Fat versus Carbs
July 6, 2002 7:10 PM   Subscribe

Fat versus Carbs NYT Magazine takes an deep look at the issues of the low fat diet and the modern obesity epidemic.
posted by srboisvert (45 comments total)
An excellent article throughout. It's clear to me, and has been since medical school a decade ago that we have greatly derailed our understanding of metabolism and weight gain. The first successful low-carb dieter that I knew was a nephrologist who watched his kidney function with paranoid precision. Since then I have lost count of the number of pounds that my friends and patients have lost by controlling carbhydrate intake. I myself (keeping in mind that my personal experience only qualifies as an educated anecdote) lost 35# and have kept it off for 4 years by restricting my carbohydrate consumption.
posted by shagoth at 8:06 PM on July 6, 2002

I was turned down for insurance after a blood test, while on a long-term low-fat, high-carb diet. After I went over to an Atkins-style high-protein, low- or no-carb diet, my blood chemistry normalized in two weeks, and in three was better than normal! And there it has stayed for several years.

Even then, the low-fat religion is such that I was told that "eventually", it would catch up with me and kill me *because* IT JUST CAN'T BE GOOD FOR YOU.
posted by kablam at 8:18 PM on July 6, 2002

All you ever needed to know about diets can be seen in France. Fat is not, and has never been the obsesity culprit.
posted by ParisParamus at 8:21 PM on July 6, 2002 [1 favorite]

I'm always amazed at how little we still know about two basic body functions - sleeping and eating.
posted by vacapinta at 8:29 PM on July 6, 2002

I think, beyond all fad diets, be they low carb or low fat, that a trend can be seen throughout nature. The tendency of systems (ecosystems for example) to react badly to an abundance of anything.

Moderation is a theme seen throughout all natural systems. A human's dietary needs are no different. The human body is remarkable that way. It's mostly about balance. Doughnuts? Have one, not twelve. You'll survive.

Choosing to be moderate about your caloric intake in respect to activity is the best way to maintain or lose weight. Food is energy. The body adapts to the caloric intake and your activity level. It's called your metabolism. Eat responsibly, exercise moderately, and you'll find it difficult to gain weight.

All of the other stuff, in regard to carbs/fat/protein is fluff.
posted by Psionic_Tim at 8:38 PM on July 6, 2002

One thing is certain: the combination, in a single food or meal, of refined carbs(specially sugar and white flour)and fat is bound to be fattening. That describes about 75% of the Western diet. So I guess, if you want to lose weight, you have to chose between carbs and fat, while maximizing protein per calorie consumed.

My endocrinologist once simplified thus: imagine digestion as a fire. Carbs are the wood; fat is the fuel. Without fat(low-calorie high-carb diet)the fire burns low and you lose weight. Without wood(no-carbs or very low carbs and unrestricted fat diet)the fire similarly burns low and you lose weight too. But combine the two and the fire burns high; i.e. your body functions perfectly and you won't lose weight.

If you look at what we eat it's almost always a combination of fat and carbs(bread and butter; hamburger and bun; apple pie; doughnuts, etc). To lose weight you need to simultaneously starve and fool your metabolism by eating unnaturally: if bread, no butter. If butter, no bread. If potatoes, not fried. Et caetera.

That's why I tend to believe more in the low-carb diets - because without fat they're no fun at all. On the other hand, it's weird to have such healthy foodstuffs such as real bread, milk, fruit, potatoes and rice prohibited or severely restricted.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:58 PM on July 6, 2002

Of course, I would say that. Gin, vodka, whisky, cognac, rum, tequila and all spirits are rich in (nutritionally empty)calories but have zero carbs. ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:01 PM on July 6, 2002

Nonononononononononono....this can't be. I like to bake things to relax. I use flour. You can't take away my carbs. I need fruit juice in the morning. Not bacon. I could go without steaks and fat-filled gourmet French foods, cause I can't afford them. But not pasta! It's cheap and easy to cook with!!!!

Oh, help. Help, help, help.
posted by Salmonberry at 9:35 PM on July 6, 2002

What psionic_tim said. It's all a dream to think that the reason you can't lose weight is because you're not eating the right combination of foods, regardless of how much you're eating. People can't lose weight because they take in more calories than they burn. Period.
posted by Bearman at 9:52 PM on July 6, 2002

Without my gently convex belly, I would not be the man I am today.

I will continue to eat and drink what I like, when I like, continue to exercise moderately and walk 3 or 4 kms a day, and continue to be a slightly pudgy bastard, regardless of what the latest pop-wisdom is with regard to diet. Nyah.

