Science and carbs - A big fat lie revisited

Yesterday's episode of Quirks and Quarks (the national science radio programme of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) featured an interview with Gary Taubes, an investigative science journalist whose new book, Good Calories, Bad Calories attacks the idea of low-fat, high-exercise dieting as scientifically unsound and unsupported by empirical research, tracing the idea back to a nutritional fad that arose 50 years ago. Before this, all over the world, everyone knew that the way to gain weight was to eat lots of starchy and sweet food. Taubes wrote the seminal New York Times article on the Atkins diet, What if it's All Been a Big Fat Lie in 2002 -- an article that inspired me to switch to a high-protein, low-carb diet and lose 80 pounds in a year.

Good Calories, Bad Calories expands on the article in great depth, looking into the credible scientific studies on weight and carbohydrates, and, from the sounds of things, makes a compelling case for the idea that the obesity epidemic can be laid at the feet of the precept that weight loss is best accomplished by eliminating fat and replacing it with starch.

I found the high-protein diet hard to sustain after three years -- I was getting bored, and I was conscious of the fact that subsisting principally on meat meant that I was indirectly consuming tons of grain and water for ever pound of steak I ate. These days, I still eat low-carb (no starch, grain, or sugar), but try to get the bulk of my calories from fruits and vegetables -- tons of them, more-or-less on the Eat to Live plan -- with lots of beans and tofu and a little fish now and then. That seems to sustain my weight just as well as Atkins did, but without the meat.

For the last thirty years, medical advice on obesity has been very clear. Eat less and exercise. But what if that was all wrong, a big fat lie, as Gary Taubes would put it? Mr. Taubes is an award- winning science writer based in New York, and in his latest book, Good Calories, Bad Calories, he explores the history of diet and exercise advice from the late nineteenth century until the present. According to his research, eating fatty foods doesn't lead to heart disease, cholesterol levels aren't something to worry about, and exercise doesn't help you lose weight. In fact, according to Mr. Taubes, everything the medical profession advocates, in terms of eating and exercise, is at best a waste of time, and at worst, may actually be killing us. He says it isn't fat we should be worrying about, but instead carbohydrates, especially white flour and white sugar. He thinks the current obesity epidemic, the rising levels of diabetes, even cancer and Alzheimer's disease, may all be a result of our modern diet of carbs and sugars.
Link, Link to "Good Calories, Bad Calories", Quirks and Quarks podcast feed


  1. “In fact, according to Mr. Taubes, everything the medical profession advocates, in terms of eating and exercise, is at best a waste of time, and at worst, may actually be killing us.”

    I’m curious how he demonstrates that exercise is a waste of time or is bad for you. There is very little about your weight or health that is not improved by exercise.

  2. (Okay I’m lazy and haven’t looked up the articles in question) But I’m curious how he justifies this argument when looking at traditional asian diets which tend to be based on large portions of rice and are characterized by slenderness?

  3. This is another case of a whackjob leaning towards the opposite end of the spectrum. Yes, a low fat diet isn’t the best way to lose way, especially since carbs offer a huge anabolic boost upon absorption (mainly through the effects of insulin).

    Eating less carbs and especially processed carbs does have a positive effect on weight loss. However, touting that “everything the medical profession advocates, in terms of eating and exercise is at best a waste of time, and at worst, may actually be killing us” is downright moronic.

    By all means, do not develop a better muscular profile by doing sports, do not rev up your metabolism by lifting weights or sprinting, do not stretch your muscles so that you end up with the superb mobility of a geriatric rock.

    Indeed, losing weight is a bit more complex than calorie intake = calorie usage, but it still remains the fundamental basic rule of weight loss. After all, you can’t beat thermodynamics just by making a wish.

  4. Cory, anyone who says “cholesterol levels aren’t something to worry about,” has fallen off the deep end. There is very good data to support the reverse hypothesis.

    What he talks about in his podcast is definitely true; good studies on diet are hard to come by. He comes up with this semi-conspiratorial argument of why this has happened, but the reality is that these studies aren’t done because the are _very_ hard to do. Observational studies are essentially worthless, and decent controlled ones are pretty much impossible.

    What _is_ known is that high cholesterol is correlated with heart disease, and cholesterol lowering medications lower cholesterol _and_ heart disease. This information lead some people to suppose that lowering fat intake would _also_ be good. This was never really proven and probably isn’t true, but there isn’t any data the proves Atkins is better for your heart either.

  5. …the idea of low-fat, high-exercise dieting as scientifically unsound and unsupported by empirical research, tracing the idea back to a nutritional fad that arose 50 years ago. Before this, all over the world, everyone knew that the way to gain weight was to eat lots of starchy and sweet food.

    Gee, I guess someone forgot to tell the sumo wrestlers that…

  6. One of the interesting things about diet and exercise research is that different people can have radically different effects from exercise depending on their personal genetics.

    For example, the large HERITAGE study headed up by Claude Bouchard tried putting six hundred people through the same exercise program and measured the physiological results. There were huge differences in how much benefit different people got from the exact same program: some people lost a lot of weight and got a lot fitter, others didn’t lose “so much as a gram” of fat or get even the tiniest bit of extra endurance. If you were to look at the results in average, you might conclude that exercise is a little bit effective for everyone. But that’s a statistical illusion: in fact, it’s super effective for some individuals and completely ineffective for others (and in between for the rest).

    So, the same principle quite likely applies to the rest of human nutrition. There may not be a specific one-size-fits-all diet; instead it might be the case that individuals with a genetic allele A gain more weight from carbs, while genetic allele B ditches carbs but stores fat.

  7. Whatever happened to a balanced diet and a reasonable amount of exercise…

    Do we really all have to be extremists?

  8. Having listened to it, I am now quite confused as to why he even mentions sumo wrestlers. They eat chanko nabe. That’s what they eat. Everyone knows that’s what they eat. If you walk up to a sumo guy on the street (just follow your nose–they use this awful, 1950s-style pomade in their hair) and say, “hey there, sumo-guy, what do you eat,” he’ll say “chanko nabe, duh.”

    I imagine. I haven’t actually tried it. Don’t intend to.

    But anyway, it’s a soup made of meat and fish and vegetables. Where are the carbs?

    While I won’t buy that fat and meat are terrible for you, and certainly won’t buy the ridiculous nonsense about dairy, I also won’t buy that carbs are bad for you. The answer to the question “what should I eat” is right there in your mouth already:

    Incisors for cutting through fibrous vegetation.

    Canines for tearing tough meat.

    Molars for grinding hard grains.

    That’s what you should eat. Note you have more molars than anything, and only 4 canines. Eat plants mostly, and some meat. Don’t sit around on your ass all day. You don’t have to go to the gym every day, but don’t sit around either.

    Live in moderation, and you’ll have a moderate figure. You won’t be ripped and you won’t be fat. You’ll be somewhere in between.

  9. If you eat less calories then you use up, and avoid too much fat and sugar(which are the building blocks of fat cells, I don’t care what this guy tells you), you will lose weight.


    Now, in terms of diet, that means, if you exercise enough to expel the energy(calories) that you consumed, your body will eat it’s own fat to compensate. If you avoid fat and sugar, your body will have less with which to create fat cells and most of that which you consumed will go down the porcelain portal never to bother you again.

    Low carb diets allow you to lose weight only in the immediate. Once your body mass that was previously occupied by healthy cells is lessened, you stop losing weight. On top of that, eating carbs again(which contain sugar…is sugar mostly) will cause your body to gobble them up immediately and bind them to any fatty matter imediately to compensate: you effectively balloon back.

  10. Basically it’s a futile battle that no one can win. So don’t worry about it, eat well and be merry. :)

  11. Just in case it’s any use to you guys… I’m a very constant 75 kg (approximately my ideal weight), I get no excercise and this is what I eat:

    morning: Two buns. Sometimes with hambugers and pickles, but also very often with salad or sandwich spread or something like that. Or eggs. Tea. Instead of buns I also regulary eat yesterdays leftovers.

    noon: On active days: two buns with some kind of salad or sandwich spread. Tea.

    afternoon: A little snack, like a bit of chocolate or a cookie or a bit of cake or something. Tea.

    evening: A meal, usually Italian or Asian. Italian means lots of minced meat (200g), pasta (100g), vegetables (a paprika, six mushrooms, an union, two rawit peppers and whatever else strikes my fancy) and tomato sauce. Asian means roughly the same but often with rice and different herbs. Or a chicken wing instead of minced meat. Sometimes I eat pancakes, poffertjes, snert, … If I’m not that hungry and don’t feel like cooking: two hamburgers (which are easier to prepare). If there’s still room I might eat some kind of desert, but I don’t do that all the time.

    night: I might have a little snack, like described at “afternoon”. Tea.

    I don’t get any exercise, I feel healthy, and this is what I eat.

