Thursday, January 17, 2008

New Scientist on Low-Carb Dieting

As a guy who not only lost a lot of weight four years ago by restricting my carb intake, but has kept it off, I was gratified to see the following commentary in the January 19, 2008, New Scientist:
For the past century, the advice to the overweight and obese has remained remarkably consistent: consume fewer calories than you expend and you will lose weight. This prescription seems eminently reasonable. The only problem is that it doesn't seem to work. Neither eating less nor moving more reverses the course of obesity in any but the rarest cases.


There is considerable evidence that the obesity epidemic is caused by a hormonal phenomenon, specifically by the consumption of refined carbohydrates, starches and sugars, all of which prompt (sooner or later) excessive insulin secretion. Insulin is the primary regulator of fat storage. When insulin levels are elevated, fat accumulates in our body tissue; when they fall, fat is released and we use it for fuel. By stimulating insulin secretion, carbohydrates make us fat; by driving us to accumulate fat, they increase hunger and decrease the energy we expend in metabolism and physical activity. In short, obesity is caused not by overeating or sedentary behaviour, but by hormonal malfunctioning triggered by the consumption of particular types of carbohydrate-containing foods.

Obesity researchers, nutritionists and health authorities have refused to contemplate this scenario, partly because it would imply that diet-book doctors advocating carbohydrate-restricted diets -- Robert Atkins et al -- were right all along. Instead, these alleged experts and guardians of our health have wasted a good part of a century on research based on a high-school misconception, watching their compatriots grow ever fatter while blaming everyone but themselves. In the process, they have created a field of clinical medicine that functions more like a religion than a science. It is time to put science back in charge.
The above is by Gary Taubes, author of the new book The Diet Delusion.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


At January 19, 2008 4:27 PM , Anonymous annie said...

Gee, another person saying weight-loss is easy...I would never have thought I would find that here. Having the same struggles with weight as everyone else, with age and immune problems (thyroid)adding fuel to the fire I wish to comment that conspicious consumption of processed foods is possibly changing our DNA. Just a month ago doctors were commenting that "junk food" is impairing liver function, therefore slowing down metabolism. I believe this...not all carbs are to blame just the so called bad ones.
Thank you.

At January 19, 2008 4:39 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

There's not a single word in what I posted that says "weight-loss is easy." Not one word. It isn't; it takes will-power, exercise, AND good science. Re-read what I posted: the point is about whether there's an entrenched establishment scientific position on what causes weight gain that has exacerbated the problem through flawed advice.

On the other hand, I can't think of a likely way that specific foods change our DNA, which is the scenario you suggest; would you care to explain the mechanism you have in mind for that?

At January 19, 2008 5:23 PM , Anonymous annie said...

No. You have caught me off guard..could be experiencing brain fog, as a result of eating refined carbs. While I agree with the author you quoted, very much so, I still feel there is so much uncharted territory that needs to be explored in weight management, rather than blame the victim. If nutrition (or lack off)can be pin-pointed in say, the early maturation of young girls, is it too far off to hypothothize that food can change our bodies in untold ways? The effect on air pollution on laboratory animals and their DNA has been studied and food additives are being studied as well. I'm sorry if I am coming across as a big fat dummy, but I feel we are today with food, like we were with smoking 30 years ago. PS congrats on your weight loss.

At January 19, 2008 6:51 PM , Anonymous annie said...

No. You caught me off guard, perhaps I am experiencing brain fog, from eating too much refined carbs. I believe we are now, with regards to the effect food has on the human body, as we were with the effects of smoking, 20-30 years previously. If processed foods are cited in the early maturation of girls etc. and starvation diets blamed on early menopause etc., perhaps it is plausable that the cause and effect of food, types of food and food additives, can make an impact on the human body in untold ways. Chemicals, particularly heavy metals are studied in rats and seem to have a negative effect on their future generations. Some of these substances do find their way in the food chain and in popular processed foods. I am not condeming the food industry, just giving food for thought. I also agree with the author you had quoted in your blog. I'm sorry if I come across as a big fat dummy. Congratulations on your weight loss and thought provoking blogs.

At January 20, 2008 4:13 PM , Anonymous don said...

I believe to a degree that the excerpt you posted Rob is on the right track. And I do think that all these nutritional experts really have no clue what they're talking about. Yes, there is some good advise, but overall, a big determining factor of one's weight has nothing to do at all with what one eats or how one exercises. It is determined by all kinds of unknown factors that intermix inside and are of our individual body make-up.

But. What we can control, we should. I remember a study done back in the early 80s comparing the eating habits of overweight people vs skinny people. They found that there are 3 key factors that all skinny people do and that over weight people do not. And in the last 20+ years of me mentioning it various people with whom this subject has come up, I've seen it to be 100% too.

Here they are.
1) Skinny people only eat when they are hungry. They do not eat 3 fixed meals a day. They eat when they feel the need.
2) When skinny people get an urge to nibble a certain treat, be it an apple, or cake, or whatever. If they can't find exactly what they're looking for they'll pass and not substitute something else. The urge is actually their body telling them when they need a certain type of intake. Not just to be chewing and swallowing.
3) Skinny people will only eat as much as it takes to make the hungries go away. Sometimes it's a dozen cheese and crackers, other times it's a 2 pound lasagna. They will not 'eat everything on their plate' just because it's there.

great discussion Rob

Annie, my "struggle" with weight is that there's not enough on my bones. Right Rob? I find it very difficult to keep my intake of carbs (energy) up with all the watered down and fat-free garbage that's sold in the stores now. Eating a 2 pound lasagna gives me enough energy to lounge around and do nothing for a day. My body (metabolism) burns more calories just sitting still than most peoples does actually going about there daily routines.

Also, a person's weight does not make them a 'victim'. It makes them human and unique and different. We are not powerless in controlling our weight, but we are also limited to what our body decides is normal for it.

At January 21, 2008 7:17 AM , Blogger John said...

Your post, combined with the New Scientist cover story, brought this to mind:

"Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so."

- Douglas Adams (1952-2001)

John F
Truro, NS


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