Confessions of a Zealot

Ok, I’m going to make some shameful confessions here.  I’m going to fess up to some recent indulgences in conspiratorial thought-crime.  You’re the third person I’ve told about this.  The first person that knew was my conservative friend.  Then I discussed it with a liberal friend a few days later.  Now, I’m going public, and confessing to it all, so that we might learn how conspiracy-mongering can lead us down paths we just kind of want to be true.

First, in my defense, let me first tell you that I’m drawn to all conspiracy theories.  It’s my kind of fun, because it’s controversial, and it’s like solving a mystery, figuring out who’s right and who’s wrong, wasting your advanced degrees to interpret crackpot evidence, and so on.  And I usually find conspiracy arguments irresistible, because they’re so juicy and titillating.  It’s an offer to get in on the ground floor of being right while everyone else is wrong.

And even when they all turn out to be “fake”, it was still worth the effort, especially when they’re well-constructed and intelligent conspiracies.  (Good ones are long-lived, and have a continuous body of research growing around them.)

Let me just tell you right now that I fell for the “Hillary Clinton has late-stage Parkinson Disease” conspiracy theory, at least for a day.  Of course, that day was Sept 11, 2016, when she suffered what looked like a seizure while Secret Service agents hurriedly tried to push her limp body (yet rigid neck) into her campaign van and cart her off the scene.

I’d been primed to believe in some Hillary brain damage, because I’d seen these conspiracy theory videos the month before.  The old ones weren’t convincing at all, but at least I knew there were some “researchers” trying to prove she was hiding something serious from all of us.  Then the Zdenek Gazda cellphone video of her Sept 11 collapse went viral on mainstream news and became the 21st century Zapruder film for a day.

Suddenly, I’m thinking, OMG … Hillary has Parkinson Disease or something.  Then the juicy titillation, “OMG, her campaign is over!”  (I’m not the only one who watches 24 hour news channels kind of hoping for apocalyptic events.)  Ok, I’m not a Hillary supporter, and I’m probably just like the 70% of people polled that don’t like/trust her.  But I think Trump is an idiot, and I don’t plan on voting for anyone in November.

Then I call up my conservative friend, who hates Hillary, and thinks Obama is “the worst president in US history, by far”.  We start feeding each other’s suspicions of the Left, and the Media (the same), and say-anything-do-anything-for-power Hillary Clinton, and before you know it, we arrive at the conclusion that she has some advanced, terminal neurological disease, but she just wants to get into power anyways.  (My friend led the way, since he’d seen a lot of this on Alex Jones’ InfoWars show.)  Of course, we had to dismiss her 90-minute turn-around appearance in front of Chelsea’s NY apartment, but that’s how brain diseases are (certainly it’s more consistent with the symptoms than the purported pneumonia). <– self-sarcasm

So that how it goes.  If you’re suspicious of power/authority, for whatever reasons, and you think you have good reason to know they’re lying on some specific issue, you start filling in the picture with what you really think is going on (i.e., you see conspiracy).  It’s pretty natural.  And it’s probably even more pronounced with issues we care about emotionally, or viscerally.  Our brains are wired to perceive things along left/right political alignments, and we’ll make the facts fit our biases.

I calmed down after that phone call, because it all didn’t really line up with my current obsessions.  But I watched some Alex Jones videos the next day (Sept 12), and enjoyed the entertainment, and seeing him beside himself over the possibility that the Hillary brain disease conspiracy might actually be true!  It was like watching a kid at Christmas, and he give an on-fire performance.  All the over-the-top lines were delivered with a little more gusto than usual, because there was actually a chance he might be right (and more importantly, everyone else was wrong) this time.

When you notice the Alex Jones style, he starts by stating a few facts, then weaves them together in a semi-plausible way, then extrapolates them to new over-the-top cartoonish heights.  And it’s not that he expects to be taken literally, but again, he and his audience want to believe in their characterizations of the other side.  It makes them feel good.  It all doesn’t have to be true, but only some of it has to be true, in a way that proves the other side wrong.

So when Hillary held a press conference a few days later, and resumed her very active campaign, I figured she was as fit as a 69 year old would be under the stress of her office and obligations.  Of course she’s very mentally sharp, and it’s very unlikely that she and her doctors could or would hide a serious condition like PD or brain cancer from the world.  Yet the true believers will still make videos, and continually adjust the story to fit the facts as they see them.  Who knows, they might be right.  After all, Ronald Regan probably did exhibit some Alzheimer’s symptoms in office.

Anyways, I’ll admit to getting carried away with a narrative I want to believe in.  But I’ll also take credit for eventually examining the claims in detail, and separating my biases from the more objective truth.  My point is there’s always two sides to the story, and even though one side might be driven by more by emotion, it’s important to understand their point of view.

