In a Nutshell ...
A comment on another post by SJ pretty much nails the starch angst pervading the low carb webosphere on the head:
A couple of paleo/primal dieters mention that they're eating potatoes and it's the g*****mn carbocalypse. Why is it so upsetting to these people that some people feel better when they eat a bit of starch?
Let's presume that is not a rhetorical question and answer it. This behavior is explained by the fact that somehow carbohydrate restriction has become a religious cult, with all the trappings thereof. All the lost suffering souls who found solace and redemption after reading Good Calories, Bad Calories in the Church of Taubes. It makes me very glad that in 2007 when I decided to try one last time to shed the weight I did it on my own, telling nobody but my immediate family that I was even doing it, and just going from memory doing a pretty clean Atkins induction. The Church of Taubes sucks you in. For all their knocking of Weight Watchers, the Church is a virtual group where your voice is heard, you are accepted unconditionally and you find all the love and support you've been missing from your conventional-wisdom-steeped doctors, friends and family. In 2009, after losing the weight, I found LLVLC forum. There are a lot of very nice people there supporting one another in their weight loss efforts, extolling the virtues of low carbing, assuring one another that carbs are like rat poison, insulin is the devil hormone and Taubes is a genius. When you leave the cult, you lose a lot of support and friendship you've come to lean on and it's hard to find that on the outside. Cults are famous for targeting the disenfranchised.
However for cults to survive, they must isolate members more and more from outside influences lest their following be exposed to folks who thrive by not following their teachings. This occurs every day on the blogs and such of low carbers who censor contrary voices despite claims to the contrary. Efforts are made to marginalize defectors or those who question the teachings of Taubes. Yours truly knows about this all too well. The last thing any cult needs is for members to be exposed to former members thriving on the outside. And that, my friends, is why a Richard Nickoley, a Paul Jaminet, a Kurt Harris, and dare I say, me, are all so threatening to committed low carbers. Because they are powerless to prevent the flow of information outside their carefully controlled webosphere and sooner or later some of the membership is bound to try this whacky idea of eating some potatoes or rice or even bread and realize that their life didn't fall apart. Most, if they do it right (cut back on some of the fat), will not only not gain weight and get sick, they may actually lose weight and see persisting health problems resolve.
Eating carbohydrates and thriving flies in the face of the last-ditch dogma of the Church of Taubes: The Damaged Metabolism Doctrine. Yes, the DMD is contained in the New Testament of Taubes, Why We Get Fat. Legions of low carbers faced with dwindling personal success despite persistence, look to their leaders and see much of the same. The only thing keeping these folks in the pews is keeping them convinced of the DMD. It's bad enough there are all these, as one member calls them, "robusto" paleos out there eating carbs. Because most of those are young males and can be written off as possessing as yet undamaged metabolisms. But it's damning to the DMD when the list of carb-eating reconverts over 40, many over 50 or near that, starts to get longer and longer. How to prevent the cult from collapsing?
The leaders, both long standing and newbies who've yet to cash in, are getting desperate to explain this phenomenon. They must convince the remaining flock that defectors are going down a path to destruction and only seeing short term gratification. The flock must resist mass exodus to heretical short term sin in favor of long term redemption. You see, the defectors eating carbs are now portrayed as ADDICTS giving into their baser instincts. They will pay with rampant glycation someday ... you'll see! Enter the longevity cultists with their new brand -- or rebrand -- of low carb cultism .... where carbs must be not just restricted but virtually eliminated and new members are baptized in ice baths and annointed with coconut oil.
Strange days folks.
When people do have trouble with starch I think it's probably because they were unwilling to cut back on the fat intake.
Imo the most pernicious argument they make is "fat is a superior fuel to glucose," then when you say "but I feel like crap when I exercise in a glucose-depleted state" they respond with "that's cause you haven't conditioned yourself to use fat as your fuel, you just have to try harder."
and this study
Glucocorticoids and insulin resistance: old hormones, new targets
Fast forward to now and I’ve been noticing of late some of the same thoughts and feelings that I experienced back in my cult days being applied to the LC dieting circle I’m a part of. There are many big differences from the pressure cooker of a church I went to, but there are some similarities that have alarmed me. At first I thought I was just being overly sensitive, which would be natural considering what I had been through. Then I read your post and then it occurred to me that maybe the thoughts and feelings I am experiencing are valid. To me the Paleo/low carb community does have a cult following and some cult like behaviors, but I see it as more of a social fraternity or club than a radical religious group.
