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A Thanksgiving Week Gary Taubes Update

Posted Aug 26 2008 11:30pm
I'm sure most of us are already thinking about that Thanksgiving turkey, spending time with our families, and watching some down and dirty football later this week. But before you get into full holiday mode, check out the very latest update on Gary Taubes' bestselling health book Good Calories, Bad Calories. With Christmas about a month away and New Year's resolutions coming up soon thereafter, the positive impact of this outstanding book is expected to continue on well into 2008.

Here's the latest news and info on Taubes and his book:


Gary Taubes is still out on the speaking circuit promoting Good Calories, Bad Calories and his latest interview was on the "Quirks & Quarks" radio show with Bob McDonald on CBC Radio over the weekend. Listen to the entire interview by clicking here. Taubes is in perfect form just as he has been in most of his interviews over the past couple of months.


After a book has been out on the market for 90 days, generally the trend for media exposure starts to slow down. But not Good Calories, Bad Calories. I just learned that the book will be featured in TWO magazines coming in January 2008. The first one is Ladies Home Journal which will hit the diet-conscious female market at the PERFECT time for those interested in eating healthy and losing weight. The second one is the Delta Airlines in-flight magazine, a unique opportunity to reach a captive audience of people traveling that month. Be looking for these feature stories and more coming in 2008.


Ever since the release of Good Calories, Bad Calories in late September 2007, questions abound from so many of my readers that they want to learn more about the intricacies of what Gary Taubes wrote about. Although I started a chapter-by-chapter discussion of the book at my forum, some people have had some specific questions that they wanted Taubes to answer directly. He has been gracious enough to answer a few of them for me, including the following:

1. What is his evidence on whether saturated fat is good for you or bad (because it seemed much less clear and he said so in the last chapter)?

TAUBES: I thought I was pretty clear that saturated fat is almost assuredly harmless.

2. People I know who used the Atkins Diet lost a lot of weight, quit the diet, and gained it back. I know that the research is similar: most, though not all people on any diet lose a lot of weight but gain it back. But I don't understand why almost everyone who uses the Atkins Diet (obviously not including Jimmy Moore) quits it and then gains the weight back.

Why do you think they quit it when the Atkins Diet is very successful at helping people lose weight and doesn't expect you to be hungry all the time? This is a real question, not an argument in favor of anything; I'm not a fundamentalist and don't have a "position"about what is and isn't good to eat.

TAUBES: I think people quit the diet because it's difficult to give up foods you love, without a very good reason. (I liken it to quitting smoking without the knowledge that cigarettes give you lung cancer, but if you've never smoked, that won't mean much to you.) The medical establishment tells us all diets work by cutting calories, so it doesn't matter what we eat less of so long as we eat less. Our physicians tell us the diet will kill us. And then we crave foods that everybody else gets to eat.

So we start having a little dessert at dinner, because everyone else is having it. We have a few bites of our wives' or girlfriends' pasta, because it looks so good. Then just one bite of the warm bun that the waiter brings us before dinner, or a few
sips of the ice cold beer after a softball game, and the next thing we know we're back to eating carbs. Imagine trying to quit smoking, if no one ever told you that cigarettes were bad for you, if all your friends smoked, and they thought it was ridiculous that you didn't. All these things contribute to people falling off the diet. This is what happened to me the first time I tried it.

I think if people were told carbohydrates make them fat, they would find it easier to remain on the diet. Or at least when they fall off it, they would know what to expect and why. Another possible factor is that people try to do the diet low-fat or low-calorie, and so this might leave them hungrier or more lethargic. I don't know, but it's possible. This is one of the things I'd like to see research on in an ideal world.

3. I loved Gary Taubes's book, and I immediately quit eating flour and sugar, and immediately started to lose weight. The question is, what are the most healthy things I should eat instead of all that bread, pasta, and sweets? I think Taubes is probably right that we don't have a scientific answer for that yet because scientists are just beginning to take a look at it.

TAUBES: I agree we don't have a scientific answer. I eat a lot of meat, but that's just my own preference. Every once in a while I get a perverse urge to eat fish and see if I feel any healthier doing so and then I backslide to the meat. It's quite possible that it doesn't make much difference. My gut feeling is that non-carb foods are mostly neutral, and so once you remove the negative effect of these carbohydrates any other dietary variations will have very minimal effect on your health and longevity.

