Deadly Diets and the Cult of Flat Stomachs

A couple of reminders appeared today about the cult of flat stomachs and the deadly diets promoted so often in the “weight loss industry”.

Tom Naughton at Fat Head deconstructs one of those “before and after” pics extolling the virtues of a liquid starvation diet. After re-processing the “before” picture back to its normal dimensions … it had been stretched to make the model look fatter … he makes the point that should be hammered home to this image conscious society:

You know what I see there? With appropriate apologies to my wife, I see a hottie with some good muscle tone. If this is actually the same woman (I have my doubts), it’s ridiculous to label her as overweight.

I said it in the film [Fathead], I’ve said it in interviews, and I’ll say it again here: the obesity epidemic has been exaggerated to suit the goals of the weight-loss industry.

Perfectly normal men and women are obsessing about being a few pounds overweight, yet they are trying to meet an impossible goal. Our ideal of the female body has changed with the advent of starvation diets, over-exercise and steroid abuse. I like to refer people to the Playboy Magazine 1953 photo shoot of Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn Monroe's Tummy Bulge
Marilyn Monroe's Tummy Bulge
The amazingly beautiful Monroe has a wonderful little belly bulge, a “defect” that I’m sure would prompt a modern day Marilyn to starve herself for that “extra 5 pounds.” This is a portion of the image to make it acceptable for posting here, but it is unchanged in its original dimensions. And its no camera trick; Marilyn is stretched out in this pose, with her arms over her head, so that tummy bulge is not a result of bending forward. It is the normal, sensuous curvature of a woman that modern, normal weight girls are trying to starve away.

Gabriel Anwar is a great actress on the USA Network TV show Burn Notice. She may be naturally thin as my wife was at her age, so I’m certainly not saying that she is involved in over-exercise or starvation diets. She does show up on “fit celebrity” sites for her defined abs.

Gabrielle Anwar from Burn Notice
Gabrielle Anwar from Burn Notice
The casting people for Burn Notice may have needed Gabrielle to look buff for the character (she plays the “trigger happy ex-girlfriend” of the exposed – or “burned” – spy, and isn’t supposed to be a ‘soft and gentle’ character). But for my taste, she is “too buff”, and I worry that girls trying to emulate her would fall into a dangerous diet and exercise regime that may compromise health.

Actresses are often over-criticized for their appearance on camera which really does “add pounds” … if you see Felicity Huffman or Chelsea Handler in person, you are amazed at how tiny they really are to look “normal sized” on camera. These are petite, beautiful women who appear larger (but still beautiful) on camera. I don’t want to add to that image pressure by criticizing them for being “too thin” in real life; they probably struggle with diet and exercise like many of us do, and work hard to maintain their appearance. (I want to stress that I’m not saying any of these actresses are on dangerous diets, abusing steroids or have an exercise regime that is too strict. My use of them as examples of society’s “ideal body type” is meant only to point out that it is largely unattainable for most of us).

On a related front, Jimmy Moore posts a proposed notice of a class action suit against the woman behind the Kimkins diet, a “starvation diet” that includes the use of laxatives. Moore has more on the woman and his exposure to its victims linked from that blog post. Its a fascinating chronicle of a promising diet plan that was mostly smoke and mirrors.

Our concept of beauty and ideal body types should not include undue pressure to emulate Anwar’s defined abs, or Huffman’s petite frame. We should be more accepting of the natural body shape each individual has at their ideal weight, small tummy bulges and all. After all, it is the potential for a healthy, happy lifestyle that should be our goal.

Site Updates

We added a Heart Disease research page, linking in an important recent study showing low carb eating providing significant benefits.

And a new article has been added to our Diabetes research page.

I evaluated and added three new links. These links are to sites I think provide high quality information. I try to avoid the overly commercial sites hawking their own goods with little additional content. You’ll find these sites updated frequently with interesting content.

First, a medical blog, Dr Biffa. Dr. Biffa is a British physician with an active practice where the low carb lifestyle is actively promoted.

