Energy Balance: Why The Food Cops Have It All Wrong

Since I’ve spent the last two posts bagging on MeMe Roth and the other food cops, I may as well continue, but along a different line.  This time, I want to explain why they’re not just annoying, but profoundly mistaken.  Their prescriptions for “helping” people lose weight don’t work, have never worked, and will never work.  Here’s why:

They still believe gaining or losing weight works like a simple savings account.  Take in too many calorie deposits and your account — your fat tissue — grows.  So to shrink your account — why, heck, it’s easy! — just make smaller deposits by eating less, or make bigger withdrawals by exercising.

This theory is a classic of example of the famous H.L. Mencken quote:  “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”  It’s so wrong, even Kelly Brownell — the morbidly obese expert on obesity who thinks the rest of us are suffering from a lack of calorie-count laws —  can’t keep his weight down in spite of all his supposed knowledge.

To understand why the bank-account analogy wrong, we need to revisit what is perhaps the single most enlightening concept Gary Taubes put forth in Good Calories, Bad Calories:  homeostasis.  In biology, homeostasis refers to a condition of balance, one that your body insists on maintaining.  Blood sugar is a good example.  Eat a candy bar, your blood sugar rises, so your pancreas produces insulin to bring it down.  Skip the carbs entirely, your blood sugar falls, so your body produces glucose from protein to raise it again.  The body insists on keeping blood sugar within a very narrow range.

When we’re talking about body fat, homeostasis is the amount of fat we need to provide our bodies with a reliable source of energy.  If you haven’t already seen it, watch this YouTube clip from Fat Head, which explains how body fat feeds our cells:

Now, here are some quotes from Good Calories, Bad Calories to expand the idea a bit further:

Clinicians who treat obese patients invariably assume that the energy or caloric requirements of these individuals is the amount of calories they can consume without gaining weight.  They then treat this number as though it were fixed by some innate facet of the patient’s metabolism.  Pennington explained that this wasn’t the case.  As long as obese individuals have this metabolic defect and their cells are not receiving the full benefit of the calories they consume, their tissues will always be conserving energy and so expending less than they otherwise might.  The cells will be semi-starved even if the person does not appear to be.  Indeed, if these individuals are restraining their desire to curb, if possible, still further weight gain, the inhibition of energy expenditure will be exacerbated.

Pennington suggested that as the adipose tissue accumulates fat, its expansion will increase the rate at which fat calories are released back into the bloodstream … and this could eventually compensate for the defect itself.  We will continue to accumulate fat – and so continue to be in positive energy balance – until we reach a new equilibrium and the flow of fat calories out of the adipose tissue once again matches the flow of calories in.

In other words, people whose hormones have put them in fat-accumulation mode aren’t in a state of energy balance unless they’re eating more and getting fatter.  And once they’re fat, they can’t remain in a state of energy balance — homeostasis — unless they remain fat.   With that in mind, let’s take the bank-account analogy promoted by the MeMe Roths of the world and make some adjustments so it actually resembles biological reality.  (I’m using simple numbers here for clarity.)

In our system, the fat tissue is still a savings account of sorts, but we can only pay our energy bills by making automatic debits from a checking account — the calories that flow through our bloodstream or are easily accessible in the form of glycogen.  To get through the day, we need to make hourly payments of 100 calories or so, depending on our metabolisms.  Meanwhile, the bank wants us to keep the checking-account balance as close as possible to, say, 500 calories.  When the checking account runs low, our system is designed to automatically transfer calories from savings into checking.

Still with me?  Good.  Now here’s the catch:   The bank will only let us transfer a small percentage of our savings into checking each hour.  The exact percentage allowed is determined by a mix of hormones, with insulin acting as the primary account manager. With that in mind, let’s check on the account status for two women:  Skinny Minnie and Fatty Patty. 

Skinny Minnie (who has long, straight, blonde hair and wears glasses) has a pretty good deal going.  At 120 pounds, she only keeps about 52,500 calories (15 pounds) in savings, and her bank allows her to transfer 0.30% of the balance into checking every hour — about 157 calories, which is more than enough to pay her hourly energy bill when she hasn’t eaten in awhile.

As a result, Minnie’s body is perfectly happy with the small savings account.  When she eats, calories go into both checking and savings, but then begin flowing from savings back into checking pretty quickly.  So she feels satisfied on small meals, and if she does overeat a bit, her body senses the high balance and starts spending energy like crazy … it turns up the heat, and she feels compelled to go run for four miles.  Soon her checking account is back down to 500 calories, and the savings account remains right around 52,500.  Minnie can even decide she wants to lose five pounds before her high-school reunion and accomplish that goal by eating less for awhile — at 115 pounds, she can still transfer 105 calories per hour into savings.  She doesn’t even feel hungry.