Fortunately I can walk away from the Paleo group and not have to deal with what I went through when I left the church. This is where it gets tricky, low carb has made me feel like I know the “truth” about nutrition and it’s a way of eating that everyone needs to follow. Uh oh just like the philosophy of the church, the version of Christianity we followed was the true way and everyone needed to join or else eternally perish. Another similarity is in the church you theoretically lived life to the full and were supposedly more content than ever before, eat low carb and you will experience the same thing.
I’ve also found that I putt a burden on myself that I have to eat low carb and never ever stray for fear of what others may think. I tell myself I better eat low carb or else my mom (who doesn’t eat low carb) will never join up and she will pay with her life as her health deteriorates. That’s a hell of a guilt trip; one that after I left the church swore would never put myself through again. I should be able to eat a cookie if I want guilt free. I mean come on this the only life I have and to be hung up over this is just silly.
Because of my past I do watch the leaders like a hawk and see things that just don’t add up. I see Paleo people share recipes with carbs in them and wonder wtf. I saw Mark Sisson post a recipe for Paleo chocolate bars and I’m thinking that’s not Paleo or low carb. Its lower carb than a Snickers, but it’s not Paleo. I don’t think Ogg or whatever went around eating candy, although I could be wrong. Then I found out that Mark’s definition of Paleo is anything 100 yrs or farther into the past. Ummm after taking college level Anthropology, Paleo is something that is technically much older. So is Paleo trying to bend to bring in more people? I must say yes.
Another similarity is the amount of literature that the church and low carb community has dished out to their followers. It was common for the church to release books that where “vital” or “essential” to your faith. I’ve since stopped buying low carb books and feel that I have enough knowledge in my head that I don’t need to keep myself indoctrinated with every book that comes out. I’m back in college and don’t have the money or time to buy and read everything that is endorsed by the Paleo community. Besides like you have mentioned there are a lot of quacks and people out there peddling their wares to get my money.
Thanks for your blog. It is helping me work through some things.
Fast-forward to late last year when I find out I have celiac, and I start exploring the paleo/primal blogosphere looking for real food gluten-free recipe ideas. Huh? Why is paleo associated with low-carb? What about fruit, roots and tubers? IDGI. Why are low-carb and paleo so intertwined? And why do people care SO MUCH what other people eat? Why is it so upsetting that Nikoley eats a potato? It doesn't make any kind of rational sense, but it does start to make sense when you view it in the context of a cult.
That someone from your background has recognized the religious fervor that surrounds the low carb and paleo communities is very telling.
Go ahead and eat that cookie. No one will think any less of you :)
Take just one phenomenon, memory reformation/schematization. Every time you access a memory you also re-form the memory to conform to your current understanding or world view ("schema").
One who has swallowed the hook, line and sinker on high versus low carb may remember their hunger when they were eating high carb as hungrier than it was. Old hunger becomes worse, current hunger is discounted and the "carb flu" is no big deal whatsoever, insomnia and "wiredness" on low carb is not even worth mentioning (in that circle).
This is just one documented phenomenon. Imagine adding in such things as social reinforcement and group dynamics that make some people more extreme in their position on the group's core beliefs.
goes into memory differently (tagged with "less hungry than I used to be")
> current hunger is discounted and the "carb flu" is no big deal whatsoever
This is all about memory. Not even considering placebo effects
If we weren't social beasts things like this would be a rarity. It feels good to be around like minded people and to have fun times with them. The down side is the herd mentality humans have and how easily it can be manipulated. Multiply that with the money factor and you have the makings for a good ole fashioned recipe for cult.
I don't want to imply that everyone in the Paleo/low carb community is a zombie or that its even a full blown cult, I've had some really good discussions with people and even made a couple of friends. But I am seeing cult-like trends and I am beginning to look at it as a business.
But not only are some people completely convinced that LC works for them regardless of whether or not it does, they're 100% sure that it's always the best thing for people who aren't them, that they have the one true way. That's the cultish aspect, and that's always been the part that irritates me and confuses me the most.
Inevitably you get folks who dust off their journals over on Jimmy's forum or revive dormant blogs from their dauer state with posts of rededication and determination. One such blog was made by one of the cruise organizers who also blogged on how the LC police had snagged her on the cruise! Yep! Someone caught her eating pancakes (or was it waffles) with real syrup! Now I don't care why she was eating them (apparently it was an emotional eating episode)-- WTF is anyone to question or comment on what she was eating??!!