Next up, the blog for the movie Fat Head. That may seem like an unusual choice, but writer/comedian Tom Naughton brings both humor and clear writing to the subject, a great combination.

Finally, Laura Dolson’s resource rich Low Carb Diets site. There is a blog there that is frequently updated, but Laura also provides recipes, links to articles, a low carb glossary, and more.

LDL – Measure it Directly

My medical history includes a high triglyceride level over 400, and my doctor asked for a direct measurement of my LDL. Usually, the labs calculate the LDL by using a formula rather than measuring it directly. As Dr. Michael Eades says in his blog:

… Friedewald substituted triglycerides (TGL) divided by 5 for VLDL in the above equations, giving us the so-called Friedewald equation for calculating LDL.

LDL = Total cholesterol – HDL – TGL/5

And this is how it is still done in labs all over the world 27 years after Friedewald’s paper. If you’ve had a lab report showing an LDL figure, I can guarantee it was calculated by the Freidewald equation and not measured directly.

It has long been recognized that if the triglycerides are over 400, the calculation does not work. So you have to measure the level directly. In that same blog post, Dr. Eades explains his experience that LDL calculations are inaccurate when the triglycerides are low as well. I have linked two articles Dr. Eades identifies as supporting that position in our new LDL Research Page.

Many studies show marked improvement in patients HDL, triglycerides and glucose levels with low carb diets. Often, the low carb dieter has a rise in total cholesterol and LDL. Researchers are not concerned with the higher total cholesterol number, but the LDL level increase does concern them. But most studies use the Friedewald calculation that may not give an accurate picture of the true LDL level.

If my LDL gets too high, I’ll be certain to ask for a direct measurement of it, rather than a calculation. The extra cost for the test is probably cheaper than taking statins.

Diabetes and Low Carb Success

There are several studies showing superior results obtained with low carb diets over other approaches for patients with type II diabetes (see our new Diabetes Page for references). Dr. William Davis on The Heart Scan Blog notes success he sees with his patients:

This is precisely what I see in practice: Elimination of wheat and sugars yields dramatic effects on basic lipids, especially reductions in triglycerides of up to several hundred milligrams, increased HDL, reduced LDL.

Beneath the surface, the effects are even more dramatic: reductions or elimination of small LDL particles, reduction or elimination of triglyceride-containing lipoproteins, elimination of the marker for abnormal post-prandial (after-eating) lipoproteins, IDL, reduced c-reactive protein. Add weight loss from abdominal fat stores and reduced blood pressure.

But some patients experience rising blood sugar levels no matter what they do. And its possible that they have been misdiagnosed and are part of what may be a hidden epidemic affecting up to 10% of the people diagnosed with type II diabetes. Jenny at Diabetes Update Blog describes several emails she has received lately:

They have blood sugars that continue to climb no matter what they eat. They ask me why when they eat no carbs at all their blood sugars are still over 140 mg/dl hours after a meal.

They are on all the oral drugs and sometimes even Byetta, but their blood sugars still go into the 300s.

Some have histories of Gestational Diabetes that came on when they were thin. Some gained a lot of weight very recently but were normal weight before that.

All have relatives with diabetes. Some have relatives with Type 1 diabetes. Most have relatives with other autoimmune disease.

And all of them, it turns out, though diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and given the miserably ineffectual medical treatment doctors give people with Type 2, turn out to have LADA.

I have included a section for LADA in our Diabetes Research Page. Its certainly worth talking to your doctor about if you are one of the few who cannot lower blood sugar by restricting carbs.

Low Carb at Disneyland Park

I used to joke that my low-fat diet 10 years ago was very simple to follow: if it tastes good, spit it out. The low carb diet is exactly the opposite … while you miss some of the same things any diet denies you (ice cream, donuts, etc.), at least you have some pretty tasty things you can eat. So while a low carb diet is full of flavor, it can still be hard to adhere to it while in places like Disneyland.

Carbs, carbs, everywhere!

