One of the more annoying things that I have gotten trapped into lately is the low carb fight.

This isn’t because there is some question in my mind about the benefit of reducing carbs in one’s diet. It’s more about the label “low”. Or “high” for that matter.

The labels are much too general to have any meaning.

This came to a front recently when I had an argument about low carb with Yulia, made a general ass of myself (not too hard I might add) and saw then next day that there was a big food fight at the Ancestral Health Symposium about the same topic between Gary Taubes and Stephen Geyunet.

What was interesting about all these arguments was that everyone pretty much agreed on the basics. but in focusing on the details we all got caught up in the wrong points for no reason in particular. A big culprit in this in particular was the term “low”. Likely, because it has no actual meaning.

This is apparent when you look at the arguments of a “low fat” vs a “low carb” diet in any study. None of these studies ever agree on what these terms mean. If you look at what Atkins thinks a “low Carb” diet is (around 15% of calories), and what Ornish thinks low carb is (around 50% of calories) you have a massive gap. Not something you can dismiss at all, but a substantial gap that impacts the entire discussion forward. If you read a headline that says “A Low Carb Diet does Blah Blah Blah”, the first question needs to be, what do you mean by low?

Even without worrying about confounders and other variables in the study, what the hell does “low” mean?

Then best response to any of this that I have seen is the chart from the diet that I like (Primal Blueprint), that gives specific targets in grams. 50-100 is “low” 100-150 is “normal” and 150 + is high. You might not agree with these numbers, but at least they are numbers, not arbitrary words.

I should note, they also seem to work.

But that isn’t even the point. If we all argue with undefined terms, it doesn’t matter what the data might say, because we are all spouting a bunch of gibberish. We need to define our terms, and work the debate from there. Then we can start to agree or disagree and know what the hell the other is actually saying.

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So about five years ago I clocked in at around 240 pounds. It’s pretty easy to get up there in weight if you eat tons of garbage, never exercise, and don’t pay any attention for a few years.

It finally came to my attention when I went to a new doctor after never going at all for years on end, and he pointed out that I was officially in the “obese” category. That kinda sucked. So I did the usual and picked out a diet and went to the gym. The diet that I went with was “The ABS Diet” from Men’s Health magazine, which is a pretty standard “Superfoods” type diet, and it worked OK. The Gym attendance died after a few months when I ended up hurting something or another, and never went back. Just with the diet I was able to get down to around 226 or so.

A year and a half ago I started working out again, but with Kettlebells, and a wholly different method of working out than the standard Gym circuit workouts that I had tried before, and as anyone who knows me is aware of, this has worked out much better, I dropped a lot of fat, put on muscle, and have felt a lot better. My weight moved to around 220, and stayed there.

Just before my Doctor’s appointment this year, I finished a 12-week intensive kettlebell program (Kettlebell Muscle) which was probably the hardest that I have ever worked out. I was eating well and I was lifting more than ever, I was able to press a 70-lbs KB over my head with one arm, so I was ready to smoke my checkup.

The doctor said I was a bit overweight, and my blood numbers showed that my cholesterol was borderline high. He suggested that I take some fish oil and try to get some exercise.

A blood test at Microsoft two weeks later showed the same results.

Needless to say I was REALLY pissed off.

Here I am, working my ass off for a year and a half, eating a recommended low-fat diet, and my weight and numbers are such that my doctor thinks I’m not doing anything at all.

It was at about this point that Timothy Ferriss’ 4 Hour Body came out. This was a pretty cool book, and had a lot of funky and interesting hacks that he tried for his body, and I was willing to experiment at this point. The diet part of his book “The Slow Carb Diet” was worth a try, so both Yulia and I gave it a shot. It was OK, and some weight came off, but it was making Yulia feel really rotten, so I looked at other options.

This is where my OCD really kicked in.

I followed Timothy’s links on his blog for some of the sources for his diet, to see if there was something similar that might work better. I came across a YouTube video of a guy named Gary Taubes on Larry King discussing his book on diet. This was an interesting watch, since he was basically arguing that what most nutritional advice was based on was faulty science. That was a pretty big claim, But I looked up his book Good Calories – Bad Calories and felt it was worth a read.

That was the start of all the annoying posts to Facebook as I burrowed into the data. Working backwards into the various studies, history of the Lipid Hypothesis, related diets and everything. What struck me was how much what was written about low-carbohydrate diets (vs low-fat diets) made sense when looking at my own weight and experience.

So I went to experiment with a diet on this new side of the fence, and picked The Primal Blueprint. It’s a Paleo-style diet which basically recommends to eat fewer (not no) carbs, no sugar, no grains, and cheat once in a while. It wasn’t that different from the Slow-carb diet, and was worth a shot.

I’m down to 206 pounds now, and eating a lot. The difference in how I feel is pretty amazing. My BMI is finally inside the “Normal” range and my fat percentage is dropping again.

I would say that the cognitive leap to this type of eating is as big as the cognitive leap to using Kettlebells for exercise. It is a complete departure from everything that I “knew” had to work in the past, which never worked. At some point you need to trust your personal empirical data, and try something new. This time, it’s been a hit.

Some links:

Gary Taubes “Why We Get Fat” Presentation at the UW

Studies by Steffan Lindeberg and others on the efficacy of Paleo-type diets

Fat-Head – a film on why Super-Size Me was baloney, and pretty funny too.

Well, another year with no Heart Attack. I declare that a success.

Fitness wise this was a pretty good year. I was able to press the 70Lbs Kettlebell with one arm, Make 100 snatches in 5 min with the 44 Lb Kettlebell, Hit 17.8% bodyfat on the 31st (that won’t stick, but it’s good anyway), and attended a class with Pavel which rocked (I had wanted to do the HKC training, but I can’t pass the pullups test yet)

I also participated in a six-week pushup contest at work, where I doubled my ability to do continuous pushups (25 to 50). That hurt.

I also took my fist ski lesson and succeeded in actually figuring out how to get down the hill. (Go that way really fast, if something gets in your way – turn.)

For this new year, I am starting with the diet and lifestyle plan from The Primal Blueprint. (primalblueprint.com) This dovetails in nicely with my kettlebell workouts, and seems to be very well thought-out and evidence based.

I finished reading 4-hour Body for fun. it’s a blast of a book with lots of cool body-hacks and thought-provoking ideas. That book led me to read Gary Taubes’ Good Calories – Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat. Both are insanely detailed and go through the whole Fat/Cholesterol hypothesis vs Carb/Insulin hypothesis for fat accumulation. It’s pretty hard to argue with the good research that Gary details, especially when it matches the frustrations that I have had with my workouts and stalled fat loss.

In any case it will be a fun experiment for the new year. That and it is hard to argue with anything that tells you to eat more bacon.