I find it amusing from the perspective of a guy who actively seeks out saturated fat in his diet that people are still stigmatized for going on a low carb diet. Despite the fact that a lot of research has come out in recent years vindicating low carb diets from being labeled dangerous quackery, I STILL find it challenging to find a full-fat yogurt or 80% lean ground beef in my grocery store as everyone still seems so enamored of low-fat options.
Something about low carb elicits a sense of revulsion in many people – so much so that many low carbers go to great lengths to hide their adherence to low carb.
Why is that? Why would low carb – just one of many diet approaches you can find in your bookstore alongside some very wacky alternatives – be marked with a scarlet letter?
Here’s some of my guesses:
Low carbers usually eat dead animals. Straight off, we’ve just pissed off every member of PETA. It has 750,000 members as well as a lot of non-member supporters. At the least, they think us misguided. At worst, we are complicit in murder. Any ‘ethical’ vegetarian / vegan considers us less enlightened than they are.
But wait: the line of haters gets longer. There are ‘environmental’ vegans / vegetarians that make the argument that the food that feeds the animals we eat could feed the millions, if not billions, of people starving in the world. While there is some truth to this, there are also areas of the world that can’t be farmed and the best way to utilize them is to allow animals to feed in these areas and then consume the animals. There are also crops grown to produce ethanol for cars that could be turned into food, so low carbers are not the only people potentially diverting food from the starving masses, as well as ‘artificial scarcity’, graft, petty political games, and bureaucratic bumbling that makes feeding the starving harder than it should be, but these entities are mostly faceless. We low carbers put a face on this when we chow down on our steaks.
There are also a number of religions that embrace vegetarianism to varying degrees and we offend them in varying degrees.
We eat fat and are fat. Being fat is not fashionable. As recent as the late 1800s, being fat was not considered some moral flaw. In fact, it was a sign of status. Now it has cast an umbrella of gluttony, sloth, greed, and lack of self-control upon huge swaths of people, as well as making fat folks the brunt of jokes in the best of circumstances. That doesn’t even begin to address our relationships with the opposite sex, which for both men and women can place them on the sidelines despite the fact that many of us are wonderful individuals worthy of romance and love.
If you are fat and were to go on a low-calorie diet combined with exercise, you would be given a small pass – no, you wouldn’t necessarily be accepted until you met the ‘ideal’ body-type (more so for women than men) but your suffering would at least turn disdain into the only slightly less loathsome emotion of sympathy.
If you are fat and start eating a lot of fat as part of a low carb diet, the stigma on both eating fat and being fat combines to make you almost a criminal in some people’s minds. If you give a whit about what other people think of you, this can be tough going – especially at the start.
We eat contrary to what is considered ‘healthy’. It has been fashionable for 50 years to think that eating fat makes you fat, saturated fat causes heart disease, and low-calorie, low fat ‘balanced’ diets with plenty of exercise is the only healthy way to lose weight. There are so many things wrong with this notion I don’t know where to begin. I’m not going to get all ‘sciency’ here – there are many people much smarter than I who explain the science much better and with far more wit than I – but instead I want to address the psychological aspects.
Despite the fact that, if we are making smart low carb food choices and our personal makeup responds to a low carb diet, better health CAN be achieved through low carb for many people. But when you eat that steak covered in melted bleu cheese while your dinner companion chooses some tarted-up item from the ‘diet’ menu, something seems so wrong. You create a cognitive dissonance in your dinner companion that usually gets explained away by them as: you are out of your mind. How else could they enjoy their diet meal without taking this position? If they are committed to a low calorie ‘balanced’ diet, you *have* to be crazy to think that low carb works. If you’ve proven low carb works by losing weight, then they have to then believe that you are endangering your health.
We crave self-validation, and low carb diets don’t validate low calorie diets – we are able to eat things low-calorie dieters can only dream of, in portions sizes they can’t come near. We are the fly in their soup, so to speak, and they must come up with some personal narrative to explain their own adherence to a low-calorie diet.
The result ranges from bemused tolerance for our delusion to overt attack.
The skinny on this is: low carb works for some people. I find it pretty neat myself, having lost weight twice on low calorie diets but finding them unsustainable as I was hungry all the time.
I’ll take the social stigma to live a life eating what I enjoy.