Before our recent trip I did a bit of research. I saw some reference to those huge turkey legs … sounds right up a carnivore’s alley, munching on a giant turkey leg and consuming all that protein. But I found out they are not low carb. One low carb poster at Low Carb Friends gained 8 pounds after her trip (she ate two). Its hard to find definitive information on the food in amusement parks, but the turkey legs are said to be marinated in a solution full of carbs (sugar, probably), and have over 1100 calories each. Yikes!

But there are places you can find low carb meals. In Disneyland, Red Rocket’s Pizza Port in Tomorrowland has a chicken Ceasar salad that fits the bill. It is “pre-made” with Ceasar dressing, so consider that (I counted the dressing as my 10 carbs per meal, and tossed all the croutons out). Salads are available in several of the other restaurants in the park. Bengal Barbeque in Adventureland has k-bobs with meat and veggie skewered; you can ask for no sauce on them, and they remain pretty tasty.

Downtown Disney has a number of eateries, with some fast food windows. The Mexican tacos can suffice if you are satisfied eating just the chicken or beef filling; its a small meal once you remove the tortillas. But a better bet is the Chef’s Salad or Chicken Ceasar Salad at most of the sit down restaurants.

In Disney’s California Adventure, Wine Country Trattoria in the Golden State area has a wonderful Chicken Bruschetta Salad … skip the tomatoes if you are in “induction” phase, and ask for the dressing on the side. I find if pick up a bit of salad with my fork, and dip the corner of the lettuce into the dressing on the side, I can get the taste of the dressing without consuming all the sugar it contains. This salad is a taste treat, with the cheese and wonderful greens (not to mention the chicken).

A variety of area restaurants have the usual fare, with most serving Chicken Ceasar Salads. Mimi’s Cafe, across Harbor Boulevard and near the Howard Johnsons, is said to have a pretty good salmon meal.

I found it relatively easy to remain on plan during the day, but carried some nuts and beef jerky for those times we stopped at the ubiquitous “outdoor vending carts” festooned with churros, ice cream and other diet killing goodies. Having something to munch on at those times is a big part of not feeling “left out”.

Low Carb: Fail

Stargazy at Low Carb for You has an interesting post on why low carb diets fail for some people.

Referencing a study of binge eating by rats, where “good” and “bad” food choices were provided the animals, Stargazy puts forward the idea that low carb alternatives may be the culprit. It seems the rats would eat the “bad” food even if they were sated after eating “good” rat chow. It may be that overindulgence of the “low carb” cookies, cakes, rolls and other treats is more common than we think:

A less obvious inference might be that if a low-carber is freqently exposed to low-carb versions of very enticing high-carb foods, he or she will probably eat those foods to excess.

In Protein Power, Drs. Eades recount the story of a woman who cut all carbs, only to find no weight loss. On investigation, they found she was consuming dozens of packs of artificial sweeteners. Each pack had only .70 grams of carbs, so the label listed zero carbs. But in reality, eating 100 packets of artificial sweetener would put her at 70 grams … well over the limit for the starting phase of low carb diets (typically 30 grams per day).

My personal feeling is that artificial sweeteners, packaged and processed “low carb” foods, desserts made with “no carb alcohol sugars” and the like are just not worth the effort or expense. I try to tell myself that unless the food is cut off an animal or plucked off a plant, its probably not good for me. Even then, you have to know what you are eating.

Avoiding all sweets, including “low carb” alternatives, is easier for me than trying to weave through the myriad choices and decipher the nutrition labels. And I find sweetness now in unusual places … including walnuts, almonds and other low carb, natural foods.

News Articles Page Added

The pages under our Research menu option are intended to point you toward scholarly or persuasive research in a number of fields. Today, we added a News Articles page. Not every news item mentioning low carb diets will be featured on this page. We do intend to feature articles of interest by science writers.

Our first entry is the ground-breaking article by Gary Traubes in the New York Times, July 7, 2002. Gary’s writings on the low carb diet are well regarded, even though the more dispassionate may wince at his opening paragraph. Gary went on to write the great book Good Calories, Bad Calories:

Good Calories, Bad Calories

H/T to the Livin La Vida Low Carb Links Site