Low Carb Mavericks

Col. John R. Boyd, USAF, 1927-1997

An Inspirational Story for Low Carb Mavericks:  Col. John Boyd

Dr. Atkins was the first modern Low Carb Maverick.  His low carb diet concept was so radical that he drew fire from every direction – even though he achieved astounding clinical results with his approach.  Low Carb Mavericks have preceded him, such as John Yudkin, who was criticized severely by his critics.  Others have followed Dr. Atkins, such as Gary Taubes and Dr. Robert Rustig who regularly face critics on TV.    There are others who carry on the battle for acceptance of the low carb lifestyle online, such as Jimmy Moore, Tom Naughton and many others.

I’m following in the footsteps of these Mavericks and as I’ve traveled this journey realized that history repeats itself.  In a diametrically opposed field of endeavor there is a story worth mentioning that poses many parallels.  That story is the life of Colonel John Boyd, a USAF fighter pilot who changed the way the US military conducts war.  I’ve included here some parallels in his life to what our Low Carb Mavericks have gone through and will go through in the future.

I highly recommend the book on his life:  Boyd: the Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War.   This biography starts off slowly, but once you get into it you won’t be able to put it down.  It is both an astonishing account of the remarkable changes that Boyd engineered and an inspiring story of a man who put his duty above all else.  John Boyd made a remarkable impact on US military strategy.  He has been publicly praised for his accomplishments by notables such as Vice President Richard B. Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.  The US Marine Corps built a special memorial in his honor.

Low Carb Mavericks, John Boyd and the Art of WarAs a fighter pilot in the Korean War he determined why US pilots were winning air battles with N. Korean pilots who had faster jets and used that concept to design the F-16, arguably the most successful fighter jet the US has ever built.  He created a strategic/tactical concept called the OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) which has also fundamentally changed how we conduct war and even business.  As a result, our military forces in both Iraq wars moved swiftly and flexibly to accomplish surprise on the battle field.  All of Boyd’s changes were opposed at almost every turn by powerful opponents in the military.

A few parallels, among many, you’ll find between John Boyd and our Low Carb Mavericks:

  • They have to stake their reputation on what they believe.  Boyd was clearly in danger of being discharged from the Air Force a number of times.   Our Low Carb Mavericks publicly and explicitly publish their stand on low carb issues with their careers at risk as public opinion changes.
  • Profit motives of powerful people oppose them.  To trim down and form the F-16 into the agile fighter it is today, Boyd had to take on the military-industrial climate of the day that, to keep defense budgets high, demanded heavier and more sophisticated aircraft
  • The forces opposing them often have a simple-minded view of the problem.   Boyd’s OODA Loop concept is that two military forces opposing each other go thru a series of decision-making action loops (OODA Loops) as they engage in combat.  The force that can complete each loop (observe, orient, decide, and act) even a slight bit faster than the other can continually surprise and disorient the other, eventually winning the engagement.   The military authorities at that time had a very simple model – just put more forces in combat to win.   Boyd’s OODA Loop was difficult to sell – but it did eventually and is currently taught to all Marine officers and enlisted men.   For the Low Carb issue, the metabolic interactions of carbohydrates and insulin are not simple or easily explained.  Opponents of the low carb diet generally have simple (but incorrect) explanations for obesity such as overeating, sloth, or dietary fat.  These reasons are easily explained to the public but are neither responsible for obesity nor helpful in doing something about it.
  • The best solutions were often discovered in the past.  When Boyd first looked into improving the US Military’s tactics he discovered dramatic answers in the tactics of German WWII generals (e.g. the Blitzkriegs at the outset of the war).  Dr. Atkins similarly found his answers in the early work of John Yudkin, and even William Banting, who penned the Letter on Corpulence booklet in 1863.

As a closing remark on John Boyd’s character, he was once caught red-handed siphoning off $1 million worth of computer time for one of his projects.  When asked to explain himself he answered, according to the Arlington National Cemetery Website:  “My goal was not personal. My work was for the best interest of the country. I tried to do it the Air Force Way and was refused at every turn.  Then I did it my way.”

This is a commemorative video of John Boyd’s life which covers some of his accomplishments in more detail.

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Joe Lindley

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