, you can. Knowing how is liberating because if you can eat yourself sick, you can also eat yourself well. “Micropowers” show you the way. Ask Australian former corporate high-flyer Louise Stephen.

Stephen is author of Eating Ourselves Sick. The subtitle says it all: How modern food is destroying our health. She was just 33 when a life-threatening auto-immune disease abruptly ended her career. A kidney transplant allowed her to stick around to write this important book.

Australian “recovering corporate lawyer” David Gillespie sums it up well on the book’s front cover. Gillespie is author of, among others, Sweet Poison and Toxic Oils. He says that Stephen has made a “powerful, no-holds-barred demolition of Big Food”. She “dissects the profit motive that has filled our food supply with toxic oils and sugar”.

She also shows us how money destroys our health, Gillespie says.

In it, Stephen documents the rise of “micropowers”. These are are “digital Davids” that challenge once-dominant mega-players in all fields of human endeavour. They also counteract the insidious influence of food and drug industries on dietary advice.

Stephen has written an intriguing book that is the fruits of conventional medicine that saved her life and restored her health. However, it did not impress her much with its offerings thereafter.

Doctors told her that the autoimmune disease was just “bad luck”. Luckily for Stephen, she didn’t buy that.  Ditto when a doctor said that her condition was genetic,  that she was “born this way”.

Body turning on itself

Those explanations were “casual” and “didn’t add up”, she writes. She also wanted to know how her body could suddenly turn on itself. And how to stop the attacks at source.

Stephen has experienced the body’s hyper-intelligence firsthand. She also understands the extraordinary lengths to which the body goes to survive. She, therefore, wasn’t prepared to continue lifestyle habits that almost killed her. Thus, began her remarkable journey into nutrition science.

To prepare for the journey, Stephen did intensive research into the environment. That helped her to understand the role of environment in the explosive, global growth of chronic disease. A seminal book on her journey was the classic Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A Price. Almost 80 years after publication, Price’s fears for population health have proved prescient.

Scientifically, Stephen goes over some old ground in this book. She also takes the reader on vital new pitstops towards improved health. My favourite is on the rise of micropowers and the work of internationally syndicated columnist Moisés Naím. Naím is a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former World Bank executive director.

He documented micropowers in an extraordinary book in 2013: The End of Power. Naim The Financial Times  called it: “a fascinating account of the way states, corporations and traditional interest groups are finding it harder to defend their redoubts.”

Click here to read: Why Big Food loves dietitians


Stephen shows intuitive understanding of micropowers in her book. Micropowers derive strength from exploiting rivals’ weaknesses,  she says. They are bad news all round for the Goliaths in food and drug industries and traditional health authorities. Micropowers sabotage messages that traditional diet “experts” and their corporate connections preach.

Another new wellness path that Stephen identifies is “antifragility”. US former trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb coined the term in 2012. Taleb is a professor of engineering at New York University. He is also author of Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder.

Taleb says that the “antifragile” person is curious, takes risks, “fails small” and “fails fast”. He makes the case for “antifragile tinkering”. He views it through the prism of ancestral behaviour. Taleb says that antifragility is “beyond resilience or robustness”.

Stephen takes the concept and runs with it. If mass medicine is fragile (and inflicts fragility on others), the shift towards wellness is antifragile, she says. If the modern food-pyramid-style diet is fragile, “nutrigenomics” is antifragile. (I wouldn’t have used an “if” to begin either of those statements). Nutrigenomics is the scientific study of the interaction of nutrition and genes.

It has a special focus on nutrition to prevent or treat disease. Thus, it builds a diet based on individual genetic profile, Stephen says. And as part of personalised medicine, nutrigenomics becomes antifragility in action.

Where Big Tobacco left off

Stephen explores who and what makes so many people fat and sick. She also shows how Big Food has picked up where Big Tobacco left off. Stephen identifies Big Food’s skillful, cynical marketing to encourage greater intake of processed food. And she looks at how food and drink industries profit from “commodification” and “toxication” of food supplies.

Stephen endorses the benefits of low-carbohydrate, high-fat, or rather, healthy-fat, (LCHF) lifestyles. Consequently, she says that fats were “never the enemy”. Sugar and other processed, refined carbs were – and are – the real health demons. She also covers all bases by reminding the reader that “one diet does not fit all”.

(Editor’s note: I have amended the review referring to the forward after a reader’s contribution.) Sydney consultant cardiologist Dr Ross Walker has written a foreword to the book. Walker says that experts have “bombarded” the public with the low-fat diet message. There has also been an explosion of pharmaceutical drugs for “all manner of diseases”. Despite this, people have grown fatter and sicker around the world.

That much certainly is true and this has spawned the marked increased in diabesity (the medical term for twin conditions of obesity and diabetes). The biggest problem, says Walker, is that modern humans are “living against (their) physiology”. By that, he means living against how their hunter-gatherer forefathers lived.

Feasts of the kill

Ancient humans had “feasts of the kill” followed by famines of food and fluid, Walker says. Therefore, they had to keep moving to find food in natural, harsh environments. These days, humans have constant feasts with much less movement, he says. They are also exposed to synthetic chemicals and varying sources of electromagnetic radiation.

He identifies three major groups that have made billions from chronic disease.  Like Stephen, he fingers the usual suspects: medical and pharmaceutical industries and multinational food companies. However, Walker says these are not the only guilty parties.

People are their own worst enemies. They indulge in forms of addictive behaviour, including drug taking and sedentary working and lifestyles, Walker says. I interpreted the latter to mean that Walker makes the case for the largely discredited CICO (calories-in, calories-out) model – that obesity is from gluttony and sloth. I saw that as a weakness in the forward and thus, the beginning of the book. However, a reader says that would be an “overreach”.