What I think you'll find after awhile is that you don't need to replace the bread, pasta and sweets anymore than an ex-smoker needs to find something to replace cigarettes. After a few weeks, you stop missing them. (My wife used to ask me if I missed pasta, and my reply was "not as much as I miss cigarettes and I quit smoking in 1997.") After a few years, you can't really imagine any good reason to eat them. If your experience is anything like mine, you'll lose your sweet tooth after awhile and with it any urges you might have to eat sweets.


There's been a ton of buzz happening within the blogosphere over Good Calories, Bad Calories and it's not all that bad either. The following is just a quick sampling of the ones that caught my eye:

Boing Boing
So Quoted
Skinny Daily Post
The BrandWiki
Once Upon A Diet
Lisa's Day (scroll to the bottom)
Weight of the Evidence
Tierney Lab
Diabetes Update
Denver Your Hub


One of the criticisms being thrown at Gary Taubes is that he cherry-picked the studies he cites in Good Calories, Bad Calories. In fact, one of my readers recently left a comment at my blog inquiring about specific research that was missing from the book. Here's what the reader wrote in his comment:

The Keim study took 2 groups of overweight women and had them on various exercise and diet regimes. The interesting part is the group of women who started on a weight maintenance diet with no exercise for 2 weeks. This established the baseline number of calories necessary for them to maintain their weight. They then stayed on this diet for the next 12 weeks but added treadmill exercise for 6 days each week. They lost an average of 0.5kg per week.In his NY magazine article

Taubes wrote, "As for those people who insist that exercise has been the key to their weight-loss programs, the one thing we’d have to wonder is whether they changed their diets as well." Well, in this case they most certainly did not change their diet and exercise sure seems like it was the key to their losing weight.

Keim NL, Barbieri TF, Van Loan MD, Anderson BL. Energy expenditure and physical performance in overweight women: response to training with or without caloric restriction. Metabolism 1990;39:651–8

Taubes did not reference this paper in either GCBC or his New York Magazine article. I would be very interested in his take on the study as it seems to directly contradict his hypothesis that exercise does not lead to weight loss.

Here was Gary Taubes' response to my reader's concerns:

I only have the abstract to go by, but the primary issue here is what is known as an "intervention effect." You change somebody's life in one way by giving them an intervention -- in this case, diet or diet plus exercise -- and you change it in many others as well. You have to intervene to get them to change their behavior, and it's excruciatingly difficult to effect that intervention so that you they only change one factor in their lives, and not multiple related factors.

For instance, say, you tell them you want them to exercise but not eat any more food than you give them. So now, you've instructed, in effect, them to exercise more and live with the hunger (assuming, as I suggest, that expending energy results in a compensatory urge to replete it). This living with hunger concept may not be something they were doing prior to the study, so you've changed their behavior in two ways. And maybe they do so successfully for 12 weeks, but could they keep it up. You don't know.

As for changing their diet, we do not know that these women did not. Certainly we don't know for "certain" as your reader suggests. One problem is that two weeks is not enough to establish weight stability and a weight maintenance diet. So if they were eating donuts, candy, soda, other sweets and other high glycemic index carbs prior to coming into the study, and then they were put on the weight maintenance diet (which might not have included such treats and so the quality of the carbs changes) the effect seen afterward that is assumed to be from exercise, could indeed be a longer term effect of this change in the quality of carbohydrates they were consuming.

And even though you've only told them to exercise, it is quite possible that they take the opportunity, now that they are exercising, to change their diet on their own in subtle ways. They decide, for instance, to forego their evening cocktail, for instance, or to switch from Coke to Diet Coke. This is a problem with all diet and exercise studies. Because you can't do them blinded, the subject knows what their intervention is and they will change their life in ways you can't control for.

Blinding is considered absolutely necessary in drug studies to make sure that the effect you see is indeed from the drug you're testing. Blinding is actually equally necessary in diet and exercise studies, people just pretend it isn't because it can't be done. The key point is that it's very tricky to do these studies correctly so that you control for all the other variables and test for only one. It's effortless to ignore the complications and interpret them to suit your preconceived opinions.


