Good Calories, Bad Calories
The great Low-Fat diet hoax: we knew something was wrong; In 2007 Gary Taubes made our case
When it came to triggering weight loss, specifically fat loss, athletes and bodybuilders have long known that there was something seriously wrong with the dietary and nutritional strategies advocated by the mainstream medical and governmental heath care establishment. Regardless the situation or circumstance, the medical and scientific prescription for weight loss was always the same: cut calories, do more (cardiovascular) exercise.
Nutritional science at the highest levels pushed the Energy Balance Equation and presented it as sacrosanct, beyond question. The EBE was the settled science that everything that followed was constructed on. The EBE, and the equally settled science that dietary fat was evil and needed elimination from the diet of every human, were the twin pillars of modern nutritional orthodoxy. And they were both flat wrong.
The EBE holds that if calories consumed exceed daily energy expenditure, the excess calories are stored as body fat. The EBE is clear and simple: all calories are the same. In the EBE there is no differentiation between a calorie derived from ice cream or a calorie derived from salmon.
If you eat 3,000 calories per day and only burn 2,500 calories during that same day, the 500-calorie surplus is shuttled into fat storage. Since a pound of body fat contains 3,500 calories, if you accumulate 500 surplus calories per day every day for seven days, you add a pound of body fat. (500 x 7 = 3,500)
Bodybuilders knew that the EBE was flawed. For science to be real, results must be repeatable and consistent. The problem was that competitive bodybuilders were routinely and predictably violating and defying the ironclad math of the EBE.
Bodybuilders figured out how to create metabolic preconditions that enabled them to eat twice their daily energy expenditure and not get fatter. The bodybuilders used disciplined diet and intense exercise to create a metabolic miracle: the more “clean calories” they ate the leaner and more muscular they became. Which, according to the indisputable science of the EBE, was impossible. Who are you going to believe, an NIH doctor in a lab coat or some freaky looking bodybuilder?
The second sacrosanct mainstream nutritional principle that turned out to be bogus was that assertion that dietary fat was demonic, it killed people, and every gram should be exorcised from the human diet, replaced by lite, low-fat, fat-free and heart healthy products. How doubly ironic that products bought into existence to eliminate dietary fat from the diet, thereby leaning us out, factually spiked the hell out of insulin and made us fatter.
In a nutshell, what bodybuilders discovered is that if they created certain metabolic preconditions, if they exercised intensely, if they did lots of hardcore weightlifting and lots of intense cardio, if they ate certain foods and avoided others, they created an accelerated metabolism. Through diet and exercise, the bodybuilder reset their caloric thermostat, turned it up to a higher level.
Bodybuilders manipulate their body composition by manipulating insulin: need more lean muscle mass? Use natural carbs and supplementation to create strategic insulin dumps at appropriate times. Need to get ripped? Eliminate the consumption of food and drink that spikes insulin.
Science must work for everyone every time. How is it that 260-pound Dorian Yates can eat 3,200 calories a day, tuna, salad, beef, vegetables, and rice – and get shredded? While 260-pound Joe Blow eats 3,200 calories a day of refined carbs, ice cream, pizza, and beer, and adds bodyfat quicker than you can say pass the apple pie ala mode?
The proponents of the EBE insisted a calorie was a calorie. To wit, a USDA food pyramid of the not-to-distant past allotted 9-11 servings a day or bread or pasta. How does anyone lose fat eating ten servings a day of bread and pasta?
The EBE ignores that fact that some calories are preferentially portioned into constructing muscle while other calories are preferentially partitioned into constructing bodyfat. Different types calories, different foodstuffs, have differing internal effects once digested. While 400-calories of protein and saturated fat derived from prime rib has little affect on insulin, 400-calories derived from ice cream will send insulin skyrocketing. Here is an inconvenient truth: there can be no fat burning if insulin is present in the bloodstream.
