Arguing With Idiots

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It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is after all a specialized discipline and one that most people consider a dismal science. But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance. — Murray Rothbard, economist

Don’t worry, this isn’t a post about economics. It’s a post about the strange combination of ignorance and arrogance. As I’ve told my wife more times than she’d probably prefer, it doesn’t bother me much when people are arrogant but well-informed, and it doesn’t bother me much when people are ignorant but humble. But when ignorant people are arrogant, that gets me riled.

Long before I became fascinated by nutrition science, I became fascinated by history and economics. I’m not sure exactly how many books I’ve read on economics, but it’s easily more than 20. I certainly don’t know everything about the subject, but I know more than most people by a long shot.

I saved the quote from Murray Rothbard because over the years, I’ve been amazed at how many people I’ve encountered who are exactly like he described: never took a class in economics, never read a book on economics, but are nonetheless full of loud and vociferous opinions on everything from the economic effects of tax rates to the cause of high oil prices. They know what they know, and by gosh, they don’t need to bother with any research to keep knowing what they know, because they already know it — and anyone who disagrees must be an idiot. (This attitude was rampant in Hollywood.)

Since creating this blog and putting my YouTube clips online, I’ve noticed the same phenomenon in discussions about health and nutrition: once some people form an opinion, they are incapable of changing their minds. I can more or less understand why researchers whose reputations or grants are tethered to a particular theory will cling so tightly to it. As described brilliantly in the book Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me), they engage in mental cherry-picking of the evidence to convince themselves they are Doing the Right Thing. It’s not good for science, but at least their opinions are based on research, even if the research if flawed or incomplete.

What I don’t understand are laymen who have nothing at stake professionally, yet form strong opinions about diet and health without looking at any research whatsoever, then go ballistic if those opinions are challenged by someone who, heaven forbid, might actually know something they don’t. One of the Fat Head clips I uploaded to YouTube is titled Why You Got Fat and explains how insulin drives fat storage. That clip recently drew this comment:

you know what would really make your body stop storing fat??? if you got off your lazy f@#$% asses and did something!!

Ignorance and arrogance combined … my favorite combination. For some reason, challenging the simple “eat less, move more” advice for losing weight seems to bring these goofs out of the woodwork. Some people just know it’s all about counting calories — in my experience, they’re usually people who’ve never had to lose weight, and therefore consider themselves experts in how it all works. Since they’re thin, that proves they know how to be thin … MeMe Roth comes to mind.

I kept my reply to the arrogant ignoramus short:

Glad to see you’ve done so much research on the biochemistry of weight loss. If only I’d spoken to someone with your deep understanding of metabolism and endocrinology before shooting the film, I might have gotten it right.

Agreeing with arrogant ignoramuses is my preferred method for dealing with them, and has been for well over 24 hours.

The way I see it, anyone who challenges your current beliefs with logic or evidence is an opportunity, not a threat. When I sent the first cut of Fat Head to Dr. Mike Eades, he replied with a long email telling me which parts he liked, but also informed me some parts were scientifically incorrect. It never would’ve occurred to me to dig in my heels and tell him I already know what I know, so that’s it, and he must be wrong. I asked him to explain why those parts were wrong and point me to the evidence. He did. I learned valuable new information precisely because he disagreed with me.

But arrogant ignoramuses don’t see it that way. They believe changing an opinion, no matter how uninformed that opinion might be, can cause paralysis below the neck, or erectile dysfunction at the very least, and must be avoided at all costs.

I’ve tried replying to their comments with logic or evidence, but they have this amazing ability to shrug it off and go on repeating themselves. So I’ve ended up engaging in what my wife calls (by way of encouraging me to stop) Arguing With Idiots. It’s pointless, as last night’s online debate eventually convinced me. Here are some highlights, with the opponent’s comments in italic, mine in plain text:

If carbs and so evil than why are so many chinese and japanese and indians, who eat white rice on a daily basis, thinner and healthier than americansky?

Their thinness is partly hereditary; Asians have higher levels of osteoporosis because their bones are thinner. Thin-boned people also tend to be more resistant to becoming obese. As for the carbs, they actually consume fewer of them than a typical American. They eat rice, yes. We consume rice, pasta, french fries, donuts, sodas, frappucinos, bagels, breakfast cereals, deli sandwiches, Snickers bars, Little Debbie Snack Cakes and ice cream.

they consume fewer? Hmmm, eating LESS seems to be the determining factor, hein?

