Good Calories, Bad Calories: The Mythology of Obesity, or The Mythology of Gary Taubes?

In my last post on Gary Taubes and his book Good Calories, Bad Calories, I stated that I would do a chapter-by-chapter critique of the book, starting with Chapter 14, "The Mythology of Obesity".  In this chapter, Taubes begins to create a mystery that doesn't actually exist.  He does this through a combination of logical fallacies, selective quotation of out-dated scientific data, and leaving out existing data that conflicts with his statements.

Taubes opens the chapter with this sentence: 

"Critical to the success of any scientific enterprise is the ability to make accurate and unbiased observations."

He then goes on to say:

"...if the initial observations are incorrect or incomplete, then we will distort what it is we're trying to explain."

Taubes is correct in these statements.  Unfortunately he doesn't follow his own advice.  He notes the hypothesis that obesity is due to excess calorie consumption and/or inadequate physical activity, and then says that this hypothesis fails to explain the evidence and observations. 

However, what Taubes fails to realize is that it only fails to explain the evidence and observations when you leave out important information regarding that evidence or those observations.

Taubes's First Big Boo Boo

Taubes makes his first big mistake on the very first page of this chapter.  He writes:

Lean people will often insist that the secret to their success is eating in moderation, but many fat people insist that they eat no more than the lean - surprising as it seems, the evidence backs this up - and yet are fat nonetheless.  As the National Academy of Sciences report Diet and Health phrased it, "Most studies comparing normal and overweight people suggest that those who are overweight eat fewer calories than those of normal weight."  Researchers and public-health officials nonetheless insist that obesity is caused by overeating, without attempting to explain how these two notions can be reconciled.

The last statement in that paragraph is blatantly false.  These two notions have been reconciled over and over again in numerous studies.  It is well established that overweight people underreport their food intake on average.  In fact, there is a huge volume of literature of on this...so huge that it is surprising that Taubes missed it all.  The underreporting is quite severe.  One study comparing obese twins to their non-obese twin counterparts indicated underreporting of 764 calories per day.  Another study indicated obese subjects to be underreporting their calorie intake by over a thousand calories per day.  This is just a fraction of the data that is out there.  Yet, Taubes selectively quotes out-dated research that relied on self-report of food intake.  Taubes's reliance on out-dated and low quality data will be a consistent theme through the remainder of his book.

The phenomena of underreporting is verified when you supply overweight people with the amount of calories they claim to be eating.  In one study, women who claimed to be eating 1200 calories per day were supplied with that actual amount of food intake.  What happened?  They lost 1.7 pounds per week.  George Bray reported on a similar clinical experience.

My own clinical experience also verifies this.  For example, we had one individual who was not losing weight.  She swore to the dietitian that she was following the program.  One day, her husband came into the dietitian session with her.  He ratted her out and said she was eating 8 tablespoons of peanut butter per day and wasn't recording it in her food log.  That's over 800 calories per day of food intake that she wasn't reporting.  It is no wonder why she was not losing weight.  This is not to say that everyone who underreports food intake is blatantly lying about it.  Many people simply do a poor job of estimating their food intake.  But the fact is, people underreport their food intake.

Taubes, through selective cherry-picking, tries to create a mystery where there is no mystery.  He calls the idea of energy imbalance a "hypothesis", yet fails to consider not only the data mentioned above, but all of the controlled studies that demonstrate experimental overfeeding to create weight gain.  Researchers insist that overeating causes obesity because that's exactly what the data shows, despite Taubes's attempts to spin it otherwise.

The "Carbohydrate or Calorie" False Dichotomy

Taubes moves on to discuss data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination (NHANES) survey.  From 1971 to 2000, this data showed an increase in calorie and carbohydrate intake (as a percentage of calories) in the U.S. population, while fat intake decreased.  Taubes then states:

This increase in energy intake...was "attributable primarily to an increase in carbohydrate intake."...The NHANES data suggest that either calorie or carbohydrates could account for the increase in weight...

Taubes creates a false dichotomy here by asserting that either the increased calorie intake, or the increased carbohydrate intake, was responsible for the weight gain.  However, it's not "either/or" because the two are not independent of each other.  The increased carbohydrate intake IS the increased calorie intake, so you cannot separate the two.  Taubes creates a dichotomy where none exists.

Anecdotes and Newspaper Articles are Not Scientific Evidence

Taubes goes on to discuss physical activity.  He talks about the "exercise explosion" of the 1970's and 80's, implying that Americans were more active than ever.  However, what does he cite to support this?  Some anecdotes and newspaper articles from the New York Times and the Washington Post.  He also cites statistics on the revenues of health clubs.

It is absurd to imply that physical activity is high based on some newspaper articles and gym revenues.  For example, many people join gyms but don't go, or go infrequently.  And no matter how many Americans were supposedly partaking in the "fitness revolution", it is not statistical evidence of how truly active Americans were.   Also, formal exercise only represents a small portion of total daily energy expenditure.  When it comes to physical activity, we are concerned with all physical activity throughout the day, not just formal exercise.  Gym memberships and the "fitness revolution" are not indicative of 24-hour energy expenditure.

If you look at the science rather than anecdote, you get a different picture.  While there isn't good survey data regarding physical activity from the 1970's and early 1980's, the CDC does have data on leisure-time physical activity trends from 1988 to 2008:

Now, this is just leisure time physical activity, and not 24-hour activity.  However, you can see that the trend was mostly flat, with a slight downtrend in this decade.  This data indicates that 1/3 of Americans participate in no leisure time physical activity at all.  Taubes's numbers on gym memberships are meaningless, and his claims of a "fitness revolution" do not hold when you look at the data.

There is also data out of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area between 1980 and 2000.  The percentage of individuals engaging in physical activity for 30 or more minutes, at least 5 times per week, was only 8-12%.  Only 1% participated in 60 minutes daily.  While this is not national data, the results were similar to what has been observed on a national level, and contradict Taubes's implication of an "exercise or sports epidemic" in America.