Still, I would have preferred Walker to make it clearer that CICO does not apply. CICO is still rampant in orthodox medical and dietetic circles. Consequently,  it is likely the reason for much that is not helpful in conventional dietary advice.

Power of personal experience

At heart, Stephen’s personal experience is the book’s motivating power. She also says that she may never really know the exact cause of her disease. And that having a life-threatening illness drove her to know more about her health.



  1. I have this book and I just don’t see any CICO model mentioned by Ross Walker in the foreword. Walker does say we are overeating – and this is true enough. Perhaps you’ve read something I hvaen’t. Or perhaps you’ve read something else.

    • Hi Peter, you are quite right, he doesn’t say so in so many words. It is my interpretation of what he said. He argues that people are eating too much, having sedentary working lives and not moving as much as they used to. You are also quite right that that is true in many cases, of course. Overeating and under-moving are shown not to be the main reasons for obesity, diabetes. Couch potatoes don’t have to put on weight. Of course, that’s also not saying it’s fine to be a couch potato. My research shows that exercise is essential for overall health, just not great weight loss and diabetes prevention tool.

      • He actually does not mention so in ANY words. He says “the general public continues to practise many forms of addictive or habitual behaviour, including overeating, using legal and illegal drugs, doing sedentary jobs and following sendentary lifestyles”. All these are largely true. But nowhere in the foreword (nor does the book, as far as I have read so far) does NOT link these activities (or lack of them) to obesity or diabetes. Your comment in your review of the book says:

        “Walker makes the case for the largely discredited CICO (calories-in, calories-out) obesity (sic) model of obesity. That’s a pity because it weakens his argument and the beginning of Stephen’s book.”

        is therefore incorrect and misleading. Your interpretation is, to my mind, simply an overreach. That is to say, Walker does not make the case for a discredited CiCO model of obesity, and you may have misled your readers (who may not have read the book) but who repeat the claim that the foreword makes the case for CICO. Walker says: “the real problem is the modern human is that we are living against our physiology, which is basically that of a hunter-gatherer.” – hardly the comment of a CICO advocate. Walker asks us to challenge the collective (nutritional) wisdom and to question much of the accepted dogma. (I really think you should change your review.)

  2. It’s a pity that the foreword is stuck in the CICO model that has held us back for so long. According to this theory western societies suddenly got greedy and lazy in the 1970s. Really? How did that happen?

    Of course most readers here will think it might have something to do with the complete reversal of our dietary guidelines. From the 1820s – 1970s all dietary guidance in English warned against the over consumption of carbohydrates. For example, in 1963 the British Journal of Nutrition stated, “Every woman knows carbohydrates are fattening, this is a piece of common knowledge, which few nutritionists would dispute.” (Quoted by Gary Taubes).

    In the 1980s we did a full and sudden reversal: carbs were in and fat was out because it supposedly caused heart disease. This change was made with the sole aim of reducing heart disease. It had nothing whatsoever to do with obesity and diabetes, which both accelerated rapidly and eventually became the problems we see today.

    The medical profession mostly has little idea that the current low-fat othodoxy is a blip in our history. It will in time be in a similar medical category to bloodletting and miasma. Only pharma and junk food are keeping this stupidity artificially alive, along with the dumb, compromised friends in public health.

    • When my mother was young some people still called dieting “Banting” the first time around. From then until when I was young “everyone knew” that if you wanted to lose weight you cut back on sugars and especially starches. In all that time there were few fat people, and especially children, and ironically it was often blamed on “glands”. Not many diabetics or other metabolically ill people either – and of course diabetes was treated with a low carb diet.

      Now it’s getting to where the thin kid in class is the anomaly, and the majority of the population is either fat or ill or both. And we are just starting to see the inevitable rise in Alzheimers.

      Many doctors and researchers, and most dieticians, are too young to remember when this was the case, and too blinded to realise the massive flaw in the logic that the reason for all the obesity and disease is that actually no-one is following their low fat recommendations. Obviously for millennia we ate low fat diets, right up until they were invented, then we suddenly stopped. How can grownups actually believe that?

      • Chris, I agree. My children don’t notice overweight and obese people as I do. It’s the new norm for them. I advise people to look at family pictures from their grandparents’ time. Fat people simply aren’t there to be seen. Look at well-fed pictures of soldiers in the Second World War and you see men who would now be called ‘skinny’.

        Even in my childhood, fat kids were rare. The few that did exist were the overly indulged children of daft, rich parents, who ate lots of sweet stuff and strange, exotic foods like pasta.

        According to a NHS report quoted in The Times, 48% of parents who have obese children thought their children were the right weight. For just overweight children, the number of parents who thought they were the right weight was 91%. Nine out of ten parents can’t tell their children are overweight! The Chief Medical Officer expressed her shock.

        Shockingly, 20% of children starting primary school, aged four or five, are overweight or obese. That rises to 33% when moving on to upper school, aged just eleven. One in five eleven year olds is obese.

        This is the world the low-fat diet and dimwit dietitians have given to us. In the 1960s there were very few gyms, and even fewer dietitians, and the population was overwhelmingly slim.

        • Some of my mother’s other observations – there might be at most one Type 1 diabetic (and often none) and one or two kids with asthma or allergies in the entire school.

          A clueful consultant I knew back in the early eighties observed that what were considered to be “genetic” diseases, for example gallstones and Crohn’s, were not only becoming commoner but changing in incidence, so some environmental factor(s) must be driving the gene expression. In retrospect he had also discovered “metabolic syndrome” before or around the same time as Gerald Reaven, but the times being what they were he blamed all of this on (saturated) fat. If he was still alive I suspect he might have modified his beliefs in the light of current developments – would that many others in the medical field could make observations rather than regurgitate dogma.

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