If only it were as simple as that. By eating fewer carbs and (especially) a lot less fructose, they are less likely to become insulin resistant and therefore less likely to go into fat-accumulation mode. It’s not just about how much you eat; it’s about the hormonal changes produced by what you eat. If hormones signal your body to store more fat, yes, you will likely eat more because you’re storing more calories and therefore running short of fuel for your cells.

how about the nutrition professor who lost 27 pounds eating mainly junk food?

He averaged 173 carbohydrates per day, which is less than half of what a typical American consumes. By his own estimation, he reduced his carb intake by over 100 grams per day on the “junk” diet. His food log is online, so I ran the numbers. “Mainly junk food” was media hype. He ate many meals consisting of steak, chicken, protein shakes, etc., then tossed in some donuts and twinkies. It wasn’t a junk food diet, it was a diet that included some junk food.

So on one hand you say sugar and carbs are evil, but when I point out about this nutrition professor you counter by saying that he simply was not eating too many carbs, which is exactly what I have been saying. You can eat anything: as long as you less calories than you need, you will lose weight!

No, I’m saying if you restrict calories AND keep your insulin low enough to allow your body to burn fat, you’ll lose weight. Professor Haub ate twinkies and donuts but still consumed a LOW number of carbohydrates while restricting calories, same as I did in my documentary. That means his insulin likely dropped. If insulin stays high, your body reacts to calorie restriction by slowing your metabolism, eliminating or reducing the calorie deficit. That’s why so many diets fail.

Right, he restricted CALORIES. If i eat 100% sugar everyday, but only eat 500 calories I will lose weight.

Duh, do you think? First off, that’s 125 carbohydrates, second, your body would suck up every calorie so there’d be no need for insulin to convert carbohydrates to fat and store them, which is what happens on high-carb diets, and third, you’d also become sick and lose muscle mass.

So you admit that to lose weight, you need to eat less calories?

Go to YouTube, search ‘Taubes science weightloss,’ watch the lecture on the actual science, pay close attention to the sections about populations where food intake was low, malnutrition was rampant, yet a high proportion of adults were obese. Then see if you still believe it’s all about simply counting calories.

then why do all scientists disagree with taubes, who is a journalist?

Really, all the scientists disagree? That must be news to the many scientists whose articles I’ve read, whom I’ve interviewed or corresponded with, who agree very much with Taubes. As for him being “just a journalist,” he’s a journalist with a degree in physics from Harvard and a master’s in engineering from Stanford. He’s won the science writer of the year award twice. Try coming up with something besides a weak appeal to authority to prove your point.

many of them do. the majority. sugar is bad for you, no doubt, but taube’s takes his reasoning too far. and he doesn’t have a masters in engineering.

This is like talking to a child. Yes, he has a master’s in aerospace engineering and another in journalism. Look it up. If you’re more psychologically comfortable deciding you already know how metabolism and fat accumulation work than with looking into the actual science, be my guest. I really don’t care if you choose to stick with your current beliefs.

not just my beliefs, but the beliefs of the majority of nutrition scientists.

Well, that explains the fabulous success rate of the diets they’ve designed. Nearly 2% lose weight and keep it off — can’t argue with those credentials! Like I said, if you want to simply declare that already know how metabolism works and avoid looking into the science for yourself, I don’t really care.

[Yes, this is the point where I should’ve stopped replying to the ignoramus. Took me a while longer to wise up.]

you thesis is completely wrong. plenty of people eat carbs and sugar and are thin. it’s because they simply don’t eat more than they need. you even admitted it, so i am not even sure what point you are trying to make

Yes, because plenty of people are what they call “metabolically gifted,” which means they don’t become insulin resistant. Most people don’t fall into that category. Plenty of people smoke two packs per day and never develop lung cancer, so I guess to your way of thinking, that proves smoking isn’t a cause of lung cancer.

No, you are wrong. There may be mulitple ways to lsoe weight, but eating less calories will result in weight loss. I didn’t see any fat people in the concentration camps.

You didn’t see any healthy people in concentration camps either. If you starve people, duh, they’ll lose weight. They’ll lose muscle mass and eventually digest their own organs, too. That isn’t the point. The question is whether you can burn body fat without sacrificing your muscles and wrecking your metabolism simply by restricting calories without changing your hormonal balance, and the answer is no. That’s why people who starve themselves on diets usually end up fatter.

you don’t have to starve yourself; you can just eat less. instead of eating and 8 inch grinder and bag of chips for lunch, you can eat a 6 in grinder and an apple.