There is also data estimating the cost of mechanization (dishwashers, elevators, cars, etc.) to our daily energy expenditure.  It is estimated that we expend an average of 111 calories per day less, which, if not compensated by lower food intake, would result in substantial weight gain over many years.

In the usual fashion, Taubes creates a physical activity paradox where none exists.

The Poverty/Obesity Relationship:  Not A Contradiction After All

Taubes moves on to address another apparent contradiction...that obesity rates tend to be higher among the poorest members of society.  Taubes considers this a contradiction for two reasons.  First, he presumes that the poorest members of society are also the hardest-working, have less access to labor-saving devices, and thus are the most physically active.  Second, he presumes that they are undernourished and do not eat very much.

Of course, these are both assumptions.  Interestingly, Taubes criticizes advocates of the thrifty-gene hypothesis for making assumptions.  Perhaps Taubes should take a look at his own assumptions.

When you actually investigate the scientific data, you will find that Taubes's assumptions do not hold.  First, let's look at the presumption of low calorie intake.  There is a wealth of data that shows that the calorie intake of people living in poverty is not low.  In fact, people in poverty are more likely to consume energy-dense foods, because energy-dense foods are much lower in price.  There is an inverse relationship between the energy density of foods and price.  Here is a chart showing food prices from Seattle supermarkets in 2006:

 

You can see that the least expensive foods are both the fats and the refined carbohydrate foods, so one cannot simply point a finger at carbohydrates here.  In fact, there is a several thousand percent difference between the cost of vegetable oils and sugars compared to fresh produce.  It is very easy to overconsume calories when eating energy dense foods.  In fact, the energy density of foods plays a role in regulation of food intake, and high energy-density foods lead to passive overconsumption (meaning you consume more calories without noticing it, or without adequate feelings of fullness).  For a given volume of food, the greater the energy density of your diet, the more calories you will eat.  Thus, you can actually spend less and eat more.

People in poverty are more likely to underreport their food intake.  They are also  more likely to skip breakfast, which can result in appetite dysregulation and greater daily energy intakes (interestingly, adolescent breakfast skippers also have lower carbohydrate intakes).  Also, low-income urban neighborhoods have a high density of small food stores, which carry mostly energy-dense foods.

Let's also look at the presumption of high activity.  This does not hold when one looks at the data.  According to NHANES, leisure time physical inactivity is higher in people below the poverty line compared to people above the line.  This is particularly true among women, where obesity rates also tend to be higher.

On top of all that, Taubes fails to consider that obesity rates for higher socioeconomic classes increased at a higher rate than lower socioeconomic classes from 1976 to 2008.

The bottom line is that poverty does not mean chronic energy deficiency or high physical activity.  In fact, impoverished populations with true chronic energy deficiency have almost no obesity.

Pima Problems

Taubes continues to get it wrong when he moves to discuss the Pima Indians, again relying on old data from the 1800's and eary 1900's, including journals and anecdotes rather than rigorous scientific research.  He discusses how the Pimas went from food abundance to poverty when placed on reservations, along with a corresponding rise in obesity.  He implies that it could not have been due to an increase in energy intake or a decrease in physical activity.  His support for that?  Anecdotes from anthropologists.  Taubes relies heavily on anecdotes from anthropologists Frank Russell and Ales Hrdlicka.  Taubes comments how obesity was most prevalent among the Pima women, who also (supposedly) "worked considerably harder than the men", and mentions how Russell was not particularly confident that the Pima were no longer active (I'm not sure how Taubes can infer Russell's level of confidence from written words).    He mentions the low fat intake of the Pima (24% of calories, according to data from the physician Frank Hesse), and the high intakes of refined flour, sugar, and canned fruits.  The implication, of course, is that it's the carbohydrates causing the obesity, not elevated energy intake and/or reduced energy expenditure.

When one looks at more modern, higher quality scientific data, we get a different story.  There is a group of Pima Indians living in a remote region of the Sierra Madre Mountains in an area only recently accessible by road.  These Pima have experienced little change in environmental conditions, and continue to lead the traditional lifestyle of the Pimas of the 1800's.  A number of studies have compared these Pima Indians to the U.S. Pima Indians living on reservations.  Rates of obesity are dramatically lower among the Mexican Pimas compared to the U.S. Pimas, while physical activity levels are 2.5-7 times higher.  Direct measurements of energy expenditure using doubly-labeled water have shown the energy expenditure of the Mexican Pimas to be 600 calories per day higher than U.S. Pimas.  The Mexican Pima Indians have a diet of over 60% carbohydrate, and around 26% fat.  Estimates of the traditional Pima diet before the influx of the white man place the carbohydrate intake even higher at 70-80% carbohydrate.  So much for carbohydrate causing obesity!

Chapter 14:  Nothing But Mythology

The bottom line is that the vast majority of the information in chapter 14 is misleading and based on very selective reporting of mostly old, low quality data.  Unfortunately this journalistic style of Taubes continues through the rest of the book.  Supposedly Taubes did 6 years of research for this book, yet it took me only a few days of PubMed searches to find better research.  Chapter 14 is more an exercise in confirmation bias than true scientific inquiry.

I will discuss Chapter 15, "Hunger", in a future blog post.


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Teddy P
Teddy P
10 years ago

Merry Christmas!

You have misinterpreted the first graph(% leisure time physical activity by year).It doesn’t state that 1/3 of americans spend zero time at all dong physical activity at all. Only that an average american spends less than 30% of his leisure time being physically active.

Anoop
10 years ago

Anytime, when an author quotes his mom, expert opinion, and talks about biological plausibility and observational studies, while ignoring reviews on RCT, he doesn’t have any clue about an evidence based approach. He is starting from the bottom ladder of levels of evidence in evidence- based approach than starting from the top.

What are the other sites you often read, James?

