Taubes - Chapter 15 - Why Diets Succeed and Fail

- POSTED ON: Jan 01, 2011

 According to Taubes,

“Any diet that succeeds does so because
the dieter restricts fattening carbohydrates,
whether by explicit instruction or not.

…those who lose on fat on a diet
do so because of what they are not eating
-- the fattening carbohydrates –
not because of what they are eating. “

When we go on any serious weight-loss plan,
whether Diet or Exercise, we always make changes
in what we eat – no matter what instructions we get. 
 We stop eating the most fattening carbohydrates, because
they are the most obviously wrong foods for weight-loss.
We cut down on sodas, beer, fruit juice;
get rid of candy bars, desserts, donuts, cinnamon buns.
Starches like potatoes, rice, white bread, and pasta
are often replaced by green vegetables, salads,
or at least whole grains.

Taubes says,

“Even the very low-fat diet made famous by Dean Ornish
restricts all refined carbohydrates, including sugar,
white rice, and white flour.
This alone could explain any benefits that result.”

Taubes continues.

If we try to cut any significant number of calories from our diet,
we’ll be cutting the total amount of carbohydrates we consume as well.
This is just arithmetic.

He says


“any time we try to diet by any of the conventional methods,
and any time we decide to “eat healthy” as it’s currently defined,
we will remove the most fattening carbohydrates from the diet,
and if we lose fat,
this will almost assuredly be the reason why.”

Taubes states


“when calorie-restricted diets (and exercise plans) fail,
as they typically do, the reason is that they restrict
something other than the foods that make us fat.

They restrict fat and protein,
which have no long-term effect
on insulin and fat deposition
but are required for energy
and for the rebuilding of cells and tissues.

They starve the entire body of nutrients and energy,
or semi-starve it,
rather than targeting the fat tissue specifically.

 Any weight that might be lost
can be maintained only as long as
the dieter can withstand the semi-starvation,

and even then the fat cells will be working
to recoup the fat they’re losing,
just as the muscle cells are trying to obtain protein
to rebuild and maintain their function,
and the total amount of energy the dieter expends
will be reduced to compensate.”

Taubes ends this chapter by stating

“Weight-loss regimens succeed
when they get rid of the fattening carbohydrates in the diet;
they fail when they don’t.

What the regiment must do, in essence,
is reregulate fat tissue
so that it releases the calories
it has accumulated to excess.

Any changes the dieter makes
that don’t work toward that goal…
will starve the body in other ways…
and the resultant hunger will lead to failure.”

 I find this Concept both fascinating and compelling.
Looking back on my own lifetime,
and the multitude of calorie reduced diets I’ve endured.
Is it possible that every time I lost weight 
it was actually due to carbohydrate restriction?
Even though none of them were purposely “low-carb” diets?

 An examination of two of the most drastic diets in my history
shows this could be true.
In the 1980s I did a medically-supervised liquid formula diet only,
for 6 + months which consisted of a protein shake three times a day.
Daily calories were between 300 to 500,
but when thinking about it, I realize that also,
carbs would have been under 10.

 I lost about 90 lbs, but regained it all plus about 40 lbs more
within six months of resuming a “normal balanced diet”,
During that 6 months I dieted far more than I binged,
and although I didn’t track my food, based on my recollection,
my total 6 month food intake probably didn’t average
more than 2000 calories a day during that time period. 
 I lost from 271 to 160 lbs, for a total of 111 lbs, during the first year
after my Weight-Loss-Surgery, because I was physically unable
to eat more than 500 calories a day.

At that time I ate primarily sugar-free yogurt, lean meat, poultry and fish,
eggs, cheese. My body would tolerate very little fat, and even fewer carbs.
Green Veggies were too bulky to eat very many.
Sometimes I could tolerate a few bites ofcomplex carbs.

If I ate more than a bite or two of refined carbs,
I became so sick I had to lie down.
(Milk and normal ice cream still make me feel sick).
So….during that weight-loss period, along with calories,
carbohydrates were also severely restricted.
After a few years, my body began to tolerate carbs,
and could also handle more food, and I began eating more.
I began gaining weight, and for the next 10 years or so,
I had to frequently diet to maintain my weight around 190 lbs. 
 Prior to reading Taubes,
it never occurred to me that while I was restricting calories,
I was also restricting carbs, and I find it interesting
that both of those personal examples
will fit together with Taubes’ above-stated concepts.

My own experience of this past 5 years
of maintaining my current weight makes me
completely agree with Taubes when he says

"weight-loss can be maintained
only as long as the dieter
can withstand the semi-starvation,
and even then the fat cells will be working
to recoup the fat they’re losing"


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Existing Comments:

On Feb 18, 2011 wrote:
It's plausible what Taubes is saying: that the way to lose weight is through restriction of carbs. My greater interest is why low carb means less hunger whereas calorie restriction means hunger. If I buy into the idea that insulin production is what regulates where fat is stored and carbs stimulate insulin production, then I think that intermittent fasting could be a way to lessen insulin production and produce an effect like low carb while still allowing pizza and pasta. …………….It sounds great. Fasting is easy. Time will tell on whether this approach will work for me. What is remarkable is how good I feel, even on days I fast. I tend to be somewhat jumpy, and fasting is making me calmer as a person, which is good. There is a spiritual effect, too, but I can't quite grasp what it is. It might be that you realize your dependence because even a few hours without food makes a difference. Who knows? Anyway, I'll continue on in the book. I appreciate that the movie documentary “Fathead” iconfirms that this guy (Taubes) isn't just feeding me some bologna.


On Feb 19, 2011 Karen925 wrote:
Prior to reading Taubes, it never occurred to me that while I was restricting calories, I was also restricting carbs, and I find it interesting that both of those personal examples will fit together with Taubes’ above-stated concepts. ***** I did not realize this either and I find it a most satisfying thought. I enjoy understanding my body better.


On Jul 02, 2012 TheTrout wrote:
Very interesting. I'm seeing the difference in my cravings and my weight by avoiding refined carbs.

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