  12. re: “cholesterol is bad.”

    Brian, while it’s true there is some data suggesting a correlation between cholesterol and heart disease, it’s just that – a correlation. This is not the same as cause and effect. The fact that there is a huge medical industry based on maintaining this belief is significant.

    There is an excellent article by cholesterol-sceptic Dr. Malcolm Kendrick here:
    and a page by Dr. Uffe Ravnskov, here:

  13. #8 – there’s something oddly appropriate about the name Realyst – it’s like Realist, only wrong.

    “The building blocks of fat cells” … The body isn’t that simple, and most ‘intuitive’ guesses are not going to be correct. In the body’s case, fats, sugars, and proteins are all disassembled and provide energy that can be stored as fat. It’s not just fat that ends up as fat, so it’s not clear that more of one than any other will make you obese.

    I agree that calories in < energy burned is the most simple and reliable strategy, but you’re piling other nonsense on top of it. “Once your body mass that was previously occupied by healthy cells is lessened” <- WHAT?!? Atkins lowers the magical 'healthy cell' count, eh? If you must give health advice, stick to ideas that are thermodynamically logical.

  14. He’s talking about people who are already sick. He says exercise isn’t a good idea because people are going to hurt themselves.

    Anyway, when he says exercise, he means 30 minutes of walking. Yes a short walk might make you hungry, but an hour of cycling will make you fit.

    He also conflates the issues of lowering calories and lowering fat. Lowering fat is about cholesterol levels more than losing weight.

    Between ranting about carbs he suggests that probably we shouldn’t put corn syrup into everything. That’s very reasonable.

  15. Carbs are bad? Tell that to us in Germany. We have a bakeryon every corner, live on carbs and beer, but balance it with a lot more “little” exercise. We walk a lot, we do snack as much in between meals, and eat in moderation. Come to Germany and look around the cities. Not many at people and the base of the diet is carbohydrates. Going from one extreme to anotheris not rate. Moderation is the key to any diet or healthy lifestyle.

  16. Realyst, I’ve kept 80 lbs of weight off for 5.5 years now by eliminating most carbs from my diet — how is that an “immediate” effect?

  17. He thinks the current obesity epidemic, the rising levels of diabetes, even cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, may all be a result of our modern diet of carbs and sugars.

    That makes me suspicious, I never like it when someone blames multiple things on a single source.

    I can see diabetes and obesity, but cancer and Alzheimer’s? Really? Certainly he doesn’t mean all incidences of cancer. While obesity and diabetes often make a cancer prognosis worse, they aren’t responsible for current cancer rates.

    A more likely culprit is all this long-living we’re doing. If you live long enough, you will likely get cancer — even if you don’t die from it, or even noticeable without an autopsy.

  18. A rebuttal of the Gary Taubes NY Times article by Michael Fumento can be found here: This link also contains a reply from Taubes to the rebuttal, and again a reply back from Fumento. Please read these links to get a more balanced view, the Atkins diet is quite controversial, to say the least. Yes, you will lose weight, but at what cost to your health?

  19. What if it just differs from person to person?

    I’m 1.82m (5.97 feet says Google) and I weigh 59 kg (130 pounds). This makes my BMI 17.8, which is supposedly underweight. A couple of years ago I started to eat a lot (and by that I mean 4 meals a day plus snacks), but I never managed to break the 60 kg mark. Now I’ve realised it’s just not in me, and I really shouldn’t care that I look so skinny.

    People often looked at me like I’m crazy when I said I wanted to weigh more, telling me that there are others who would kill for my weight. I’ll never understand why.

    My guess is that we just all have insane expectations, which make reality one big disappointment. It’s time we got rid of those.

  20. You lost 80lb in a single year, from what you said above. That is pretty immediate to me. Unless you went hogwild and reverted back to the same bad diet as before, it would take a while to get back up to this.

    The way I have had the Atkins explained to me by friends who are physicians, your metabolism is pretty much set. It takes a LOT to change it. Thus if you change your diet drastically, you won’t be able to metabolize the foods you are earing (the high fatty, low carb) for a while…but after a while, it will catch up. And this is why it is only good for short term loss, unless you are willing to change other parts of your life. I gotta say, this helped save my dad’s life…at the same time, he takes a dozen cholesterol pills a day to keep his arteries from clogging up.

    Me? I need to lose about 20lbs. At the height of my illness, I was at 270. Now down to 220…was even close to 200 for a couple months. But to lose the 50lb, I exercised and changed my diet. And now I’ve plateau’d. The pounds I lost were pretty immediate and they’ve stayed off for a couple years now, and I really haven’t done anything to change it. I walk more…been taking public transportation because I’m sick of killing the environment (it is amazing how much even a 4 block walk to the bus stop is when you aren’t even doing this). I keep a bike in my office, and no longer tempted to get in my car to go across campus for meetings.

    All in all, it is the simple changes that will keep the weight off of you, not the drastic ones. And beyond that, our evolution isn’t really designed for the sedentary lifestyles we have. So increasing the activity even slightly and consistently will pull off the pounds and help regulate your metabolism to something workable.


  21. RE: sumo wrestlers and “where’s the carbs?!” it’s pretty obvious: rice and noodles. Anyone who has ever eaten nabe before knows it’s standard practice to put rice or noodles into it, both heavy in carbs and calories at normal proportions and I would hate to hear what they run at sumo proportions.

  22. The Low Carb diet is an appetite suppressor.
    So the thermodynamic diet argument is still valid. The key is that the carbs spike insulin levels and give you cravings. After induction on a atkins style low carb diet you just aren’t hungry.

    A large amount of circulating cholesterol is made in your own liver. At least some of this has been shown to result from the livers reaction to insulin production. When I was on a strict atkins diet my cholesterol levels plummeted.

    I also think that different people respond differently to different diets.

  23. (Why the hell did BB just log me out instead of allowing me to post?)

    Yay, yet another book that splits calories into “good” and “bad” ones.

    Bullshit. It’s all energy. Calories, you know? The body can and will store any it can’t use.

    Granted that some are stored more easily than others. But the difference is not *that* large, and (more importantly) metabolic differences between people are way more important.

    For instance, most people would look like blimps if they’d eat as much chocolate as I do. Yeah, you may all envy me. (NB: No, I don’t exercise nearly enough to burn these off.)

    Otherwise I’m with kyle armbruster (see above): “fibers” and “not sitting on a chair all day” are what’s a good *general* recommendation that nobody can go wrong on. (Thanks for saving me from typing all that. ;-)

  24. #13:

    Cory, I’ve lost 40lbs in 4 months. No Atkins. My friend lost 30lbs in 2.5 months. His was more drastic, but he hasn’t advanced since and he’s still, according to that popular BMI scale, obese.

    Not only that, he gains weight far quicker now. After a holiday, he tells me he balloons yet again, though admittedly less then the initial 30.

    As for cholesterols and heart disease…meh, that one is sketchier seeing as much of heart disease remains mysterious as is. But given the fact that high cholesterol even has a slight correlation to heart disease, one would do well to be cautious. And correlations between low-carb diet and heart disease seem sketchy at best(some articles showing benefits, others showing massive risks and increased plaque formation in the arteries).

    Funny you should say that, that was the original idea behind the “y” in the name(that and it’s a pun on my real name).

    However, while I grant I jumped into a realm of near-mysticism, it was mainly as a way to type fast and get the point across. Granted it had the subtlety and credibility of a late-night infomercial. Probably bad judgment on my part.

    In actual fact, fat cell count mostly stays static within the body but the cells are generally expanded by additional being broken down and reassembled within their membranes. However, people who have gained significant weight do have a higher fat cell count then those who have always been of smaller frame(unless they got liposuction).

    Glucose is the trigger to fat storage. Without it, nothing would be stored as it triggers the release of insulin which starts the metabolizing process which will invariably break down the various amino and fatty acids in order to store them in the aforementioned fat cells.

    Now here is where my point kicks in. The long term storage of fat is only brought on if you take in more calories then you expel. So if you take in a surplus, you store it. Makes sense, right?(though, as an interesting side note, it of course takes energy to actually store the fat in the first place)

    Now here’s where the carb thing comes in and that sugar+fat point:

    Most low carb diets instead rely on fattier protein rich foods. The body actually prefers fat for storage then glucose itself. So by eating that big steak, your body now has a large supply of easily stored fat that requires less energy to metabolize. Now, again, like I had stated before, there’s a vital ingredient: glucose(sugar). The more sugar you consume, the more insulin is released(as any diabetic or child after a Halloween binge can attest to), which means more of that pesky breakdown of fatty acids into smaller amino acids absorbable into your body’s existing fat cells.

    That explanation better for you?

