Nutritional Fanaticism I: Extreme Low Carbers

By Mike Howard

2731-scientology.jpg 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.

Fierce Conversations

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.

Middle Ground

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


  1. Geo

    To a point yes…however ASP’s production has been shown to increase quite dramatically in the presence of elevated insulin levels. I hypothesize (as many others have before me) that one of the reasons some do well on LC or VLC and others do not, is the slower effect that reduction in insulin levels (that LC and VLC correspond with) does not always correlate well with an immediate ASP drop….My wife is one of those!! Took her 3 months to lose 25 lbs. vs my 3 month drop of ~60 pounds or so back a decade or so ago.

  2. Geo

    No “foisting” from me, just the research that I’ve read over the last decade….and my statements certainly don’t translate to others having to eat a low carb diet to keep insulin down….All of us have differing insulin responses to sugar/carbs. Some can eat the crap out of sugar, and have lower insulin responses, where as some can sniff a Snickers bar and up goes the insulin response is off the charts. The evidence for the above statement, is of course, that we have the disease known as Type II diabetes.

    If there are people out there that can consume carbs at levels that I can’t….and remain healthy…GOD BLESS THEM! Eat a slice of pizza for me! 🙂

  3. thombrogan

    In order for the storage of fat to take place, the hormone insulin must be available, period.

    That would be correct if only acylation stimulating protein didn’t exist.

  4. Mike Howard

    I assure you that you can get fat if you overeat regardless of carb intake.

  5. Mike Howard

    I’ll need to see some evidence of your insulin hypothesis, GEO. Again I’m glad low carb works for you but you can’t extrapolate your results and foist them on the rest of humanity.

  6. Mike Howard

    I’m glad you’ve found what works for you! Low carb isn’t for everybody, although it does work for many as well.

  7. Mike Howard

    Testy eh?

  8. Geo

    In order for the storage of fat to take place, the hormone insulin must be available, period. The more of it in the bloodstream, (which is increased dramatically during short term sugar/carb intake)the better chance that the percieved excess energy in the bloodstream gets stored as fat.

    Keep the insulin levels down (via low or very low carb) and I don’t care how much fat you eat, you won’t get the increas in insulin, thus you won’t store the fat. Much of it will be used in repair of tissues, increased metabolism, or just pissed out as ketones…..and because low carb is naturally satiating (once an addiction to high sugar foods is broken) glucagen (the fat buring hormone) is allowed to perservere in the bloodstream.

    I have TRIED to overeat on very low carb….(3000+ calories) and still do not gain weight (all activity being equal)….however, I was also maintaining weight over several months, eating a 1500-2000 cal/day low fat diet, with much more exercise….so what gives??

    • Michael Banashak

      Caloroes aren’t anything. Energy is a mathematical abstract MADE UP CONCEPT. It is a PROPERTY, NOT STUFF.

  9. WomensHealthyBody

    I have tried low card diets in the past, Atkins and South Beach. I followed them perfectly. I never lost a pound and in fact when following the South Beach Diet I actually felt very off. I did the diet for 3 months and towards the end of the 3 months I started to get very confused at work. I would forget things and mix up clients and orders. The last straw was when I was driving one day and everything went into slow motion and I was very scared that I was going to lose control of my car. Very Scary!! I got off of the diet right away. Isn’t it carbs that they deprive people of in war when they are brainwashing?

    I don’t know but I have never heard a good thing about low carb or no carb diets. I believe in healthy, nutritious, organic, natural foods to fuel your body. I don’t believe in depriving yourself of anything.

  10. Jennifer

    Have you considered workout videos? I can’t afford a gym membership and the videos have been a life changer. Most of them don’t take longer than 30 minutes and take up little space in my living room. Usually all you need are some hand weights, if that.

  11. CarbSane

    Oops … hit Add too soon.

    My biggest problem with Sisson is his “extreme” view that over 150g carb/day leads to insidious weight gain. Over all, his website is replete with grossly inaccurate discussions on science. Many of “definitive guides” are pure fantasy unsupported by even a basic physio text. He has a degree in Bio if I’m not mistaken, so there’s no excuse for this kind of behavior from him. For example he claims body fat comes from excess carbs not excess fat. Not true. Simply not true. No more true than that eating fat necessarily makes you fat.

    • Michael Banashak

      Comes from NEITHER.

  12. CarbSane

    Jimmy Moore has clearly become a fanatic with his repetitious “healthy high fat, moderate protein, low carb” lifestyle. As someone he has censored of late I’m very well aware of this behavior of his that has scrubbed any dissenting opinions from his blog/discussion board. Jimmy used to post everything that wasn’t outright derogatory/offensive but those days are long gone. It makes for a very lopsided presentation of low carbing. This can be seen on the comments of various blogs where only the “another great post XYZ!”, “way to stick it to the stupid low fatties”, etc. type comments make it through.