Toby @ Does P90X Work
9 years ago
Reply to  James Krieger

Hi James, the thing is with Traub’s statement about “fat people not eating any more than thin people” doesn’t make sense to me. Also, I haven’t heard anyone mention the body types “Ectomorph, Mesomorph, Endomorph”. Surely, even if the fat subject was an endomorph, and he ate no more than an ectomorph, this alone couldn’t make him Obese. After all, there is the difference between just being a bit of an endomorph and actually being Obese. However, the mind might have an influence. I would like to ask what you think of the power of the mind, and how much… Read more »

Alan
Alan
10 years ago

You indicated that there is literature indicating that self-reported data on eating is unreliable. Is there similar data on exercise levels? I couldn’t find a methodology page, but it looks like that federal report on exercise levels is compiled entirely from self-reported data.

Jean Paulo
Jean Paulo
10 years ago

Wow, I can’t believe that this thread is still alive. Here’s the problem: facts won’t change beliefs. People come in here pre-equipped with some dogmas from some diet religion. Carb restriction up to the point of ketogenic level creates an appetite-suppressing effect to some individuals, not all. These are the people who tend to have poor insulin sensitivity or insulin resistance.

WINDOWGUY
WINDOWGUY
10 years ago

An important point that seems to be ignored, and what Taubes uses the “old” research to focus on is the clearly established role of insulin in fat storage and its inhibition of the release of fat as free fatty acids from fat cells so that it can be burned. Carbohydrates are an essential part of this process, both provoking the spike in insulin levels as well as providing the glycerol molecule necessary to store free fatty acids as triglycerides in fat cells. Carbohydrates = insulin = fat storage. carbohydrates = glycerol = storage of free fatty acids as triglycerides in… Read more »

CarbSane
10 years ago
Reply to  WINDOWGUY

An important point that seems to be ignored, and what Taubes uses the “old” research to focus on is the clearly established role of insulin in fat storage and its inhibition of the release of fat as free fatty acids from fat cells so that it can be burned.Carbohydrates are an essential part of this process, both provoking the spike in insulin levels as well as providing the glycerol molecule necessary to store free fatty acids as triglycerides in fat cells.Carbohydrates = insulin = fat storage. carbohydrates = glycerol = storage of free fatty acids as triglycerides in fat cells.… Read more »

LynMarie Daye
10 years ago
Reply to  WINDOWGUY

An important point that seems to be ignored, and what Taubes uses the “old” research to focus on is the clearly established role of insulin in fat storage and its inhibition of the release of fat as free fatty acids from fat cells so that it can be burned. I think the point you’re getting at (and correct me if I’m wrong) is that Taubes uses “old” research to show where further research *should* have been directed at the time but wasn’t because of the biases of a few influential people. In other words, he’s building a case against the… Read more »

CarbSane
11 years ago

Response to Jll’s comments above: Clearly, there are lots of ways to lose weight. Calorie restriction is clearly one of the possibilities. (People clearly lose weight when they are starved) However, the question we are trying to address is Gary Taubes’ theory accurate. Is it the carbohydrates in the diet that has caused the obesity epidemic? The problem with this is that Taubes and LC advocates continue to point to weight loss studies where they claim LC’ers eat more calories but lose more weight. Properly controlled studies where energy expenditure is controlled/monitored and body composition changes measured consistently demonstrate otherwise.… Read more »

JII
JII
11 years ago
Reply to  CarbSane

I completely disagree with your interpretation of the Shai study. The calorie deficit was equal between low fat and low carb, but low carb lost significantly more weight. To quote the study authors “Daily energy intake, as assessed by the food-frequency questionnaire, decreased significantly at 6, 12, and 24 months in all diet groups as compared with baseline (P<0.001); there were no significant differences among the groups in the amount of decrease." The more interesting question is why did the low-fat group only lose 2kg of weight in 24months despite 500cals of calorie deficit. The women in the low-fat group… Read more »

Jordan D.
11 years ago
Reply to  JII

Telling people to just restrict their calories and exercise more clearly doesn’t work.The last 50 years of dietary advice proves that quite well. First of all, don’t lump us in with “the last 50 years of dietary advice.” That’s not fair. Much of that advice revolves around reducing fat intake- which is besides the point- and increasing exercise- which is secondary. The real issue is creating a calorie deficit. Calories are calories, including the calories from low-fat foods. And trying to exercise one’s way out of a calorie surplus is generally a bad idea. What takes hours to burn off… Read more »

Harry
Harry
11 years ago
Reply to  Jordan D.

Great post Jordan D.

You note a very important point that many people miss; namely, all eating behaviours, whether ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ all come with a price and with a benefit.

Those who eat ad libitum (to excess) enjoy the benefits you mentioned, and also suffer the consequences.

However, the point that many miss is that those who restrict their eating, while enjoying the obvious aesthetic, psychological and socio-cultural benefits, also pay the price of foregone pleasures on a day to day basis.

Every choice has its price…even the best choice!

Such is life.

Cheers
Harry

Jordan D.
11 years ago
Reply to  Harry

Thanks, Harry.

I think the issue is more about behavior and psychology than physiology. The physiological changes are just a by product of the behaviors.

Jordan D.
11 years ago
Reply to  Jordan D.

That’s why people put barbecue sauce on meat, and fry potatoes in oil and breading, instead of just eating them plain.

Correction: fry potatoes or fry chicken in oil and breading.

jii
jii
11 years ago
Reply to  Jordan D.

Jordan D,

Were these psychological benefits not present in 1960?

Are the French or Japanese immune to these issues?

The reward centers of the brain have not changed in the last 50 years.

