How Low Carb Paleo Can Fool You

Yesterday I listened to an excellent podcast between Justin Manning and Richard Nikoley. It might have been the single-best hour of any health podcast I have heard. Unlike most health podcasts today which promote neurotic food obsessions or unsafe fitness practices, this was the story of Richard Nikoley of and what happened on his journey into low-carb Paleo.

His story is important because he has been doing this for years. He is also over 50 years old. Hearing about how some 25-year-old got ripped doing 6 months of Paleo and CrossFit tells me nothing. You’re supposed to be fit and healthy at 25. And unlike Art De Vany and Mark Sisson, Richard was never a professional athlete.

Richard and I share a lot of similarities. Both of us came into Paleo via the writings of Art De Vany. We both lowered the carbs. We both lost weight. We both had issues after our weight loss. We both questioned and eventually rejected the anti-carb dogma. Along the way, we experimented with intermittent fasting and cold exposure.

Early in the interview, Richard mentioned how influential the book Fooled By Randomness by Taleb was to him. This was the same book I was reading at the time I first was exposed to Paleo. I believe that book along with our backgrounds in investing helped us think differently about the various health claims during our journey. Richard saw it faster than I did in nutrition. I was focusing more on the survivorship bias rampant in the fitness community. I even put out a post calling Taleb to task for being fooled by randomness on his own fitness routine.


Caveman by Jason Schleifer

Richard’s Low-Carb Paleo Journey

Although the entire show is good, I want to highlight the portion that starts around 21:20. Here are the notes I took.

  • Low-carb Paleo fools you because weight loss is so easy at first.
  • Removing grains, veggie oils, and processed foods creates a caloric deficit.
  • Richard lost 60-70 pounds following Low Carb Paleo. He got down to 175 at 5 ’10.
  • At his low, his hands and feet hurt from being very cold. This is a common side effect of low-carb diets.
  • During this period of chronic discomfort, he got “off his game” and gained 10 pounds.
  • After gaining 10 pounds, he felt great, which is what caused him to question the low-carb dogma.
  • It frustrates him when LC zealots advise a further reduction in carbs to those with stalled weight loss that experiencing side effects and symptoms associated with LC diets.
  • Richard acknowledges that LC/Ketogenic diets can be good for initial weight loss, diabetes, cancer, neurological diseases, and epilepsy.
  • Believes LC/Ketogenic diets are best used as an intervention, not a lifestyle.
  • Most people who have walked this planet did not follow a LC diet.
  • People under 35 seem to do well on LC. That is a result of being young.
  • Being Paleo and showing off your abs at 20 doesn’t prove anything.
  • LC Paleo leads one to believe that restricting carbs not restricting calories causes fat loss. This is false.
  • On calories: “You don’t need to count them, but they count.”
  • Weight loss stall is caused by a reduction in mass. When you lose mass, your energy requirements drop. To further lose weight, you must either further reduce calories or increase activity.

The book Fooled By Randomness discusses attribution bias. We try to find the reasons that explain a result and sometimes we get it wrong. Richard got it wrong. I got it wrong. Unlike several of the charlatans in the Paleo community, we are willing to admit it. Paleo is a wonderful narrative. It is a shame that it got hijacked by the low-carb cult.


Add yours

  1. Thanks, MAS. You’re the best, consistently. What a high endorsement. I actually enjoyed hearing the show myself with few eye rolls or boredom, so I hoped others would find it worth their while.

    In addition to plastering this post on Social Media, I have put an Update 3 on my post calling attention.

    Thanks again.

  2. Justin Manning

    Jan 14, 2014 — 1:42 pm

    Ditto MAS – thanks for the kind words, and for your solid writeup!

    Looks like you have a ton of sound advice for your readers – keep up the great work!


  3. Talking of podcasts, the excellent Econ Talk podcast has had both Gary Taubes and Nassim Taleb on as guests re: low carb in one of the forays into non-economics subjects.

    Usually Russ Richards is good at getting people who disagree with him to discuss economics with him but on low carb he’s never invited anyone on with an opposing view (as far as I know).

    I have to say, Taleb is more persuasive talking about fat-tail distribution than low carb dieting.

  4. I have the following opinion on Paleo (I’ve been Paleo-ish for 2.5 years now, with almost no weight loss — I’m still obese).