    But, for example, Jimmy went very extreme with his own diet in January, abandoned it w/o comment/update and has likely regained all of the lost weight by now. He no longer shares that, and when he shifted his diet there were NO comments on his menus blog asking about this. I don’t think everyone who used to comment on such things just went away … do you?

    To his credit, although he’s gotten ever more hyperbolic and extreme, Dr. Davis (Heart Scan) allows dissenting opinions/challenges through (he just doesn’t respond much to questions or criticisms positive or otherwise).

    Mark Sisson is an interesting character. He actually eats a relatively high PUFA low calorie more moderate fat version of “primal” than many of his followers. What’s primal? Anything you can fit into that other 20%. Pretty big fudge factor. I eat according to PB! Grok on!! It’s rather silly, but that’s just my opinion.

  13. seriously

    “about the balance of truth.”

    What is “the balance of truth.”? The truth is just the truth, balance has nothing to do with it. It’s crazy statements like this that make me question anything in an argument.

  14. Dan

    Colpo DID give the choice of eating less OR exercising. Exercising enabled me to lose weight without starving myself of carbs, fats or calories AND enables me to maintain my present low weight while always eating well over 3000 calories a day and not esp. limiting carbs such as from fruit or fat from nuts. The persons I know who don’t exercise but keep their weight off cannot eat so much.

    • Michael Banashak

      Colpo is totally science illiterate. His nrain cannot grasp that energy is NOT A THING, IT IS A CONCEPT ONLY. ABSTRACT. Real physics post docs LAUGH at Colpo…….

      Caloroes NEVER becomemfat tissue. Concepts, enerfy, cannot beco,e actual physical stuff. Caooroes are NOT what builds out fat…..

  15. Geo

    I’d be one of those people….I DECREASED my exercise, while VLC’ing, and the weight just fell off! So if one chooses such a way of eating, it allows for a less disruptive life change, wrt finding “exercise” time.

    BTW, Mike….if you REALLY want a “cultists” site…try reading Charles Washington’s Zeroinginonhealth site….you’ll read some facinating cult mentality there in the “journals” section of their discussion board…yet they are all suprisingly healthy, happy and very content.

  16. Dan

    I may be a big advocate of exercise, but I do know persons who have kept up a weight loss for a long time without much exercise. I don’t find it is possible for me to do this at all, however. Eating so little makes me hate my life. Also, I have found eating little makes me lose weight, but then I stop losing, presumably because my body easily adjusts to a lower calorie level if I don’t exercise.

  17. Eyeroller

    Or Kegels for us ladies 😀

  18. Jim Anderson

    What I take from this post is that bloggers who do not share the author’s views on low-carb are delusional, narrow-minded, intolerant, and condescending. Or perhaps it is not the bloggers themselves who are these things, but, as in the cases of Jimmy Moore and Mark Sisson, the fanatical cultists who follow the bloggers. Then there is the Weston A. Price Foundation, which as others have pointed out, advocates for whole, traditional foods, not low-carb. Yes, the Foundation has an agenda — it’s a foundation! — but it doesn’t fit into a discussion of crazed low-carbers.

    The two blogs on the “Fanatics” list that I have been to (before now) are Moore’s and Sisson’s. I agree with the “empire building” point about Moore, but so what? So the guy has ambition. More people should. I don’t agree that Moore brushes aside “any message that doesn’t fall in line with the extremists.” I have the opposite impression. Perhaps many of Moore’s (and Sisson’s) followers are extremists, and I can see that as a reason to avoid the sites. Then, again, it may be just a reason to avoid the comments on the sites.

    As for the author’s approved blogs, I will check them out. I like dissenting opinions and clear arguments.

    What I’m less fond of are sweeping generalizations with dubious support.

  19. Mike Howard

    Sorry eyeroller,

    while I agree that we live in an obesigenic environment, it’s a cop-out to suggest that there is no time or resources to exercise. If you have 50 sq. ft. of flooring and 10-15/day, you CAN exercise. If you can’t find 10-15 min/day to exercise than I suggest you re-examine your priorities. If you are homeless but still have internet access – same advice.

    We must remember that “resistance training” doesn’t have to be fancy machines or even a bench/barbell set. You can equip a home gym that will give you a variety of potential for full body workouts for under $100.

    The rest of the day find opportunities to move. Commute by bike, take stairs, get a treadmill desk.

    There are ways to exercise regardless of your circumstances.

  20. CarbSane

    I think that the extremely obese should focus their energies on losing through calorie deficit only. Or at least mostly with minor stretching routines and/or walking as is comfortable. This depends on the person’s situation. And more power to those who can get lean and stay that way simply eating low carb or whatever their chosen way. For most, however, activity need be part of the equation.

