3

Hack the Taubes-Chow Convergence (Hypothetical)

Created May 15, 2012 at 1:01 AM

So, I just saw A Mathematical Challenge to Obesity posted on Google News. It was written by Carson Chow, a mathematician for a division of the NIH. He argues, essentially, that it's calories in v. calories out concluding that "There???s no magic bullet on this. You simply have to cut calories and be vigilant for the rest of your life."

The other day, I saw Taubes' argument on The Daily Beast (Why the Campaign to Stop America's Obesity Crisis Keeps Failing). Most people here probably have a good idea of what this article says: Taubes places heavy blame in insulin impacting foods--that insulin spikes cause fat fat cells, which therefore causes fat humans.

If we could put these two in a room together to debate obesity's causes and solutions, who would win and what would the argument look like?

As a corollary question, what do you think of Marianne Cusato's condemnation of the Taubes' article as "short-sighted and dangerous"?

(The question title is an homage to The Big Bang Theory and Numb3rs, both of which had episodes with convergence in the title.)

(384)

on July 27, 2012
at 06:00 PM

I've been paleo for two years and haven't lost a pound. I can, and have, consumed 2-3lbs of meat daily, which keeps my weight steady at 347 since 2-3lbs of meat roughly equals my TDEE. I am not actually overeating, but it certainly doesn't cause me to want to eat LESS than what I need.

(384)

on July 27, 2012
at 05:58 PM

@November Can we see your detailed record of excess calorie consumption? We'd need a calculation of your TDEE and probably six months to a year of daily records. I have a similar question right now on PH asking people to post proof of chronic hypercaloric intake.

(384)

on July 27, 2012
at 05:55 PM

The answer, air_hadoken, is because it doesn't NEED it. Excess calories actually means just that, excess. Your question is like asking why my car doesn't use the gas in the red containers in the trunk when I keep filling the gas tank and keep putting more containers in the trunk.

(384)

on July 27, 2012
at 05:54 PM

As someone who grew up in a family of alcoholics telling them they drink too much is actually the first step.

(384)

on July 27, 2012
at 05:52 PM

I thought it was an homage to this science textbook I got in college because it has convergence in it over 100 times.

(1031)

on May 16, 2012
at 02:54 AM

@trjones, that link is awesome! I love this bit from his post "Invoking the First Law of Thermodynamics and berating obese people as having a behavioral issue does not address the root cause of obesity".

(5145)

on May 16, 2012
at 12:52 AM

Matt, different macronutrients affect metabolism in different ways. No one is questioning calories in/calories out. The question is why are people driven to eat the amount they do? White knuckle starvation diets don't work. Telling someone to "just eat less" is not an effective way to change a person's lifestyle or weight in the long term because history has shown most people will be unable to stick to it.

(5145)

on May 16, 2012
at 12:43 AM

I just came across this blogpost that makes my point well: http://sparkofreason.blogspot.com/2011/01/on-taubes-and-toilets.html

(41757)

on May 15, 2012
at 10:18 PM

Certainly Taubes idea that insulin tells our bodies to store fat is not very correct. It really doesn't matter if you eat X calories of carbs or fat, it's the amount of energy that matters, not what it is, when it comes to weight gain/loss.

(41757)

on May 15, 2012
at 10:16 PM

CICO explains why we're fat, CI>CO, simple. Why is CI so high? Well, that seems to be where Stephan Guyenet and his ideas come into play. No offense, but if you make a conscious effort to reduce CI, it works and you lose weight.

(2861)

on May 15, 2012
at 04:27 PM

Trjones, I don’t think CICO is “end of discussion,” but it is “first principle” that some people lose sight of in search of a magic bullet. I don’t think the insulin hypothesis explains very well why someone chooses Hot Pockets over a simple piece of meat, a potato or rice, and some vegetables. I don’t think IH explains why somebody who is not really hungry still will drink a soda or eat popcorn covered in transfats. I think looking at a single hormone is just too simplistic and just doesn't pan out shen looking at the Japanese and most other world populations.

(5145)

on May 15, 2012
at 04:12 PM

Paleo, that's exactly my point. Taubes describes what he thinks is the biological mechanism that drives people to eat food even when they don't need it. It deserves more examination. Instead we just get "It's calories in/calories out, end of discussion", which as practical advice is basically useless. Of course Taubes' proposed solution is a low carb diet, which seems to drive some people nuts.

