Those of you who don't like watching other people gloat better close this page now.
I'm not normally one to rub people's failures in their faces, but when those people have a long history of abusing and slandering me for telling the plain truth, well ...
In late 2005, at my old site TheOmnivore.com, I posted what I considered a relatively innocuous observation. Namely, that research had shown it was calories - not the proportion of protein, fat or carbohydrate you eat - that determined your weight status.
Eat more calories than what you expend, you gain weight.
Eat less calories than what you expend, you lose weight.
I was wholly unprepared for what happened next.
The low-carbosphere went nuts. I was slandered, trolled, spammed, abused and ridiculed. Not just for a week or two, but for months on end.
Looking back, I suspect what was really fueling all this rage was that deep inside these carb-depleted cultists, a little voice was telling them I might just be right. Kinda like when religious fundamentalists who preach chastity accidentally catch a glimpse of a hottie in a miniskirt, feel the first rumblings of a boner, freak out in case God's watching, and start overcompensating for little Stanley's intemperance by ranting, raving and screaming about the evils of miniskirts.
C'mon lads, you know you want it...
Soon after all this reality-evading hysteria kicked off, I decided to write a fat loss book. I'd previously resisted the idea because, well, the fat loss book arena contains more bullshit than Parliament House. Not wanting to swim in the same murky waters as all those chubby diet gurus who claimed to hold the 'secret' to fat loss, I steered clear.
That is, until early 2006, when I'd finally had a gut full of the unbridled hate pouring in from the low-carb camp.
So, ladies and gentlemen, I donned my specially-made, carbon fibre-reinforced, Gore-Tex-lined, bullshit-proof wetsuit, and boldly went where no other Italian-Australian man had ever gone before:
The Pier Hotel at Frankston.
Wait ... wrong adventure.
We were talking about my fat loss book. Yeah.
Boy, did that wetsuit turn some heads when I waddled into the Hargrave-Andrew Library at Monash Uni, flippers and all. Some people laughed, most just stared, but there was this one hottie who stroked my arm as she walked past and purred, "I just l-o-v-e a man in Goretex!"
As I turned to follow up with a witty, James Bondesque reply, my right flipper got caught under a book trolley. I tripped, crashed against a photocopier, and caused some poor girl to print out 256 copies of her thesis cover page.
But not to worry, I soon got to work. And first order of business was to gather all the metabolic ward studies I could possibly find that had compared the weight loss effects of isocaloric diets that varied in their carbohydrate content. I'd already perused a bunch of these studies, and they all showed the same thing: Calories, not carbs, determined your level of chubaciousness. But now I was on a mission to find every last ward study on the subject, similar to what I did with the dietary and statin intervention trials in The Great Cholesterol Con.
I wasn't interested in free-living studies, which were a mixed bag when it came to comparing the weight loss effects of high- versus low-carb diets. Some showed greater weight loss on low-carb diets, but just as many seemed to show no difference (for some strange reason, the low-carb shills only ever banged on about the former, and conveniently ignored the latter).
Furthermore, all the free-living studies lasting a year or more showed no difference, suggesting that the greater weight loss seen in short-term studies was the result of a short-lived satiety or novelty effect.
Irrespective of their expiry dates, satiety and novelty were not what the low-carb shills were promoting and selling. They were explicitly claiming that low-carb diets increased metabolism, accelerated fat-burning, and caused greater weight loss than isoclaoric higher carb diets.
The low-carb shills called this the "metabolic advantage".
I called it "bullshit".
And I still do.
There's only one way you can truthfully test the metabolic advantage theory. And it sure as heck ain't a free-living study, where you have absolutely no control over what people really eat as they go about their daily routines.
The only way you can test this theory properly is to recruit a bunch of volunteers, and house them in a dedicated research facility or hospital ward where the only food they consume is that which you supply them. You then feed them isocaloric diets, varying in their carbohydrate content.
These types of tightly controlled studies are known as "metabolic ward" studies. In some of these studies, the volunteers were randomly assigned to follow either a high-carb or low-carb diet for a set period of time. In other studies, known as crossover trials, the volunteers followed one diet for a set period, then followed the other for a similar period, in random order.
When I rounded up the ward studies, pored over them, and tabulated the results, the conclusion was inescapable:
The metabolic advantage did not exist.
It was a fantasy that could only be maintained by ignoring the non-supportive ward research, focusing on the supportive short-term free-living studies, and incessantly droning on about the alleged fat-storing effects of insulin.
Which is exactly what the low-carb shills did.
However, that all changed in 2007, when my book The Fat Loss Bible was finally published. Chapter 1 discussed the ward trials at length, and featured a table showing the results from each and every one that lasted three weeks or more.
