“We’d Be Better Served Watching the Carb Content of the Diet Rather than How Much We Eat and Exercise.”

Habits interview: Gary Taubes.

I’m so pleased to be posting this interview with Gary Taubes, because it’s no exaggeration to say that his work has had more practical influence on my day-to-day habits than probably any other writer.

In Better Than Before, I describe the multiple strategies we can use to change our habits. One of the most powerful, but also one of the most mysterious and unpredictable strategies, is the Strategy of the Lightning Bolt.

When the lightning bolt hits you, you’re so moved by a new idea or belief that your habits change, overnight. Instantly, effortlessly.

I was hit by a lightning bolt when I read Gary’s book, Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It, in March 2012, when my eating habits changed dramatically. Just a few days ago, I described the lightning bolt in a short video. (Some of you may be a bit tired of this subject, but I wanted to explain the strategy before I posted Gary’s interview. Next week, different topics.)

It’s interesting — I was hit by this Lightning Bolt, and my habits changed. Another habits strategy is the Strategy of Other People; we often pick up habits from other people. My habit changed, and my father picked up that habit change, through me. He’s a Questioner, and as he weighed the book’s arguments and tested its principles on himself, he became persuaded gradually. Now he’s as much of a convert as I am. We got to similar habits through different routes.

It’s important to be aware of the forces that can affect our habits, for better and for worse, because when we understand what’s happening, we can direct it.

Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What’s the most significant thing you’ve concluded?

Gary: This one’s easy, but counter-intuitive: that the conventional wisdom on why we get fat or fatter is both foolish and wrong. Ever since the 1950s, nutritionists and obesity researchers have insisted we get fat merely because we take in more calories than we expend and all we have to know about the effect of foods on our weight is how many calories they contain. What I now realize is that this is like having a theory of wealth management or investing that says people get rich because they make more money than they spend, or that the only thing you have to know about an investment strategy is that it makes more money than it loses. If your financial advisor told you this was the secret formula to how they were going to invest your pension plan, you’d fire him or her in a second. And yet this is the way we’re supposed to think about obesity and the way the authorities do. What I suggested in my books is what pre-WW2 European researchers had come to believe: that obesity is a hormonal/regulatory disorder and that foods influence our weight not because of their caloric content (although that’s obviously one way to measure quantity) but because of their effects on the hormones and enzymes that regulate fat accumulation in our fat tissue and whether or not we burn that fat for fuel. If you think about it from this perspective, then the focus becomes on the carbohydrates in our diet, because carbohydrates drive up secretion of the hormone insulin which in turn tells our fat cells to store fat and our lean cells not to burn it. So just by thinking of obesity as a biological problem rather than a mathematical or physics problem, you end up with a conclusion that maybe we’d be better served watching the carbohydrate content of the diet rather than how much we eat and exercise.

 What aspects of eating habits would be most helpful for people to understand?

If it’s true that the way foods influence how fat we are — our adiposity — is by their effects on hormones, and specifically insulin (and leptin, as well, but that’s another, technical story), then any foods that drive up insulin and make us store calories as fat are also likely to make us hungry in the process. These foods will come to taste better than other, foods and these are the foods we’ll quickly come to crave. When we’re hungry or dieting, these are the foods on which we’ll end up binging. This is an idea that came out of school of science in the 1920s-30s known as physiological psychology and the idea is that our most pronounced behaviors are responses to underlying physiological states. The implication is that if you change the underlying physiology, you can change the behavior. So we can change food habits — how we eat, how much we eat, when we eat, when we snack, what we snack, etc. — by understanding that physiology and changing that. It’s not that this won’t require some willpower and restraint in the short term, but once we’ve got our physiology fixed and healthy, our eating habits will be healthier too.

What’s something you know now about forming healthy habits that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

Is it fair to say “everything?” Or rather anything that I might have thought I knew about forming healthy habits when I was 18 was as likely to be wrong as right. And even if it was right, it might have only pertained to the forming of healthy habits as an 18-year-old. Each age presents new challenges. Certainly as I get older, forming healthy habits is as much or more about unforming unhealthy habits first. At 18 I would have been more of a blank slate.

