Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Why we get Taubes - and what to do about it

In 2007, science journalist Gary Taubes published 'Good Calories, Bad Calories' - an instant hit. I guess low-carb friendly folks like me sort of were determined to fell in love with the fresh look at the history of nutrition science.

Now Taubes is at it again, marketing 'Why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It'. Because he chose to put it like that, I kind of lost my appetite for the book right there: I simply don't get fat the way GT thinks it should happen.

Still, I was curious enough to find out his answer to the question posed in the title. No surprises there, the culprit is carbs, with a little help from the usual suspect insulin. While it is true that carbs can end up as bodyfat, carbs alone are not likely to make anyone fat, if you make sure the carbs come from raw fresh whole foods like fruits and vegs.

For example last year when during a 4-month experiment I ate over 80% of my calories from carbs, I got the most underweight in my whole adult life: I lost 10 kg from 69 to 59 kg. After that I switched to the Perfect Health Diet diet, which recommends 20% of total calories from carbs. Well, I quickly gained back all the lost weight and some extra by eating 65% fat. So GT is right in saying that even marathon runners can gain weight, but he is wrong in assuming that the gaining process would simply consist of the conversion of dietary carbs into bodyfat. At least I seem to have gained more muscle than fat - which would not have been possible without resistance training.

One would think that the new book would be easier to get into, being advertised as 'reader-friendly' and all, but the fact is I don't find GT's thinking easy to follow. The simpler style actually enhances his trademark brainfarts, most infamous of those being the ones involving laws of thermodynamics and calories in/out. Better leave it at that.

The basic argument of Taubes has always been the same: for decades, we have been told big fat lies by authorities, based on bad science. Although I do mostly agree with that, it does not automatically follow that the research presented by GT is that much better, nor is it faultless by any means. Taubes would like to play this good science/bad science game with us, but everyone of us more or less cherrypicks the data that supports what we know to be 'true' - it's not lying, it's human nature.

Without going into details, I suspect he has made the error of trying to apply linear science on non-linear systems. I'm not sure Taubes has yet quite grasped what Art De Vany wrote on Evolutionary Fitness years before:
"All humans are self-organized dynamic systems. Systems that live in the critical region between order and chaos display power law behavior... randomization is an essential element..." 
At the end of the day, Taubes is not able to deliver many interesting or new ideas. I'm afraid he has never been the most inspiring or creative writer out there either. And what's worse, he does not seem to care whether people are couch potatoes or marathon runners. GT is almost as devastating as TV!

Taubes seems to enjoy staying forever the ultimate opposite of popular fitness motivators like Jack LaLanne (who died Sunday at 96, R.I.P.) or Dean Karnazes, the Ultramarathon Man. Instead of attacking carbs, both of these healthy athletes have stressed the importance of eating natural, whole and high-quality foods.

So without further adieu, this is time I officially quit being a Taubes-head. I cannot recommend this book to anyone, with the possible exception being the poor old calorie-counter in the video below, the professor who did the Twinkie Diet Experiment.

In my experience, quitting Taubesianism cold turkey is easier said than done. That's why I've provided the following three easy steps for other victims, who would wish to follow in my footsteps:
  1. Realize you're addicted to Taubes. Stop studying his books like they were the Old and New Testament. Just read something completely different for a while, like 'Perfect Health Diet' by Jaminet and Jaminet.
  2. Avoid following his new blog, which is also very boring. Subscribe to his archrival My Carb Sane-Asylum instead. I'm not saying she has all the answers, but it's refreshing to expose your mind to controversial views, and she's fun to read.
  3. Don't take my word for it. For a second opinion, read this excellent review of WWGF by Yoni Freedhoff. Breath deep, relax, and feel Taubesianism leave your body (LOL).
Good riddance bodyfat, sedentary lifestyle and GT!


CarbSane said...

Awww Shucks PR! Thanks for the shout out here :-)

Marathoner huh? I've always found the notion that Lance bikes because he's lean and not the other way around kind of odd. Why does it have to be one or the other either? Just to be contrarian because I think GT gets an endorphin rush leading the "rebellion". In my life I'm leaner when I'm more active, and more active when I'm leaner. I'm finally weight stable at an acceptable size, but looking over the past few decades of life, when I was leaner and stopped being as active I gained weight. When I was heavier and added deliberate activity to the routine I got leaner. Go figure!

Sadly (and I'm going by some excerpts posted on the net), this latest book seems to promote a rather defeatest attitude. In interviews GT has said that due to "damaging" his metabolism with carbs, he's 20-30 lbs overweight and that's the "best he can do" eating almost no carbs short of starving himself. Folks on low carb forums are discussing this sentence with despair. Buck up! Try something different for a change before giving up!!

LC reduced me probably almost 100 lbs. It, alone, doesn't work for me any more for weight loss. So if I were to listen to him, I should just accept this. Sorry, I'm not done working on this just yet!

Ah well ... didn't mean to go off on a tangent there. ;) Thanks for reading my blog and I'm so happy to hear you enjoy it!

Jakuko said...

Thanks for the comments CarbSane! I'm also getting leaner when I'm more active, and seem to have more energy when I'm active and lean.

I think LC concept is dead, although I agree LC works well up to a point if you are obese. At some point you just have to get off the couch and exercise. A smart guy like Lance wouldn't ride his bike six hours a day for nothing.

I'm not Lance but I do work out a lot. Experience shows that when you're very active, fit & lean and eat sufficient amount of fat and protein, then there's no reason to avoid a little glucose or starch if that's what it takes to keep you going. Toxic carbs like fructose should always be limited of course.

I understand GT has bad back and arthritic knees - that has to limit his exercise, although he claims to do enough of it. Maybe that's why he keeps on saying that excercise cannot significantly contribute to weight loss? That may seem true if you're fat and out of shape, and would lead to the defeatist attitude you mentioned.

Keep on blogging and exercising!

Nigel Kinbrum said...

Must....stop....posting on GT's blog.

I recently came to the conclusion that, instead of changing my diet to suit my insulin resistance, I should change my insulin resistance!

Jakuko said...

Brilliant Nigel! Take the bull by the horns.