(2861)

on May 15, 2012
at 03:59 PM

Trjones - Crap-in-a-box foods that are engineered to be hyper-rewarding, convenient, and cheap are much more abundant today, along with other technological (microwave ovens) and societal changes that have encouraged people to consume this food. People didn’t get fatter because the food industry put more carbs in their potatoes and rice, they go fatter because the food industry and society got people to eat crap food even when they aren’t hungry and/or to continue eating it past hunger being satisfied. My kids get snacks 3 times a day at daycare. They still eat these whether hungry or not.

(5145)

on May 15, 2012
at 03:40 PM

If it's so simple and useful, why has it utterly failed as public health policy? Have Americans just become more gluttonous? Had a mass moral decline? Spontaneously lost the ability of self restraint for no particular reason? Or maybe there's some kind of biological mechanism that has led to this state of affairs. That's Taubes' point. I don't know why you're so resistant to considering it.

(41757)

on May 15, 2012
at 03:00 PM

True and useful. Decrease CI or increase CO, lose weight. I don't know why such a simple answer eludes Taubes.

(5145)

on May 15, 2012
at 01:49 PM

@Matt, no one ever said it wasn't in play, it just is fairly meaningless in trying to explain obesity. Someone (maybe it was Taubes himeslf) used the analogy of telling someone the reason he was an alcoholic is because he drinks to much. Literally true, but completely useless.

(41757)

on May 15, 2012
at 10:54 AM

@Simon, Of course, CICO explains that. CICO is simply a definition. If you're not gaining weight, CO >= CI. If you're gaining weight, CO < CI.

(41757)

on May 15, 2012
at 10:50 AM

Just because the system is complex doesn't mean that energy balance is not in play.

(41757)

on May 15, 2012
at 10:49 AM

Calories out is not just exercise, calories out is simply existing.

(15236)

on May 15, 2012
at 04:31 AM

Anyone can easily overeat in one sitting, but with any amount of leptin sensitivity it will be hard to overeat for more than a week or so.

(823)

on May 15, 2012
at 04:29 AM

Exactly, Simon. I cannot exercise, and drop weight like a rock when I eliminate the grains.

(48)

on May 15, 2012
at 04:27 AM

CICO is simple because it has been around a while and is well understood. Low-carb also needs to be easily understandable. A message can be simple and accurate. While low-carb may never be as simple as CICO, it could be simpler than it is, and will always be a more comprehensive answer.

(48)

on May 15, 2012
at 04:23 AM

I don't think that's middle ground, thats CICO. Also it doesn't explain why its perfectly possible to consume excess calories and be sedentary and still not put on weight.

(3499)

on May 15, 2012
at 02:51 AM

I can still eat a full rack of ribs in one sitting.

(3499)

on May 15, 2012
at 02:50 AM

IMO, the reason why CI/CO doesn't matter is because it doesn't explain why your body *doesn't* elect to use your excess intake on extra body heat, muscle activity, brain activity, tissue repair, or hormones.

(10255)

on May 15, 2012
at 02:32 AM

i can easily over consume beef, liver, shrimp, salmon sashimi....some people may be less likely, but many will....

(41757)

on May 15, 2012
at 01:10 AM

You're just less likely to overeat, overeating is still very possible.

(1721)
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10

(1031)

on May 15, 2012
at 03:14 AM

The Calories In / Calories Out (CICO) model is a silly reductionism and serves only to screw up any intelligent attempt to understand the complexity and beauty of the human body. We are not just incinerators, that would be a daft oversimplification! It's like saying if I pour 10 litres of water into a pipe 10 litres will come out the other end -- wow, big deal. Our bodies are not pipes, they are extremely complex machines with interacting processes and stores that respond and adapt in a vast multitude of ways to what is consumed. The insulin hypothesis describes one important mechanism of the body and is in no way negated by the CICO attempt at reductio ad absurdum.

(5145)

on May 15, 2012
at 01:49 PM

@Matt, no one ever said it wasn't in play, it just is fairly meaningless in trying to explain obesity. Someone (maybe it was Taubes himeslf) used the analogy of telling someone the reason he was an alcoholic is because he drinks to much. Literally true, but completely useless.

