Monday, October 10, 2011

Book Review - Good Calories Bad Calories

I don't know about you, but I'm a pretty consistent person. I've tried for years to drop about 30 pounds, and even succeeded for a short time, mainly through willpower.

Since then I've gotten older and less active, even though I exercise about 3 times a week. I like to run, even if it's on a treadmill. After three years of this and still weighing in at 208 pounds, I got hold of the Readers Digest article by Gary Taubes.

Consider me an experimenter. When I saw the statement "All calories are not created equal," I figured this was easy enough to disprove.

Taubes' main beef is this: Everything we've been told about calories in equals calories out is at best suspect. According to the article, you can supposedly lose weight by eating things like bacon and eggs. Lots of weight.

Haha. I have no willpower, ok? I live and breathe hunger, mainly borne of stress. I'm on the statins and the blood pressure medicine, exercise like I said, take vitamins, and so on. Do you know how far you have to run to work off one doughnut? (2 miles at least.) I'd pretty much given up on any idea of ever controlling weight. Who wants to live in misery?

So reading the article, I decided to try it. Hamburgers minus the buns? I can do that. Eggs and bacon? I can do that. Cheese and broccoli? I can do that. Sausage, yes.

About two weeks later I was at about 195 pounds, eating like a pig (if not actually eating pig) and decided to get the Taubes book.

Thirty three pounds more, and I'm finished with the book, but keeping it off. Here's my take:

First of all, Good Calories Bad Calories is not for the lighthearted. It is practically a textbook, although very well written. Taubes starts off with the guy who started it all, Banting. From my amazon e-copy:

            WILLIAM BANTING WAS A FAT MAN. In 1862, at age sixty-six, the five-foot-five Banting, or “Mr. Banting of corpulence notoriety,” as the British Medical Journal would later call him, weighed in at over two hundred pounds. “Although no very great size or weight,” Banting wrote, “still I could not stoop to tie my shoe, so to speak, nor attend to the little offices humanity requires without considerable pain and difficulty, which only the corpulent can understand.”
             Taubes, Gary (2007-09-25). Good Calories, Bad Calories . Anchor. Kindle Edition. 

He wrote a little book about what he did to lose weight. Maybe the first diet book! The craze was started, but instead of dieting, they called it Banting. Go figure.

Here's the thing: Banting was doing a low carb diet. No kidding. Back in 1862! If you want to read his little pamphlet instead of Taubes' Tome, it's right here

What you don't get from Banting is "why"? Why does low carb work and why is our medical establishment in such denial about this?  Taubes spends 500 pages or so trying to figure that out.

I don't know if he truly answers the question, but for me, he pretty much nails the coffin shut on the current government sanctioned food pyramid.

Sugar? Gone. Grains? Severely limited. Fiber? All you want. Meat? All you want. Vegetables? It depends. But it's all in this book, study after study that contradicts "common sense". This isn't a diet book, mind you. There's plenty of those out there, and the big daddy of them was Dr. Atkins himself, who died controversially at the height of his career.

Is there really a conspiracy out there, perpetuated by the sugar and corn growers in America, to get rich off the diabetic crisis in our country? I doubt it. But having worked for in the pharmaceutical world for many years, I do know that the drug manufacturers can spot a bonanza when they see one. And diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and all the other diseases of being overweight are ripe for making dollars. On the flip side, no one makes money off of low carbing, because (at least in my case) the food and doctor bill actually goes down with a little work.

Needless to say, after working through Good Calories Bad Calories, I know a lot more about the science of weight loss than I did before. It all comes down to hunger and insulin levels. Insulin, isn't that what diabetes is all about? You got it.

But what I really didn't know was how controversial the whole subject is. I have a nutritionist in my family, and she pretty well thinks I should be dead by now. I love her, but she's part of the scientific community. To get a job, she simply has to talk the mainstream talk. What's more, she believes in a low fat diet, heart and soul. As do most people I know. What do I know?

The biggest thing I can tell you about low carbing, or Banting, is this: after eating bacon and eggs for breakfast, cheese and chicken for lunch, and a low carb salad for supper, it's hard to be hungry. If you are, usually you're really thirsty, not hungry. Eight months down the road now, I feel guilty. Guilty that I get to eat so much and keep the weight down, while virtually every one I know is struggling with low fat diets.

Taubes realized that his book was pretty dense, and has written a lighter version. It's called Why We Get Fat (and what to do about it)  If you're overweight and don't want to be caught reading a heavy book, you might want to check it out.

All this being said, I have to put in a disclaimer: Always confer with your doctor before starting a weight loss plan. Low Carbing can be dangerous for some people, and you may need extra vitamins or minerals, depending. I'm not a doctor, I'm just a guy. A much skinnier guy.

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