Low Carb ‘zealots’

I have written before (back in 2011 initially) on the idea that the current dietary guidelines might be wrong and that the accusatory finger pointing at saturated fat as the bogeyman looks seriously flawed. (see “The truth about food? Fat Chance…”)

However, I’ve tended to avoid focussing too heavily on what in effect is the low carb, high fat (LCHF) approach to healthy eating on the basis that we at Real Food believe that avoiding ultra-processed foods and eating ’real food’ is an awesome route to ensuring the best possible health and this is what we have preferred to promote.

I still believe for a lot of people, avoiding processed foods and significantly limiting refined sugar can result in great, life long health - but for an increasingly larger number of people who have transitioned further along the spectrum of insulin resistance I don’t believe that the real food approach on its own is enough (in the US it’s estimated that around 50% of the population are pre-diabetic (1) and I’m sure that the UK is not significantly different).

On that subject I went along to a two day Health Icons Lecture Series with Gary Taubes and it has really brought that idea home…

I first heard about Gary Taubes (2) back in 2011 when I happened to be in the audience at a lecture given by Zoe Harcombe (3) and I can say that, with no exaggeration, the introduction to the ideas presented by these and many other writers, scientists, doctors and researchers blew my mind and over the last 6 years has utterly changed my life.

In hindsight, by 2011 things were starting to go seriously wrong with my health.

As a teenager and in my early 20’s I had been very thin, and at age 15 I was, for sure, the skinny kid getting sand kicked in my face on the beach – I actually bought one of those bullworker devices that were promoted by Charles Atlas in an effort to put on muscle because no matter how much I ate (and I ate a lot), I couldn’t put on weight. And through my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s I was always actively engaged in sport. But from around age 24, my weight began to creep up.

It was never a huge problem – I am very tall at 196 cm – and the feedback I always got was that I could ‘carry’ it, however, I went through the cycle that I am sure many people are familiar with and I tried all sorts of diets to shift the blub. Low fat was crucial during the next few decades, as this was the over-riding principle that was communicated everywhere, but attempts at the Hay Diet (food combining), the Cabbage Soup diet and a few others too daft to mention also littered my history. I remember going through a period of years building my diet around a core of breakfast cereals like Frosties or Golden Nuggets with skimmed milk because it was super low in fat!!! (Looking back on this I am appalled by the fact that this could have made sense). Underpinning all of this was my belief that I needed to eat less and exercise more to solve the problem.

A few things were consistent however, for 25 years I was always hungry and tired, and for 25 years, my weight crept up and up no matter what I would do.

So by 2011, despite being immersed in all things real food, despite a life-time of competitive sport, despite then cycling around 150 miles per week and engaging in competitive water-skiing, my weight had crept up to around 118 kg (around 260 lbs).

But what had happened to me in my early 20’s? I had gone fairly quickly from someone who literally could eat vast quantities of food and not gain weight, to someone who couldn’t stop putting on weight regardless of what I did….had I suddenly turned into a lazy, greedy glutton in the space of a couple of years who lacked the will power and self-discipline to control what I ate?

It is clear to me now that by age 49 I was almost certainly pre-diabetic (which really means diabetic) and inexorably heading towards a cocktail of chronic disease and ill-health that would inevitably ruin my later years.

At this point, enter Zoe Harcombe and Gary Taubes - and my life from a health perspective has transformed into something I never thought possible.

My initial reaction to what I was hearing and reading was astonishment. If what they were saying was true then what had been unravelling in the world for the last 50 years was a disaster of biblical proportions created by good intentions, human fallibility, ego and flawed human nature. Here, it seemed, was a world of medical and public health science that was built on a foundation of sand, made up of gossamer thin constructs that in other scientific disciplines would be ridiculed and looked at with contempt. Yet this was something that appeared to be driving huge decisions that drove public health policy and medical practice that was affecting hundreds of millions of people on a daily basis.

Unfortunately the science is not clear. This is why there continues to be so much debate on the matter and anyone that tells you on any side that they ‘know’ the answer is a liar.

