Hunter-gatherers don’t burn more calories than we do

Take a look at the brief description of a study of the calorie expenditure in one of the last existing traditional hunter-gatherer societies on earth:  NY Times, Hunter-Gatherer.

The authors conclude decisively that there is no difference in calorie expenditure between the Hazda people in Tanzania and typical adults in the United States and Europe.  They conclude that this finding suggests that “inactivity is not the source of modern obesity.”

Their recommendation to reduce the number of calories we eat is slightly off the mark–although they do particularly recommend eating less sugar, which is tantalizingly close to an endorsement of low carb eating in the very mainstream New York Times.

Times reporting is usually more like this:  A lengthy article by the health writer Tara Parker-Pope in December, 2011 reviewed the steady failure of weight loss diets without ever mentioning low carb plans.  The Fat Trap.  I sent her an email but never heard back.  Gary Taubes sent a rebuttal, but also hasn’t heard back.

What about “less carb” instead of “low carb”?

What about a “less carb” eating plan?  Wouldn’t that be a good bet if you still have safety concerns about low carb eating plans?  This page: low carb for kids provides a nice summary of this viewpoint.  What’s wrong with this logic?  At least three things.

1)  A less carb eating plan may not be low carb enough to get the metabolic benefits of low carb–to switch your child’s body over to primarily burning fat, rather than carbohydrates, for fuel.  (Westman, Dr. Eric C.; Phinney, Dr. Stephen D.; Jeff S. Volek (2010-02-17). The New Atkins for a New You (p. 8-). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition).

2)  A less carb eating plan may not be low carb enough to eliminate carbohydrate cravings, making it much harder for the child to follow.  On a very low carb diet, cravings disappear.  That kid who can’t seem to get enough mac and cheese, muffins, cookies, bread with dinner, potato chips and so forth will disappear.

As you approach your goal weight, you gradually add carbs back in a defined order–but if a given carbohydrate food stops weight loss or causes cravings to return, you eliminate it again.  If you don’t do that, it’s very hard to stay on the eating plan.  (Westman, Dr. Eric C.; Phinney, Dr. Stephen D.; Jeff S. Volek (2010-02-17). The New Atkins for a New You (p. 116-144). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

3) On a less carb eating plan, your child may be hungry even while consuming the same number of calories as on a low carb eating plan that does not result in nagging hunger.  Why?    Carbohydrates stimulate hunger in a way that fat and protein do not.  As Gary Taubes describes in “Good Calories, Bad Calories,” a diet of 1200 calories of fat and protein is satiating.  People find compliance relatively easy, without hunger, and they lose weight.  But a diet of 800 calories of fat and protein and 400 calories of carbohydrate is the classic semi-starvation diet that is successful in perhaps 1 of 100 people.  And a major reason for the low success rate is people can’t tolerate the constant hunger such a diet produces.  (Taubes, Gary (2007-09-25). Good Calories, Bad Calories (Kindle Location 6884-6924). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition).

Nor is it necessary to consume only 1200 calories of fat and protein to lose weight on a low carb eating plan.  Taubes summarizes:

“The last decade has witnessed a renewed interest in testing carbohydrate-restricted diets as obesity levels have risen and a new generation of clinicians have come to question the prevailing wisdom on weight loss. Six independent teams of investigators set out to test semi-starvation diets of the kind recommended by the American Heart Association in randomized control trials against “eat as much as you like” Pennington-type diets, now known commonly as the Atkins diet, after Robert Atkins and Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution. Five of these trials tested the diet on obese adults, one on adolescents. Together they included considerably more than six hundred obese subjects. In every case, the weight loss after three to six months was two to three times greater on the low-carbohydrate diet—unrestricted in calories—than on the calorie-restricted, low-fat diet.”

Taubes, Gary (2007-09-25). Good Calories, Bad Calories (Kindle Locations 6868-6875). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

See also:  Westman, Dr. Eric C.; Phinney, Dr. Stephen D.; Jeff S. Volek (2010-02-17). The New Atkins for a New You (p. 49-58). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.