(If I have to spell it out, this is why some of the diet gurus you love-to-hate say the things they do.  At heart, they believe most of what they say to have some basis in fact, no matter what the “experts” say.   But it’s really just an extension of their dietary preferences and biases, cherished beliefs, fear and anxiety about gaining weight, and political beliefs.  They’re not trying to con you.  They’re telling you it has to be true.)

Blood Glucose Response Update

screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-12-31-55-pmConstant fear-mongering by low-carb cranks about blood glucose and insulin spikes causing/indicating diabetes got me a little worried lately.  Well, not really, but, I wanted to see how I measured up to the Kraft OGTT patterns that LCHF advocate Dr. Jeffry Gerber presents in his talks.  I saw the FreeStyle Precision Neo blood glucose meter for about $20, and 50 testing strips for another $20 at the store yesterday.  So I figured I’d spend $40 to see if 3 years of losing weight on a high-carb, low-fat diet is killing me or not.

Instead of 100g of glucose for breakfast, I ran the test with a more appetizing 140g of homemade sourdough Rye bread with 5g of butter.  This totals about 450 kcal, similar to 100g of glucose, but admittedly with a much lower glycemic index of 41 or so (like it matters).  Anyway, the current fear-mongering is that grains, especially bread, will kill you, so I figured I wasn’t cheating too much.

Surprisingly, my transient response was much better than I thought it’d be.  Based on all the Jimmy Moore podcasts I listen to regularly, I thought it’d spike to around 300 mg/dL, and maybe never come down :)  Instead, my fasting blood glucose (FBG) was only 83 mg/dL (lower than I remember a few years ago), and the post-prandial response was basically over in an hour.  Then I slowly returned to my FBG in the low 80’s.

This was pretty encouraging that my high-carb, low-fat (HCLF) diet isn’t killing me.  I eat ad libitum, and although I eat lots of refined flours, I make sure to exercise and eat a lot of greens and vegetables too.  I also drink a lot of sugar in the form of fruit smoothies (and Cokes on long bike rides), but I probably burn a lot of calories riding 200 km/wk.  So far, it’s been easy to maintain my >25kg weight loss, which I attribute to veggies and exercise.

Attending Low Carb 2016 San Diego

Just for lulz, I attended the 2016 Low Carb USA conference here in downtown San Diego.  I saw all of my “heros” (haha), especially Gary Taubes.  Yes, he gave the same talk he’s given for the last eight years, but it was different to politely experience it live versus screaming at the YouTube screen at home.

I describe some of my impressions in the video, but overall the experience was worthwhile, because I finally gained that missing piece that explains how these gurus can go on year-after-year, day-after-day, tweet-after-tweet proclaiming “carbs make you fat” against the whole body of scientific knowledge and research, and that “everything you know about nutrition is wrong”.

First, almost all of the speakers acknowledged that mainstream science holds their views to be “crazy” (Dr. Jason Fung’s words) or even in the realm of quackery (Gary Taubes’ words).  Yet overall, this group of HFLC / ketogenic diet doctors and promoters see themselves as rebels of the medical establishment, and revolutionaries against the dogma of the US Dietary Guidelines that unjustly demonize saturated fats.

Well, they actually make some valid points, but they seem more as curiosities rather than compelling arguments for ketogenic diets.  So sure, it looks like there’s some data now that keto diets doesn’t cause CVD (people have zero CAC scores to prove it; they attain a healthy weight and exercise, so it’s intuitive that it won’t kill them).  And there are some ultra-endurance runners who perform equally well while training keto.  (But, it looks like they probably use carbs in competition, and maybe even throughout the racing season.)

Of course, keto diets still haven’t found much application is sports requiring explosive performance, and if they do, people still need their glycogen stores (they do restore themselves even under a keto diet).

And low-carb diets look to me like pointless torture, compared to the many healthy ways to enjoy ad libitum carbs like bread, tortillas, pasta, and potatoes.  But many people are terrified of carbs, especially when they’re sedentary, and feel that meats are a superior choice over starches.  I say they’re overthinking their diets.

But most importantly, these low-carb gurus believe their stories about Ancel Keys, George McGovern, and the 1980 US Dietary Guidelines causing the worldwide obesity epidemic for one main reason.  They believe in their false characterizations, because they want to believe it.  It falls in line with their view of the world (especially their skepticism of “experts” and any government policy), and justifies their dietary preferences.  They don’t want to hear anything else.  But ask them what’s wrong with the way people eat, and they won’t stop talking.

#NoHandsWednesday Ride

OG reunion last night on the Dos Llantas #NoHandsWednesday ride, plus a little mix-in from #MondayNightSmackdown.  I’m more than 2x older than all these kids, except for Mark on my right.

