Dietetically incorrect

I’ve struggled with my weight ever since I quit smoking thirty years ago, going up and down 30 pounds several times. All I can tell you is that it’s a helluva lot easier going up than it is coming down, though you probably already knew that.

In his capacity as a general service operation, Glenn Reynolds has occasionally cited science writer Gary Taubes and linked to his book Why We Get Fat. Taubes recommends a low-carb/no-carb diet, as some of the popular diet books apparently do, both for reasons of weight control and overall health.

Taubes’s first book on diet issues was Good Calories, Bad Calories. He returned to the subject in Why We Get Fat to condense his survey of the research and focus on obesity.

The second book is the place to begin if you want to give his approach a try. I’m on Day 25 and can only report that, as with smoking, the cravings mostly went away after 14 days. It is nevertheless a challenge. I’m shooting for a 60-day trial period and will share the results with anyone who might be interested.

Taubes first made a splash with his 2002 New York Times Magazine cover story “What If It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?” The cover story displays his heterodoxy and bravado, challenging the medical establishment and government authorities with gusto. You can find more along the same lines in his 2007 New York Times Magazine article “Do We Really Know What Makes Us Healthy?”

Taubes is a formidable science writer. His approach is serious and methodical, taking account of the changing nature of the conventional wisdom and the studies that have supported it. The approach is occasionally boring, although Taubes is an excellent writer with a flair for interesting anecdotes that illustrate his thesis.

In chapter one of Good Calories, Bad Calories, for example, he relates President Eisenhower’s struggle with a low-fat diet following his first heart attack at the age of 64 in 1955. Eisenhower rigorously followed a low-fat dietary regime to decrease his cholesterol. As his cholesterol continued to increase, however, Eisenhower became so agitated and angry (annoyed in part by the diet itself) that his physician lied to him about the results.

Where does Taubes come up with a story like that? His footnotes cite Clarence Lasby’s 1997 book Eisenhower’s Heart Attack: How Ike Beat Heart Disease and Held On To the Presidency, published by the University of Kansas Press. When Taubes can locate the intersection of diet and the presidency, I declare that he is a man after my own heart (no pun intended).

Taubes disputes the connection between dietary fat and high cholesterol. He challenges the thesis that dietary fat is detrimental to our health. He rejects a balanced diet. He advocates a high-fat diet. He opposes dieting. He doesn’t object to exercise, but he asserts that it makes you hungry. It’s almost funny. He is the dietary equivalent of politically incorrect.

I don’t know the subject and don’t know what Taubes might be leaving out. Interested readers might want to check out Gina Kolata’s review of Taubes’s first book or John Horgan’s Scientific American post on Taubes.

Taubes is a sober writer. I don’t think he is ever intentionally humorous in the two diet books. For the humorous take we go to Woody Allen, who gives us something like the condensed version of the Taubes doctrine in his great comedy Sleeper (clip below).

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