Science: Based on all this research, we can safely conclude that this is a thing, and that this other thing that you believe is a thing is not a thing.
People: But! But! My anecdotes!
Love low carb? Crazy for keto? Parts out for paleo? These are things you are allowed to do. Just make sure your genitalia exposure to celebrate allegedly eating like a caveman is done in the presence of consenting adults.
If you want to eat low carb, that’s fine by me. In fact, there are circumstances in which carb restriction can be beneficial for weight loss, such as with people with obesity who have low levels of activity.
But I take issue with profiteers and proselytisers of low carb spreading misinformation. And I’m here to expose it.
Did you lose weight by cutting carbs? Good for you! Perhaps you know exactly why it worked, or perhaps you imagine carbohydrate restriction opened a rift in the space-time-insulin continuum and magically transported your belly fat to an alternate universe.
If it’s the latter, let me start by pointing out the actual reason why low carb can sometimes work for people.
Low Carb and Low Rule Complexity
Quote from my article: “Entire books for low carb eating are jammed to the tits with hyper details that lead you to fear sugar severely, praise bacon and butter as better, and … something about insulin and the space-time-belly-fat continuum. But for a lot of people it just ends up boiling down to ‘Don’t eat carbs.’ That’s a pretty damn simple eating strategy.”
Multiple studies show that low perceived rule complexity is most important to dietary adherence. Following the rule of “no carbs” can push a lot of high caloric crap out of your diet (while, unfortunately, also pushing out a lot of healthy carbohydrates out due to dumbfuck fear mongering).
Additionally, you may wish to read why people are notoriously bad at understanding their caloric balance.
Sugar is Addictive! And Toxic! And Addictive!
“But my CrossFit coach told me that sugar is totes bad and way more addictive than cocaine and that there are “143 reasons that sugar destroys your health.”
Uh, isn’t that CrossFit guy the same one that wrote over 5,000 words about the glory of blasting overpriced coffee up your ass? Yeah, perhaps not the most reliable of sources.
When it comes to the alleged toxicity (technically everything is toxic, but the dose makes the poison) of sugar, along with it’s supposed direct contributions to the development of type 2 diabetes, rather than trust the infinite wisdom of Mr. Coffee Up the Pooper, I decided to speak with some well-educated professionals on the subject. Read the full article here about how sugar isn’t toxic, and this follow-up piece about What Matters Most in the Sugar Debate.
And in regards to its alleged addictive properties, here is my first article about why sugar isn’t addictive.
Part 2, which contains more recent research that further exposes the bullshit that is “sugar addiction” is in the next section about why you believe this stuff.
Comprehending the Crazy
When you proclaim sugar isn’t addictive, people misplace their excrement.
To better understand why people do so, I spoke with professor of religion Alan Levinovitz for my piece Anti-Sugar Cultists are Totally Fucking Batshit. From the article:
“We’ve seen food used again and again in different cultures and religions as the identification of us/them or being in or out based on what people eat.” Then he said of modern society, “Sugar is a really good example of this.” Levinovitz and I talked of how pork is not kosher under Judaism or halal under Islam. “There is no amount of pork that makes it more or less kosher or halal,” he said. “Pork is forbidden, end of story. You see that same kind of religious attitude today with food that something is either made pure or impure by the presence of an ingredient, no matter how small or large, when people talk about sugar as either toxic or addictive. If they find something contains sugar in any amount they become terrified.”
Expanding upon the previous section, note that this article also contains the latest research regarding the allegations of sugar being addictive, further showing that it is, in fact, not.
If you’re wondering why humans are hardwired to believe, want to see a large swatch of research that proves caloric balance and exposes the insulin hypothesis for the bullshit that it is, and reveals deeper understanding into this dietary zealotry, read my piece Low Carb and Paleo Dieting as Religious Zealotry.
For a bit of fun you can also see why I say Paleo is the Scientology of Diets, why Paleo has Jumped the Shark, and read the 10 Commandments of Dietary Zealotry. You may also wish to read my piece titled Paleo, Infant Mortality, and Dumbfucks on Facebook.
So you don’t think low carb and paleo isn’t the only kind of dietary zealotry I’m critical of, read my Open Letter to Militant Vegans.
But Gary Taubes Said …
Yes, we all know how famous Gary Taubes got with his Atkins-bestowed prophecy. But famous ≠ correct.