  25. Red Zebra,

    This is precisely the kind of craziness I’m talking about. There is excellent evidence in many places that statins prevent heart disease, yet you first link claims otherwise. There’s no way statin drugs could stay on the market if they couldn’t prevent stroke and heart disease. ( )

    It’s true the cholesterol is only correlated with heart disease, but essentially no controlled study can be done.

    What’s admittedly much less clear is what type of diet can prevent heart disease. The only substance that seems to have decent evidence of being bad (not controlled, though) is trans fats.

    You don’t have to like pharmaceutical companies, but the reality is that statins have lots of good science behind their effectiveness (effectiveness that does not come without risks).

  26. Cory’s diet and approach seems particularly sane for him, especially considering he also does yoga and stuff like that. But it all depends on what your goal is and what kind of habits you have. I lost about 75lbs on Atkins about five years ago. I knew I couldn’t maintain strict Atkins for the long-term, just knowing my own inclinations, so I switched over to a regular regimen of weightlifting with cardio and a diet that had no processed foods and no sugar in it. I now have wheat bread and vegetables and fruits as my main source of carbs. I eat meat, eat a lot of eggs, and rely on the weightlifting to build muscle mass to burn fat. As a result, I’m still 50lbs lighter than I was five years ago and most of the weight gain is muscle.

    I do think it’s ridiculous to say that exercise is a bad idea, especially sustained, regular medium to high exertion exercise that combines resistant training and cardio. It’s exercise, not diet, really, that has allowed me to keep the weight off and be healthy.


  27. I’m sorry, Taubes’ hyperbole totally drives me nuts. Two simple facts: a) athletes aren’t fat, b) people who over-eat (i.e. most westerners) are fat. I have a lot of sympathy for the idea that carbs, especially highly refined sugars, are a major source of obesity in the West. But, Taubes provides a very unconvincing argument that exercise isn’t important. He dismisses the evidence that people who exercise tend to be leaner, and then says exercise makes you more hungry. Well, what if you exercise but use *willpower* to not eat more? I lost a lot of weight a year ago – 20 kg (44lbs) in 2 months – simply by increasing my daily exercise while maintaining my diet. The exercise did make me hungry, but it was possible to resist the temptation to eat more.

    This guy is trying to sell books, so he’s sexing the story up, making it all sound like much more of a conspiracy than it really is. And sadly, the Quirks & Quarks host doesn’t really challenge him on some of his bolder claims. I’ve got to be honest, it is exactly this sort of story that makes me allergic to the mainstream media’s coverage of science.

  28. I’m sorry, Taubes’ hyperbole totally drives me nuts. Two simple facts: a) athletes aren’t fat, b) people who over-eat (i.e. most westerners) are fat. I have a lot of sympathy for the idea that carbs, especially highly refined sugars, are a major source of obesity in the West. But, Taubes provides a very unconvincing argument that exercise isn’t important. He dismisses the evidence that people who exercise tend to be leaner, and then says exercise makes you more hungry. Well, what if you exercise but use *willpower* to not eat more? I lost a lot of weight a year ago – 20 kg (44lbs) in 2 months – simply by increasing my daily exercise while maintaining my diet. The exercise did make me hungry, but it was possible to resist the temptation to eat more.

    This guy is trying to sell books, so he’s sexing the story up, making it all sound like much more of a conspiracy than it really is. And sadly, the Quirks & Quarks host doesn’t really challenge him on some of his bolder claims. I’ve got to be honest, it is exactly this sort of story that makes me allergic to the mainstream media’s coverage of science.

  29. Cory:

    Based on what you said, I think that your own diet is actually a high-carbohydrate diet. My own hazy understanding is that many of the calories in fruits and vegetables are carbohydrates.

    I’m not a nutritionist – I hope that some Boing Boing readers are and can shed some light on the topic.

    You may be eating what I’ve heard endurance athlete friends refer to as a “slow-carb” diet, which is actually a high-carbohydrate diet, but with the majority of carbohydrates having a low Glycemic Index. It’s achieved in part by avoiding starches and refined sugars, as you’ve been doing.

  30. I am interested in the discussion and have not read the book. By the time I read the book, this discussion will have not doubt waned. I did read a bunch of interviews with the author to try to understand his concepts.

    One interesting thing is that he seems to be writing an expose book, but the general trends in science seem to be validating some of his points.

    It is generally accepted that sugars are bad. Not necessarily all carbohydrates, but refined sugars, high fructose corn syrup etc. Whole grains seem to be good for you, but they are very hard to find in the stores and in packaged products.

    There are a number of disconnects in the field of nutrition that the author seems to be exploiting:
    – There are two kinds of research on nutrition, a pure research into how the biochemical reactions proceed and an applied research that studies the effects on a population. The fundamental research has a very good understanding of cholesterol how it functions in a lot of diseases and why high levels might be bad. This research has also shown that there are two fundamental differences in protein genetics that will determine if high cholesterol can be changed by diet (one type changes with diet, one does not). The applied research covers a wide gamut of people from untrained pop researchers and marketers, to MDs, to PhDs etc. MDs are typically the most far removed from the fundamental research which has the best studies, yet they have the most contact with patients which leads them to be the gatekeepers of the “prevailing research”. There are also less substantiated marketing efforts which lead to misinformation about where the state-of-the-art lies.

    As nutrition is an immature science there will be substantial modifications to our understanding. The best understood aspects of diet will belong to those who will get the least press because they will be dealing with esoteric reactions rather than cases of dramatic weight loss. While it is good to have continual discussion of these factors, I think the author goes too far in contradicting some of the fundamental research while using some of the same sweeping logic that he criticizes in the “conventional wisdom”. The idea that exercise plays no role because poor people are more obese and do more manual work, seems a sweeping generalization.

    Exercise plays a critical role in the management of stress and personal satisfaction which is starting to be seen as having more impact on health than was previously realized.

    The human body is complex, the environment is complex. When faced with an immature science it is best to make decisions that take the middle ground while leaning toward the few things that we do understand well. Moderate exercise, lower cholesterol, and a balanced diet from multiple sources with no refined sugars or refined grains is easy to follow shouldn’t get you in trouble no matter how the “prevailing opinion” turns in a few years.

    One problem with weight is that everyone knows someone with anecdotal evidence about what worked. Everyone is dissatisfied with life and losing weight seems an easy path to that satisfaction. That is what drives the diet industry. Cory seems to have lost and maintained his weight with a low carb diet. I lost 70 pounds in 4 months with a low fat high carb, exercise, diet and kept it off for 8 years without being hungry or having health issues. My diet was not rationally realized; it was a function of pasta being cheap and me being poor. Now I follow more of a moderate, low meat, high fruit and vegetable diet.

    My MD friends tell me that no one has had a single patient in 20 years that maintained good heath and weight without eating a simple balanced diet. More or less weight watchers. Every other diet plan has not worked for their patients.

    It is also interesting to know that most of our farm subsidies go to the meat and refined grain sugar industries and the US produces more than twice as many calories of food as it consumes. These are all factors.

  31. Kyle asked, “But anyway, it’s a soup made of meat and fish and vegetables. Where are the carbs?”

    Fruits and vegetables are carbs. They’re not as loaded as refined white sugar from a box — which should be labeled with a skull and crossbones — but they do provide fiber and sugars, and they do so in varying amounts depending on the particular vegetable.

    # # #

    As for Atkins, he says in his 1972 book that he started as a cardiologist. He kept giving his patients the high-carb, low-fat diet that the nutritionists recommended for people with heart disease, and his patients kept dying anyway.

    Atkins started doing his own research on nutrition. He found military studies on survival situations that studied extreme diets like carbs-only, fat-only, protein-only, et cetera. He found that patients on a no-carb diet switched over into a different metabolic state in about 48 hours. I commented on this altered metabolic state a few weeks ago, but the short version is that your body starts converting your stored fat into carbohydrates as needed. This is what makes people on Atkins lose so much fat so quickly; they’re no longer storing fat, they’re burning it. (I’m over-simplifying here, of course, but these are the broad strokes of the Atkins diet.)

    The idea that you can get rid of stored fat on your body by removing fat from what you put in your mouth is a well-intentioned but profound mistake, a form of sympathetic magic. Your body is an enormous chemical factory. If you stop eating fat and protein and eat only carbohydrates, but in excess of your caloric needs, you’ll store the excess as fat. Your body turns the carbs into fat. Atkins is just the reverse of this, turning stored fat back into carbs. (I’m sure the evolutionary reason for this is that fat stores the caloric energy more densely, at nine food calories per gram. Carbs hold only four food calories per gram.)

    The best that can be said about our understanding of nutrition is that it is at a very primitive state, requiring much more study. At the very least, there need to be many more studies at a very basic level to re-assess the unquestioned nutritional assumptions of the past, and there need to be many more studies of nutrition in subjects on diets more reflective of our evolutionary heritage.