Patty’s deal isn’t quite as good.  At 140 pounds, she keeps 105,000 calories (30 pounds) in savings.  She doesn’t want the large account, but she needs it … the bank only allows her to transfer 0.10% of the balance to checking each hour — 105 calories, just enough to pay the bills.  While she considers herself overweight, she’s just barely in a state of energy balance as far as the bank is concerned.

A few years later, Patty’s situation gets a little worse.  Thanks to genetics, menopause, frankenfats, stress, too many refined carbohydrates, or a combination of factors, her hormonal mix changes.  She becomes insulin-resistant, and the bank is compelled to change the rules.  A higher proportion of what she eats must go into savings …and worse, she can only transfer 0.075% of those savings to checking each hour — 79 calories. 

So Patty eats a little more.  But when she’s not eating — and especially during the 12 hours or so between dinner and breakfast — her checking account is being debited faster than it’s being replenished.  The bank sends a not-so-polite message to Patty’s body:  YOU MUST INCREASE YOUR SAVINGS ACCOUNT TO 140,000 CALORIES TO MEET YOUR HOURLY ENERGY WITHDRAWALS.

Patty’s body heeds the warning.  It ramps up her appetite.  It lowers the thermostat a bit and orders her to sit still more often by making her feel tired.  Thanks to these measures Patty soon finds herself at 150 pounds.  Minnie looks on in disgust, thinking to herself (or saying aloud on Fox News), “Come on, Lady, eat a little less and take up jogging, would you?”

Unfortunately, Patty’s well-meaning doctor is also concerned and orders her to cut back on fat and eat more fruits and grains.  She does, and as a result her body is even more conditioned to burn glucose instead of fat.  She craves carbohydrates.  Her hormonal balance goes off again, she becomes more insulin-resistant, and soon she can only transfer 0.06% from savings into checking each hour.  Her body receives another warning from the bank:  YOU MUST INCREASE YOUR SAVINGS ACCOUNT TO 175,000 CALORIES TO MEET YOUR HOURLY ENERGY WITHDRAWALS.  A few months later, Patty weighs 160 pounds.  She’s now at 31% body fat and clinically obese.

Patty becomes disgusted with her larger figure and goes on Weight Watchers.  She feels okay on the low-calorie meals for a few days, but as soon as she loses four pounds, her savings account is once again unable to replenish her checking account at the necessary hourly rate.  The bank sends another message:  WHAT THE HECK DID I JUST TELL YOU?!  GET YOUR SAVINGS ACCOUNT BACK UP TO 175,000 CALORIES IMMEDIATELY OR WE’LL BE FORCED TO REPOSSESS THE FREE TOASTER.

Patty doesn’t care about the toaster and refuses to listen.  But her body is afraid of the bank manager and undermines her efforts to shrink the savings account any further.  It turns down the thermostat again.  It feeds Patty some depressants so she’ll sit around even more.  It begins siphoning off an even higher proportion of what she eats into savings.  Soon she’s back in state of energy balance, but just barely. 

Patty’s weight loss stalls at seven pounds, and she gives up.  Sitting on the sofa for hours each day, she eventually watches Oprah and learns from Dr. Oz that she can’t lose weight because she’s depressed and needs to learn to love herself so she’ll stop punishing herself with food.

Like I said, this is a simplified and somewhat silly analogy, but it’s a lot closer to biological reality than the simple bank-account theory that has inspired all those brilliant solutions promoted by Meme Roth, Kelly Brownell, CSPI and the other food cops.  Let’s see how their ideas would work out in our banking system:

Force restaurants to list the calorie counts of every food item on the menu.

The calorie counts are already easy to find, and anyone who wants to know them will find them.  (At McDonald’s, all you have to do is look at the back of the paper placemat.)  These laws aren’t about providing information; they’re about confronting people:  look how many calories you’re about to consume, Fatty Patty!  Don’t do it!

Great … so Patty orders a smaller meal at McDonald’s when she stops for lunch.  But in order to stay in a state of energy balance and avoid starving at the cellular level, she needs all the calories she’s been consuming, because she needs to stay at 160 pounds.  So after that smaller lunch, she eats a bigger dinner — or a normal dinner plus a dish of ice cream while watching the Tonight Show.  The point is, her body is going to order her to eat enough to keep the savings account as high as it needs to be.

Ban fast-food restaurants in poor neighborhoods.

Riiiiiiight.  So instead of getting their nice, cheap carbohydrates from McDonald’s, poor people will get them from snacks at the convenience store or junk food from the grocery store.  As long as the account manager has set a small transfer rate, people have to keep the savings account high — so they do.  Where exactly they obtain the deposits doesn’t matter.

Force communities to build more bike paths and walking trails.