Jordan D.
10 years ago
Reply to  jii

Jii, Our behaviors have changed. That’s the key. Maybe psychology isn’t the right word, but it may very well be that we cannot mentally cope with how our “reward centers,” as you put it, are influenced by these highly palatable foods. Perhaps these newfangled foods simply taste too good for own good! Regardless, the main issue is that our behaviors have changed. I don’t think there’s any question about that. No, the French and Japanese are not immune… if they’ve lived in America for a while! lol. Australia isn’t doing too well either, from what I’ve read. I don’t know… Read more »

CarbSane
11 years ago
Reply to  JII

You seem to share Taubes’ blind spots in your field of vision. For what it’s worth, I don’t think Shai tells us much of anything about calorie or carbohydrate theory. Only studies that carefully control intake, monitor expenditure and measure body composition (and I would add control for protein intake) are useful in doing so. As thorough as the reporting and measuring seems to have been in this study. If you look at the intake table, the mention of similar intakes doesn’t make sense. The reported intakes were quite different, both in magnitude and variability. Clearly there is a lot… Read more »

Food For Thought
Food For Thought
10 years ago
Reply to  CarbSane

YouTube: Sugar: The Bitter Truth… Fructose consumption has increased, it’s highly lipogenic, doesn’t effect insulin a lot and is treated by the body as alcohol… Alcohol is fermented sugar… Sugar belly vs Beer belly… I think both are equally bad?

Comments/thoughts on fructose being the killer, as in SUGAR and High Fructose Corn Syrup?

Robert
Robert
10 years ago
Reply to  CarbSane

Does the high-carbohydrate diet of the Okinawans cause them to overeat carbohydrate foods? Of course it doesn’t. In fact, they tend to practice mild calorie restriction. I know in my case when I have a bowl of steel-cut oatmeal (1 cup cooked, with raisins or blueberries and cinnamon) I won’t feel like eating again for at least 5 hours.

Caitlyn
Caitlyn
11 years ago

Your blog posts are exactly what my mind was yearning for after listening to the “Big Fat Lies” lecture by Gary Taubes (a lecture used to back up his book). Despite all of his research supported knowledge, I walked away unsatisfied and unconvinced. Taubes is well educated and trained in physics, aerospace engineering, and journalism, and I know I risk saying anything of disagreement with him because I am only a 3rd year undergrad in the process of getting my B.S. Despite the differences and my shortcomings in comparison to his education, I would like to disagree with him in… Read more »

Calorie Skeptic
Calorie Skeptic
11 years ago

If you are so confident that Taubes’ theory is incorrect, you should do a study. Eat 1500 calories per day of nothing but refined flour and sugar and measure whether you gain or lose weight. If a calorie is a calorie, you should lose weight. Is it really that logical for you to think that the Pima woman were starving their children who were suffering from malnutrition by taking calories for themselves? Alternatively, if Pima woman were overeating, what would cause them to be so hungry that they would starve their own children? Regarding the Mexican Pima, have you found… Read more »

Jordan D.
11 years ago

Of course it’s applicable! It’s very easy to overeat cheese and bacon. Eggs… yes, I could do it! lol.

CarbSane
11 years ago
Reply to  Jordan D.

Agree Jordan!

It is hard to overeat meat certainly. But it is very easy to overeat added fats like various dressings and butter, and surely cheese! Heavy whipping cream packs a whollop.

@ Calorie Skeptic: I once lost weight on an ~2wk cookies (the real kind not some weight loss concoction) and milk diet. Does that count?

Harry
Harry
11 years ago
Reply to  CarbSane

Yep, you can defintely get in a calorie surplus by enjoying your fats (e.g. peanut butter, cream, bacon – all of these foods are highly palatable and VERY calorie-dense). Having said that, it does depend upon what your take is on “ad libitum” eating. For some, this simply means eating until satisfied…and for them, a low carb diet will probably work better than a high carb diet due to it’s better satiety values per calorie consumed. But this only addresses homeostatic hunger cues. For others (hedonic eaters), “ad libitum” eating means eating as much as they want, not for the… Read more »

Muata
11 years ago
Reply to  Harry

Great comment Harry!

Calorie Skeptic
Calorie Skeptic
11 years ago
Reply to  Harry

Harry, in your view, which category were the Pima Indian woman? Were they hedonic eaters or were they just hungry because of the low satiety of their diet? They were starving their children because they couldn’t control their desire for pleasure they derived from flour and sugar? Is hedonic eating so on the rise that it accounts for the increase in obesity over the last twenty years? Are obese infants or toddlers hedonic eaters? I will admit at times I feel like a hedonic eater but it’s always in response to processed carbs and sugar, never to fat in isolation.… Read more »

Calorie Skeptic
Calorie Skeptic
11 years ago
Reply to  CarbSane

@ Carbsane, I took a quick look at your blog. Why do you eat mainly low carb if a calorie is a calorie? I can only comment from my own experience, but I disagree with your comment. I never feel compelled to overeat salad dressings, butter, cheese and heavy cream. Yes, these are calorie dense foods but they are also very filling. Refined carbs are calorie dense but almost seem to melt in your mouth and are not filling in the slightest. As for your cookie experiment, I don’t know if it counts. I would imagine the Pima on the… Read more »

Muata
11 years ago

@Calorie Skeptic – Why does it have to be either/or. What really bothers me about the LC camp is this all or nothing mentality. So, a person can’t follow a LC eating style and count calories? Well, somebody needs to talk to all of the bodybuilders who follow cyclical keto diets pre-contest. What’s funny is that since Atkins, et. al, have stated this folks act as if it is a nutritional law, which of course it’s not. There are many more controlled studies (be it under metabolic ward conditions or using DLW) to show that calories do indeed count. Where… Read more »

CarbSane
11 years ago
Reply to  Muata

The issues of hunger and deprivation are different issues.Most folks who are fanatical about following a LC diet lost, and regained, weight following a different approach (LF, IF, Vegan, etc.) before they found the “wonders” of LC.So, the issue of a calorie counting is different from not being able to stick with a particular diet in the long run.These two issues are constantly confused in the debate of whether calories count or not. Totally agree here Muata! I hear quite often when someone loses on low fat the “let’s see if he/she keeps it off”. But the weight loss is… Read more »

CarbSane
11 years ago

@ Carbsane, I took a quick look at your blog.Why do you eat mainly low carb if a calorie is a calorie? I’m glad you asked this question because it gives me the opportunity to clarify a bit. A calorie is a calorie is a measure of the metabolizable energy content of food. It matters very little on any given day what form the energy comes from. This is not to be confused with saying 10 g sugar is equivalent to the body with 10 g whey powder or the caloric equivalent of butter in terms of the body’s response… Read more »

Jordan D.
11 years ago
Reply to  CarbSane

CarbSane, it also depends on what we mean by “overeat.” Overeat shouldn’t just mean eating 3000 or 4000 calories per day. If I burn 2000 calories per day, and I want to lose weight, eating 2000 calories should be considered “overeating” in that context, since that level of calorie intake will prevent weight loss. So an extra 300-500 calories of cheese or bacon- or any other food- can be the difference between weight loss/ weight maintenance/ weight gain (depending on one’s goal.) So it may be a somewhat interesting thought experiment to ask, “What if someone ate 1500 calories of… Read more »

Calorie Skeptic
Calorie Skeptic
11 years ago
Reply to  Jordan D.

