Thursday, March 11, 2010

Why Gary Taubes is a visionary

Today's WOD:

Deadhang pull-up ladders: 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3, 1-2-3


AMRAP in 12:00 of:

3 deadlifts 185/120#
6 push-ups
10 double unders

I got 11 rounds and 3 deadlifts, as Rx'd. Good one! And the pull-ups went even better than the last time we did them.

I wrote the following in the comments of today's FCF post, but I'm not sure if anyone reads those comments so I'm mirroring it on my blog today.

This is in response to this video that Tim posted: Gary Taubes, Mehmet Oz, and Jillian Michaels being interviewed by Joy Behar on the Larry King Show. (There are two parts, see both.)

And also in response to a comment Eric left:

They are both making something simple complicated. Eat simple un-refined foods in proper proportions and quantities. Bust your ass on a regular basis. Done.

Gary Taubes is a visonary, a knight in shining armor! Like most visionaries, he is misunderstood and maligned in his time. But eventually the evidence will bear him out and he will be seen for the hero that he is. And quacks like Oz will be seen for what they are, which is parrots of conventional wisdom, who can't think for themselves.

I think what people may be reacting negatively toward in Gary Taubes is his style of speaking, which is very slow and deliberate and precise. But that is because he is a science journalist, one of the few GOOD ones, and science demands precision in language. I think this manner of speaking can come across as "talking down" to people, but he is not doing that at all. He is simply trying to explain a difficult concept as clearly as he can, without misspeaking or misrepresenting cause and effect. And he is trying to present evidence for his claims, which is the gold standard in science.

Eric's reaction and reasoning is very common, so I really want to address it. He is absolutely right that the ideal behavior is to eat simple unrefined foods in reasonable portions and to be active on a regular basis. But just doing those things will not fix someone who is broken. Taubes' main point is that INSULIN is what drives obesity, more specifically: too many carbs lead to raised insulin, which leads to insulin resistance, which leads to fat storage, which leads to obesity, which leads to overeating, inactivity, and sickness. That's what's revolutionary - the idea that inactivity and overeating do not lead to obesity, obesity leads to inactivity and overeating! See Mike's very nice explanation of this from earlier this week.

There is a certain percentage of the population, probably including Eric, that is not susceptible to insulin resistance. They will agree with Eric's assessment because they WANT to be active on a regular basis and they WANT to eat reasonable portions and avoid junk foods. Because their insulin is in balance, it leads them to live a healthy lifestyle.

But that is not the case for most people. It wasn't the case for me. My weight was creeping up and up, no matter how hard I tried to follow the recommendations that Eric and Oz and Jillian Michaels prescribed. Then I started CrossFit and felt better, but my weight didn't go down and I didn't see huge performance gains until I started reading about low-carb eating and decided to give it a try. Because I was insulin resistant, I was storing all those "healthy" whole grains as fat, just like Taubes describes in his book. When I cut my carbs down to just fruits and veggies and my body learned how to burn fat for fuel, the weight came off effortlessly, I had way more energy, and I wanted to work out harder. The same process has occurred for Mike and for several others at the gym, and I've read about it in countless comments posted on paleo/primal/low-carb blogs.

Eric said they are making something simple complicated. But this is not a simple story. It is a story of biochemical cascades, human physiology pathways. The human body is not simple, biology is not simple. Research on human cognition reveals that we tend to think in a linear and causal manner (x leads to y, end of story) and have a very hard time understanding and predicting dynamic systems and feedback loops. But like it or not, biology is about feedback loops and and dynamic systems, and so it is very difficult to understand!

This is why Taubes had such a hard time on the show. Our short-attention-span media is all about sound bites, and to make his point, he needs more than three seconds to explain things. Oz cut him off every time he started to speak. Of course he didn't come across well - his message is not a sound bite! Oz, Jillian - they can just shout out the same sound bites we've been hearing for years and then the host latches onto those messages because they are familiar and comforting, and she wraps up the show not having learned anything.

But even though the mechanisms are complicated, the bottom line is actually quite simple. Eat real food, plenty of fat and protein, and RESTRICT YOUR CARBS to mostly vegetables and some fruit. Good health, energy, an active lifestyle, and a lean body will follow.

Oh and to answer the question that Tim posed: what's wrong with Oz's arguments? They are emotional, not backed up by evidence, mechanism, or logic, and he doesn't even have his facts right. But honestly, I'm not sure I'd even call them arguments. They're just shrill, arrogant, judgmental insistence, deaf to science, deaf to the pleas of millions of sick, frustrated obese people who are desperate for something that works. Something that Gary Taubes is handing them on a silver platter.