    I don’t think it needs to be 4hours v. nothing tho. That is what bugs me. You want to know something silly I do? When I set the microwave up to reheat something for 2 min? I do my “maniac dance” (or jumping jacks or leg kicks … whatever! just move!!) until the beeper goes off. Little stuff like this and those cliche things like parking further away, taking stairs, etc. can and do really add up in even the busiest schedule. Heck if your job is sedentary, clench those butt cheeks. You’d be surprised.

    • Michael Banashak

      Calories HAVE NOTHING to do with the mechanisms of physical matter loss and gain. Atoms do NOT burn away or burn up. Calories are NOT ANYTHING.

  21. Mike Howard

    Hi Marie,

    I agree with you re: Mark Sisson. I enjoy his writing too and for the most part agree with what he has to say. It’s the people on his forums that I find to be narrow-minded and uninterested in any discussion that doesn’t align with their paleo/x-fit belief system.

    Oh and stay tuned, the Vegan piece is coming when my laptop decides to work again : )

  22. Mike Howard

    Thank you for clarifying carbsane. I haven’t had much time today/this weekend for responses but tis true – WAP isn’t low carb per se… I have read nourishing traditions so I do undertand what they encompass.

    I included them because they are almost unanimously included on low carb friendly sites as references.

  23. Eyeroller

    If it does indeed turn out that there can be no lasting weight loss without exercise, then it’s going unfortunate for a lot of us, particularly those of us who can’t get by with just light exercise to lose weight. In today’s economic climate, many of us must work 40 or more hours a week, sleep 40 hours a week, and have the rest for food procuring, preparation, and eating, commuting, laundry, cleaning, other chores, fun, etc., etc., etc.. Not everyone has the leisure time to add 4 hours of exercise to their routine. Some of us have a hard time finding even half an hour. And then there’s the cost – not everyone can afford gyms or home equipment, and not everyone lives in an environment where year-round outdoor exercise is feasible without expensive equipment. Perhaps THIS is what is meant by living in an obesogenic environment – it’s almost impossible for some of us to get in enough exercise, and for some of us, enough exercise is a lot more than for others, regardless of calories.

    If this is the case then the answer may be societal. Find a way to increase the number of hours available to put towards things like exercise without reducing incomes or sleep (since we apparently don’t get enough of that either). Find ways to make exercise fun for people who don’t see the point of human hamster-wheels – like setting aside space for active sports and games that people can do ad-hoc for fun. Or if we can’t make it fun, add value – perhaps use exercise machines to generate electricity that can then be used to power computers and televisions.

    Low carb does work for many, at least to a point. There may be a point where it stops working and exercise must be added. This point probably differs between people. There appear to be at least some maintainers on Low Carb Friends who don’t exercise or cut calories and are staying trim without ever feeling hungry or deprived.

    I’ve lost 30 lbs with low carb and I’m a long ways from goal. I know that right now for me exercise is infeasible due to scheduling, and uncomfortable (painful) to boot. It leaves me exhausted and depressed instead of energized and happy. Whatever positive mood benefits other people get out of it don’t seem to be the case for me. That’s a pretty big disincentive, particularly when (for the time being) I can get weight loss results from my diet alone.

  24. CarbSane

    In Mike’s defense, I think he fell a bit prey to what is being said about WAPF rather than what WAPF promotes. Many MANY low carbers selectively cherry pick from WAPF for their lipophilia (Chris Masterjohn comes to mind) but fail to recognize that these folks don’t practice LC. Same can be said for the way many so copiously quote Stephan of Whole Health Source in low carb circles when … he’s not even close to being a low carber or advocate.

    Still, it’s not all in the interpretation, I’ve read some whacky things on WAPF website by their contributors that are extremely fanatical.

  25. CarbSane

    Aw Mike, Thanks! I’m flattered :blush:

  26. CarbSane

    Words many “I don’t exercise” and “I’m never hungry” still overweight and downright obese low carbers will cringe at reading. AC ain’t in it for the tact, he’s in it for the fact. Hey! Lookie there, I’m a poet and I don’t even know it! 🙂

  27. Eyeroller

    Low Carb Friends isn’t cultist. There’s many people there who are moderate, and who will even suggest upping carbs and reducing calories if a lower carb limit isn’t working for someone, or even that low carb isn’t right for everyone. It’s a very level-headed group.

  28. Ramanuj Basu

    You stated of the Weston A. Price Foundation site, “This site has ‘agenda-driven’ written all over it.” You’re right, and it’s not a hidden agenda.

    The agenda of WAPF is to promote an awareness and understanding that traditional, nutrient-dense foods, traditionally prepared, are what our bodies are meant to consume. There are plenty of carbs in there, as others have pointed out; just not processed carbs.