@ Jordon D. My thought experiment is completely relevant. Remember the point of this discussion. We are discussing whether Taubes’ is correct in thinking that there is an alternative hypothesis to explain obesity. If, on a diet of 1500 calories of sugar and bread a day, you get fat than a calorie isn’t a calorie and something else must explain obesity instead of the standard dogma. @ Muata: That’s why it has to be either/or. Maybe from a practical perspective, you’ll lose more weight if you cut carbs and count calories but the point of this page is to discuss… Read more »

Muata
11 years ago

@Calorie Skeptic – Either/Or thinking is a logical fallacy. If, as you assert, one will lose more weight following LC and counting calories, what’s the problem with Carb Sane doing just that? Also, Taubes’s “hypothesis” is that calories don’t count, He has even gone as far as to say that if one limits or eliminates carbs from their diet, then they “can’t” gain weight … What causes folks to overeat is multifaceted, and I do think that carbs play a role, but not a major one because there are too many non-obese folks walking around who don’t follow a LC… Read more »

Jordan D.
11 years ago

If, on a diet of 1500 calories of sugar and bread a day, you get fat than a calorie isn’t a calorie and something else must explain obesity instead of the standard dogma. One wouldn’t gain weight on 1500 calories a day of any food, unless one is expending less than 1500 calories per day. There ya go. Simple. No alternative explanation required. It’s a very uninteresting and uninspired thought experiment. “Oh and when you cut calories you also cut carbs so your point is just as meaningless.” And when you cut carbs, you cut calories. Sometimes, hundreds and hundreds… Read more »

Calorie Skeptic
Calorie Skeptic
11 years ago
Reply to  Jordan D.

@ Muata Again, you are equating ability with desire. Of course anyone could eat a ton of anything, but that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t find it difficult or that over time you would actually do it. You seem to agree that satiety matters. So if there is a difference in satiety with different foods than all calories are not equal and so one should be skeptical of the standard calorie dogma. By the way, did you lose weight eating 3-4 double cheeseburgers and 5 eggs with butter and cheese? For a while, I bet you did. How do you explain… Read more »

Muata
11 years ago

@Calorie Skeptic – Yes, I did lose weight eating many bunless burgers when I first started Atkins as a 300+ pounder. And, I continued to lose weight until I was 60 pounds lighter, and that’s when I was in calorie balance. It’s simple how I lost the weight. I was eating less calories than I was before I started Atkins even though I didn’t count them. There’s no mystery here. In 2000, I lost 40 pounds taking prescription weight loss pills, eating LF, and didn’t count calories. I was able to do this because one of the pills I was… Read more »

Russ Stevens
Russ Stevens
7 years ago

@ Muata Again, you are equating ability with desire.Of course anyone could eat a ton of anything, but that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t find it difficult or that over time you would actually do it. You seem to agree that satiety matters.So if there is a difference in satiety with different foods than all calories are not equal and so one should be skeptical of the standard calorie dogma. By the way, did you lose weight eating 3-4 double cheeseburgers and 5 eggs with butter and cheese?For a while, I bet you did.How do you explain that? Has there ever… Read more »

CarbSane
11 years ago
Reply to  Jordan D.

CarbSane, it also depends on what we mean by “overeat.”Overeat shouldn’t just mean eating 3000 or 4000 calories per day.If I burn 2000 calories per day, and I want to lose weight, eating 2000 calories should be considered “overeating” in that context, since that level of calorie intake will prevent weight loss.So an extra 300-500 calories of cheese or bacon- or any other food- can be the difference between weight loss/ weight maintenance/ weight gain (depending on one’s goal.) I agree. I think this is the problem with using the term. I’ve often had the word “gluttony” put in my… Read more »

Calorie Skeptic
Calorie Skeptic
11 years ago
Reply to  Jordan D.

You could physically do it if you set your mind to the task but it would be difficult or at the very least more difficult than over consuming potato chips or french fries. I’m confused that you could compare the experience of eating cheese, bacon and eggs to eating potato chips or french fries. You’d have to accidentally consume an extra 7 eggs or 1/3 of a block of cheese or 12 slices of bacon every day to gain a pound a week, assuming a calorie is a calorie. That’d be really filling. Whereas it would be real easy to… Read more »

Muata
11 years ago

Of course you can overeat on meat, eggs, or any other type of “Atkins Induction” style diet. When I first started following Atkins back in 2003, I could easily eat 3-4 bunless double-cheeseburgers in one sitting without a problem. I would also eat a minimum of 5 eggs, cooked in butter, with cheese for breakfast without thinking twice about the portions because Atkins told me that “calories don’t count”. When you are obese, your stomach, as well as other organs, is much larger than it would be if you weren’t. So, even though protein does have a satiating effect, a… Read more »

JII
JII
11 years ago
Reply to  Muata

I agree with Calorie Skeptic completely. So if a calorie is a calorie, then macronutrient content shouldn’t matter. So why does carbsane still specifically restrict carbohydrates? It is completely inconsistent with her own dietary hypothesis. If one calorie makes you satiated and one calorie makes you hungry then all calories are not equal. You even state yourself “protein has a satiating effect” There are clearly primitive societies that eat a high-carbohydrate diet and avoid obesity. They all, however, eat no sugar!! There is an abundance of evidence that fructose in high doses dysregulates appetite. There is even animal date that… Read more »

