Monday, December 26, 2011

Taubes on Low Carb Stalls

Low carb diets stall if you need to lose more than 17-19% of your body weight. That's the dirty little secret about low carb diets, one that I wish I had known. Weight Watchers took me all the way to goal, but low carb stalls. This has left me about 25-30 pounds short of my goal.

The good news is that I am weight stable; the bad news is that I am no longer going down. This is also very common.

Gary Taubes slickly warned us all of this phenomenon in his book, Why We Get Fat. So I can't say I wasn't warned, but he sugar coats the reality. The following quote is from pp. 204-205 of the 2010 hardback edition of his book:

"The fewer carbohydrates we consume, the leaner we will be. This is clear. But there's no guarantee that the leanest we can be will ever be as lean as we'd like. This is a reality to be faced... [I]f you are not actively losing fat and yet want to be leaner still, the only viable option (short of surgery or the prospect that the pharmaceutical industry will come through with a safe and effective anti-obesity pill) is to eat still fewer carbohydrates, identify and avoid other foods that might stimulate significant insulin secretion--diet sodas, dairy products (cream, for instance), coffee, and nots, among others--and have more patience." (The bold and italicized emphasis is mine).

Why is this aspect of the low carb experience not given more exposure? I had to learn about it by reading the What They Don't Tell You About Low Carb Diets web site (a very good web site, which I highly recommend). And is patience the only way to get to goal? Carbsane has stalled, but been weight stable, for over three years now. How much more patience is needed? Lots of suggestions for busting through stalls, such as drinking more water, intermittent fasting (Taubes on p. 205 of the book referenced above), counting calories, etc.

Or perhaps low carb is not the answer, or at least, not the entire answer, to losing weight. I do not want to remain obese, even if other health markers are good (e.g., normal blood pressure, stabilized blood glucose levels). That is not a good strategy.

So over the next few months, I am going to explore other options. I remain committed to the Perfect Health Diet way of eating, but I am going to aggressively monitor calories and experiment with various foods that may or may not be causing me to stall. I have a goal in mind: I will be taking a group of students on a study abroad trip to Europe this summer (gratuitous link to my study abroad blog) and I want to be thin enough to go paragliding in Interlaken, Switzerland. The upper limit is 220 pounds, so that is my goal. I should be able to lose another 25 pounds in the next six months or so and be ready for the paragliding activity.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

More Fairy Tale Advice

Want a current example of a low carb fairy tale?  A so-called, self-proclaimed "diet doctor" sends this message: eat as much "real food" as you like this holiday season, "because counting calories isn't necessary when eating real food." *

While this message might work for someone who is not/has never been obese, it is absolutely the wrong message to send to an obese, or formerly obese, person struggling to lose weight. You simply do not tell a person with eating issues that they can eat as much as they like and still lose weight. Even if it is grass-fed beef, pastured butter and raw, pastured cream, if you eat too much of it, you will gain weight.

Many thoughtful low carb luminaries recommend calorie counting (e.g., Jenny RuhlStargazey, and, most prominently of all, Drs. Volek and Phinney in their book, The Art and Science of Low Carb Living). Carbohydrate restriction and calorie counting is the key to weight loss success. Eating moderately, as Volek and Phinney point out, is also the key to maintaining that weight loss. This is especially important for people who are obese or formerly obese.

If you restrict your carbs and pay attention to calories, you will lose weight. If you consume too many calories, you will gain weight. Even if those calories come from the "real food" you are eating.

A parting comment:  Kurt Harris, M.D., has some hard hitting advice about eating too much low carb/Paleo foods and yet remaining obese, despite improved markers of health. His take in a nutshell: become lean.  Eating junk and being thin is preferable to eating clean low carb/Paleo and being fat.

*Note: I actually agree with much (but not all; I would never eat canola oil, for example) of the Diet Doctor's prescription for weight loss, as long as one is brutally honest about this point: "Eat when you are hungry until you are satisfied" (from his list of approved foods). It's just that the obese and formerly obese need to be very honest about both hunger and satisfaction. All too often, the"until you are satisfied" part is lost behind the "Eat when you are hungry" advice. And all too often, the justification for overeating is, "Don't count calories, count carbs." Eating a cup of cream a day will sabotage your weight loss strategy, even if there aren't very many carbs in that cream.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Low Carb Fairy Tales

Obesity is a complex problem. But, as is human tendency, we want a simple answer to a complex problem. And low carb is a simple answer. Yes, you can lose weight, but this is almost by accident, as when you go low carb, you cut out wheat and sugar, two very problematic things.

Low carb proponents tell the obese exactly what they want to hear:

1) It's not my fault I am fat; my metabolism is broken.
2) I can eat all the fat and protein I want and still lose weight, because low carb gives me a metabolic advantage.
3) Calories don't count, only carbs matter, since all carbs are fattening.
4) Exercise doesn't matter.
5) Carbs increase insulin, which increases fat storage. Cut the carbs and burn fat.
6) Add yummy fat to your diet to be even more healthy and speed up weight loss.

Isn't that nice? Only it's not true: it's merely a fairy tale, with very little empirical science to back it up.

But it is one heck of a persuasive argument to tell an obese person. It shifts the blame from your willpower to something you can't control: an out of whack metabolism. And it worked! At least at first. Then it stalled as it always does after 17-20% weight loss and I got wiser.

It was like learning that Santa Claus is not real: low carb is not the magic weight loss bullet I thought it was.

What I really wanted was a simple solution to what I now know is a complex problem. I didn't want my being fat to be blamed on my sloth and gluttony, I wanted another explanation (broken metabolismfattening carbs!). I didn't want to exercise and I didn't want to count calories. I wanted to eat until I was full and lose weight. Nice, neat, simple, compelling, and wrong.

I am currently following the Perfect Health Diet, a scientifically developed Paleo diet that is not based on fairy tales and which encourages exercise and calorie counting, is already high fat (you don't have to add any more), and complex. But that is okay, because I no longer believe in Santa Claus.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Taking Refuge in the Asylum

So why have I been silent for the past few weeks? The safe starch debate really got to me, especially the smug, sanctimonious responses of many low carbers.

I have decided I no longer want to be identified as a "low carber" and prefer the "Paleo" moniker instead, at least the Perfect Health Diet version of it. Which means I am at a crossroads as to what to do with my blog, as it is called "Low Carb Wisdom." I am seeing there is no wisdom in low carb circles, just dogma. So it's time to hit the exits. I'm not saying I am abondoning the blog, but I am taking... a pause.

In the mean time, I have sought refuge in the Carb Sane Asylum. You might want to check in if you show any sign of these symptoms.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Deer Hunting, Part I

It is deer season in North Dakota, and on opening day, I went out hunting with four other men. Between the five or us, we got three deer, two does and a buck. Unfortunately, I was one of the two that did not shoot something. We simply ran out of time, as it got dark. I guess that is what next weekend is for! We saw two or three dozen deer during the day, and only two or three other hunters. That is the benefit of living in a geographically large state, with a very small population (670,000 people, about one third of whom live in Fargo).

It was a very good experience. After each kill, we had to field dress the carcass and carry it back to the truck. Since hunting was only allowed on opening day after 12 noon, and since it got dark at about 6:30 p.m., that was not a bad record. Each kill took time to deal with the dead animal. We cleaned the last one in the dark, using flashlights, and could hear the coyotes baying at the moon. I suspect they fed well that night, on all the dear guts left from the field dressing of each kill. This was my first time hunting (after going Paleo, I thought it would be a good thing to kill some of my own meat) and I expect to make it an annual event.