[At this point, I began to realize I was talking to wall and decided perhaps the smart move would be to just agree with him.]

Thank you for sharing your superior biological knowledge with me. I appreciate it. You’re right and I’m wrong. Weight loss is purely about counting calories, hormones have nothing to do with it, diabetics don’t become emaciated and die without insulin, and there’s never been a poor population that became obese despite living on less than 2000 calories per day. None of that ever happened. You’re clearly correct, and I thank you.

So how do devout hindus who don’t eat meat and eat rice and lentils and such be healthy? or are they really unhealthy?

If you consider having one of the highest rates of heart disease and diabetes in the world, “healthy,” okay, yeah. You might want to do some research on this stuff before popping off.

[Oops, my mistake… I backslid and actually replied.]

Indians have a high rate of heart disease and diabetes?? Where is your source? Remember, I am stalking about people from India, not Native Americans. Also, what group of peolple were obese despite eating less than 2000 calories a day?

[I was trying to figure out how he decided I believe Native Americans are Hindus, then reminded myself to just agree with him.]

You’re correct, I simply made up the statement that people in India have high rates of heart disease and diabetes. I admit it here and now. Same for the obese populations who live on little food. As you’ve surmised, I don’t actually put any research into my documentaries, speeches, or blog posts. I thank you for sharing your superior knowledge of biology, endocrinology, metabolism, and Gary Taubes’ resume. Your beliefs are 100% correct and I urge you to keep them.

So you can’t provide one source to back up the claim about heart disease in India?

Like I said, I don’t actually do any research. I just make stuff up, as you’ve surmised. Do a little Googling and I’m sure you’ll instantly confirm your belief that heart disease, obesity and diabetes are low in India.

Oh yes, the good old “Google it for yourself and find out!” You made a claim that Indians suffer high rates of diabetes and heart disease. It is up to you, the claimant, to provide proof. All I am asking for is one link to a study that support your claim. You made the claim. So provide support for your claim.

Like I said, the claim was pure drivel, all made up. I do no research whatsoever. So instead of troubling yourself with spending, say, 20 seconds doing Google research, I urge you to cease your relentless open-mindedness and try very hard to simply accept that you already know everything. I know it’ll be difficult, but try, man, try.

You made the claim. I am waiting for evidence for you claim. If it only takes 20 seconds to retreive, then it should be no trouble for you.

You’re right. I suddenly feel an overwhelming need and obligation to convince you. Please sit there staring at your screen, and I’ll provide you with sources as soon as I can. Do not leave your chair until you hear back from me.

[At that point, I went to the kitchen for a small dish of almonds and then watched Sunday Night Football. I enjoy a good debate with people who’ve actually done a bit of research and can back up their beliefs, but no more arguing with idiots. That’s my rule.]


84 thoughts on “Arguing With Idiots

  1. Marilyn

    The whole thing felt like trying to pick up mercury with one’s bare hands. Why don’t you just say, “Hmmm. Whatever. Gotta go. Have a nice day,” and go on your way. . .as one commenter said, “go play with your kids.” Cheers!

    Sounds like a good plan.

  2. KD

    I had an ex-boyfriend that said he thought the trickle down effect was BS. He also told me that he never really read anything… that he didn’t like to read (yet he’d gone to school for journalism and used to have a job at a newspaper). He became an ex rather quickly.

    Sad comment on journalism.

  3. TimInUkraine

    I sympathize with the commenter, as I had a similar experience posting to a quantum physics forum asking how to rewire my Delorean (OK, a Camry) so that I could go back in time and buy some Google stock.

    They pretended they didn’t know what I was talking about and refused to show me the evidence that it was too tricky…

  4. Nathaniel

    Fantastic posting Tom… I agree with the poster who said that Diet should be added to the list of very personal subjects which are not appropriate to broach with people that you don’t know well. For many people, the subject of food is perhaps just as emotional as the subject of faith or politics. Food can be emotional in a very personal way and people can get offended very quickly.

    I don’t talk about nutrition at all if I can avoid it, despite being quite knowledgeable for a layman; of course I wish I could help many people, but I know that even with the best intentions I most likely could not overcome the entrenched beliefs and defense mechanisms that are in place.

    The only way to really reach someone is to lead by example. When I’ve reached a point where my health is vibrant and people start asking me questions, then I might divulge some of what I have learned, because I realize that people generally only learn when they are motivated to learn.