*keels over from myocardial infarction*
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:58 PM on July 6, 2002

I'd heard about the atkins stuff before, but never read up on the theory of it (and like vacapinta said, the most common things we least understand...)

nyt article was very well-reasoned. the bit about ketosis made the most sense to me...agriculture and sedentary life are really such a short part of our species history.

also, as miguel mentioned, your body doesn't store fat very well unless sugars are available at the same time.

I would bet that there were very few fat or diabetic cave men and women.

I'd like to give it a try, but tasty breads and potatoes are so hard to give up. hmmm, what flavor calories does beer have?
posted by dorian at 10:03 PM on July 6, 2002

"The power and the beauty of science do not rest upon infallibility, which it has not, but on corrigibility, without which it is nothing." -- Howard E. Gruber

It's disturbing to think that the fats-bad, carbs-good idea which has been around for a quarter of a century, and has become the conventional wisdom of laypeople as well as nutritionists and doctors, may be completely wrong, or at least, very incomplete. But it's in the nature of humans to make mistakes, and for science to progress by groping and feeling in the dark, and sometimes going down blind alleys. What's critical is that science is able to correct itself when the facts seem to contradict even widely-held ideas. Science seems to be doing exactly that in this case.

This seems to be a pretty well-balanced piece, BTW. The writer, unusual for newspaper science writers, seems to have a grasp of the complexities and uncertainties in this field, and presents them fairly. Unlike this writer, who sensationalizes his topic, and buries the questions and uncertainties in his last few paragraphs.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 10:24 PM on July 6, 2002

What psionic_tim said. It's all a dream to think that the reason you can't lose weight is because you're not eating the right combination of foods, regardless of how much you're eating. People can't lose weight because they take in more calories than they burn. Period.
Sure, but. I believe in the beauty of moderation, but I too can be counted among those who, when severely restricting carbohydrate intake lost weight (10-12 kilos) for the first time ever and with no change in my lifestyle (i.e. same level of physical activity). I felt a real change in my body's chemistry.

I currently eat a balance of foods and, while I did gain a few pounds while spending the winter in Maine, I have not gained any of the weight I lost while living in France (some of that loss even occured in America while driving across the country over a 45 day period).

That said, I do believe that one part of this dietary change naturally brings on a change in caloric intake. This morning I will eat two eggs, dried sausage and some caponata for breakfast, maybe followed by a little Swedish flat bread with home made cherry jam.

(Oh, and I stopped drinking beer in favor of whiskey when I started the change but now I drink some of each -- one per day that is.)
posted by Dick Paris at 10:36 PM on July 6, 2002

If you're trying to lose weight, cut the beer, on to whiskey, straight up ;-)
posted by Bearman at 10:56 PM on July 6, 2002

One more thing: I should note that I changed my diet because I exhibited some disturbing negative health indicators which Atkins discusses in one of his books. (My wife bought the book; she reads a lot about diets and nutrition. She has not tried the Atkins diet.)

I have forgotten what these symptoms were but I reckon they must have been warning signs me becoming a fine candidate for type II diabetes.
posted by Dick Paris at 10:58 PM on July 6, 2002

At the very least, you won't care as much about your weight...
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:58 PM on July 6, 2002

And what bearman said (formerly beerman?), although I take mine with a wee bit of flat (er, still) water.
posted by Dick Paris at 10:59 PM on July 6, 2002

My favorite quote. An NIH researcher says of doctors, ''They're always worried about diabetic ketoacidosis. But ketosis is a normal physiologic state. I would argue it is the normal state of man. It's not normal to have McDonald's and a delicatessen around every corner. It's normal to starve.''

Yeah, and most people don't live very long, right?

What a baffling article. So it's all the low-fat thing, eh? I was looking for facts on increased processed foods intake, for instance, average fat intake, etc., that never showed up. It's also fairly well-established fact that the average American isn't getting much exercise these days, and the author said absolutely nothing about it, choosing instead to focus on the politics of low-fat diets. Also, I'd heard about the worries about high carbs before - from a dietician! Almost a year ago!

