Best of the Low Carb Blogs
Updating an Old Favorite
Cooking with Pumpkins
Self Care in Difficult Times
Eat Your Way to Wellness
Spicy Halloween Dishes
Take a Bite Out of Aging
Our Personal Complicity
Your Fall / Winter Wardrobe
Makeup Tips for Halloween
Halloween without the Sugar
Halloween Safety Tips
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More and more people from the "low carb world" are taking their thoughts to the web in
the form of "blogs" (short for weblogs). And they're making a lot of sense. In fact,
blogging — an activity that's reaching phenomenon status is probably the best
way to get a message "out there."
So each month, we'll be bringing you the "Best of the low carb Blogs." The topics
won't always be about low carb per se. We're simply choosing those entries that we, at
Low Carb Luxury, find to be buzz-worthy.
This month, we feature an entry from Jonny Bowden's Blog. Jonny
has a unique gift for making complex subjects clear and interesting, and has changed the
landscape of diet, fitness, and healthy living.
Jonny is a good friend of ours, and sits on Low Carb Luxury's Expert Panel. Visit
his blog often to read all that he has to offer!
Seth Roberts... The Sugar Water Diet
OK, everyone, get out your copy of the Sept 11th NY Times Sunday Magazine section and turn to
Copyright © October 2005 Jonny Bowden and Low Carb Luxury
Don't happen to have it around? No problem. Let me walk you through it.
Written by the brilliant economist Steven Levitt (author of Freakonomics, last year's fabulous middlebrow beach
read) it tells the story of a 52 year old psych professor named Seth Roberts who,
finding himself overweight, underslept, and with a bad case of acne, decides to do
a little self-improvement. Armed with theories that his friends see as "scientific"
(largely on the strength of Adams academic credentials in psychology) but that the
rest of the world might call "meshuga", he discovers that if he skips breakfast,
stands on his feet for 8 hours and drinks canola oil, fructose, and water, he'll
And you thought Billy Bob Thornton's orange diet was weird?
So what, you might ask, was it about this story that forced me out of blog
retirement? Other than my friend, journalist Connie Bennett's annoying early morning phone call bringing it to
my attention on a Sunday morning normally spent relaxing on the patio in beautiful
Southern California weather reading Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat?
Well, it illustrates one of my favorite uber-themes: the complexity of life, or, as some bad (are there any
other kind?) James Patterson novel might put it (always in italics, of course, and always with the mandatory
explanation point) "nothing is as it seems!"
See, the problem isn't self-experimentation. Virtually every healer worth his crystals tries out practices
on himself first before expounding them to a (sometimes gullible) public. And the healing arts —
along with music — have a long and honorable oral tradition. The ranks of even the more accepted,
Western forms of healing — like psychotherapy and medicine — are riddled with people who
entered the profession, honorably, to solve their own problems first. Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, my go-to guy for fibromyalgia, has fibromyalgia. Dr. Richard Bernstein, everybody's
go-to guy for diabetes, has diabetes. Every personal trainer I know has tried out his routines on
himself, and most nutritionists try out their own supplements and food plans. Dr. Jean Piaget
developed his seminal child development theories in part by rolling a ball under the couch and
watching his 2 year old nephew's response. Some of the greatest discoveries in the healing arts
— and I suspect in the physical sciences — were discovered by unfettered intellectual
piddling, just thinking, trying, doing, riffing, experimenting, often in one?s own basement and on
one's own body.
Nothing wrong with that at all. In fact, everything right about it.
Here's where it gets funky. Or, at the very least, filable under "a little knowledge is a dangerous
Roberts, being an academic, tries to give his inner Billy Bob an intellectual framework. He talks
about the human body having a set-point weight (which is a theory that's been around for years,
usually trotted out to bolster whatever argument you're trying to make.) He hypothesizes metabolic
slowdown during times of famine (which is accurate — when less money is coming in, you slash
your budget, and when less food is coming in, your body cuts its metabolic costs and slows down.) He
also offers a really interesting hyptothesis that should definitely be tested, namely, that highly
seasoned and flavored food creates a desire for more food. (We actually do know from experiements
that people eat more food the more varied and diverse the offerings are — think buffet tables on a
Now the trouble begins.
