I still recall exactly where I was when I discovered that Gary Taubes was wrong about his insulin theory of obesity. It was January 2012 and I was in Long Beach, California staying on the Queen Mary. Someone was trying to engage me in an email debate about carbs and insulin. I didn’t have my trusty copy of Good Calories, Bad Calories with me, so I began searching for concepts that I had learned and been repeating since late 2009.
There I was on the deck of the Queen Mary surfing the Internet looking for evidence to defend Taubes’ theory. Only instead of finding the evidence, I found several criticisms. I went down a path that made me less sure and ultimately skeptical of everything that I had been so sure was correct.
Prior to my trip away from home and my GCBC book, I was aware there were those skeptical of his theory. I was there in April 2010 when Gary Taubes first met Stephan Guyenet at the University of Washington, which was a year before they locked horns. At the time I recall thinking there was an overlap between Taubes’s insulin theory and Guyenet’s whole food (WAPF) approach, so I didn’t pursue it further.
One of the reasons I didn’t look into it more was because, after 10 years of being weight stable at ~210, I had dropped to 190-195 rather effortlessly by lowering carbohydrates. My thinking was if Taubes is wrong then explain my ab definition. So there I was on the deck of the Queen Mary reading the series by James Krieger titled Insulin…an Undeserved bad Reputation and my faith in the insulin theory plummeted. Later I would read more validating Krieger on Carbsane.
So I was left with a mystery. Taubes was wrong, but I was leaner. What happened? Although it didn’t feel like I reduced calories, I did. Looking back I now believe the 3 elements that explained my fat loss were:
- Intermittent Fasting, which leads to a calorie reduction.
- Move to a more whole foods approach. Thanks to Paleo and WAPF, I was cooking much more at home. Whole foods can be more satiating.
- Higher protein. When I reduced carbs, I likely added foods with higher protein. Protein reduces appetite more than carbs or fat.
Digging around on the Internet and reading long scientific articles debunking the claims made by many low-carb advocates can be tiring. Simple narratives are easier to explain than the more complex reasons why those narratives are false.
Yesterday I was made aware of The Low Carb Myth: Free Yourself From Carb Myths, and Discover the Secret Keys That Really Determine Your Health and Fat Loss Destiny. I’m halfway through the book and it is outstanding. In plain language, it goes myth by myth destroying the lies propagated by the low-carb community.
The Low Carb Myth: Free Yourself From Carb Myths, and Discover the Secret Keys That Really Determine Your Health and Fat Loss Destiny by Ari Whitten
If you are low-carb and have an open mind, please check it out. There are reasons that low-carb diets work and they are acknowledged in the book, but they aren’t the ones the carb-hating low-carb gurus are promoting. The Low Carb Myth is not an anti-low carb book. The Low Carb Myth is an anti-low carb dogma book. This book does a stellar job of advancing the discussion of fat loss by destroying the myths that are holding us back. I only wish this book was around in late 2009 when I first read GCBC.
Feb 10, 2015 — 10:59 am
Thanks! Grabbing the book now!
Kind of glad now that I was too lazy at the time to plow all of the way through GCBC. 🙂
Feb 10, 2015 — 11:01 am
@Nick – Much of GCBC is still good. The Lipid hypothesis, nutritional history and salt chapters come to mind. And despite what the brotards say, I think he mostly gets the exercise appetite connection right.
Feb 10, 2015 — 11:40 am
Fair enough. I’ll have to dust it off at some point. 🙂 Was hoping Lazy finally worked in my favor.
Feb 10, 2015 — 1:01 pm
Interesting. I’ll admit, I’m skeptical. Taubes constantly says he is only going where the research takes him; he doesn’t have a particular bias. Thanks for the info on the free book. I’ll check it out.
Feb 10, 2015 — 1:07 pm
I don’t read to deep on any of this stuff though it interests me. What’s your current take on where Taubes stands now? Is it more similar to your own views?
Feb 10, 2015 — 1:18 pm
@John – I don’t know where Taubes is at now. To my knowledge he is still clinging to his insulin theory, which has been debunked.
Feb 10, 2015 — 9:21 pm
It is sad to see so many educated men/women skillfully disregard proper scientific training to promote their agenda for greed and self importance. For example, the sugar association paid for studies to discredit Splenda.
I’ve given up trying to explain diet to anyone. Diet is simple. Most foods have enough fat and protein already. Concentrate on getting enough carbs, such as fruit, vegetables and good bread. A mature human has no overwhelming needs for protein and fats. Between preconceived opinions and wrong motives, there is little chance that an idea based on facts and logic will ever be accepted. Asking question, searching for the real facts, listening skills, along with a large dose of humility may not be the popular course, but these are pearls of very high value to the individual who searches for true wisdom.