The article's followed by a surfeit of comments of suspect certainty here. It doesn't all come down to even moderation, does it, although it surely helps? (I, for instance, cannot take sodium even in what most people might consider moderation.) Some of it's your physiology, gotta be. The article itself even noted that the low-fat diet may only be wrong for 30 to 40 percent of the population, not the majority, which says to me, "You know. People are complex, and not only mentally."
posted by raysmj at 11:03 PM on July 6, 2002

By the way: The Mayo Clinic's months-old food pyramid does not have carbs at the bottom, and instead has fruits and vegetables. Fats are suggested, although they're near the top (behind sweets), and the category includes olive oil.
posted by raysmj at 11:21 PM on July 6, 2002

Eat fewer calories, of any source, than you burn and you will lose weight.

I lost 140 pounds and have now kept it off for 2.5 years through a radical new regime: eat less and do more.

It's the next big thing. Watch for it.

Gotta run--it's time for my pushups and crunches.
posted by NortonDC at 7:33 AM on July 7, 2002

eat less and do more.

That's the unvarnished, irrefutable truth since time began; no mistake. But you can't blame human beings for trying to get round it. Nutritionist John Yudkin, who did a lot to popularize the low-carb diet, admitted that it might lead to weight loss because it meant lower calories. I.e. you can eat unlimited butter, but what do you put it on? Also, fats are self-limiting - you don't feel like eating more and more, as you can do with carbs - so you don't really eat all that much on a low-carb diet.

The problem with calorie-based diets is that your metabolism gets wise to it and adjusts. The human brain is still in the stone age, fighting starvation and trying hard to put on weight or at least not lose it, whatever happens. That's why our bodies are so good at conserving energy and so bad at drawing on their reserves, i.e. by burning extra calories(above those consumed) and so losing weight.

So, to keep the weight loss constant, you have to eat less and less or do more and more. The bummer.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 7:47 AM on July 7, 2002

Miguel, choose your words carefully. There's not a lot of point, long term, in keeping weight loss constant, but there is a great deal of utility in keeping one's absolute weight constant. maintenance of my target weight has not required that I continually reduce my calorie/activity ratio. It did take a while a to figure out how to seamlessly accommodate social eating and drinking, but it has all come together.
posted by NortonDC at 8:22 AM on July 7, 2002

NortonDC, can you speak a little more about figuring out how "to seamlessly accommodate social eating and drinking" and why it was a challenge?
posted by gen at 8:27 AM on July 7, 2002

Miguel - I think your doctor's analogy is a little off.
If you eat only carbs your fire burns low, but your piling on energy with a low fire & you gain weight.
If you eat only protien your fire burns low, but your have low energy resources so you lose weight if you control calories.
And if you properly balance carbs, protein & fat, your hitting on all cylinders, therefore increasing metabalism allowing one to eat a little more & lose weight at the same time.
Then add in excersise & look out....
posted by thekorruptor at 8:35 AM on July 7, 2002

gen, my greatest weakness is portion control. One bag of pretzels = one serving. Part of what allowed me to lose the weight was taking control of my environment and setting it up so that I never had food sitting around that could be eaten without preparation. Shockingly enough, this doesn't work in restaurants.

For months now I have been in a pattern where, starting at my goal weight, I drop slightly during the work week to give myself some room to indulge on the weekend. I've been pleased with the results.
posted by NortonDC at 9:19 AM on July 7, 2002

The times I have tried to lose weight by simply restricting my food intake, I was constantly hungry. I mean hungry like I hadn't eaten all day, all the time. If you're hungry all the time, eventually you will give in and satisfy that hunger. Telling people to overcome this with willpower is ridiculous. You can no more ignore hunger for long periods of time than you can ignore the pain from a nail pounded through your foot. And the longer you try, the less pleasant of a person you become, and none of your friends will hang out you anymore because you're such a bastard, and you say "fuck it" and consume an entire large pizza just to feel human again.

On the low-carb diet, that went away. Sure, in the end I probably lost weight because I ate less, but I was able to eat less because I wasn't hungry all the time. And I wasn't hungry all the time because I wasn't eating so many carbs. This effect of such a diet, at least, is well-documented. One of the selling points Atkins uses for his diet is that you can as much as you want, as long as there are few or no carbs in it. To most people this sounds like a recipe for disaster, especially if you think fat people overeat out of habit or something, but this turns out not to be the case. On low-carb, I occasionally had to remind myself to eat, which is something of a miracle.

I lost seventy pounds that way a few years ago without even exercising, and then, stupidly, went off the diet and gained it all back and more. And the body's getting older and the weight doesn't want to come off as easily as it did that first time. Sigh.
posted by kindall at 10:00 AM on July 7, 2002 [1 favorite]

In other news, eating more fish may lead to decreased appetite.
posted by raysmj at 10:57 AM on July 7, 2002

Telling people to overcome this with willpower is ridiculous.

