Do Low Carb Diets Fail Partly Because of Social Pressure?

The other day, before the start of yet another meeting at work, someone brought up Dr. Oz. One person said: “I always used to think that drinking skim milk was good for you, but Dr. Oz said you should drink 2%.” It was said as a revelation, a shock.

I couldn’t help myself: “You know, fat isn’t necessarily bad for you. In fact, fat can actually help you lose weight.”

I got either nervous giggles or blank stares. I fell for it again. I shouldn’t have bothered and just kept my mouth shut. I learned long ago that while my coworkers seem to like me, those that know something about my predilection toward low carb tend to think I’m something of a loony.

I once had a very intelligent and medically-trained co-worker who knew me well professionally explain me to a new hire as we discussed diets: “You have to understand he has some peculiar notions about nutrition.”

The other day, I shoveled snow for about an hour. Not one for exercise (at least not yet – it’s a resolution for 2012), the exertion tuckered me out.  I collapsed on the bed to recuperate.

My wife, who by the way did not help with the snow and was instead laying  in bed, said: “Your way of life is poisoning you.”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

“The way you eat. Look at you – you’re exhausted!”

I said back: “So you’re saying that if I hadn’t gone on a low carb diet eight years ago and lost 60 pounds, and instead ate pie all those years that I would have shoveled the snow in front of our house and still had enough leftover energy to shovel out a neighbor’s house?”

“Yes.” She said, only half-facetiously.

I have been putting up with this for eight years. From everyone. My doctor, my co-workers, my friends, my older kid (indoctrinated by school as to what ‘healthy eating’ is) – even my wife, who saw me go from puffy, bloated and lethargic to slimmer and more energetic.

Even if they like and respect me, they seem to make a sort of  ‘carve out’ in their heads to accommodate me, as if I was this really nice guy they know who just happened to think he had been abducted by aliens.

I have found that if I discuss low carb with some people, at times it literally makes them uncomfortable. So I’ve stopped, for the most part – and keep my thoughts to myself, to anyone interested (less than I could count on 1 hand in the past 8 years), and this blog.

Now, although this galls me to no end, I have made an uneasy peace with this.  I was already a non-conformist by nature before I went low carb, so people had already categorized me as ‘off the wide part of the bell curve’ already, so my  low carb lifestyle was only a change in degree rather than a change in kind.

I just became a little more wacky to them than before. I didn’t go from normal to wacky.

But what about people who identify with ‘normal’? I’m a pretty live-and-let-live kinda guy, and I don’t expect people to conform to my way of thinking or seeing the world. There are many people, however, that do want their friends and peers to think along the same lines as they do. They like the self-validation of being surrounded by like-minded people.

I suspect that these people have a terrible time at low carb dieting, especially an Atkins-style VLCD (Very Low Carbohydrate Diet) and ketogenic diets. If they were to go on a conventional diet, they have peers who are most likely doing the same thing. They watch their fat intake together and have lively discussions was to the relative merits of the different varieties of Snackwells cookies and Lean Cuisines.

However, if one of this pair were to go on a low carb diet, the camaraderie would disappear in a flash – they would have no common ground, no self-validation that what they are doing is the right thing – either of them – and if the low carb dieter were to assert that those Lean Cuisine frozen dinners were actually doing the other harm, they would probably cross a line in their relationship that could not be fixed until one of them came into alignment with the other.

Sadly, despite the fact that in the decade or so since the Atkins Carb Craze more and more research showing that low carb does indeed have benefits, in general, people still haven’t got the message.

Do you know how damned hard it is to find a yogurt that isn’t low-fat or no fat? It truly drives me batty.

I guarantee you - nearly every one is low fat and full of sugar

So while there have been some gains in the past decade – certainly the demonization of trans fats – for good reason – has taken hold with the general public and the food companies have responded by getting it out of a lot of products, there are still 100 products proudly labeled ‘low-fat’ compared to 1 product labeled ‘low-carb’.

So people who are comfortable in the wide part of the bell curve are going to have to deal with the social pressure of being an outsider – along with all the standard difficulties that come with a low carb diet – like finding products.

Even Gary Taubes mentioned this outsider feeling in an article he wrote for Prevention a few years ago:

 Perhaps the worst aspect of following a diet that most of your peers consider “a fad” is that you may often feel a compulsion to prove that you’re justified in doing so. This requires not just slimming down but actually living longer and remaining healthier than any of your friends. Because bad luck can be as much a factor here as genes and diet, you’re now in a delicate position, one that will last a lifetime (you hope). On the one hand, the temptation to treat your friends’ medical misfortunes as minor or even major victories is compelling, but you’ll have to keep this secret deeply hidden if you want to continue to enjoy their company. Then, of course, should anything unfortunate happen to you–“even moles in [your] front lawn,” as the New York physician Blake Donaldson, an early proponent of carbohydrate-restricted diets, noted in his 1961 memoirs–everyone will blame it on your diet.