I grew up in Utah, and deer hunting there is very different, as two of my brothers who still live there assure me. For one thing, the deer in Utah are mule deer, and are considerably larger than the white tail deer we hunt in central/eastern North Dakota. But the biggest difference was that North Dakota is basically flat: no lugging deer carcasses up and down mountains. Lugging them back to the truck across flat terrain was hard enough. It gave me new respect for Mark Sisson's advice to move and lift heavy things on a regular basis.

Assuming I get my deer next week, I am very tempted to take up bow hunting as well. There is something deeply primal about stalking a deer with a bow, then having to chase the animal down after it is wounded.

The only problem with North Dakota deer: I am pretty sure these deer spent much of the last two months gorging on corn and other crops, as this is an agricultural state. So much for grass-fed deer.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Credibility and the "Safe Starch" Debate

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his
salary depends upon his not understanding it."  --Upton Sinclair

Are all carbohydrates bad? No. In a post today on Robb Wolf's blog about meat and potatoes, Matt Lentzner said:  "Judging a food solely by its macronutrient composition is stupid. It’s hard to believe it has taken us 50 years to figure that out. We have good fats (saturated and omega-3’s) and bad fats (omega-6’s), good carbs (starch) and bad carbs (fructose), good proteins (meat) and bad proteins (gluten). It’s the quality of the macronutrient, not it’s classification, that makes it good or bad."

I agree with Lentzner that it is quality, not classification, and that it is stupid to judge a food solely by its macronutrient composition. I didn't always believe this, but I do now.

Why is it so hard to understand that there might be "good carbs," or, in the parlance of the debate du jour, "safe starches?" Why is the idea of a "safe starch" so threatening to so many people?  The whole safe starch debate was really surprising to me, until I stumbled across the quote above by Upton Sinclair. Then, all of a sudden, a light went on.

It appears to me that the major proponents of the "all carbs are bad" school of thought (I won't name names, but it isn't too hard to do) all make a good portion of their livelihood (if not all of their livelihood) from promoting this idea. It also appears to me that the major defenders of the safe starch debate, Paul and Shou-Ching Jaminet, do not make their livelihood promoting the Perfect Health Diet, so they are more flexible in and open to accepting new information. The same is true with Kurt Harris and his Archevore diet and for others. Their livelihood does not depend on defending a certain belief or viewpoint at all costs, so they are able to go against the grain when strong evidence is available.

The idea that there may be "safe starches" (good carbs) must be incredibly threatening to those whose livelihoods depend on not believing this idea. So they reflexively defend it at all costs. As a professor at a state-sponsored university, I do the same thing when people suggest cutting state funds for higher education. I am not immune to the impulse. Even if I intellectually understand the arguments about out-of-control higher education spending, I am viscerally against them, as my livelihood is at stake. So I am not throwing stones, just seeking more wisdom on the topic.

But it does lead me to this conclusion: arguments made by those without a vested interest in the debate are more credible than those made by people whose income is threatened by the debate. Just as I lack credibility on questions of funding for higher education.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Obese No Longer

I lost two pounds this week, but the bigger news is this: now that I weigh 239.8 pounds, my BMI has dropped below the "obese" threshold. I am officially no longer obese; I am now merely "overweight," with a BMI of 29.9. Yes, I am tall (6'3").

Have I ever mentioned that I think the BMI measurement is a bunch of bunk?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Safe Starch Debate: A Diabetic's Perspective

There is a debate raging in the low carb blogosphere about the concept of "safe starches." Here is the start of the debate; here is Paul Jaminet's initial response, and here is the latest installment, featuring Dr. Ron Rosedale, with an response coming on Tuesday from Paul Jaminet.

One thing all sides have said: We do not necessarily recommend "safe starches" for diabetics. Well, I am a type II diabetic and a Perfect Health Diet follower, so I want to chime in with my experience.

First off, I have lost about 62 pounds, but 55 of that came following the diet described in the back of Gary Taubes' book, Why We Get Fat, which I later learned was the Atkins Induction phase. This helped to stabilize my blood glucose levels in about three weeks time, as well as returning my blood pressure to a normal range. But then I stalled and started reading more broadly about low carb diets. I discovered Gary Taubes didn't have all the answers, and I switched from the Atkins Induction diet to the Perfect Health Diet. I have been eating rice, potatoes, bananas, and other safe starches ever since, as well as fermented dairy products, such as plain, whole milk yogurt. I have also slowly lost another seven pounds. I enthusiastically recommend the book, Perfect Health Diet by Paul and Shou-Ching Jaminet.

Today, my fasting blood glucose reading was 105. Note that since following the Perfect Health Diet, my fasting blood glucose reading has gone down. Previously, I was suffering from the "dawn phenomenon." My blood glucose levels overall were well below 140 one hour after a meal and 120 two hours after a meal. Only my fasting BG reading was out of whack, usually between 120 and 130, first thing in the morning.

For dinner tonight, I had a fatty pork rib, green beans, and a small baked potato with butter and sour cream. For dessert, I had a half cup of vanilla ice cream. One hour after eating, my blood glucose level was 128 and two hours after, it was 112.

So not only am I losing weight on the Perfect Health Diet, my blood glucose levels have actually improved, thanks to the increased carbs counteracting the dawn phenomenon, just as Dr. Kurt Harris (another proponent of safe starches) said it would.

So for me, as a type II diabetic, this "safe starches" exclusion is pointless. I realize that I have greatly helped my diabetes situation by losing a lot of weight prior to switching to the Perfect Health Diet.  And I am taking Metformin Extended Release pills every day. Nevertheless, despite the type II diabetes, I am doing just fine on the Perfect Health Diet, thank you. I reject the diabetic exclusion of safe starches.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Back from Europe

I am back from Europe, where I have been for the past six weeks, with a study abroad group. I had an interesting experience with the Perfect Health Diet while in Europe. First off, it appears I lost 3-4 pounds while I was gone, which is amazing, considering that we ate out almost every day for the past three weeks, often three times per day when we were in deep travel mode.

But following the PHD principles led me to making good choices. Among the items I consumed while abroad: a good deal of cheese made with raw milk; deviled lamb kidneys; pate de foie gras, pheasant pate, goose liver, pastured eggs, grass fed beef (especially in Scotland and Ireland), many truly fresh vegetables, a bit of chicken, fish, shrimp, etc. It was especially easy to eat in France, Belgium, and Luxembourg, as the local culture practically demands quality cuisine. It was more difficult in Switzerland, Germany, England, and Northern Ireland; somewhat less difficult in Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. I spent the most time in Belgium, with a fresh market every weekend and whenever possible, we purchased fresh food and ate in. But when we ate out in Belgium, we ran in to some excellent restaurants, such as Comme Soupe and t'Injaske. Everything is made fresh and the quality is just superb. My wife even bought a Belgian soup cookbook, so we can eat tasty, fresh, and hearty soups in the states.

The hardest part came when traveling in countries not known for their cuisine (e.g., England, Germany, Switzerland), but my strategy there was to hit the supermarket and buy whatever I could to eat. That usually meant cheeses, chicken, soup, vegetables, and yogurt.

So I am living proof that one can travel, a lot, and eat out, a lot, yet still lose weight when making wise choices. I am especially grateful to the Perfect Health Diet for convincing me to add back foods like rice, potatoes, bananas, and yogurt, which made the task all that much easier. Without spiking my blood sugars, but that is a post for another day (I am a type II diabetic). This "safe starch" concept has really helped make the low carb lifestyle sustainable and healthy.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

How Does Low Carb Work? A Review of Various Theories

In a recent post, I speculated on reasons why people are obese. In many ways, this current post is the opposite: why do low carb diets reduce obese people to slender people? There are a lot of claims on the Internet about why low carb diets work, some of them quite outrageous, and I want to seek wisdom on this topic.

