Sunday, August 14, 2011

Thinking Through Diet Options

The recent Internet firestorm involving Gary Taubes and Stephan Guyenet has left me with a lot of questions.

As a weight loss method, low carb works--to a point. I have lost 55 pounds in six months, but I am still 30 pounds from my goal weight and I am stalled. There is a lot of chatter on the Internet about stalls: they happen after you lose between 17 and 20% of your body weight. I have lost about 18% of my body weight fairly effortlessly without really counting anything on a low carb diet, then I stalled, and am now counting calories to break through the stall. So far, I am very slowly creeping downward.

Is Taubes wrong? Is the problem carbohydrates, or something else? Clearly, what he advocates (reducing carbs) works, at least to a point, and at least for me. But why does it work? In substantially reducing carbs, I have cut out all forms of wheat and most forms of sugar, two carbs widely believed to be problematic. Heck, even the low fat, high carb dieters come out against sugar. But is Taubes condemning all carbs, when only some of them are bad? Isn't this what happened with fat? Ancel Keys waged war against saturated fat and now America is lipophobic (afraid of fat).  Taubes describes the complete history of the Keys and the lipid hypothesis ("saturated fats cause heart disease") in Good Calories Bad Calories.

Is Gary Taubes doing the same thing to carbohydrates?  One person described Taubes as the "Ancel Keys of carbohydrates." Ouch, that's gotta hurt. But Taubes is relentlessly promoting the "carbs are bad, carbs --> insulin --> fat accumulation" hypothesis. So the comment may hurt because there is more than a ring of truth to it. Is Taubes pushing a solution that is potentially as bad, in its own way, as Keys' agenda was? America is now lipophobic; will Taubes cause us to become carbophobic as well?

Many in the low carb blogosphere point out that carbs are not bad across the board. Certain foods, which happen to be carbohydrates, are bad (e.g., high fructose corn syrup, sugar, flour and wheat products, etc.; see Kurt Harris, M.D. and Paul Jaminet, Ph.D. [see this page, too] ). But vegetable oils, such as corn, soy, canola, etc., are also bad, according to these two sites, and they are fats, not carbohydrates. Kurt Harris tells us to ignore macro nutrients (fats, carbs, protein) altogether and instead avoid the NADs, or "neolithic agents of disease." In other words, fructose, wheat, and vegetable oils. Both Harris and Jaminet are okay with eating non-problematic carbs such as white rice, yams, and potatoes. However, neither Harris nor Jaminet are diabetic and their plans for eating are not necessarily approaches to weight loss.

So I could see myself following one of these plans (or adopting the Weston A. Price style of eating), after I lose my weight. However, I am still 30 pounds away from goal. What to do? Low carbing has helped me to lose weight, control my blood sugars, normalize my blood pressure, and sleep better, but can it get me all the way to goal? Weight Watchers took me all the way to goal, but that is a semi-starvation plan and high in carbs, which is not good for my type II diabetes.

After a lot of thought, I will keep on with the low carb way of life (but I will double my carbs),  count calories, exercise more, and perhaps other things (e.g., eliminate all artificial sweeteners, eat only whole, real foods), if necessary, until I reach my goal. However, I am very open to suggestions. When I am at goal, I will likely switch to one of the plans mentioned above for weight maintenance and general health.

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