    (I live in the US, and I have no doubt that these studies have been and will continue to be held back by at least two groups. One is the enormous US sugar lobby, which provides the US with huge amounts of the least expensive sugar in the world. The second group is the religious fundamentalists; they continue to promote the idea that the human species is only 6000 years old and was made from dirt by an invisible man in the sky who is short on cash; these people hold an unbelievable amount of political power here.)

  32. No one ever said a high protein low carb diet won’t make you lose weight. Studies have shown that diets low on fat or cut 1/3 of the calories or are low on carbs all work equally well. But eating that much protein through meat and ignoring vegetables is extremely taxing on your liver, which is why the diet is only supposed to be maintained in short bursts. To assert that eating a lot of fat isn’t bad for you and lacks scientific basis to formulate an opinion on the matter is frankly, bullshit. If you eat nothing but steaks, your lifespan will be shortened significantly, because there are certain nutrients that can only be found in fruits vegetables that are essential to good health.

    Also, I’d like to make the point that most dangerous toxins are fat soluble, so whatever that cow ate, your eating. Ever notice why pesticides concentrate as they move up the food chain? Well we’re at the top, so I’d consider that when formulating a meat based diet. Especially when most cows nowadays are corn fed, and non-organic corn is one of the most pesticide laden foods in the market today.

  33. Any excess calories that you consume, no matter the source, will be stored as fat. Alcohol, protein, fat, and carbs all carry calories and thus all have the potential to be stored as fat. The body, principally the muscles and neurons, prefer to use glucose as an energy source. The body can easily obtain this from carbohydrates (including those from fruits and vegetables, grains, and other,less nutritious sources). If we do not consume a sufficient amount of carbohydrates each day, the body will begin to (essentially) breakdown fat and protein into glucose.

    The reason that a low carb, high protein diet works for so many people is because you are essentially starving your body of its preferred fuel. Your body enters a state of ketosis- this is not healthy!

    Given the excess weight that so many people hold, choosing a diet like this can work wonders in the short term, but the simple fact is that once you have reached the weight you feel is appropriate, you should maintain a healthy diet that includes all food groups and sources of calories and include sufficient exercise- this will ensure that you receive proper nutrients and adequate fiber in addition to the calories that you need for energy.

    One more thing- a diet excessively high in animal protein can lead to additional problems over time. It can put a strain on the liver and the kidneys, which must work hard to rid the body of the excess nitrogen that is a product of protein digestion. This leads to a diuretic effect, and over time can lead to problems such as gout, which can subsequently also lead to kidney stones, etc.
    The body is very good at recycling protein by breaking it down into amino acids and recirculating them for later use. We do not require nearly as much protein as the Western diet typically provides!

  34. I lost 27 pounds in one month on Zoloft, with no exercise, just lying around depressed all day, every day. After I lost all that weight I felt a lot better about myself. It doesn’t do that for everyone though. Some people gain weight.

  35. Cory,

    Have you checked out Ray Kurzweil’s Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever? In addition to describing a diet that sounds very similar to the one you now prefer (one change might be Kurzweil’s aggressive use of supplements) it goes fairly deep into the biomechanical reasonings behind the dietary recommendations. It also has insets describing near future bio-tech innovations that he believes will constitute the second bridge (the first being switching to his diet) on the path to fulfilling the books subtitle.

    I went on the diet immediately after reading the book back in June 2005. Dropped 20 pounds in about 6 weeks to my ideal weight (as described in the book) and felt healthier than I had in nearly two decades. I started slipping a bit on the diet in about 9 months, but I’ve still never returned to my previous weight. Will I live forever? No idea, but I do think this diet will allow me to live longer.

  36. High Fructose Corn Syrup is what is making Americans obese. It is in everything – even in many of those “healthy” whole wheat breads. I was really surprised when I checked ingredients on them. Since the 80s its use has been more and more prevalent.

    Start checking ingredients, get the HFCS out of your diet, and you’ll lose weight. Eat foods as close to their natural state as possible, snack on nuts in small quantities.

    I’m surprised nobody has mentioned the South Beach diet, which is probably the most reasonable of any of the popular diets. All based on glycemic index and getting the high glycemic starches and carbohydrates out of the diet, and moderating the effects of the remaining carbohydrates by eating them along with fats.

    It works, keeps you stable, and when you start getting out of your preferred weight range, you just go back to the phase 1 diet and drop the extra weight. Easy.

  37. Since we’re sharing anecdotes…

    I went on the Atkins diet for two months in 2004. It was gastronomically and psychologically the most miserable a diet has ever made me. I gained 4 pounds.

    I then switched to the opposite of it, pretty much: I became vegetarian (I eventually re-introduced high-protein, low-fat seafood for a pescatarian diet) and increased my carb intake. I eat at least 4 pieces of fruit a day and have simpler carbs (bread, pasta, no added sugar) at pretty much every meal. I eat low-fat products over full-fat ones whenever the alternative is available. I do light exercise – long walks, hiking, biking (I can’t get myself to do serious exercises or jog)

    I’ve gone from 225 lb in 2004 to 155 lb today. My cholesterol and blood pressure are near-ideal. I don’t feel like I’m “on a diet”; there isn’t any food I miss.

    Make of it what you will – until we know more about why and how certain dietary decisions work for certain people, you could try this as a diet and see how it works for you. Don’t believe any talk of dietary panacea, and never go on a “just until I drop 20 lb, then I’ll eat normal again” diet. Make decisions you can live the rest of your life with.

  38. how does he explain typical asian physiques? east and southeast asian diets are largely carbs: a huge mound of rice, with a little meat and vegetables.

    i rather feel taubes is missing something.

    btw, i’m east asian. when i want to gain my winter fat, i eat “american” food: typically lots of greasy breakfast stuff. i can stuff myself with rice, and it makes little difference to my waistline.

  39. What surprises me a little about reading these comments is how the readership of this site, which I would have expected to be more intelligent than average, seems to be just as retarded as most other readerships. A guy is linked to, some claims are made. To choose one (I’m paraphrasing): Exercise has not shown itself to be a good solution for losing fat.

    There are a number of ways one might reasonably discuss this. One might cite studies to the contrary. One might mention confounding evidence, as the author himself does in the podcast, which few commentors here seem to have bothered to listen to. One might, least effectively, cite anecdotal evidence, and one might cite religious dogma.

    I was surprised to find this last technique the one most frequently employed. It’s like half you guys are sitting at your computers with your hands over your ears, or even your eyes – what are you doing, reading the first sentence and then scrolling down to say your piece before you get distracted by thoughts of cheese or America’s Next Top Model?

    This is my favorite, from #30:

    “Any excess calories that you consume, no matter the source, will be stored as fat. Alcohol, protein, fat, and carbs all carry calories and thus all have the potential to be stored as fat. The body, principally the muscles and neurons, prefer to use glucose as an energy source. The body can easily obtain this from carbohydrates (including those from fruits and vegetables, grains, and other,less nutritious sources). If we do not consume a sufficient amount of carbohydrates each day, the body will begin to (essentially) breakdown fat and protein into glucose.”

    So, in summary, we have a guy who makes claims that run counter to standard dogma, that he backs up reasonably well and reasonably thoroughly in his podcast (haven’t read the book) and in response we get “insights” like the above, simply regurgitating the standard dogma back at us, sans any actual evidence, as if it were the word of God.

    And so Boing Boing comments look just like some of the right-wing religious nutjob blogs I read when I need to whip myself into a lather. Brilliant.

    Won’t be reading comments here anymore.

  40. It is rather amusing to read this post, living in a country where most people still weigh < 200 pounds. But depressing to witness Cory´s lack of critical judgement: the Atkins diet has never, ever been proved more effective than The Classic Diet: Eat less trash food, more fruit and vegetables, get moving.

  41. It is rather amusing to read this post, living in a country where most people still weigh < 200 pounds. But depressing to witness Cory´s lack of critical judgement: the Atkins diet has never, ever been proved more effective than The Classic Diet: Eat less trash food, more fruit and vegetables, get moving.

  42. Eating multiple smaller meals works as good as anything, doesn’t matter much what you eat(although I mostly avoid sugar, oh how I miss coca cola). I lost 15 pounds in a month when I switched to this(purposely lowering my total calorie intake), and I don’t eat particularly well, and I drink way more beer than I should. I eat more with each meal now and my weight remains stable after the initial, staggering loss. It’s just a metabolism hack, one that in my case worked so dramatically it scared me a bit. I also rode my bike to work 4 days a week and did a half hour Pilates workout 5 days a week.

    The fact that if you burn more calories than you consume you will lose weight is indisputable. You will lose weight if you are using more energy than is coming in, even if all you eat is candy bars(doesn’t mean that you will be ‘healthy’). Exercise burns extra calories, thus it will help you lose weight. I can’t believe anyone would put out a book suggesting that exercise might be pointless or bad for you. Being sedentary means burning less calories. Being sedentary and thus consuming more calories than you burn will cause you to gain weight. You don’t have to run ten miles.