Which habits are most important to you? (for heath, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)

For creativity and productivity, it’s making sure that my morning hours are reserved for writing — it’s the only time of day when I’m smart enough to write — and getting to my desk having already been thinking deeply about what it is I have to write that day. For health, it’s living by the lessons I learned researching my books (with the caveat, of course, that I turn out to be right and they serve me well). For leisure, let’s just say I have to work on that. I’ve always been a workaholic and have never managed to hit a healthy balance of  leisure time with work time. I was writing articles about burn-out when I was in my 20s. Now that I’m in my late fifties, I could write an encyclopedia on the subject if I wasn’t too burnt out to do it. I have to work on the leisure thing.

Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

Well, let’s see. I used to be a smoker and now I’m not. It was an endless battle, capped by using nicotine gum in my early 40s to finally quit. Then I chewed the nicorette gum for a decade. Recently I quit drinking caffeine. I titrated down over the course of a summer — buying one pound bags of coffee from my local Peets that were first 80 percent caffeinated, 20 percent decaf, then 60/40, then 40/60, then 20/80 and finally all decaf. Then I gave up the decaf. This was last summer. I was off caffeine and coffee entirely by last August. It was as hard as quitting smoking, although in a different way. I never thought of caffeine as anti-depressant until I found out how depressing mornings could be without that first cup of hot coffee waiting for you. Now that I have to write a book, though, and it happens to be almost two years over due, I will probably go back to the coffee or at least caffeine to get it done.  I may even start chewing nicorettes again, with the expectation that I’ll quit both — again — when the book is done. I also gave up fattening carbohydrates about a dozen years ago, first as an experiment and then, when I saw the obvious benefits, as a lifestyle. That’s one healthy habit I’ll keep for the duration.

Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

Definitely a Questioner. Although doesn’t everyone or at least most people think the same?

Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits? (e.g. travel, parties)

When you’re a person who doesn’t eat sweets, baked goods or starchy vegetables, as I am, dinner parties are an always an adventure. I try not to be a zealot in any way and will eat anything, but it’s a challenge. Moreover these foods can be a little bit like drugs — the sweets, especially — and so the more we eat them, or at least the more I eat them, the more I want to eat them. So my wife will order a dessert; she’ll take one bite and leave the rest. I’ll take one bite because, well, it’s there, and then have to struggle mightily not to eat the rest, and then everyone else’s left over desert as well. It’s the way I am and the way I’ve been for a long time. When I was young I was like Mikey in the old Life cereal commercial. Remember? Give it to Mikey, he’ll eat anything. Of course, when I was young I could eat anything (and usually did). As I got older I found I couldn’t, or at least not without my waistline expanding. Now I find it easier to avoid sweets entirely than to try to eat them in moderation. But dinner parties and restaurants always challenge that decision. [I describe this as the abstainer/moderator distinction.]

Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you changed a major habit very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.? [I ask because reading Why We Get Fat hit me like a lightning bolt.]

When I was turning fifty, I got a life insurance exam which included being weighed. Lo and behold, I appeared to weigh 240 pounds. This was about fifteen pounds heavier than I expected. Now I’m supposed to understand the diet weight control thing, and if I’ve gained fifteen pounds that’s a bad sign. Right? So I started thinking about what could have happened. As I may have mentioned, or should have, I was a caffeine addict. I would have a cup of coffee by my side, at my desk, all day long, and I drank that coffee with cream. One thing I could never understand was why I had to have the coffee at my desk, all day long, even at those periods that I was drinking decaf? Was it the dregs of caffeine in the decaf, or something else — the cream? — that caused the craving? So I did some research, found out that some people  over-secrete insulin response to dairy — even cream — and thought that might explain it. I switched to drinking black coffee, which was easier than I expected. A testament to the addictive power of caffeine. It took me only three days to actually like black coffee. The 15 pounds went a way in six weeks, along with another five for good measure. I’ve been a healthy 220 ever since. (I’m 6’2″ and so this is my healthy weight.)