    1. Paleo-ketogenic is important for neurological issues, some types of tumors, and mental health. If I had such a problem, I would go Paleo-keto for 6 months (up to 50 gr of net carbs per day), and then up my net carbs by 10 gr every 3 months, until I reached 100 gr. Then I’d stabilize myself around that amount, simply because for these types of disorders, that might be actually required. In fact, I did have a benign tumor (fibroid) which Paleo-keto made it stop growing (surprising my doctor after a few months). But it didn’t shrink the tumor, so I eventually had surgery.

    2. I went Paleo-keto also because I couldn’t lose weight on normal Paleo (I suspect hormonal issues, but my thyroid panel didn’t show anything out of the ordinary). After a few months on Paleo-keto, I also got cold. My body just shut down. I came back to life when I also got back the 10 lbs I’ve lost with keto, and when I started eating up to 200 gr of net carbs daily. These days I still eat as many carbs, but I’m going back to VLC, to try and lose weight again. At this point, I don’t have any other option.

    3. “Removing the grains, veggie oils and processed foods creates a caloric deficit.” Sorry, this is not true. One can still eat fruits, tubers, some raw honey, and lots of fat, that make up for the calories one needs. They don’t have to go back to grains to get the needed calories. Sure, we already know that certain types of rice are not that bad, if one needs quick calories. However, please note that depending on the cultivar, oats, rice, corn and quinoa/amaranth can create gluten toxicity to intolerant people, even if these grains have no gluten in them. The problem here is that it depends on the cultivar, it’s not for the whole group of oats or quinoa, but some of their species (three new research papers confirmed this 3 months ago for both GF oats and quinoa). So personal experimentation is required to introduce grains and pseudograins depending on the brand, not just the type of grain. Speaking for me, personally, I have no problem with Japanese, Basmati, California long grain, and Greek risotto rice, but Jasmine and Chinese rice send me to the toilet within 24 hours (in a bad way).

    Finally, there is one other point that most Paleos are forgetting or they cite research that doesn’t yet exist: Legumes.

    Legumes are very high in calories (and even more in nutrients), so not everybody needs to start eating rice again. In fact, I think it’s more beneficial for people to start eating lentils and beans compared to rice. For example, if you input what you eat on a site like Cronometer daily, you will find that Paleo is very low on B1 and iron, no matter how much meat you eat. Legumes can fix this.

    Legumes are of course high in lectins, this much is true. However, the geniuses who demonized legumes forgot to mention research that shows that when you soak for 24+ hours AND you pressure-cook legumes, as much as 93% of their antinutrients go away. Effectively making them benign compared to other foods that we eat raw and have more antinutrients than that! The only research paper missing right now (and it’s one that I’d pursue if I was a researcher), is to know how many nutrients you also lose when you follow these instructions. Personally, I recently re-introduced sprouted lentils (Whole Foods sells some — always clean lentils up before cook them, some times they come with a few barley grains in them). I haven’t had any gas symptoms associated with beans. Not a single symptom. And that comes from someone who has destroyed her guts in the decade before Paleo (IBS-D for years, with 23andme claiming later it’s actually celiac — my blood test was negative in 2002, so it never occurred to me to go GF before Paleo).

    So anyway, my point is, after you properly prepare legumes, they have much fewer antinutrients than nuts, that Paleos are gorging on (since they never soak/dry them before eating them, as they should). So vilifying all legumes, is a mistake, IMHO. There are some legumes that are badder than others, e.g. unfermented soy, or some weird-looking beans that contain more toxins than usual, but overall, if you just stick to lentils and white beans, they’re fine (when properly prepared). Personally, I prefer to eat these than rice. Rice is yummy, but it has no nutrients. It’s empty calories.

    To recap, I’d still go low carb (sans legumes, few fruits, no honey, few tubers, even less dairy) if I wanted to lose weight. But if I want to just stabilize after I’ve lost weight, I’d go between 100 and 125 gr of net carbs per day (depending on age, height, activity), introducing more fruit, some raw honey, legumes, all sorts of tubers, and fermented casein A2 dairy. Honestly, I don’t think there’s any calorie deficit to be found in this type of diet.

  5. @Richard & @Justin – Thanks!