    Here’s a diet that doesn’t require a huge level of discipline: Substitute any beverage you might have for water(drink a lot of water). Take a one hour walk every day. Don’t eat more than you would usually.

  43. I have struggled with weight gain for years; sometimes I won; often fat won. In the last six or seven years, I gradually gave in and my weight went up. I’m 5’7 (barely) and ended up at 195+ with a 37″ waist and fat tits. Not a pretty sight for a guy. None of my clothes fit. I did go a gym; mainly aerobics and some mild weight lifting, but nothing could help in the face of 1/2 a loaf of (organic) Italian bread with olive oil and fat-free frozen yogurt, nightly (organic, so it’s OK, right?). Years before, I tried Atkins. I live near the offices on West 55th, so I was treated there. I was strict with it, followed everything, was measured weekly, and after a few months, I gained 8 pounds and my cholesterol went to 230. That was about 7 years ago and since then, the weight crept up. At the beginning of June, I finally turned on the lights when I dressed in the morning and took a good look at me and realized this is it: I go down one road or another. So, I changed my diet, to just 1% cottage cheese (about 32 oz per day, 128g of protein, some carbs, little fat), with pineapple, for breakfast and lunch; very light dinners of chicken or beef with frozen veggies; sometimes, a frappe of 0% fat Greek yogurt and blueberries. Wine with dinner. No bread at all; no starches at all. Gym 7/week with heavy aerobics. I’ve lost 43 pounds, 5″ off my waist (back to 32 Levis 501s after almost a decade); people comment to me all the time on how different I look, what’s my secret, etc. My cholesterol is 111 and everything else (bloodwork) is perfect. Just my experience. Everyone’s different. I don’t think I can sustain a diet with lots of fat. I tried Atkins and apart from the failure, it was torture after a few days. I’ve been on the cottage cheese diet since June and love it and don’t want to quit it. My abs are rock hard and I have a six pack (with some stretch skin, unfortunately, just below; maybe that will go away in time); I curl about 100lbs and wish I had the time to work out more. Oh, I’m 61 with a low thyroid, so if I can do it, just about anyone can.

  44. The Hackers Diet by John Walker (of Autodesk fame) is probably the sanest and least obfuscated way of looking at food, diet and weight that i have found. He is not a nutritionist, doctor or diet hawker, but a programmer who figured out how to control his weight.
    To first order:
    Weight gain (loss) = Calories in – Energy burned.
    I know this works for me and it’s fundamentally correct from a physics standpoint.
    Then there are complications, namely there is a hysteresis where your body will maintain a given weight over small variations of caloric intake or physical activity, kind of like how a thermostat allows a deadband of temperature before either the heater or cooler turns on. If you exceed this deadband, your body will either gain or lose weight. It has to, energy(food and work) is neither created nor destroyed, so your body has to either waste it or store it.

    Also, the sumo eat a lot of rice along with their traditional stew, and they take a nap afterwards.

  45. I didn’t like the idea of following a trendy diet until recently, when I found out that the foods I eat are essentially in line with the Slow-Carb diet. But carbs are something I’ve always consumed in quantity, as I’ve been a runner/cyclist for most of my life. I really think that each person needs to eat and exercise in moderation. No daily McDonald’s, and likewise no daily marathoning. Take my grandmother as an example. She just turned 100, and after my grandfather died, lived by herself until she was 94 or 95. How? Probably because she lived on a farm and got exercise from daily work while eating a balanced diet. I know it’s not that simple, but it’s a good idea to start in the middle and then work your way out toward the fringes.

  46. I’ve read the Taubes book – 460 pages plus 40 pages of reference notes and 60 pages of bibliography, very heavy on medical studies.
    It’s not a diet plan, it’s an analysis of dietary research over the last 100 years.

    Much of what he does is trace the fact that dietary recommendations we’ve been getting since WWII(and are sprinkled throughout the comments above mine here) have amazingly little science, good or bad, behind them, and have been driven by academic politics and who controlled the funding.

    He also talks about where studies often generated conflicting data that was ignored or explained away because it didn’t support the prevailing low fat thesis, and publishing anything that contradicted that thesis put getting your doctorate, professional advancement, or future research funding in jeopardy.

    The book is different than Taubes earlier articles and you really should look at it before asserting what Taubes does or does not say in the book and what evidence he’s basing it on.

    As an aside:
    Fructose is also metabolized in the liver and high consumption leads to fat accumulation in the liver. If you google there was a study very recently correlating the rise of fatty liver in children – linking it to refined carb consumption. Haven’t seen the actual study data so I can’t comment on how rigorously conducted/analyzed it was.

    And from a strictly personal point of view. The same thing doesn’t work for everyone – we don’t have exactly the same genetics even in the same family. My mother struggles to keep weight on and I kid her about being selfish with the skinny gene since my sister and I didn’t get it. She eats any and everything. I fight to keep every ounce off. She hates exercise and doesn’t do much, I’ve been heavily involved in active sports my whole life.

    My eating and exercising habits are much “healthier” than hers but my blood pressure is higher while hers barely registers, so it obviously there are unidentified factors influencing these things. I recently added more fat and protein into to my diet and reduced the carbs focusing on low GI veggies (I had been largely vegetarian, no sugar, lots of beans and tofu). I’ve lost 10 lbs over a couple of months without really working at it or obsessing about food, and all I can think is it really does relate to the insulin issue.

  47. “Well, what if you exercise but use *willpower* to not eat more? I lost a lot of weight a year ago – 20 kg (44lbs) in 2 months – simply by increasing my daily exercise while maintaining my diet. The exercise did make me hungry, but it was possible to resist the temptation to eat more.”

    Exactly. I had a similar experience where I dramatically increased my exercise but maintained the same amount of calories…its just not a lot of fun.

  48. Remember how many years they said roughage in your diet prevents colon cancer? And now we know that was never true?

  49. #33 posted by woodka There is zero evidence that corn syrup is any worse than any other sugar. I repeat, zero. In fact the scientist whom initially made the claim has backed off completely and admitted its just his conjecture.

  50. I’d be interested to know what his connections are to the Communist Party. A lot of these pro-fat advocates are actually Cultural Marxists.

  51. if all you ate was rice, you would loose weight and probably starve of multiple nutritional diseases. the idea that asians don’t eat vegetables is silly, perhaps not as much in japan where there is limited farm land, but certainly not in the rest of asia. most asian kids (except japan) had not seen a chocolate bar until they had contact with american soldiers. i think the lack of processed sugar foods is one reason asians have less weight issues, but do they not exercise through biking or walking more also?

  52. I have to echo that – when it comes to dieting, all men are not created equal.
    Age also plays a large role, when you’re young, it’s a lot easier to lose weight, when you’re getting older, every lb (or kg, for that matter) just clings to you.
    I’ve tried the gym (cardio and weights) and a diet and all it did was bore me out of my mind. I lost 300 gramm (aka “nothing”) in six weeks of torture.
    I’ve also tried David Kirschs Fad-Diet (enormous amount of exercise and turkey, low on carbs), which made me sick of turkey and rather testy because of two hours exercise per day.
    One kg in two weeks. Okay, but I really, really couldn’t stand it any longer and I couldn’t imagine living the rest of my life with turkey.
    So in my case, exercise might be healthy but it doesn’t help me to lose weight.
    Dieting is really all about finding out what works for you. And well, the age old thing that some things should only be eaten in moderation (you know what!), you should cook your food yourself (no so-called “convenience” food) and have some fresh fruit and veggies and some meat if you like.
    Balance is key.

  53. i have to say that i find this statement that “it’s all been a big lie” a little odd, seeing as how the idea that one would lose weight by replacing fat with starch is a ‘lie’ i’ve never heard in my entire life. have i heard people (including doctors) say that a diet high in fat, especially saturated fat, and in cholesterol, is bad for you? sure! have i heard people say that a fairly substantial portion of a balanced diet consists of carbohydrates? sure! have i ever heard any serious scientist or doctor suggest that replacing fat with carbs was a way to lose weight? absolutely not.

    anyone with an ounce of common sense on this knows that ‘starchy’ foods contain a lot of calories, and that if you eat more calories you need to burn more calories if you don’t want to gain weight. it appears to me that mr. taubes is making up a “lie” to drum up publicity.

  54. Swimming, lots of fresh fruit and veg, fresh greens, seeds, a bit of fish.
    And more swimming. Blessed are thee with yr own heated swimming pools, ye bastids.

  55. In #30 posted by Xero I read, “The body, principally the muscles and neurons, prefer to use glucose as an energy source.”

