Last updated on July 7th, 2011
Weight loss is about caloric net loss. Of course, the key lies in achieving healthful weight loss and sustainable weight loss. Consuming 600 calories of Haagen Dazs — and nothing but 600 calories of Haagen Dazs — a day will certainly lead to weight loss, but it is also unhealthy and unsustainable. — Andy Bellatti, Don’t Blame Obesity on Carbohydrates.
On his Small Bites blog, Andy Bellatti describes himself as “one part vegan chef, one part nutritionist, and one part food policy activist” who plans to take his Registered Dietitian exam this summer. The part of him that is a “food policy activist” is the most valuable to me. We can’t have too many insightful rants against the Big Food Corporations and the crap they try to sell us. (For example, see his Pepsi’s Next Attempt to Keep Americans Hooked on Soda or American Heart Association — Selling Out Health to the Highest Bidder. )
But I am not a vegan, don’t ever plan to become one, and find the “calories in, calories out” idea unhelpful as a weight loss program. We can stipulate that many of us eat too much. The question is, why?
Mr. Bellatti’s remark that weight loss is about “caloric net loss” comes near the end of long post in which he attacks Gary Taubes and defends the honor of Registered Dietitians. The Taubes attack is under-researched. The RD defense is a matter of professional pride. We can ignore those, then, and get straight to the central issue: aside from their caloric value, do carbohydrates play a role in weight gain or loss?
My position is yes, they do — at least for many people, me included. Mr. Bellatti’s position apparently is no. I say “apparently” because he does get in his licks against certain forms of carbohydrates. And strong licks they are. At the start of his post, he states that Americans’ consumption of added sugars “has undoubtedly played a major role in the contribution of empty, and mostly liquid, calories that do not satiate and therefore do not discourage the consumption of additional calories.”
The key phrase there is the final one. I’d go one more step, though, and claim that some calories encourage the consumption of additional calories. Those, of course, would be calories from carbs – especially the carbs delivered in refined grains, sugars and starches – the carbs that come with little or no fiber to slow their impact on blood sugar levels.
As I have stated before, my hypothesis is that for most people, excessive consumption of carbohydrates leads to excessive hunger which leads to excessive eating and weight gain. (It’s “my” hypothesis in the sense that I find it worthy of testing, not that I was the first one to think of it!)
I don’t blame obesity on carbohydrates. I blame it on hunger. But I blame the hunger on eating too many carb-rich, fiber-poor foods.
Regarding the Haagen Dazs experiment that Mr. Bellatti proposes, it would be a poor test of my hypothesis. It depends somewhat on the flavor, but the ice cream generally contains as many grams of fat as carbohydrates. A better approach would be to have one group of obese people eat 600 calories a day of fatty meat, fish and a few non-starchy veggies (high fat, moderate protein, very low carb), and another group eat 600 calories a day of fruit, grain and maybe lean chicken (very low fat, moderate protein, high carb). Then we’d see which group could stay on its diet the longest with the least cheating, and thereby lose the most weight over the long term.
(Actually, I’d let the subjects eat a little more than 600 calories a day. I’m just using Mr. Bellatti’s number as a nod to his status as an almost-RD. But for a long-term test, it should be more calories.)
As Mr. Bellatti suggests, the important thing is to find a way of eating that is both healthy and sustainable.
On that point, we agree.
(Also see Why we snack.)