Feb 10, 2015 — 9:39 pm
Hmm…I still don’t see how Taubes is wrong
What you did (and as with a lot of us) was to avoid spiking blood sugar levels, which in turn reduces the amount of insulin being produced by our bodies…
So unless you achieved weight loss by loading your blood with glucose, it’s hard to dispel the insulin/high carb theory
Feb 10, 2015 — 9:44 pm
@xtrocious – read the book. It goes into great detail on how Taubes was wrong.
Feb 11, 2015 — 6:01 am
Has Taubes responded to this debunking?
Feb 11, 2015 — 7:17 am
@Brian – Instead of saying he was wrong, he is now behind a group called NuSI which has a goal of creating better studies to discover what is the truth. He has acknowledged he was wrong about the glycerol-3-phosphate part of GCBC. For a detailed blow by blow account of Taubes and his responses over the years, head over to Carbsane.
My interest is not in Taubes, but an accurate understanding of nutrition. I do still like a lot about GCBC, although I gave my copy away shortly after I returned from my Long Beach trip.
Feb 13, 2015 — 3:21 am
One of my first low carb books was Lyle McDonald’s and he was very clear in the importance of calories in/out so I’ve always understood the importance of counting calories (or tricking yourself into eating less by going low carb).
The interviews I’ve seen with Taubes he seems to acknowledge calories in/calories out but says it’s the wrong question to ask. Or as Peter Attia put it it’s like asking “Why is Bill Gates rich?” and the answer is “He spends less than he earns”.
That’s obviously true but it doesn’t help our understanding of why some people are successful at making money and others suck at it. Obviously, people are over eating and not burning off the calories. The question is..why? Why does it effect some and not others?
I never get the rage against Taubes – just listened to an interview with him where he agreed that insulin isn’t the “whole story” but felt that carbs like wheat, sugar could be leading to over eating.
Anyway, I do agree that there is low carb dogma out there – my personal annoyance – bashing “high fructose” fruit
Feb 13, 2015 — 3:11 pm
@Sanjay – To understand the rage against Taubes, you need to go back to 2010. Bloggers such as Carbsane and James Krieger were bringing up valid criticism of GCBC and they were attacked. There is a debate on if Taubes knowingly ignored research that debunked his insulin theory when the book was published. I don’t want to get into that debate, but if you really want to understand the rage, that is where your search should start.
As I stated in the post, I met Taubes in 2010 and found him pleasant. The 5 years of battles are of no concern to me at this point. I am just interested in the truth and I no longer think Taubes has it.
Feb 14, 2015 — 5:25 pm
I’ll check out the link, I’ve read her stuff from time to time but not that deeply.
Thanks to Lyle McDonald’s stuff I always knew that low carb’s magic was in the protein, satiety and energy deficit so I think I’ve tuned out a lot of the controversy over the past few years, thinking this is all settled science.
Apparently Taubes is debating Alan Aragon in a few weeks. That’ll be an interesting discussion.
Feb 17, 2015 — 4:11 pm
“How would you like it if I told you there was a way to eat pretty much anything and everything you wanted to eat and still maintain your health? Or better yet, what if I told you that you could eat pretty much anything and everything you wanted and even improve your health? Would you be interested? I figured as much.” Michael Eades MD
“There is a way to reduce blood sugar, improve insulin sensitivity, reduce blood pressure, increase HDL levels, get rid of diabetes, live a lot longer, and still be able to lose a little weight. All without giving up the foods you love. And without having to eat those foods in tiny amounts. Sounds like a late-night infomercial gimmick, but it isn’t.” Michael Eades MD
After 5000 hours of research, and countless PubMed searches, I read the Eades overview on IF. That was 5 years ago. I never looked back. I tightened the eating window to 40 minutes every 24 hours. I was pursuing truth and simplicity. Biochemical individuality…and my personal study of one.
I have always been lean and chiseled. Always eating whole foods. Farm fresh eggs from foraging hens. Bright orange yolks standing up like golf balls (the most perfectly anabolic food on earth). Soups made with beef knuckle bones and veggies. Butter. You get the idea.
As Emerson said, “Give me health and a day and I will make the pop of emperors ridiculous.”
I tired of the zillions of ‘so-called’ experts spouting off so authoritatively. And this old chestnut: It is impossible to defeat an ignorant man in argument.
It’s really quite simple. You don’t need to slice and dice it a thousand ways.
BTW, I do HIT 2X a week. Six sprints on challenging acclivities. Pull ups. One set to momentary failure (usually 20).
Parallel dips. Hindu press ups/squats. HIT is an efficient use of time and energy. Minimizing the catabolic stress while maximizing the anabolic adaptation.
Note: I recently traveled for 6 months in South East Asia. I did not exercise. I did not lose strength or speed after my return to the U.S. I enjoyed a gustatory symphony every evening in SEA, along with a cold beer Chang and a snifter glass of Jameson.
