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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I’m On The Potato Diet!

I have to admit that I’ve become addicted to watching vegan YouTube’rs like High Carb Hannah and her Life Inside A Box daily vlog.  I don’t know if I’m ahead of the curve, or if YouTube is so 2015.  All I know is that it’s a pretty suitable substitute for a real life, and that you can find lots of people that will reinforce your exact world view, in fun-to-watch daily doses.  It’s all-day-long mental candy on Apple TV.

At this point I’m over my obsession of trying to figure out the low-carb mindset, and specifically, how Gary Taubes can say with a straight face that “Carbs literally make you fat.”  I figure people just get obsessed with their mono-mania, and become for all intent and purposes, cranks.  Of course, I’m excused from the latter category, because I’m aware of my mono-mania.

Speaking of mono-mania, did I tell you I’m on the Potato Diet?  First off, diets that are perfectly described with one word + “diet” are the best.  They’re ridiculous and restrictive, and are probably even effective for a few days.  So, yes, the Potato Diet is meant to be comical, but hypothetically intriguing. It’s actually long-term healthy, appetizing, and effective.  It generally works because of it’s lowered palatability and reward (terms specific to the science of overeating) relative to other diets.  Potatoes are nutritionally complete (check cronometer if you don’t believe me).  And it’s a low fat diet (minimal added oils and fats, if any), which can be supplemented with non-starchy veggies.

I otherwise won’t go into the history of the Potato Diet.  It’s surprisingly short, as it’s never enjoyed any fad following.  (Which is totally strange, since there’s libraries of books for every other possible magical diet.)  But that might change, as High Carb Hannah currently has 3k+ Facebook members trying it out right now.  I decided to try it, mostly because it’s silly, and also because I believe in the food-reward model, and was pretty sure I’d finally lose “the last 5 kg” on this diet.  So far, I’m getting faster results than I expected.  I’d been stuck at 80 kg for over a year, eating high-carb, low-fat whole plant based foods that I cooked myself.  I’ve been super healthy and active, cycling 200+ km/week.  But I should weigh 75 kg or less.

I’m documenting my entire Potato Diet experience on my YouTube channel.  On those vlogs, I ramble on about the value of daily weigh-ins and accountability.  I’m eating a lot of roasted potatoes, baked potato fries, hash browns, and Thai potato curries.  I’m eating a bit of fruit, and maybe 10% of my calories from non-potato sources.  It’s still only Day 11 as I write this, but I hope to get down to my goal weight of 75 kg, and to keep it there by closely monitoring and posting my weight in the follow-up.

Losing Weight In a Wheelchair

Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 1.28.41 PMI’ve been sitting on my *ss for a whole month now, after being sidelined with a broken pelvis from a bad bike crash. You can see the CAT scan on my Instagram.

I had been slowly gaining weight prior to the crash, even though I was cycling like a madman. I rode an average of 250 km/week, sometimes even 400 km, all on a fixie, as fast as I could. I was getting frustrated by my weight. I was eating too much unhealthy (non-vegan?) foods, and the scale was moving in the wrong direction. I keep re-learning the same lesson: unhealthy foods lead to over-eating, and you can’t outrun your fork.

After the accident, everyone (including myself) thought I’d gain weight. After all, I was going from 250km/week to sitting in a wheelchair for a month. And my diet is unlimited amounts of carbs. Well, I kept eating the same starch-based diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, minimizing added fats. I just ate a lot less, because I wasn’t hungry.

I never deprived myself, and didn’t worry or obsess about my weight. I could tell I wasn’t putting on any weight, so I just kept eating what I know to be healthy. I ate boxes of pasta, made into simple salads with avocado, onions, peppers, garlic, and tomatoes. I made rice and vegetables, and my usual curries and soups. I ordered big rice and bean burritos, two at a time, from Bearito Repulblic. I ate as much as I wanted, until I was full. This is basic Starch Solution eating.

When I could finally stand again, I thought I’d weigh myself. (I probably wouldn’t have, had I thought I ‘d gained.) As I thought, I lost weight. I weighed myself again a few days later, and confirmed what I felt. I was maintaining my weight with very little physical activity, and not changing my starch and vegetable diet.

Now this might not be good news. I’m afraid of losing left leg muscle while my bones heal. I’m hoping that the body thinks this is just laying around on the couch for a month.

I’ll start off slowly once I’m back on my feet. I’ll keep weighing in, and will stick to a low-fat, whole foods diet. I’d like to end up in better shape in a few months than I was last month before the accident.

Let this be a datapoint: you don’t need to burn thousands of calories a day from physical activity to eat carbs. Carbs by themselves aren’t fattening. The body won’t convert them to fat, unless you really try to overfeed yourself on them. You’re not going to get fat on fruits and vegetables, even sitting in a wheelchair.

Gary Taubes vs. Alan Aragon EPIC Debate

OMG, it finally really happened. Gary Taubes actually agreed to a debate over his “Alternative Hypothesis” of obesity (he blames carbs, not calories). It was long anticipated (scheduled last year), and it finally happened at the EPIC Fitness Summit 2015 last weekend in the UK.

To some obsessed diet nerds, this debate was the Holy Grail we’ve waited our whole lives for. The its-black-and-white, carbs-literally-make-you-fat, I’m-never-wrong Gary Taubes was finally to address his critics (or at least one of them), in person, in a responsive manner.

Usually, the only times we see Gary Taubes is either in some friendly (i.e., “low-carb”) environment, or bullying mild, reasonable people with his boorish behaviour. No one gets an opposing word in edgewise, or he stonewalls against any reasonable questions. And then some crazed low-carb (i.e., overweight) fan comes on to say that Gary Taubes’ books changed their life.