    Anyway, a little change of topic but could you recommend some essential reading on economics? I would like to become well informed on the subject but I’m not sure how to begin. Thanks.

    Start with Henry Hazlitt’s “Economics In One Lesson.” Easy read, great explanation of the basics. Interestingly, the book, which was last updated in the 1970s, explains how easy credit extended or backed by the government could eventually cause a housing bubble and crash.

    Then for something meatier, “Basic Economics” by Thomas Sowell.

    Finally, for an excellent look at what causes the bubble-and-burst cycle as well as clear explanations of other economic issues, “Meltdown” by Thomas Woods.

  5. John Hunter

    Loved reading this! Great post! It wouldn’t have done any good to present him with any evidence anyway. I’ve been in this same situation in forums before you probably would have got the same response to your evidence i always hear regardless to the topic, your evidence is wrong because it was sponsored by BIG OIL!

    In my case, they accuse me of being funded by McDonald’s. I’m sure my banker wishes that were true.

  6. Tammy

    OMG – That McDonald’s lawsuit has got to be a joke. Turns out the “mom” doing the suing actually a “regional program manager” on the state of California payroll for child nutrition matters. Specifically, she works on a federally funded program that campaigns to exhort people to eat their vegetables and that sort of thing.

    Check this out:

    I see … so she knows what’s good for us, but can’t resist her child’s begging for Happy Meals.

  7. Kenny F.

    There’s nothing more for me to say on the food part of this blog, however, I WILL tell you that I have had many a “facebook argument” with people over politics (most recently the mosque at ground zero). While I agree with your wife and Mark Twain, there IS something therapeutic about it. It’s a form of self-expression that releases lots of endorphins because of the passion involved.

    Or something.

    Keep up the good work!!

    Thank you.

  8. Anon

    God help me. I met with a medical school admissions counselor yesterday to plan the last 20 semester hours I need before I apply to med school. Fingers crossed that I make it in and moreover, that once I’m in I don’t go insane in the face of the big pharma influence and wrong-headed traditional thinking about so many things. I read a letter today on Dr. Davis’ heart scan blog from a 3rd year student complaining about the pressure to think traditionally.

    I know the industry has issues but in my own way, I want to jump in and try to steer it towards a better direction. If enough people do, we’ll eventually reach a tipping point.

    I know what kind of physician I want to be and I truly hope I’m not twisted into something else by the process.

    I hope you stick it out. We need you.

  9. Dan

    I can’t berate the person too much. I was very stubborn for years about my opinion of Atkins. I never jumped on the bandwagon and thought anyone who removed fruit from their diet was an idiot. It also didn’t help that I didn’t know a single person for whom this diet actually worked. Everyone lost weight at first and then gained it all back and more.

    For the past 3-4 months I’ve been mostly primal and trying to limit my carb intake to 100g per day. I haven’t lost much weight but at least I’ve changed my mindset enough to actually give this a chance. I don’t think I would go to the lengths this person went to try and prove you wrong though.

    not sure if anyone mentioned this yet:
    “Never argue with an idiot, they will bring you down to their level and beat you with experience”

  10. Marilyn

    Nathaniel said, “Food can be emotional in a very personal way and people can get offended very quickly.”

    My experience has been not so much that others get offended, but that they are as convinced of the superiority of their program–vegetarian, low fat, “heart-healthy,” whatever–as I am of mine. And they’ve probably done as much reading as I have, they’ve just read different stuff. So, nobody’s going to convince anyone of anything.

  11. Nathaniel


    That’s interesting. In my experience I have yet to meet anyone who has made much of an effort to become knowledgeable about nutrition. Most people that I encounter

    A) Assume that they know all there is to know about nutrition based on what they heard in health class and in the media


    B) Seem to vaguely believe that some foods are healthier than others, but don’t really seem convinced that it makes a whole lot of difference.

    Of course, I don’t blame people for feeling a disconnect when it comes to nutrition… most of what they’ve been told is wrong and trying to follow it will not produce results. No wonder people don’t think it matters.