Bad Science 2: The Irony

badScienceI bought Gary Taubes’ Bad Science: The Short Life and Weird Times of Cold Fusion back in 1990 or so.  I didn’t get around to reading it until this year, well over 25 years later.  I bought the hardcover when I was about 25 years old, and just wasn’t sufficiently cynical yet to enjoy it.  This year, I knew what it offered, and whet my chops and dug into it.  I couldn’t put it down until I read most of it a few days later.  Lots of lulz on Pons and Fleischmann, but particularly Stanley Pons.  Taubes painted him as somewhat inept, and totally out of his electrochemistry league trying to claim a breakthrough in nuclear physics.   Desperately trying to defend the impossible (significant excess heat from a simple electrochemical cell), Pons squirms to avoid the press, skeptics, and peers seeking to replicate his “results”.  Its pure schadenfreude at it’s finest.

I remember the Pons and Fleischmann premature announcement hitting the news.  I was in grad school, and discussed it with friends.  We were very skeptical of the claims, and after a day, knew it was a total joke.  And the world remembers it that way too.  Pons and Fleischmann are now synonyms for bad science, and cold fusion is the poster child for pathological science (fixed-idea cranks forever trying to “prove” their pet beliefs).

Fast-forward 30 years, and the tables have turned.  Taubes switched from reporting on science to inserting himself into what he calls one of the weakest sciences, nutrition.  He formed a non-profit (NuSI), to drive his self-proclaimed “Manhattan Project of Obesity” featuring metabolic ward studies aimed at determining once-and-for-all if it’s the carbs or the calories that make us fat.

I never understood how he could say with a straight face that “carbs literally make you fat”, or “what if everything you’ve been told about nutrition was wrong?”, or when he suggests that eating unlimited amounts of fat (in a ketogenic state) wouldn’t cause weight gain.  His talks usually involve an hour of dancing around the 1st Law of Thermodynamics.  He then points out a few small populations that he says got obese during famines.  He says that all the experiments showing that calories drive weight changes, not macronutrient composition, were done wrong.  And just about every sentence he utters makes you want to gouge your eyes out.  Especially the one about Occam’s Razor supporting his position.

But what drives people even crazier is trying to figure out why he’s doing this.  You might immediately think he’s doing it for the money, which has indeed been very rewarding for him.  But then you think no, no one would subject themselves to such ridicule for so loudly touting a simplistic idea thats been dismissed a long time ago.  In fact, he’s kept a very low profile all these years, avoiding his critics in any format (live, interview, social media, etc.), with the one-time exception of a disastrous debate with Alan Aragon.  Taubes himself says he understands why people would consider him a quack.

But can he really believe his own “Alternative Hypothesis” of obesity?  I guess you can discount all the existing evidence,  once you get it in your head that “everyone’s wrong”.  And what could make “everyone” be wrong, seeing as how science is self-correcting, and who’d miss the chance to scoop everyone with the correct solution?  A conspiracy perhaps, as members parrot the party line (“dogma”).  And why a conspiracy?  Well, maybe complacency, or group-think, or professional coercion (see “Yudkin vs. Keys”).  And who put this idea into Taubes’ mind?  Dr. Robert Atkins and his New Diet Revolution.  And why would he believe it?  Because it fit with Taubes’ own dietary biases and experiences.  So why could Taubes break the conspiracy?  Because he’s an outsider.  And wouldn’t it be great if I was right, and proved everybody wrong?

That actually makes some sense.  People will firmly retrench in their convictions when they feel surrounded by the enemy.  Then good luck trying to tell them they might be wrong.  There’s times when we’re convinced we’re right, and that everyone else is wrong.  It’s human nature, part of an independent mind, which occasionally pays off.  We trust our intuition.  And sometimes we get very stubborn.

But wouldn’t a normal person stop and think, “Can I really go against the consensus belief, and claim that all of science has it wrong, and I have it right?  On the national stage?”  Well, you need a catchy premise to pitch a book, and that kind of idea sells, so you go for it.  After all, you can’t go around promoting a book as, “well, maybe carbohydrates cause weight gain because of insulin, but maybe not”.  No producer would book you on their show, and no one would listen if they did.

So then how did it all escalate to forming your own non-profit foundation and raising hundreds of millions to actually scientifically test your hypothesis with the leading experts in the field?  Who knows.  It might have started in conversations with like-minded authors and researchers.  I guess you convince yourselves that its a good idea.  You can fund the studies you always wanted to see, and pay yourself to do it.  And the scientific community will learn something in the end, right?

But here we are, and the first results from the NuSI Energy Balance Consortium metabolic studies are out and things are looking bad for Taubes’ carbohydrate-insulin theory of obesity.  The results confirm prior studies, and what people expect, given our very evolved metabolism that can efficiently extract and store almost all the energy from our dietary fat and carbohydrate.  Just think “Twinkie Diet”, and why it works.  To a very good first-order, it’s the total calories that count, not the macro-nutrient composition of the diet.

