Category Archives: Carbohydrate

“No More Carbs, Ever” is NOT the Answer

"Mmmm...you smell like the inside-uh mah Momma's purse."

Here’s a quick story:

A woman is driving her car through the countryside late at night. She hears a pop and a bang and pretty soon smoke starts pouring out from under the hood of her car. She pulls over, inspects the damage, and realizes that she’ll need to be towed into town.

After about a half-mile walk, she makes her way to a farm house and starts knocking on the front door. The lights go on inside, there’s some muffled cursing, and finally the farmer opens the door.

She explains her situation and the man replies, “Well, it’s damn-near midnight, and ain’t nobody gonna be open this late. Tell ya what: leave yer car there fer now, sleep on this couch here in the livin’ room, and we’ll getcha on into town tomorrow morning to get yer car all fixed up.” She quickly agrees.

He gives her a blanket, some pillows, and is about to head upstairs when he turns his head sharply. “One thing, Miss. I got two boys upstairs, twin boys. They’re seventeen. They’re my pride and joy and I can’t have some woman messin’ around with ’em, y’understand?!”

“That’s no problem, sir,” she says. “I’ll just get right to sleep and stay down here.” And with that, the farmer makes his way back up to his bedroom.

Well after a little tossing and turning, the woman can’t help herself. She starts thinking about the farmer’s twin sons upstairs, imagining what they might look like

"Mmmm...you smell like the inside-uh mah Momma's purse."

“Mmmm…you smell like the inside-uh mah Momma’s purse.”

and eventually decides that she’ll never get any sleep until she at least goes up there and snoops around.

So she tiptoes upstairs, finds their room, and after a little while things are starting to get hot and heavy. Right before they really get to it, she stops them and pulls two condoms from her pocket.

“You guys know what these are?”

They turn to each other with slack-jawed frowns, then turn back to her and shake their heads.

“You have to wear these,” she explains, “so I don’t get pregnant.” They quickly agree, and off they go.

Forty years later, the two boys—now middle-aged men—are sitting in rocking chairs on the front porch of the house, watching the sun set.

“Say,” says the first brother, “you ‘member that woman ’bout forty years ago come up here with her car broke down and stayed the night?”

A wide grin spreads across the second brother’s face. “Oooohhhh, you ornery devil, I certainly ‘member her. Clear as if it happened yesterday.”

The first brother continues. “Well, do you really care if she gets pregnant?”

“No,” replies the second brother after a moment of reflection, his grin fading. “No, I don’t reckon I do.”

“Well hell, that does it,” says the first brother resolutely. “I’m takin’ this thing off!”

____________________________________________________________________

Now that’s just some old joke, but the lesson is widely applicable. Yes, at the time, it was vital that the two boys throw on some rubbers so the woman wouldn’t get pregnant. Afterwards, it was no longer necessary that they have them on. But, misunderstanding the instructions, they wore the rubbers for forty years.

Similarly, when I tell fat people that excess carbohydrate has made them fat and that they should minimize their intake of carbohydrate, it’s not that they can never eat any carbs again at all, forever. It’s that they need to stop eating carbs now, just for a little bit, as an intervention. Then, when they’re the size they want to be, they should begin reintroducing carbohydrate—from unprocessed starches—being careful to notice if their hunger gets back out of whack, or their energy levels start to dip in the middle of the day, or they start regaining some of the weight. Gradually, they will calibrate themselves to the ideal level of plant carbohydrate for them that results in the desired body composition.

Are carbohydrates bad? Well, shit, I don’t know. I know they’re not necessary for human survival. Fat is. Protein is. Yet there is no such thing as an Essential Carbohydrate. We have Essential Amino Acids and Essential Fatty Acids. But nothing about Essential Carbohydrates of any kind. To be clear: humans do not require carbohydrate. For anything. At the same time, to be clear: the fact that carbohydrates are not essential is not proof that they cannot be beneficial.

