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December 26, 2008

Taubes, Contra-Taubes, More

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* Here's an hour-long video of a presentation that Gary ("Good Calories, Bad Calories") Taubes has been doing around the country. It conveys a good chunk of what he has to say in his book.

* Thanks to visitor Bill for pointing out this Michael Fumento anti-Taubes article. Taubes responds here. Fumento responds to Taubes' response.

* Jenny shoots down what sounds like a particularly stupid recent study about diabetes and diet.

* Stephan thinks that vegetable oils have played a big role in increasing obesity levels. More and more -- it's a great set of postings, and the comments on them are first-rate too. Get to know the abbreviation PUFA.

* Dr. William Davis has a hunch that a grassroots rebellion against statin drugs may be taking shape, and wonders why hospital dieticians are so often so fat.

* 10 things your gym probably won't tell you.

* Jimmy Moore notices that Krispy Kreme, Wonder Bread, and Hostess Twinkies are all struggling financially, and interviews the brilliant economist and eating/exercise guru Arthur De Vany.

* Being a vegan hasn't made Bijou Phillips a happy camper. "I'm sick and I've been sick four times since I've been vegan," she says, "and I hadn't been sick for five years before that."

* Tracy takes a look at the zero-carb diet. Funny to learn that it's also known as the FUMP -- as in "f-u Michael Pollan" -- diet.

* The recently-deceased World's Oldest Person loved bacon and eggs.



posted by Michael at December 26, 2008


All the talk about good calories and bad calories obscures the only rule that really matters: consume fewer calories (in whatever form) than you expend, and you will lose weight. About one pound will be lost for each 3,500-calorie deficit. This is basic physiology and applies to everyone.

Posted by: Peter on December 26, 2008 9:34 PM

That darn second law of thermodynamics!

Low carb diets work, when they do, if they help you eat less by avoiding blood sugar crashes with the concomitant cravings and calorie-binges. Manage your insulin and you manage your appetite and energy levels...and off goes the weight. But you don't repeal the fundamental physical laws of the universe.

Nobody can do that. Not even me. Not even at Christmas time.

Posted by: PatrickH on December 27, 2008 9:06 AM


You might want to check out the video (which I really enjoyed BTW), as it argues directly against the simple thermodynamic viewpoint being informative. The basic, argument is that while thermodynamics is true, hormonal regulation mechanisms balance energy input and energy output. So if fewer calories are consumed the body uses less energy, to maintain balance. 'Bad' calories raise insulin levels which disrupt the hormonal regulation.

Posted by: ben on December 27, 2008 2:44 PM

While Peter's comment is true, it's largely unhelpful because it gets the causation backwards; many people don't get fat because they overeat, they overeat because they're getting fat.

That is, it's hormonal balances that signal the body to eat more, lower the metabolism, and be less active. By eating less carbs you can balance out you insulin levels, which results in you feeling less hungry and eating less. I wasn't even trying to lose weight, but since reading Taubes i've lowered my carb intake (thanks Micheal) and ended up losing ten lbs. over the holidays.

Posted by: Zetji on December 27, 2008 9:53 PM

Thanks for the links and especially the video. I was familiar with the alternative hypothesis before, but the Taubes video lays everything out as clearly as possible.

On another note, I've lost 10% of my body weight since June. My secret? Weighing myself and making my daily measurements my home page both at home and at work (apparently though this method is criticized by some). Also, eliminating frozen dinners, pizza and most fast food; also eating lots of frozen blueberries (which are delicious).

Posted by: Robert Nagle on December 28, 2008 10:08 AM

I've lost a lot of weight in the past 9 months, and eaten low carbs for 20 of my 21 meals a week. If I get too hungry, I'll cut off a small piece of parmesan cheese or eat some prociutto. Hey, what do you want, I'm half Italian.)

The key 21st meal is my 'cheat meal', in which I eat whatever I want (and in whatever quantity I want; for an hour I mostly devour pate, several varieties of cheese, good crackers and flatbread, handfuls of grapes and wash them down with tawny port wine...yum!) This takes care of carb cravings, a problem that screwed up some previous weight loss efforts of mine, without actually seeming to impact the weight loss in any way.

I also manage my calories, aiming for 1200-1500 a day. I've managed roughly 2.5 pounds weight loss a week for the duration of my current effort. Of course, I'm also getting a lot more exercise these days, working out with a trainer 3 times a week and either walking or rowing in addition.

During this time, I've had two blood workups done and everything (blood pressure, cholesterol readings, you name it) has improved, so I don't think what I'm doing is in any way harmful.

If you're like me, the low-carb thing is a comfortable, very blood-sugar stabilizing way to eat, and combined with calorie reduction is a very effective way to lose weight.