So that’s all you get on the internet. A bunch of old Gary Taubes videos of his “Why We Get Fat” talk, that make you want to scream. Or worse, him and some other fixed-idea nuts like Andreas “The Diet Doctor” Eenfeldt, or Dr. Robert “Fructose is Poison” Lustig enabling their fans’ low-carb hysterics.

And half the idiots believe him. After all, he spent 10 years researching the science, and writing a 600+ page magnum opus, and he’s won the biggest awards in science journalism, and he writes for the New York Times and the BMJ. And what if eating fat doesn’t make you fat? See, that bacon is good for you. It’s all you should eat. Don’t eat any carbs. Carbs literally make you fat.

And it never ends. (Well, maybe after this debate, it might finally stop.) Gary Taubes drove all this low-carb, keto, paleo craziness by making people fear insulin. His description of a normal metabolic process becomes a fat storage horror story.

Thankfully, the crowd of professional trainers and coaches at the EPIC Summit weren’t as gullible as the general public. They provided the perfect audience for Taubes’ “Carbs vs. Calories” debate with Alan Aragon. Personally, I thought Gary Taubes would pull his usual antics, and stonewall against any informed discussion. From Ben Carpenter’s description of the exchange, it sounded like he tried a bit of that, but the informed crowd saw right through it.

I haven’t seen any of the debate video, which should eventually become public. For now, we have Ben Carpenter’s excellent review of the exchange, which he clearly credits Alan Aragon as winning. Thank g*d. Please no more pathological science. Oh, I forgot, there’s still years of NuSI research to waste everyone’s time on.

Alan Aragon posted about the whole experience on the forums:

It wasn’t even an actual debate. It was Gary hypothesizing without supporting research, then me presenting a metric shit-ton of research supporting my position, followed by Gary flippantly dismissing and denying said shit-ton of research. Gary should have approached the debate very differently. The overwhelming consensus was that he got his ass handed to him. I personally was VERY disappointed in Gary’s lack of decorum. He consistently ran way over his time slots, and interrupted me several times during my opening statement, which was very time-sensitive. It was very insulting to the audience, moderator, and of course me. To top things off, he admitted to me that even if NuSI research refuted his position, he likely wouldn’t change his current opinions. So, in essence, he’s not swayed by evidence. Bottom line is that he made a bad impression on everyone.

Dabbling in the Crossfit Gym

IMG_2986I don’t post here very often, but I’m always on Strava and Instagram nowadays. I’m pretty much in maintenance mode, stuck around 79 kg. I don’t think my current habits and psychology will get me down any lower. (Of course, if I ate less, I’d lose weight. But for now, I’m happy enough with my current weight, and I don’t plan on restricting my calories anytime soon.)

Maybe I’ll lose more weight over time. But this will only happen if I learn to eat less food. There’s no magic diet, except for the one that fills you up on the least amount of calories.

I tried a Crossfit workout last week! I was the only newbie in the free Saturday class, but I finished the workout! I never run, but we ran 400m, 800m, and 400m in between modified pull ups and thrusters. I like Crossfit people. They’re very positive and encouraging, even if they’re Paleo 🙂 Of course, I’ve been sore for the last few days.

I found out they run cheap spinning classes, and they’re just a few blocks away from where I live. So, I’m signed up tonight, and will check out their version of a spin workout.

Island Soul Bistro

I rode out to watch local cyclist / competitive eater / body builder Eric TheElectric smash a 12.4 lb food challenge at Island Soul Bistro. Most people can’t handle even 1/4 of this amount of food. Erik demolished the challenge in just 35 minutes, and didn’t have to pay the $70 price tag. The kid has talent.

My food obsession led me to the YouTube channels of a few competitive food eaters. I found it so refreshing that these guys eat insanely, and completely opposite to the orthorexia channels that I usually watch. I saw Erik was local, and found him on Strava too. Now all he has to do is get as famous as Durianrider.

So instead of watching pseudo-science polemics from low-carb or raw vegan advocates, I calmly watch guys eat things like 150 Chicken McNuggets and not panic. The body is amazing, and can handle all kinds of foods and outright abuse. People need to lighten up about their food.

First Twinkies in 20 Years

IMG_2826I don’t remember the last time I ate a Twinkie. They’re so universally maligned, that I don’t know anyone that eats them. Sure, they’re an iconic brand (at least to people over 40 years old), but the reality is that no one in their right mind is going to eat them. They almost went out-of-business last year, and they probably will again.

That said, they were actually pretty good today on the Moment Cycle Sports Sunday ride. After about 70 km of hard riding, we make a fast stop at a 7-11 Store. We never spend too much time resting, so I bust through the doors and grab the first thing that looks edible, then race to get a Coke. Sort of like the way Tour de France racers used to raid cafe’s along the race route (flash mob style, but back in the 50’s, and more-or-less accepted by the business owners.)

Food Challenge Fail :(

I thought it’d be easy enough, after watching people like Matt Stonie eat 12 lbs of food in 20 minutes. I failed the Great White Whale Challenge @ Shakespeare’s Pub. It was 2 lbs of fish + 2 lbs of fries and a bowl of peas. A bridge too far. I ate all of the fries, most of the fish, but barely touched the peas. It stopped feeling good about 15 minutes into the challenge. I gave up with 15 minutes to go, about 7/8th of the way finished. I just didn’t want to make myself sick. The fish and breading tasted horrible at the end. I’m happy I gave up. Blah.