This is one of Kelly Brownell’s big fat ideas.  (If people would just exercise more, they wouldn’t look like me, you see …)

Fine, so Patty takes up walking.  Nothing wrong with that — exercise is good for your health — but as far Patty’s weight it concerned, the extra walking just means she’s depleting the checking account a little faster.  As long as that transfer rate remains small, she’ll just have to eat more to keep the savings-account balance where it needs to be.  If she doesn’t, her body will ramp up her appetite until she can’t ignore it any longer.  That’s why, as Gary Taubes pointed out, overweight people have trained for and run marathons without losing a pound.

Declare all obesity-related diseases “elective” and make fat people pay for them out of pocket so they don’t burden the rest of us.

That’s one of MeMe’s hair-brained (long, straight, blonde hair-brained and glasses that make me look smart) ideas.

Yes, that would certainly work, you see, because Patty is simply choosing to eat too much and be fat.  If she just ate less and moved more, she would magically alter her hormonal balance so she’s in a state of homeostasis at 120 pounds, just like Skinny Minnie … I mean, Skinny MeMe.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.  That would be about as easy for Patty to do as it would be for Skinny MeMe to voluntarily starve herself down to 85 pounds.

The only way to make your body happy with a smaller savings account is to change the hormonal mix and increase the transfer rate.  Some people who decide to go on low-calorie diets stumble onto it by accident … they give up desserts, sodas, potato chips and other junk and bring their insulin levels down in the process.  Kind of like the pope who managed to avoid the plague because his doctor told him to sit in a huge ring of fire to ward off the bad humors.  It worked … but bad humors had nothing to do with it.  The fire warded off the fleas and the rats.

Unfortunately, MeMe Roth and the goofs she works with at CSPI have no clue about homeostasis or the connection between hormones and weight gain.  They tell people to avoid sugar — that’s good — but they also promote low-fat diets with lots of fruits, potatoes and grains.  That might work just fine for Skinny MeMe, but it’s a disaster for people with insulin problems.

So she’s not just annoying, she’s not just a busybody, and she’s not just wrong.  She’s part of the problem.  The sooner she shuts up, the better off we’ll be.


44 thoughts on “Energy Balance: Why The Food Cops Have It All Wrong

  1. Markus

    Great analogy Tom.
    In discussions with the “fat people are just lazy and have no self control” crowd I use the following analogy:
    “Telling fat people they have no self control is like the two of us stitting down with meal plates filled with our exact nutrient requrements for the day and me throwing 30% of your plate in the garbage and acting smug if you want a desert”

    However it rarely sinks in, perhabs your idea will sink in better next time.

    Even years ago, before I knew diddly about the biochemistry, I at least understood something was different about thin people. I had a naturally-thin friend tell me about a woman he’d dated who “just couldn’t push herself away from the table soon enough,” and I asked him, “How often do you leave the table while you’re still hungry?” He was a big eater and liked beer rather a lot, but never gained an ounce.

  2. Lynda

    Your blog is addictive! You converted me to the low carb way of life and I am busy converting (convincing) everyone who reads my blog. I quoted from your movie “people aren’t fat because they eat – they eat because they are fat”… or something like that, you know what you said. The more I read the smarter I become in my quest to lose weight forever and the angrier I get at low fat/high carb diet gurus who seem to be everywhere. People look at you almost as if you are a hippy, radical, freak of nature if you even mention that you are eating low carb.

    I can’t believe how many people are now relying on gastric bypass operations or lap banding. I personally know of five people in the last year who have resorted to this. I don’t blame them at all but feel so sad that they did this without knowing the real problem which was their broken metabolism caused by insulin resistance. No one is telling us this – if we find it out, it is via movies like Fat Head not through official health channels. Most people are too scared to try eating low carb/high fat/protein for fear that it is not “main stream” or medically sound. Instead they go through life failing at every diet, gaining weight with every effort, becoming depressed and feeling like failures.

    And after failing yet again and feeling depressed, they have to listen to Skinny MeMe tell them it’s their fault for choosing to be fat. She’s not helping one bit.

  3. Lucky

    I’m an artist, not a scientist, so most of the dietary science that is posted on blogs goes right over my head. I appreciate this little example! I “got” it!

    I’m in my 40s, but until a year ago, I struggled with weight, just like the blonde chick in your story. I ate less, I exercised, and nothing worked. These days I eat probably three times as much in a day as I ever have, and the excess weight is pretty much gone. The difference? I chucked the grains and sugars and base my diet on fat and meat. If only I knew in my 20s what I know now – it would have saved a lot of heartache and frustration!

    Thanks for the little story.

    I wish I’d known what I know now a long time ago. I think about the girls I didn’t ask out in high school (she wouldn’t be interested in me, I’m too fat ), the activities I skipped (naw, they’re playing shirts and skins, and I could end up the skins side), etc., and I know it didn’t have to be that way.

