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A Higher Power

Simply posting my monthly contribution to the NWTC Newsletter, “What’s Cooking?”

There have been a couple of nutrition-related news stories that caught my attention this year past. Perhaps you’ve heard of them? The first one relates to the professor of nutrition at Kansas State University who lost 27 lbs. eating Hostess Twinkies, but to add variety, he also consumed Doritos, sugary cereals and Oreos. Ouch! Let me have some of that pain. Now, the last Hostess Twinkie “fan” of my acquaintance was a morbidly obese, Army-reservist drill sergeant with a malignant personality who tortured me one long summer, long ago in Ft. Leonard Wood, MO–but I digress. The difference between Sgt. Jefferson and the good professor is that the professor limited his caloric intake of all these things sweet to 1800 calories a day. The professor’s daily caloric need for maintenance was 2600 calories. Well? What do you think happened? Naturally, he lost weight. And in losing weight by eating a restricted diet of treats, he made international news. Big deal. This is nothing more than a validation of the first law of thermodynamics (energy cannot be created or destroyed); and should come as no surprise to anyone. I wrote about the exact same concept in The Relativity Diet three years ago, only proposed it as a snicker-bar diet. Unfortunately, I didn’t actually go on the diet—it seems that I probably should have.

The second story is a bit more subtle, slightly more nuanced, tinged with enough science and techno-wizardry to tease one with the promise of possibility. This story too was on all the major networks. It is a story of a gene test—send in a swab of spit, and for around $150 dollars you will find out which type of diet program will work the best for you: the choices being a low-carb, low-fat, or balanced diet, in addition to a targeted exercise program. The claim is based on a study from Stanford in 2007, which I actually summarize on page 282 of my book. Briefly: the study divided 311 women into four groups/diets; Atkins, Zone, low-fat/high-carb (LEARN), and Ornish (vegetarian, high-carb, less than 10%fat). The company selling the test sent swabs to all of the participants of the study, about 30% returned their saliva, and the retrospective (not ideal) results suggested that the women whose genes were matched to their diet lost five times more weight than if they were mismatched. The premise being that a woman whose genes are better for a carb-reducer diet will have difficulty on a low-fat/higher-carb diet. The findings suggest that 45% do best with carb-reducing diets, 39% with lower fat diets, and 16% with balanced diets.

So, do the results warrant one Ben Franklin and half of another? I don’t think so; not yet anyway. Genetics certainly does play a role in obesity, which would require a book or at least a chapter to expound upon; but, the answer is not the test. It is more simple than that.

We know from the above, that, no matter what, ultimately, it’s the calories that matter. You have to account for energy consumed, whether it be Twinkies or beef steak. The next most important things are having an awareness of the role of carbohydrates, taking control of your insulin/glucose axis with a reasonable limitation of the quantity of (good) carbohydrates; and focusing on controlling your intake of (good) fat. The last thing is dialing in a balance of aerobic and resistance exercise. I’m generally not one to say “I told you so.” But, in fact, I did (on page 343) Count calories, eat lower-fat foods and low-glycemic carbohydrates, and look for foods that have almost as much protein as carbohydrates.

I find it irritating, these claims of the discovery of something novel, new, magical, that will somehow make weight-loss easier, less painful, as though you might operate outside of the laws of logic. It is not a matter, at this point in time, of a pill, a test, or a bar. It is a matter of knowledge, empowerment, and the exercise of a free will; perhaps, even, in the belief of a power higher than yourself.