When Dr. Oz, Cameron Diaz, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kim Kadashian all talk up low carb diets, you know that low carb has gone mainstream – again. It did so a decade ago but I think things are different now. In the past decade a lot of new research seems to show that, at the very least, low carb is not the ‘killer diet’ naysayers warned about 10 years ago and a ‘well-managed’ low carb diet might possibly be good for some of us.
For the sciency folks, 2013 brought this viewpoint published in the Journal of the American Medical Association: A Call for the End of the Diet Debates. The central point I take away from this is there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ diet and divergent diets such as low carb, high protein, veganism, paleo, and even old-fashioned calorie-counting, will work for some subgroup of people based on their age, predisposition, genetics and current medical conditions. It is not the diet itself as much as it is how the person responds to the diet and how well they can manage living on it long-term that matter.
Your doctor might try you on a half-dozen different medications to treat a given condition until you both find one that works – why would we have ever suspected that our diets would be any different?
Yes – the diet wars will continue I am sure. There are a lot of people who believe there is one right way to do things – usually theirs – and will argue endlessly for the self-validating honor of ‘being right’.
Meh. I’ve come to find this excruciatingly boring – except for the blogs of Anthony Colpo and Adele Hite, both of whom argue their (very different) positions with such passion and rapier wit (as well as some well-played cheap shots) that I can’t help but to enjoy their posts.
Me? I do what I do and have little desire to convince anyone of anything. I also don’t recommend you thinking anything I write is ‘advice’ – I’m in no position to advise anyone on anything. I’m just a crazy anonymous blogger who likes to string words together for his own amusement and post them on the Internet for the amusement of others and to clutter up search engines.
Low carb is my plan, and I will continue to play with the finer points, but this past year I have found myself looking at a lot of things in a new light – partly because it’s been an awful year for me from a diet perspective.
For the past few months I wasn’t even trying.
A year ago today I was 210. This morning, January 1, 2013, I am 225. 15 pounds is not all that much, but this minor fender-bender of a year is going to turn into a major car-wreck if I don’t break the current pattern.
In October I wrote that I was taking a break until my weight got under 200 – then promptly dropped all but the most superficial pretense of low carb dieting and here I am on the eve of 2014 – fatter than I’ve been in a while.
Meanwhile, this year, perhaps more than in others, I’ve read less and less on the science of low carb itself and more on the history of diets, the psychological and social aspects of food and nutrition, as well as the nature of science itself. Among the books and lectures I have read and listened to – and sometimes struggled to understand – are:
- Science Wars: What Scientists Know and How They Know It
- Dogmatism in Science and Medicine
- Fear of Food
- Paradox of Plenty
- The Power of Habit
- The Willpower Instinct
- Grain Brain
- Food: A Cultural Culinary History
- Fat Chance
- The End of Overeating
So – yeah – the diet part, the science stuff with all the molecules and compounds, micronutrients, macronutrients and the like have not ceased to be important, but even if you full well knew with 100% certainty what to do in order to lose the weight, slay the dragon, get the girl (or guy), and bring about world peace, it doesn’t matter if you’re still eating Cool Whip Frosting out of the container with a spoon. (Which I did last night – I was amazed how this nightmare of partially-hydrogenated oils and sugars bound together with a panoply of other multisyllabic ingredients was able to produce something that tasted so real – it was devilishly good.)
All this research has led me in new and interesting directions. It’s not just the diet, stupid – it’s how you diet – aside from the food – that has intrigued me the most this past year. Just a few of the things, to be specific, are:
- The mind game that surrounds dieting. This mind game is played by us as we think we know what a diet is, as well as the mind game played upon us by a society that – especially in the US – worships indulgence and excess while promoting a body type that can only be attained by waifish teenagers and photoshopped celebrities. Where did this paradox come from?
- What different diets do to the brain. I myself noted a mental change when I did a prolonged bout of ketogenic low carb – what’s up with that? I did some research on that subject and while the science is new, it is intriguing.
- I have also been researching human disgust. Yes – this is actually a branch of science. Disgust is a fascinating human emotion because while it is universal like fear or anger, each culture defines it differently so foods that elicit a ‘yum’ in one part of the world elicit a ‘yuck’ in another. What this has to do with diets is that often you need to abandon certain foods and try new ones to make a diet work but some people find the notion of new foods truly puke-inducing to even think about. Their choices then narrowed to only a few items, their diet becomes unsustainable and they fail. Why is one person’s delicacy another’s food dare – and can we change this about ourselves or is it fixed and immutable? And another thing: why CAN some of us eat the same thing over and over and not be bothered by it?
- Habit and willpower. How do we quash old habits and replace them with new ones? How do we stick to our plan when fatigued, stressed or distracted? What exactly *IS* ‘willpower’, where does it come from and how can we make more of it?
- Exercise. I’ve long-held that exercise is useless and counterproductive for weight loss because it burns such a tiny amount of calories that you would have to spend hour after hour exercising to lose weight. I still believe this, but what if ‘burning calories’ isn’t the point of exercise as part of a weight loss program at all? What if the last thing you ever want to do is try to count the calories burned after exercise but you still should consider it because of other properties it has to promote weight loss?
My hope is that in 2014 I will tackle some of these interesting aspects in more detail and make some sense of them – at least to me – and get to my goal weight of 185 partly because of low carb and partly because I intend to apply some of this new thinking.