Not only had my book been published, but on both my website and on my (then) forum, I really started giving it back to the low-carb crowd, hammering home the previously overlooked importance of ward studies and how they resoundingly showed that the alleged fat loss superiority of low-carb diets was non-existent.
And something interesting happened. Slowly but surely, people on other websites and forums started talking about ward studies. And about how they disproved the metabolic advantage theory.
Which, of course, the low-carb cultists weren't too happy about. So out came the bullshit rationalizations.
"Oh, ward studies have little relevance to real life."
Because, apparently, ward studies aren't conducted in the real world. Nope, they're conducted in some parallel fantasy dimension, and when humans enter this dimension, their physiology suddenly undergoes some fundamental change that renders it utterly alien to that of their Earthly cousins.
Give me a fucking break.
"Oh, Colpo only looked at ward studies lasting three weeks or more. How dodgey of him!"
Nice try. For the record, no ward study lasting less than three weeks has ever shown greater fat-derived weight loss on an isocaloric low-carb diet, either (which I now state quite clearly in the current edition of FLB). And the one short ward study that low-carb shills claim did ... didn't. That's the infamous Kekwik-Pawan study, which didn't even measure fat loss, and which I discuss at length in FLB. I also clearly stated the reason I focused on studies lasting three weeks or more: To reduce the likelihood that fluid losses accounted for any alleged greater weight loss on isocaloric low-carb diets.
I'd also like to ask the Einsteins who tried on this criticism the following question: How many overweight and obese people are able to get down to their ideal body weight in less than three weeks?
"Oh, the ward studies didn't involve people with metabolic defects!"
Huh? For the record, the entire cohort of the Myashita ward study, published in 2004, was type 2 diabetic. If your glycemic control is so messed up that you are a diagnosed diabetic, then trust me, you've got a 100% genuine metabolic defect. And most of the other trials involved overweight and obese patients, among whom insulin resistance is very common. If you deny insulin resistance is a metabolic defect, then you're either crazy ... or a low-carber. Probably both.
"Ward studies are rife with cheating!"
This one shows just how low human reason and intelligence can sink when one is committed to defending a preciously-held belief at all costs. In free-living ward studies, there are absolutely no controls over what people end up putting in their mouths because, for obvious reasons, the researchers can't live with the subjects and follow them around 24 hours a day. But in ward studies, they house them in separate facilities, monitor them, and make sure that they eat truly isocaloric diets.
But it's ward studies that are rife with cheating! Got that?
Sure. If you're insane. Or a very devoted low-carber.
Interestingly, short-term studies tend to show greater satiety with low-carb diets, so if cheating was a factor in ward studies, it would in fact disadvantage the high-carb groups, because the less-satiated high-carbers would be the ones with the strongest temptation to cheat!
It's fun watching people trip over their own bullshit.
And it's fun watching their own delusion and pomposity come back to bite them in the ass.
What if it's all been a big fat lie? It has ... and Gary was one of the biggest bullshitters!
On July 7, 2002, the New York Times featured an article by freelance writer Gary Taubes. Titled What if it’s all been a big FAT Lie?, it read like a giant infomercial for Atkins. Indeed, Taubes had become an enthusiastic low-carb acolyte after reading Dr Atkins New Diet Revolution and being thoroughly swayed by the late doctor’s exuberant claims for low-carb dieting. Taubes himself admitted that reading Atkins' book was a “revelation” for him.
The thesis of Taubes’ NYT article was that the low-fat fad had failed, and in fact had made us fatter and more diabetic, something that a lot of other commentators had already stated.
What was truly controversial about the article was that Taubes quoted a number of prominent researchers and academics who – once staunch opponents – now appeared to be supporting the Atkins Diet. If the article were to be believed, it looked like the American medical establishment's worst nightmare was starting to come true: "They spend 30 years ridiculing Robert Atkins, author of the phenomenally-best-selling ''Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution'' and ''Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution,'' accusing the Manhattan doctor of quackery and fraud, only to discover that the unrepentant Atkins was right all along." According to Taubes, “Influential researchers are beginning to embrace the medical heresy that maybe Dr. Atkins was right”.
Among these former orthodox stalwarts now allegedly supporting Atkins were Gerald Reaven, John Farquhar, George Blackburn, Walter Willett, and Richard Veech. They did indeed speak to Taubes, but after his article appeared in the NYT, they were all dismayed at how he'd misquoted and misrepresented them in order to make it appear they supported his pro-Atkins thesis[2,3].