During the two + years I spent very actively participating on Jimmy's forum, I tried to help many who seemed so desperate to get off the yo-yo binge eating wagon. You see, I don't care if I never lose another pound, being able to eat like a normal person and not yo-yo is worth it to me because that is hell. So many would post in challenges and journals about their new commitment and they would be "good" on their diet and resist the bread at dinner or whatever. And then ... gone. I don't know how many folks have disappeared and come back how many times and they seem to do the same thing each time -- insist on LC purity for themselves. For some, each time they'll be even more restrictive it seems! This is one reason I'm so hard on Amy Dungan for her LC-proselytizing on her sponsored healthy low carb living blog. She weighs more now than when she went low carb over a decade ago, and has weighed more for probably 90 percent of the last 8 years. And yet in addition to adhering to dogma, I suppose the next greatest blasphemy is to question the leadership of the cult!
Anyway, I'm rambling here. My point was that I would frequently suggest one of two things when folks were beating themselves up over not being able to stick to VLC 24/7/365: either eat a few more carbs more regularly, or do the planned cheats like I did. The shoutdowns on the cheating were incredible! Oh ... *I* can't cheat, if I even eat low carb bread I gain 5 lbs overnight. Etc.etc. And most of these people would use feeling like crap after going on a carb bender as evidence that they were just super duper intolerant to carbs. Or how about you're going to feel like crap if you eat enough of any food in one day that would normally amount to a week's worth of food.
Anyway, this is a nice discussion to be having. I'm glad I made the post and got you in on it!
Low carbers are beginning to criticize the "religious" spread-the-word sentiment in paleo circles. It's funny they should pick up on it, but don't see it in themselves?!
Given time, most people who delve into LC recognize that it isn't a miracle diet, and they make the necessary adjustments. Some adjust the diet, some adjust their expectations, many are quite happy with what they're doing, and others simply move on to something else. But a fanatical few will cling to it fervently, even though (in my experience) they often do not get anywhere near to the results that their fanaticism would justify. I think it's just a psychological reaction that is ingrained in us all, and we deal with it with varying degrees of success.
Not surprising, though. It's a common religious blind spot because religions tend towards exclusivity. It brings to mind the quote by Stephen Roberts: "I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."
I don't mean to turn this into a religious bash-fest. I happen to see religious convictions and attitudes as an ingrained part of our psychological make-up. That is to say, we have the propensity to be religious about a lot of things, and not just religion.
I do think people want to feel like they have control of their physical lives, and that LC/paleo makes them feel like they have that control. So, demonize carbs for causing most chronic illnesses, like met syndrome, diabetes, obesity and cancer, and all people have to do to not have those problems is not eat or eat less carbs (and eat more fat-yeah!). Now they have control, feel better, and even feel "better than thou" (something else many people seek).
Tear that away by removing the carb danger/demon and they are back to lack of control. So people get defensive and try to prove you wrong at all costs. But a religious cult? C'mon now.
I am starting to question the moderate/high carb plan, I want to go back to the primal sort of eating... but I don't want to gain a tonne of weight either.
I figure I have around 40 lbs to lose...
Steve Novella tells the tale of when James Randi gave a talk to a group of former cult members and several were traumatized because in their view he has a personality that could easily create a fully fledged cult.
It soon became pretty clear what a load of bunk all that was, but I think I spent a lot of time proactively countering my own doubts by arguing with other people- I think that's an annoying, but ultimately very human thing for some of us to do. Seeing how little fun that was for my conversation partners was a part of what made me start to look more deeply into Taubes and the whole idea of low carb.
Looking back honestly, I think for me at least a lot of the time I spend on low carb forums, blogs and podcasts was like a pleasant beer buzz where I could stop worrying about how far my experience was from the low carb promises and just relax into a world where it all made sense and I was on the verge of all kinds of great things happening. That's why I'm sorry to say when I first read the actual science and healthy common sense here a few years ago my first thought was 'how did they let her into the low carb party'- you were killing my buzz!
I wish I had been more open minded earlier, but better late than never I guess. I suspect that my thinking is similar to a good number of folks out there and combined with the easy anonymity of the web that leads to lots of negativity.
Thanks for the great blog and being willing to be a lightening rod!
Are you serious about needing to lose 40 lbs? You don't look that fat. Obviously, your job means that you're surrounded by foods & wonderful aromas a lot of the time. You can't start serving up boiled plain sweet potatoes!