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

I try to embrace the good ones, obviously. But I realize that I’m disorganized and could definitely use some habits to help me be better organized. I suppose I resist those on the basis that I don’t have time to learn them. But if I did learn them, I’d have more time. I’m working on this.

Has another person ever had a big influence on your habits?

Yes. Other than the obvious — my wife, my two boys, my best friend Marion and my partner/boss, Peter Attia — I have an older cousin who lives in Hawaii and was an intelligence officer during the Vietnam War. When I was living in Hawaii between my junior and senior years in college, he gave me a lecture about not working hard enough. He said things came easy to me and so I coasted and was willing to settle for what came easy as good enough. I took his lecture to heart and changed my work habits and my goals. I owe him for that.

  • Katie

    I read Gary’s book at your suggestion and had the same reaction. It was certainly a light bulb moment and I have been trying to avoid carbs ever since. About 6 months now. Carbs have not been hard as I have always viewed bread as filler. When they bring the bread to the table at a restaurant, I have never been interested. Sweets however have always been a problem for me to resist. My weight has also never been an issue until about 5 years ago when I started drinking coffee in my early 40’s. Never liked coffee until they introduced the french vanilla additive. Now I am hooked and was very suspicious about me starting to gain a few more pounds and the introduction of coffee to my diet. I will have to keep trying to eliminate sweets going forward 🙁 and have lost about 8 lbs just eliminating the carbs and cutting sugar. Thanks Gary and Gretchen for all the info!

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m glad to hear that you found the book helpful, too.

  • Sonny

    How is adapting a more restrictive diet when you were already visibly underweight in 2012 a step towards happiness? I think I’m done with this blog.

    • Jamie

      That’s presumptuous. She said insulin resistance runs in her family. You cannot always assume someone’s health status by their weight. Agreeably the title of the book is Why We Get Fat, but she mentions in her video that the underlying interest was on better understanding insulin.

      • Sonny

        Search the word “food” at the top of this site and browse through some of the past articles on the subject. No, you can’t judge someone just from a picture, but when you are very thin AND blatantly obsessive about cutting calories you are not someone who should be giving “diet tips” out to the public.

        http://www.gretchenrubin.com/happiness_project/2007/03/tips_for_cuttin/ – Do you think this is normal eating habits for someone who doesn’t need to lose weight?
        http://www.gretchenrubin.com/happiness_project/2013/06/want-to-snack-less-and-concentrate-better-try-this/ – This is a popular pro-anorexia tip
        http://www.gretchenrubin.com/happiness_project/2008/09/do-you-worry-ab/ – flat out admitting that she strives to be underweight

        This is just from a quick search (plus the straw one I remember reading bc it was so crazy).

        • Goldie

          Sonny, I read the last link. Gretchen never states that she strives to be underweight. She states that she strives to be her happy weight. I didn’t go to the other links, but would guess that your interpretation would be to spin the post into some very negative interpretation. “Thin hate” is so ugly. The only way to stay thin in our era of abundance and easy, fast food is to always be conscious of what is going in your mouth. You may call that “obsessive”, but it’s really just smart. Anyway, research the calorie restriction movement. It’s too much for me to handle, but being very thin can add many years to your life.

          • Sg

            People say I’m thin, but I know I’m not (and I’m NOT anoerxic or obsessive!) I dress to hide my wheat belly…which disappears when I am able to have the willpower to give up wheat/dairy. But it’s tough in today’s society and more often than not I give in and eat what everyone eats and what’s available. I don’t weigh myself or even have a scale, but I don’t like the looks of my bloated belly, so I read a lot of books about special diets trying to get rid of it…even though I KNOW what to do.