The Carbohydrate Hypothesis. Gary Taubes is the leading proponent of the hypothesis that carbs, especially refined carbs like flour and sugar, are fattening. This is also known as the "carbohydrate hypothesis." According to Taubes, carbs lead to insulin spikes, which leads to fat deposition (accumulation). The "carbohydrate hypothesis" is widely disputed and to date, there is no empirical evidence to back it up, though Taubes is apparently trying to raise money for such an empirical test. Personally, I no longer believe this theory, though at one time, I was a believer. True believers in this hypothesis include Jimmy Moore, Dana Carpender, Gary Taubes (of course), and Tom Naughton, among many others.

Metabolic Advantage. Others suggest that a low carb diet gives you a metabolic advantage (the idea that you burn calories more efficiently while low carbing, and can therefore consume greater quantities of low carb food and still lose weight), though at present there is very little empirical evidence to back up this claim. This idea is also widely disputed, as exemplified by the dust-up between Michael Eades and Anthony Colpo on this very topic. The metabolic advantage theory leads to the idea that calories don't count, that some calories (e.g., "low carb" calories") are better than other calories. Thus, if you eat low carb, you don't have to worry about calories. I am also on record as rejecting this idea.

Satiety. Another theory about why low carb diets work is that protein and fat are more satiating (see this article, too). When you eat a high fat, moderate protein, low carb diet you lose weight because you spontaneously consume fewer calories. There seems to be a lot more evidence for this theory (e.g., here, here, and here). Note, too, that this theory implicitly rejects the theory of metabolic advantage mentioned above. I am on record as saying this is a major reason why low carb works.

Toxins, Infections, and Malnutrition. The Perfect Health Diet maintains that weight loss happens when you eliminate toxins from your diet, as well as malnutrition and infections caused by your diet. The Jaminets have developed a diet based on these three ideas, which is summarized here. The diet is a low carb diet that includes so-called "safe starches," such as potatoes and white rice. A "safe starch" has nothing to do with carb or glucose content. It is a term invented by the Jaminets and "refers to any starchy food which, after normal cooking, lacks toxins, chiefly protein toxins. We do not consider glucose to be a toxin, though it may become toxic in hyperglycemia" (reference). Their definition of a low carb diet is one between 100 to 150 grams of carbs per day, mostly from "safe starches," as a low carb diet for them "means eating less than the body's actual glucose utilization, so that a glucose deficit has to be made up by gluconeogenesis" (reference). But weight loss happens not because carbs are reduced, but because toxins are eliminated, infections are reduced, and malnutrition is aggressively attacked. I am currently following the Perfect Health Diet, so I guess you could say I am a believer in this hypothesis.

Low Carb Works by Accident. Kurt Harris, M.D., maintains that low carb diets work by accident.  Specifically, he says:

Low carb plans have helped people lose fat by reducing food reward from white flour and excess sugar and maybe linoleic acid. This is by accident as it happens that most of the "carbs" in our diet are coming in the form of manufactured and processed items that are simply not real food. Low carb does not work for most people via blood sugar or insulin "locking away" fat. Insulin is necessary to store fat, but is not the main hormone regulating fat storage. That would be leptin. (emphasis added).

Food reward is an idea championed by Stephan Guyenet and the basic idea is that highly palatable foods lead to obesity. Lowering food reward, or palatability, by reducing refined sugars, flours, and even salt and other spices to produce more bland eating options leads to losing weight. The idea proposed by Harris and Guyenet is that low carb diets work, not by design, but by accident. By following Atkins, for example, you naturally reduce food reward by eliminating a whole macronutrient category, carbohydrates. As the Harris quote above indicates, he (and Guyenet) both reject Taubes' carbohydrate hypothesis.

This is a curious argument, one that makes a certain amount of sense. Why does Atkins work? If you follow Atkins, you eliminate two major problematic foods: refined sugars and refined flour. This will naturally lead to weight loss. Atkins is not too concerned about seed oils, though, which is why I don't claim to be following Atkins. My version of a low carb diet has eliminated seed oils from a very early stage in my weight loss history. Atkins also produces a lot of junk food, made with wheat gluten, soy, and other products I don't consume. An Atkins low carb diet is not necessarily a low calorie diet, if you eat too much low carb junk food. So I do think there is an element of "accident" in why low carb works.

My Position. I believe low carb works because 1) protein and fat are more satiating than carbs; 2) low carb eating causes me to spontaneously consume fewer calories, since protein and fat are more satiating than carbs; 3) calories count, so be mindful of how much you eat; 4) low carb lowers food reward by eliminating sugar, flour, and seed oils, especially those three in combination; 5) low carb removes toxins, reduces infections, and corrects malnutrition; 6) low carb requires that I eat real foods, the kind that are not processed; and 7) low carb simply offers fewer food choices. It is a lot harder to snack and harder to eat out, at least in the U.S.A. This means I eat real food cooked at home more often than not. Fortunately, my desire to snack is greatly reduced thanks to the satiety of what I eat.

I do not believe in the carbohydrate hypothesis and reject the notion that carbs are inherently fattening (this idea seems to be widely believed and held on the Internet). Rejecting this idea opened my mind to the idea of eating "safe starches," as defined by the Jaminets. I also reject the idea of metabolic advantage and believe that calories count. Thus, I would never substitute a cup of heavy cream for a cup of whole milk, simply because there are fewer carbs in the cream than in the milk, nor would I add 12 tablespoons of fat to two pounds of meat to increase the fat content of my diet That is simply too many calories and a low carb diet is already a high fat, moderate protein, low carb way of eating. You don't need to add a lot of additional fat.

Taken together, the seven reasons cited above are a recipe for low carb success.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Silence Explained

I take students abroad for my day job and have been in Europe for the past few weeks, working 12-15 hour days. It hasn't left a lot of time for blogging, so I hope that explains my silence. Here are some photos I took from recent travels to Belgium, France, Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Scotland (plus a gratuitous link to my other, neglected study abroad blog).

So a few links: Paul Jaminet responds to various comments about safe starches. The man is a class act and I respect him more now than ever before. Not only has he taught me about how to do low carb safely and correctly, he has taught me how to be a gentleman as well.

I some times despair at finding wisdom in the low carb blogosphere; everyone thinks carbs are fattening and that all we have to do is cut carbs to lose weight. This is not true. But occasionally, I do stumble upon low carb wisdom. Here is one such post. Finding low carb wisdom is the reason I started this blog.

There has been a lot of activity about the book Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis. I even wrote a review of the book. But Chris Masterjohn, another superb example of a human being, wrote a very decent review of the book that captures the best and the worst aspects of the book. You can tell it is a compelling review by reading Dr. Davis' response to Masterjohn's blog.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"Healthy" Food Options Lead to Unhealthy Food Choices

I mentioned several theories of obesity from low carb and Paleo gurus in a previous post. Today, I want to show some psychological reasons why people make poor food choices, potentially ending up obese. The theory of eating cues is not meant to replace any other theories about obesity, merely to supplement them. External triggers are very real.

Two important studies in the Journal of Consumer Research show why “healthy” choices in a restaurant may lead to unhealthy meal selection. Words like “healthy” are in quotations marks, as the dominant paradigm of these studies is that low fat, high carb is good and high fat is bad. We Paleo and low carb types know better. Still, they make for very interesting reading and offer yet another reason why obesity may be increasing.