Then it's a good thing nobody in here did, eh?
posted by NortonDC at 12:24 PM on July 7, 2002

In other news, eating more fish may lead to decreased appetite.

Well, it worked for Oskar Matzerath's mother.
posted by muckster at 12:51 PM on July 7, 2002

Norton, you are not the world. You can't extrapolate from your own experience to everyone else. It worked for you -- great! Talk about it. But don't act as if your way is the only way, and that it will work for everyone.

Well said, kindall.
posted by MikeB at 1:10 PM on July 7, 2002

Eat fewer calories, of any source, than you burn and you will lose weight.

I stand by that.
posted by NortonDC at 1:44 PM on July 7, 2002

Eat fewer calories, of any source, than you burn and you will lose weight.

I stand by that.

This statement is technically true, but it doesn't (seem to) take into consideration some related truths, namely:

A) The goal for most people is to lose not just weight, but fat. Anyone who eats less than their normal regimen, but continues to stay alive, will of course lose weight; often the weight will be lost as the body consumes lean muscle mass. This kind of weight loss is the most conducive to end with the person gaining back the weight, mostly in fat, causing their overall fat/lean ratio to be worse than before. To keep this from happening, the weight loss has to be accompanied by a certain amount of attention to nutrition and anaerobic (muscle-building) exercise. What kind of diet and nutrition is required depends to a large extent on the body in question.

B) For most overweight people, the real problems that caused them to get fat and stay fat are more psychological than physical. The weight loss methods that work for such people have to involve as little psychological stress as possible. That, or the person in question has to deal with their other problems first, or at the same time. At any rate, it's more complicated than it seems. I've lost large amounts of weight and gained it back four times in the past, and never was the issue my failure to understand that I ought to eat less and exercise more.

C) Calories really don't matter as much as sugar and fiber. If you are in the habit of eating ice cream and hamburgers twice a day, and you suddenly stop consuming both and instead eat a lot of beans, multi-grain breads, fruits and vegetables, you are going to lose weight, even if the healthier foods amount to twice as many calories per day as the ice cream and hamburgers. That's because the high-fiber foods will move right through your system and clean you out, whereas the low-to-zero-fiber junk food will sit in your body until it is pushed out, or until you burn it up with exercise, or until your body decides that neither is going to happen and it becomes fat.

Incidentally, I've lost more than 45 lbs. since anyone on MeFi has last seen me in the flesh (well, except one person). It remains to be seen whether my current methods will result in long-term success, but I am writing from relative thin-ness.
posted by bingo at 6:40 PM on July 7, 2002

From the article:

Scientists are still arguing about fat, despite a century of research, because the regulation of appetite and weight in the human body happens to be almost inconceivably complex, and the experimental tools we have to study it are still remarkably inadequate.

But hey, this article has the answer!

I guess whether the reasons why I never fully trusted either the Atkins diet or Atkins diet advocates is that they seem to take a good idea (too much carbohydrates are bad for you) and chose to take it to a pretty absurd extreme. Whatever happened to just plain "moderation."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:15 PM on July 7, 2002

Moderation, like most things, is best taken in moderation.
posted by NortonDC at 7:35 PM on July 7, 2002

To Psionic_Tim's point, and those suggested by KirkJobSluder and NortonDC, "moderation" is a moving target. Diet content as based upon the food offerings in our cultures changes dramatically with each generation.

Soft drink consumption is now measured by the share of overall liquids consumed by individuals, rather than units sold. Soft drinks are carb bombs, due to the high sugar content -- but their consumption has continually increased. Thus, 50 years ago, moderate consumption of soft drinks would be significantly different than moderate consumption today, simply because of availability and market/diet saturation.

As another example, there was a time where "low fat" or "no fat" products weren't on every grocery shelf. Carb-watchers quickly notice that many reduced fat food items make up the difference by loading in more chemicals and carbohydrates. Thus, another moving target. Our diets have been skewed towards "low fat" due to the change in product availability, which was due to the dominance of the "fat causes fat" concept. So in our avoidance of fat, we've started to load even more carbs into our diet.