Gary Taubes! The man has made this a career as well as his life’s work for over a decade and spent a good portion of that time doing serious research to justify his conclusions – and he still feels an outcast of sorts. Read the article in its entirety – it’s well worth it.

So…what’s the takeaway from all this?

I suppose if my hypothesis is correct that we can predict who has a better chance of succeeding on low carb and who has a better chance of failing on low carb by administering a psychological examination that tests for conformity. Doing a little research on tests of conformity brought me to The Asch Conformity Experiments Here’s a rendering of the test.

Participants were asked which line on the right matched the line on the left.

Easy, Right?

They were in a room with other people – all in on it with the researchers. When the group majority chose the wrong line, the actual research subject did so as well the majority of the time, meaning that a majority of people will go along with the group even if they are fully aware the group is wrong.

Do they do it to avoid conflict or because they want to conform? It doesn’t matter from our perspective – the Low Carb version of the Asch Conformity Experiment will probably see a lot of people bail not because low carb doesn’t work, but because they cannot cope with the social pressures from feeling the outcast.

Another takeaway is that we should be more generous to our brethren at the opposite end of the bell curve above – the vegans and vegetarians. Their way of life might be 180 degrees opposite of ours, but they go through many of the same issues we do in society, worrying about what is being served at some event so that they don’t go hungry for 6 hours, driving to 4 or 5 stores to find the ingredients they want – and then paying an arm and a leg for them, and having to endlessly endlessly explain their choices and their lifestyle to people who think a prefab microwaved TV dinner in plastic leaching chemicals into the food is ‘normal’.

© 2012,


9 thoughts on “Do Low Carb Diets Fail Partly Because of Social Pressure?

  1. I don’t think people who eat LC need special products made to be LC because we could always add the fat (0% fat Greek yogurt + heavy cream).
    I feel sometimes a social pressure to eat like everybody else because my diet could make other people feel like they need an explanation why they eat all that sweet garbage. I look so much better than before that no one questions my life-style choices.

    1. As I don’t like to eat the low fat versions of stuff because of the additives, I *do* have to go to multiple stores to find the full fat versions of stuff. Finding coconut flour is also an ordeal – so is a good, cheap, low carb pasta sauce.

      Also – while you have proven to others that this lifestyle works for you, I’m talking about the folks who are just starting out and have no proof.

      Heck – *I* have proof and people still question it.

  2. So glad we low carbers can rant here. As Asians, we face particular challenges. Nearly every Chinese dishes has is soy sauce, salt and sugar with a sauce that is flour based, unless you go for steamed seafood. In Japan, I cannot even find smoked salmon without sugar. There is not even sardines in spring water. When everybody takes only 30 seconds to order something in a restaurant, it will takes me a 5-minute conversation to make sure things I don’t want do not get in. Just imagine in Chinese, we share dishes! I downplay LC so much when I am among friends, I always said because I had been very low in carbs for many years, I am worried about how my body will react to carbs now in order to get away with details to make me stand out. To be on a positive note, I think after living through a few years of being “different” from others, it has given me a sense of “freedom” of not being compelled to follow and I am happy with the lifestyle right now, because it is what I like and I have decided to live with it.

  3. Well I thought when I was on the paleo diet that I was an outcast and that low carb was the ‘easy’ option. But now I am actually on low carb (<20g) I realise how wrong I was. In fact finding unprocessed foods is not so difficult as you can usually find something with fruits, seeds, nuts, vegetables, meat etc. BUT to find something with <20 g of carbs is NOT easy. I went to whole foods while in Vancouver last week and thought if anyone is going to have some basic meats and veges it will be them but everything had either soy, seeds, nuts etc. Very low carb – unfriendly.

    I also think that most people can understand when you say "I am paleo" because the idea of eating unprocessed foods is intuitive to most. But the idea of eating mountains of fat and meat is NOT. I even showed a friend of mine the Gary Taubes video ( a medical doctor no less) and at the end he agreed with Gary Taubes and said that he thought he was right. But the next day he said that he was going to stick to his low calorie diet because he loves carbs.

    I am starting to draw a conclusion that this is the main reason low carb diets fail…because people just want their carbs.

    1. I have always thought of paleo as in a similar category to the average person. People have been trained and indoctrinated into the the notion that calorie restriction and exercise together is the only way to lose weight and that fat – especially saturated fat – is bad.