  4. Sue

    MeMe is interested in prevention only – get you before you turn into a lump of lard. Once you are fat – you’ve got no chance of slimming down (especially if you follow conventional advice). I seem to be hearing a lot lately diets don’t work. So the advice is just eat healthy and exercise anyway even though you’re going to be fat for life. You’ve done it to yourself anyway!!
    She’s a pain in the rear end.

    MeMe is obsessed with staying thin (some might say too thin).

    MeMe’s attempts at prevention might be worth something if she had a clue about what causes weight gain … but she doesn’t.

  5. Lisa Sargese

    I remember the year after my gastric bypass (surgically induced starvation). I was so determined to lose weight I went to the gym and did cardio for 45 minutes a day. I did this for 10 months. For the first 7 months I lost weight then I hit a plateau. My appetite increased. I couldn’t get enough carbs (I was doing the low fat vegetarian thing…another disaster). I increased the intensity of my workouts. I started to gain weight. My hair fell out. I blamed myself. I increased my caffeine intake and downed energy drinks in dangerous amounts. Still my weight stayed the same and crept up a bit. Eventually my energy crashed. I could no longer work out and I gained 50 pounds. Only now after a year on nutrient dense foods, high fat, high protein, low sugar is my weight evening out. I miss my hair.

    Isn’t it sad to realize how many people are struggling because of bad advice? MeMe thinks they’re choosing to be fat and have no discipline. She’s clueless.

  6. JaneM

    This just breaks my heart because you are talking about me (and millions of others I am sure) that have beaten themselves down for years because nothing works (or it doesn’t work for long). I have the same problem at work: a lovely, skinny woman who runs and works out, who eats candy and granola bars all day long, and never gains a pound. And I have to listen to her lecture my chubby office mate who is beautiful and healthy, but will never, no matter how much she exercises, look like the skinny woman. Life is not fair, not by any means, but even skinny people get sick – they get breast cancer and gastric problems and they snap their achilles tendons while exercising. Exercise is voluntary – perhaps we shouldn’t pay for that either!

    Before I understood the connection between fat accumulation and hormones, I was one of those people too. I’d lose a bit, gain it back, beat myself up for not having any discipline.

    By going low-carb, I’ve been able to achieve homeostasis at a lower level of body fat. I’m still not flat-bellied and perhaps I never will be, but I’m at a decent weight and it’s easy now to stay there. Nothing MeMe Roth has ever proposed would’ve gotten me to where I am now.

  7. TXCHLInstructor

    I always thought that the expression was “hare-brained”, but I guess that doesn’t make quite as good an analogy with MeMe Roth’s hair…

    Both expressions have been in common usage for hundreds of years. I was curious too, so I looked it up … yes, I’m that kind of dweeb.

  8. Brian

    Only as complicated as it has to be and not a bit more. Those jokers are boiling it down to ridiculousness. I just posted about Jeff Garlin, from Curb Your Enthusiasm. You could not create a more perfect example of this problem. I’m sure he tried all the methods and based on what he’s doing now, I don’t think he’s going to find long-term success. Calling Meme and the CSPI people goofs just insulted all the goofs running around.

    I met Jeff in my standup days (not that he’d probably remember) and saw his one-man show in Chicago. He can be very funny about his weight and attempts to bring it down, but I’m sure it’s not really funny to him.

    You’re right; most goofs aren’t dangerous, just goofy.

  9. Jan

    I’d never heard of MeMe Roth until I read your blog, so I researched her.

    Good gawd. Ignorance really IS bliss.

    I guess you’re lucky you missed her. She’s been everywhere in the past few years.

  10. Melissa

    Thanks for writing this because it helps put soe if Taubes info in his book into a quick way of understanding what is happening inside alot of peoples bodies!

    I suppose the only way to shut people like MeMe up is to stop watching stupid networks like “Fox” who actually bring these people on as professionals with good solutions.

    Most of the Fox anchors and hosts disagree vehemently with her, but I think that’s why they keep bringing her on; the fireworks make for good TV.

  11. Marc

    I wonder what Meme would think of me eating coconut oil right out of the jar…

    Great story.

    Since she works with CSPI, she’d no doubt be calling it something like “Heart Attack In A Jar.”

  12. Shayne

    Tom – I noticed that there are two clips of MeMe Roth on the O’Reilly Show on Fathead, yet you never refer to her by name, just as “Thin White Lady”. Just curious, are there any legal reasons that you couldn’t use her name, or was there some other reason?

    No legalities involved. The clips were so short, I didn’t want to stop and identify her.

  13. Chris

    For those of you addicted to this blog and those of you who have been helped by Tom’s movie, I suggest you go to right now and purchase a copy of “Fat Head”for a friend or loved one. My goal is to give 100 copies as gifts before the end of the year (96 to go). The more people who see and hear this message and become emotionally (angrily) involved in pointing out the bad advice on diet and exercise in the media, the sooner we can turn off insulin production and end the obesity epidemic. Thanks Tom explaining it so eloquently.