Dorian Yates weighing 295-pounds with a 10% bodyfat percentile: he eats 6,500 calories a day
Dorian, 16-weeks later, weighing 261 with 3% body fat, still eating 3,200 calories a day
Dorian Yates would start his Olympia preparation weighing 295-pounds, this sporting an 10% bodyfat percentile. Yates would be eating 6,500 calories a day to support and maintain this mountain of muscle. When it was time, he would shift into his lean-out mode, taking 16-weeks to “whittle down” at a rate of 2.2 pounds per week (one kilo) no more no less: 33-pounds (15-kilos) total.
During the 16-week period he would cut his caloric intake in half, from 6,500 to 3,250 and increase his cardio. This slow, inexorable, methodical, whittling off bodyfat preserves that mountain of precious lean muscle Yates worked so hard to build in the off-season.
This optimized fat-loss approach, slow and steady, has been used with great success by bodybuilders for eons: engage in intense, ball-busting progressive resistance training; engage in daily, sweaty, equally intense cardio sessions; underpinned the intense, consistent training with disciplined, consistent eating. The dietary approach is guided by the twin bodybuilder goals: either, add lean mass – or lean out. Pick one. Bodybuilders don’t train to stay the same.
If the goal is to get ripped, protein intake is kept high (to maintain muscle) while insulin-spiking foods are gradually eliminated. Certain strategic spikes in insulin are purposefully created; a controlled burst of insulin immediately after a hardcore lifting session will actually amplify training results.
Bodybuilders combine insulin-control dieting with intense exercise and obtain outstanding, measurable, repeatable results. The mainstream health professionals take no notice and could care less, bodybuilders are easily dismissed as weird outliers. Meanwhile, the EBE followers are stymied, no one makes progress using their metabolism-killing, starvation dieting - combined, with ineffectual, low-intensity exercise.
Many years ago, I saw a 60-Minute segment on “the fight against obesity.” They travelled to the leading weight loss clinic in the United States, an institution connected to the medical school of one of this country’s top universities. The experts were all EBE proponents, medical doctors with the highest academic credentials, scientists, nutritionists, all talking in lockstep. This was this country’s most prestigious weight-loss clinic and their strategy? Routinely overwork and underfed chronically obese patients. The prescription was always the same: eat fewer fat-free calories; more pedaling on the stationary bike.
The patients were worked like feeble concentration camp inmates: endless labor (pedaling) then underfed (800 to 1200 calories per day.) This torture was administered with kindness instead of brutality. The patients were eternally exhausted, worn out, worn down, drained by the Sisyphus-like pedaling, pedaling, and more pedaling. The low-calorie diets were devoid of fat, what little of food they were allowed was mostly insulin spiking hi-carb food.
Gary Taubes’ book, Good Calorie, Bad Calorie codified what athletes knew but could not articulate: he took apart the Energy Balance Equation and the idea that all calories are created equal. There are good calories and bad calories. Zero in on how differing foods have differing effects on insulin. Taubes says pay attention to your food selections and not how many calories you consume.
“The problem lies in refined carbohydrates (white flour, sugar, easily-digest starches) – via their dramatic effect on insulin, the hormone that regulates fat accumulation. The key to good health is the kind of calories you take in, not the number. Fat and cholesterol were erroneously blamed for heart disease when there was no compelling evidence demonstrating that dietary fat caused heart disease, high blood pressure or makes us obese. The real culprit are refined carbohydrates. The fewer carbohydrates we consume, the leaner we will be.”
H.L. Mencken once said, “There is always an easy solution to every human problem — neat, plausible – and wrong.” Never was this sentiment more après pos then when applied to the neat-and-simple, one-size-fits-all, all-calories-are-the-same, Energy Balance Equation. Taubes’ was the star defense lawyer as he delivered an impassioned, long-overdue defense of (quality) dietary fat, an argument we were too incoherent to make.
He spoke for those that could not articulate how critical fat was for recovery and growth – assuming you trained hard enough for those things to matter. The key to insulin control lies in a return to eating the food-fuels we as humans were designed to run on: protein, fat, fiber carbohydrate, some natural starch. Starch intake is dependent on goal: add mass? (more starch) leaning out? (reduce or eliminate starch.) All calories are not the same. Get a copy of this book. It is timeless.
About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of multiple books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.