It's not surprising that Gary Taubes would have his critics since he is challenging the conventional wisdom of the status quo regarding diet and health. He could probably have a full-time job of answering all of these opposing viewpoints and he does so as much as he can. Here's one that a reader was concerned went unanswered:

I have been a low carber since May, 2000 but have only recently been mining your website. I have not yet had an opportunity to read Mr. Taubes' book but have been following the discussion on your website and listened/watched links.

In a [non-diet related] discussion group to which I subscribe, Gary Taubes' credibility has been questioned based on the article by Michael Fumento written in March of 2003 in response to Gary Taubes' earlier NY Times Magazine article.

It was pointed out that Michael Fumento's has had a good track record at separating real science from phony science as evidenced in his books "The Myth of Heterosexual Aids" and "Science Under Siege: How the Environmental Misinformation Campaign Is Affecting Our Lives."

The following was posted as a sample from the article:

"Taubes proved as adept at clipping data as at clipping quotes. Thus he claimed that one of the 'reasons to suggest that the low-fat-is-good-health hypothesis has now effectively failed the test of time' is 'that the *percentage* of fat in the American diet has been decreasing for two decades.'

"That's true, but irrelevant. The amount of fat consumed has been steadily climbing, as has consumption of all calories. Individual caloric consumption jumped from 3,300 calories per day in 1970-79 to 3,900 in 1997, an 18 percent increase. Per-person consumption of fat grams increased from 149 to 156, a 4-5 percent increase. 'We're eating just too darned much of everything,' says [John] Farquhar [a Stanford University cardiologist]."

Are you aware of any articles or interviews in which Mr. Taubes has responded to Mr. Fumento's article? Many thanks for any information you can give me.

Actually, yes, I am aware of an excellent response that Gary Taubes provided to Fumento who was merely foaming at the mouth to stand up for the same old tired arguments of the status quo. When you have people like this fighting tooth and nail for what we've always been doing with little results, then is it any wonder why we're still just as fat and sick as ever?


It was bound to happen and quite frankly I'm not surprised--PEOPLE ARE CHANGING THEIR LIVES because of the message of Good Calories, Bad Calories. Whenever you are challenged with clear-cut evidence backed up by the science as is presented in this book, it's almost impossible for it to NOT change you. Here is the first of two examples from my readers:

I just finished Gary Taubes book, Good Calories, Bad Calories; I now know more than I ever wanted to know about the history of diets but still don't know if you can have a glass of wine or not or if he thinks one should use lard instead of butter as he said on Larry King. After all that reading I guess I'm back to the South Beach thing. Maybe you could answer my question. Thanks!

Sure, you can have wine, but keep in mind your body will need to burn off the alcohol and sugars in the wine you consume before fat-burning can commence. Be sure to read Dr. Arthur Agatston's book from cover to cover to make sure you are doing his plan exactly. Best wishes to you! And here's the second:


I got absolutely fascinated with this whole subject when I read a review of Gary Taubes's book. That got me thinking, and I started the South Beach diet. My approach has been more Atkins since I've learned more. In under five weeks I've lost 14 pounds. I am six feet tall and weighed 202 when I started. I'm also feeling better in many ways.

Gary's book is one of the most thought-provoking I've ever read. It's hard to resist trying to share this with others. Thanks for your blog. It seems like a terrific resource.

And CONGRATULATIONS to you for allowing Gary Taubes' book to change your life like it has. Keep up the GREAT work!!!


Hi Jimmy. I think the following quote pretty much sums up the thrust of "Good Calories, Bad Calories":

I never guess. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.

- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

And this is precisely what Gary Taubes was communicating throughout Good Calories, Bad Calories. The bad science is favored over the good, quality research for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is protecting the financial interests of the manufacturing industry providing high-carb junk to the tune of billions of dollars in profits annually. You can't mess with that kind of gravy train without a fight, but Taubes is certainly shining a light on it!

Got any Gary Taubes news to share with me? Feel free to e-mail it to anytime. If you have been impacted by the message of Good Calories, Bad Calories, then I'd love to hear your story and share it with my readers. Keep reading to stay up on all the latest news and information on this groundbreaking book!

Labels: diet, Gary Taubes, Good Calories Bad Calories, health, interview, low-carb, weight loss

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