Monday, March 19, 2012

Low Carbs, Again - Really?

Often the first argument you hear among low-carb advocates is that “we tried the low fat approach in the 70’s and80’s and it was a bust.” The supposedly logical conclusion you are supposed to draw from this remark is that “if low fat is not then answer, then low carbs must be.” This is of course what we call in science as “tautological thinking.” This is not a logical conclusion. But there is more to it than that. A meta-analysis of eating trends over that period of time showed clearly that people ate substantially more fat per person during these years and not less. (classic example of what we now know as “portion distortion”.) Furthermore, saying if “low fat” doesn’t work, then “low carbs” must work is a reflection of the exact same weakness of thinking and paradigm blindness. The truth is that thinking of any macronutrient as being some “thing” to be fearful of or eliminate is just not a rational means to undertake any diet-strategy given what we know about human evolution. (see my book Beyond Metabolism for more on that)
The truth is “low carbs” is as much a “bust” as low fat ever was. And metabolically-speaking low carbs dieting is far more dangerous for the long-term burnout or damage of metabolism. It’s too bad that all these diet experts are so “short-sited” about weight-loss in the immediate and so totally blind to long-term implications of a weight-loss approach and its potential consequences to metabolism. There are far too many wannabe scientists out there spouting low-carbs nonsense without any due consideration to long-term health or metabolic repercussions of such an approach. But when it comes to marketing all you have to do is appeal to “want and desperation” and you can create a quick fan-following.

You see, the obvious thing is that in the very, very short-term - low carbs work. Not that you are burning substantial amounts of fat mind you – but you will lose a combination of mostly a lot of water, lean tissue and fat. And as long as the scale moves most people are happy and do not want to hear anymore beyond that. But “how” the body loses weight is important for understanding long-term rebounds and longer-term weight gain with higher established set points – and these unwanted consequences are a direct result of ill-advised diets like “low carbs” approaches – regardless of what label you give them.

It’s unfortunate that people do not have the capacity or desire to review “findings” beyond what is presented to them in a diet-fad book. For instance the Atkins Center once published a study that followed 51 obese people on the Atkins diet. Of these 51 subjects, 41 were able to maintain the diet over 6 months and lost an average of 20 lbs. The Atkins group presented this as real scientific proof that the Atkins diet “works” and is “safe” (some relevant health markers showed clear improvement as well) But real research needs to go deeper than that – and this the is the problem. Let me point out a few things that were obvious to me when reading this “junk science” of misinformation.

Number one, morbidly obese people losing 20 lbs over 6 months is “ok” but it is certainly not substantial. Nor would I think these subjects would be emotionally content with that number after 6 months. In 6 months you can get ripped for a contest and be on a physique stage. But after 6 months, a 20 lbs loss on an obese frame is still going to leave that person looking obese. Furthermore, the amount of calories restriction in this study could only be described as “absolute.” And anyone who has read any of my work knows this is the path to long-term metabolic issues and long-term weight gain – the kind of weight gain that will not be so easy to shed again in the future. (see “The Science Behind the Cycle Diet video lecture or my book MetabolicDamage and the Dangers of Dieting.)

Now, I suggest to you if you eat cardboard and bugs and worms for 12 weeks you will certainly shed weight and in the short-run your major health indicators will improve. But this is not as a result of “the diet” – of cardboard, bugs and worms – it’s a result of the weight loss and the overall relieved burdens on the organs and systems of the body. But then the question begs, how long can you go eating cardboard, bugs, and worms?! Well the same is true here of any diet-approach that takes calories to absolute deprivation levels for too long.

No fad-diet-proponents talk about the metabolic compensation system. All they talk about is magic food and evil food. And this mindset is the problem – NOT the solution. It’s just simple math and not caloric equations that render common sense to dictate that no one can maintain near-starvation levels of food-restriction over a period of years – not without becoming extremely physically ill or frail or worse mentally ill and emotionally frail. The human metabolism evolved to fight against weight-loss (again, in my book Beyond Metabolism). Everyone knows the long-term success rate of dieting and keeping that lost weight off is a dismal failure. And isn’t the definition of insanity – “repeating the same behavior over and over and expecting a different result?” Low-carbs diets are a massive failure. But you cannot acknowledge this with a short-term analysis or simple observation. Because again, in the short-term, these diets “seem” to work.

