Skip navigation

Mailbag: January 18, 2011

This week's mailbag is a bit different, dealing with just a single, non-tech topic: Weight loss. Here, I discuss how I am losing weight this year, why this will work for anyone, and why the conventional wisdom about weight loss is wrong.

Have a question? I can't guarantee an answer, but I'll try. Drop me a note! (And let me know if you'd prefer not to have your name published.)

Weight loss, why the conventional wisdom is wrong, and how you can really do it

On the Windows Weekly podcast and then again on Facebook, I've publicly announced my intention to lose weight this year. Big deal, right? People do this all the time. The reason this is different is that I've never actually announced such a thing, and certainly not in this way: I'm not hoping or predicting that I'm going to lose weight this year. I am going to lose weight this year. In fact, since January 1, when I started, I've lost almost 10 pounds. Now, this will naturally slow down to a healthier and sustainable 1-2 pounds per week, but the point here is simple: I know this will work because I have the science to back it up. And that science points to two very important points: All the conventional wisdom you've heard about weight loss (calories in/calories out, working out as an aid, and so on) is dead wrong. And this is going to work for me because it will work for anybody that needs to lose weight. It really is that simple.

There are of course questions. Many questions.

The first is:

I heard you found a great diet book on the podcast. What is it?

It's not a "diet" book. Diets don't work (at least not long term, and then not for the reasons you probably think). It's a book about why we really get fat, why some people don't get fat, and why the conventional wisdom about weight loss--which was arbitrarily invented in the 1940's, by the way--is absolutely 100 percent swrong. It's also about, very briefly, what you can do to reverse this weight gain if that's what you've experienced. Why is that part so brief? Two reasons: It's super-simple, and there are already plenty of books describing diets (i.e. changes in diet, not "diets") that will get the job done.

The book is Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It by Gary Taubes. If that name is familiar, it may be because he wrote the New York Times article that touched off this "new" thinking on weight gain, What if It's All Been a Big Fat Lie?, from 2002. He turned that into an earlier book, Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health (2008). The new one is based on that earlier book but dispenses with some of the examples and is more approachable; I guess some people found it too dense.

So what's the diet?

Again, not a diet. But it's this simple: If you are gaining weight, it's because of carbs. Some people aren't affected--we all know those people who can eat whatever they want--but if you are fat, or fattening, it's carbs. Only carbs. So to lose weight, you simply reduce your intake of carbs. Weight loss occurs. 100 percent of the time.

So this is ... Atkins?

There's a joke in the "South Park Movie" where a group of people goes down to hell, and some guy raises his hand and asks a devil what the real religion was, the inference being they chose the wrong one and thus ended up there. "Mormon," he replies, and everyone groans (because, clearly, they got it wrong.) "I knew it!" one guy cries. Here, the punch line is that, yes, Atkins was right. It really is as simple as carbs. And Taubes, in his books, supplies the scientific proof.

You are crazy. Low-carbs is dangerous/not the answer/whatever. Weight loss is just calories in/calories out.

You can't write about or mention something like this without hearing from the "calories in/calories out" crowd. After all, it sounds like it makes sense: You take in x number of calories and need x number of calories to live. If you take in too many calories, you gain weight. If you take in fewer calories, you'll lose weight. Sounds right, doesn't it?

Not even close, and as anyone who has struggle with weight gain will tell you, it's BS. That is not how your body works at all, sorry. Don't believe me? You're not alone. But read the book(s) and/or the article referenced above.

But I lost weight on \\[insert name of fad diet here\\]. So you must be wrong.

The other standard argument will come from that person who did lose weight on whatever BS diet, be it low fat, low calorie, whatever. But these people are just fooling themselves. The real reason they lost weight is because they lowered their intake of carbs. That it. It's that simple. And the reason these diets don't work is that you can eat all the low-fat cookies you want and gain lots of weight: Fat doesn't make you fat. Carbs do. Especially liquid carbs (beer, soda). It's very simple.

What about working out?

Working out will not help you lose weight, not in the long term. In this way, it's just like any diet: Possible short term improvements but no long-term benefit. This, too, is explained in the book. That said, there are advantages to working out, mostly related to general fitness. And on that note, I am playing basketball (twice a week) and going to the gym (twice a week). Of course, I've been doing that for several years and haven't lost a pound. That's how it works.

So what are you doing exactly?

For now, I'm simply eliminating carbs. This means no beer, no bread, no white rice, no potatoes, and so on. Over time, as I lose weight, I will begin adding some (highly valued) carbs back into my diet. But for now, I'm going cold turkey.

I don't drink cola or eat sweets, but that would be the obvious starting point for most people. In my case, the culprits are beer and bread.

The tough part is breakfast. I eat eggs in some combination with meat every day, but this is something you need to get used to. Here in America, we were raised on cereal and to believe that eggs are bad for you. The reverse is true.

I happen to be lucky, too, in that my wife is fit and a health nut, and a great cook. And she works at home too, so we eat right at lunch, not just at other meals.

The job now is simple: Lose weight. And I've always said that if someone could just invent a pill or a very simple way to lose weight, I'd do it. This is it. Simple.

One nice side effect of this lifestyle change--again, it's not a diet--is that you are actually less hungry. And this is something I've never noticed before with other weight loss attempts, where I was typically famished and just punishing myself. That type of thing can't last. This can, because it works, and because it's the right thing for your body.

Long term, things get trickier: After I've lost enough weight, I'll reintroduce carbs over time and see what effect they have, monitoring and adjusting things over time. This will be difficult. But what a wonderful problem to have.  I can't wait.

Who the @#$% do you think you are? You can't recommend this to anyone.

Fair enough. I'm not a doctor, and I can't advise you on what to do with any kind of credibility, so please do read the article cited above, and the book (and any other books that may not agree with this assessment), and make your own informed decision. There are all kinds of things that play into health, including worries about cholesterol, heart disease, and so on. But if you are serious about losing weight, this is the answer. It won't be replaced next year by The Next Big Thing. This is it. This has been it for all of history; it's only in the past 60 years that we were led astray by some well-meaning but ill-advised supposition about calories.

I understand there are more questions. There always will be with something like this. But I've given you what you need to get started. Please, do your own research. Read, a lot. Learn.

I'm losing weight this year. You can too.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.