Are Low-Carb Zealots Close-Minded?

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Are low-carb people close-minded, just like some vegan people seem to be? Are we all caught up in group thinking?

Here’s a great blog post on the subject:

Authority Nutrition: Confessions of a Biased Low-Carb Zealot

I mostly agree with it, but I have a few minor objections: 

Calories #1

Here’s a couple of quotes from the post and my comments:

The energy content of the food we eat, vs. the energy content we expend… this is what determines whether we gain or lose fat (fat = stored energy).

It’s called the first law of thermodynamics and isn’t even debatable.

I think this misses the point. The offending word is “determines”.

Obviously there’s a first law of thermodynamics and it’s just fine. Anyone who disputes it is probably crazy. But this law says nothing about what determines whether we gain or lose weight.

Having a negative or a positive caloric balance are just synonyms to losing or gaining weight. It says nothing about the cause.

Stated differently: A positive caloric balance is not the cause of weight gain. A positive caloric balance is the same thing as weight gain.

More: Why Calorie Counters are Confused

Calories #2

The reason low-carb diets work so well for weight loss is that they reduce appetite and cause an automatic restriction in calories (making calorie counting unnecessary, in many cases).

This is probably the most important factor. But it’s also possible that low-carb diets, under certain conditions, can increase calorie expenditure.

Bias

Apart from my nitpicking above I think this is a great post. We must always question our own thinking because we’re all biased and our minds play tricks on us.

I’m reading “Thinking, Fast and Slow” at the moment. It’s a fantastic book for anyone who wants to understand why other people make stupid decisions. Sometimes we might even catch ourselves doing it, but that’s a lot harder. Therefore we should listen to others and be open to discussion, to weed out our own mistakes.

What do you think? Are low-carbers close-minded? What’s the biggest mistake that low-carbers do?

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121 Comments

Top Comments

  1. JAUS
    "First law of thermodynamics" is typical strawman argument. It's completely irrelevant point, because the law dosen't say anything about how the body chooses to use the calories it obtains. Some calories are used for heating up the body, some are used for repairs (protein and fat), some goes into storage etc... It's the hormones that regulates bodyweigth

    Biology is not simple physics, nutrition is much more complicated than that. Some people apparently seem to think that the body of a human works like a car.

    Groupthink is a big problem. A true skeptic must at all times be prepared to change his opinion about everything he knows.

    Replies: #3, #57
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  2. FrankG
    Why is this seemingly such a difficult concept for some to grasp?

    Yes a calorie (or a kilocalorie, or a joule if you prefer) is a measure of the energy to be found in our food -- there are many other measures too and we don't simply eat for energy. No-one is disputing that.

    Yes the First Law of Thermodynamics and all the other "laws" are true; so far as we currently understand our physical universe -- again no-one is disputing that.

    So no "dubious science" yet... right?

    Then you assert that "...when looked at closely every low carb diet is in essence simply reducing calories" and this is where we part ways: in the application of this science to how we eat...

    You may well be right that along the way I was eating fewer calories than previously... don't know and don't care, 'cos I don't count them BUT what I do know is that for many years (decades even) I tried consciously restricting calories; which is the model to which you seem to subscribe, I presume?

    Have you even tried that approach yourself? Not just for one meal, or one week but for months on end... possibly even for the rest of your life?

    At the same time we are encouraged (coerced?) into intense physical activity. We are our own worst enemies and become obsessed with food (as every hungry person does) even making little bargains such as "if I do an extra 10 minutes cardio then I can treat myself to a small low-fat ice-cream after my bland salad!"

    These regimes have a very poor record of working in the long-term and I'll bet there are many who read this blog who know exactly what I mean. How many of the biggest losers are back to the starting weights or worse a few months after all the attention has gone?

    Calorie-restriction also has physical downsides in that the starving body goes into starvation mode and attempts to hold onto energy stores: breaking down lean mass (muscle and organs), lowering body temp, reducing BMR etc... These effects can last long-term after the "diet" has ended making it that much easier to regain the lost "weight" and that much harder to lose it the next time you try the same failed method.