(5145)

on May 16, 2012
at 12:43 AM

I just came across this blogpost that makes my point well: http://sparkofreason.blogspot.com/2011/01/on-taubes-and-toilets.html

(41757)

on May 15, 2012
at 10:50 AM

Just because the system is complex doesn't mean that energy balance is not in play.

(41757)

on May 15, 2012
at 10:16 PM

CICO explains why we're fat, CI>CO, simple. Why is CI so high? Well, that seems to be where Stephan Guyenet and his ideas come into play. No offense, but if you make a conscious effort to reduce CI, it works and you lose weight.

(41757)

on May 15, 2012
at 10:18 PM

Certainly Taubes idea that insulin tells our bodies to store fat is not very correct. It really doesn't matter if you eat X calories of carbs or fat, it's the amount of energy that matters, not what it is, when it comes to weight gain/loss.

(5145)

on May 15, 2012
at 03:40 PM

If it's so simple and useful, why has it utterly failed as public health policy? Have Americans just become more gluttonous? Had a mass moral decline? Spontaneously lost the ability of self restraint for no particular reason? Or maybe there's some kind of biological mechanism that has led to this state of affairs. That's Taubes' point. I don't know why you're so resistant to considering it.

(41757)

on May 15, 2012
at 03:00 PM

True and useful. Decrease CI or increase CO, lose weight. I don't know why such a simple answer eludes Taubes.

(2861)

on May 15, 2012
at 03:59 PM

Trjones - Crap-in-a-box foods that are engineered to be hyper-rewarding, convenient, and cheap are much more abundant today, along with other technological (microwave ovens) and societal changes that have encouraged people to consume this food. People didn’t get fatter because the food industry put more carbs in their potatoes and rice, they go fatter because the food industry and society got people to eat crap food even when they aren’t hungry and/or to continue eating it past hunger being satisfied. My kids get snacks 3 times a day at daycare. They still eat these whether hungry or not.

(48)

on May 15, 2012
at 04:27 AM

CICO is simple because it has been around a while and is well understood. Low-carb also needs to be easily understandable. A message can be simple and accurate. While low-carb may never be as simple as CICO, it could be simpler than it is, and will always be a more comprehensive answer.

(5145)

on May 15, 2012
at 04:12 PM

Paleo, that's exactly my point. Taubes describes what he thinks is the biological mechanism that drives people to eat food even when they don't need it. It deserves more examination. Instead we just get "It's calories in/calories out, end of discussion", which as practical advice is basically useless. Of course Taubes' proposed solution is a low carb diet, which seems to drive some people nuts.

(2861)

on May 15, 2012
at 04:27 PM

Trjones, I don’t think CICO is “end of discussion,” but it is “first principle” that some people lose sight of in search of a magic bullet. I don’t think the insulin hypothesis explains very well why someone chooses Hot Pockets over a simple piece of meat, a potato or rice, and some vegetables. I don’t think IH explains why somebody who is not really hungry still will drink a soda or eat popcorn covered in transfats. I think looking at a single hormone is just too simplistic and just doesn't pan out shen looking at the Japanese and most other world populations.

(1031)

on May 16, 2012
at 02:54 AM

@trjones, that link is awesome! I love this bit from his post "Invoking the First Law of Thermodynamics and berating obese people as having a behavioral issue does not address the root cause of obesity".

(5145)

on May 16, 2012
at 12:52 AM

Matt, different macronutrients affect metabolism in different ways. No one is questioning calories in/calories out. The question is why are people driven to eat the amount they do? White knuckle starvation diets don't work. Telling someone to "just eat less" is not an effective way to change a person's lifestyle or weight in the long term because history has shown most people will be unable to stick to it.

(384)

on July 27, 2012
at 05:54 PM

As someone who grew up in a family of alcoholics telling them they drink too much is actually the first step.

6

(41757)

on May 15, 2012
at 01:30 AM

Taubes likes to tout that what you eat matters more than how much you eat. Conventional wisdom says that how much you eat matters more than what you eat.

The very reasonable middle ground is that what you eat (calories in) affects your metabolism (calories out). And it's still energy balance that determines weight loss/gain/maintenance.