      Telling them anything to the contrary ‘Upsets their apple cart’. If you tell them this, they can only come to one of two conclusions: they are wrong or you are wrong. Which one do you think they’ll choose?

      As to the your last sentence – that low carb diets fail because people love carbs…well, that’s why *I* fail! I *love* carbs!

      They just don’t love me.

  4. People love carbs because that’s what we’re designed to eat. Do some research on your tongue we have no taste receptors for meat or dairy. Only sugar basically so we seek out carbohydrates, this diet goes against our physiology. If you want to be a low carber fine, but know you’re most likely going to be miserable and long term it’s just unhealthy. And make sure you eat enough fiber, too bad lots of great fiber is in fruit, probably the healthiest food on earth, but you guys can’t eat that… That would be just awful if you ate fruit LOL. What a joke.

    1. I take it you’re not on board with all this low carb nonsense?
      Relax – I have no plan on outlawing your diet preferences – live and let live.
      Just to be clear: I’m not particularly miserable, enjoy what I eat, and am healthier than I was before low carb (9 years so far). No joke.
      And I do eat fruit from time to time – wonderful stuff.

    2. This isn’t exactly correct Aaron.

      We were designed to desire calories yes. But fruit was available only during the summer, and lower in fructose than our now hybridized strains for maximum appeal. One need only familiarize themselves with the story of Johnny Appleseed and eat a wild apple from it’s fertile crescent origins to understand how far the they’ve come in sweetness.

      So we got slightly fatter in summer on the fruit to get us through the winter. So if you’re going to be completely accurate, and that’s important – we were designed for “Feast and Famine”. However now, our feasts are sweeter, and our famine has been avoided altogether thanks to industrialization. You might familiarize yourself further on fasting HgH1, and it’s benefits. Most importantly how much easier it is on low carb as well.

      Also. Nuts are high in soluble fibers, and of course vegetables, and greens. All low carb. What you seem to have missed is how important fiber is in keeping the fructose in fruit from destroying your organs. Fact : Fructose is chemically identical to alcohol – minus the strand that give you a “buzz”. We understand alcohol to be lethal at high doses and the need for it’s regulation. Why not sugar? A man that abuses alcohol destroys his liver. A man that abuses sugar? Destroys his pancreas. If you need proof look no further than the worlds most famous fruitarian – Steve Jobs, who died of pancreatic cancer. Or the actor that played him and adopted his fruit only diet for on month, only to end up in the emergency groom.

      But most importantly?

      Fruit most certainly isn’t the “healthiest” food on earth. And fruit juice is no better than Red Bull – far too much sugar, with some trace vitamins. But not nearly as much as understood.

      Bottom Line : If nutrition had a dollar value – Greens would be a 1. Fruit a 5. Nut’s and Seeds a 10. And animals and BUGS – a crisp 50. Because they go around eating those greens, and fruits, and nuts and seeds.

      Problem is. We find bugs gross, while any third world inhabitant knows they’re imperitive to survival. And we most importantly eat the wrong parts of the animal – the muscles. Which is idiotic when you observe a lion in the wild. Who eats the nutrient dense organ meats, and offal. Leaving the carcass for scavengers. Whereas we consider all the LEAST nutritious parts a luxury – Filets, etc. Where bone marrow, and organ meats – what we used to eat, when healthier, are where it’s at. Look into “Nose To Tail” eating.

      With all due respect. You’ve got a lot more reading to do. I was agnostic at best when I began to look into this but that was years, and many weeks of reading ago…

      You might start here…

      1. What a load of weird comments. There are only very few minerals and vitamins in meat, it is basically fat, protein and water, plus some hormones, few minerals and micronutriments that got there. If you count on meat to get your antioxidants you are wrong, meat does not bio-magnify nutrients as well as it’s fat concentrates polluants and heavy metals. Vegetables are on average 17 times more nutritious if you go beyond the proteins. I’m sure you will argue that vegetables contain uncomplete proteins, which has been proven wrong (sulfur containing proteins are things that you want to avoid as they acidify your body and make you pee your own calcium) and this is also why ketogenic diets based on animal protein cause growth stunt and osteoporosis in children (some studies on keto for epilepsy showed that.) See this video for citations. It saddens me to see that you don’t see the fact that, if there is no fat in the diet, insulin resistance does not happen, and then carbs are not a problem but the perfect fuel for the human body. Yet all the keto dogma is that without carb you cannot have sugar spikes, but if it makes you only half-healthier with all the possible side effects (i’m thinking about you blood lipids, ldl and hdl). Have you ever considered or tried to understand the fact that carbs are no issue if there is no more insulin resistance when you eat arround 10% of calories from fat?

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