The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.
– Mark Twain
Well, hello there, you relic, you. What are you doing at a low carb website? Didn’t you know low carb is dead? It’s soooo 2003! The pundits are ever so grateful that all that nonsense about cutting out pasta and potatoes in favor of meat and eggs has fallen by the wayside. It was a fad! It was so weird! Oh, sure, you lost a few pounds, but nobody could eat that way long term. And anyway, everybody knows that’s unhealthy! Yeah, right…
Ahem. As of 2009, I have now been eating low carb for fourteen years. Since I’m fifty, that means I’ve been low carb for 28% of my life. I trust that counts as “long term?” I remain stubbornly healthy, and I do not, do not, DO NOT miss eating starches and sugar. I love the energy I get from low carb. I love never feeling hungry. I love the fact that at fifty I only have one noticeable wrinkle on my face. (Yes, low carb slows aging. More on this in a future article.)
As for whether low carb is no longer popular with the masses, consider this: Jimmy Moore, of Livin’ La Vida Low Carb, recently polled his readers regarding how long they’d been low carbing. Guess what? A whopping 72% have started within the past four years – after low carb supposedly “died” in 2004. Just goes to show that the word of mouth is running contrary to the media reports.
Too, Andrew from CarbSmart.com tells me that if you take the “spike” year out of the graph, his sales have maintained a steady upward trend since he founded CarbSmart in 1999. In other words, yeah, sales in 2004 were lower than they’d been in 2003. But they were higher than 2002. Sales in 2005 were higher than 2004, 2006 higher than 2005, and so on.
Despite the frequent dogging of low carb diets in the press and on television, I’ve found there are three common reactions to “I’m one of those low carb people you’ve heard about,” my usual explanation of my eating habits. One is “Oh, but I love carbs! I could never give them up!” But just as commonly I hear some variant of “That’s the only thing that’s ever worked for me” or “Oh, my sister/brother/mother/husband does that! He/she’s lost fifty pounds, and looks great!” – a statement of positive personal experience. The third reaction? “I really ought to do that.” You’ll notice that’s two low-carb-positive reactions for each negative one.
What About Low-Carb Research?
And the research? Since low carb “died” we’ve had a huge, major, long-term study demonstrating that a low fat diet has no beneficial effect. We’ve had a study demonstrating that the Atkins diet not only caused greater weight loss than Ornish, the Zone, or the 10% fat, 60% carb LEARN diet, but also resulted in much greater improvement in cholesterol and triglyceride ratios and blood pressure. We’ve had it demonstrated that a ketogenic (ie, very low carb) diet is far more effective than a low glycemic index diet for improving blood sugar control in diabetics. And that’s just a few of the positive studies.
Yet I’ll bet you’ve seen headlines like ‘Low carb diet affects brain function,” “Big, carb-heavy diet aids weight loss,” and “Study shows it’s all about calories.” All of these stories got a lot of play in recent months – and all of the studies were laughably bad. The study that “proved” a low carb diet reduces short term memory looked at people in the first week of Atkins induction – in other words, when they were still going through carb withdrawal, and their bodies were still in the process of up-regulating the enzymes needed to burn fat for fuel. I’d bet most people don’t think so well the first week after they quit smoking, either, but I don’t know anyone who’s citing that as a reason to keep lighting up. (By the way, this study also showed that the low carbers had an increased ability to focus, but I didn’t see that in a single headline.)
The “Big Breakfast” study was so flawed it was embarrassing; they didn’t even get the math right. It set up a straw man of a “low carb diet” that bore no resemblance to how we actually eat – under 1000 calories per day, just 51 grams of protein, a teeny breakfast. And there were so many variables that drawing any sort of conclusion, other than “this “researcher” is a dishonest moron” was impossible.
Do Only Calories Count?
As for the “only calories count” study, the articles liked to claim that the study showed that it didn’t matter if a diet was low carb or low fat, just how many calories it contained. Except that not a single participant was actually on a low carb diet; the lowest was still over 100 grams of carbohydrate per day.
These are the sort of studies the media latch onto to trumpet the failure of low carbing. If you pay attention, it’s really quite over-the-top. It’s hard not to think there’s an agenda.
I confess to dark thoughts more becoming a tin-foil-hat conspiracy theorist. There are just so many people and so many industries who have very good reasons to want low carb to go away. The food processing industry, the soft drink manufacturers, the drug companies, all would lose vast amounts of money if everybody stopped eating sugary, starchy garbage. And those three industries represent a huge whack of the money spent on the advertising that supports the media, creating another industry with a vested interest.
And What do the Doctors Say?
And of course there are millions of doctors, registered dieticians, and other health professionals who have spent a decade or three telling people that the road to health and wellness lies through restricting fat and cholesterol, shunning red meat, and chowing down on whole grains. It has to be hard to face the dawning realization that you might have been making people sicker all these years.
In short, there are a whole lot of people who need low carb to be wrong. Oh, I’m not suggesting that there’s a big cabal of cigar-smoking industrialists, gathering in a walnut-paneled boardroom somewhere and plotting the demise of low carb dieting. Just that there are many, many powerful reasons for a whole lot of individuals to have a bias against it.
Please, keep that in mind when someone tells you that “fad diet” is dead.
© Copyright 2009 by Dana Carpender. Used by kind permission of the very smart author.