Bad, though? Maybe, maybe not. Some people can tolerate them. But as I mentioned in this post, we should not be trying to figure out what we can tolerate; we should instead be more interested in what’s best. The way I put it to my clients is that no, these things are not poisonous, but if you’re interested in losing weight there doesn’t seem to be any GOOD reason to eat them. A sustainable way of eating treats food as medicine and as metabolic/hormonal information for your body. So, everything you eat should have a purpose and be eaten for a reason. And if you hold all the food you eat to this high standard— “is this helping me stay healthy and vital and lean?” —carbohydrates rarely make the cut.

Also, what goes for one person doesn’t necessarily go for another. So a blanket statement of “Carbs Are Always Bad!” is not really helping. If you are one of the people who has gotten fat, though, the very first culprit you should suspect is excess carbohydrate intake. Obesity is seemingly impossible in the absence of carbohydrate.

Yet many have lived long, happy lives eating a wide variety of plants, including starchy, carb-filled ones. And while I will be the first to point out that a fat person needs to severely restrict their carbohydrate intake to become regular-sized, I find it hard to argue against a diet of animals and plants (this unfortunately excludes grains). Some have suggested that carbs are okay so long as they’re in season. I can get behind that.

Eat strictly and optimally to quickly reach your desired body composition. But then what? Sometimes you have to embrace your modern life. Optimal? Maybe not. But so long as I am able to maintain my ideal shape, I’m going to have some bourbon, some delicious beers, and some occasional desserts. Might take a few years off the back end of my life, but I plan on living a looooong time. No sweat!

To get less fat: cut carbs. Once you’re regular-sized, eat animals and plants, including starches. Great for your gut microbiome, full of beneficial nutrients, and helps control hunger.

Sugar and Grain: NO

Potatoes, carrots, beets, rice, beans: YES.

Several thousands of generations of our ancestors lived through Ice Ages and innumerable hardships without any carbohydrate at all, and we are perfectly equipped to lead full and healthy lives without them. But in the 21st century, don’t be the person who, having maintained the desired body composition for decades through strict elimination of carbohydrate, realizes that he could have been enjoying reasonable amounts of starchy carbohydrate foods this whole time and finally exclaims, “That does it; I’m takin’ this thing off!”

The Lung Cancer Analogy

"Yeah, it's me again. You'd better come over here. This stuff is EVERYWHERE."

A good analogy that I like to use to help explain the cause of obesity is that of smoking and lung cancer. Usually, I have to explain this when someone says something like, “Processed carbohydrates don’t cause obesity; my cousin eats muffins and pancakes and pizza and all sorts of pasta and he’s thin as a rail!”

Think of smoking. Statistically, more than half of habitual smokers will not develop lung cancer. That’s right; more than half of lifetime smokers will be lung-cancer-free. They will suffer from bad breath, yellow teeth, and cars you don’t want to ride in, but the majority will not get lung cancer. We all know some old, grizzled coot who has smoked two packs a day for 50 years yet remains as healthy as a mule and as sharp as a whip.

Okay, fine, sharp as a marble. Or a chair. He, ah—h-he doesn't have lung cancer is what I'm getting at.

Okay, fine, sharp as a marble. Or a chair. He, ah—h-he doesn’t have lung cancer is what I’m getting at.

However, out of those who have gotten lung cancer, the vast majority of them are currently smokers or have smoked for a large portion of their lives. So smoking doesn’t cause the cancer in everyone, everywhere, every time, forever, and always. But out of those who have contracted the cancer, smoking is the cause.

In the same way, excess processed carbohydrate intake does not cause the accumulation of body fat in everyone, everywhere, every time, forever, and always. But out of those who have become fat, excess processed carbohydrate intake is almost certainly the cause.

Many who dismiss the Carbohydrate-Obesity paradigm like to point out populations that eat plenty of carbohydrate but have low rates of obesity and modern diseases. So obviously it’s not the carbs, otherwise they’d be fat, right? Case closed. These are the same type of people who use a floating balloon and a flying bird to disprove gravity. Turns out there’s other stuff going on.

This is the same as saying that since France has one of the highest rates of smoking per capita, yet one of the lowest rates of heart disease and lung cancer (both true), smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer. Case closed. Except the cause of most lung cancer is smoking. So what the fuck?

