No dietary trend has garnered as much popularity as low carb in the past decade. Where there is popularity, however, there is oftentimes fanaticism.
Let me be absolutely clear, I like low carb – I think it can be an effective fat loss strategy for many. Let me also be clear that I’m not trying to paint every low carber with the same broad stroke. I know many people who follow low carb diets who are sensible and level-headed about their chosen strategy.
But, like clusters of grapes, the vast majority of the more fanatical low carbers are generally subscribe to identical doctrines. I’ve outlined what I think the difference is between the “sensible” low carbers and the “fanatic” low carbers; (For an overview on my criteria for health “cults”, see part I)
Sensible Low Carbers
- Those for whom it works well – those who feel better and don’t feel restricted when they eat lower carb.
- Those who recognize (or at least entertain the idea) that they are eating less food when they are eating lower carb.
- Those who see that they are generally eating more healthily and eating more protein than they were before.
- Those who acknowledge that lower carb diets are typically higher in protein giving it a satiating effect superior to that of “low fat” diets.
- Those who tell people about it from their perspective and offer standpoints from evidence-based perspectives and yet still acknowledge that the research isn’t unequivocally unanimous that low carb is best.
- Those who don’t feel the need to vigilantly keep carbs below 20g/day.
Low Carb Cultists
- Carbs and carbs only are the reason people are fat.
- Insulin is what makes you fat – from eating too many carbs
- Calories don’t matter – it’s all about hormones
- Steer clear of fruit and veggies that might raise your blood sugar
- Whether it’s a twinkie or an apple – it will all make you fat.
- Exercise doesn’t do anything to for fat loss
- “Good Calories, Bad Calories” is infallible.
- Atkins was infallible (and wasn’t fat when he died).
- You should actually keep protein low compared to fat as protein can produce insulin
- Vegetarian/vegan diets will make you sick and fat.
- Low carb eating should be the default diet for everybody when it comes to optimal health and fat loss.
- We should only eat according to how our Palaeolithic ancestors ate – which is very low carb.
- Low carb works because of a metabolic advantage
- Omega-6 fatty acids should be avoided like the plague
- Ketogenic diets are optimal for fat loss
- Hunger and appetite function strictly on physiological pathways.
- Weight stall or gains are almost always “carb creep” or too much protein (insulin)
- Fat people eat no more than skinny people.
- Anyone with a tattoo of a fictional Palaeolithic character.
Typical Logical Fallacies
Strawman: “It’s better than stuffing your face with pasta and eating low fat cookies”.
Appeal to Authority: “Taubes, Eades, Groves, etc. said it…”
Cum hoc ergo propter hoc: “I reduced my carbs and I lost weight – therefore it was the carbs making me fat”.
Proof by verbosity: “Good Calories, Bad Calories has lots of pages of references”
And of course there exists an overwhelming confirmation bias fallacy – taking in only that information that aligns with extreme low carb-ism.
Agree? Disagree? It’s all good – bring the opinions!
Low Carb Sites: The Sensible
The following sites, in my opinion are very good, science-driven even-handed resources for not only low carbers but those who are interested in healthy living in general.
- Carbsane: For my money the most scientifically complete blog on the planet when it comes to debunking the dogmatism of extreme low carb-dom. Very scienc-y but excellent insights and commentary.
- Mr. Low Body Fat: When Muata Kamdibe has something to say, he has my full attention – every time. He is someone who has been in the trenches – undergoing a very impressive transformation through a low carb approach who hasn’t drunk the kool-aide.
- Cassandra Forsythe-Pribanic: An alphabet-soup list of academic credentials and can probably lift more than you. I’ve always appreciated Cassandra’s take on matters of nutrition and training.
- Anthony Colpo: AC is smarter than you are. The author of “The Great Cholesterol Con” and “The Fat Loss Bible”, he is often criticized for his less-than-friendly demeanour but he backs up everything he says with airtight science.
Low Carb Sites: The Fanatic
The following sites, in my opinion are extremist and/or skewed/editorialized to fit an agenda or preconceived idea.
- Livin’ La Vida Low Carb: Jimmy Moore. Once a respectable site in my opinion, Jimmy (who by all accounts seems a very pleasant individual) and his site have spiralled into a delusional realm that is far more preoccupied with launching a low carb empire and spreading the gospel of extreme low carb than bringing about the balance of truth. While I respect that Jimmy has guests on his podcasts that don’t fully conform to extreme low carb, any message that doesn’t fall in line with the extremists is brushed aside and ridiculed by the followers.
- Fred Hahn’s Slow Burn: A double-whammy of narrow-minded dietary and fitness information. Essentially if you’re not into really low carb and really slow training, you don’t know science. Avoid at all costs.
- Zoe Harcombe: While eating “real food” is a good idea, spreading nonsense and misinformation about why people gain and lose weight is not. Oh, and dissenting opinions will not be tolerated on her message boards.
- Weston Price Foundation: This site has “agenda-driven” written all over it. Cherry-picked information, mistruths and half truths abound and the cast majority of their articles are non causa pro causa fallcies.
- Active Low Carber Forums: You either subscribe to a very low carb philosophy, or face the wrath of the edgy low carbers. Prominent nutrition and exercise researcher James Krieger was unceramoniously booted off this site for no reason at all.
- Dr. Michael Eades: Eades was an individual I used to respect greatly. His blog is very thorough and his writing oozes with intellect. Read between the lines, however and it becomes evident (from my perspective) that he has the bias and ego to match the intelligence. He shows a condescending attitude towards those who disagree and will take on easy targets and ignore those who legitimately call him on his woo.
- Mark’s Daily Apple Forum: Mark Sisson is a very smart and VERY fit guy with a massive following. His articles (although Paleo-centric) are well thought out and he doesn’t have the demeanor of a cult leader . Visit his forums however and the Paleo-centricity is over-the-top and VERY cultish.
If you have a couple of spare weeks on your hands, here are some of the more compelling debates of the extreme low carb camps vs. the middle ground folks. I think the most important thing about these discussions is to see them as an opportunity to learn something.
- Martin Berkhan sparked a hard-hitting discussion on his “Low Carb Taliban” post a couple of years ago.
- Alan Aragon whipped the “fructose-is-poison” crowd into a tizzy with his dissenting opinion on the role of fructose in obesity.
- James Krieger’s “Good Calories, Bad Calories” critique stoked some heated discussions.
- Carbsane’s 11 Critical Conclusions of Taubes made for some healthy debate.
- JP Fitness Forums: A heated debate about the laws of thermodynamics.
Low carb can be a very safe and effective approach to fat loss and managing blood sugar. There is no need, however for most people to be overly restrictive of carbohydrates. Of course individual differences must be taken into account when choosing the best dietary approach and for some, lower carb (and even much lower carb) are both effective and palatable. There is no noticeable health or fat loss advantage to eating moderate carbs to very little carbs, however in longer term studies. In fact, eating a less restrictive diet is much better for long-term success.
Any thoughts as to which sites should be included/excluded to this list or additional suggestions?
Image Credit: flickr/drbertdelgado