Gary Taubes Makes His Case to Nick Gillespie: How Big Sugar and a Misguided Government Wrecked the American Diet

Update: My views on Gary Taubes have evolved. In the list of links to related posts at the bottom, I have a section on other posts about Gary Taubes and his work, most notably “Vindicating Gary Taubes: A Smackdown of Seth Yoder.”

The video above is an excellent interview of Gary Taubes by Nick Gillespie. I recommend it to anyone looking for inspiration to begin a more effective weight-loss program. The text of the interview appeared as the Reason article "Meet the Man Who Hated Carbs Before It Was Cool: Gary Taubes on how big sugar and big government wrecked the American diet."

Nick Gillespie makes Gary Taubes look good, and I find myself agreeing with everything Gary Taubes says in this interview. But that is not because I agree with everything Gary Taubes says in general.  In my post "The Case Against Sugar: Stephan Guyenet vs. Gary Taubes," I gave this summary of my views on Taubes:

... whatever the flaws in Gary Taubes's books, he is ultimately convincing on two points: 

  • Sugar is very, very bad. I will say more below on why convincing people of that is an important accomplishment.

  • What the nutrition establishment is telling us needs to be closely examined and cross-checked by scientists outside the nutrition establishment. It is very unwise to simply trust the nutrition establishment.

In my later post "The Case Against the Case Against Sugar: Seth Yoder vs. Gary Taubes," I added this:

Seth Yoder, in his post "The Case Against the Case Against Sugar" fully convinced me that Gary Taubes displays a serious lack of reportorial honesty in his book The Case Against Sugar. And Seth somehow made reading through the trainwreck of how Gary Taubes routinely misquotes or otherwise misrepresents dead people's views perversely entertaining. 

In "The Case Against the Case Against Sugar: Seth Yoder vs. Gary Taubes" I walk through a reevaluation of every post in which I had relied on what Gary Taubes had said. But I neglected to put a note about my new qualms about Gary Taubes in my earlier post "Salt Is Not the Nutritional Evil It Is Made Out to Be." That led to this interesting exchange in the comments section: 

Michael: Hi Miles. l used to follow you ~five years ago but fell out of the blogosphere. l have recently returned to twitter and came across some of your writings again. l was particularly intrigued by your health focused research as of late. However, as someone who really respects your economic opinions (and follows nutritional / longevity research pretty closely), you really should stop paying attention to hyper-sensationalist authors like Taubes. l am truly astounded to hear that that such a praiseworthy, truth-discerning economist such as yourself would even bother reading anything he publishes. Never mind endorse and promote his work... Look, l understand that health may not be your forte and that your biology background may be weak, but for the love of God, read anyone but Taubes. I'm honestly surprised the haughty, agenda driven style that Taubes espouses didn't set off any alarm bells for you. And also...citing WebMD? Come on, Miles, you know you're better than that. Really just shows that you are way out of your depth here with anything health / medicine related. l certainly don't think you're too stupid to tackle health issues. Far from it actually. But maybe spend some time reading cell biology / biochemistry books before you dive any further. Because this honestly all reads like bitcoin maximalists writing pet-theories about economics / finance / investment advice: people with no background in an area writing somewhat convincing arguments at the surface that just really hold little water when scrutinized by people with actual grasps on the topics.

You can continue to blog about health. Just maybe keep those thoughts to yourself until you’ve fortified your biology background a bit. Then you can open it up to the public. Because Honestly, citing Taubes taints all of the other interesting other work you’ve done in your actual field.

I’m not sure what the fascination is with economists moving into health (probably because epidemiology and such is "easy" work and does not really require much background biology), but you guys really have to stop speaking so authoritatively about it. Especially when you are referencing wikipedia…Not because wikipedia is wrong per se, but because it shows you are engaging with such limited material (in comparison to, say, Pub Med).

Anyway, l hope this was more enlightening than it was offensive. If you want to follow a health nut on the internet, go with someone like Rhonda Patrick or researcher Valter Longo over Taubes and Fung. Fung isn’t awful, he is just too much of keto acolyte for my taste. Looking forward to your future entries on health and disease.


Miles:  I trash Gary Taubes [in] The Case Against the Case Against Sugar: Seth Yoder vs. Gary Taubes and distance myself from Gary Taubes while defending him as much as is possible (which isn't much) here: The Case Against Sugar: Stephan Guyenet vs. Gary Taubes So on Gary Taubes, I agree.

On issues of diet and health more generally, I am delighted to have people correct me where I am wrong, but I plan to keep writing about what I am thinking along the road of my intellectual journey in this area.

That is the same standard I apply to others. I never say "Stay silent until you have studied economics for a couple more years; then come back and talk to me." I say "What you said was wrong for this reason." Or sometimes I say "You're right."

On that last point, below here I am in the comment section of "Carola Binder: The Obesity Code and Economists as General Practitioners" telling a different commenter he is wrong. The topic is one where I am I am on the same page as Gary Taubes. In the right hands, calories in/calories out can be a useful identity for thinking about technical scientific issues, but it is a bust as an instrument for public health education.

mike: Ultimately the biggest reason your fat cells have their fat metabolized is the body needs energy ... and because there isn't enough from food it undergoes lipolysis (fat burning) to get more energy and atp...and the reason is their is a net caloric deficit :)

basically as you state calories in are easier to be less than calories out when you fast and go low carb... I am fine with that formulation, but the basic means is simply energy deficit. let semantics continue on.

Miles:  As Carola reinforces, calories in/calories out is a true identity, but it is not much of an explanation of anything. The big questions are (a) Why are calories in what they are? (b) Why are calories out what they are? (c) OK, so calories in are less than calories out, how good or bad does the individual feel in that calorie deficit situation? (d) What are the side effects of a particular way of getting to that calorie deficit situation[?]

The implicit answers for many people's thinking are (a) It is a matter of psychology what people eat. (b) Activity levels, such as how much people exercise is the only thing that matters for calories out. (c) There is no way to have a significant calorie deficit without suffering. (d) The way to undesirable side effects of a calorie deficit is to have regular meals but have the overall number of calories restricted.

All of these 4 answers are wrong.

To learn more about why, see these other posts on diet and health and on fighting obesity:

I. The Basics

II. Sugar as a Slow Poison

III. Anti-Cancer Eating

IV. Eating Tips

V. Calories In/Calories Out

VI. Wonkish

VIII. Debates about Particular Foods and about Exercise

IX. Gary Taubes

X. Twitter Discussions

XI. On My Interest in Diet and Health

See the last section of "Five Books That Have Changed My Life" and the podcast "Miles Kimball Explains to Tracy Alloway and Joe Weisenthal Why Losing Weight Is Like Defeating Inflation." If you want to know how I got interested in diet and health and fighting obesity and a little more about my own experience with weight gain and weight loss, see “Diana Kimball: Listening Creates Possibilities and my post "A Barycentric Autobiography.