Now I am not a scientist and have had no formal scientific training, so for anyone in my position, ultimately you are going to have to make a certain leap of faith in terms of what you believe. However, I determined to read what I could, understand what I could and try to come to my own view as best I could and go from there.

One thing does seem to be clear however is that we are in the middle of a chronic disease catastrophe that is destroying hundreds of millions of people’s lives and looks set to bankrupt most of the world’s nations over the next few decades.

In my view, underpinning ALL of this is insulin resistance…and for anyone who has any level of insulin resistance, the key is to avoid foods that result in strong insulin response. And what macro nutrient spikes blood glucose (and consequently insulin) the most? Carbohydrates.

So in 2011 I started eating Low Carb, High Fat (LCHF), focussing on real, unprocessed foods, sustainably and ethically sourced. Within a week I felt a difference. My energy was improving and I wasn’t hungry all the time. The weight came off rapidly to start (initially you will lose water that a carb loaded diet will make you retain) but then settled down until I had dropped around 30 lb in 6 months or so. I was pretty happy with this – I hadn’t been at this weight since I got married 23 years earlier and for the next 3 years I happily maintained this weight with very little effort, eating to satiety and enjoying what I considered to be a delicious and varied diet.

Then around 2 years ago I ventured into the world of intermittent fasting. This was something that a few years ago I had vaguely heard about but had written off as completely whacko but since my son had now become an intermittent fasting evangelist (www.2mealday.com) who was creating social media waves and had already published a successful book on it, it was a little difficult to ignore. The idea is simple really….if you are avoiding anything that spikes your insulin, the one thing that will absolutely, 100%, not drive an insulin response is not eating!

The results have been unbelievably astonishing… I have dropped another 20 lbs and have hit a weight that I wouldn’t want to go below and that I think I was last at around age 24. My energy levels are astonishing – I literally find myself trying to find reasons to go and do some exercise simply to burn off my excess energy. I fast around 16-18 hours every day and eat as much as I want in the remaining eating window. I don’t get hungry and if I can’t get great quality food that I want to eat, I just don’t bother as I can easily tap into my body fat reserves for all the energy I require. In the last 10 months I’ve played around with 48 hour and 72 hour fasts for the health benefits of autophagy and aptosis and I feel better and fitter than I have felt in the last 30 years.

So what’s the message I’m trying to get across?

Well for me this knowledge about healthy eating can be life changing – and Gary Taubes the other weekend said something that really resonated with me and is likely to be part of the problem.

When you discover this lifestyle and try it and then get such an astounding, astonishing and life-changing result you are so excited about it that you end up becoming and sounding like a cult-indoctrinated zealot ….and herein lies a problem because that’s exactly how many people with mainstream views regard us.

But I know that there are hundreds of thousands of (scientifically unreliable) anecdotal stories exactly like mine. I know that there are thousands of examples in clinical situations that reflect exactly what I have experienced and I know that there are increasingly more intervention and controlled studies that are demonstrating that these effects are repeatable and have a clear mechanistic basis.

I can’t possibly say with absolute certainty that what I believe is right. But that’s the point – neither can anyone who promotes the mainstream orthodoxy. I have read as much as I can to try to understand what might be going on and I have performed my own N=1 experiment and the results (so far) have been beyond anything I could have expected.

Because I am going against the mainstream accepted wisdom I now get my blood work tested on a regular basis because I want to be as sure as I can that I have made the right decision. So far, all my key markers say that my risk for CVD, stroke, diabetes and other chronic disease is extremely low.

Will this work for everyone? I don’t know…but I don’t believe that I am unique in a world of 7 billion people. I do already know (through the power of social media) that it is working for a lot of other people around the world. My goal is to start to communicate some of what I have learned and to point you towards some of the astonishingly good sources of information that I have found so you can make up your own mind about how you want to manage your health. And maybe you can find the path to a health transformation like I have.

More to come….watch this space.

1. Prevalence of and Trends in Diabetes Among Adults in the United States, 1988-2012 JAMA. 2015
2. The Diet Delusion – Gary Taubes
3. The Obesity Epidemic: What caused it? How can we stop it? - Zoe Harcombe

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