    So after literally decades in my case of trying that approach (what is it Einstein says about Insanity "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results") and with failing health (Metabolic Syndrome) I read Gary Taubes Good Calories, Bad Calories. Before I'd even finished the book the first time (have you read it?) I realised that it was the quality of what I ate which mattered more than the quantity.

    Different macro-nutrients are handled differently by the body.. so while a "calorie" of butter might produce the same thermal effect as a "calorie" of sucrose when burned in a bomb-calorimeter, those two foods will have quite different effects on the hormones etc... in my body when I eat them. Dubious science or fact?

    Having realised I needed to cut out sugars and refined starches I was even more surprised to find that I could now eat freely until I felt full.. no counting or measuring required. I was not hungry so I was not obsessed with food and yet I was using up excess fat mass (not simply "weight") in significant amounts with little effort.

    A misconception that you seem to fall into is interpreting "eating freely" (or ad libitum) as force-feeding myself to eat more than my body wants -- hence your 3,000 calorie per day suggestion... you missed the point completely.

    Yes there are some who do like to keep a record of the calories they eat, they may find this helps to manage with meal planning.. I do not; as along with many others I have found I can now trust my own body to say when enough is enough -- just like every other animal on this planet. I can eat well of a tasty and varied diet while maintaining excellent health markers all around.. much better than those I was getting when following the established wisdom.

    I don't take any supplements and I think the ones you refer to were being suggested for someone who has just started an LCHF way of eating? I'm not sure how many "diets" yo have tried (not many I am guessing) but it is common to have a period of adjustment when significant changes are made.

    Finally I guess that leaves the idea that an LCHF diet is painless and easy compared to conscious calorie-restriction. I wonder how much of the angst over this approach -- usually by those who haven't needed to try it yet -- has to do with a feeling of self-righteousness that those fat self-indulgent folks ought to be made to suffer! LOL

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  1. Zepp
    Well now you seems to fade away to some other explanations.. reward/palatability!

    Strange, becuse when I eat the moste rewarding and palatable food, I eat less!

    But then one have to define whats rewarding and palatateble, and I realy think real food is both palatable and rewarding!

    Its rather this junkfood, thats not that rewarding.. that make one eat more.. it seldome give any satiety!

    And then you never seems to answer my hypotese that it is hyperinsulinemia that is the major problem?

    "Nearly 1 in 4 U.S. Teens Has Diabetes or Prediabetes

    Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2012/05/21/nearly-1-in-4-u-s-teens-have-di..."

    Now a days it seems that old age type 2 diabetes is comon at teen age!

  2. FrankG
    "Both low carb dieting and calorie restrictive dieting have similar failure rates long term." How can you assert this when so many then turn around and claim the low-carb is a recent "fad", especially compared to the many decades that calorie-restricton has been the standard operating procedure. How do you define "long term"? Are you limiting this to trials (6 months, 1 year?) or the population at large? Try taking a straw-poll of those around you and ask about long-term success with calorie-restriction, then ask how many have even heard of the low-carb approach. Check your facts. In terms of just trials, many of which I have read, allow the carbs to creep back up as time passes, masking the initial significant improvement over other diets. And speaking from experience I see how it is trickier for many to eat LCHF, especially when out and about or traveling as it is, so far, less acceptable than the diets many are so used to.

    Your assumption about my health is wrong. Please don't make guesses. It deteriorated because the weight did not stay off for very long, if at all, despite my very best efforts. And each attempt was harder than the previous (see my comment #61 above). You have no idea how much of a fair trial I gave CICO. Can you say the same about you and Low-Carb... how many decades did you stick at it?

    Calore-restriction in of itself wrecks a person's metabolism, even without adding in all the low-fat processed foods.

    I'm not really clear as to why you think you can set limitations on what is discussed here? I am to accept your conditions or what happens exactly? In actually many proponents of the CICO model DO predict a linear weight loss or gain... there is even maths based on how many calories in a pound of fat. Have you ever been to a Registered Dietitian?

