A Questionable Diet

First of all, thank you for all you sweet words and well wishes about Zephyr. It really means a lot to me to hear everyone’s caring words.

Yesterday I was reading the new People magazine and I stumbled across a short blurb about the book, Why We Get Fat, by Gary Taubes. Give me a review of a nutrition book and I am automatically intrigued, so of course, I read it. My thoughts? I was horrified. As an RD in training, everything noted in the review was just horrendous. Let me give you the review before I toss my opinions out there:

Why We get fat

Blame carbs- not butter or TV- says science writer Gary Taubes in a well-researched, if debatable, take on obesity.

Eat As Much As You Like, Really.

“Protein and fat don’t make us fat- only carbohydrates do,” writes Taubes. “So there is no reason to curtail them in any way.”

Cut Bread, Pasta, Sugar, and Fruit

“What makes fruit worrisome… is that it contains fructose [which] is uniquely fattening as carbohydrates go.” Instead, he prescribes filling up on proteins, fats, and a minimum of three cups of salad greens and non-starchy vegetables each day.”

Hit the Gym For Health Or Fun- Not Weight Loss

“There are indeed excellent reasons to exercise,” he writes. “But little evidence exists to support the belief that the number of calories we expend has any effect on how fat we are.”

Prepare To Defend Your Diet

Even 40 years after Dr. Atkins, a pro-bacon regimen is controversial. “If you accept my arguments… you may be going against your doctor’s advice.”

So there you have it. This is the final word on nutrition, obviously. Not! For starters, any diet touting carbohydrates as “evil” immediately hits a nerve for me. The science behind it is this:

When we eat carbohydrates, that is, whole grain, nutrient-dense carbohydrates, they are converted in to glycogen in our body. Glycogen is our number one energy store and our body prefers to use it before it metabolizes proteins and fats. In fact, you do get more energy from breaking down a gram of fat than a gram of carbohydrate or fat, however, problem with relying on breaking down fat to produce glucose is that the process is relatively slow and energy intensive.  Metabolizing fat can be a useful long term source of energy but it is too slow and inefficient to support immediate demands for energy to fuel ongoing athletic activity.

Any person who exercises will attest to the fact that a carbohydrate rich diet is highly effective in providing pre-exercise energy. However, not all carbohydrates are created equal. Whole grains are our best choice as far as energy and are far more nutritionally superior than white bread or other similar carbohydrate sources.

However, the part of the article that upset me the most is the statement that Taubes makes about exercise. 3500 calories=1 pound. This is a scientific fact and isn’t even worth debate. That is to say, you eat 3500 calories more than you burn and you will gain a pound, and if you burn 3500 more calories than you eat, you will lose a pound. With this in mind, how can anyone argue that there is little evidence to support the fact that “the number of calories we expend has any effect on how fat we are”?

If you burn 500 calories per day, in addition to your basic metabolic rate, (ignoring the element of diet) you will lose a pound in a week. I am assuming that Taubes defines being “fat” in terms of weight, so how can he possibly argue that this is valid?

And finally, how can any person, from a scientific standpoint, argue against the nutritional benefits of fruit? Fruit contains a huge amount of the vitamins we need in our diet and cutting them out is completely unnecessary and counter productive. Not to mention that fruit contains a great deal of fiber, which helps in digestion and the sensation of fullness.

So if we listen to Gary Taubes, we should cut fruit and carbohydrates out of our diet and really not even bother exercising if we want to lose weight. Thank goodness we aren’t allowed to exercise, because without carbohydrates we wont have the energy to anyway.

Please keep in mind that all my opinions are solely based on the short snippet I read in People and I have not read the entire book.

What do you think? Is Gary Taubes’s “diet” sensible or healthy? Is this the kind of diet that you RDs out there would stand behind?

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12 thoughts on “A Questionable Diet

  1. Stuuuuuuuuupid. Geeze, how do these kinds of books ever get published?!

    PS – Have you read Intuitive Eating? It’s a really excellent book, unlike that no-carb nonsense.