            I’m glad more and more doctors are getting on board w/ what I’ve known for decades from books like Sugar Blues, Yeast Connection, and after having to put my son on a gluten free/dairy free diet. I’m glad Gretchen read Gary’s book, buys into his theories and is hopping on board what is truly healthy eating. It bothered me in her other books/blogs when she talks about her diet soda habit and I did not like that she’d wrote about her friend’s “tip” to take a nice healthy salad and sprinkle artificial sweetner on it! …all that does is raise your blood sugar level (like high fructose corn syrup) and make your cravings/”hunger” spike a short time later (just like diet or HFCS soda!).

            Gretchen has a lot of influence…so glad she’s been hit by Gary Taube’s lightning bolt.

    • Goldie

      I would say that Gretchen is visibly “thin”, not underweight. Americans have become so accustomed to seeing overweight and obese people that we are now labeling thin people as underweight.. If any one should give diet advice, it should be a thin person. I don’t want someone who is bankrupt to give me financial advice. Being thin is not what makes a person happy; it’s the good health and mental well being that comes along with the behaviors (habits) that are required to become thin and/or stay that way.

      • Mimi Gregor

        A corollary of this is that Americans are also so used to the super-sized portions that get served to them in restaurants that they look upon a normal portion of food as downright miniscule. Thinking that these behemoth entrees is what a portion looks like, they also eat these super-sized portions at home. (At some restaurants, even appetizers are too huge for one person to eat as a meal.) I was very happy when tapas gained popularity in America; finally I can have a normal sized portion set before me when I eat out instead of enough food to feed a family of three.

    • gretchenrubin

      It’s a healthier diet, a much more satisfying diet – I get much less hungry over the course of the day – I never get cravings, and I don’t think I’m “visibly underweight.”

      • chacha1

        You’re not. 🙂

      • Kate

        Also, Gary Taubes speaks repeatedly about the risk of carbohydrates on causing internal problems with fat deposits. A lot of people may be thin, but still wish to look after their insides by maintaining a healthy low-carb lifestyle!

    • Rao

      It’s not about the weight. It’s about a healthy lifestyle of eating well.

  • Gracie

    When I found out I was a type 2 diabetic I was encouraged to eat a lower carb diet. Within 1 year I lost 20 lbs. yes I also exercised and the combo resulted in the weight loss. I need to say that I wasn’t overweight to begin with 5’7. 135 lbs. went down to 115. Keeping it off and controlling my blood sugar 6 years later. Feeling good!

    • gretchenrubin

      Congratulations. My sister has type 1 diabetes so I know how tough it is to control blood sugar.

  • Claudia Tiefisher

    I started on this same path with the book “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese belong in a Healthy Diet”, followed that with “Good Calories, Bad Calories” and then “Why We Get Fat”, both by Gary Taubes. These books have changed my life in a more profound way than I can even begin to articulate. I eat no sweets, no grain and only limited amounts of other healthy carbs. Oh, I also read “Wheat Belly” by William Davis and “Grain Brain” by David Perlmutter. Talk about lightning bolts!!!! Many of them!! I have my husband, parents and a few friends convinced now and following the same way of eating. I have started a blog after many years of writing hiatus, and hope to write a book on this topic myself eventually. I LOVE this interview with Gary Taubes as I absolutely LOVED his books. I have absolutely NO PROBLEM eating this way. Eating out is easy: steak and salad, skip the starter bread. Cooking is easy again. I no longer worry about the fat content of this or that food, I just prepare the meat however I choose and don’t make potatoes, rice, or pasta along side it. Leaving something out entirely is so much easier than humming and hawing and agonizing over the quantity or cooking method of everything I cook. It’s been incredibly liberating. Weight is lost effortlessy (and continues to drop) for everyone that I know that is doing this, myself included. Also, brain fog is gone, skin is cleared up, no digestive issues whatsoever, sustained energy throughout the day, no nasty blood sugar drops bringing the shakes and sweating, no afternoon energy crash, not constantly hungry, as I used to be. Gretchen, Gary, Nina, David and William, THANK YOU for some fantastic books that have been life changing.