    --

    So FINALLY we get to your definition...

    "...Low Carb diets work because of their effect on insulin levels in the body, independent of the number of calories in the diet. In other words calories would not determine fat status, but would be the end result. Instead the carb->insulin response is what determines fat status."

    ...not exactly the way I would put it (I see no need to even mention calories) but I guess I can provisionally accept it. I hope that by "independent of the number of calories" you are not suggesting some magic whereby someone can force themselves to overeat but so long as they stay away from carbs they will not gain weight? Because ad libitum does not mean stuffing yourself beyond bursting but rather that you eat until you are satisfied, then stop... as opposed to forcibly under-eating so that you remain hungry.

    Although there is this Sam guy who claims 5,000 calories a day for 21 days without the expected gain http://live.smashthefat.com/why-i-didnt-get-fat/

    ...and the BBC documentary "Why Are Thin People Not Fat" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6-A0iHSdcA an overfeeding experiment which again did not lead to the predicted gains

    ...and the Vermont Prison studies from back in the 1960's (?) that found the same.. CICO does not work as a practical model for predicting fat mass -- http://junkfoodscience.blogspot.ca/2008/10/first-law-of-thermodynamic...

    But yes, carbs (especially sugar and refined starches) are what drives up insulin, and high levels of insulin over time lead to a multitude of metabolic issues including, for many but not all, overweight and obesity.

    It is the quality of what we eat more than the quantity which is reflected in out health. If LCHF allows me to maintain a naturally healthy equilibrium without constant hunger , deprivation, counting calories and all the rest of that nonsense then what else is there to say about it? Why constantly knock it?

    No doubt insulin is just one of the hormones involved but it is a biggie.. so what? What difference does it make so long as it works?

    Your "spontaneously reduced calorie consumption" theory of low-carb still works... but denying that insulin is involved in the processing of carbs and denying its various roles and potential harmful effects at high levels, is as ludicrous as denying that the First Law of Thermodynamics still applies, even though it has little to no practical application in this case.

  3. grinch
    "Well now you seems to fade away to some other explanations.. reward/palatability!

    Strange, becuse when I eat the moste rewarding and palatable food, I eat less!

    But then one have to define whats rewarding and palatateble, and I realy think real food is both palatable and rewarding!

    Its rather this junkfood, thats not that rewarding.. that make one eat more.. it seldome give any satiety!

    And then you never seems to answer my hypotese that it is hyperinsulinemia that is the major problem?
    "

    I think baked potatoes demonstrate how palatability is an important factor. Despite potatoes being very high in carbs, it is very hard for people to overeat them when plain, until they start adding additional flavors and even fat to them. So the insulin only becomes a factor when there is salt and cheese added to them?

    Also there isn't much evidence that hyperinsulinemia is a cause, but most points at it being an effect.

    Reply: #106
  4. Ondrej
  5. grinch
    "How do you define "long term"? Are you limiting this to trials (6 months, 1 year?) or the population at large? Try taking a straw-poll of those around you and ask about long-term success with calorie-restriction, then ask how many have even heard of the low-carb approach. Check your facts. In terms of just trials, many of which I have read, allow the carbs to creep back up as time passes, masking the initial significant improvement over other diets. And speaking from experience I see how it is trickier for many to eat LCHF, especially when out and about or traveling as it is, so far, less acceptable than the diets many are so used to."

    Try studies of 2 years or longer and tell me how great LC is.

    "Calore-restriction in of itself wrecks a person's metabolism, even without adding in all the low-fat processed foods."

    How does calorie-restriction wreck a person's metabolism? Whether someone is low carbing or calorie restricting, the end result is that their calorie intake is reduced the same. So if someone eats 1500 cals of LC foods and 1500 cals of non-LC foods, why would the non-LC foods wreck a metabolism any more than the LC foods? Let's presume the dieter is not eating nothing but low fat processed foods, because that is a dumb protocol.

