Sunday, February 28, 2016

Could Weight Watchers Be Oprah's Biggest Loser?

After missing its fourth quarter earnings estimates, Weight Watchers (WTW) stock took a 29 percent tumble Friday, costing bread loving investor and board member Oprah Winfrey a lot of dough. While the multi-million dollar loss is pocket change for the yo-yo dieting billionairess, her bigger loss is her personal cred for promoting a failed commercial diet scheme based on shaky science.

Weight Watchers stock price has gone on a Mr. Toad's Wild Ride since October 2015 when the former chat queen bought a 10 percent stake in the company and declared she was on the company's diet program. The company's share price doubled in one day.

But like a souffle built on hot air, the gain could not stand the test of time because the company's stock price is based on the Jelloish premise that most people can out-exercise a bad diet and lose weight consuming low-fat high-carb foods.

Regardless of how many online services and coaching programs Weight Watchers adds to its program menu, its celebration of mainstream nutrition's moderation theory of dieting virtually guarantees people will not be able to maintain their weight loss even if they manage to lose a few pounds. Carbohydrates are so addicting that once a person reaches their goal weight the will power to refrain from eating too many carbs is almost impossible to muster.

Weight Watchers has all but given up on marketing its program to millennials who are too savvy to buy into its old school premise. In recent years, the company has targeted older pre-diabetic adults.

In a cynical move, Weight Watchers sponsored an Indiana University School of Medicine study published in the American Journal of Public Health. And...


“The findings suggest that Weight Watchers, a widely available, empirically validated weight management program, could significantly expand access to effective diabetes prevention programs,” said the study's lead investigator, Dr. David Marrero.

Not surprised was Harvard Medical School professor and director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center, David Ludwig, who told the New York Post, “We found that if a food company sponsored a research study, the outcomes were four to eight times more likely to be more favorable to that company’s interests than if the study was independently funded.”

“If you just look at the funding, you can make a very good guess as to what the study will show without reading anything else,” he added.

In other words, Weight Watchers paid for research that "proved" its diet works.


Since most media reports did not include Weight Watchers' role in sponsoring the study, the news spiked the stock price more than 18 percent, not to mention dieters' insulin levels from metabolizing all the excess carbohydrates they consumed.

Meanwhile, Oprah released a TV commercial in January in which she passionately declared she had lost 26 pounds on Weight Watchers while eating bread every day.

And -- in case you're wondering -- Weight Watchers' stock price went up on this breaking news, too. There's a lot of bread to be made telling people they can follow a diet that allows you to munch on bread every day. A page on Weight Watchers' website "cleverly" titled The Skinny on Bread (you can't make this stuff up!) strategically echoes Oprah's perspective:

"Who hasn’t heard that bread is fattening? Some people would have you believe that eating a slice is akin to downing an entire birthday cake, frosting and all. But in reality, if you stick to whole grains, bread can be downright healthy. Here’s a guide to navigating the bread aisle.

"Whole grains — for example, wheat flour milled using the entire grain, which preserves all the fiber, vitamins and minerals — have multiple health benefits. According to the USDA, people who consume at least three servings of whole grains each day are at lower risk for diabetes and heart disease. And several studies have shown that diets high in whole grains are associated with lower body weight."

This view, however, contradicts the preponderance of research that for people with insulin resistance, bread is fattening because it spikes insulin, thus facilitating fat storage.

The bottom line is we all know Oprah can lose weight. Like the old joke about smokers, she's done it a million times.

The real question is can she maintain her weight loss months and years later when she has to depend on will power to control her carb addiction? And how is her insulin spiking, inflammation producing diet that favors vegetable oils over butter and bacon affecting her heart, liver and overall health, regardless of whether or not she temporarily sheds a few pounds.

Now that she's putting her money where her mouth is, Oprah needs to read up on low-carb high-fat diets and have another epiphany. Like a bad boyfriend, it's time for Oprah and bread to break up.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Ralph Waldo Noakes? Why Tim Noakes Changing His Mind About Carbohydrates and Fat Was an Act of Courage

If the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is one of the most embarrassing US publications foisted upon the English speaking global community, Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Self Reliance" may be one of its finest.

One of Emerson's most famous quote from this essay, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds," makes uttering the phrase, "I was wrong" an act of intellectual integrity instead of a shameful admission of fault.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

In the case of Professor Tim Noakes of South Africa, a medical doctor, scientist and marathoner, the heroic turnabout concerned his long-standing recommendation to consume a high-carb low-fat diet to enhance athletic performance.

Noakes was following the conventional dietary "wisdom" of his day, entrusting registered dietitians and nutrition researchers to make scientifically based dietary recommendations. Despite his "healthy" regimen, Noakes found himself overweight and pre-diabetic.

Serendipitously, the A-1 rated researcher read a book by medical doctors Eric Westman, Stephen Phinney and Jeff Volek and another by Gary Taubes that for the first time made him suspect that for carb resistant (CR) people -- possibly half of all adults -- consuming recommended amounts of carbohydrates could cause more harm than good. More shocking, the evidence to support nutritional advice given by most registered dietitians, medical doctors and government guidelines was very shaky.

Noakes' father and uncle suffered from Type 2 Diabetes and the scientist saw himself going down that pot-hole riddled road himself -- despite following his government's high carb low fat dietary guidelines and being an elite athlete.

Professor Tim Noakes, MD
The author of Lore of Running, first published in 1985, recommends tearing the chapter on nutrition out of his original book. His more recent books written after his dietary epiphany -- The Real Meal Revolution (for adults) and Raising Superheroes (for children) -- recommend a modified Banting diet (high fat, moderate protein and low carb).