    • I am surprised that no one raises the issue of the ethics of such diets. I do not want to convert anyone, but eating meat in the way it is here proposed is ethically and environmentally unsustainable.

      • Claudia Tiefisher

        I have a blog which I’ve just started which addresses this (or attempts to). You’re right. It is a conundrum, and one that (especially) paleo proponents sidestep by telling us we should consume only “properly raised” animals. This is not feasible for the majority of us, since, for example, grass fed beef is very expensive (it’s certainly out of my price range). The fault lies with governments who subsidize the producers of canola, wheat, corn and soy, rather than subsidizing meat and dairy producers. There are also powerful lobbyists and lots of money behind the food producers that use these cheap ingredients (wheat, highly processed cereal oils), companies like Kraft, Kellog, Post, General Mills, and so on. These companies have a vested interest in making sure we continue to consume their junk carbohydrates instead of eating real food. Consuming these carbs is a dangerous way to eat, leading to heart disease, obesity, diabetes and a host of other illnesses. The fact that a meat-based diet is healthier is not the fault of those who are highlighting this fact. I think it is possible to eat well without consuming a lot of meat, in that we replace the junk carbohydrates with olive oil and nuts and seeds, instead of with meat. However, I haven’t studied this enough to see how it would look from a long-term standpoint. It’s important to realize that when we get rid of the junk carbohydrates and processed cereal oils from our diet, we are replacing them with healthy fats, not with protein. Protein tends to stay constant in our diet at about 20-25% of calories consumed. A high-fat, low-carb diet is much better for us in so many ways.

    • Lisa H.

      I am in complete agreement with you. I started with “Why We Get Fat” and then read all those other books afterwards. It has profoundly changed my life. I cannot look at carbs the way I used to. i am grateful to Gretchen that she has mentioned these books off and on and I finally picked one of them up. It was one of the few true lightening bolt experiences that I can claim in my lifetime. I’m incredibly jealous that she got to interview Gary Taubes.

  • Hookchick

    I just have to correct Mr. Taubes about the Life Cereal commercial. The line was, “He won’t eat it; he hates everything.”, and then, “He likes it! Hey Mikey!”

    • gretchenrubin

      That may be one of the most memorable commercials ever.

  • Jenya

    I’ve read Gary Taubes’ book as well, and it’s just the latest rehash of the Atkins diet. It pops up in different forms every 10-20 years or so. Unfortunately, no diet has ever cured the obesity crisis, probably because the causes of obesity are complex, and the human body does not like to lose weight. If anything, restricted diets cause people to overeat and gain MORE weight than they lost in the first place.

    I’m sad to keep seeing a diet promoted on this blog. To my knowledge, there are zero diets proven to keep the weight off for more than 5 years for 95%+ of dieters. Gina Kolata’s book, Rethinking Thin, should be required reading for anyone considering recommending diets to other people.

    • Mimi Gregor

      Perhaps there is no ONE right way to eat for ALL people. Or, perhaps all of these authors of books on eating grasp a bit of the puzzle without seeing the entire picture. Perhaps it’s even a matter of eating everything — but in moderation… a concept that Americans seem to find very difficult. In any case, I am grateful to Gretchen, and to the others here, who have recommended various books on the subject. In the end, the way to decide what to eat is to do the research (something ELSE most Americans do not like to do) and decide for oneself. The path of least resistance leads to obesity. One must CHOOSE to be healthy.

    • Jenya

      Have we met, or do you just feel comfortable accusing strangers of lying? I read the entire book on Kindle in 2012. As a writer myself, I would never give a negative review to any book without reading it first.

  • s_ifat

    I must say this post made me a bit sad. I love Gretchen’s work and see life mostly like her in a lot of ways. I was a bit dissapointed she chose this path. of course it’s her choise and I respect it, And yet this book so DID NOT resonate with me I could even begin to explain. But I do agree with Gretchen’s idea of changing your habbit in an instant. that happened to me with the lifestyle choise I have made to eat mostly veagn (6 days a week, I allow myself latte on the weekends). eat a lot of fruit and vegetables. just put a basket of beautiful colored fruit and veg next to a basket of meet eggs and butter and tell me which looks better for your body and digestion. there is so much sience behidf it that I wish the autor of this book to have a disscution with the great minds of veganisim and see who brings the more avidance. I know eating mostly fruit and veg changed my life in more ways that i can count

    • Grammar Gramma

      Please proofread before posting!