    I appreciate that, Chris.

  14. Christina

    Awesome post. I’m a ‘Fatty Patty’ and I gained a ton (50 pounds) in a year after my doctor put me on a vegan diet because my cholesterol was too high (238).

    Now, I’m left here picking up the pieces and trying to lose this weight. I read Nourishing Traditions about five months ago (And Eat Fat, Lose Fat, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Good Calories, Bad Calories, Full Moon Feast – and watched Fat Head like 20 times AND bought copies for my parents and grandparents!!) and have completely cut out grains, rice, sugar, etc – the only carbs I have are raw milk and occasionally yogurt and green vegetables.
    However- I still haven’t lost much weight. I lost about 9 pounds right off the bat the first week of cutting out the crap, but I haven’t lost anything else in the past five months. I am considered obese on ‘BMI’ standards and I’m not at a comfortable weight at all, so I know I need to lose more. I’d like to lose at least 30 pounds.
    Any ideas? I’m at a loss. I feel like I’m doing everything right and still can hardly stay afloat.
    Here’s what I usually eat:
    Breakfast – Two eggs, 1 slice (nitrate free) bacon, 1 cup whole raw milk
    Lunch – 2 oz. cheddar cheese, 1 cup raw milk, 1/2 cup walnuts -OR- Dinner leftovers and milk.
    Dinner – Something meaty: meatloaf, steak, fish, etc., 1 cup milk, steamed broccoli w/butter

    Thanks for your time 🙂
    -Christina the Fatty

    The Atkins people suggest a special diet to help people break out of a stall. Jimmy Moore interviewed one of their people here:

    In the meantime, it’s really more about health than weight, so I hope you stick with it. Sometimes people stall for many weeks, then start losing weight again.

  15. Sue

    One of those interviews that MeMe was on the hosts had the gall to ask the fatties being interviewed alongside MeMe how many calories they ate and how much they worked out. How insulting is that. They didn’ ask MeMe who starves herself until she gets tha 4 mile run in.

    They simply don’t grasp that eating less and exercising more can’t reset the point at which a person is in homeostasis.

  16. Elenor

    Here come the govt food police again: (When It Comes to Salt, No Rights or Wrongs. Yet.)

    I thought Gary Taubes showed that salt is okay except in the tiniest minority of folks who have salt-sensitive high blood pressure? Oh well, they’ll write a nice law and we can set up a black market in salt! {eye roll}


    Glad to see the New York Times giving column space to a writer who points that every time the government gets involved in our health, we seem to get worse. The salt hysterics can cut all the salt they want from food; it just means my salt shaker will get more use.

  17. djinn

    As the Sundance Kid might have said; you’re very good.

    Why is it that you often engage in battles of wits with unarmed people – and I can’t keep from laughing? Am I politically incorect too?

    The only people whose reputations are less dependent on results than economists.

    Well said.

  18. Shayne

    MeMe was on Nightline last night debating “Is it okay to be fat?” with three other women. I’d have paid good money to see you debate her, Tom.

    I’d love to debate her. I’ve tried promoting myself to the media as someone who should be appearing on those shows, but no luck yet.

  19. Alexia

    Thanks to you every time I look at anything with carbs in it all I can see is a big bag of sugar LOL You’re really good at explaining things that I would NEVER have figured out on my own!

    When Dr. Eades told me 300 grams of carbohydrate metabolizes into a cup and a half of sugar, my jaw dropped. Wish I’d known that 30 years ago, but better late than never.

  20. Howard

    Christina, (if you’re still reading the comments here)

    You’re consuming three cups of raw milk a day. That’s 36g of sugars, which may be triggering insulin. Replace the milk with water and you may see difference. And you can drink as much water as you like.

  21. Marg

    Behold the Scottish food cops —

    Good Grief! And here’s the pertinent sentence:

    “Shona Robison, Scottish public health minister, said: “No country in the world has successfully addressed obesity and we want Scotland to be the first.”

    No kidding, no country has successfully addressed obesity! That’s because they’re all basing their solutions on a theory that simply isn’t true.

  22. Melissa

    Mmmm did you see this debate?

    Wow. I would love to be on one of those panels. MeMe is truly obsessed with the idea that she’s paying for fat people’s medical bills. Once again, I demand that she take up smoking so she doesn’t take more than her share of social-security money from the system.

  23. Crusader

    I feel like with these clueless fat police that I’m taking crazy pills!

    Well, that could be it. We could all be nuts and they could the sane ones. But if so, my delusions make perfect sense to me, so I’m staying crazy.

