Saturday, May 14, 2011

Good Calories, Bad Calories

     Now that the semester is over and I have a little free time and brainpower to do some light reading, I've decided to pick up Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes.  As my friends who are on Paleo diets and other low-carb diets can attest, I've been highly skeptical of the low-carb movement but haven't had the time to really sit down and do the research.  Now that I've started, I'm doing my best to give this a thorough, legitimately critical read.  I'm only 17 pages in plus the 16 page prologue, and I'm thus far impressed with what I've been reading, though not convinced.  One of the problems I feel at this point is that he is so firmly convinced that the low-carb diet is the right diet that he may suffer from significant motivated reasoning, which I talked about previously.  That said, I'm far too early into the book to get a really good impression on his case.  I do approve of his stance regarding anecdotal evidence, which is a very good start:
Scientists justifyably dislike anecdotal evidence--the experience of a single individual like Eisenhower.  Nonetheless, such cases can raise interesting issues.  Eisenhower died of heart disease in 1969, age seventy eight.  By then, he'd had another half-dozen heart attacks or, technically speaking, myocardial infarctions.  Whether his diet extended his life will never be known.  It certainly didn't lower his cholesterol, and so Eisenhower's experience raises important questions.
      The fact that Taubes is willing to argue against anecdotal evidence as anything more than a starting place is good, and lends him credibility in his stance.  What I haven't liked, however, is his constant references to himself as a lone voice of dissent.  I hope once I get into the meat of the book that he'll focus more on the evidence and less on his own words.  Judging by the impressive 66-page bibliography, I suspect this to be true.
     As I mentioned above, I'm skeptical of Taubes' claims regarding this diet; however, in the interest of open experimentation and to legitimately show that I'm not completely discounting his claims, I'm going to try to follow a low-carb diet suggested in his book for the summer (3 months).  My roommate has been on this diet previously and has volunteered to do it with me to help keep me motivated and to make sure I'm following the diet faithfully and safely, and I'm going to continue reading this book as I do so.  I know that the results of this little mini-experiment will be highly anecdotal, so this isn't meant to be damning evidence for or against the hypothesis.  This is for my own edification and curiosity.  If this diet ends up helping me, great.  If it does not, that's fine too.  At least I'll have some solid information regarding the diet and what's best for me.
     I plan on utilizing this blog as a way to track the diet and how it works for me.  Trust me, not everything I write will be about this diet or my thoughts on Good Calories, Bad Calories, but I'd like to keep up with it in this way to keep myself honest and see how I've been doing.  Since tonight and tomorrow there are graduation parties galore, I plan on starting the diet officially on Monday.  At this point I will weigh myself and utilize the Wii Fit to track my weight and progress throughout this diet.  We'll see how it works.
     In the meantime, I'll keep reading this book and post my thoughts on it as they come up.


  1. This is awesome David! Glad you now have the time to read it. I would be happy to give you some advice on what to expect and what to eat.

    I lent my copy of 'why we get fat' to a friend from work, he went low carb shortly after starting. His anecdotal evidence is 240lbs down to 230lbs in ten days. I hope you experience the same success.

    my main piece of advice would be... don't have any cheat meals or anything for at least the first few weeks and be steadfast especially those first few days.

  2. The caution I'd add is that doing a diet for three months isn't going to really tell you much one way or another, since most of the dietary studies I've seen have shown that the problem isn't take weight off, it's keeping the weight off long term.

    Here, I'll throw an SBM blog link at you, since I remembered Dr. Hall writing something about Taubes' other book:

    The comment thread is an interesting read. But I always love watching people bicker about nutrition, since it's plain there's no such thing as a magic bullet.

  3. I'm going to have to reluctantly agree with Rachel, it's true that staying lean once the weight is lost is indeed the thing that matters. If you just go back to eating the way you used to then yes you will just regain the weight you lost. Eating low carb shouldn't be viewed as a temporary weight loss diet... if you do then that is all the weight loss will be... temporary. In Good calories, bad calories Gary makes a great case for low carb being the healthiest way of eating. And it's not a 'magic bullet '. Let me be clear... it is based strongly in scientific reasoning. Think of low carb as more of a well aimed bullet to the heads of the adipose zombies. Once you stop head shotting them they will soon overwhelm you even if you are hitting them in the arm or the leg. Wow, that analogy went places I didn't even plan on!

  4. Seems to me, fat or thin, the important thing is to be healthy. Neither low carb nor low fat will make one healthy if one is ingesting too much omega-6.

    One nice thing about the so-called Mediterranean diet is that it inadvertently reduces omega-6 intake thus providing protection from depression and the various chronic inflammatory diseases.

    Suggest readers Google "Your Brain on Omega 3" and "Omega-6 Me" and "1 of 4 Bill Lands" to learn more.

  5. To add my own anecdote to what I said earlier: Don't know if I told you this, but I did South Beach back when I was trying to lose weight to join the army. The first phase of South Beach is pretty low carb, though I think it does allow you to eat some carbs as long as they're whole grain - which I basically didn't, because I really dislike most whole grain stuff and I hate cooking besides. I dropped something like 25 pounds then (and hit a weight loss plateau... the same one I'm stuck on now, actually), but I would be reluctant to credit the diet's food choices wholly with that weight loss because:
    a) Lots of portion control in that diet
    b) I was running 3-5 miles five time a week, and I'm sure that made a difference too.

    Once I gave up on the army thing, I quit the diet because I really didn't like the food that I was restricted to. If memory serves I gained a few pounds (<5) back once I was no longer portion restricted, but kept the rest off until I had to stop running when my knee problems got so bad. So that's my personal experience.

    IMO it really seems more about just finding a way to eat that you like and can maintain (and works with your metabolism) since the scientific support isn't overwhelming for anything other than the very simplistic calories in vs. calories out model. Life is short and I like cake, but YMMV.

    I just want you to be happy and healthy. /Mom Voice :P

  6. Oooh... also, thought: If you can afford it (like if your health insurance covers it) go get a blood panel done now and then at the end of the summer, just because you want to know how this will end up effecting your cholesterol and lipids.

    Okay, now I'm done, I swear.

  7. Rachael: Thanks for the advise and the information. I really appreciate your own anecdotal evidence. The article is actually one of the first things I looked at, and it does seem like there's no clear consensus. Still, I'm willing to give it a shot at least, if for no reason other than curiosity's sake. I'm not sure if I can get a full blood panel, but I should at least be able to get a cholesterol test done.