I Won’t Be Reviewing Gary Taubes’s Bullshit Anti-Sugar Science Fiction Book
There is a concept in science fiction writing called the “One Big Lie.”
Worm poop fuels interstellar travel. Artificial intelligence turns evil and enslaves us all. An alien virus devastates humanity. Mutants. Warp drives. The Force. Parallel dimensions. Time travel …
It is by no means absolute, but some of the best science fiction authors try to stick to the One Big Lie and explore it in detail, rather than having a book filled with time traveling mutants battling infected aliens using rogue artificial intelligence across the multiverse.
Science fiction is one of my favorite genres. The work of author John Varley had profound impact on my development as a writer. I’ve also learned a great deal from my friend Robert J. Sawyer. Wonderful tales have been told by Scalzi and Heinlein and May and Herbert and Le Guin and Niven and Gaiman and Shelley and Stephenson and Bear and Simmons and Cherryh and Vinge and Bova and Atwood and King …
There are so many amazing science fiction authors waiting to be read I won’t waste my time on a crappy one. Especially since he’s laughably pretending that what he has written is not actually science fiction.
The One Big Lie in Gary Taubes’s first book, Good Calories, Bad Calories, revolved around the “insulin hypothesis.” Carbs make you fat because they open a rift in the space-time-insulin continuum and transport fat from a parallel universe directly to your belly. Or … some equally dumbfuck bullshit.
Taubes’s new book has a new One Big Lie: Sugar is both toxic and addictive. I think that might be two lies. It also allegedly causes type 2 diabetes. So … three lies? Time traveling mutants from an alternate dimension?
Told you he was a crappy author.
Taubes’s new book comes out next week and is entitled The Case Against Sugar. Because the media likes to report the nutritional news and doesn’t actually understand the nuances of nutrition or how to accurately convey the conclusions of nutrition studies, Gary is loved by major publications as some kind of guru thought leader visionary in regards to nutrition. It helps that he’s duped many thousands with his calories-don’t-count nonsense.
Writing about nutrition is like using The Force in Star Wars, in that if you push low carb it’s like going to the dark side. Success is “Quicker. More seductive.” Success is far more easily attained because people gobble that shit up like half price paleo pancakes. Any time you sell a version of snake oil, such as demonizing a macronutrient to expose some kind of government conspiracy about calories or saturated fat, gawping groups of the gullible will throw money at you.
It’s easy to create a cult like mentality against sugar. My agent once said to me, “The United States is ground zero for stupid diets.” Just look at the historical bestsellers: caveman diets / blood type diets / spreading fear and misinformation over a specific food / breeding method / ingredient / macronutrient … Rational, science-based books are boring and rarely achieve big sales.
Going to the dark side pays the bills. It made a metric shit-ton of money for old Gary.
But it also opens one up to a lot of criticism from the legitimate scientific community. Taubes has been eviscerated time and again for his cherry picking of research to push a false nutritional narrative. And now, he arrogantly proclaims to have been “vindicated” in a New York Magazine article. This article makes no mention of how his own “NuSi” initiative determined that the insulin hypothesis was bullshit, and that going on a low carb diet does NOT invalidate caloric balance for weight loss. In fact, said study showed that doing so was harmful for weight loss because of the deleterious effect on fat free mass. So I’m not exactly sure how he has been vindicated.
That’s not the first time New York Magazine gave Taubes a platform to spew bullshit. Back in 2002 he misrepresented research to proclaim exercise is useless for weight loss, revealing that he has no understanding of how exercise can affect eating behavior as well as how it can make achieving a sustained caloric deficit easier by allowing a greater ingestion of food.
But tell people they don’t need to exercise, or can exercise a lot less, if they only cut carbs, and they’ll eat that shit up. This is an anecdotal observation, and I do not wish to shame anyone, but time and again those I see relentlessly pushing the low carb narrative have physiques that are not that impressive. Conversely, the pro-carb crowd who use it to fuel physical activity are the ones with the higher-performing and more conventionally-attractive looking frames. Some people don’t care about body shape, but others do, so I consider the observation worth noting.
People have criticised me for being critical of low carb, but the reality is that I am not. What I’m critical of is bullshit, and low carb is rife with it. There can be value to going on a low carb diet; it works for many. And I wrote about how low carb can be effective without using a single line of bullshit. It’s nothing magical or science fictiony. It’s just a viable way for some to create a caloric deficit. No need to spin a bullshit yarn about insulin or toxic / addictive sugar.
Refined, added sugar is problematic. Calling it “addictive” is grossly misusing a clinical term. People can become psychologically habituated to it, but this isn’t in the same universe as drug or alcohol addiction. A small percentage of people can become addictive to eating, but they’re not addicted to a specific ingredient.
As for it being “toxic,” the dose makes the poison, and the dosage at which sugar becomes toxic is ridiculously high and beyond the capabilities of any human to consume. As for type 2 diabetes, that same link shows that it is obesity that increases the risk for its development, and sugar only leads to t2d when it is complicit in creating a sustained caloric surplus that leads to obesity. As much as some like to proclaim that going low carb is how you treat type 2 diabetes, exercising and losing weight are what matters to reversing the condition. Whatever macronutrient ratio allows you to accomplish those two things doesn’t matter.
I mentioned sugar being problematic. It is so because it is compelling, rewarding and pervasive, and so it can indeed contribute to obesity. It’s added to lots of foods to make them taste better, so without careful consideration of your intake it is easy to consume added sugar without realizing it. And because sugar tastes good we are prone to over consume it. This doesn’t mean it’s addictive, it means we tend to favor pleasure-based eating over eating for fuelling our bodies for health and performance.
Sugar is problematic and there is merit in being careful with your intake of the refined / added stuff. Sustainable moderation is possible, whereas fear mongering based on bad science is a path to disordered eating behavior. Such talk isn’t sexy and doesn’t sell well, but reality rarely does.
The Case Against Sugar comes out on December 27, and I won’t be running to the bookstore to pick up a copy, because I only like reading good science fiction.
I think I’ll re-read Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber instead.
James S. Fell is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada. He also interviews celebrities about their fitness stories for the Los Angeles Times, and is head fitness columnist for AskMen.com and a regular contributor to Men’s Health.