In the video, nutritionist Andrew Weil strongly endorses Taubes' book, but his one caveat is that people need a diet they can sustain. I think there is a strong misconception in the medical community that a low-carb diet is deprivation and very difficult for the average person to maintain. I think that they've all been on the low-fat bandwagon so long they forget how satisfying it is to eat plenty of fat. I enjoy my food much more when I cut out carbs than I used to when I worried about fat. Here's my lunch today, a last-minute grab-something at Whole Foods. Spinach, baby greens, mushrooms, sunflower seeds, cabbage, and carrots from the salad bar, olive oil and red wine vinegar, grilled rosemary chicken and grilled asparagus from the prepared food line. Also ate a big handful of almonds for extra fat/flavor. Do I miss the bread? Nope. Do I feel better for skipping it? You bet.


Walden said...

Thanks for your thoughtful and extensive response to my utterly distilled comment. Believe it or not, I was once a fat ass. This frame, but over 190# and weaker than I can now understand. It was a haphazard and aimless series of attempts that got me to where I am - more like a rubber ball bouncing around in a room coated in solution boxes than a linear progression. But I finally found what works for me, and here I am.

I agree with you on all counts, as well as Mike's dissertation. I know it is more complicated than a balance of in and out, but more a question of quality of in. I am far from Paleo by any measure, with my love of beer and milk, but on most other counts I am pretty much in line with the program. I recognize and appreciate your description of your own discovery of this way of living.

The issue I had with the good journalist's statements were partially with fact - he simplified his stance as much as I did, with what in my opinion were crazy ass statements about exercise making you fat. I have little or no appreciation for those that say 'it isn't my fault', so the concept that the oh so obvious utility of working hard is somehow part of the problem falls on deaf ears.

However, the sugar and insulin connection is what I absolutely believe to be the truth, so we are on the same page there. But there comes the truth of my original statement. Consume nothing refined and you will not ingest simple sugars and other carbohydrates that will throw your system into a tizzy.

Meat, veg, water. I know the interactions are complex, but the equation is actually simple as far as I see it.

Keep up the great work guys, wish I could be there to cheer you on next weekend!


Robin said...


I agree with everything you've said. I'll add that I think part of Taubes' problem is that he starts to say something, then seems to stop mid-sentence for no apparent reason, then picks up a different train of thought (maybe because he doesn't want to leave something out), then he stops again, then he just kind of sits there thinking. I found him quite frustrating to watch, even though I believe he's right.

Oz is just annoying (as usual), and I can't believe he is saying "stress" causes obesity! What a politically correct cop-out. People today don't even know what stress is, in my opinion. We have it SO easy in almost every way, I just don't buy the stress argument. And if you follow it to its logical conclusion, the way to relieve stress would be to do yoga or deep breathing or something, and that just does not get to the core of the issue.

I've been following your blog and paleo journey for awhile, and I read other paleo blogs, and two questions persistently nag at me. I figured I might as well ask you, since you have a good handle on all of this and might have some ideas.

1) I've lived in Japan, and seen how the Japanese eat. They eat a LOT of white rice, noodles, processed "bean paste" treats, battered and fried foods, bread, and even traditional "western" desserts: shortbread, whipped cream, ice cream, sugary yogurt, etc. I saw almost no overweight (let alone obese) Japanese people anywhere. Plus, it's been known for years that the residents of Okinawa have the longest life span and fewest health problems on the planet.

I follow mainly a Zone diet (Barry Sears is deeply underrated, I think), and as you know white rice, noodles, breads etc. are considered basically evil in terms of insulin response. The main culprits, really. So what gives?

2) How are we supposed to feed our kids? I don't feel comfortable imposing a strict paleo(ish) diet on my 2-year-old (though I try to keep her in the "Zone" most of the time). She is not overweight, nor are any of her friends in any age group (we know a lot of older kids). I grew up eating Cheerios, Cup-O-Noodles, cookies, etc., though my family rarely drank soda and we never had sweetened cereal, potato chips, ice cream or fruit juices in the house. We ate a balanced dinner, and had limits on "treats". I never had a weight problem; none of my friends had weight problems. In fact, I was a string bean up until adulthood. Do you believe it would be right and/or healthy to try to force young children to eat only paleo? The health benefits seem so obvious for adults, but I'm not sure about growing kids.

I look forward to reading your thoughts on these questions.