Moderation is a near-meaningless concept when dealing with a food landscape dominated by societal trends and the will of food manufacturers.
posted by VulcanMike at 7:25 AM on July 8, 2002

raysmj - "It's also fairly well-established fact that the average American isn't getting much exercise these days, and the author said absolutely nothing about it,"

From the article - "As far as exercise and physical activity go, there are no reliable data before the mid-80's, according to William Dietz, who runs the division of nutrition and physical activity at the Centers for Disease Control; the 1990's data show obesity rates continuing to climb, while exercise activity remained unchanged. This suggests the two have little in common."
He says a bit more on the subject, but the idea is that american obesity has jumped drastically in the last 2 decades but american exercise has not dropped off in that same time period, so something more must be going on.

Cool article.
posted by tdismukes at 8:02 AM on July 8, 2002

tdismukes: I specifically stated that he had no facts - as in hard facts - about exercise. I stand corrected there. But he still has precious little to say about the subject. He mentions earlier in the article that people often decry the fact that people walk less, etc. Well, what about it? Statistics on how many people walk to work, say, are easily available from the Census Bureau. And why not give us some hard facts on *how many* people exercise, and how often, if they are indeed similar to rates in the past? (Hasn't anyone at the CDC thought to, say, ask people how much they exercised in the past. There are ways of asking questions that can mostly get around any potential reliability problems.) What are we talking about here, only CDC data only? Exercise is barely discussed in any significant detail in the article. It's blown off as a variable, really, because - it seems to me, at least - the author's aim is to create an article whose thesis is contrary to the perceived conventional wisdom.
posted by raysmj at 8:41 AM on July 8, 2002

I agree that any thorough discussion of health/fitness/obesity should have a lot to do with exercise. I'm constantly telling people who are looking for the magic diet that they should just get up and exercise. (In fact, my personal experience has been that the more I exercise, the more my cravings are for healthy food as opposed to junk.) That said, I think this author was wanting to focus in depth on examining a particular facet of the state of knowledge regarding diet, and I have no problem with that.

What suprised me was the description of how strong a hold the grossly simplified low-fat model had on the medical establishment. To me a healthy diet has always been lots of vegetables (particularly leafy greens), whole grains instead of processed carbs, reasonable amounts of protein (from meat, fish, dairy or veggie sources), tasty fats in moderation, and steer clear of sugar. Most pre-processed foods are suspect, as is most fast-food. Individuals seem to genetically vary on the amount of meat/dairy/whatever that they need or can tolerate, so adjust according to your own experience. So far this theory seems to be holding up pretty well. The problem seems to come when those responsible for spreading the word on good health think that the public can't handle anything more complicated than "Butter is the anti-Christ! Butter will kill you and steal your soul!" (Sorry, slight exaggeration there)
posted by tdismukes at 9:08 AM on July 8, 2002

My mom has worked for Weight Watchers in various capacities since 1962. I don't enjoy confusing her, but it was fun to point out this article.
posted by ParisParamus at 9:30 AM on July 8, 2002

Moderation is a near-meaningless concept when dealing with a food landscape dominated by societal trends and the will of food manufacturers.

Isn't this assuming that "moderation" just means "imitating the average?"

What I'm getting at is that many of these diets respond to trends by mandating total abstinance. The Atkins diet says, "Excessive carbs are bad for you, so eat as few carbs as humanly possible while loading up on everything else." I've read stuff from Low-carbers that reminds me of the worst of vegans or alcoholics anonymous along with treating those who don't follow the diet as poor people who need to be converted.

The basic point is not to trust any diet that minimizes one type of nutrient and maximizes another.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:51 PM on July 8, 2002

To those preaching moderation, it's just not that simple. I eat moderately. And I exercise far more than the average American. I live in Vienna, Austria with no car, and I walk an amazing amount compared to my habits in the US. I walk more than a mile and a half per day to get to work. I live on the 5th floor of an apartment building with no elevator and raised ceilings - that's 104 steps every time I want to get home. I use the stairs at work all day - probably an easy additional 150 stairs per day (unfortunately, I'm only on the second floor).

In my company of 150 people, only two people are larger than I am (this in Austria, the king of fat-eating countries). I sit next to male colleagues at lunch who weigh under 140 and eat bigger portions than I do every single time (and some of these are by no means physically active people). I generally eat only lunch and a small supper.

In addition to all of this, I have had pretty severe problems with carbs in the past. Namely, sinking / fainting spells that cause me an enormous hunger from (I used to think) out of nowhere. These come with cold sweats, the need to sit down, and the absolute compulsion to cram my face. I've had maybe 5 attacks like this in my life, but they are extremely unpleasant. They always follow a large intake of carbs.