In the first study, consumers who went to Subway believed they were eating healthy food. This led to choosing a “healthy” sandwich, but several “unhealthy” sides, such as sugary drinks and cookies.  When asked to estimate the number of calories they consumed, they estimated, on average, 35% fewer calories than they actually consumed. They did not make this magnitude of error estimating calories when eating at McDonald’s. Subway is permeated by a “health halo” that implies all of the menu items at Subway are healthy. In reality, some sandwiches have more calories than a Big Mac. At McDonald’s, people are not under the illusion that they are eating healthy foods, so they may actually consume fewer calories than at Subway.

second study explains why this is happening. Consumers have a goal of eating healthier, and “healthy” items on the menu confirm their goal of healthy eating. The mere presence of a “healthy” menu choice does three things.  First, it vicariously fulfills a desire or goal the make more “healthy” eating choices. Second, it focuses the consumer’s attention on the least healthy item in the choice set. And finally, it provides consumers with a license to indulge. Their goal of eating at a “healthy” restaurant is met, so they don’t actually have to eat in a “healthy” manner, just eat at a “healthy” restaurant. This is what focuses their attention on the unhealthy menu options and leads them to indulge, and this study demonstrates convincingly that this is even true with individuals who have a high degree of self-control. The authors of this paper demonstrated this effect in four different studies across different contexts. It also works in vending machines with more “healthy” options (sales of Snickers bars go up).

What does this all mean? In the rush to add “healthier” items to the menus at unhealthy restaurants, the net effect is an increase in sales of unhealthy items. When “healthy” items are not present, consumers make “wiser” decisions about their “healthy” food choices.

So as I have shown before (here and here), cues, such as "healthy" food options, plate size, container size, 100-calorie packages, etc., have a direct and unrecognized impact on how people eat what they eat. So it is not all food palatability, carbs, toxins, NADs, modern lifestyle, genetics, or infections that lead to obesity. Sometimes, it is also pure psychology.

There are a lot of other food cues to report on, but all in due time. Keep watching this space!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Why We Get Fat, According to...

Gary Taubes blames carbs, especially the refined carbs like wheat and sugar.

Laura Dolson is generally with Taubes on the refined carbs, but she also blames marketing.

As a marketing professor, I find straw men arguments like this patently ridiculous. Marketing is not all powerful; if it were, I would have created a junk product and marketed it to all of you idiots out there, who would have bought it. You wouldn't have a choice; marketing would have forced you to buy it, and I could retire in style to the French Riviera. Unfortunately, life isn't like that. Consumers have brains and can choose to not purchase marketed products. Up to 95% of new products fail, despite massive amounts of marketing. The influence of the home can swamp any marketing campaign. Massive amounts of food industry marketing do not work on me, for example, or the example I set in my family. I have a brain and I choose differently.

Also, does marketing/advertising create food attitudes, or merely reflect already existing attitudes in people? Any competent social scientist will tell you it is very hard to change behavior. While I think marketing can help to create attitudes, it mostly reflects what already exists. Take smoking, for example. Reasons people smoke include parental example/rebellion against parents; peer pressure; stress and anxiety reductions; desire to lose weight, etc. Marketing, though often blamed for smoking (Exhibit A: Joe Camel), is not even mentioned as a factor (I would argue that marketing only informs brand choice, not the decision to smoke).  Get real, folks. Marketing is just not as powerful as you would like to believe. It may be a convenient whipping boy, but your belief in the absolute power of marketing is a fantasy.

Kurt Harris blames the Neolithic Agents of Disease, including fructose, wheat, and seed oils.

Stephan Guyenet blames highly palatable food choices for weight gain.

Paul Jaminet blames malnutrition, dietary toxins, and infections for obesity.

Chris Kresser says there is no single cause of or treatment for obesity. Later, he says that modern lifestyle + genetic predisposition = obesity.

What do I believe? I used to believe Gary Taubes, because the solution he proposed worked for me, to a point. Harris, Jaminet, and Kresser are all singing variations of the same tune, so I suppose I am in their camp now. I am following the Perfect Health Diet, though I am stalled at the moment. They seem the most reasonable, the most scientifically based, even though I have criticized science as a justifying principle for belief. But I guess I have to hang my hat somewhere.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Large Containers, Large Plates

Yesterday, I wrote about research on chronic dieters and small package size. Today, I want to report on some research about large container size and its impact on eating.

Apparently, chronic dieters and their small packages aside, the larger the container, the more people will consume. This article reports on container size and palatability, and is one of Brian Wansink's infamous popcorn studies. Popcorn was given away during an early afternoon movie screening (just after lunch, so consumers would not be hungry) in either medium or large buckets. The popcorn was either freshly popped or stale (14 days old). But whether or not the popcorn was palatable was not the issue; consumers ate 45% more fresh popcorn from the big buckets and 33.6% more stale popcorn from the big buckets than from the medium buckets. The conclusion: container size is a powerful cue to how much you eat. There is another version of this popcorn study. In this second study, people who reported they disliked the stale popcorn still ate 61% more popcorn from a large rather than the medium container. Those who reported they liked the fresh popcorn ate 49% more popcorn from the large rather than the medium container. The conclusion: container size is a powerful cue for consumption. The bigger the container, the more will be consumed, whether the food is palatable or not.

Another, similar study was conducted to demonstrate the effects of plate size on portions. This video (select the menu button on the player and scroll to the last segment) explains the study. Basically, participants scoop pasta on to a small plate. Before they can take the plate to the table, they are distracted. During the distraction, the plate and food are surreptitiously weighed. The server then "accidentally" coughs or sneezes on the plate and offers the participant a second plate and has them scoop up more pasta. The catch: the second plate is much larger. Once again, the plate is surreptitiously weighed before the plate is taken away. The results: the same person scoops up 25% more pasta on to the larger plate rather than the smaller plate. The takeaway from the study: we are cued into how much to eat by plate size.

Are people in the low carb/paleo communities susceptible to these cues? You betcha.  But as Brian Wansink, the author of the above studies, wrote in his book Mindless Eating, you can use these cues to your advantage. Serve your meals on smaller plates and "mindlessly" consume less. As I have mentioned previously, I have stalled on my low carb journey and need to cut calories. An easy way to do this is by using smaller containers and plates.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

100-Calorie Food Packages and Low Carb

As my cousin Cathy once said, "When I think of all the reasons I eat, hunger has very little to do with it." How true. There is more psychology involved in eating than one may think, and there is a lot of interesting food research out there to report on. Not all of it is low carb or Paleo, but it is interesting nonetheless.

Since I am a marketing professor, I have decided to report on some of the interesting food research that I stumble across in the academic marketing literature. I will link to abstracts and full text articles whenever possible, though if you don't have academic access, you may not be able to pull up the full article. But fear not: I will summarize them in plain English and avoid the statistics and academic-speak.

Today's topic: diet "food" in 100-calorie packages. According to this article published in the Journal of Consumer Research, chronic dieters perceive that if a food, such as M&Ms, comes in a 100-calorie pack, it is a diet food. This perception can prompt chronic dieters to overeat the "diet food" contained in the 100-calorie pack. The authors caution dieters to be wary of "foods" contained in 100-calorie packs.

In a second study about small packages of food, this article, also in the same issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, shows that large packages trigger concerns of overeating in chronic dieters, but small packages do not trigger the same concerns. In fact, small packages actually encourage chronic dieters to eat more.

In this clever study, one group of participants had their dietary concerns "activated" by taking surveys about dieting and thinness and by being weighed and measured in front of mirrors. They were then asked to evaluate commercials during an episode of Friends. Another group was given the same task, but did not take the dieting surveys and were not weighed and measured prior to watching Friends. The research participants thought they would be evaluating TV advertisements, but that was really a distraction from the true purpose of the study. The researchers actually monitored how many potato chips participants consumed during the TV show.

The catch: the chips came in large bags and small bags. The group whose dietary concerns were activated by the survey and the weigh in did not consumer very many chips from the large bags, but ate a lot of chips from the small bags. The control group ate roughly the same amount of chips from large or small bags.