  24. Christina


    I’ve thought of that- but every book I’ve read that touches on raw milk doesn’t say that it will inhibit weight loss. I realize there are more sugars in milk than other things, but the amount of fat in the milk that I get I think negates quite a lot of the ‘sugar rush’. I could be wrong, though. But, The Fourfold Path to Healing, Eat Fat, Lose Fat and Nourishing Traditions all say raw milk should be part of a weight loss plan.

    And frankly, I really enjoy drinking it, so if I have to be fat to drink raw milk, so be it. 🙂

    But thank you for your comment!! 🙂

  25. Cathryn

    Have you seen the latest headlines: “Low-carb diet can increase bad cholesterol levels”

    Wed Feb 24, 1:13 pm ET [SOURCE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online January 27, 2010.]

    “NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Cutting down on carbs may help people lose weight, but it may not be so good for lowering cholesterol, new research shows.

    “People who ate a diet low in carbohydrates but relatively high in fat lost the same amount of weight over six weeks as those who consumed a high-carb diet.

    “But levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol increased significantly in the low-carb group, while they fell in the high-carb group. High LDL levels are a risk factor for heart disease because they are linked to
    clogged arteries.”

    Their sample size was was relatively small…and they say nothing else about them except part of the sample ate high carb diet and the other part ate low-carb diet.

    I loved this bit: “The low-carb group also showed greater increases in their levels of free fatty acids, which are released into the blood when the body breaks down stored fat. High levels of free fatty acids make it more difficult for the liver to store glucose, which in turn ups sugar levels in the blood. Consistently high sugar levels define diabetes.”

    Everyone I know who came down with Type II diabetes had diets consistently high in carbs, refined sugars, and GMO/refined fats. Of course that’s a relatively small sample too!

    What idiocy. When people go on low-carb diets, their triglycerides drop. If they drop below 100, the equation used to estimate LDL (which is rarely measured directly) over-estimates LDL. So the numbers probably aren’t accurate. Even if they are, the LDL is probably more of the large, fluffy variety and less of the small, dense variety. Of course the idea that low-carb diets cause diabetes is beyond stupid.

  26. Felix

    The funny/sad thing is: Being obese all by itself doesn’t even make you sick. I highly recommend Paul Campos in this regard. If you take that weapon away from Meme Roth, what is left? An obsession with being skinny.

    Campos, and also Eric Oliver, who wrote “Fat Politics.”

  27. Katy

    MeMe seems to believe that there are either obese individuals or healthy individuals, as if all thin people are perfect. When I look around, I see thin people who are both healthy and unhealthy. I see fat and thin adults and children with allergies, asthma, cancer, eczema, diabetes–pick an illness. And are there no thin people with hypertension? No strokes in the elderly unless they’re fat? No heart disease in thin people? But any illness in an obese individual is automatically attributed to being overweight. Her claim that “normal” individuals are subsidizing the whole system completely overlooks the fact that millions of overweight people have and will continue to pay taxes and pay health insurance premiums.

    Exactly. She’s way hung up on the supposed costs involved. I’ve got flat-bellied, lean relatives who have type 2 diabetes, and I’ve known skinny people who run to the doctor every time they get a sniffle — which they’ll continue to do when they’re on Medicare. If we make this all about costs, it’ll get real stupid, real fast.

  28. Melissa

    “Wow. I would love to be on one of those panels”

    Now I would love to see you on one of those debates! I’d even pay for it like some people pay for sporting events! lol.

    “In this corner, coming in at 195 pounds and a BMI of 27.2, the Voluble Villain from the Volunteer State … Tom Naaaaaaughton! And in this corner, coming in at 120 pounds and a BMI of 19.4, the Bird-Boned Blondie Big Mouth, MeMe Rooooooooooth!”

  29. Phyllis Mueller

    It makes my head explode as well. Why is it that people make generalized statements about how detrimental fat is and use examples that are, yes, high in fat but also high in sugar (candy bars, ice cream) and starch (chips)? Or that we hear red meat is bad for you based on diet recalls of people who ate hamburgers and pizza, ignoring entirely the carb content of the buns and the crust?

    In the article about stroke, there was also the amazing leap from the dietary patterns of postmenopausal women to what people should be feeding their children, as though the two groups have similar nutritional needs. Arrrggghh!

    One of those food-survey studies even asked respondents to guess their daily intake of margarine or butter. Margarine or butter?!! That’s like asking, “How many times per day do you consume water or tequila?”

  30. Sarah

    I recently saw a video showing how nutrient-less McDs meals are (Nooo kidding) and how even a single apple is better than a whole McDs meal in terms of FIBER. FIBER is the magic word among low-fat diet people. It’s supposed to be the thing that keeps you full. And it does. Until it makes you poop. Then you’re hungry again. In the mean while, I know that a big heap of protein keeps me going for a while without cravings.