“He knows how to spin a yarn,” said Barbara Rolls, an obesity researcher at Pennsylvania State University. “What frightens me," she said of Taubes, "is that he picks and chooses his facts.” Taubes interviewed her for some six hours, and she sent him “a huge bundle of papers,” which he simply brushed aside. “If the facts don’t fit in with his yarn, he ignores them,” she said.
"I was greatly offended by how Gary Taubes tricked us all into coming across as supporters of the Atkins diet," Farquhar wrote in an e-mail he broadcast to reporters and to colleagues who were stunned he might actually hold the beliefs Taubes attributed to him. "We are against the Atkins Diet," he wrote, speaking for himself and Reaven.
As a backlash formed against Taubes, he complained bitterly to the New York Observer in November 2002 that he was "being attacked by sleazebags." That's a rather precious accusation, coming from someone who clearly misquoted and misrepresented others in order to bolster his own preconceived agenda.
In the end, however, those who protested Taubes' duplicity were largely ignored. Atkins was flavour of the month, and much of the Western world had already been swept up in low-carb mania. Furthermore, a lot of people were understandably miffed at having fallen for the low-fat sham, only to end up fatter than ever. And now here was Taubes, telling people just what they wanted to hear:
It's not you, it's them! Those evil carbs, and all those so-called experts who told you to eat them!
America fell for it, hook line and sinker. Publisher Alfred Knopf rushed to sign Taubes to a book deal, reportedly paying him a massive US $700,000 advance.
Bullshit pays, folks. Handsomely.
Those who accused Taubes of cherry-picking supportive information and ignoring contradictory facts were proved right, and then some, when his book, Good Calories, Bad Calories, finally hit the shelves in 2007. Despite its Atlas Shrugged-like thickness and Taubes' boasts about the massive amount of research he'd poured into it, it was a woefully one-sided affair that completely ignored the vast amount of ward research showing low-carb diets offered no fat loss advantage.
When asked about the ward studies, Taubes simply dismissed them. He didn't like them.
They weren't well conducted studies.
Why weren't they well conducted?
No explanation. They just weren't good.
Taubes' flippant dismissal of inconvenient research reminds me of the way British epidemiologist Richard Peto irrationally dismissed the complete failure of cholesterol-lowering diet and drug trials in 1984. At an NHLBI 'Consensus' conference in December of that year, he stated there had "already been fifteen or twenty trials, but in every one something ridiculous happened."
What was the ridiculous occurrence that occurred in each trial? Peto never elaborated, but I can tell you it's the same thing that happened in all the ward studies that Taubes' ignored:
These trials all returned results that refuted Peto's beliefs, just like the ward studies returned results that rebuked Taubes' beliefs.
The mind of a dogmatist is pretty simple and predictable, folks. It reasons thusly:
-Supportive evidence is always high quality evidence, no matter how sloppy!
-Non-supportive evidence is always poor quality, even when obtained as a result of the the most rigorous, tightly-controlled research!
Yeah, it's pretty fucked up, but that's how confirmation bias rolls.
I'm Too Sexy For These Schmucks ...
With the publication of Good Calories, Bad Calories, and all the money he made, you might think Taubes thanked his lucky stars, marveled at the gullibility of his fellow humans, and retired to the Carribean.
Oh no. He wasn't done yet.
In 2010, he released his follow-up book, Why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It. It offered nothing new - it simply rehashed the one-sided anti-carb, anti-insulin stance he had adopted in GCBC. And like his earlier book, it portrayed all those researchers and commentators who maintained calories were the key determinant of weight status as a bunch of myopic, outdated dipshits who were hopelessly ignorant of scientific reality.
Which would have been all well and good if it were true. Hey, yours truly has little patience for people who persist in promoting outdated dogmas that have long since been disproved by an abundance of scientific research.
But here was Taubes, ignoring an abundance of tightly controlled research, in order to keep pimping an outdated dogma that had been debunked in ward studies as far back as 1935!
If you look up the word "audacious" in the dictionary, you'll probably see Gary Taubes' face next to it.
This was beyond the pot calling the kettle black. It was more like the village idiot accusing the most reasoned, wisest elders of being dumb bastards!
Undeserved Success Breeds Overconfidence
Then something strange happened. Evidently, the fact that not everyone believed his biased diatribe bothered Taubes. And so, in a moment of inspiration he probably now regrets, he launched along with fellow low-carb advocate Petter Attia, The Nutrition Science Initiative (NuSI) - "a non-profit organization, technically a 501(c)(3)."
NuSi's purported goal?
"NuSI was founded on the premise that the reason we are beset today by epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes, and the reason physicians and researchers think these diseases are so recalcitrant to dietary therapies, is because of our flawed understanding of their causes."
