I remember as a kid, whenever the popular press reported something people didn’t want to hear – oh, let’s say that all that margarine that was supposed to be good for us was suddenly pronounced bad for us – there was always a person who would trot out this old saw: “You know, science says that bumble bees can’t fly.”
This was supposed to be a way to diss science, call it a poopyhead, and use what is known as the ‘poisoning the well’ logical fallacy. “Well, science goofed on that bumble bee thing because every dope knows bumble bees DO fly. So this particular fact of the day must be wrong as well.”
It’s flawed reasoning.
(By the way, ‘science’ never said bumble bees don’t fly. This oft-repeated comment was stupid on so many levels.)
Science DOES get it right – a lot. Think of rockets, moon shots and even your humdrum jet flight. Those things weigh 400 tons and routinely leap into the air, serve lousy food, and bore the crap of everyone onboard, including the crew, until landing hundreds, if not thousands of miles away. Plane crashes make the news because they are so rare.
There’s a lot of science in that plane flight – and the fact that planes fly pretty much prove the science behind it. Thanks to Isaac Newton and all his successors in the field of Newtonian physics, we have that science pretty much figured out.
When we delve into the physics of the very large – like astrophysics – and the very small – like subatomic particles – that’s where we begin to get twisted in our shorts a bit. Problem is – many of the answers are completely unknowable.
How old is the Universe? 13 billion years old? 20 billion years old? 7,000 years old? Or was it created a moment ago and all your past memories were implanted that very second? It’s a fun debate if you don’t take yourself too seriously and have an interest in debating these things, but it doesn’t matter to the vast majority of people who don’t give a shit. They don’t very much care how old the universe is, nor do they care much about Newtonian physics – but they are sure glad that the plane that they and their families get on has a very high probability of not crashing.
So onto low carb. The other day I got one of Anthony Colpo’s email newsletters. Anthony wrote ‘The Great Cholesterol Con‘ which was the second book on nutrition I read after the Atkins book. Anthony is smart, sharp, witty, insightful, does not suffer fools, and his blog is a pleasure to read – though he utterly trashes low carb. I don’t like my information one-sided, and this one-time darling of the low carb crowd will eloquently and elegantly trash low carbers (as well as vegans – he doesn’t like them, either).
In this particular posting he trashes Gary Taubs – a journalist credited to helping to start the low carb craze in the early 2000s with the article ‘What if it’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?‘ and Robert Lustig, a pediatrician who had a long technical lecture on Youtube called ‘Sugar: the Bitter Truth‘ that got has been watched 3.7 million times and after this accidential fame landed a book deal and wrote ‘Fat Chance‘ which I got as an audio book and thought it a decent listen.
He shows pictures of both these gentlemen. Both are overweight. OK, Anthony – cheap shot – but you made your point. Anthony Colpo is pumped. Good for him. Anthony, whatever you are doing – keep it up, dude – and I will always enjoy your books and your blog.
He also included a link to a great article ‘Why Calories Count‘. In it you will learn why low carb diets aren’t better than caloric restriction and why exercise is good. It is very well-written and worth the read.
But…here I sit nearly 10 years after I started on a (mostly) low carb diet 60 pounds lighter than a decade ago. Anthony Colpo and his friend at Impruvism (I’ll have to read more by this gentleman) explain that low carb diets don’t work in the long run and do so elegantly. It’s all smoke and mirrors and ultimately unsustainable.
OK…but again – I am 60 pounds lighter than I was a decade ago. I enjoy what I eat. I don’t go hungry. I also don’t exercise though I know I should and would like to.
So, apparently science has proven that I don’t exist! I need to get this information to the IRS ASAP as I filed a tax extension this year and now that science has proven I don’t exist I won’t have to fill in all those damn forms. Yay!
I think the point I am trying to make here is that while we got that Newtonian physics thing nailed, we don’t quite have that nutrition thing nailed to the same extent. There’s pretty much only one physics round the world – that jet will fly the same no matter where it is in the world.
People, however, are way more complicated. The science that keeps planes in the air is child’s play compared to the science that is going on inside our bodies – and people vary a lot. Some of us would drop dead if we ate a peanut. Many Asians can’t process alcohol properly due to genetics. We are all complicated and unique mishmoshes of traits, tendencies and sensitivities.
Fiery debates among various factions in the world of health and nutrition abound. Even within communities, there can be fierce battles about the tiniest details, when the truth is, essentially, unknowable in my opinion. Pretty much anything that science says has been ‘proven’ in terms of nutrition and especially weight loss must be taken with a grain of salt – again, in my humble opinion.
All I know for a fact is that I am 60 pound lighter that I once was, and as endless food journals posted on my blog show, I’m a pretty awful low carb dieter and I eat a lot. I also sit on my ass in an office during the week – and look forward to sitting on my ass during the weekend.
I will never look like Anthony Colpo. I am a natural-born endomorph and my goal is to be a less extreme version of an endomorph – something probably similar to the goals Robert Lustig and Gary Taubs apparently have, based on the photos Anthony posted. It might be possible to have a body like Anthony Colpo’s if I really tried – but I am too lazy. Does that make me a bad person? There’s no one right way to go through life just as there is no one right way to go on a diet.
Here’s what gets my goat: arguing nutrition is like people arguing about the weather outside in a windowless room. Want to know what the weather is like? Stop arguing and go outside!
Does low carb work? Try it! Maybe it will work for you and maybe it won’t. I tried calorie restriction and exercise and lost weight but couldn’t sustain it. I did it twice. I was hungry all the time. With low carb I eat more food, less exercise, and while I am overweight I am 60 pounds lighter than I was – and have kept a good portion of this off for most of those 10 years.
I don’t pretend to know why low carb works. Some things I hear make sense. some I understand, and surely some I don’t understand, but just like when I get on a plane I don’t need to understand the physics that make it fly – it still flies – you don’t have to BELIEVE in facts – they exist without your agreement.
So bumble bees can’t fly but do, and low carb doesn’t work – except when it does.