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Dr. Michael Eades, who founded the five-year-old Arkansas Center for Health and Weight Control in Little Rock, is also an amateur anthropologist and member of the Paleopathology Association, a national organization of medical professionals and researchers who study the diseases of ancient man. He expects to publish his diet book this fall.

And the roadkill-toting Audette's Neander-thin theories have won praise from professionals. Eades stumbled across Audette's Neander-Thin at a Dallas bookstore in March while visiting his son. He was so impressed with Audette's diet that he returned to Dallas for a book signing to meet the author. The diet, the doctor says, closely resembles one he has prescribed to more than 5,000 overweight patients in the past eight years.

"I kind of like it when people like Ray who are not part of the medical community stumble onto this theory on their own," says Eades.

Audette didn't exactly stumble upon his hunter-gatherer theories. He methodically tracked them down out of desperation. In 1985, at age 33, doctors diagnosed him with diabetes. For Audette, who already had suffered for twelve years with another immune system disorder, rheumatoid arthritis-- which forced him to walk with a cane--the diabetes diagnosis was a crushing blow. He was lethargic and sick all the time, he says, suffering from chronic colds that lasted for months. "I was eating aspirins by the handful until my ears rang," he says. "When they stopped ringing I'd take more."

For both the diabetes and the arthritis, he says the doctors told him the same thing: There was no cure. At 165 pounds at his heaviest, Audette, unlike many diabetics, wasn't obese; therefore, weight loss was not expected to improve his condition. He was facing a lifetime of insulin shots.

Unable to accept the dismal prognosis, Audette says he decided to school himself. At the library, he read up on diabetes and learned that the disease was an immune system disorder. From Eaton's Paleolithic nutrition work in particular, he learned that the disorder first appeared in humans about the same time they discovered agriculture. Eaton has published studies on remains of Paleolithic man purporting to show that almost none of the immune system disorders that afflict modern man, including diabetes and arthritis, were present back then. Studies of modern-day hunter-gatherers living in the African bush, he says, show they have very low serum cholesterol levels and rarely suffer from heart disease. Paleolithic man--if he didn't die from an infection or wasn't eaten by a wild animal--could expect to live a very long life, says Eaton, without many of the disorders that affect us today.

For Audette, who often called researchers to discuss the ideas further, the diet research led to a revelation. "I said to myself, I need to at least try and eat a more natural diet."

He cut out everything from his diet that research showed hunter-gatherers didn't eat, such as flour, grains, milk, butter, sugar and oils. Anything processed, such as luncheon meat, or anything fermented, like vinegar, wine, and beer, were off-limits. Research shows hunter-gatherers didn't eat starches like potatoes, corn, and most beans--probably because they can't be digested raw--so Audette cut those out, too.

Audette expected some positive results, but nothing like he got. Testing his blood at home with a kit from the pharmacy, Audette says that within a week of starting his diet his blood sugar levels were normal, indicating the diabetes had ceased. As he stayed with meats and off grains, Audette's blood levels stayed constant, no matter when he tested himself, he says. Within a month, the arthritis that had plagued him for 12 years was gone too, he claims.

Although he was never overweight, the six-foot Audette went from about 165 to 145 pounds. The fat seemed to dissolve from his body while muscle tone improved. "All of a sudden it seemed as if I was growing muscle," he says. His concentration and energy level improved; his hair, which had been rapidly thinning, stopped falling out.

"It was such a dramatic change," he says. "It wasn't just a change from what I had been a few months before, it was a change from what I had been my whole life."

"I kind of became obsessed with the diet," he admits, extolling its benefits to anyone who would listen.

Nowadays, Ray Audette eats eggs and bacon for breakfast. He eats great slabs of red meat for lunch and dinner. He snacks on walnuts and berries. Audette is lean and muscular--he claims to have only 5.2 percent body fat--despite eating about a pound of meat and almost 3,000 calories a day.

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Rebecca Sherman