CarbSane
11 years ago
Reply to  JII

I agree with Calorie Skeptic completely.So if a calorie is a calorie, then macronutrient content shouldn’t matter.So why does carbsane still specifically restrict carbohydrates?It is completely inconsistent with her own dietary hypothesis. How so? When I restrict carbs it helps me (some days rather drastically) restrict calories w/o trying. When I was initially losing around a pants size a month early on, I would say several days a week I ate well under 1000 cal/day. The thing about carb restriction that hasn’t been mentioned is that you not only cut the carb calories, you cut the fat calories that usually… Read more »

JII
JII
11 years ago
Reply to  Muata

I agree with Calorie Skeptic completely. So if a calorie is a calorie, then macronutrient content shouldn’t matter. So why does carbsane still specifically restrict carbohydrates? It is completely inconsistent with her own dietary hypothesis. If one calorie makes you satiated and one calorie makes you hungry then all calories are not equal. You even state yourself “protein has a satiating effect” There are clearly primitive societies that eat a high-carbohydrate diet and avoid obesity. They all, however, eat no sugar!! There is an abundance of evidence that fructose in high doses dysregulates appetite. There is even animal date that… Read more »

Scott
Scott
11 years ago
Reply to  Muata

“So if a calorie is a calorie, then macronutrient content shouldn’t matter. So why does carbsane still specifically restrict carbohydrates? It is completely inconsistent with her own dietary hypothesis.” I think the argument being put forth is not that a calorie is a calorie in all aspects, but that a calorie is a calorie (for the most part) for the aspect of fat gain/loss. However, if this is true, it does not mean there are no reasons to go low carbohydrate. I feel great and more sated with most low carb foods. Many refined carbs leave me tired and irritable… Read more »

Jordan D.
11 years ago

Calorie Skeptic, you’re making the mistake of extrapolating your own experience and preferences to everybody else. You don’t know me, dude! lol. I don’t find bacon satisfying at all. Bacon is so scrawny, it doesn’t take very long to eat, and doesn’t take up much space in the stomach. I could eat several strips in the blink of an eye, and not feel satiated. Cheese, no problem! Sausage, steak, pork chops, ribs, I could eat several hundred calories of any of those foods with ease. And those several hundred calories could be the difference between weight loss or maintenance or… Read more »

JII
JII
11 years ago
Reply to  Jordan D.

Jordan,

Lets set up a food eating contest.

All you can eat.

Bacon vs pizza

Pork chops vs french fries

Steak vs ice cream

Eggs vs cereal

Lets see who wins.

Jordan D.
11 years ago
Reply to  JII

Lets see who wins.

Who cares? Several hundred calories of any food can put me over my allotment for the day, and interfere with my goal of weight loss or maintenance. They’re all easy to overeat. You’re being ideological rather than practical.

Calorie Skeptic
Calorie Skeptic
11 years ago
Reply to  Jordan D.

Again I’ll say this: you could physically overeat bacon etc. if you for some strange reason made it a goal but you actually don’t do it because you are never in a situation that it is possible nor desirable. Unless you are at a breakfast buffet, when can you consume 10 slices of bacon? At the diner, do you order three servings and pay $20 for breakfast? I find it extremely difficult to imagine the obesity epidemic is caused by overconsumption of eggs, bacon and cheese and that my personal experience is so different from the rest of the population.… Read more »

LynMarie Daye
11 years ago

Again I’ll say this: you could physically overeat bacon etc. if you for some strange reason made it a goal but you actually don’t do it because you are never in a situation that it is possible nor desirable. When other people state that they can eat a lot of a certain food, why not just believe them? It’s possible they are simply telling the truth. You seem to have no problem believing people when they say they can eat a lot of high carb foods. You appear to be biased in thinking that everyone reacts to food like you… Read more »

Jordan D.
11 years ago

I find it extremely difficult to imagine the obesity epidemic is caused by overconsumption of eggs, bacon and cheese and that my personal experience is so different from the rest of the population. Obesity is caused by overeating, period. Of course, a lot of it is caused by eating high calorie processed foods. That’s mostly because those foods taste so damn good! We’ve engineered our food to taste too good for our own good. I think it’s more an issue of high energy density + flavor + cost/ access than insulin per se. It’s high in calories, it’s really tasty,… Read more »

JII
JII
11 years ago
Reply to  Jordan D.

I agree with Calorie Skeptic completely. So if a calorie is a calorie, then macronutrient content shouldn’t matter. So why does carbsane still specifically restrict carbohydrates? It is completely inconsistent with her own dietary hypothesis. If one calorie makes you satiated and one calorie makes you hungry then all calories are not equal. You even state yourself “protein has a satiating effect” There are clearly primitive societies that eat a high-carbohydrate diet and avoid obesity. They all, however, eat no sugar!! There is an abundance of evidence that fructose in high doses dysregulates appetite. There is even animal date that… Read more »

JII
JII
11 years ago
Reply to  Jordan D.

If you look at the NHANES data, the biggest increase in calories in the past 50 years has been from carbohydrates, specifically fructose. Protein calories are relatively unchanged and fat calories have increased very slightly. 90% of the calorie increase has been from carbohydrates. When one interviews obese people (I am a physician), there are common patterns. People are addicted to sweets. They love there cakes, pies, sodas or breads. NOBODY is addicted to steak or eggs. Take a look at this. Look at France and Japan compared to the US. http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/foo_sof_dri_con-food-soft-drink-consumption Muata: When you tried Atkins in 2003, did… Read more »

Muata
11 years ago
Reply to  JII

Muata: When you tried Atkins in 2003, did you lose weight?

I sure did! I actually dropped 60 lbs in @ 6 months, but I hit a major plateau when I weighed 245 and keeping my carbs low didn’t help. I simply was eating enough food to keep my body at that weight. It wasn’t until I gave up the “calories don’t count” dogma that I started to lose weight again. Oh, and I continued to follow a low to moderate LC diet, as I do now …

CarbSane
11 years ago
Reply to  JII

If you look at the NHANES data, the biggest increase in calories in the past 50 years has been from carbohydrates, specifically fructose.