    Or is there some other, less benign agenda you’re seeing?

  29. Dan

    I found I really could relate to this quote from Anthony Colpo’s site. I LOVE being as thin as I am and being able to eat. I am very active on an activity I really love- bicycling and the bonus is that I can eat and not gain weight. Perhaps the second paragraph sums what really defines a nutrition cult- something that promises weight loss without exercise or diet- that is, a quick fix.

    “Don’t like having to eat less? Fine, then just do what I do – embrace a highly active lifestyle that sees you burning more calories than a clenbuterol-abusing elephant. Then you can eat a high-calorie diet and still maintain a low body fat. Ignorant sedentary folk will watch you tuck into a plate of food, sigh, and complain “You’re so lucky, you can eat anything and not put on weight!”. You’ll smile knowingly, fully aware that luck has nothing to do with it. Instead, deciding to break ranks with the lazy, flabby majority and living like you actually have some respect for your body and health has everything to do with it.

    Don’t like eating less nor exercising? Fine. Stay fat and keep looking for the easy way out. Keep getting angry at people like me who insist on telling you the truth, and keep getting ripped off by the ever-present army of scammers who know full well there are millions of people just like you out there, easily lured by tantalizing claims of “quick, easy, effortless” weight loss. They’ll be more than happy to keep taking your money, knowing that when you inevitably fail, you’ll be back for the next equally ineffective but highly lucrative “quick-fix”.”

    • Michael Banashak

      Again this charlatan salesman is science illiterate. To lose MATTER,myou MUST REMOVE ATOMS.Calories are NOT ANYTHING. THEY HAVE NOTHING to do with how matter is lost.liposuction is one direct way. Guess rhe other…..

  30. Morris

    Carbsane: maliciously derogatory; supercilious with an exaggerated sense of her own importance. Speaks volumes that Mike thinks her “sensible” – does he even know the definition of the word sensible?

    Anthony Colpo: pretensions of superiority; overbearingly assuming; insolently arrogant; Again, Mike seems to not understand exactly what the word “sensible” actually means!

  31. Morris

    Testy, eh?

  32. T. Kallmyer

    Actually, Mike submitted this post at the same time he submitted Part 1, we just published the second one a few days later. If you aren’t open to discussion and exploring alternate view points then yes, find a site that only aligns with your paradigms.

  33. Marie H.

    Mark (Mark’s Daily Apple) writes wonderfully, speaks with passion, knowledge, and respect for his readers…and he walks the walk. His site is filled with stories of formerly fat and sick people who have become lean and vibrant by eating “Primal”… heck, he’s almost got this vegetarian convinced to give it a go! BUT, there are also plenty of vibrant vegans and vegetarians out there. The common ground seems to be an emphasis on whole, natural, unprocessed foods. I just don’t like meat and I cannot afford grass-fed for my family…so it looks like a veggie I’ll remain. However, I have learned a lot from the Primal, Paleo, low-carb people on the internet and I now seek to avoid pretzels, buns, and processed carbs.

  34. Ernest

    Hmmm, just wondering why the forum “Low Carb Friends” or the Atkins website is not on your “cult” list. There doesn’t seem to be any logic in the winners.

  35. Bonnie

    You do like kicking over the anthill, don’t you? 😉
    Seriously, thanks for the links. I’m going to go check them out now.

  36. Azger

    Wow way to miss the mark on the Weston A. Price Foundation LOL you may want to go re read their site and stuff. They eat honey, maple syrup, grains, potatoes and rice. How is that low carb and fanatic? They try and stay clear of modernized heavily processed foods and food stuffs. with an emphasis on what your great grandmothers eat.

  37. Nancy

    Great! Thanks for the links, Mike. I’d never heard of Zoe or Fred or knew about the Active Low-Carber forum. Yay! Lots more helpful info and support for my transition from fat, unhealthy, and unhappy to fit and fabulous!

  38. Ryan

    The Weston A. Price Foundation isn’t low-carb, though they are sympathetic to the approach. They are against the demonizing of animal fat, but they are mainly focused on eating traditional foods. They are against refined grains and whole grains that haven’t been through the traditional soaking or fermentation, but they give a lot of instruction about how to prepare grains/beans/legumes to reduce toxicity (mainly phytic acid). The problem with the WAPF is they get sucked into a battle that’s completely irrelevant to them. Their approach doesn’t fit on the low/high carb/fat/protein spectrum; it’s something completely different.

  39. NEMO

    Mike has now shown himself to ‘reductio ad absurdum’, so contining on here and reading and replying seems like a waste of time.

  40. DFH

    This author has gotten in over his head and is now just-finger pointing and name-calling.

    Time to switch this site off and move on!