I am now firmly part of the keto/intermittent fasting/low carb/anti-sugar tribes (significant overlap between all), but that membership was entirely accidental. If you would have asked me one year ago today which tribe I was in, I would have replied that it is all just a bunch of confusing fads. I could have cared less.
Almost by chance, I came across intermittent fasting app, Fastic, on Facebook. I tried it. That one step led me out of Obesity Land and on a journey through Keto Land. With me being n of 1, I have confirmed through my experience nearly all of the favorable predictions in terms of blood pressure, weight loss, blood sugar reductions, appetite, mood, and countless other ways. Consequently, I am now a member of the keto/fasting tribe. (These camps seem to be tightly linked.)
Within one year, I have gone from disinterested observer to the other side of the wardrobe, entering a whole new world of diet nutrition wars, science, policy and debate. It is kind of thrilling to be honest people, finding a new diet identity. I also get a kick out of the near messianic zeal of various adherents as they spread the message of their diet tribe, something my friends have accused me of as well (I am more Cat Stevens than you think people).
Setting aside my new found tribe, here’s what I find interesting. Keto/intermittent fasting is still a minority viewpoint, perhaps one or two steps above fringe movement. It is still not the conventional view. The CDC still embraces the food pyramid. Low fat/high carb still appears to be the dominant ideology among professionals, including nutritionists, medical doctors, really smart, credentialed people.
Of course, there is a distinct possibility. The conventional view is right, the ideal for human health, but Keto/Good Fat hypothesis clearly is not going away. Even 20 years ago, when Gary Taubes wrote, What If It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie, this view was considered one step up above pure quackery. “Experts” predicted mass heart attacks and all sorts of adverse health consequences including high blood pressure, stroke and death from embracing Atkins and its healthier cousin – Keto, but that did not happen.
In a podcast I watched this morning on Taubes’ new book, The Case for Keto, he mentioned that even as recently eight years ago, he could count on one hand the number of md’s recommending low carb-high fat or ketoish type diets. In 2020, that number is much larger, numbering in the several hundreds if not the low thousands. It not only did not get smashed to bits, keto diet has proven to be amazingly resilient and trending upwards.
My point is not to resolve the debate here. For a deep dive into the theory and practice as to why keto/low carb/fasting works, you can check out: Dr. Jason Fung (fasting), Mark Sisson (keto), Chris Kesser (paleo), Gary Taubes (low carb), and Dr. Mark Hyman (low carb).
Here’s the interesting thing to me. Assuming keto/low carb is true as a general principle, i.e. creating health for the most amount of people (there are exceptions to every rule), why did the low fat/high carb hypothesis hang around for so long?
This is not some esoteric debate like whether Mike is better than Lebron (I’m now a recent convert to Lebron camp). It is one of the most consequential public health debates of our time with millions of lives hanging in the balance, and hundreds of billions of dollars on the line.
We have to get this right.
Obesity Land is an extremely dangerous place, significantly elevating risks for diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and all cause mortality. What causes obesity and how to get out of it should be at the front and center of our public health policy debate, just as important as COVID policy. Yet, this inane calories in/calories out, a calorie is a calorie model has proven to be remarkably resilient, burrowing down deep within the status quo.
I fully realize I am a sample size of 1 (n of 1), but my experience so far has tracked precisely what the Taubes/Fung/Hyman/Sisson camp told me to expect. It was simple, free, and easy, leading to substantial weight loss and improved health within six months of starting. My previous obesity confirmed the perils of the high carb/sugar soaked model. The conventional model just seems so wrong, resulting in totally unnecessary suffering by millions of people. (Docs, I also get that the “right” diet can be highly variable depending upon individual circumstances. I am talking about the diet leading to greatest health for the typical person.)
Rather than resolve the debate now, I am going to presume for purposes of argument that keto/low carb camp is correct, and explore how the conventional camp got it wrong. As I grow older, I think it is more important to learn all of the ways we go wrong rather than trying to establish why we are right. Of course, I fully realize that I could be hoisted on my own rhetorical petard with my embrace of keto/intermittent fasting.
I just think it is more helpful to figure out why humans, including really smart, credentialed ones, make so many errors, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
So, for the next several blog posts, together you and I will go on a journey through the world of mistaken diet views through the lens of my path from Obesity Land to Keto Land. It will be a mix of observation, anecdote, authors, and philosophers that I like. I will not provide any definitive answers. My hope is that you will begin to start to ask questions and begin to consider all of the ways you could get it wrong on your journey.
Tomorrow, before I consider how conventional wisdom got it wrong on the low fat/carb model, I am going to explore the virtues of the status quo, i.e. the possibility that conventional wisdom is right and why I decided to reject that view by embracing keto/intermittent fasting.