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  Read through my blog below by simply scrolling down the entries, or check out the essays below. I've chosen ones that I particularly enjoy--maybe you will too.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Day 17, Wednesday: In Which I Read "Why We Get Fat"

- Breakfast: TB with chard. Hubby had one too, and he had the brilliant suggestion to put mustard on it. I tried it. SUBLIME. Unfortunately, on the 5th or 6th bite my opposite-of-castiron stomach rebelled and said, "NO. That won't do. Regular TB please." So no mustard.
- Lunchy snack 1: apple with almond butter
- Lunchy snack 2: ham slices with cornichon pickles
- Dinner: Good ol' bacon and egg salad. We freaking love this. Chris said last night he could have it at every meal. Not bad!

Somewhere in here I ran into my student Clif, and he and I had a great conversation. I've known Clif for what seems like about five years, and about three years ago he lost quite bit of weight on purpose.* He told me he'd been following my blog (thank you for reading!) and reminded me that when he lost his weight, he lost it by avoiding carbs. He said, "You know, all those diets--South Beach, Atkins, the Wheatbelly Diet, the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, Paleo--they all tell you the same thing. They all tell you to cut carbs."** We talked about a book that I read several years ago called "Good Calories, Bad Calories", how it is an amazing book but hard to read because it is very science-y. He said that the author of GCBC, Gary Taubes, had written a second version the book that is more for laypeople called "Why We are Fat and What To Do About It." So Clif lent me the book, and it BLEW. MY. MIND.

Taubes's book is a summary of the studies done on obesity for the last 100 years. The vast majority of double-blind studies on weight loss and heart disease DO NOT remotely support the low-fat diet that is currently promoted by the medical establishment. Hmm, I thought, "if that's so, then how come the medical establishment supports that diet?" Taubes explores how few charismatic "experts" (with no experience in the field of endocrinology or obesity) misinterpreted a few fuzzy studies and heavily promoted the idea of "low-fat". They were very successful in promoting this point of view, to the extent that their ideas were picked up by the media and then by big organizations like the American Heart Association.

Taubes explains the big problem with all this: a low-fat diet doesn't actually help most people lose weight or reduce heart disease. (Of course, cutting total calories will help you lose weight, like Weight Watchers, etc, but you lose weight because you're cutting calories from CARBS, not because you're cutting calories from FAT.) A low-fat diet also doesn't prevent heart disease. Taubes shows this over and over again, citing study after study that shows that CARBOHYDRATES and SUGAR create obesity and heart disease. Well, I asked, why isn't every vegetarian overweight? Taubes uses the example of lung cancer--some people can smoke and not get lung cancer. Some people can eat a diet with a lot of whole grains and not get heart disease.

Gentle Reader, if I have offended your sensibilities with this information, I do apologize. You might want to look away now, because I'm going to continue along these lines. Allow me to offer my very crude shorthand for how exactly carbohydrates (including whole grains) screw up your metabolism. (I'm not a doctor or a medical expert, so my explanation is crude and you shouldn't use it as a substitute for medical advice. From a doctor who has read Taubes's book.)

Carbohydrates metabolize as sugar. Sugar raises insulin. Insulin's job is to pack sugar away as fat. The more frequently you eat carbohydrates, the more insulin you have floating around in your system. People eating carbs all the time have a ton of insulin floating around ALL THE TIME. Consequently, they are HUNGRY all the time, because insulin is packing away blood sugar into fat cells and not making it available for other tissues. (One of the craziest things I learned from Taubes's book is that when overweight, carbohydrate-fed rats are starved to death, their bodies will actually start breaking down their ORGANS before they break down fat! Don't get me wrong, they'll lose some fat. But they will die carrying FOUR TIMES as much fat as their lean counterparts.)

Perhaps, like me, you are recoiling in disbelief at this information. I sympathize. However, after reading this book and learning the science, I personally could no more believe that whole grains are good for you than believe in creationism. If you're interested in exploring the science more, you could get Taubes's book, check out the New York Times*** (Link: or just look around on PubMed. A particularly damning study out of Stanford, called the "A TO Z" study, compared Atkins, a Traditional diet, the Ornish diet, and the Zone diet. The lead researcher was a vegetarian. He described the outcome as "a bitter pill to swallow". You can find the abstract online. Here's the main conclusion: "In this study, premenopausal overweight and obese women assigned to follow the Atkins diet, which had the lowest carbohydrate intake, lost more weight and experienced more favorable overall metabolic effects at 12 months than women assigned to follow the Zone, Ornish, or LEARN [Traditional] diets."

Taubes's book clarified WHY I personally do much better on a Paleo-type diet. Why I've struggled with low energy and a range of strange auto-immune problems for a lot of my adult life (if not my childhood). Of course I can't say that it would work for everybody. But it works for me and is supported by a wide range of scientific studies. I'd be a fool to ignore those data points.

Food is always controversial, and perhaps even more so in the yoga community, where some studios insist their employees sign a contract enforcing vegetarianism. However, I wanted to post about this book because I feel so empowered by actually understanding the science behind my metabolism. Even if you are outraged by what I have written, go out and read the book! If nothing else, you will have the pleasure of scoffing all the way throughs. And more likely, you'll be blown away, as I was, by how wrong my assumptions were.

If you are intrigued by these ideas, and want to pursue them in your own life, please bear the following in mind. Taubes writes:

"When you replace the carbohydrates you eat with fat, you're creating a radical shift in the fuel that your cells will burn for energy. ...This shift...can come with side effects. ...In the 1970s, the authorities insisted that these 'potential side effects' were reasons why the diets could not 'generally be used safely,' and the implication was that they shouldn't be used at all. ...But that was to confuse the short-term effects of what can be thought of as carbohydrate withdrawal with the long-term benefits of overcoming that withdrawal and living a longer, leaner, and healthier life. ...These side effects speak to the importance of having he guidance of a knowledgeable physician when making the decision to avoid fattening carbohydrates."

SO: Don't go crazy. Just read the book.

* This actually brings me to one of my pet peeves about weight/food issues. I hate it when you lose weight and someone comes over to you and gushes that you've lost weight and asks you about your diet and tells you you look great, when in fact your life's going down the toilet, and you're losing weight on what my friend Leslie calls "the Misery Diet".

** This is a bit of a misnomer--vegetables are also carbohydrates--but they do not have the effect on insulin levels that grains, whole or otherwise, have.

*** The NYT got diet issues completely wrong during the '80s and '90s--Jane Brody was a particularly enthusiastic proponent of how good pasta and potatoes are for weight loss and heart disease. I am hopeful they are beginning to get it right. The NYT gets a lot of stuff wrong about yoga, too FYI. I love the Grey Lady but in these two areas she has a terrible track record.

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