With each passing day Gary reveals how deep his dietary delusions go; a true zealot unwilling to move away from his unsubstantiated positions in terms of caloric balance, insulin, and the role of carbohydrates in body weight and body composition. Read my Open Letter to Gary Taubes to realize how corrupted his thinking is in terms of diet as well as why I Won’t Be Reviewing Gary Taubes’s Bullshit Anti-Sugar Science Fiction Book.
Yes, Virginia, it really is about the calories. That’s how a professor of nutrition lost weight on a Twinkie diet.
It might also interest you to know that highly respected researchers assert that exercise is by far the most important thing for battling type 2 diabetes, as they told me for my column titled “Outrun Diabetes” in the Chicago Tribune.
High Fat Isn’t So Fabulous
Dr. Mark Fucking Hyman. Gak.
He has ten #1 New York Times Bestselling books. TEN! Again, popular ≠ correct. At least, not always, and certainly not in the case of Mr. “Sugar is eight times more addictive than cocaine.” Give me a fucking break.
With his latest book, Eat Fat, Get Thin, Hyman pushes the high-fat diet eating bandwagon yet again, but it’s a case of telling people what they want to hear. When you write a book that tells people they’ve been lied to and that you have the truth and that, counter to what the government said, they can scarf lots of bacon and butter and lose weight, people will literally eat that shit up.
Most people don’t understand macronutrients worth shit. This piece, titled Why Fat Makes You Fat, reveals that fat has a high caloric density, low thermic effect (meaning it doesn’t burn off hardly any of its own calories during digestion), is low in satiety (yes, I said LOW, dammit!), and makes things taste really good so you overconsume. It’s not a violation of the laws of thermodynamics. If you eat mostly fat but are in a caloric deficit you will lose weight. But high fat diets make it hard to sustain a deficit for a lot of people.
In a follow-up piece, titled Are High Fat Foods Good for You?, I examine in detail the research that blows apart the myth of fat being some kind of super food that is also amazing for satiety leading to lowered caloric intake. The piece also exposes how many popular publications have articles written by reporters who don’t understand the finer points of nutrition, and how this has spread a lot of bad information because they can’t tell the difference between an observational study and a controlled trial.
Finally, I’ve done some poking of fun at the guy who fucked up coffee by putting butter in it, Dave Asprey, both here and here. Read them if you need a good laugh. He’s laughing all the way to the bank, so you might as well have a chuckle at his expense.
What about the Glutenz?
People with actual celiac disease consider the hype surrounding going gluten free to be both a boon and a bane. As I showed in this piece for NPR, it’s great in that celiac sufferers have greater access to gluten free meals, but because there are so many fake gluten-free eaters it’s hard to get restaurants to take their condition seriously.
Need more information? Here are 7 Signs of Gluten Intolerance.
Low Carb and Athletic Performance
They’ve tried so very hard to twist the research to make it seem like low carb diets are totes the best thing ever for athletic performance, but the reality is that they lied. Like, literally lied by saying certain athletes were keto when they were anything but.
I went deep into the research to expose Why Low Carb Diets Ruin Performance. If you want to go hard, you need to fuel appropriately.
What to Do?
First off, understand that low carb diets don’t have a monopoly on spewing bullshit in the weight loss industry. The entire industry is notoriously full of shit. Making a diet book into a bestseller has far more to do with how you brand it than whether or not the diet is based in science and/or actually works. You may also want to read this piece on Why Your Diet Is Doomed to Fail.
I will repeat what I said early on: low carb diets can be beneficial, especially in case of obesity and low activity. In fact, if you get little activity and want to lose weight, carbohydrates are going to need to bear the brunt of your caloric restriction.
But, fan of exercise that I am, I do encourage finding a way to move as much as you can, and when your body adapts to that, move a bit more. And so on. And movement benefits from consuming carbs.
The caloric deficit is what is all important to weight loss. But that doesn’t mean eat whatever dafuq kind of calories you want. Because quality affects quantity. If you eat a high-quality diet you are far more likely to consume fewer calories, be healthier, and be better fueled for activity.
At the beginning of this post I talked about low rule complexity being beneficial, but rather than thinking “don’t eat carbs,” a better idea might be to think of food as a source of fuel rather than (usually) as a source of pleasure.
Want more help with healthy caloric restriction? Read my Caloric Deficit Cheat Sheet.
Oh, and before you leave a comment, be sure to read this.
James S. Fell, MBA, CSCS, is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada. He also interviews celebrities about their fitness stories for the Los Angeles Times, and is head fitness columnist for AskMen.com and a regular contributor to Men’s Health.