    And I don’t know for certain, but ever since going from “avoid fat in most places” to “avoid carbs in most places” mode, my acne’s much improved! Some people say it’s because I’m 16 and puberty’s ended, but heck, doesn’t mean I’m gonna switch back anytime soon.

    I never realized it before, but the whole anti-dairy vegan argument “we’re the only species to drink milk past infancy and drink another species” may be true, but we’re also the only mammals to be basing our diet on grains! Grains are literally for the birds!

    P.S. Coconut oil is amazing on the occasional popcorn. And just about everything else. Thank God my Dad watched Fathead and started using it instead of Crisco.

    The improvement in your acne was no coincidence. Good fats are good for your skin, and sugar triggers acne.

  31. Dan

    I saw the Nightline face off. The large woman told about eating “healthy” and not being able to lose weight. I know how that goes. People like MeMe have no clue as to what it’s like.

    They told about size 4 models who were “fired” for being too fat. There was also a “plus sized” model (size 12), who had previously suffered the effects of trying to be too thin so she could model. Now she accepts her size 12 and is a successful “plus sized” model. Anyone who thinks she is fat should have their head examined.

    I’ve seen pictures of the size-12 model. She’s gorgeous. And MeMe simply proved once again that she doesn’t know squat. The large woman said her size is the result of too many diets, and MeMe didn’t believe her, which means MeMe knows nothing about how calorie deprivation can damage thryoid function.

  32. Cynthia

    You are so right about the homeostasis and hormonal resistance to weight loss. People ignore that at their own peril. If you push too far with exercise or starving yourself, your body may react to conserve, especially if it’s a low fat diet. You need to be patient and give your body a chance to renormalize at each step of the way.

    I find what works well for me is sufficient exercise to mobilize fat- running/hiking works well for me because of the endorphin and adrenaline fix and the freedom. I will feel great up to about 6 miles, but more than that I’ll start to feel depleted and need to eat more (but may still lose weight). Since I’m one of those people who will eat a certain minimum amount no matter what I’ve done that day (1500 calories just doesn’t cut it), some exercise seems necessary. For some reason, weight lifting didn’t do it for me (didn’t lose despite careful eating) so after a month I went back to what I enjoy more anyway. I also enjoy running/hiking ultras, but they often throw me out of whack with hormonal changes (retain water for a couple days), and I might be tired and famished the next day, so something is being affected. Thowing your body temporarily out of balance isn’t necessarily bad, and you need to be aware that each food/exercise etc stressor may have unintended consequences, or that response will change as your status changes. It’s astounding to me that people like MeMe and Oz don’t understand this (he really gets on my nerves sometimes).

    As for the calorie counts on fast food, the last time I checked one, I decided to go elsewhere b/c the item I wanted was too low in calories! So it goes both ways. 🙂

    Thanks for another great post Tom.

    @ Christina, be patient, allow time for your body to recognize that it has the nutrients it needs and doesn’t need to keep such a tight hold on the stores. You could also try adding bulky low carb veggies and supplementing with vitamin D (heavy people tend to be even more deficient), and getting your thyroid status checked. Good luck!

    I just watched the whole Nightline debate on Is It Okay To Be Fat? MeMe talked about how little she eats and how much she exercises. She simply has no clue that she doesn’t eat much and likes to exercise because her body doesn’t want to store fat, not the other way around. If the obese woman she was preaching to tried exactly the same diet and exercise routine, the end result would be a thyroid that’s even more depressed.

  33. Lynda

    Just to comment on the link posted above about the stroke risk for women. Here is the first line in the article:

    “A moment on the lips, forever on the hips? A bad figure is hardly the worst of it. Eating a lot of fat, especially the kind that’s in cookies and pastries, can significantly raise the risk of stroke for women over 50, a large new study finds.”

    Oh my goodness… LOOK AT THE TYPE OF FAT?? In COOKIES AND PASTRIES??? Just maybe the strokes might actually be caused by the carbs in the cookies and pastries?? I am not a statistician nor a scientist but surely this is a flawed survey.

    Show me a survey of a low carb high fat group of women v a low fat high carb group and then compare the results.

    Yeah, I had that same thought. Reminds me of the joke about the Irishman who consumes a six-pack of Guinness, a bottle of Irish whisky and potato. Feeling sick the next morning, he says, “Just my luck; I got a rotten potato.” (I’m allowed … I’m Irish.)

  34. donny

    That stroke and fat intake study…

    “There were 288 strokes in the group of women who consumed the most fat each day (95 grams) versus 249 strokes in the group eating the least fat (25 grams), Yaemsiri told the conference.

    After taking into account other factors that affect stroke risk – weight, race, smoking, exercise and use of alcohol, aspirin or hormone pills – researchers concluded that women who ate the most fat had a 44 percent greater risk of stroke.”

    288 divided by 248 gives 1.156, most of the “risk” of higher fat intake came from the adjustments.