In this very same study funded by the low-carbs Atkins movement itself, most people reading all about the “success” of the diet, seemed to completely block out or ignore that the researchers themselves reported the following, and I quote: “At some point during the 24 weeks, 28 (68%) subjects reported severe constipation, 26 (51%) subjects reported extreme bad breath, 21 (51%) subjects reported extreme headache, 4 (10%) subjects noted substantial hair loss, and one women experienced intense increased menstrual bleeding. Moreover the researchers also had to refer to other similar research and therefore added, “Adverse effects of this diet in children have included calcium oxalate and urate kidney stones…vomiting, amenorrhea, hypercholesterolemia and vitamin deficiencies.”
Additionally, they found that the dieters had a whopping 53% increase in the amount of calcium they excreted in their urine. And in case you are unfamiliar with what this means – this is a key marker for disastrous future bone health. (osteoporosis and osteomalacia)
So this low carbs weight loss certainly seems to come at a very high price – in terms of function, health, and eventually, metabolism. Emotionally and mentally you are not going to be able to sustain ANY practice or process that makes you feel miserable – especially one that involves how you live and survive. Anyone who thinks all this is some kind of worthy trade-off for weight-loss is someone I’ll never be able to reach anyway. And trust me; I have had people meet me with exactly that mindset
But, allow me to continue then.
A different review of low-carbs dieting was published by researchers in Australia. I cite this reference often. Rather than re-explain it, here is a quote, “Complications such as heart arrhythmias, cardiac contractile function impairment, sudden death, osteoporosis, kidney damage, increased cancer risk, impairment of physical activity and lipid abnormalities can all be linked to long-term restriction of carbohydrates in the diet. One teenage girl died suddenly from this diet approach.
So the real truth is that most people will not realistically be able to maintain such a diet-strategy for the rest of their lives. But the real message is that you shouldn’t want to – and that the longer you last on this type of diet-approach the more health and functionally cooperative metabolism you risk in the process as well. One doctor even called the lows carbs approach to diet-strategy as the “make-yourself-sick, diet” And in that regard you can lose weight by taking heroin, or methamphetamine, or undergoing chemotherapy – but that shouldn’t mean these are viable options to consider! All this low-carb pseudo-science hardly seems worth it to shed weight you have no hope of ever keeping off.
 Myself, I am tired of hearing that same old joke of “what’s the difference between a single lady (of whatever ethnic descent – usually Jewish, Italian, Greek, German etc) and a married one? The punch line – 50 lbs! Ha, ha, everyone laughs. But how painful that must be for that lady to look at her wedding pictures, which she destroyed her metabolism dieting for, and now she sees a stranger in those pictures – and she doesn’t realize that the insane diet she undertook to look “beautiful as never before” for that day, set in motion a weight gain and self-destructive process and resultant self-loathing that she could never have imagined! I find no humor in that. But such is the price of vanity run amuck.

And another tell-tale sign of diet “agenda” over science is also included in Atkin’s own writings. He states that many of his patients require supplements to combat “common dieter’s problems.” Really? - Common dieter’s problems? I’ve never used that statement in 4 decades of helping clients diet and shed weight. In fact Atkins makes all kinds of unsubstantiated claims about anti-oxidants and similar supplements – none of these statements that are supported by true scientific research. (see my WorkshopWorkbook on Training, Diet, and Supplements for more on that). In fact in his own words he writes the following which I cannot believe would not serve as a warning sign to intelligent people. (But such is the case when desire overwhelms rationality)
He writes “Add to the antioxidants the vita-nutrients known to be useful for each of the myriad medical problems my patients face and you’ll see why many of them take over 30 vitamin pills per day.”
Now let’s forget for a minute that “I” Scott Abel (and so many other truly independent and objective researchers) think supplements are useless – but what does it say to you that a diet-strategy must be supported by 30 or more supplements per day, to off-set what is missing in the foods allowed in the diet? C’mon folks, a little common sense and objectivity and less emotion, shall we?

In good and healthy long-term diet-strategies, people tend to get off more and more medications and supplements, not add to them.

The low-carbs sway will continue for as long as marketing continues to pretend to represent science. And you the consumer are the losers in the end. But not just because you are out some hard-earned money, but because you could end up not only risking your health, but “CAUSING” your own unwanted long-term weight gain and metabolic issues in the process.

No diet in the world that makes you feel like hell can be sustained. And only a martyr or a masochistic personality would ever want to entertain such a notion to begin with.

In this article I used the words of low-carbs diet-strategy proponents themselves, and not just their critics. What does that tell you, when their own words betray them?

Some of you will get it

Some of you will not

Some of you, won’t want to


Abel, Scott  The Science Behind the Cycle Diet

Abel, Scott  Metabolic Damage and the Dangers of Dieting

Abel, Scott   Beyond Metabolism: Understanding Your Modern Diet Dilemma

Abel, Scott  Training, Diet, and Supplement Workshop Workbook

Atkins, R.C. Atkin’s New Diet Revolution, 1999

Bilsborough, SA, and Crowe, TC “Low Carbohydrate diets: what are the potential short and long-term health implications?” Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2003

Cambell, Colin T. The China Study, 2006

“Information Plus” Nutrition A Key to Good Health Information Plus Publishing (1999)

Stevens, A. Robinson, DP. Turpin, J. et al, “Sudden cardiac death of an adolescent during dieting” South Medical Journal, 2002

Westman, EC, Yancy,WS, Edman JS, et al, “Carbohydrate Diet Program” American Journal of Medicine, 2002