Monday, April 28, 2008

"Good Calories Bad Calories" Redux

I had the opportunity today to view Walter's post entitled Carbs not Calories. It's unusual to have a post from Walter, so I regard them with great interest. He usually refers to something important, if often in a very brief way.

While Walter's Carbs not Calories post looks brief, it is actually a Google Video that has a lecture that lasts over an hour. I had been wanting to find time to view it, and I had the chance this afternoon. In the video, Gary Taubes, a science journalist of apparently great renown, author of Good Calories Bad Calories, challenges the basic hypothesis of weight control (weight is a direct function of calorie intake less energy expenditure) and would replace it with "Dietary carbohydrates = insulin = storage of fat."

While we have heard this before in the popular "fad diet" press (the Atkin's diet being the most famous), Taubes does a very good job of showing that the old hypothesis has not been able to explain obesity in vast numbers of people in cultural settings other than white, middle class America, but the "new" paradigm does give that explanation in all cultures and is, in fact, based on nutritional science that was pretty much settled by 1949.

As I listened to the lecture I thought about Weight Watchers, which, when I began attending, was founded on the old paradigm and, to a very important extent, continues to be so today. But over the years I have attended, I have seen a subtle shift towards the idea of "good" calories vs. "bad" calories. And within the last two or three years WW has added an alternative approach called "Core". What "Core" does is allow one to eat as many "Core" foods as he wishes, but keep a "Point" diary with regard to "non-Core" foods, that is, limit non-Core foods. The "non-Core" foods tend to be carbohydrates.

If Gary Taubes is correct, then the weight loss I have been able to achieve arises not merely because I have eaten less, but because I have also shifted my eating to "healthy foods" (a big part of WW now) and, in lowering the amount of food I eat in the first place, lowering the amount of carbohydrates. So far WW has yet to come out and expressly disavow the old paradigm, but it may get there at some point. Meanwhile, I think I know what to do.

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