  12. xtrocious

    On what Asians eat in Asia…

    I can only speak from my observation in Singapore…

    More people are eating out these days – gone are the days when we have the time to seat down at home to a home-cooked meal – which Aaron rightly pointed out was cooked with the delicious animal fats intact…

    These days, most of us would eat out due to time constraints and also due to the lure of cheap (under US$2 per meal) and delicious (read – loaded with sugar, salt and MSG) meals, which we call “hawker fare”…google for Newton Circle Singapore to get an idea 🙂

    And we do have the time to cook at home, it’s usually with “healthy” vegetable oil and lean this and lean that etc…

    Then there are the snacks like potato chips, ice cream and sodas…

    In the past, I would think nothing of starting the day with a Coke and ending onn with another as well…

    Now I know better and revert to simple home-cooked food like stir-fried vegetables with pork belly using pork lard and a pinch of salt etc…

  13. Dan

    “So how do devout hindus who don’t eat meat and eat rice and lentils and such be healthy? or are they really unhealthy?”

    Is this guy delusional? I work with tourists at my Las Vegas job, and several of my co-workers have commented that middle-aged Indian woman are the most out of shape people in the world, to the point where some of them can’t even walk up a step or two. The elderly Indians, however, look relatively healthy. The refined carb is killing them.

  14. KarenW

    Hello. I’m new to this site and I find it fascinating to say the least! I think it’s cool that you respond to each comment, so if it would be ok, I’d like to ask a few questions. I’m not here to argue – I sincerely would like to lose weight and I haven’t had much luck.

    [My replies interspersed with your questions — Tom]

    1. So, is it all right to eat some carbs occasionally as long as I reduce my overall carb intake? I flat out am not willing to abstain from all carbs. I can do without the junk food and sweets but sometimes I want a normal sandwich or taco or slice of pizza.

    [You don’t need to go zero-carb. It’s a question of balance, and the right balance for you will depend on how sensitive you are to the effects of carbs. Maybe once per month, I eat pasta or pizza or a burger with the bun.]

    2. If a food item is high fat and almost no carbs, I can really have as much as I want? I can freely snack on bacon or pork rinds? Or does that only work if I consume no carbs at all in my diet?

    [I believe if you overwhelm your body with too much food of any kind, you’re likely to gain weight. Even bacon will raise your insulin a little bit. The real advantage as I see it is that the high-fat/low-carb foods are less likely to provoke an insulin spike that will eventually make you hungrier. When I restrict my carbohydrate intake, my appetite controls itself and I can eat until I’m full without gaining weight.]

    3. Does the type of carb make any difference? I’ve heard that oatmeal or fruit raises insulin levels just as much as a donut. These are things that I have forced myself to eat because they are supposed to be healthy.

    [Yes, the type of carbohydrate matters. Fructose seems to be the worst, since high fructose intake causes fat deposits in the liver, despite not raising blood sugar as much as glucose. For grain foods and other starches, I’d recommend getting a glucose meter and checking your blood sugar one hour after eating. If it goes above 125, you’re probably eating something you don’t handle well. That will vary among individuals. One little serving of pasta raised my blood sugar to the 170 range; my sister-in-law ate the pasta and a potato and peaked at 112.]

    Thanks, and if these are topics that you’ve already covered hundreds of times, I apologize.

  15. Neonomide

    Nice post !

    I’ve been a Carol Tavris fan for years (the second writer of Mistakes Were Made). Her previous work has been on misconceptions in anger media/research and problems on sexual difference media/research (my own field) – both were of course awesome.

    Not a lot to add, I just think that cognitive dissonance and escalation of commitment are useful terms too:

    People seem to relieve stress (and learn to do so) by thinking coherently inside their heads of tough matters. Changing one’s mind has often some social costs too and western culture perhaps over-emphasizes having opinions before having adequate knowledge. Not knowing about things is considered stupid, admitting it much more so.

    Then of course we are the children of Geoffrey Rose’s mass health education indoctrinaire, which sees public health management in a form of set of predetermined silent social rules (tacit knowledge). Less educated people are often the most problematic ones, so the message must be KISS (keep it simple stupid).

    In the end, I still think the problem of being silent on politically uncorrect research is multifactorial. Like with obesity, that’s not a reason not to speak more openly about it.

    Good points. I also believe our culture places too much emphasis on good intentions, as opposed to good results.

  16. Andy

    I would be grateful if someone could give me a link to a peer reviewed study regarding obesity in calorie restricted populations. I would love to know did they determined if people were being acurate in reporting their calorie intake and if they used scientific methods to determine how many calories were actually burned by the participants during the observation period.

    So far in time looking into this whole subject I can see how the macronutrients affect the appetite of individuals differently. And as far as I am aware a supressed metabolism isn’t nearly as common as people think, and even when it is supressed it isn’t by all that much. So I would be very interested in analysing such a study if it offers a contrary view.

