We check in with the Packard Program

Juliana and I visited with the staff from the Packard Program yesterday.  They are doing great good in the world trying to help obese kids achieve a healthy weight, and they have good success.  Nonetheless, I believe that the calories in/calories out model that underlies the program is wrong.  So why does it work as well it as it does?

The Packard Program teaches kids to substitute lower-calorie yellow or green foods for higher-calorie red foods.  In many cases, those substitutions are from super-high-carb foods to less-high-carb foods.

From a glass of apple juice, for example, to an apple.  8 ounces of apple juice has about 29 grams of carbs; one medium apple has about 16 grams of carbs and it also has 4 grams of fiber, for only 12 grams of “net carbs.”  (When counting carbs, you subtract the fiber grams from the total carbohydrate grams, because fiber does not provoke the same insulin response).

Or from a high-sugar cereal to a low-sugar cereal.   Changing from raisin bran (36 grams of net carbs per cup) to cheerios (19 grams of net carbs per cup) cuts the carb load almost in half.

Both those substitutions are lower calorie changes, but they are also lower-carb changes.  So is it the carbs, or the calories?   I think it’s the carbs.  See chapters 19 and 20 of Gary Taubes‘ “Good Calories, Bad Calories” for a full discussion of this point.

The real power of the realization that carbohydrate restriction is the most important part of the eating plan is that your child will not be constantly hungry on a low carb plan, as they will be on a low calorie “balanced” plan.  At Packard yesterday I really emphasized this point:  Juliana complied perfectly with the program and did lose 6 pounds in 10 weeks.  But she was hungry all the time and I didn’t see how she could possibly keep it up.

A low carb eating plan doesn’t require superhuman restraint to follow.  That makes it a lot easier to coach your child on a low carb eating plan than a low calorie eating plan.

After losing a lot of weight in the beginning, Juliana’s weight loss rate has slowed on the low carb eating plan.  But even if she only loses an average of a 1/2 pound a week, as she did on the Packard Program, she will eventually get to her goal weight WITHOUT suffering constant hunger.  And in the meanwhile, her energy level is high, she has a completely new level of physical stamina, and her mood is consistently good.

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.

When I ate a vegetarian diet, I was heavier

As a former, 18-year vegetarian, the information about carbohydrates was very surprising. Being a vegetarian entails eating even more carbohydrates than an omnivore, and I considered that eating plan to be super healthy. When I thought back, however, I realized that I had generally been heavier as a vegetarian than I was as an omnivore. I weighed more in college than I did after having three children.

I thought about our efforts on the Packard program. Juliana and I had gone heavily into a plant-based eating plan as a way of eliminating reds. We ate a lot of bean soups, with a small amount of meat for flavoring. I went even further in that direction then Juliana, adopting an “Eat to Live” style diet in which one eats mountains of vegetables and fruit.

I also, in accordance with the red/yellow/green system, stopped eating any dessert.  I lost 3 or 4 pounds over a month. I had noticed that while I was satisfied enough after eating a mountain of vegetables, I really, really craved the whole wheat pita bread with lowfat cheese I had alongside it.  It wasn’t a particularly yummy carb, whole wheat pita bread, but my body was acting like it was chocolate cake.  Hmmm…what was it about carbs?

In Overeater’s Anonymous, they eat no flour

Around the same time I talked to a friend who was doing the Over Eaters Anonymous program.  She said she ate nothing with the word flour in it, and in talking to her it was clear that she ate few grains overall.  She said that in OA they talk about being “in the sugar,” where one is craving carbohydrate rich foods and can’t stop eating them.