"Yeah, it's me again. You'd better come over here. This stuff is EVERYWHERE."

“Yeah, it’s me again. You’d better come over here. This stuff is EVERYWHERE.”

A good way to think about it is that excess processed carbohydrate intake does not always cause obesity, but where obesity has occurred, excess processed carbohydrate intake is the culprit. Smoking does not always cause lung cancer, but where lung cancer has occurred, smoking is the culprit.

For both of these disorders, the above causes were identified as part of the “null hypotheses”—the hypotheses that, based on observation, seem to be the case, and that we can consider true until they are disproven. This is very similar to the theory of gravity. If anything heavier and denser than air ever falls up, now you’ve got something.

Gravity will always tend to make things fall; when something doesn’t fall like it should, there is something else going on that is resisting its effects.

Smoking will always tend to cause cancer; when someone smokes and doesn’t get cancer, there is something else going on that is resisting its effects.

Excessive processed carbohydrate intake will always tend to make people fatter; when someone eats a ton of processed carbohydrates and doesn’t get fatter, there is something else going on that is resisting its effects.

So those are the null hypotheses that must be disproven through rigorous experimentation. So far they haven’t been. We’ve discovered plausible mechanisms that govern these phenomena and nobody has been able to show that they’re not sufficient.

Some have pointed out various instances where the effects of gravity in deep space are not behaving as Newton’s model would predict. But if those people have got a better explanation for why things fall towards the center of the Earth, I’d love to hear it.

Similarly, many have pointed out compounds in the body like Acylation Stimulating Protein, or ASP, which helps shuttle nutrients into fat cells. Rest assured there are still others that function in a similar way. The body is full of awesome redundant systems. The shrill calls of “You can still get fat without Insulin!” can be heard reverberating around the internet even today. Unfortunately, this is not the whole story.

You're not helping.

You’re not helping.

 

Dig this: if you ever find evidence, anywhere, of any society, country, or group of people at any point in our recorded history who had high levels of obesity in the absence of dietary carbohydrate….WHAMMY!! Now you’ve disproven the null hypothesis; now you’ve got some ground to stand on. High rates of obesity in the absence of carbohydrate would be provocative. So would high rates of lung cancer in a population that didn’t smoke. Obesity didn’t even used to be a real thing, is not a real thing in the animal kingdom, and has only recently become widespread. Same with lung cancer.

The only way to disprove the processed-carbohydrate-makes-you-fat theory or the smoking-causes-lung-cancer theory is to find large groups of people who got fat without carbs or got lung cancer without smoking.

And while you’re at it you can tell me all about how babies don’t come from fucking since some people fuck all the time without making any.

Bert:Ernie

Carbohydrate Allergy

This is what happens, Larry.

Doctor: “You have a shellfish allergy.”

Patient: “So, I shouldn’t eat any shellfish?”

Doctor: “No no no, you shouldn’t eliminate an entire food group like that. It’s important to eat a balanced diet. Tell you what—here’s a bucket of EpiPens and some Benedryl. You can keep eating shellfish, just administer these immediately afterwards.”

Sounds stupid, right? The obvious answer is: no more shellfish. You’re allergic. Sorry.

Yet this is the exact same advice given to millions of those who have demonstrated one or more of the symptoms of a Carbohydate Allergy.

Now, for the purists and medical professionals: I’m not saying that people literally have an allergy to carbohydrate. From Wikipedia:

“An allergy is a hypersensitivity disorder of the immune system. Allergic reactions occur when a person’s immune system reacts to normally harmless substances in the environment. A substance that causes a reaction is called an allergen. These reactions are acquired, predictable, and rapid. Allergy is one of four forms of hypersensitivity and is formally called type I (or immediate) hypersensitivity. Allergic reactions are distinctive because of excessive activation of certain white blood cells called mast cells and basophils by a type of antibody called Immunoglobulin E (IgE). This reaction results in an inflammatory response which can range from uncomfortable to dangerous.”