The takeaway: dieters actually consume more high-calorie snacks when they are in small packages rather than large packages.

So, combining the results from the two studies, dieters perceive food in 100-calorie packages to be diet food, and they will eat more of them, even if they are, in reality, high calorie snacks.

Do we in the low carb/Paleo communities fall prey to this, too? I know I have, in the past. For example, these 10 gram, 70% dark chocolate mignonettes each have three grams of carbs, one gram of fiber (for two net grams of carbs), 3 grams of saturated fat in the healthy cocoa butter, and 59 calories. Isn't that a perfect, low carb food? Yes--if you eat one piece. But if you perceive it to be "diet" food and overeat it, then no, it is not good for you and is in reality a high-calorie snack.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Justifying Principles

An epistemological question: why do people believe what they believe about low carb/paleo/ancestral ways of living? What are your justifying principles? I have written before about how tough it is to justify dietary dogmas. But I think I would like to revisit that question in more detail.

It seems to me that in the low carb world, the overarching belief is that "carbs are bad." Gary Taubes, at least as interpreted by his adherents, seems to be a big proponent of this philosophy. According to this view, carbs are fattening, and therefore, cutting carbs causes people to lose weight. But I have actually read Taubes' two main books, and while he is certainly down on carbs, he does seem to be especially down on fructose and refined carbs, not all carbs. Also, this theory is under attack, with many paleo and primal types rejecting it. As Chris Kresser pointed out, just because cutting carbs is a cure to obesity, it doesn't logically follow that carbs cause obesity. We are confusing a cure with a cause.

Yet, as I peruse the Internet, it seems to me the belief that carbs are fattening is widely held. I don't believe this and I personally think that we lose weight on a low carb diet because when we cut out sugar and refined carb products, we spontaneously consume fewer calories, as fat and protein (the foods with which we replace all those carbs we cut) are much more satiating. And limiting your intake of carbs cuts out an awful lot of food choices. That said, if you eat too much low carb food, you will gain weight, especially if you consume too much fat. Calories do matter.

What is the justifying principle for Paleo? Paleo types try to eat what they guess our Paleolithic ancestors ate. For example, J. Stanton of suggests, "Eat like a predator, not like prey." Unlike low carb dieters, many Paleo adherents don't do dairy, because have you ever tried to milk a wild buffalo? But do we really know what our ancestors ate? It seems to me that a lot of Paleo adherents have a romanticized view of what our ancestors ate.  Some Paleo adherents (e.g., Jaminet, Harris) advocate eating "safe" carbs, such as potatoes, rice, tapioca, etc., in addition to adding dairy. Apparently, Harris is currently eating 40% of his calories as carbs, including a lot of Rice Krispies and half and half (you'll have to listen to a rather long [but interesting!] podcast to hear him admit this).

My main problem with Paleo: its justifying principles are rather shaky. I can find all varieties of people who follow the "Paleo" lifestyle: those who do low carb Paleo; those who eat fruit, since not all ancient fruits were small, bitter, and low in sugar; those who will add some dairy to the previous list; those who will add dark chocolate; those who will add rice or potatoes; those who do vegetarian variants of the Paleo lifestyle; those who do low fat Paleo; and those who try to do some version of Paleo, but who cheat, a little or a lot. There have also been some high profile people quit the Paleo lifestyle, such as Don Matesz. Since there is so much argument about what our Paleolithic ancestors ate, it seems to me that members of the "Paleo" community are more united by what they avoid than by what they eat. They avoid things that make modern man sick, such as refined carbs, dairy, seed oils, processed foods, etc.

I actually appreciate all of the discussions within the Paleo community. As General George Patton once said, "If everyone's thinking the same thing, nobody is thinking." At least some thinking and progressing is going on in the Paleo community. Sometimes, it doesn't seem to me like as much thinking is going on in the low carb community. There does seem to be a lot of agreement in most Paleo camps that modern wheat, seed oils, refined carbs, and processed foods are not healthy to consume. The debate about dairy (fermented, cheese, cream), fruit, potatoes, rice, dark chocolate, etc., is actually very healthy. I know it has helped me change my mind on some topics. And at least they avoid nonsensical arguments like, "All carbs are fattening."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Stalled Again

I think I have officially stalled again. For one month now, I have been hanging around the 242-243 pound range. The good news is that almost without effort, my weight has stabilized in a range that is sixty pounds lower than when I started. The bad news is, I am still about 25 pounds away from goal.

Weight Watchers took me all the way down to goal, but it was a miserable experience. Low carb/paleo/Perfect Health Diet has been a much better, overall way to lose weight. I am healthier, I am not hungry, and my type II diabetes is effectively in remission. Yet, I cannot seem to get down to where I want to be. And this is a rather common problem when low carb dieting. What to do? I don't really know yet.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Why I Love Belgium, Part I

Belgium is a coastal country, with lots of seafood available, fresh. It is a land of French cuisine in the restaurants, without the French wait staff or attitude. And it is very, very easy for me as a low carb adherent to eat, even when I am on the road and have to eat out all the time. But it is even better when I can cook on my own.

The supermarkets sell all sorts of things, such as lamb, rabbit, duck, wild boar, and on the shelves it is easy to find offal (kidneys, heart, liver, brains, etc.). The eggs are almost all from free range chickens and some say, even on the box, that they don't throw your omega 3s and 6s out of balance. You can buy cheeses made from raw, unpasteurized milk, as well as yogurt, which is simply divine. And the selection of cheeses is enormous! The dark chocolate here is better, and a whole lot less expensive, than what we have to make do with in the states. But even better are the fresh food markets on the weekend.

The one in Antwerp is simply not to be missed. The quality of the vegetables, fruit, cheeses, butter, fish, meats, olives, olive oil, etc. is just amazing. I enjoy wandering around the market on Saturday morning and seeing all of the high quality food. Serious cooks know to get the best produce, fruits, and meat at the markets.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Wheat Belly

I just completed Wheat Belly by William Davis, M.D., and wanted to give my two cents about it. Many reviews have already been written in the low carb blogosphere about the book, but I do believe I have something to add. I very much enjoyed the book and learned a lot about why we should avoid wheat.

The basic premise is that wheat has been genetically modified in the past 50 years into something very unhealthy. Dr. Davis lays out the case that consumption of this genetically modified franken-wheat leads to celiac disease, skin rashes, neurological disorders, diabetes, weight gain, etc. He calls it a "super carbohydrate" and singles it out for special attention because of how it spikes blood sugars and causes a lot of other problems. This part of the book was perhaps the most interesting to me, as I did not know a lot about modern wheat, even though it has been in the scientific literature for more than 30 years. Dr. Davis also recounts experiences from his practice as a cardiologist to back up what the literature is saying.

He goes on to describe what I considered to be a rather conventional low carb diet: cut the wheat and other things that spike your blood sugar, plus avoid vegetable oils. Eat meats, nuts, cheese, vegetables, berries, etc., but avoid processed foods. But I did find myself disagreeing with some of his low carb recommendations.

Though I didn't quite realize just how bad modern wheat is, I have realized that wheat is bad and have cut it from my diet for the past seven months. But I have also cut out sugar and vegetable oils and have been convinced about the dangers of the Neolithic Agents of Disease, as Kurt Harris likes to describe the harmful parts of our diet (e.g., wheat, sugar, vegetable oils).

Many people advocate a similar philosophy of eating. Davis condemns all forms of wheat, Taubes condemns sugar, and Enig condemns seed oils and the vilification of tropical and animal fats. Most low carb/paleo types would agree with avoiding these three categories. But there are variations in Davis' low carb diet recommendation.

