Grist for your insula's mill
I’ve been working on a nice post showing the difference between a diet using the glycemic index and a regular low-carb diet that should be up tomorrow. I took a quick break to catch up on a bunch of NY Times and Wall Street Journals that have been lying around giving MD (neat freak that she is) fits. In reading yesterday’s New York Times, I came upon the following:
How to Stay on the Diet Wagon
From a posting on Diner’s Journal in which Bob Harper, shown at right training a contestant on “The Biggest Loser,” answered readers’ questions:
[Question:] What do you think of low-carb diets in the long-term? Do you think these eventually lead to a “fall off the no-carb wagon” and quick regain of weight (since much of the weight lost is actually water weight)? I would love to hear your thoughts on the best way to incorporate (or eliminate) carbs from one’s diet. TARA
Mr. Harper replies: For many reasons, you can’t cut an entire food group out of your diet. For one thing, if you’re totally deprived of something, you’re going to rebel and fall off the wagon in a big way. For another, people who are exercising — which everyone who wants to lose weight has to do — need to eat carbohydrates. Low-carb diets might work temporarily for sedentary people but it is not sustainable for weight loss.
If you are on a low-carb diet, and you’re nutritionally sophisticated as most people on this blog (mine, not his) are, then you blow this off as the ramblings of a nutritional nitwit. But if you are on a low-carb diet, and you are getting heat from friends and family, something like this is enough to send you back to the carbs.
Let’s parse this brief little Q & A to see if it makes any sense whatsoever.
First, is Bob Harper a nutritional authority? No, he’s a trainer. A telegenic trainer, but a trainer, nonetheless. I might pay attention to something he had to tell me about training, but why would I possibly listen to him about matters of nutrition? (I don’t intend to tar all trainers with the same brush. My friend Fred Hahn knows a lot about nutrition, but it has been my general experience that most trainers don’t.)
What are the many reasons that “you can’t cut an entire food group out of your diet?” First, carbohydrates aren’t a food group; they’re a macronutrient. And why can’t you cut them out of your diet? Are there carbohydrate deficiency diseases, Mr. Harper, that you know about that the rest of the nutritional world doesn’t? I’ll clue you in: there aren’t. But there are both fat and protein deficiency diseases written about in every internal medicine textbook.
What about fat? You recommend cutting that. Why aren’t those people who are totally deprived of fat not going to “rebel and fall off the wagon in a big way?” Or is that different than cutting carbs?
You say, Mr. Harper, that “people who are exercising – which everyone who wants to lose weight has to do…” Can you show me the data that proves that exercise improves weight loss? I’ll grant you that it sounds reasonable, but can you muster the data that proves it? I can tell you that you can’t because there is no such data. Diet brings about weight loss; exercise doesn’t.
And how about your idiotic statement that people who do choose to exercise need carbohydrates? Another whopper. Most studies show that after a period of adaptation, people who exercise while following a low-carb diet have better endurance than those following high-carb diets. Have you seen all those studies, Mr. Harper? I guess not or you wouldn’t have made such an idiotic statement.
And, finally, where is your data that low-carb diets aren’t sustainable for weight loss? Virtually every study that has been done comparing low-carb diets to low-fat, high-carb diets has shown better results in those following the low-carb diet over whatever the length of time the study has lasted. You may say that these studies aren’t long enough to fit your definition of ‘sustainable,’ but can you show me any studies showing the low-fat, high-carb diet is ‘sustainable’ then? I thought not.
So, what we have here is a short answer to a question about low-carb diets that is a total misrepresentation. The answer contains four sentences and all of them are wrong. In fact, one of them, the third one, contains two statements and is wrong in both cases.
I particularly liked the title of the Q & A: How to Stay on the Diet Wagon. I mean, if there were ever a statement designed to motivate one to get OFF the diet wagon, it would be this one.
This would all be a joke were it not for the fact that the show on which Mr. Harper appears is a popular show with weight loss as its theme. I’m sure many overweight people watch this show, and, for whatever reason, give Mr. Harper some credibility. And I’m sure that many of the overweight people who watch are on a low-carb diet, and many may be struggling. All it takes is an ignorant answer to a question like this from a person of authority to drive them from their diet.
Remember from the previous post how in the brain it is the insula’s role to be skeptical and say No. Just a little Q & A like this one can be disastrous to some people, giving ther insulas, which are already riding the fence thanks to negative input from friends and family, the rationale to encourage them to bolt from their diets. I’m just doing my small part to compensate. If you have any friends who send you this little tidbit, you can reply to them with this post.