On the specific topic at hand, I've always wondered at the extreme hostility expressed toward low carb diets; there has always seemed to be something more political than scientific about the contempt heaped up on a technique that I know works for me (when I can summon the willpower to make it work, a problem made trivial by the cheat meal.) It's especially weird in that I've never heard low-carb enthusiasts use such vitriol to excommunicate calorie reduction diets or any alternative diets. There may be exceptions, but mostly low-carb-ites confine themselves to pointing out that low carb diets are particularly helpful for the minority of the population that over-produces insulin in response to sugar in the bloodstream. I'm saddened, but not at all surprised, at the attacks on Taubes.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on December 28, 2008 12:38 PM

Can only add that protein is the key for me. I was so busy over the last few days that I lived off a single very large Spanish omelette: so filling and sustaining, you can't get that kind of bang-for-calorie from starch. And I haven't forgotten the high-carb follies of the eighties, when I watched good athletes age prematurely over their bowls of rolled oats and pasta.

I'm keeping protein at the centre of my plate, the butter and olive-oil will continue to ooze; on the other hand, I won't be panicked into carb-phobia. The main foods I try to avoid are avoidance-foods. That means anything called Lite, Lo-fat, Low GI; anything "free" of anything (sugar, fat, etc); anything that implies a sympathy vote for the planet-thingy so beloved of that Rabelaisian glutton, Gore; and any chemical gunk such as margarine or rice-milk that badly mimics a proper foodstuff. I refuse to boycott any foods, but do try to avoid paying a premium for anything marked as Organic or Fair Trade or GM-free (which really should be marked "Bureacracy-Rich".)

It's not that such products aren't sometimes handy: it's just that I want to reduce the amount of piety, phobia and intellectualism in my pantry.

Posted by: Robert Townshend on December 28, 2008 4:10 PM

On the specific topic at hand, I've always wondered at the extreme hostility expressed toward low carb diets; there has always seemed to be something more political than scientific about the contempt

It could be that some of the Atkins devotees have been a little cult-ish. That's the sort of behavior than can alienate others.

Posted by: Peter on December 28, 2008 5:42 PM

Perhaps, Peter. But the hatred felt by Ornish and his followers for Atkins was, IMO, exactly analogous to the hatred felt by the kind of thin-lipped, thin-blooded, runny-nosed pico-humoured pleasure-haters who have always loathed and feared the juicy, greasy, meaty, the big and bold and proteiny, anything and everything fatty and lush and luscious and voluptuous and goody yummy sexy yeah.

Especially that last word: yeah. Yes. Atkins is hated not because of what it says no to, but what it says YES to--that it dares to say YES at all, let alone in such a big bold capitalized way.

Bluenoses like Ornish have always hated the word yes. Makes their sphincters clench in outrage. And their sphincters haven't unclenched since Taubes published "What if...?" and invited people to say yes after bluenose-dominated decades of saying nonono.

I have a name for the Ornishes and other dietary bluenoses: the NoNos. That type always has hate to go around. Well NoNos, a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year and a great big YES to you all!

Posted by: PatrickH on December 28, 2008 7:22 PM

As a cultureguy, I'm struck by parallels between the low-fat advocacy world and our higher-culture authorities. Ornish (et al) equals the literary/ poetry / visual-arts/ architecture/etc establishments. All of them devoted to "difficult" and "good for you" at the expense of "easy," "rewarding" and "satisfying." Hey, the title of Taubes' original article would make a good subhead for our blog: "What If It's All Been a Big, Fat Lie?" Only where culture goes.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 29, 2008 3:28 AM

Actually, the low carb people do tend to be pretty hostile towards carb lovers. Read the Protein Power site or similar sites sometimes. They're filled with anecdotes from commentators by how sick, haggard, fat, etc., the low fat diet followers are.

It's like a religious war. You notice when the other side attacks you. You discount your own side's attacks on the other.

Posted by: as on December 29, 2008 1:46 PM

Okay, I'm ditching the "MD" for good. It was a stupid blog handle and there are a ton of people who use it, which makes threads problematic.

So, anyway, I love Michael Fumento's response to his hate e-mail. It's hilariously mean.

Posted by: onparkstreet on December 29, 2008 8:06 PM

I loved Taubes response to Fumento. It was one of the most thorough and well-done internet counter punches I've ever seen.

Fumento later accused Reason of caving when they ran Taubes reply, threatened legal action, and was shot down by a reply from Reason editor Nick Gillespie that more or less called him crazy.

One part of Fumento's critique that did seem damning, the NWCR stuff, has failed to stand the test of time. The NWCR published a very interesting study in October 2007 about low-carbers who had managed to keep the weight off for 5+ years. The abstract is available from their website. Notice the calorie gap between the low-carbers and the high-carbers. The low-carbers seem to eat about 500 calories more per day, and exercise 500 calories less per day, for the same maintenance results.

Posted by: Thras on December 30, 2008 12:44 PM

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