He figures he can cut his appetite and trick his brain's desire for more food by taking in some canola
oil and fructose at regular intervals. And by skipping breakfast. It seems to work. Voilla, he loses
some weight. Now he has a diet. Fast forward to the inevitable book deal: He's calling it "The
Enter the leitmotif of my intellectual life: Politics — and nutrition — make strange
See this Roberts guy is not a bad guy. And self-experimentation is not a bad thing, especially in the
spirit of self-improvement. Even making up a cockamamie theory to explain why something you are doing
is working doesn't make you a bad person — numerologists and blood type dieters do it all the
time. Some of it may even turn out to be true. That's not the issue.
The issue is two-fold.
Number one: When we look only at results in one dimension of life, we are asking for trouble. Take
weight loss. In the 80's I was personally friends with at least 6 gorgeous models from a major New
York Agency who were keeping their weight at runway standards using a brilliant, "scientifically"
devised diet of asprin and cocaine for breakfast followed by two asparagus spears for lunch, more
coke (not the kind you drink) and a light salad for dinner. Worked like a charm. That is, if the
only measurement you were using for success was weight loss. "But drugs are illegal!" you gasp.
Fine. Here's another way to accomplish weight loss, courteousy of one of my early professors, Dr.
Daniel Kosich, who used to say "You want a sure-fire way to get 'em to lose weight? Lock 'em in a
closet for 30 days with a tube for water." Or, I would add, put 'em on Survivor. If you
just use weight loss as the only measurement for success, you not only miss the boat, you don't
even get a life raft.
Number two: I've made it my own personal mission to restate this point as often and as loudly and
as frequently as I can, at least till they throw me out of the bar or until a critical mass of
diet book buyers finally "gets" it: No one plan works for everyone! Not low-carb, not
high-carb. Not calorie counting, not vegan, not fasting, not high-protein, not orange food, not
canola and fructose. We are metabolically and biochemically unique. It is the ultimate vanity
to think that because you have discovered something that may work for your particular metabolism
at this particular time that it is a universal principle that everyone who wants the same
results should do. We don't give the same workout routines to everyone — marathoners respond
differently to training than Mr. Olympias. We don't give the same medicine to everyone. We don't
all date the same person. We don't all respond to the same ads on Match.com. We don't all like Freakonomics
for our beach read.
And we all respond differently to weight loss programs.
Not only that, we all respond differently at different times in our lives. In Asian traditions,
a diet that may correct excess or heat may be used for a while and then when balance is
attained, a different program may be instituted. I've seen variations of this principle a zillion times,
with overly caffeinated, stressed out adrenaline junkies responding well to a highly alkaline,
vegan-type detoxification diet for the short term, only to move more to the center for maintenance.
Even a basketball player may spend a lot of time on one particular drill just to correct a weakness
in his game, and then go back to regular team drills after the problem has been corrected. You just
can't get away from individualization, comforting as it is to simply escape into a formula suitable
for large type headlines on a supermarket tabloid.
And now a footnote. Regarding Dr. Roberts personal choices for his weight loss program: Fructose may
indeed have a low glycemic index which seems to be why he — a non-nutritionist — chose it
as his sugar water of choice. But it is arguably the most damaging sugar in the world. It creates
insulin resistance by another pathway, and it raises triglycerides more than any other sugar. (Put
fructose and insulin resistance or fructose and triglycerides into PubMED if you want to check for yourself). And canola oil, a very highly processed and crummy
oil whose success is a triumph of marketing over science, is hardly the oil I'd choose to take the edge of my
appetite. But the ill effects of neither of these badly chosen substances will show up on Dr. Roberts' bathroom scale.
Visit the Jonny
Bowden Solutions website.