And it looks like Taubes won’t even accept the results of his own studies.  Does that make him dishonest, or just a crank?  There are plenty of celebrity cranks (Jenny McCarthy, e.g.).  Is it the ego that won’t let them admit mistake?  That makes some sense.  They had to have a pretty big ego to first promote such an unlikely and criticized theory.  Turning back would look pretty bad.  Or they might just be convinced they’re right.  There’s enough murkiness in the details to give them eternal hope.

People have speculated former NuSI President Peter Attia quietly left his post late last year because he saw the writing on the wall.  That’s understandable, as his reputation wasn’t entirely invested into the “Alternative Hypothesis” as Taubes is.

So who will write Bad Science 2?  I doubt anyone will, because the original Bad Science probably didn’t sell very well.  As another irony, what it mostly did for Taubes was to give him writing awards and scientific credibility to write best-selling diet books.  And as Dr. Michael Eades himself says, a successful book is all about the marketability of the author, not the content of the book itself.

So what will happen to Gary Taubes?  Even if all the NuSI studies come out to totally discredit the carbohydrate-insulin theory of obesity, he’s not going to suffer personally.  He’s been heavily criticized by some, and fawningly idolized by others for the last 15+ years.  He looks just fine, maybe a little bit older.  Plus, low-carbs diets will never die, so he’ll always have a friendly audience.  What have you seen of him over the last 15 years to make you think he’ll change his mind?  Taubes will not be following Stanley Pons in exile to France.

Sure there’s people out there who think he’s acted in bad faith the whole way through this 15 year affair.  I think it’s really hard to outright lie for that long, convincingly, in front of audiences over and over.  I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he was speaking from some type of conviction.  But I’m sure he was well aware of the money the gig was producing.  And I don’t have any problems with that, because it was all funded willingly by people who wanted to believe what Taubes was saying, and will continue to believe, no matter what his own studies reveal.

Gary Taubes Proves a Calorie is a Calorie

Well, the first long-awaited results of the NuSI metabolic ward studies comparing high-carb vs. ketogenic diets were publicly released today.   Nutrition nerds around the world hung on to every word between interviewer Dr. Yoni Freedhoff and principal investigator Dr. Kevin Hall live via Periscope from an ICO 2016 poster session.

Take note.  This is not some “bro-science” nutrition video, but a walk-thru of actual pre-publication data from the first NuSI Energy Balance Consortium paper.  This was to be Gary Taubes’ RCT-to-end-all-RCTs, nobody-has-ever-measured-it-properly-before, let’s determine once-and-for-all if a “calorie is a calorie” or if “carbs make you fat” study.

This highly controlled laboratory study will help determine whether it’s the total amount of calories you eat or the proportion of fat and carbohydrate in the diet that most importantly drives body weight gain.

The study was seriously expensive, funded in part by the NIH and by $40M NuSI donors Laura and John Arnold. It was designed to measure as accurately as possible the total energy in minus the total energy out of 17 overweight-to-obese subjects, and to measure the body composition changes (DEXA-scan) resulting from about a 300 calorie deficit under a high carb/sugar diet, and then under a ketogenic diet.

The excellent interview tells you everything you need to know.  You’ll see that the subjects lost fat quicker on the 25% sugar high-carb diet than on the 80% fat / 15% protein / 5% carb ketogenic diet (while likely insulin-resistant).  RQ charts show the subjects quickly went to fat oxidation (“fat adaptation”), and C-peptide shows a quick 50% insulin drop in ketosis.  Interestingly, subjects lost lean mass in ketosis, but not under the high-carb diet.  Dr. Hall found no metabolic advantage for the ketogenic diet, and concludes that results falsify Taubes’ carbohydrate-insulin theory of obesity (the “Alternative Hypothesis”).

Well, this is awkward.  The whole point of the creating the NuSI non-profit was to validate the carb-insulin theory of obesity, and prove that a calorie is not a calorie.  These were to be the definitive metabolic ward studies to end the low-carb vs. high-carb debate.  Well, ironically, it’s first study might just have done that.  Just kidding!  This is just another study any true believer will simply ignore.  The tweets will go on.

30 Day Potato Diet Completed!

I just finished up 30 days on the mostly Potato Diet, officially known as the High Carb Hannah Potato Cleanse, where you eat only potatoes and non-starchy vegetables.  I started “cheating” after a week, and added banana-berry smoothies, and other occasional off-menu items.  I made a summary video, and vlogged about the diet every few days (with weigh-ins).

Overall, the Potato Diet really opened my eyes as to my over-eating, which probably resulted from the “eat-all-you-want” advice of the HCLF vegan community, and from a lack of accountability of my weight.  So my rapid weight loss under a public Potato Diet is probably no surprise to anyone, including Gary Taubes and Jimmy Moore.

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