  • Penelope Schmitt

    I am interested in WHAT WORKS. A person in my mid sixties, I have found that with age, my metabolism began failing to respond merely reducing calories. That was a fact on the ground I could not ignore. I have been following (mostly) the South Beach regime, which was designed for diabetic and pre-diabetic people. It, too, cuts carbs way down or (in the first two weeks ) almost completely out. I found that on this regime I have been able to lose weight and feel good. Clearly, my body was not working well and insulin resistance was a part of the issue. I still have quite a bit of weight to lose to reach a normal range weight for my height and age, but people are already calling me slim. But I certainly can observe from my own experience that giving up or cutting way down on the refined carbs, white potatoes, and sweets has helped me greatly to lose weight when I couldnt before. This can be done while focusing on adding plenty of vegetables and fruit.

    As for what people consider ‘normal’ these days, I can recall going into the department store for panty hose and asking the clerk to help me find some in the large size I knew I needed. She was very reluctant, saying that she did not think I could possibly need that size. This was not salesclerk flattery, she was genuinely shocked. Last year I happened on an old piece of film of people walking in New York City or Chicago–in the early days of film, so right around 1900. My observation was that everyone looked so THIN–young and old! My son’s observation about what he learned of America and Americans from traveling in the far east? “We’re all FAT Mom!” I do believe that Americans have succeeded in supersizing themselves to a degree that we see much more obesity and morbid obesity than ever.Alongside clothing designed to be worn by teenagers in tiny sizes, we see a lot of clothing designed to be shapeless and cover a multitude of bulges. These styles are not accidental, they conform to the bodies we have collectively stuffed.

  • Judy

    In 2003 I was struggling with ongoing weight gain and tried cutting food portions, exercising, even consulted with a nutritionist, to no avail. Then on a business trip I read an article about the Atkins Diet. That was my lightening bolt. It was so contrary to everything I had ever learned. Since nothing I had learned was working, I decided to go for it– and this was just before Christmas! No matter, with wonderful family support I became a low-carber and have never looked back. I’m 50 pounds lighter, in great health, and thoroughly enjoy the foods I eat. I am currently reading Gary Taubes book, so was excited to see this interview with him. I never want to stop learning how I can continue to grow and support my good habits. Thank you.

  • Claudia Tiefisher

    I notice that much of the discussion here is about weight, when eating low carb is so much more than that. Since eating this way, I no longer have blood sugar crashes that leave me shaky, sweaty and unable to function, my skin has cleared up, I no longer have mood swings, I sleep better, my energy level is constant throughout the day, I no longer have the afternoon “blues” that make me want to lie down and have a nap (even if I’d had a good night’s sleep), I have zero digestive issues, and people tell me I look many years younger.

  • Maiasaura

    I.Love.Him! And, I love you too, so YAY that you hooked up!

  • Denise Warner

    “Why We Get Fat” was indeed my lightning bolt. Gary Taubes took all the pieces of information that have been known for decades and put the puzzle together when all of the “experts” could not. Gary took conventional dieting wisdom and turned it on its head. Losing weight and keeping it off is not that difficult. You just need to know what foods to avoid.

  • Carla

    His response to the “four tendencies” question seemed like a very “questioner” thing to say. My husband is also a questioner, and he would have a very similar reaction. Why would anyone behave a different way? Unfortunately, I am an obliger all the way. It really struck home that this is why I struggle to do things for myself – they always seem such a waste of time!

    • gretchenrubin

      One of the most helpful thing about identifying the Four Tendencies, for me, is being able to understand how differently other people see the world. Our own Tendency shapes our perspective to such a degree that it’s hard to understand other people’s behavior.
      Questioners are mystified by why other people don’t question as much as they do. And so on.