  17. LEVI


    What are your thoughts on Metabolic Typing? Do you feel that may be more of a suitable answer for why Asians and Africans can thrive on a high carb, grain diet (closer to equator = more active)?

    My own example: Me and my roommate are both personal trainers as well as athletes. We are both sitting right under 10% bf at 195 lbs. I eat a diet of 90% protein and fat (less than 50 most days). He eats a diet of 60% carb ( around 300 g’s a day). While meat energizes me, it fatigues him. He can eat 12 cookies and stay alert, I eat 1 and I’m sleeping. I do not know how to explain this except by referencing metabolic typing. He simply wasn’t meant to go low carb just like I wasn’t meant to eat them.

    ps- great post and great website. Keep up the good fight!

    I think there’s probably something to it, but I haven’t looked into it much. Given that there’s no single “paleo” diet because our paloelithic ancestors consumed different foods in different parts of the world, I would expect people today to have different reactions to different foods, based at least in part on where their ancestors evolved.

  18. Tom

    Since you think insulin ismore important than overall caloric intake, why don’t you examine war prisoners and concentration camp victims. These populations were/are fed an extremely limited amount of food with limited access to animal protein and the majority of their diets being comprised of inexpensive grain/carbohydrate sources. These individuals all lost massive amounts of weight (both fat and lean tissue, obviously) despite consuming almost nothing besides for highly insulinogenic foods. While it is true that insulin does have a role in fat storage, it is necessary for the body to be in positive energy balance in order for this to even matter. What you are effectively doing is missing the forest for the trees. Interested to see the mental gymnastics you use to get around this issue. It would be even better if you could do it without invoking the Eades/Taubes/Cordain/Sisson echo chamber and the circular evidence that you folks love so much.

    Speaking of being loud, arrogant, and incorrect…you should take your own medicine and stop posting until relatively basic concepts like thermodynamics cease to elude you.

    Thank you for providing yet another example of arrogance combined with ignorance. It must be nice to have such a high opinion of your intelligence that you actually believe you understand the laws of thermodynamics, while Gary Taubes — who has a degree in physics, a master’s in aerospace engineering, and spent a year living in a physics lab — doesn’t.

    But I’m going to step out on a limb here and suggest that the guy who spent most of his career writing about physics actually does understand thermodynamics, whereas people like you simply don’t have the IQ to grasp how the laws of thermodynamics apply (because they DO apply) to his hypothesis, even though he’s spelled it out several times. So let me give an example you might actually be capable of grasping: If my car gets 35 miles per gallon when I first buy it, but only gets 25 miles per gallon five years later, it’s requiring more fuel (calories in) to go the same distance (calories out), and yet the laws of thermodynamics have not been violated. It simply means the energy is being used differently. My car’s “metabolism” has changed.

    As for your POW example, I’ve heard that one offered by a large list of idiots. Congratulations on joining the list. Put anyone on semi-starvation rations, and of course he’ll lose weight. It’s impossible to keep insulin high enough to prevent lipolysis on semi-starvation rations, so fat will be burned … along with muscle mass and eventually organ tissue. The metabolism will also plummet, as Ancel Keys discovered when his semi-starvation subjects ended up experiencing a 40% drop in metabolism. That means a change in calories-in produced a corresponding change in calories-out, which is exactly the point Taubes has made about energy balance and thermodynamics. Sorry you don’t have the intelligence to grasp what he’s written on the topic. Be sure to hang onto that arrogance, though … the world needs walking examples of the Dunning-Kruger effect for research purposes.

  19. Tom

    Einstein himself was wrong about things, and refused to admit it due to his own biases. That is where your appeal to authority fails. Even experts can be wrong, and Taubes is in a regular basis. I’m not going to get into it all here, but he has been repeatedly astonished for cheery picking research and data to fit his preconceived hypotheses in GCBC. Its called confirmation bias, and its a big reason for the echo chamber I mentioned earlier. You folks see what you want.

    As for your example, of course efficiency is a factor, but is still ultimately a slave to energy balance, the importance of which you deny in your op. If your argument is that calories don’t matter because various circumstances affect the body’s efficient at utilizing those calories, then you are arguing your premise with irrelevant facts.

    By the way, the more recent research on metabolic slowdown in dieters is contradictory to your 40% figure, which was drawn from a less relevant population than the current research.