For example, Davis permits chocolate; Sally Fallon says we should not eat it. Davis is okay with a bit of soy products in the diet, but others suggest avoiding all forms of soy, except some fermented soy products. Like the Perfect Health and the All Vegan Archevore (!) diets, Davis is okay with a small amount of potatoes and rice, if you can handle them, while others totally avoid (and even mock the concept of) "safe starches." Davis says certain legumes, like peanuts and natural peanut butter are okay; the Jaminets counsel us to avoid peanuts. Davis says don't eat wheat but Sally Fallon tells us we can consume properly prepared wheat. Mark Sisson says properly prepared wheat is probably okay to eat, but too much trouble to bother with. It's simply easier to avoid. Davis' arguments themselves focus more on modern wheat than ancient wheat, and he does not address at all the techniques Fallon and other advocate for properly preparing wheat for consumption.

I actually found myself saying, "I wouldn't eat that!" in response to some of the foods Davis says are okay in his version of a low carb diet (e.g., soy products, artificial sweeteners). So rather than adding clarity to my search for low carb wisdom (I already knew wheat was bad and avoided it), he actually ended up by muddling the already murky waters.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Limit to Counting Calories

I am on record as stating that calories count. However, I am about to revise that opinion slightly. I have been counting calories and measuring my macronutrient ratios using the free software at Since I began counting calories in August, I have lost nine additional pounds, after a mild stall. But I have discovered one thing that gives me pause in counting calories: I may still be eating too much.

It is all psychological. I have been rigorously tracking every calorie I consumed, but recently I have noticed that at the end of the day, I often have several hundred calories left. Since I have the calories left, I have felt obligated to use them, even if I wasn't hungry. After all, tells me I should be losing two pounds per week based on my height, weight, and age. But I am not losing two pounds per week and it occurs to me this is because I am consuming too many calories, even when I am below the level stipulated by for a two pound weight loss per week. I think all of these months on a low carb diet have slowed my metabolism.

So I am trying something new this week: eating until I am full, but stopping when I am no longer hungry, even if I have hundreds of calories left. Yes, I will still track the calories but won't feel obligated to consume them. We'll see how this goes.

In the "Good News" category, I have not regained five pounds by switching to the Perfect Health Diet, even after increasing my daily carb intake to around 100 grams per day, mostly from rice, potatoes, and whole milk yogurt.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Lipid Profile

I got the results of my completely useless lipid profile today, and my doctor reacted exactly as I predicted (here and here). She applauded my weight loss, congratulated me on low triglycerides and an HDL number in the normal range, but was "very concerned" because my overall score was 197 and my LDL was 142, was 12 points above the upper end of the "normal" range. She wanted to put me on statin drugs, which I politely refused.

Since I suspected this would be the reaction, I brought the explanation of pattern A and pattern B LDL particles to her attention and pointed out that the LDL number was a calculated, not measured, value. I showed her the pages in The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living by Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney that discussed why LDL readings are often elevated in people following a low carb diet and explained how the calculation overestimates the LDL cholesterol particles. She did not know what to say.

People like Kurt Harris, M.D. question the whole utility of getting a lipid profile. What's the point? Saturated fats don't cause heart disease and statins don't do anything, so why bother spending money to get a number that is meaningless? I think I can see where Kurt Harris is coming from.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Liver and Onions

Yesterday marked a full week on the Perfect Health Diet, my new take on low carb living. Each day, I had been taking my multivitamin, eating three Brazil nuts, getting enough sun, etc., everything except... eating liver. But I committed to doing the Perfect Health Diet correctly, so, on the last day of the week, we made liver and onions.

And I lived to tell about it. Actually, it wasn't that bad. I followed Sally Fallon's suggestion of soaking the liver in lemon juice for "several hours" prior to cooking it, then cutting it into small pieces, as per the Nutty Kitchen suggestion. I cooked it outside on my Camp Chef stove in a cast iron skillet so as not to stink up my kitchen (we had visitors coming over after dinner).

Cooked this way, with lots of onions, butter and garlic, it was... tasty. And I discovered that my aversion to it was mostly psychological, probably leftover from my teenage years when I was a cook at Perkins Cake & Steak, where we cooked really smelly liver. I like pâté de foie gras, goose liver, and chicken liver pâté, so I wonder what my problem was with beef liver.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Why Taubes has Groupies

In a tweet today (Labor Day, September 5, 2012), Paul Jaminet commented:

I don't think this is hero worship at all. I think it is a visceral, positive response to his message, reinforced by successful weight loss. Let me explain.

DISCLAIMER: I have matured in my low carb way of eating and thinking. I have given up on several of Taubes' ideas, because they didn't jive with my experience. I believe calories count, that exercise matters, that there are safe carbs, and I am following the Perfect Health Diet version of low carb eating now. I believe that we have confused an obesity cure (cutting carbs) with an obesity cause (carbs are fattening). Just because cutting carbs can cure obesity does not mean that carbs cause obesity (thank you, Chris Kresser, for expressing this idea). I eat about 100 grams of carbohydrates per day, mostly from whole milk yogurt or safe starches such as rice and potatoes. I have also lost almost 60 pounds thanks to the low carb way of eating, and Gary Taubes introduced me to it, for which I am very grateful. Even though I no longer believe some of what he wrote, he had a powerful influence on my life, for the better.

Okay, now the explanation. I don't know if Paul Jaminet or Emily Deans or Beth Mazur have ever been obese or not, though I suspect they have not. Taubes' message rings true if you have struggled, unsuccessfully, with weight for a long time. I have struggled through thick and, sometimes, thin, for most of my life. I have been about 100 pounds overweight, lost that on Weight Watchers, regained it (very embarrassing), and despaired about ever being able to achieve a normal weight. I was about to give up, when a post on linked to Why We Get Fat. I downloaded the book from, but didn't immediately get around to listening to it, until the 12th and 13th of February, 2011.

Taubes gave an explanation for obesity that didn't focus on me being a slothful glutton. He provided a rational that led me to believe my metabolism was broken, and that I had been lied to by the low fat, high carb establishment, including Weight Watchers. I clearly remember listening to this explanation with my jaw slack. It was something completely different than anything I had ever heard, and it put the blame on insulin rather than on my weak will and base desires. No wonder Weight Watchers failed! According to Taubes, I was starving at a cellular level! On Valentine's day, I started eating low carb and I lost 11 pounds in the first two weeks. Success! I had personal evidence that what Taubes said worked, and I was firm in the belief that I had been fat for reasons other than my weak will and abnormal appetite. Further, the low carb diet slayed my hunger demons and made it possible for me to go about the day, without obsessing on food, just as Taubes said. He had great credibility with me, and I bought and devoured Good Calories, Bad Calories and had several epiphanies reading that. Such as the whole Ancel Keys story on the demonization of saturated fat. I was hooked.

Only later did I realize that some of his ideas were not scientifically grounded, that he was a theorist, not an empiricist. I discovered alternative voices, such as Kurt Harris, Paul Jaminet, and Jenny Ruhl, all of whom viewed low carbing differently than Taubes. I have gradually changed my view of some of Taubes' ideas, but it took a long time for the halo effect to wear off. It still hasn't worn off completely, and I am grateful Taubes exposed the whole "fat is bad" line of reasoning and that he introduced me to the low carb way of eating.

To an obese person, Taubes' message resonates powerfully, even viscerally. When you experiment on what he said, you get immediate, substantial results. No wonder so many people think so highly of him.

Right or wrong, that is why he has a lot of followers and that is why he is such a big name in the low carb community.