  • Jen

    Great interview! I also read Why We Get Fat and I drastically changed my eating habits as a result. You might want to fix the typo “heath” that appears both in this interview and the one with Cass Sunstein.

  • Anne

    I missed this on its original publication date. Thanks for the interview! I really want to hear more about the science behind the hormones (insulin is a hormone? never knew that) and why we store fat. That is quite different from calories in/calories out.

  • joriewg

    Anyone who enjoyed this interview might also enjoy two other interviews with Gary Taubes done by Russ Roberts on Econtalk http://www.econtalk.org/archives/_featuring/gary_taubes/
    I have found Mr. Taubes’s arguments to be very convincing and to resonate with my own experience. However, I struggle with the expense and ethical questions of eating a meat-based diet (and I hate to give up my Indian dals). I watched the documentary “Forks over Knives”, which makes a good case for veganism, and have since wondered what Mr. Taubes’s response would be to this contrasting position.

    A big thanks to Gretchen Rubin for her books and blog! They have had a very positive impact my life.

  • Gillian

    Because of the comments on this blog I borrowed this book from the library. The case for the low-carb diet is very compelling. I have made changes to my breakfast and lunch menus. It has been an unfortunate time to start as, unusually, over the last 2 weeks I have had several lunches out where I have consumed more carbs than I would at home. In spite of this, the early indications are that this approach will help me maintain my weight – a constant battle. I needed to lose only 2 pounds and I did that very quickly. Time will tell if I can keep it off. I think that for someone with more weight to lose, this would be a very effective approach.

    The big problem – I stopped eating my hi-carb, hi-fibre breakfast cereal in favour of a cooked protein/fat breakfast. My body is missing the fibre! I have gone from being as regular as clockwork to not being regular. Taubes does not address this problem in the book. A few vegetables don’t do the trick for me. I need the grains, and especially the psyllium, in my cereal. A dilemma!

    My other negative comment (sorry!) is that, in my personal opinion, the writing is terrible. He obviously opted to use a conversational style of writing but the result, for me, is very flabby language. I keep wanting to rewrite every other sentence to tighten it up. All the excess words interfere with the message.

    • gretchenrubin

      If you want a more non-conversational treatment of this material, check out Taubes’s book GOOD CALORIES, BAD CALORIES. It’s a much more exhaustive discussion of the subject, and more than many readers want to wade through. But if you want a more thorough examination of the science and history, it’s fascinating. Also Nina Teicholz’s THE BIG FAT SURPRISE.

      • Gillian

        Thanks, Gretchen. I don’t really need or want more information. I think he struck the right level of detail in this book. I just found his writing style quite frustrating. I think he could have maintained a conversational tone while being more efficient and streamlined. Of course, this is very much about my own personal opinion and taste. I have seen reviews that say the book is well-written. You can’t please everyone! I will add Nina Teicholz’s book to my reading list – thank you.

  • isg

    I think Gary Taubes is great, but let’s not gloss over the obvious: first, the poor analogy – the fundamental basis of any successful personal financial plan requires spending less than you take in. Second, omitting cream from coffee, especially when you drink it all day, leads to a huge deficit of calories – likely far more significant than any effect that dairy products may have on insulin secretion.

    • gretchenrubin

      I think that Gary Taubes would say that he doesn’t ascribe to the “calories in, calories out” theory…though wouldn’t want to put words in his mouth.

    • Gillian

      I think his analogy about wealth management was more subtle and nuanced than you think. In his book he says that you are allowed cream (real cream, not half & half) but some people have a problem with dairy fat so it is an individual thing. And, most importantly, calories in and out have nothing at all to do with weight or energy. It is, according to his quite compelling research, all about the carbohydrates you consume, regardless of the calories in them. What they do to your insulin levels is what counts. The book is well worth reading. As always, I apply my own common sense to anything I read from experts.