    It isn’t an appeal to authority. It’s simple logic. It’s extremely unlikely someone who has spent his career writing about physics would fail to consider the laws of thermodynamics (which you yourself described as a basic concept) when proposing a theory about why we get fat — and in fact, nothing in the hypothesis Taubes spelled out violates the laws of thermodynamics. If you believe otherwise, you either didn’t read his book or you lack the intelligence to understand how the laws of thermodynamics apply to his hypothesis — which they clearly do.

    If you don’t agree with his overall hypothesis, fine and dandy. It’s just a hypothesis, and like any other hypothesis, it could turn out to be wrong. But to say it must be wrong because it violates the laws of thermodynamics is, frankly, idiotic. Nothing in his hypothesis requires or even suggests that energy is magically created or destroyed. Nothing in what I’ve written does, either.

  20. Tom

    So I guess you have no opinion on the more recent research that shows that the dreaded metabolic slowdown you are talking about doesn’t really occur to the degree you are suggesting in scenarios outside of true starvation? If I remember correctly, it was something like 10% bmr at most.

    Of course you reference those studies where obese people reportedly ate very little and remained obese, despite the fact that this data is entirely self reported and the obese have been repeatedly shown to underreport food intake. You ignore this because of your confirmation bias and chose instead to attack all who hold opposing views as imbeciles and blowhard morons.

    By the way, with regards to your paranoid obsession with insulin, do you avoid ground beef? The reason I ask is because ground beef generates a greater insulin response than an isocaloric serving of oatmeal. Better watch out, those hormones and things might make you fat.

    Yes, I’ve seen metabolic slowdowns reported at about that rate, and also at higher rates. Even 10% is significant. For someone whose metabolism started out at 2500 calories, that’s 250 calories per day, which would translate to 25 extra pounds per year — and all without violating the laws of thermodynamics! Therefore people clearly can gain significant weight on the same caloric intake that previously kept them lean, which is exactly Taubes what has proposed and which you apparently wish to dispute.

    The “studies” in which obese people became obese without overeating weren’t studies; they were observations by doctors working in poor countries in which there were food shortages, malnutrition was rampant, children were sickly and thin, but their mothers were obese. There was no “self-reporting” of dietary intake. To believe that the mothers were obese from over-eating, you’d need to believe they let their children starve so they could overeat.

    I only attack people as imbeciles and morons if they show up here full of piss and vinegar and snidely suggest I should learn the basics of thermodynamics, when it’s clear that the aforementioned morons and imbeciles haven’t grasped that nothing in the theory that hormones change our metabolisms and drive fat accumulation would violate the laws of thermodynamics. You want to show up here and toss insults, fine, but don’t act like you’re the innocent victim of a vicious attack when I reply in kind.

    So you swallowed that line about beef raising insulin as much as oatmeal so they’re metabolically the same, did ya? Can’t say I’m surprised.

    Yes, protein raises insulin after eating. Good thing, too, since insulin is necessary to drive amino acids into our muscles. However, 1) protein also raises glucagon while carbohydrates don’t, 2) beef doesn’t cause blood-sugar spikes, while carbohydrates do, 3) the study you’re citing used very lean beef (i.e., nearly all protein) which I don’t eat, 4) the insulin-drives-obesity theory isn’t about the temporary rise in insulin after meals, it’s about a chronic rise in insulin levels, which beef doesn’t induce, 5) when protein is converted to glucose via gluconeogenesis, 1/3 of the calories are used up in the conversion process and the metabolism also rises, and 6) we aren’t told to consume 300 grams of protein per day, and I don’t know anyone who does, but we’re told to consume 300 grams of carbohydrates per day. When you go on a low-carb diet, you replace carbohydrates with FAT, which doesn’t raise insulin, so you are replacing insulin-producing foods with non-insulin-producing foods.

  21. Paolo

    I would like to share another nice answer from the Italian public nutritionist I argue with sometimes (the one you blogged about). I hope the translation is clear.


    I would ask you only that, once the cholesterol hoax will be publicly exposed and the food pyramid will be upside down, not come up with a seraphic “in light of new evidence, supported by tools unavailable before, we reached the conclusion that a high consumption of saturated fats is not harmful to cardiovascular health” because I’ll be there to remind you that I had warned you before.

    Public nutritionist

    The ignorant can be divided into two categories: those who want to learn and those who think they know everything and others are ignorant.
    For many reasons I won’t be able to tell you that the hoax will be exposed, and the most important is that there are serious chance you will not be with us anymore… (note by me: he means that I will soon die for heart attack as I don’t follow a strict mediterranean diet)

    Can you immagine an ass**** bigger than this?