And guess what NuSi had organized as one of its research initiatives?
A metabolic ward trial.
That Taubes was confident his new creation would provide prestigious scientific support for his anti-carb/anti-insulin theory of obesity can be evinced from the statement, "Both Peter and I have our beliefs about what we’re likely to find..."
When I heard that Taubes and Attia were the driving forces behind this new initiative, I also had my suspicions about what their research might conveniently find.
However, when I saw the names of the researchers involved, my suspicions were alleviated. Rudolph Leibel, for example, had previously conducted a pivotal ward study in which he and Jules Hirsch had greatly altered the fat and carbohydrate content of isocaloric diets fed to volunteers, and observed no effect from even the most extreme manipulations on body weight. It seemed extremely unlikely someone like Liebel would acquiesce to the anti-carb agenda of Taubes, let alone engage in duplicitous research behaviour.
And it was at that point a big, knowing smile formed on my face. Because I knew it was only a matter of time before Taubes' new baby puked on daddy's best shirt.
And ladies and gentlemen, that magnificent, glorious day has finally arrived.
The results from the NuSI metabolic ward study are in, and they confirm what I've been saying all along:
Isocaloric low-carbohydrate diets do not cause greater fat loss.
In fact, fat loss actually slowed during the ketogenic phase of the trial.
And to make matters worse for those who've convinced themselves these diets are the dog's bollocks, the loss of lean mass increased during the low-carb diet, as evinced by increased urinary nitrogen excretion. While the subjects lost more weight during the ketogenic phase, it wasn't from fat - it was in the form of precious lean tissue.
Again, I discussed the muscle-eating effects of ketogenic diets at length in The Fat Loss Bible, way back in 2007. But hey, what would I know? I'm just a guy who first got his body fat % into single digit territory back in the early 1990s, and has been able to keep it there ever since. Why listen to someone who walks the walk, when there are so many paunchy hucksters to believe instead?
In the video below, Yoni Freedhoff interviews one of the NuSI researchers, Dr. Kevin Hall, who explains the results of the ward study. Enjoy, folks - I sure as hell did. 🙂
Dr. Hall sums it up perfectly: The insulin-obesity hypothesis has been falsified.
And so we've come full circle. The other ward studies were right all along, and so was I.
Taubes, meanwhile, has been proved wrong by the very study he helped create. Unlike the other ward studies, this time he can't do a Richard Peto and claim "something ridiculous happened" in NuSI.
At the very end of his 2002 NYT article, Taubes quoted researcher David Ludwig as asking, ''Can we get the low-fat proponents to apologize?'' (Ludwig is also adamant that Taubes took his remark out of its original context).
Well Gary, you made millions of dollars pimping an already disproved theory, and in the process convinced thousands of gullible folks that carbohydrates and insulin were the cause of their overweight, when in reality it was a caloric surplus. If not for you and your books, the low-carb stupidity might just have died the quick death it deserved, but instead you breathed new life into a waning fad. As a result, thousands of people continued to bark up the wrong tree, and continued to wonder why they weren't able to lose weight.
Meanwhile, people like me - who were telling the truth all along - got spammed, abused, slandered and ridiculed by low-carb zealots who carried on like religious fundamentalists whenever anyone dared question their irrational dietary beliefs.
Can we get Taubes and the low-carb proponents to apologize?
For those of you who want to learn the plain, scientifically validated facts about fat loss, feel free to check out my book The Fat Loss Bible. The book is highly rated by those who've read it, and the information within has stood the test of time, which is far more than can be said for the pseudoscientific ramblings of Gary Taubes et al.
You can get the eBook (Kindle) version here.
Or the paperback version here.
For more information on Anthony's books, click here.
- Taubes G. What if It's All Been a Big Fat Lie? New York Times Magazine, Jul 7, 2002. Available online: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/07/magazine/what-if-it-s-all-been-a-big-fat-lie.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
- Squires S. Experts Declare Story Low on Saturated Facts. Washington Post, Aug 27, 2002: HE01.
- Fumento M. Big Fat Fake: The Atkins diet controversy and the sorry state of science journalism. Reason, Mar 2003. Available online: http://reason.com/archives/2003/03/01/big-fat-fake/print
- Liebman B. The Truth About the Atkins Diet. Nutrition Action Health Letter (Center for Science in the Public Interest), Nov 2002; 29 (9): 3. Available online: http://www.cspinet.org/nah/11_02/bigfatlies.pdf
- Taubes G. The Launch of The Nutrition Science Initiative. garytaubes.com, Sept 12, 2012. Available online: http://garytaubes.com/2012/09/the-launch-of-the-nutrition-science-initiative/
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