    This is not quite how it works. The body is always in a sort of dynamic equilibrium where energy use is concerned. At all times the body utilizes whatever energy source is appropriate and available for its immediate needs. For example, If there is a shortage of glucose to fuel brain and nerve tissue, the body goes into ketosis relying on fat for energy until a supply of glucose is restored. If there is a sudden heavy demand for muscular contractions the body will convert glycogen stored in the liver to glucose to fuel this demand. With sustained exercise, muscles switch over to fat.

    Short of extreme energy bursts and sustained aerobic exercise, the body burns glucose and fat simultaneously. In fact, nearly half the body’s energy requirements at rest are met from fat stored in cells, fat being absorbed during the digestive process, or fat that was converted from carbohydrate.

    If you read Gary Taubes’ book you’ll learn that fat circulates in and out of fat cells continually unless insulin levels climb too high and remain there. As insulin tends to clear the bloodstream of both fats and glucose and lock fatty acids in fat cells for the duration, the only source of fuel available is food being digested and absorbed into the blood stream. If predominantly of carbohydrate origin, that source of energy is quickly depleted and hunger ensues even though there is plenty of fat available in the body. On a restricted carbohydrate diet where most of the energy is being supplied from protein and fat, insulin levels remain low and fat is easily mobilized from fat stores as needed. That’s why people on even 900 calories don’t get hungry if most of those calories come from fat and protein. As Taubes reported, adding 400 calories to such a diet will stimulate insulin secretion. Hunger ensues and weight loss is slowed or halted because the body is being internally starved for energy.

    I hope this helps some of you folks who are confused regarding the role of fat in normal metabolic activity.

    Dave Brown
    Nutrition Science Analyst

  56. Oops! There’s an omission in my post(#51) above. Near the end of the fourth paragraph I meant to say, “As Taubes reported, adding 400 carbohydrate calories to such a diet will stimulate insulin secretion.”

  57. Can someone please explain how “carbs” doesn’t include vegetables? They are not protein, they are not fat; they are carbohydrates. Any diet that limits grains and vegetables is just plain wrong.

    Eat a variety of foods in moderation; be as active as possible. Morons will sell you on any fad, by saying everything else is just a fad.

  58. Here are the real rules:

    1. Exercise (reasonably & regularly).
    2. If it’s food you can eat it, if it’s not, you can’t. (Hint: artificial sweeteners are not food. Olestra is not food.)
    3. If it’s a highly processed food you can eat it but you shouldn’t.
    (Trans fats are highly processed; high fructose corn syrup is highly processed; white sugar is highly processed; bleaqched flour is highly processed.) Eat foods containing these items no more than once very 2 or 3 months.
    4. If it’s an animal product, you need to know what the animal ate before you eat the animal. See 2 & 3 above. Antibiotics are not food. Don’t eat an animal that ate anything you wouldn’t eat.
    5. Eat as many different color foods as you can every day.
    6. If you have to loosen your belt after the meal you ate too much. Don’t do it again.
    7. If you feel good, keep doing what you’re doing. (Be honest.) If you don’t feel good, be scientific about it–stop eating the stuff that makes you feel bad the next day and eat more of the stuff that makes you feel good the next day.

  59. Oh God, where do I begin.

    1. Cholesterol: What got scientists thinking cholesterol was bad for human beings, or else a sign of bad health, was an experiment feeding meat to rabbits. That’s right. Based on the fact the rabbits got high cholesterol and died, they extrapolated that to mean all the stuff they assume about cholesterol in human beings now. Do you really want to base your healthcare decisions on the feeding of a completely inappropriate meat diet to herbivores?

    In any case eating fat has nothing to do with cholesterol, because cholesterol is an alcohol, not a fat. Don’t expect your doctor to know this, either, even though he should, because doctors don’t get enough nutrition training. Yes, “cholesterol tests” measure amounts of certain lipoproteins in your bloodstream–but those lipoproteins (literally “fat + protein”) CARRY cholesterol–they are not cholesterol themselves.

    Furthermore, some researchers now believe, and have been believing for decades, that cholesterol is a repair substance, not a cause of disease. That if you have high cholesterol, there is already something wrong with your cardiovascular system–it isn’t the cholesterol that kills you directly.

    Personally I find it interesting that high cholesterol is often linked strongly with other conditions of prediabetes and diabetes, suggesting that it is an increase in SUGAR consumption that increases cholesterol levels, not consumption of fat–completely NOT what most patients are told by their doctors.

    2) Anyone making even a cursory study of how human metabolism works–real study, not reading cheaply written articles in mainstream pop culture magazines–knows that the macronutrients (fat, protein, and carbohydrate) are processed by the body in different ways and are used for different purposes. Since I must assume everyone coming out of the woodwork in the comments to this post has done their homework, I must say you are all doing a very good job feigning surprise that the body would react differently to a surplus of carbohydrates than it reacts to extra fat or protein. Might I recommend acting school?

    Carbohydrate in particular is sugar, no matter what it is. You will again recall from your serious study of the human metabolism that glucose, a sugar, is the easiest substance to turn into ATP which the body uses for energy; therefore, the glucose metabolism is the primary human metabolism. Even in pop culture consciousness we understand that fat stores are built up when we intake more energy than our cells can use. Which macronutrient is the primary source of energy? Carbohydrate. Why? It’s turned into glucose. Again, you are all doing an exemplary job feigning surprise at hearing this fact stated. I expect an Academy Award is in some of your futures.

    What makes any carbohydrates different from any other carbohydrates is whether the body can break them down into glucose. This is why fiber is not bad for even a low-carber to consume: the sugars are too large and complex for us to use. There are some other carbohydrate molecules we can’t digest, at least not without help (for instance, we can break down some complex starches and some sugar alcohols with the aid of Beano, but not without it). As for the rest, if you eat them you might as well be spooning mouthfuls out of the sugar bowl. It’s interesting how medical advice has evolved because it used to be that starches were considered “complex carbs” and were supposedly “good” because they took the body longer to break down–but when we found out that wasn’t true, fiber was awarded the “complex” label instead. It really doesn’t matter; if you’ve got sugar and starch in your mouth you’re going to wind up with elevated glucose and an insulin hit, regardless, and if you eat too much of either you’re going to put on weight.

    Meanwhile, only about ten percent of fat can be turned into glucose, and about 58 percent of protein. Fat can be used as energy in another way, being turned into ketones and fatty acids, but once you make ketones out of fat, you can’t turn them back into body fat. So you see the differences here. But you should know all of that already, right, folks?

    3) Differences in dietary response: You should check out Peter D’Adamo, the Blood Type Diet guy. He’s got some interesting ideas. He links ideal diets with blood types, and blood type itself has something to do with it, but D’Adamo also claims that other genes clustered with the ABO gene have effects on metabolism. For instance, type Os have more stomach acid to process more meat, and type As have more of other enzymes and less stomach acid so they do better on chicken, fish, and greater amounts of vegetables. I have no idea if he’s right, but I wouldn’t mind seeing more studies done along blood type lines to see if there is any link with which diets work for which people.

    I will say this: the guy who commented that our molars are for grinding grain? I LOLed all over the place at that one. Gee, we’ve had molars for, what, several hundred thousand years now–but we’ve only had grain for what, maybe ten thousand years? But we’re evolved to eat it? Oh mah stahs an’ gahtahs. Oh me oh my. Look into the field of paleopathology and what happened to human health when grain agriculture was developed and get back to me.

    All I know is when I skip grain entirely and stick with meat, fat, and vegetables, I feel a lot more human, I think a lot more clearly, and I drop weight like a stone. This cannot simply be the placebo effect–and it isn’t for other low-carbers, either. I know this because their lab values change for the better, a claim which cannot be made by the majority of low-fat dieters, especially those with diabetes in their family histories, as I have.

    Health and medicine should be sciences, not dogmas. Make it so.

  60. The thing that sort of amazes me is that most of the commenters seem to assume that there is One True Way to lost weight and be physically fit. Cory’s use of the Atkins diet is perfectly valid–for Cory.

    The only real rule is, try different things. If you succeed, you succeed, and if you fail, it doesn’t matter how many studies back up your plan.

  61. #55 Halloween Jack, exactly. The big problem is that in America, people who “like” things tend to be obsessive compulsive about things. Like sports? You need to be OCD about it. Like a band? You need to know and own all that band has produced? Ditto with brands and the rise of brands in recent decades. Completely tapping into OCD nature.

    And with diets and health, this is crazy. Find what works for you and do that. But don’t overdo or underdo something. And don’t be so locked into things you can’t adapt.

    For me, eliminating high-fructose corn syrup and junk food has helped me tremendously. Ditto with no coffee; love the taste but wrecks my stomach. And more fresh veggies and fruit.

