- Associated Press - Friday, February 20, 2015

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - A North Carolina blogger who writes about nutrition said Friday he feels vindicated in his long-running free speech fight with a state agency over his online posts.

Steve Cooksey sued the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition three years ago after it tried to censor his blog. The agency said it had received a complaint that he provided “nutrition care services” without a license.

But the board this month adopted new guidelines allowing people to give ordinary diet advice without a government license. In return, Cooksey dropped his First Amendment rights lawsuit.

Cooksey said that means his blog will again advocate eating the low-carbohydrate, meat-and-vegetables diet that he says helped save his life.

“I’m happy and excited. This case has helped raise awareness of nutritional guidelines and the battles we have with government intervention,” he said.

The board did not immediately telephone messages Friday. But the agency posted information about its “updated guidelines” on its website.

It said people without a license can dispense “information, guidance, opinions, or encouragement about food, lifestyle, or dietary practices” to the public, or “outside the context of a professional-client relationship.”

“It is the Board’s hope that the revised licensing guidelines will help all North Carolina citizens in better understanding the law,” the agency said.

The ruling means people won’t need the agency’s permission “to give someone ordinary advice,” said Jeff Rowes, senior attorney for the Institute for Justice, a national civil liberties group that filed the lawsuit on Cooksey’s behalf.

“North Carolina cannot require someone like Steve to be a state-licensed dietitian any more than it could require Dear Abby to be a state-licensed psychologist,” he said.

Cooksey, 53, of Stanley, North Carolina, said he was hospitalized in 2009 after his blood sugar spiked. At the time, Cooksey, who works for a medical equipment company, weighed more than 240 pounds. By his own account, he was in bad physical shape, ate poorly and didn’t exercise.

During his hospitalization, he was diagnosed with Type II diabetes - a chronic condition caused by a problem in the way the body makes or uses insulin. Cooksey says he was told by a doctor that he would probably be insulin-dependent for life.

At that point, Cooksey said he began reading as much as possible about diabetes and how it’s affected by exercise and diet.

He decided the healthiest diet was “a high-fat/low-carbohydrate diet of the sort that Stone Age people ate prior to agriculture. This diet is sometimes called a Paleolithic or caveman diet,” he said.

Within a month of reducing his carbohydrate intake, Cooksey said his blood sugar normalized. He says he lost 78 pounds and now weighs 163 pounds.

In early 2010, Cooksey started a website to chronicle his personal transformation. Later that year, he added a “Diabetes Support” life-coaching service, charging a “modest fee” for the advice he had been providing for free to his friends.

Cooskey said he never described himself as a doctor, dietitian or nutritionist. His website’s disclaimer informs readers he has no formal nutritional training.

But the board in January 2012 ordered him to stop providing “nutrition care service without a license.”

Cooksey said he wanted to comply. But then the agency “went through 19 pages” of Cooksey’s online writings with a red pen, indicating on a line-by-line basis what he may and may not say,” the lawsuit said.

He said the state’s action had a chilling effect. Although he never took down his website, his attorneys had to look at every word. “I didn’t want to go to jail,” he said.

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