Thursday, March 1, 2012

Diet & Narrative: Yet Another Story That Doesn't Work

Richard Nikoley is suggesting low carbohydrate diets work because it leads to lower calories and less palatable foods in the diet:

You're fat. You go low carb per se. You lose water weight because liver and muscle glycogen is being depleted. This is very motivational; or, rewarding, even "palatable." So you continue on. By virtue of blanket LC, you're excluding highly rewarding and palatable fast food, pizza, pasta, ice cream, sugar drinks, Hot Pockets, and all the other crap in favor of meat, veggies, nuts, cheese, and maybe some LC junk food if that's your thang. Yea, it's great to eat red meat again, and while some can pack away 16oz ribeye steaks one after the other, most can't. They're satisfied, and satisfied sooner, with less caloric intake, more often. It subtracts down. They lose weight. Was LC effective? Yes. Why? Food reward/palatability. And because calories count.
I don't think this is accurate because this is the way it went down for me:
Shangri-La Diet- The hyperpalatable contingent of the paleosphere recognize this as supportive of their theories, as Chris Kresser and Stephan Guyenet have discussed. Now, I quibble with this, because I think the flavor/calorie association actually makes more sense than the food reward theory. (One could actually make an argument for a less specific flavor/physiological reaction, but I'd seriously digress if I got into that.)
I can, however, go ahead and agree with their assertions and point out that if they are right and SLD is an example of how their theory works, I unwittingly controlled for it.
The effect of SLD is appetite suppression. It suddenly dawns on you, halfway through whatever it is you are eating, that you just don't want anymore. Shocking. Once I realized I could eat rather little, I shot for 1500 calories a day. Here is variable number two.
So I was consciously doing these things, but staying under 1500 was sometimes still a struggle.
Here is what I found:
I used to eat bananas everyday for potassium, but within an hour, I'd be really hungry. One day I brought brisket I cooked overnight and I didn't want to put it in the fridge, so I had it when I usually had my banana. I didn't think about food again until it was almost time to go home and I realized I hadn't eaten anything else!
If we assume that the word 'hyperpalatable' actually means something other than refined carbohydrate, and we assume it has more scientific credibility than the consensus on global warming, then carbohydrate restriction helps reduce appetite in conjunction with it!

I don't think we know and I follow Nassim Taleb's advice on scientific narratives. I am even a bit more cynical. The one bur in the side of the professionals for all these years has been the low carbohydrate clan. They could be right, they could be wrong, but I imagine they'd sure be annoying to academia. If you are young person coming up in the field, I doubt they'd care if you were paleo, or thought humans should subsist on algaes and yeast, just don't be one of those guys who keeps exposing that fact our studies don't mean a damn thing because our 'lo-carb' rat chow is 50% starch. Gary Taubes keeps saying, and it is still true- we need the studies before we simply dismiss insulin as a player.

Anyway, I continued on. I stopped eating grains, legumes or dairy (except for butter) and at the time it seemed to me to be the component Dr. Atkins hadn't known about. He did know some folks could eat more carbohydrates, while others needed to be more careful. I've spent the last two years or so weight stable (in a ten lb range) and I just eat real food. If I am hungry and bananas are the only thing around that fit the real food description, I eat them. Happens more often than not at work.

I have done a tuber experiment that may have been more drastic than what Nikoley is trying right now. I not only didn't want to eat; I didn't particularly want to live. While I can eat the occasional potato, too much starch on a consistent basis appears to lead to depression in me.

Yes, this is just my experience, but I don't think it fits well with the story, or the stories being told around the campfires in certain circles. I'll let Tyler Cowen give you the 411 on stories:

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