  62. I can’t beleive how few people are mentioning the importance of genetics here. It’s a pretty simple (well actually a compicated matter) that our DNA sort sets out our future wieght. As scary as it is to think you don’t have control of you body and health, a lot of your wieght simply isn’t up to you. The speed of your metabolism effects your weight so much that the only thing that can change it is a life style change. Not a “diet” since that implies a short term process, but a new regiment of foods that work with your body to keep your blood pressure and weight low. And I can’t beleive the stuff I hear about how cholesterol isn’t bad, from what I have just very recently learned in my college psychology class. Heart attacks are caused by cholesterol, it isn’t just a “correlation” that may or may not actually mean anything.

    I think in the future, once we can “analyze” our DNA quickly, like in Star Trek or something, we will get completley personal health care treatments and cures, which will make us even healthier than we are today.

  63. One more data-point here. I’ve always had a terrible metabolism, and been fat my entire life. Once I got out of high school and stopped running for two hours a day, my weight ballooned to obesity even though I ate a normal Canadian diet.

    In three years on a low-carb diet, however, I have lost 77 pounds, become fit and slim, and feel better than ever before. I think I’ve even come back from the brink of diabetes. I’m convinced that sugars and starches are poison for people with metabolisms like mine, and the lifestyle of avoiding them is really not that hard once you get used to it.

  64. From the post: “These days, I still eat low-carb (no starch, grain, or sugar), but try to get the bulk of my calories from fruits and vegetables”

    From the comments it would appear I am the only one who is utterly baffled by this statement. What on earth is the form of the calories in fruit and veg, if not carbohydrate?

  65. Narual, that may work for you, but for someone with a poor metabolism and a carb-rich diet, eating less than you consume results in the body cannibalizing energy from muscle and organ tissue while continuing to accumulate fat. I calorie-counted for a long time without losing weight.

  66. @Ogvor: Genetics would be too depressing. It’s the Jan Brady “I don’t want to grow up to look like Aunt Jenny” problem. (Although my maternal grandmother is slender and fit enough that on 9/11, she was able at age 89 to walk home from the Upper East Side to the south shore of Brooklyn.)

    @Cory: Nobody that I’ve ever heard or read has ever pushed the “precept that weight loss is best accomplished by eliminating fat and replacing it with starch”. Maybe that was in those five-dollar books at the supermarket checkout; I have never succumbed to the horrible temptation to buy them.

    As many have said – but as we are all legally obliged to re-summarize – the best way to lose weight is to eat less and exercise more.

    There are not only degrees of each, but there are orthogonal components of each, with complex interactions and counteractions. You can keep eating the same amount of fat – but ingested fat, very loosely, breaks down to sugar in the body, which raises your blood sugar, which makes you hungry. You can eat less fat, but you’ll be less satiated, which makes you hungry, which shuts off the starvation response. You can eat lots of fat and counteract the sugar with high amounts of protein and fiber to slow the effects on your blood sugar; that’s the Atkins diet in a nutshell AIUI.

    Likewise, you can keep eating the same amount of sugar and starch, but ingested sugar and starch become fat in the body – but again, the sugar affects your blood sugar, starvation response, etc. That’s the whole problem; sugar is bad for you, it messes you up, yet the entire body RUNS on sugar. That’s (almost) the ONLY fuel. We don’t process fat. Protein, in a sense, but otherwise, it’s sugar all the way down. And everything – fat storage, muscle synthesis, starvation response – is designed to maintain homeostasis around the sugar balance, and the only way to lose (or gain) weight is to disrupt that homeostasis.

    (Everything I wrote above should be checked with a nutritionist, which I most certainly am not – but I believe there are several here in this thread. It’s what I remember from a few years of reading widely divergent viewpoints and books and, quite probably, using selective memory to filter some out. A great deal of it came from what you might call “body hackers”, or less charitably, “body alchemists” – extreme bodybuilders, power-lifters and athletes who read every single metabolism-related article on PubMed, obtain chemicals from God knows where, and try to replicate and isolate the magic substances that let them control weight. Many of them can gain and lose fat and muscle on planned schedules at will. A lot of what I learned from those web sites five years ago is now common knowledge and commercial products – e.g. sesamin, leptin-related topics, etc.)

    I too lost a lot of weight in a relatively short span – about 60 pounds in a year or so. I kept it off for a few years, until a back injury stopped me from working out effectively. I’ve gained it all back and then some; I know I could lose it the same way, but being fat has made me too lazy to stop eating in a way that makes me fat. There’s your homeostasis.

  67. This seem very hard for many people to believe: it must be genetics, individual metabolisms, bad research, etc.

    Well, long before Atkins many physicians were recommending a meat-only/low-carbohydrate diet not based on conventional wisdom, but on the anecdotal evidence of their patients and the notion that the 8000-year experiment with cereal production was a mere dot on the timeline of human evolution.

    That may seem too simplistic: eat like our distant ancestors and be healthy. Didn’t they lead lives of tenuous existence and privation? Weren’t they burning off all that wooly mammoth fat being chased by saber toothed tigers and trying to steal fire from neighboring bands of humans? Didn’t they exercise a lot more?

    Actually, no. Field studies by Marvin Harrison and other anthropologists show that pristine pre-state societies expend relatively little time and energy on hunting-gathering and have a significantly more leisure time than we do today. Presumably, they do not spent in working out on a treadmill.

    I have to point out as well I find it disturbing is that many posters here cling to this parochial attitude that obesity is a result of sloth or a character flaw: people just aren’t doing enough to lose weight, they are lazy gluttons. This attitude is prevalent in our society and is causing people serious harm: discrimination, self-loathing, depression, even death.

    Kudos to Cory for bringing this issue forward and talking about his own weight issues and everyone else who shared their own. We really need a lot more understanding.

  68. I just want to comment on the “even cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, may all be a result of our modern diet of carbs and sugars.” part.

    This theory has been made quite popular under nutrition-nuts here in germany by dr. bruker (

    He even went so far to call white sugar & flour “poisons”, wordings for which he went to trial + won.

    But IMHO he pretty much is a fraud, at least on this. I’ve read publictations by him, and he usually does the spin on cancer-by-nutrition like this:

    – cancer has risen as cause of death co-varying with modern eating habits

    – the counter-argument that better diagnostics are responsible for that, plus prolonged life-spans that ultimately favor cancer as cause of death opposite to infections and other life risks he dismisses with the question “if that were true, why aren’t we healing more people from their cancer”. Which is as cynic as it can get, everybody with a CT showing his deeply nested brain tumor which is imoperable will know that…

    – he claims that his findings are hard if not impossible to support by studies due to the fact that eating is something we do from our first days, so anybody taking part in a study is contaminated already. Which OTOH doesn’t prevent him from making bold statements as Mr. Taubes does

    I don’t want to dismiss all the findings of Mr. Taubes, it’s certainly worth investigating them.

    But ANYBODY who claims he found the reason for life-threatening diseases trys to capitalize on the fear and hopes of deathly ill people, and must be scrutinized closely.

  69. I hate how so many people posting are acting like everything they believe about diet is scientific data. The point of his book is that a lot of “common sense” things about diet is not really scientific. Just things we were taught.

  70. Brian –
    Yes, statins reduce cholesterol. Yes, they protect the heart. Still doesn’t prove that reducing cholesterol level is the mechanism by which they protect. The article I linked to goes into this in more detail – for example, pointing out that statins are also cardioprotective in people with “normal” cholesterol levels. Even an acute administration of statins can be cardioprotective in animal models – way before cholesterol is decreased. This non-lipid effect of statins is referred to in the scientific literature as a “pleiotropic effect” – and I know it’s a real effect cos I work on it.

  71. I would not think that Italy, where the diet is heavily grounded on carbs (with pasta & bread being at the base of the food pyramid), has an obesity problem even vaguely comparable with that of the US. What I noticed ever since I moved here is that you guys have a sweet tooth! There is hardly ANYthing, sweet or otherwise, that hasn’t added sugar.

    Also, you over-process stuff, making it harder to elaborate, and possibly yelding more redundant nutrients. Take Pizza: in Naples, sauce is just some good-quality peeled tomatoes right out of a can, crushed and spread on the dough; a dash of oil, basil leaves and a sprinkle of salt are added on top, and everything is slammed in the oven, where it just gets a brief flash of high heat. Here, the sauce is a big deal involving at least tomatoes, garlic, oil, oregano, sugar, salt, and slow cooking. No wonder that one gets heartburn out of that…

  72. I would also like to point out that not all FATS are the same either. Right now most of what I eat consists of, well, lots of peanut butter, milk, small bread portions and beans and fish. In my PERSONAL opinion, the only thing wrong with the Atkins diet is that it insists you eat lots of fatty meat, instead of mono and poly unsaturated fat.

    And hell, I don’t think AT ALL that the same diet works for anyone. The way I feel about what I eat is that I like carbs, a meal doesn’t feel complete without them, but I eat small amounts of very low-glycemic bread and TRUE whole grains. I’ve dropped from 250 pounds with no muscle to a very muscular 180. I would also like to point out though that I’m 19 years old, in an age where it is much easier to lose weight.