Yes. Cut the EXCESS carbs. But see? We eat more CALORIES … hence get obese. Many people would probably spontaneously lose weight just cutting out their liquid calories.

JII
JII
11 years ago
Reply to  Jordan D.

You might be able to overeat bacon if you wanted to, but the NHANES data proves that is not whats happening in the US. Since 1960, fat calories are relatively unchanged and carbohydrates have increase significantly.

What is the cause of the obesity epidemic?
Worldwide lack of will power.
Worldwide gluttony.
Worldwide laziness.

If it is all gluttony and sloth, why only on carbohydrates?

Here is meat consumption in the US.

http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/baseline/gallery/gallery2010/meatcon.gif

Jordan D.
11 years ago
Reply to  JII

If it is all gluttony and sloth, why only on carbohydrates?

Because they taste really, really good!

JII
JII
11 years ago
Reply to  Jordan D.
JII
JII
11 years ago
Reply to  Jordan D.

Muata, So you lost 60lbs by eating 5eggs and 3 to 4 burgers. Doesn’t that prove the point. I don’t think anyone is saying calories are irrelevant (people lose weight when they are starved to death). I don’t want to speak for the entire low-carb community, but I think it is safe to say that most low-carb proponents believe that all calories are not equal. A diet high in fat produces better satiety and naturally lowers calorie intake without having to fight through hunger. On the other hand, a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates will leave you constantly… Read more »

Muata
11 years ago
Reply to  JII

@Jll It proves the point that when one eats less calories than their body needs, s/he loses weight. I understand that you don’t speak for the entire LC community, but the majority of them would disagree with you about calories since Taubes GCBC aserts that calories are irrelevant, and so did Atkins. I continue to follow a low to moderate LC diet to maintain my fat loss, but that’s because it works for me. I think that a sane LC approach to fat loss is a good one for most sedentary obese folks, but to blame one macronutrient for obesity… Read more »

Harry
Harry
11 years ago
Reply to  Muata

If I may, I’d like to try to generate a synthesis out of this to-and-fro on whether “a calorie is a calorie” in terms of weight loss (where both sides of the argument are supported by powerful intuitions). The problem here (please forgive this philosopher his habits) is the conflation of definitional categories (i.e. domains); in short, one group is conversing in terms of bio-physics (the calorie IS a calorie group), while the other is conversing in the fields of socio-biology and psychology (the calorie IS NOT a calorie group). Unsurprisingly, the result is that people are talking ‘apples and… Read more »

Jordan D.
11 years ago
Reply to  Harry

Well said, Harry! Makes a lot of sense.

Jordan D.
11 years ago
Reply to  JII

A diet high in fat produces better satiety and naturally lowers calorie intake without having to fight through hunger.On the other hand, a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates will leave you constantly hungry and will naturally increase your calorie intake.

Why paint everyone with the same brush? Not everybody needs to eat low carb to lose weight. I lost 63 pounds eating my favorite foods, just less of them. That included modest portions of desserts. It’s possible. You can do whatever you want, but not everybody is the same, and not everybody has to follow the same path.

JII
JII
11 years ago
Reply to  Jordan D.

Jordan D., Clearly, there are lots of ways to lose weight.  Calorie restriction is clearly one of the possibilities. (People clearly lose weight when they are starved) However, the question we are trying to address is Gary Taubes’ theory accurate. Is it the carbohydrates in the diet that has caused the obesity epidemic? Why are Americans all overeating?  Were people in 1960 more disciplined and had more will power than today? Were carbohydrates less “yummy” then? Why is obesity more common in the lower socioeconomic groups? Do they eat more refined carbohydrates? Why is there an epidemic of obese 6… Read more »

CarbSane
11 years ago
Reply to  JII

http://www.nutritionandmetabolism.com/content/3/1/7http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12679447?dopt=Abstract&holding=f1000,f1000m,isrctnhttp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12761365?dopt=Abstract&holding=f1000,f1000m,isrctnhttp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15616799?dopt=Abstract&holding=f1000,f1000m,isrctnhttp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12761364?dopt=Abstract&holding=f1000,f1000m,isrctnhttp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12640371?dopt=Abstract&holding=f1000,f1000m,isrctnhttp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15148063?dopt=Abstract&holding=f1000,f1000m,isrctnand just in case you weren’t convinced.This explains the biochemistry of the “metabolic advantage” to a low-carbohydrate diet.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15588283?dopt=Abstract&holding=f1000,f1000m,isrctn   I haven’t had a chance to view all of these, but considering the source of most of them no doubt they are cherry picked. The so-called metabolic advantage has never been demonstrated in a properly controlled study, and has been calculated to be at most like 50 cal/day. Free living studies are poor evidence for testing thermodynamics. Basically they are useless. It is not realistic to expect “real time” daily food logging for the course of several weeks, months, or years, but… Read more »

jii
jii
11 years ago
Reply to  CarbSane

“has been calculated to be at most like 50cal/day” Lets assume that you are correct and its actually 50cal/day. How many pounds does that translate into over 20years? Lets take the average man who has a normal BMI when he leaves high school. He would store an extra 18250cal/year or 365000calories over 20 years? If everything else is kept equal, that would be responsible for 100lbs of weight gain by the time he is middle-aged. Over the course of an entire lifetime 50cal/day is the difference between normal body weight and massive obesity. Theoretically, the metabolic advantage could be extremely… Read more »