    The big deal made over studies like this one is maybe some of the best evidence we have that fat is not particularly dangerous. Who the hell would trot this crap out, if they had anything better to offer?

    Someone who needed to justify the grant money, that’s who.

  35. Christina

    Thanks, Cynthia. I’ve had my thyroid checked many times and thankfully it’s in ‘normal’ ranges every time.
    I’ll keep on keepin’ on and doing what I’m doing and maybe someday my body will loosen its grip on my fat. 😛

    If that doesn’t happen, Christina, it just means you’re in homeostasis at a higher level of fat; it doesn’t mean you’re not healthy.

  36. Martina

    Mr. Naughton, I’ve been following your blog for some time and I love it. You’ve helped me change the way I eat and the way I look at food. Thank You.

    Regarding this MeMe woman: She’s a whack job. I had never heard of her outside of your blog. (I don’t watch a lot of tv or read magazines) But I looked her up after reading about her here. Upon reading an interview with her in elle or the guardian, I don’t remember which, it’s obvious that she’s #1. insane #2. probably has body dismorphic disorder and #3 probably anorexic.

    What kind of fool would take her seriously, let alone follow her “advice”. She’s a bully who couldn’t figure out a smarter way to make a living, so she’s decided to publicly berate a a group of people she loathes, the overweight, and make some money/try to get famous while she’s at it. Diet and nutrition considerations aside, if she were talking the same kind of garbage about any minority group she wouldn’t be featured in any magazines, and nobody would openly say “I know she’s kinda wierd but she has a point.”

    My two cents.

    I agree with your analysis. Unfortunately, she’s all over TV (including Nightline) whenever the issue of obesity comes up, despite having no credentials.

  37. Dana

    “Declare all obesity-related diseases ‘elective’ and make fat people pay for them out of pocket so they don’t burden the rest of us.”

    One of the areas in which I disagree with you is I think we need health care reform. I do NOT think what Obama’s doing is going to work. When it comes to health care I’m redder than the Pope at a Catholic nudist colony–I grew up a beneficiary of the regular military healthcare system and while it’s not perfect, neither is the civilian system and I think it’s criminal to make people go without basic care just because they have chintzy employers, or none at all. I want single-payer. Badly. Like, *yesterday.*


    You should have heard (maybe you did) all the talk amongst so-called “progressives” about what exactly Obamacare was going to look like. You would have been *disgusted* at the amount of fattie-bashing that went on. (Hey, I’m a fattie. I use the term ironically.) It was all “obesity is expensive” this and “obesity leads to chronic disease” that and “fatties will bankrupt the system” that other thing.

    I was like, Excuse me? You’re going around telling people “eat food, not too much, mostly plants” and “be a vegan, you COW-MURDERER” and then you expect us NOT to get fat, and furthermore, to NOT overtax the health-care system? HOW does that work, again?

    That is one area in which I guess I can never be completely liberal or progressive or whatever the hell they are calling it this week. OMG. The insulting part is that at least among some feminists, there is a movement to be more body-positive, to NOT get on someone’s case ’cause they’re twenty pounds overweight. Apparently that has not filtered out to the rest of the Left, particularly not the ones who joined up ’cause they heard liberal girls were easy. (I hate that faction of the Left most of all… but never mind.)

    grr. Sorry. It just pisses me off.

    Venting is allowed.

  38. Dana


    You don’t have to actually drink raw milk straight in order to benefit from it. You could make other foods out of it. Kefir is the easiest to do, you just pop the grains in and leave it on the kitchen counter for a day or two, then filter the grains back out. It eats up the milk sugars and adds nutritional value to the milk.

    Raw cheese is really good for you too. If you don’t want to take up cheesemaking, more and more stores are selling it. Organic Valley has a few varieties and maybe you have some local artisan cheesemakers too.

  39. Name

    Are you sure it works this way, I mean with the savings account and all. Why should people report overwhelming success with Atkins-type low carb diets if their set points want them to eat eat eat?

    Just some more nit points

    – I think the “useful idiots” phrase was Lenin, not Stalin
    – Your blog is great, but the formatting is absymal. I have to switch to “No style” to read anything at all.
    – It may well be that most vegans are depleted of something, but I’d not be so sure that you cannot manage eating vegan. Nuts, almonds, peas, beans, yeast, coconut oil… the usual whole grain and rice not so bright idea.

    Not sure what’s up with the formatting. I check it in IE and Firefox, and it’s fine.

    Atkins-style diets work because they lower insulin and thus allow fat to escape your fat cells at a faster rate. In my analogy, that would be a higher daily withdrawal percentage.

    According to Wikipedia, “useful idiots” has been attributed to both Lenin and Stalin.

    Some folks can probably get by on a vegan diet, but the world is full of ex-vegans who finally accepted that their health problems were due to vegan-induced malnutrition.


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