    I also reject the idea that exercise is useless for losing weight. I am about to listen to the Quirks and Quarks podcast, and I’m wondering: does he address the different TYPES of exercise?

    I was recently reading a study that showed strong evidence that while aerobic exercise was of value and helped patients lose weight, much much much greater weight loss was achieved when patients had weight training plus some aerobic exercise. With weightlifting, your body is constantly gearing up your metabolism to help build new muscle (I need to read up more on this, however) and with extra muscle, you’re constantly burning more calories per day.

  73. I’m reminded of William Goldman’s famous comment on Hollywood – “nobody knows anything”.

    An interesting link related to the discussion here – Tim “Four Hour Workweek” Ferriss on fat loss. No idea if it works, but he makes his money selling dietary supplements, and knows more than a bit about nutrition – an interesting read.

    The Shangri-La diet or varients, which is basically all about controlling the point at which you get hungry, is also worth reading about.

    Like I say, I have no personal experience with these diets (I’m one of those irritating people who sit on very low body fat no matter what I eat), and I’m not a nutritionist, so I have no idea if these things work, don’t, or kill you. Just adding to the discussion.

  74. Calories in, calories out is not true for everyone. Not me. The quality of your food affects your hormones. Think about our Western diet and the correlation of a RISE in:

    – thyroid disorders (Oprah – please listen here),
    – autism (where gluten-free, casein-free diet is helpful for some),
    – ADD/ADHD (also on the autism spectrum)(not enough quality food/nutrients – too many carbs/sugar in Western diet – gee, why are Asians so smart? because they eat more vegetables and feed their brain more fish/proteins! Now that McDonald’s and Pizza Hut are in China, they’re gaining weight like us …)
    – juvenile delinquency/crime rates (see ADD/ADHD above)
    – obesity (didn’t get fat on fat alone, or too many vegetables/fruit – helloo grain carbs!)
    – rising rates of schizophrenia (gluten-free diet helps some)
    – rising rates of cancer (non-compliance with a gluten-free “gf” diet for a celiac raises stats for all gastrointestinal cancers from mouth to anus + non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma). A lack of nutritional support for your immune system breaks it down. Why do you think they have “cancer” diets? (I do not recommend macro-biotic or anything with gluten in it. Keep your liver healthy without the “glue” in your gut and brain!)

    I lose weight when I don’t eat ANY grain, even gf ones. It falls off. But when I add in gf grains or potato chips (Lay’s is gf) – no weight loss. My body is telling me something and I finally know how to listen to IT instead of the USDA food pyramid/gov’t.

    I have memory problems – grains caused me insideous malabsorption problems: low B vitamins contribute to poor memory. My father is taking Aricept. (You’d think doctor’s checked his B vitamins? – no!) The only way to tell if someone has true Alzheimer’s is with a brain biopsy (who does THAT?) OR autopsy. Check your B vitamins and homocysteine, and stop the gluten ingestion if they’re low.

    I have a nephew just diagnosed with shizo affective disorder … I’m trying to get him to go gf.

    I am obese. I was a starving fatty who tried to eat meat once a day or so – very protein deficient and therefore hungry! I would eat by combining whole grains and peanut butter, or rice and beans. The more I ate grains, the more depressed I became (didn’t know it was the grains). The more depressed I became, the more I didn’t want to eat. I had to force myself to take in food! My weight stayed the same and/or I’d gain weight by “looking” at a Trisquit. Unfortunately, my meals usually included a supposedly healthy “whole grain.”

    UGH PEOPLE! Listen to Gary Taubes! I’m living it! Celiac is genetic. My celiac friends are not all one blood type. It’s a prone to people hailing from Europe, esp ITALIANS (the Italian gov’t subsizes gf food as a prescription need!) and IRISH. Northern Indians also have it. It strikes anyone eating gluten and can be triggered by STRESS (say an auto accident or physical trauma, or even prolonged, on-going stress, SURGERY, PREGNANCY, or VIRUS.

    Re: exercise: I was one who would try and fail. I did not get that “high” after a workout. Three or four years before my celiac dx, my hair was falling out … it was always written off by my doctors as a thyroid thing (I was diagnosed hypothyroid 10 years before my celiac dx) or something that would resolve, what? spontaneously? sheesh. I’ve been tired (not slothful) my whole life. I had low serum ferritin and my hair loss is better under a hematologist’s care and iron supplementation. I had to initiate contact with the hematologist as the PCP did nothing after my diagnosis. Thank goodness for other celiacs sharing their info. Doctors do not learn nutrition in school!!! They often have a cursory view of celiac even if they know about it; they may associate it only with diarrhea and anorexic-looking people.

    To learn more about how gluten affects your immune system, google THE GLUTEN FILE or visit Our culture overeats the top 4 of 8 food allergens required for listing on food labels: WHEAT, DAIRY, CORN, SOY – all of this is affecting our metabolisms.

    My cardiologists are Atkin’s fans. My cholesterol has gone from 240 to 153. My Synthroid thyroid medication has had to be REDUCED three times since my gf diet started 20 months ago. When I exercise, I feel great. I’m reborn and grateful that Gary Taubes is spilling the beans.

  75. Kyle, I’m a bit dubious about your tooth science:

    The answer to the question “what should I eat” is right there in your mouth already: Incisors for cutting through fibrous vegetation, Canines for tearing tough meat, Molars for grinding hard grains.

    My main issue with this is that gorillas and baboons have huge canines, and they’re definitely herbivores.

    Googling around, I’ve seen some say that the fangs are for tearing through heavy vegetation, it’s the sharpened incisors (allegedly missing in those primates) that are for meat; and some that take your opposing viewpoint that fangs/canines are for meat, though they never address why gorillas would have them.

    I’ve also seen it suggested that fangs are not so much for eating as for latching on to a fiend’s neck in combat, which makes more consistent sense than most explanations.

    The only conclusion I feel safe with is to be very skeptical when people use dental formations to justify any kind of diet, because speculation in this area seems to be typically expressed as if it were fact.

  76. I just wanted to say thanks for this entry. I read ‘Eat to Live’ after reading this entry and have now lost over 60 pounds. Thanks, Cory!

  77. I know this post is a billion years old, but on the sumo topic… it’s not that they add rice to it (if you read the post the fellow linked, they don’t except for the very junior guys if the food runs out… but then, they’re probably the ones who need the extra weight gain the most), it’s that it has lots of root vegetables, which are pretty much on par with grains for net carbs.
    Potato, daikon, carrot, leek, burdock root… those all have high carbohydrate content (especially the potato and burdock root). And noodles, of course.

    Calories still matter. Going low carb limits how much fat can be stored and helps regulate your insulin, but if you eat a 10,000 calorie per day diet using the same proportions as someone eating a 2000 calorie per day diet, you’re still going to get enough carbs to store a lot of that excess caloric intake as fat.

  78. I lost 35 kilos just by eating less and exercising more. I can’t believe this guy doesn’t recommend exercise as a part of a weight loss program.
    It was the first time I actually lost weight and I couldn’t have done it without exercising. Not to mention that now I’m fitter, I don’t snore anymore, I can hike… I hate fake scientists

  79. Ah so Narual, but it’s so much harder to eat 10,000 calories of fat than carbs. Digestion is slow (via small intestine rather than stomach), and this type of food doesnt stimulate hunger hormones like carbs.

    May not be true for everyone, but for me it’s down to a science. When I wanted to stay below 10% bodyfat, I kept carbs at 10-20% of total calories for two years. When I started trying to bulk up for weightlifting recently, I brought in more starch (potatos, sweet potatos, yams, breadfruit, bananas) and easily went up from 180 to 195 lb, and about 20% bodyfat. Once I meet my strength goals I plan to drop the fat by dialing back the carbs. By the way, when I was eating very low carb, I exercised much less than now. But my bodfat was also much less. Now I exercise more, and am also fatter. Exercise is important, but it’s not the main factor.

  80. Of course you lose weight eating protein: You’re taking in less calories.

    At 5 calories per gram, protein has fewer calories than carbs (7/gram) and much less than fat (9/gram). So a pound of steak is going to have far fewer calories than a pound of fried rice.

    So when I hear people like Taubes or Atkins say that it’s not about cutting calories, guess what? It’s all about cutting calories! Switching from mostly fat or mostly carb to mostly protein means cutting your caloric intake.

  81. If memory serves correctly, there was a recent article in Time magazine about how exercise does not help one lose weight. And their logic was that your appetite gets a boost after exercising and while it takes about half an hour to burn say 350 calories, it only takes 2 minutes to compensate for that in the form of high calorie food.

    I also recall they were heavily attacked for that point of view. I wonder what Mr. Taubes’ view is

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