    "If LCHF allows me to maintain a naturally healthy equilibrium without constant hunger , deprivation, counting calories and all the rest of that nonsense then what else is there to say about it? Why constantly knock it?

    No doubt insulin is just one of the hormones involved but it is a biggie.. so what? What difference does it make so long as it works?"

    I'm not objecting to LCHF being a dietary protocol that works well for you, but I'm objecting to the use of cherry picking, pseudoscience and mocking the people out there doing real research by many in this community. Also I found limitations in my own application of LCHF that made me question the science behind it.

  6. Zepp
    Well you can do the same trick with meat, ad a greasy gravy.. and you cant eat that much.. I dont se any meaning in your way of thinking!

    No one eat a lot of potato without anything to it, or a lot of fat and salt.. and this goes for a lot of food, it dont make any sens at all!

    And to the topic of hyperinsulinemia, there is always a genetic part to it, many have this gen.

    "Conclusions: One to two decades before type II diabetes is diagnosed, reduced glucose clearance is already present. This reduced clearance is accompanied by compensatory hyperinsulinemia, not hypoinsulinemia, suggesting that the primary defect is in peripheral tissue response to insulin and glucose, not in the pancreatic beta cell."

    http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=704330

    "In this conceptual model, insulin resistance is caused by hyperinsulinemia and is an appropriate adaptation to the increased need to store fat in adipose tissue without causing hypoglycemia. Thus, insulin resistance is an adaptive response that successfully maintains normal circulating levels of fat and glucose as long as the b-cell is able to maintain sufficiently elevated insulin levels (57). Perhaps the time has come to expand our research focus to carefully investigate the environmental changes that have accompanied the epidemic of obesity and diabetes."

    http://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/61/1/4.full.pdf

  7. FrankG
    Try eating a 1lb of butter just by itself and see how far you get.

    I'd love to see those who deny the role of insulin hooked up to an insulin pump for just a few days... not enough to cause an hypo but just enough to raise the baseline insulin. Once you feel what it does to your hunger level and your "weight" you might change your mind. Again, this is the voice of actual experience, as opposed to a study on rats.

  8. Ondrej
    Reply: #116
  9. FrankG
    The Eating Academy | Peter Attia, M.D. - My Quantified Self, Part I
    http://eatingacademy.com/personal/my-quantified-self-part-i
  10. Dana
    FYI, I have experienced that decrease in appetite on low carb and what happens is I actually *stall*. Why? Because I'm not getting enough nutrition! People focus far too much on calories and not on WHAT they are eating. Starvation solves nothing. Not being constantly hungry is a good thing, but that doesn't mean you don't need to eat.

    I need to start asking these CICO people what the deal is with their human-starvation fetish. It's kind of sick.

  11. lisa
    Not to say that lchf works for everyone but...I am another 40 something woman for whom lchf works and works very well. There is no calorie reduction on my part. I consume 2000-2500 calories daily and still lose 3-4 lbs per week. I am a member of quite a few low carb discussion boards that are full of 40+ women for which this works. I also know that a huge portion of failures are due to not correctly following the plan and or not sticking with it long enough initially. The misinformation regarding lchf diets is ridiculous.
    Reply: #112
  12. lisa
    This argument will never end until everyone comes to the conclusion that we are not all the same. We all have different genetics. We all have different life stories to tell. Diet is not "one size fits all" and that is the problem with science. Lchf works extremely well for me and the pounds come off effortlessly. Not just pound but inches. It is, however, as many will tell you, very difficult for some of us to stick to because we are so carb addicted.
  13. Christopher
  14. EnglishRose
    I sit on the fence. I don't think there's much wrong with sweet and baked potato, roots and brown and wild rice always made me feel pretty good BUT for me if I want to lose some weight then protein/veg is the only way to go, works wonderfully well and makes me feel good.
  15. @lowcarb_zealot
    I like eating LCHF, and it works for me. I am healthier eating LCHF than I ever was eating mostly carbohydrates and trying to avoid fat. I am leaner, fitter, more alert and happier than ever before. Several minor ailments that I'd had for years have gone. I no longer pick up every cough and cold that goes around. I am never really hungry anymore.