    He sounds like quite a case indeed and apparently doesn’t recognize that he belongs in the second category.

  22. Hector

    Tom, now every “professional” athlete gives me the bad eye every time I mention low carb diet. They tell me that they need carbs to keep up muscle and stave off muscle catabolism. Others tell me that they eat many carbs and they look ripped. Some try to give me a class of biology (like that will help) to try to make me understand better. I told them I lost 20 pounds in one month in the low carb diet but they attack me more telling me that all I lost is just plain water weight and muscle.

    I got to admit that hearing “ALL” of them telling me that Im losing muscle is making me have some doubts about low carbs. I know that you already answer me this before but how can I fight this criticism. I wanna ask you if you lost some muscle in this diet too.

    No, I gained muscle while on a low-carb diet.

  23. Tony K

    Hey Hector,

    I think that a diet to maximize athletic performance within some timeframe isin some cases different than a diet to maximize health in the long term.

    Many athletic trainer/dietician types dispute the Taubes hypothesis because in their experience. Calories in-calories out (CICO) is what makes the difference. Thing is they’re mostly dealing with younger people whose metabolisms have not been “perturbed” by 50 years of the standard american diet and who do a lot of high intensity exercise (which allows for greater muscular absorption of the sugars).

    Lyle McDonald has done some interesting work putting together diets and exercise programs that maximize fat loss with minimal loss of muscle. His basic approach is to make sure you get plenty of dietary protein, which would then act as sort of sacrificial protein–using it for gluconeogenesis, rather than your body’s muscle. Lyle and others such as John Berardi and Martin Berkhan put forward a diet where you target higher carbs around your workout.

    Lyle is at


    Thanks again for fighting the good fight. May you have a joyous solstice.

    Tony (emotions for engineers)

    Thanks for the info, and for your many enjoyable posts.

  24. John

    One of the wisest things my dad has ever said to me is, “Son, you can’t argue with someone you have to educate first.”

    Well said.

  25. dlm

    Arrogant bullies. As well as wrong. How do you not react? When do you decide to give it up?
    The Canadian Medical Association has a new website started by the new president, Dr Jeff Turnbull, asking for input from the public on Canadians Responsibilities, Receiving Good Value, and should the scope of coverage be Broadened, and other topics can be added. Of course, the public consensus is you must exercise to lose weight, eat a low calorie/low fat diet, and you haven’t done your homework if you believe otherwise; Gary Taubes is just a writer out for money. ACKCKCKCK!!!

  26. Bunni

    I always have to chime in about Japan after living there for five years:

    Rates of diabetes in Japan are comparable to America and are on the rise. No, they don’t seem to get as fat as we do in the US. Some of it is illusion (fat distribution is different in their bodies, so it’s not as visible) and some of it is just a different metabolism. But the end result is the same.

    And they’re getting fatter. Mostly you see it in men and kids. Anorexia is still pretty common among women, since doctors kind of promote it. (5’4″ and 115? Too fat. Pregnant? Better not gain more than 10% of your body weight!) Sometimes you see normal-to-large women too. But it’s a bit more rare. (Sexism and how it destroys women’s bodies is another discussion for another day.)

    The Japanese diet is very starch-based. You have the sticky rice and giant bowls of ramen, but they do like their pasta and bread too. There are bakeries on every corner, and if you can’t get to your corner bakery, the supermarket and convenience stores are willing to sell you breads full of shortening and vegetable oil-creme filling. Yum. Nearly every food is full of sugar in some form. Sushi is obvious (it’s in the rice), and then most other foods have a sweet sauce or broth. And bean jam! That might as well be sugar!

    Then they turn around and talk about how healthy their diet is. I just saw an article today about how 7-11 is going to start looking at the trans-fat issue. If they remove every food with trans-fats … won’t be a lot left. I became gluten-intolerant in Japan, and so I had to read my labels carefully. Food there is chock full of CRAP and FILLER and MORE CRAP. If you’re subsisting on rice and baked fish and miso soup with a side of natto, yes, maybe you’re very healthy. But that’s what old people eat. Everyone else is eating CRAP.

    Then they complain that “American food is much too sweety.” When Japanese food was killing me with its sugar content. (I also got to hear a lot of, “You can’t be American! You’re not fat!” as well as open speculation right in front of me about my background, given my lack of pudge. Good times.)


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