10% Goal Reached--Again

The weight loss continues to happen, though much more slowly than at the beginning of my low carb way of eating. That said, today I hit another milestone. I lost 10% of my body weight--for the second time. I started out weighing 301.6, then some time in early May, I hit my first 10% goal by losing my first 30 pounds (271.6). Today when I weighed myself (I weigh in every Monday morning), I was at 242.6, down another 29 pounds and realized that some time in the last week or two, I hit my 10% goal again.

A lot has changed since Valentine's Day, 2011, when I embarked on this low carb way of eating. At first, I was losing weight very rapidly, but that has slowed in recent months, to about a pound per week. I have changed my approach to my low carb way of eating. First, after stalling, I started to count calories.  Then I doubled my carbs about a month ago but still stayed under 50 grams of carbohydrates per day.  About a week ago, I started the Perfect Health Diet, a low carb way of eating that permits "safe" starches, such as rice and potatoes. I don't eat a lot of these safe starches, just enough to provide my body with the glucose it needs to function, but that effectively means I have doubled my carb intake again, this time to around 100 grams of carbs per day.  I was afraid of gaining water weight by doing this, but that hasn't happened so far, and I am cautiously optimistic. This past week's weight loss came from the Perfect Health Diet version of my low carb eating experience.

Even though the weight loss has slowed, I am more committed than ever to this way of eating. My hunger is at bay thanks to the protein and fat I consume and the food I am able to eat is very delicious. It is a much more pleasant experience than Weight Watchers, even if the weight came off faster on Weight Watchers. This is sustainable and I feel like I will be able to eat this way for the rest of my life. That is the key to weight loss and weight maintenance.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Five Perfect Health Diet Days

Today is the fifth day on the Perfect Health Diet version of low carb. The good news: no five pound weight gain! I have been eating about 100 grams of carbohydrates per day for each of the past five days with no real negative effect on blood glucose levels, and no weight gain.

But there has been a positive effect on the blood sugar. The morning after consuming the first 100 grams of carbs, my fasting blood glucose reading was actually below 100. And it has stayed in the 95 to 105 range ever since. Normally, my fasting blood glucose reading is near 130, the only out of whack blood sugar reading.

So why has it normalized at a lower range? Perhaps because my liver is no longer converting protein to glucose over night. The theory behind the Perfect Health Diet is that your body needs glucose to function, so you might as well provide that glucose with "safe" carbs, rather than stress your liver by forcing it to produce glucose very inefficiently through a process called gluconeogenisis. I had concluded those high fasting blood glucose levels in the morning resulted from my liver converting protein to glucose while I slept.

On a positive note, there are now a lot more foods I can eat, when one allows potatoes, rice, sweet potatoes, tapioca, etc., back into the diet.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Nervous About Perfect Health Diet

I did it today. I started in earnest the Perfect Health Diet. And I am nervous about it. We potatoes with dinner tonight and I figure I consumed about 35 grams of carbs with my potatoes. I finished the day at about 85 grams of carbs, which, for me, is a lot. I haven't consumed that many carbs since before I started a low carb way of eating.

The Perfect Health Diet makes a lot of sense; it recommends getting 50 to 150 grams of carbs from "safe starches," such as rice, potatoes, yams, and taro. The logic: your body needs a certain amount of glucose to function, and if you go very low carb, you force your liver to produce the glucose from protein. Which is not necessarily healthy for your liver. So I get why "safe" carbs are necessary, but it is hard to change old habits. It's a bit like changing religions, really.

And I am a type II diabetic and I really have to watch the carbs I consume. So I checked my blood glucose levels after dinner and they were fine. Two hours after eating dinner, including the potatoes, it was 118. Ideally, two hours after a meal, it should be below 120 but at a bare minimum, be below 140. So I met that standard. Jenny Ruhl said in a recent podcast with Jimmy Moore that most type II diabetic men she knows can handle 75 to 100 grams of carbs per day, so I am hoping she is correct. If not, I will have to scale back.

Another issue making me nervous is I am likely to gain five pounds, almost over night, by replenishing glycogen stores. But I have to keep reminding myself that it is only a water gain. The theory is, one molecule of glycogen bonds with four molecules of water, and since we normally carry around a pound of glycogen, that means, gulp, one pound of glycogen and four pounds of water. It's all psychological. I know it is going to happen and I know it is water, but it still makes me nervous. Paul Jaminet says it may not happen, so I can at least hold out a little bit of hope.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Tale of Two Weight Loss Experiences

In 2005-2006, I lost about 100 pounds on Weight Watchers. Of course, once I stopped starving myself (and I was hungry all the time on Weight Watchers), the weight came back on, and quickly. But it provides a useful contrast to my weight loss experience following low carb principles.

Because of the recency of the experience, I can compare results and draw some conclusions. Here are my weekly stats on Weight Watchers and here are my up-to-date states on a low carb way of eating. You will quickly notice that my weekly average weight loss on Weight Watchers is quite a bit higher than the average low carb weight loss.

Currently, I weigh about 245 pounds. On Weight watchers, the lowest I got was 196. But here is the really interesting thing: my lowest pant size on Weight Watchers was a 38-inch waist. I could comfortably fit into a 38-inch waist pair of pants from about 196 to 210 pounds. At 245 pounds, I am already into 40-inch waist trousers. Another 10 to 15 pounds, and I should be able to fit into those 38-inch waist trousers I still have in my closet.

On Weight Watchers, I had to get down to 205 pounds to achieve a "normal" BMI of 25. According to the BMI charts, for a 6'3" male, my "normal" and ideal weight range should be between 160 and 205. But after about 220 pounds, people told me I had lost "too much weight," and that I was looking emaciated. Those comments accelerated as I got closer to goal. I can't imaging what I'd look like at 160 pounds. I am guessing that on Weight Watchers, I lost a lot of lean muscle mass, as well as fat. That is not happening in my low carb lifestyle.

Now that I am wearing clothes that I wore on the Weight Watchers diet at 220 pounds, people are not telling me I look emaciated, but that I look great. And irony of ironies, according to the BMI scale, I am "obese." I still need to lose another five pounds before BMI tells me I am merely "overweight."

I am mostly losing fat, not lean muscle mass, and my body shape is different than when I lost weight with Weight Watchers. I can tell, and so can my wife. My stomach is flatter, by butt is smaller, and the muscle mass in my chest area is greater (I'll get around to posting photos one of these days). On Weight Watchers, I lost 60 pounds before anyone commented that I had lost weight. With low carb, people started noticing at about 25 pounds and they really started commenting when I had lost 45 pounds. I am fitting into clothing at a much higher weight than I was when I lost weight with Weight Watchers. Why? A high fat/low carb diet helps you lose body fat and preserve lean muscle mass. It's not because of excessive exercise (I walk the dog every day and occasionally lift weights, but I don't do chronic cardio like I did on Weight Watchers).

The low carb way of eating normalized my blood sugars very early on; it took me almost until 200 pounds for that to happen on Weight Watchers, and my cholesterol never stabilized into "normal" ranges. Low carb is very friendly to type II diabetics.

Best of all, I am not starving all the time like I was on Weight Watchers. Low carb eating is very satiating, even if the weight is not coming off as fast as on Weight Watchers.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Rice Syrup and Blood Glucose Response

I have been pondering lately on what constitutes a "low carb" diet and have just finished reading Perfect Health Diet by Paul and Shou-Ching Jaminet (here is an overview of the diet). They suggest a low carb diet of 50 to 150 grams of carbs per day, with a bias towards more rather than fewer carbs (or, as they say in the book, 200 to 600 calories from carbohydrates). They recommend getting carb calories from safe starches, such as rice, taro, yams, and tapioca. This is substantially higher than most other low carb experts, but their book was compelling (I will review it at another time).