Feb 17, 2015 — 4:18 pm
Correction: “Pomp” of emperors.
Feb 18, 2015 — 4:31 am
I am not at all against eating carbs, I think they should be part of a healthy diet (depending on activity levels). But this book was very bad and read like an angry blog post.
The calories in calories out explanation is very simple and does not take into account the body’s adaptation to reducing calories and weight. The body acts as though it has a Body Set Weight (BSW) and strives vigorously to defend that weight against increase or decrease alike. So if you decrease calories you will burn less energy as a result.
Many of the authors that the book quotes e.g. lyle mcdonald agree that carbs are fattening and in his diet books recommends reducing carbs to lose stubborn fat.
Feb 18, 2015 — 11:51 am
The New Trend in Dieting:
Tracking your calories and macro intake in a spreadsheet, lifting 3x a week and eating pop tarts every day is normal because “It Fits My Macros”. Carbing up to the extreme is normal, because everyone is a pro athelete that needs to have max. performance.
Eating zuchini over pasta is “clean” and a made up disorder called “orthorexia”.
I believe the world of nutrition is ripe for the taking. DurianRider & Freely the Banana Girl will rule us all soon enough.
Feb 18, 2015 — 12:08 pm
@Rob – I went to Lyle’s site and found this quote.
I would label Lyle as pro-protein, not low carb.
Feb 19, 2015 — 2:16 am
I’ve read all of lyles books and he uses low carbs to reduce body fat and higher carbs to gain mass.
He makes a clear case for the different carb consumptions on this series:
http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/fat-loss/comparing-the-diets-part-4.html/ <= gives the overall summary.
As well, from his article:
"So, under conditions of high caloric intake, with a high intake of refined carbohydrates (meaning chronically high insulin levels), poor quality fat choices (too much saturated fat and/or too little unsaturated fats), little activity, minimal fruit and vegetable intake, etc. a high-fat intake is probably very detrimental from a health standpoint. Sadly, this describes a fairly typical diet in the modern world (especially the US).
In contrast, with reduced or even controlled caloric intake (such that bodyweight goes down or is maintained) and most of the fat coming from unsaturated sources (note: excessive polyunsaturated fats has its own set of problems), a high fruit and vegetable intake, reasonable activity levels, keeping body fat levels down, etc. higher fat intakes may be no problem at all. In some situations, an increased fat intake (again, from healthy sources within the context of activity and a high fruit and vegetable intake) may be beneficial compared to the alternatives (e.g. increasing carbohydrate intake)."
Let me know your thoughts.
Feb 19, 2015 — 6:58 am
@Rob – Lyle is first and foremost promoting a high protein diet. In the part 4 link, he said this:
I didn’t want this post to turn into a low-carb vs more carb debate. The purpose was to address the REASONS cited by the low carbers for their diet being superior. The Low Carb Myth doesn’t say low carb diets aren’t effective, they provide reasons why people can have success on them.
There is no doubt that people lose fat when lowering their carbs. I did. It is the reasons cited and repeated that have no scientific basis. Lyle also said this:
Apr 4, 2015 — 5:15 am
I think your missing the point when you allege that Taubes’ insulin theory has been debunked. What Taubes is saying in essence is that there is a conceptual disconnect between the mechanisms that make fat tissue fat (insulin) and the mechanisms that make people fat (CICO). It’s not even his “insulin theory”. He simply juxtaposes two statements from a biochemistry textbook and rightly points out that there is a completely different paradigm behind each. Either the first or the second paradigm is correct. Having both paradigms at the same time is superfluous. Taubes’ argument is conceptual in nature (what Sanjay alludes to). He did not set out to prove biochemistry wrong, rather on a higher level view he illuminates that there is a fundamental contradiction in the way we think about obesity if we accept established biochemical findings. When your saying “his” insulin theory has been debunked you mean basic biochemistry has been changed?
Also, I don’t get why you are so hung up on G3P. It doesn’t change or invalidate the argument in any way, but I’ve already tried to explain that before to no avail.
Apr 4, 2015 — 8:46 am
@John – I’ve already explained why the G3P was important TO ME in other posts. Whether it should or shouldn’t have been important to me is no longer relevant. In 2009 when I read GCBC 3x it struck ME as a major point.
I am just a hobbyist. I’ve never claimed to be an expert or have deep scientific understanding of the biochemistry. I’ve read Taubes and I’ve read his critics. At this time, I am more swayed by the critics. But I am always willing to reconsider and change my mind. I’ve done it before.
May 13, 2015 — 6:20 pm
The caloric model of obesity has NO predictive power. Dr. Spector’s identical twin study was only the latest among countless studies demonstrating it has no predictive power. Countless studies disprove the caloric hypothesis’ predictions. The model is debunked.
Theories , in science, with no predictive power are USELESS.
Gary Taubes does wonderful work and several top scientists in physics have taken notice and enjoy his work.