There's your answer. Less cooking, more drumming!
I think for someone such as yourself, who is around food and preparing it all the time, the challenge is not so much what you eat, but your mindset. I don't know any chefs who don't think their own food is good so presumably if you're not eating what you're making, at least from time to time, this would seem counterproductive in the long run. Where good food is concerned, I favor the two bite rule -- the two bites that matter most or are most enjoyable are the first one and the last one. The bites in between are hardly memorable. So when I'm eating food for enjoyment I do, and I may have more than two bites but I also know that my general "hunger" signalling is a bit whacked and that's when I think about rough calories I'm consuming (without whipping out a food scale on the table as I saw a woman in the dining room have on a cruise once!). I'm probably going on tangents here, but I'm thinking the chef-gig has more to do with weight issues than any particular food you eat. I'm thinking that if you're tasting a lot while cooking, you want to make sure you sit down and eat a proper meal other times. Stuff like that.
I do wonder if some of these folks aren't, like you were, at this point trying to convince themselves ...
Because of my past experiences I tend to ignore most of the lip flapping the powers that be engage in, but some things are hard to ignore and this is one of them. I also have a disdain for anyone who doesn't work for a living and instead lives off of the money from their loyal subjects. Its like a priest who doesn't get a job and lives off the money from the collection plate.
People going through re dedications and awakenings, really boils down to a shunning of the old you and a more dedicated fervor for the future. The downside to that is its emotion driven and will fail. Any form of extremist behavior is based on emotions, critical thinking and reason take a back seat to dogma and group acceptance. I have yet to meet an extremist I liked.
I've seen it happen time and time again where society looks down on others for not acting in a manner that the person judging feels is appropriate. Its very easy for people to feel elitist and I definitely sense it in the low carb community. Not everyone, I don't want to make a blanket statement, but its there and its not good.
I really feel discouraged by the amount of division in the nutrition field and I don't know what to trust as reliable information. It just seems that no matter what is said or written there can be no harmony, and I find that frustrating. My only recourse is to try out ideas on myself and see what happens.
Eating low carb helped me lose some weight as well as lower my blood pressure, which meant no more pills. I also have more energy and don't have the crashes I used to have. I feel more alert and in all honesty younger.
What discourages me about the diet is how easily weight is gained back and I have no idea why that is. I have done other diets in the past where I have cheated and the weight gain is very minimal, but on low carb the weight gains are extreme. I mean a single meal involving carbs can cause a few pounds to be added back on, I have no clue why.
I also get tired of the thin people or the ones who carry a little weight who lose 10-20lbs then go on to say that it was lost effortlessly, therefore this is an easy diet. Sorry no I used to weight 410lbs and would like to see myself back to my pre weight gain days of 200-210. Personally I don't know if that is even possible and right now I would be happy just to be 300lbs. But my point is I am tired of the powers that be in the Paleo community saying weight loss is easy. If I only had 20lbs to lose I would be ecstatic and say the same thing. I want to see a figurehead in the low carb community who had to lose serious amounts of weight speak up and tell it like it is. It really comes across as cheap or false advertisement meant to lure in people and give them false hope. Weight loss is hard and takes time. On another note when Jimmy claims to have lost 30lbs in 30 days doing low carb my entire mind and body screams BS!!
Now I am the one rambling, but I am frustrated and have hit a snag in my diet. If you have any insights into why low carb has terribly bad weight gain results even after one meal I would love to hear it.
Lots of unanswered questions open for research here. some random musings:
I've written it before (unfortunately it's all anecdote so far): there appears to be a metabolic
"setting up the dominoes ready to fall" or "balancing a pencil on the eraser" aspect to low carb, especially very low carb plus excessive exercise.
For people who are easily swayed by short-term losses/gains the rapid initial water weight gains when one falls off low carb would feed into this well documented phenomenon: "I fell off the diet I may as well binge for a month"
And there's the whole psychology of excuses and permissiveness that comes with the message "carbs make you hungry" ... well, when you go off low carb you now EXPECT to be ravenously hungry all the time. You now have several great reasons to way overeat.
Lots of folks also report changes in the pattern of fat deposition when on low carb. If more fat depots become available for deposition, how long do they remain ready to gobble up dietary fat after the low carb ends?
And I also wonder if long term low carbing severely up-regulates ASP and related mechanisms.
Lots of research to be done (or to be found, if it's been done)
Here is a link to a study that attempts to explain the water weight gains that Sanjeev mentions:
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