A Useful Model

What I’m talking about is more accurately called a “hypersensitivity,” but I will use the word “allergy” because although it’s not technically accurate it’s an extremely useful model that helps people fit the information they’re given into an already-existing framework.

A model is a way of thinking about something that may or may not accurately represent that thing in a literal sense. Like when you’re giving directions using North, South, East, and West; it might not literally be North, but if someone is going towards the sun at 4pm and turns right because of your instruction to “head North,” then “North” was a useful model to use.

Onward: If you have a shellfish, peanut, or other food allergy, you experience its symptoms following the consumption of that food. These symptoms happen to include—but are not limited to—hives, inflammation, swelling, redness, or an asthma attack. The symptoms are usually quite immediate and therefore easy to notice.

When a non-susceptible person eats these foods, there are no symptoms. Everything is normal. They do not have the allergy.

If you have a Carbohydrate Allergy, you experience its symptoms following the excessive consumption of high-carbohydrate foods. These symptoms happen to include—but are not limited to—dips in energy levels (you become “lazy”), disregulation of satiety signals (you become “hungry”), elevated blood pressure, widespread inflammation, the excessive accumulation of body fat, and eventually Type-II Diabetes. The symptoms are usually quite gradual and therefore difficult to notice.

When a non-susceptible person eats these foods, there are no symptoms. Everything is normal. They do not have the allergy. I’d note that the majority of people do not have a Carbohydrate Allergy.

Do You Have a Carbohydrate Allergy?

To help you decide for yourself, I’ve constructed this handy and impressive flow chart:

Don't act like you're not impressed.

Don’t act like you’re not impressed.

Having been told they have a shellfish allergy, no reasonable person would have a problem quickly coming to grips with the fact that unless they want to endure the symptoms of the allergy, they’re going to have to drastically reduce—maybe down to zero—their shellfish intake. And no doctor would hesitate to give them the news and recommend this reduction in intake.

Yet when it’s a Carbohydrate Allergy, the doctor behaves just like the doctor at the beginning of this article.

"Don't stop eating the thing you're allergic to! Just take some of this medicine afterwards. That way, you don't have to take control of your health and I can make some money."

“Don’t stop eating the thing you’re allergic to! Just take some of this medicine afterwards. That way, you don’t have to take control of your health and I can make some money.”

 

Even today, in 2013, the officially-recommended diet for people diagnosed with Diabetes—which is curable—includes carbohydrate, which directly exacerbates the condition.

One more time: Even today, in twenty-fucking-thirteen, the officially-recommended diet for people who are allergic to carbohydrate includes carbohydrate, THE VERY FUCKING THING TO WHICH THEY ARE ALLERGIC.

This is what happens, Larry.

This is what happens, Larry.

The process of gaining fat, unlike some of the acute symptoms of actual allergies, is not immediately painful or life-threatening. It’s easy to take it lightly. I know several diabetics who will have “just a slice” of cheesecake or a couple of muffins that “looked really good” at breakfast. When I point out that they “have fucking Diabetes,” they mumble something about how they “know it’s bad” but “just one or two” won’t kill them.

I see fat people, every single day, eating the allergen to which they are allergic even as they are suffering from the allergy.

Stop it. Get your shit together.

This is like our shellfish allergy sufferer sitting at Red Lobster, red-eyed, barely breathing, covered in hives, shoveling forkfuls of shrimp scampi into his puffy, swollen face.

The task of educating everyone is made harder by the Calories-In-vs.-Calories-Out proponents, who insist that the guy can still enjoy shellfish, just not so much. Guys: you’re not helping. A person who’s allergic to cats is not allergic because more snot is leaving his face than coming in; he’s sneezing like that because he’s allergic. It’s important not to mistake the real cause/effect relationship.

Wrapping Up

If you do not have excess fat and are regular-sized, there is no good reason to restrict, on purpose, your intake of carbohydrate. You do not have a Carbohydrate Allergy. Go to town.

If you have excess fat, a useful model that’s easy to understand is that you have a Carbohydrate Allergy. To reduce the symptoms, you must drastically reduce—or eliminate—your exposure to the allergen.