Back in the 90s, I read the work of Dr. John McDougall, who convinced me the "rich Western diet" was the root cause of obesity and chronic disease. For several years I subsisted on a low-fat vegan diet but never realized the myriad health benefits promised by this way of eating; so I returned to a conventional (albeit, also wrong-headed) diet. Yet even as a totally obscure person with no followers other than my husband and children, it was still very difficult for me to acknowledge the extreme dietary regimen my family had been following for two years was not the most healthy way to eat.

So I can only imagine how hard it must have been for Dr. Tim Noakes to tell the world he had made a mistake by recommending a high-carb low-fat diet and that for many, if not most, people the optimal way to eat was virtually the complete opposite. Like Superman's Bizarro world, fat was good; carbs, bad.

Since following with keen interest the "Banting for Babies Trial" -- the Health Care Professions of South Africa (HCPSA) extended hearing on charges that Noakes acted unethically by providing unconventional dietary advice on Twitter to a nursing mother in response to her innocent suspicious query -- I have been struck by how courageous Noakes was to stray from the medical herd and admit he had given bad dietary advice for many years. (For details on this fascinating saga, read these articles.)

Just prior to the landmark Old Mutual Health Convention he hosted with Karen Thomson in South Africa in February of 2015, Noakes released this official statement:
"... “The mainstream dietary advice that we are currently giving to the world has simply not worked. Instead, it is the opinion of the speakers at this summit that this incorrect nutritional advice is the immediate cause of the global obesity and diabetes epidemics. This advice has failed because it completely ignores the history of why and how human nutrition has developed over the past 3 million years.

“More importantly, it refuses to acknowledge the presence of insulin resistance (carbohydrate intolerance) as the single most prevalent biological state in modern humans. Persons with insulin resistance are at increased risk for developing a wide range of chronic medical conditions if they ingest a high carbohydrate diet for any length of time (decades).

"Armed with this knowledge we have two choices. Either we can continue to ignore the evidence presented at this summit, and go on blaming the obese and diabetic for their sloth and gluttony (that is supposedly the sole cause of their obesity and diabetes). Or, if we are ever to reverse this epidemic that has become the greatest modern threat to human health, we need to admit that we have been wrong for the past 40 years, and must now change."
Sadly, too few famous people have the courage of Tim Noakes to change their mind in public and risk being ridiculed by their peers for flip-flopping or flouting convention. Noakes understands that cognitive dissonance makes it uncomfortable for most people to accept conflicting information and have a psychological need to ignore or impugn any data that does not fit their scheme.

Instead, they will continue dispensing the same bad dietary advice that has led to an epidemic of T2D and other metabolic diseases, most of it based on shaky science and funded by Big Food companies who control the message most registered dietitians dish out to a trusting public.
“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — 'Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.' — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Confessions of an Imperfect Low Carber

I was reading an old blog post in Tuit Nutrition yesterday, and was struck by a quote Amy Berger shared from Mark Sisson:

“You should follow the most restrictive diet you can enjoy, not the most restrictive one you can tolerate.” 

As a 50-something, I learned a long time ago the perfect is the enemy of the good. For many years, I didn't want anyone in my house unless it was immaculate. Then I figured out it takes a lot less time to apologize for a messy house than to clean it; so now, as long as my guests have chairs to sit on that are not covered with cat hair, I'm good.

When it comes to diet, I could get equally obsessed with perfection, eating only the cleanest grassiest fed organically raised food from racially mixed family farms within a five mile radius of my house.

I could become so restrictive that one day my inner James Dean would finally rebel and my husband would find me in a carb induced coma outside a pizza joint or doughnut shop.

Fortunately, I am far from perfect.

Since losing 35 pounds two years ago, I have maintained my optimal weight eating foods that have zero or relatively few carbs, such as meat, whole-fat dairy, nuts, avocados and non-starchy vegetables.

Admittedly, I do not always eat foods in their most whole -- or least processed -- form.

When I want my lemon water to be less tart, I use a packaged product called Lakanto, which is a combination of erythritol and luo han guo (monk fruit). For me, this is an acceptable alternative to sugar, Splenda or the myriad other natural and artificial sweeteners that either spike my blood glucose or mess with my microbiome.

I also eat one low-carb Mama Lupe's tortilla every morning as a vehicle for the cheesy and buttery quesadilla I eat for breakfast. Though its macronutrient profile is good, this processed food contains some undesirable ingredients. But I really love starting my day with a quesadilla and think it's better to eat a sub-optimal low-carb tortilla than an inferior grocery store tortilla.

Another confession:

Most days I eat a GNC chocolate chip cookie dough protein bar, which also contains some sketchy ingredients. But eating this bar helps me not crave cookies, brownies, cake, doughnuts, ice cream and the like; so it's a trade off I am willing to make.

And when I eat at restaurants, I can pretty much bet the chicken or cow was not raised in a grassy meadow surrounded by butterflies and rainbows, and my salad greens may have taken a pesticide bath in Mexico. But as a semi-social person, I sometimes dine out with friends and am willing to make some trade offs to partake in this enjoyable ritual.

The bottom line is that most of my diet consists of relatively whole, relatively healthy low-carb high-fat foods. The few imperfect food-like items I allow myself to consume allow me to maintain a healthy diet (by my definition) most of the time.

In other words, I have found the most restrictive diet I can enjoy, not just tolerate; and if I can maintain it for the next few decades, that's pretty good.