    @Simon – I have the same thoughts. EconTalk is my favorite podcast and I think nobody interviews better than Russ Roberts. However, I decided not to listen to his Taubes interview, because I knew Gary’s position and Russ’s belief that he personally needs low carbs.

    @Eugenia – RE #3: Richard’s point was that the average person that replaces “grains, veggie oils and processed foods” with Paleo OK foods will create a caloric deficit. Yes, it can be done, but it is harder to overeat Paleo than processed.

    Both Richard and I eat legumes. That is another area where we rejected the Paleo dogma. I’ve considered myself more WAPF than Paleo since late 2009. Richard still eats nuts. I dropped them from my diet around June 2013 for reasons I explain in this post:

  6. Yeah, nuts are too high on both O-6 and antinutrients. When I see people eating nut butter by the spoonfuls, or when they use 2 cups of almond flour to make 1 pizza dough, makes me shiver. None of them stop and think a bit. Even if you don’t know of their antinutrient density, plain common sense would show that eating too many nuts is bad for you. You see, no one in their right mind would eat two full cups of almond nuts in one sitting. And yet, they have no problem eating an 10″ pizza made out of 2 cups of almond flour, or bread/cookies (it’s 1:1 ratio for both nuts and flour).

    Personally, I eat maybe 1/4 cup of nuts per week. Since I put on braces last year, I can’t eat nuts as easily, so that helped me ween off of them. I avoid nut flours, that in addition to the problems already mentioned here, they oxidize when baked. Lose-lose situation.

    If I want to indulge on something, or as a snack, I eat jumbo raisins instead. Many more carbs, sure, but also more nutrition per weight, and less inflammation.

  7. @Eugenia – Your site is super cool. Love the collages.

  8. MAS

    Finally had a chance to listen to this podcast. I mostly agree with R. Nikoley but coincidentally I started a ketogenic diet over the holidays, inspired but this blog post:

    I had also read “The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living” and “The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance” so I have been curious to experience keto-adaptation. So far I feel fine over 2 weeks in but no dramatic changes in how I feel or any big weight loss (I’ve got some belly fat to lose but not a huge amount). I will continue for a while longer as a self experiment. From my readings on ketogenic diets, it seems there are some that do very well on them but I don’t expect they are best for everyone. I wonder if very low carb is best if done seasonally – low carb in winter and higher carb in spring/summer as fruits/tubers are more available.

    Here is another interesting post questioning the healthfulness of vegetables:



  9. @EJ – A seasonal approach seems like a good hedge to me.

    See Comment #2 on this post.

    It has been ages since I went low carb for more than a meal or two. I’m curious on how it would impact my appetite today.

  10. I posted a comment over “Back to Sleep” article, and it fits perfectly here. NO MORE LOW/ZERO CARB FOR ME, FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE.

  11. Matthew Tamayo-Rios

    Feb 8, 2014 — 2:13 pm

    I experienced the opposite when I went zero card, but then again I was drinking cups of macadamia and olive oil to get up to 5000 calories.

    Long term, I’ve found that doing IF with randomized cyclical and seasonal (ketogenic) diet works best for me.

    Every time I get I start eating too many my carbs my weight sky rockets. Eating perfectly I tick down weight very slowly– recently I got back down to 260 and in two days of beer and brats I was up to 276.

  12. All I can add here is my own experience. When I’ve tried paleo, or other various low carb plans, my mood plummets. I have suffered with biological depression and these diets make me miserable. I just have to make sure I have enough starchy carbs to keep sane.

  13. I’m tired of seeing Nikoley’s fat belly on the Paleo stage.

  14. Yep, all the hundreds of scientists doing cutting edge research into carb-restricted diets and this one blogger, with N=1, and no sources, figured it all out!

  15. I recently revisited an old book I read as a child (my parents had a copy of it in our house and I was bored). It’s called The Rotation Diet, and is freely available on It emerged from a medical weight loss clinic at Vanderbilt University. While dated, it presents a nice counterpoint to many current trends. It’s based on a rotating schedule of carefully planned calorie deficits, and pretty much ignores macronutrient composition. It’s compatible with intermittent fasting but doesn’t require it. Might be worth an hour’s time for those interested in these topics.

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