(823)

on May 15, 2012
at 04:29 AM

Exactly, Simon. I cannot exercise, and drop weight like a rock when I eliminate the grains.

(41757)

on May 15, 2012
at 10:49 AM

Calories out is not just exercise, calories out is simply existing.

(41757)

on May 15, 2012
at 10:54 AM

@Simon, Of course, CICO explains that. CICO is simply a definition. If you're not gaining weight, CO >= CI. If you're gaining weight, CO < CI.

(48)

on May 15, 2012
at 04:23 AM

I don't think that's middle ground, thats CICO. Also it doesn't explain why its perfectly possible to consume excess calories and be sedentary and still not put on weight.

(384)

on July 27, 2012
at 05:58 PM

@November Can we see your detailed record of excess calorie consumption? We'd need a calculation of your TDEE and probably six months to a year of daily records. I have a similar question right now on PH asking people to post proof of chronic hypercaloric intake.

6

(5145)

on May 15, 2012
at 01:29 AM

I think Taubes has fallen in love a little too much with his hormone hypothesis and presents it in a way that kind of undermines what I found to be the most interesting part of his book Why We Get Fat. It's not that calories in/calories out don't matter. The question is why people are driven by their bodies to consume more calories than they take in: the feedback loop of insulin spikes leading to hunger leading to more spikes. I was kind of disappointed that his Daily Beast article glossed over this point.

I actually think it's a misreading of Taubes that he is saying calories in/calories out simply don't matter, but it is his fault that his point is so easily misunderstood because he presents it so poorly in a quest to establish his own niche.

(3499)

on May 15, 2012
at 02:50 AM

IMO, the reason why CI/CO doesn't matter is because it doesn't explain why your body *doesn't* elect to use your excess intake on extra body heat, muscle activity, brain activity, tissue repair, or hormones.

(384)

on July 27, 2012
at 05:55 PM

The answer, air_hadoken, is because it doesn't NEED it. Excess calories actually means just that, excess. Your question is like asking why my car doesn't use the gas in the red containers in the trunk when I keep filling the gas tank and keep putting more containers in the trunk.

5

(2393)

on May 15, 2012
at 01:11 AM

I agree with Jeff. Taubes makes a lot of sense, even if he did take it too far the other way. Hormones play a HUGE role in this equation, so to simply imply calories in - calories out doesn't take that into effect. You have to reset yourself if you want this whole situation to be long term. Otherwise you'll lose some weight at the beginning and then level out, followed by more gain. Taubes was on the Oz show and argued this point. Oz agreed somewhat but still brought it back to calories in calories out.

Anyway, I don't think anyone would win or concede any points. Just my two cents here.

4

(15236)

on May 15, 2012
at 01:07 AM

The convergence is that it's very difficult to overeat on a low-carb diet, and so you can't take in as many calories as you're expending.

(41757)

on May 15, 2012
at 01:10 AM

You're just less likely to overeat, overeating is still very possible.

(10255)

on May 15, 2012
at 02:32 AM

i can easily over consume beef, liver, shrimp, salmon sashimi....some people may be less likely, but many will....

(3499)

on May 15, 2012
at 02:51 AM

I can still eat a full rack of ribs in one sitting.

(15236)

on May 15, 2012
at 04:31 AM

Anyone can easily overeat in one sitting, but with any amount of leptin sensitivity it will be hard to overeat for more than a week or so.

(384)

on July 27, 2012
at 06:00 PM

I've been paleo for two years and haven't lost a pound. I can, and have, consumed 2-3lbs of meat daily, which keeps my weight steady at 347 since 2-3lbs of meat roughly equals my TDEE. I am not actually overeating, but it certainly doesn't cause me to want to eat LESS than what I need.

1

(8894)

on May 15, 2012
at 02:36 PM

Those two have been in a room, on more than one occasion, though not alone. Carson Chow is one of the two "young NIH biophysicists" Taubes has referred to in emails to me, interviews, etc. He and Kevin Hall (the other biophysicist and frequent co-author with Chow) confronted Taubes on his glycerol phosphate nonsense on at least one occasion (I think two). This resulted in Taubes reluctantly removing it from his lectures and WWGF.

No way Chow says that it all doesn't matter anyway because insulin so fundamentally regulates fat accumulation as Gary claimed.