  2. That’s very strange! I’ve heard so many dozens of different “diet” ideas, but I’ve never heard not to exercise! I guess I’d be interested in reading his whole book now and seeing if the magazine made a sharp wrong angle on the whole thing just for the sake of debate and discussion. 🙂

  3. You know, I learned some stuff about metabolism in bio last quarter and have been curious ever since about the whole carb thing, since we DID learn that your body uses glycogen more than fat, etc… And my prof said somethinga long the lines of “you can’t get fat off too much protein” which seems off to me simply because I’m pretty sure that the end of the day it’s calories in vs. calories out… But I’m not as intimately familiar with all that metabolism stuff as I wish I was, so, I was kind of interested to see your response to that.

    HOWEVER it’s definitely crap that you shouldn’t eat carbs and fruit and such, and the bit about exercise almost made me laugh out loud. I mean, yes, I’m all about hitting the gym for fun/health rather than FOCUSING on the weight loss aspect of it (it makes it more enjoyable and generally a more healthy habit, etc), but, uh, burning calories = losing weight. Like you said.

  4. That article is total crap! Any sane person can see (or try experimenting) that carbs are good for you, the right amount and the right kind, which can be said about anything. Thanks for bringing up this misguided view and lovin the blog!

  5. Having done Atkins for two years (and lost 110 pounds doing it), I’m torn.

    Before I started Atkins, I thought he was full of crap … there was no way it would work. Yet it did. I consistently lost weight — two or more pounds a week for a year.

    Then I met the Boyfriend, started eating carbs again and slowly the weight crept back on. I’ve tried to lose it via Weight Watchers and now am toying with intuitive eating … but I can’t help thinking back to how quickly the weight dropped off on the low-carb diet. And I had plenty of energy … I no longer fell asleep on the couch every afternoon in a carb coma. I started going to the gym … even taking spinning classes.

    But there’s another part of me who again thinks it’s much healthier to eat whole grains. My problem is I often eat the white sugar, white flour stuff that’s not good for you on ANY diet.

    • I think there is definitely validity to losing weight on a low-carb diet, simply because carbs account for a lot of our calories and by cutting them out, we generally cut calories.
      My biggest issues with his article were his statements that we should avoid food and that exercise has no bearing on weight.

  6. “When we eat carbohydrates, that is, whole grain, nutrient-dense carbohydrates, they are converted in to glycogen in our body. ”

    And once your body is saturated with glycogen, and the carbohydrates keep coming, what happens to them? They are converted to fat, that’s what happens to them.

    You really ought to read the whole book.

    • Thank you for your feedback. Let me start by saying that I did mention that all my opinions were coming solely for the excerpt I read and I did state that I can not speak for the science of the entire book.
      However, from a medical standpoint, carbohydrates are as important to our body as any other macronutrient, yet we never seem to hear diets touting the benefits of cutting protein out of our diet. The aspect of the excerpt I read that upset me was suggesting that we should essentially eliminate carbohydrates from our diet since they are apparently the only thing that is making us obese as a society. Any macronutrient in excess, carbohydrates included, will cause weight gain, I don’t deny that. But for the sake of our health, we should learn moderation and portion control rather than cutting important things from our diet in pursuit of the thin ideal.
      It is suggested that carbohydrates account for 45-65% of our total energy intake and most scientists and non-scientists agree that carbohydrates in our diets should include mostly fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains with little added sugars and caloric sweeteners. (Source- Perspectives in Nutrition by Wardlaw) Carbohydrates also help supply the fiber in our diets (as well as fruit, which is also scorned in the article), which is crucial for proper bowel health, prevention of ketosis, reducing cholesterol absorption, and enhancing blood glucose control. (Also referenced in Perspectives in Nutrition).
      I hope this cleared up any misunderstandings about the benefits of carbohydrates in our diet.
      Thanks.

  7. I am also studying to become an RD and over winter break I started reading a different Gary Taubes book, “Good Calories, Bad Calories.” I wasn’t able to read as much of the book as I wanted, but found some of his information very interesting. His plan was to follow the Paleo Diet. Which back in the day, they would have walked all day in order to find food. Exercise certainly has a huge role in weight loss.
    It is tough to go against what I have learned in all of my classes. And you are exactly right; fruit contains so many nutrients that we would have a hard time getting elsewhere. Personally, I do believe that a whole grain diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables would be so much better than cutting out carbs all together.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say that I agree with you. Maybe it does work for some people, but I would never advocate those ideas to any patient of mine.

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