Here's the thing. Bear with my improvised numbers. If you eat 10,000 calories per day, burn 1,000 and don't convert any of the remaining to fat (because your body is not in convert to fat mode), you will stay your current weight.

If, on the other hand, you eat 1,500 calories per day, burn 1,000 and turn the extra 500 into fat (because your body IS in convert to fat mode), you will gain weight.

If my personal experience and the information in this article are correct, the moderation crowd is simply naive (and perhaps self righteous), parroting what seems like common sense when, indeed, the metabolic system of humans may just be too complicated for the common sense model to have any relevance...

For stats, I'm a 29 year old male, 5'11", 205 lbs.
posted by syzygy at 3:42 PM on July 8, 2002

30, male, 6'1.25", 172

formerly 24 and 315 (same height :)

I was damn near as hungry as a man can be today (combination of scheduled work-week weight push down and random timing factors), but I stuck it out because I'm building some breathing room for a big lunch date later in the week and a weekend visit from college friends that will doubtlessly involve beers and junk food.*

It's not magic, and it's probably not willpower. It's motivation. If you're not motivated to lose weight, you won't. Why would anyone put up with dieting without serious motivation? I certainly didn't.

I don't know if you can actively go out and find the right motivation. Mine found me.

Having lost the weight, remembering what it was like for me to be fat provides my motivation for staying trim.

*that doesn't mean I didn't feed myself (I did), it just means I didn't let my hunger alter my plans
posted by NortonDC at 5:43 PM on July 8, 2002

If my personal experience and the information in this article are correct, the moderation crowd is simply naive (and perhaps self righteous), parroting what seems like common sense when, indeed, the metabolic system of humans may just be too complicated for the common sense model to have any relevance.

In the absence of a clear answer, does it really make any sense to treat everything containing carbohydrates as poison and everything else as mana? Of course it is not that simple. But one of the ways to tell a quack from an honest person is that the quacks will tell you that they have the answer. "Endocrinology 101!" they yell. "We have the answer to all your health problems!" The honest doctor will say, "This is the best of our knowledge."

Certainly, I will agree that everyone needs to adapt their diet to their own needs. But honestly here, there are many in the low carb camp who treat their chosen revelation in regards to diet with all the same zealousness as fruitarians.

I'm not suggesting that it all comes down to "willpower" (although I've known of low-carbers who approach their diet with a scary level of puritanical zeal, forgive me Dr. Atkins, I have sinned by eating the scattering of goldfish cracker with my salad, mia culpa.) My partner works in a natural foods retail store and there are many people within that circle who jump onto the latest food craze with an obsessive drive that really bothers me. "Only raw foods!" "Hemp in everything!" "Omega3 fatty acids!"

As a result, I have a high level of distrust in any diet fad that takes extremes in "correcting" our diet. I can certainly agree that the low-carb camp has a point that downing a pound of french fries chased by a litre of coke is a bad thing. I'm less convinced that the solution involves gorging on a bacon chessburgers (hold the buns). I can certainly agree that we need more raw fruits and vegetables in our diets, I'm not convinced that cooking food destroys all the nutritional qualities (and even less convinced about specific raw-foods arguments involving live enzymes). I certainly agree that we should pay more attention to the bottom end of our digestive tract, I'm not convinced that the solution is colon clensing, purges, fasts and weekly hydrotherapy.

The anti-carb hysteria is as stupid as the anti-fat hysteria and I would also argue the anti-meat hysteria promoted by many of my fellow vegetarians. For most people, carbohydrates are not the equivalent of cigarettes, PCBs or radiation for which there is no such thing as a safe level of exposure.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:23 PM on July 8, 2002

People can't lose weight because they take in more calories than they burn. Period.

Right... and the question is, how does your body burn what you take in? Metabolic burn rates are not, and never have been constant. Each person's is different, and each person's fluctuates based on a number of different factors - metabolic intake (diet), metabolic demands (such as exercise, or lack thereof), sometimes environmental factors like stress, and so on.

What does the body do when faced with a substantial calorie deficit? It slows down metabolism. Any "diet" that fails to take this into account, fails. How do we counter that? As one poster noted, we know very little about what we eat.

It seems apparent from the article that much of the scientific community wants to preserve that ignorance. Given the disastrous health effects of the last two decades' worth of "nutritional advice," I think we need a whole hell of a lot more research before we can say what works and doesn't work.
posted by mikewas at 6:33 AM on July 9, 2002

Apparently that NYM article just might have misrepresented a few things.
posted by litlnemo at 3:34 PM on July 9, 2002

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