    I make my decision to eat LCHF based on its observable beneficial effects on my own body and health. If the observable effects of eating LCHF are no longer beneficial, I will stop eating LCHF and try something else.

    If you want to eat LCHF, and it works for you, eat LCHF.
    If you want to eat high carb, and it works for you, then eat high carb.
    If you want to be a vegetarian, and it works for you, be a vegetarian.
    If you want to be a vegan, and it works for you, be a vegan.

    Remember, what may work for you, may not work for others. Make your own choices based on the observable evidence of what works for you. Blindly following a diet that doesn't work for you, no matter what it is or who tells you to do it, is idiocy.

  16. David
    Nowhere in that article does it mention a comparison with a low carb eating protocol, please point out what you are referring to.
  17. Kristin
    I sure did go through my zealot phase. I have that tendency in my personality anyway. Fortunately I now have enough road miles on me to recognize this more quickly and make some adjustments.

    I have many years of low fat dieting, vegetarian experiments, and recently years of eating a healthy whole foods diet under my belt. None of those kept me from sliding inexorably into metabolic syndrome. And looking at my family it is clear that insulin resistance runs in my family.

    So the short story for me is that like so many others I managed to finally solve my issues with LCHF. And I have been challenged that I'm being close-minded to other ideas. Well, I've tried all the other ones without success. Yes, I do lurk on low carb blogs. The purpose is to maintain my focus when everyone around me thinks fat is evil and carbs are essential.

    Where I have softened is that rather than thinking the whole world should eat this way I now just think about 2/3rd should, the ones that like me have fallen victim to the low-fat experiment. I certainly do know vegetarians who are quite healthy. Not sure I really know healthy vegans but I do support their desire to eat as they please. And now when people ask I just say I need to eat this way to treat my damaged metabolism. Seems to help.

  18. Ty
    Confessions of a Biased Low-Carb Zealot wrote a nice article but he needs to check the current state of fruits. I challenge people to go eat today's watermelon. The seedless round ones at the grocers. Back in the day they were huge, deep red coloring, and full of water. A couple of slices had you running to the bathroom to relive your bladder. Today's watermelon is pale pink and no water. No bathroom trips. It's all sugar.
  19. tz
    For me, it was twit.tv, Paul Thurotte, then Leo Laporte, then Randal Swartz, then Steve Gibson went low carb and dropped weight and kept it off. I simply thought back and everyone who did low carb lost weight and kept it off. Few others did.

    Dropped 5% in 2-3 weeks, 10% permanently, though have gone lower depending o n season, travel, etc.

    The zealots are the ones telling us to exercise and eat less calories - especially when the scientific tradition and evidence comes up.

    Open? Quite. There are variants. Harcobe, Paleo, Primal, Atkins, and others. I find an occasional "high-carb" day actually drops my weight, but that may be just me.

    I'm open to anything, but I believe my eyes, my tape measure and my scale.

    I'm still trying to figure out what exercise actually works in the same way. Build stamina, strength and/or flexibility.

  20. Stephen Quirke
    Zealots by definition have closed their minds
    I quite frankly don't care what other's eat, or think of my diet - unless they are interested to learn about my understanding
  21. Moo
    It becomes evident (when reading, interacting and observing others reporting how they follow a specific food plan) that each person interprets and executes the plan in a wide variety of styles. To be exact: user error comes into play far more than is recognized. Sometimes this is a purposeful style choice, other times under experience or knowledge deficit about ingrediants . Recalling exactly ,with exact amounts ,what one has eaten on a busy day, or worse the day before that, is often a sketchy report. I include myself as being inexact, the food scale is too far back in that cupboard somewhere. Of course I'm not talking about you who may be reading this at this time, it's someone else. So though the everyone is different sounds reasonable, I wonder about those variables.
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