Harry
Harry
11 years ago
Reply to  jii

Lets take the average man who has a normal BMI when he leaves high school.He would store an extra 18250cal/year or 365000calories over 20 years?If everything else is kept equal, that would be responsible for 100lbs of weight gain by the time he is middle-aged.Over the course of an entire lifetime 50cal/day is the difference between normal body weight and massive obesity. I’m sorry, but this is breathtakingly silly, and demonstrates perfectly why you are suspicious of the energy balance equation…because you simply don’t understand it ! The “small calorie surpluses can cumulatively lead to obesity” myth is based on… Read more »

jii
jii
11 years ago
Reply to  Harry

The point I was trying to make is that at any given calorie intake if a low-carb diet leads to 50 calories of “metabolic advantage.” This relative amount translates into a lot of weight over time. It doesn’t matter how much you weigh, the metabolic advantage persists. Your appetite and metabolic rate will naturally adjust. You will always have a 50 calorie advantage over your high-carbohydrate friends. Lets assume that because of the higher protein and fat intake in a low-carb diet calorie intake falls by 100 calories due to faster satiety. Add that 100 calories to the “metabolic advantage”… Read more »

Harry
Harry
11 years ago
Reply to  jii

The point I was trying to make is that at any given calorie intake if a low-carb diet leads to 50 calories of “metabolic advantage.” This relative amount translates into a lot of weight over time. Nope…you still don’t get it…sorry. For the sake of argument, let’s set aside James’ comments below regarding NEAT being up-regulated due to increased calories, and let’s assume that all 50 calories go directly to weight gain. Even so, the subject would gain only so much mass as is supported by the extra calories. Now, the rule of thumb is that you need to ingest… Read more »

CarbSane
10 years ago
Reply to  jii

The point I was trying to make is that at any given calorie intake if a low-carb diet leads to 50 calories of “metabolic advantage.” This relative amount translates into a lot of weight over time.It doesn’t matter how much you weigh, the metabolic advantage persists.Your appetite and metabolic rate will naturally adjust.You will always have a 50 calorie advantage over your high-carbohydrate friends.Lets assume that because of the higher protein and fat intake in a low-carb diet calorie intake falls by 100 calories due to faster satiety.Add that 100 calories to the “metabolic advantage” and it is much harder… Read more »

JII
JII
11 years ago
Reply to  Jordan D.

Jordan D., Clearly, there are lots of ways to lose weight.  Calorie restriction is clearly one of the possibilities. (People clearly lose weight when they are starved) However, the question we are trying to address is Gary Taubes’ theory accurate. Is it the carbohydrates in the diet that has caused the obesity epidemic? Why are Americans all overeating?  Were people in 1960 more disciplined and had more will power than today? Were carbohydrates less “yummy” then? Why is obesity more common in the lower socioeconomic groups? Do they eat more refined carbohydrates? Why is there an epidemic of obese 6… Read more »

su
su
9 years ago

Great discussion, I appear to be quite late coming to it! I find discussion of the dietry habits of Pima indians rather strange from GT considering he is the first to claim proper rigorous research is the ideal to answer our questions on diets. It’s one of the few points I agree with him on so why does he resort to historical “faction” to support his theory?

Russ Stevens
Russ Stevens
7 years ago

This part of Taubes book/lectures really bothers me – the Pima women were not taking food from their children to get obese! Obesity in the poor is primarily a result of two things: stress & thrifty gene. When you are a poor mother working hard everyday from dawn to dusk trying to feed your family you are stressed = cortisol = weight retention….the way nature adapted you to survive. Then, when you have more children as an obese, “thrifty” female, your offspring are born into what they perceive must be a famine situation….causing them to retain every possible calorie and… Read more »

Bret
Bret
11 years ago

Not sure what you are disagreeing with. I am familiar with every one of the China Study critiques you linked, and thought I suggested that James’ critique of it would probably be unnecessary given the wealth of them already available. I feel his critique of GCBC is enough for me to have serious doubts about the validity of the author’s conclusions. Besides, I have already received a pretty good primer into the style and theories of Gary Taubes with an article in Mother Earth News and video coverage of his “debate” (more like getting thrown to the wolves) between Drs.… Read more »

Scott
Scott
11 years ago
Reply to  Bret

“Not sure what you are disagreeing with.” I am disagreeing with this statement from your original post: “I do not think it is necessary for you to provide an extended critique on the book. Perhaps you could just expand slightly on your existing analysis, providing a summary of the poorly drawn conclusions as well as what you feel might be accurate conclusions, if they exist.” I’m doing so for the reasons outlined in my first reply. Primarily, I feel that, despite James’ and others’ efforts thus far, there are not nearly as many critical eyes on GCBC as there should… Read more »

Bret
Bret
11 years ago

James, Thank you for investigating this popular book and providing your perspective. It is clear from your investigation that the conclusions reached by the author are flawed at best, and calls into question the validity of any of his assumptions. I do not think it is necessary for you to provide an extended critique on the book. Perhaps you could just expand slightly on your existing analysis, providing a summary of the poorly drawn conclusions as well as what you feel might be accurate conclusions, if they exist. Thanks again for your efforts. I look forward to your future dissection… Read more »

Scott
Scott
11 years ago
Reply to  Bret

I disagree. “The China Study”, for example, has been thoroughly dissected and critiqued at a few sources: http://rawfoodsos.com/2010/08/03/the-china-study-a-formal-analysis-and-response/ http://www.cholesterol-and-health.com/China-Study.html http://freetheanimal.com/2010/07/the-china-study-smackdown-roundup.html There is a strong following of people from the Paleo diet movement already at work on inspecting fact vs. fallacy in a vegan diet. There are many people arguing against taking vegetarian/vegan ideas too dogmatically. From what I can see, however, there are too few people taking a critical look at Good Calories, Bad Calories, and far too many people that have accepted it as dogma: http://livinlavidalowcarb.com/blog/livin-la-vida-low-carb-show-episode-401-gary-taubes-update/9000 http://www.fathead-movie.com/ http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/low-carb-library/gary-taubes-new-book/ http://www.marksdailyapple.com/the-book/references/suggested-reading/ “This book is only two years old, but it is… Read more »

Miguel
Miguel
9 years ago
Reply to  Scott

About the China Study thing, you are being mislead. Please watch Primitive Nutrition 64: China Studies, Part III. I read Denise Minger’s blogposts China Study and Ancel Keys about a month ago and I almost fell for her bullshit. Also read this: http://www.plantpositive.com/blog/2012/3/21/a-reply-to-denise-mingers-latest-comments.html

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