In the book, they say eating natural sweeteners are okay, especially if they come from the "safe starches" mentioned above. Specifically, they talk about rice syrup. So I bought some certified organic brown rice syrup from Now Healthy Foods. On the label, we read:

Unlike simple sugars, such as monosaccharides and disaccharides, Brown Rice Syrup is a polysaccharide, or a complex sugar. The unique structure of complex sugars allows them to be absorbed and broken down more slowly than simple sugars, avoiding rapid spikes in blood glucose. Slower absorption also allows the body to utilize complex sugars for energy instead of having to store them as fat for later use.

Based on this label and the Jaminets' claim that it is okay to use, since it is from a safe starch, I decided to do an N=1 test and see how my blood sugars reacted to it. I made some ice cream (one cup of cream, one cup of half and half, six egg yolks, one tablespoon of pure vanilla extract, and 1/4 cup of rice syrup). A serving size is one half cup and has about 220 calories and 11 grams of carbs, mostly from the brown rice syrup (it was delicious, by the way). To make this an even stronger test, I ate 3/4 cup of the ice cream, for 330 calories and 17 grams of carbs (my total carb count for the day is about 50, including the ice cream).

I ate the ice cream about two hours after dinner, and my blood sugar was 106 just before I ate the ice cream. Full disclosure: I am a type II diabetic and take Metformin. This probably had an impact on the test. Nevertheless, my results were very interesting. I ate the ice cream then tested my blood sugar at 15-minute intervals to see the blood glucose response. Here are the raw data:

8:20 p.m.          106
8:35 p.m.          109
8:50 p.m.          125
9:05 p.m.          137
9:20 p.m.          142
9:35 p.m.          130
9:50 p.m.          133
10:05 p.m.        116
10:20 p.m.        108

And here is a graph:

The blood glucose response was actually very normal for me. One hour after eating, the reading was 142 and two hours after eating, it was back down to 108. According to Jenny Ruhl, one hour after eating it should optimally be 140 or below and two hours after eating it should be 120 or below. But she also says the critical threshold to avoid organ damage is to have the reading be at least 140 or below two hours after eating. When I eat low carb (50 to 75 grams of carbs per day), my blood sugar is almost always 140 or below after one hour and 120 or below after two hours.

So for me, this is convincing evidence that, indeed, brown rice syrup is a safe sweetener. Not to be used in excess, but not problematic, either. I may have to strongly consider following this Perfect Health Diet .

Mayonnaise Substitute

Homemade mayonnaise is wonderful, and not made with U.S. subsidized farm products like soybean oil used in most brands of mayonnaise. We use olive oil at home when we make homemade mayonnaise and it tastes very good, like the mayonnaise we encounter in Europe.

But homemade mayonnaise has one big problem: since it has no preservatives, it doesn't last very long. It is also somewhat of a mess to make, though using a food processor definitely helps. Thus, the inconvenience of having to make mayonnaise all the time led me to find another solution. And I found a great one.

Use sour cream instead! There are fewer calories per serving (mayonnaise: 90 calories per tablespoon; sour cream: 60 calories for two tablespoons), and it tastes great. Since I am now counting calories, this is an important benefit for me. I use Daisy sour cream, as there are no additives or preservatives and it is made with 100% grade A cultured cream. Tuna salad, egg salad, and homemade salad dressings all taste really good, without any of the health dangers of using products made with soybeans.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Counting Calories Works For Me

To misquote James Carville, "It's the calories, stupid." I have successfully broken through my stall, by limiting my calories. I bought into the low carb hype about a "metabolic advantage" and the idea that "calories don't count." About four weeks ago when I started slowing down in my weight loss I decided to restrict calories, since some voices I respect talked about the necessity of counting calories.

Thinking back on it, it is remarkable that I lost almost 50 pounds without counting anything except grams of carbs. I guess that shows how overweight I was. The greater satiety from eating fat and protein filled me up and I spontaneously consumed fewer calories, which directly led to the weight loss. However, as I am losing weight, my metabolism is adjusting as well, and the weight loss started slowing, then stalled. But since I started counting calories (and exercising more), I have started losing weight again. Even though I have been restricting calories (using the free program), I am still not hungry most of the time, so this is clearly the way to go. I guess it helps that, with exercise, I can consume 2,700 calories per day and still lose weight. Only about thirty pounds to go until I hit my goal.

"Low carb" is still the way to go, as it is a much more pleasant weight loss experience. However, I think I am redefining in my own mind what "low carb" actually means. But that is the subject for another day.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How Does One Justify Dietary Dogma?

Chris Masterjohn has quite an important blog post about dietary dogma and why we should not be dogmatic. I recommend everyone read it.

But it did bring up an important idea on which I would like to elaborate. Where do our dietary dogmas come from, and how are they justified?

Is our dietary dogmas based on religion? Religion often offers an absolute standard for Why We Do What We Do. Dietarily speaking, do we eat Halal (Islam), Kosher (Judaism), lacto-ovo vegetarianim (7th Day Adventist), or abstain from coffee, tea, tobacco, alcohol, eat lots of wheat but eat meat sparingly (Mormon)? Religion uses some form of revelation to justify the dietary dogma, but this begs an important question: whose source of revelation is the "right" one? This is not a question that can be answered empirically. The religious adherent is backed up to the wall of faith, and there she or he must make a stand.

Is the dogma based on science? Scientific justification is not as solid as many suppose. For example, here is a question with no answer, despite decades and perhaps centuries of trying: what is the demarcation between "science" on the one hand and "non-science" on the other? We almost venerate science by assuming it is a special, different sort of knowledge, containing Truth. So non-science must equate to non-Truth. If this is so, then it is important to know the dividing line between "science" and "non-science." Is it possible to come up with a definition of science that gives "scientific" knowledge a privileged status over "non-scientific" knowledge, one that no one can poke holes in? This is not a trivial question.

For a really good primer on this "problem of science," read the book, What is This Thing Called Science? by Alan Chalmers. This is a philosophy of science primer often used in college courses and remarkably easy to read.  He starts with logical positivism and in a balanced fashion looks at each of the definitions of science, then pokes holes in them all. He does this for falsificationism, Kuhnian paradigms, research programs, methodological approaches, Bayesian approaches to science, scientific realism, new experimentalism, and even Feyerabend's "anything goes" view of science. He leaves us with the distinct impression that science, as a justification for anything, is built on a foundation of sand. The history of scientific progress is actually quite messy, and the sociology of science has a lot to say as well. For example, how objective can a scientist be, when scientific progress is dependent on a funding source and when tenure depends on getting the right type of articles published in the right outlets?

When people realize they cannot draw the demarcation between science and non-science, they often retreat to a Justice Stewart Potter type of defense: "I can't define it, but I know it when I see it." This is also an indefensible way of justifying scientific knowledge, as it is open to subjective judgment.

Then there is the "it works" defense. I have used this one to defend low carb diets, as it has unquestionably worked in my case. But I am a sample size of one; does it "work" for everyone? Do I have a right to project my success onto others? Is it possible that it won't work for someone else? Also, can I conceive that it might stop working for me in the future? So this is an equally poor justification. Weight Watchers also worked for me, but I never want to go back to that plan. For that matter, starvation will also work to control diabetes and to lose weight. But is it wise?

So why do we believe that low carb is "The One True Way of Eating?" Because it works? Because science tells us so? Because we have faith in it? Because an authority figure wrote a book about it?

Without critically thinking through some of these issues, I might as well check my brain in at the door and stop learning new things. Follow, but not question, the "received" wisdom of the Low Carb Elders. When they have spoken, the thinking has been done. Line up and follow, or else you're an infidel!

Or learn wisdom and seek out that which is good, that which works for you. Recognize that there is more to learn and discover out there, and keep an open mind. Challenge your beliefs; it will make your rationale for following your particular dietary plan stronger.