Doctors and dietitians wedded to old nutrition paradigms want you to believe that obesity is the result of gluttony and sloth; that all you have to do to shed adipose tissue (the medical profession’s euphemism for excess body fat) is to eat less and move more. Canadian nephrologist Dr Jason Fung says that’s a recipe for starvation. Fung joins growing numbers of doctors and scientists who don’t have links to vested interests in food and drug industries and who say the science is there to show that you really can’t outrun a bad diet. They aren’t saying exercise isn’t important. It is – for stamina, toning and cardiac fitness. It just isn’t an effective weight loss tool. Here’s what three world authorities say on the topic:
By Marika Sboros
It no real surprise that a message about exercise and weightloss in an editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM) in 2015 by three of the world’s top experts in low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) got lost in translation …
The BJSM editorial is co-authored by British consultant cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra, US physician scientist Prof Stephen Phinney and University of Cape Town emeritus professor Tim Noakes.
It says exercise is not the most effective weight loss tool.
That’s a message Big Food and Big Pharma, and the doctors and scientists in their thrall don’t like to hear. They will go to amazing lengths to suppress it. It’s as if they want people to carry on eating foods that make them fat and sick, and just take drugs to treat symptoms of disease that follow.
The editorial was “temporarily removed”, according to BJSM editor Prof Karim Khan, after “expressions of concern” over non-disclosure of certain interests by Noakes and Phinney. The editorial was soon back with fuller disclosure, presumably allaying any further “concerned expressions”.
The non-disclosure turned out to be due to nothing more sinister than an administrative error. Given the ongoing and unprecedented levels of antagonism directed at Noakes and LCHF in South Africa, it’s probably not surprising that critics seized upon the temporary removal with undisguised glee. It was after all a soft target.
It’s also a “classic tactic of an industry under extreme pressure”, says Noakes.
“If you can’t disprove what is written,” he says, “make the public believe that the authors have an ulterior motive other than what they wrote.
Some experts have attacked the editorial’s premise as irresponsible for downplaying the role of exercise. Yet none of the editorial authors has ever said exercise isn’t important. It is a mood enhancer; it tones the body, and builds fitness and stamina.
Research also shows that exercise lengthens telomeres that contribute to longevity. Khan gave a keynote address to a Royal Society of Medicine event in June 2015 on exercise as “medicine for older people’s bones and brains”.
And while exercise can lead to some weight loss, it’s just not the best weight loss aid. That’s why exercise doesn’t feature in my Idiot’s Guide to LCHF and Banting because the science isn’t there to support it.
It’s a pity then that Noakes and Phinney gave their enemies ammunition to attack the message by attacking the messengers. Both are not the first, or last, to make mistakes by default rather than design over declarations of interests.
After all, it’s not as if they are in the pay of Big Food or Big Pharma, as are many of their critics. And they their interests are not exactly hidden.
I wasn’t able to contact Phinney in time to get comment for this blog, but he is acknowledged worldwide as an expert in his field with an unblemished reputation. Phinney has now also declared all interests, including that he is on the Atkins Scientific Advisory Board, and is author of The New Atkins for a New You.
Noakes, a scientist rated A1 by the National Research Foundation of SA, has published more than 500 scientific papers, and been cited more than 15 000 times in the scientific literature, and is the author of many books on diet, nutrition and sport, including the low-carb, high-fat “bible”, The Real Meal Revolution, and one devoted to exercise, The Lore of Running.
In more than 40 years of a scientific career Noakes says he has “never been required to declare the books as conflicts of interest”. Even if he hadn’t been in such a rush to get the editorial published, he says he “would still not have declared the books”, as he has “never seen anyone before declare a book as a (conflict of interest).”
He later commented on Twitter: “At least I EARN my conflicts of interest by writing books.Truly influential conflicts are unearned, even if declared.”
Clearly though, Noakes and Phinney did get things wrong. They should have known the knives would be out, waiting and sharpened. They should have known that the goalposts on declaration of interests have moved radically and for good reason: rampant corruption and collusion between doctors, scientists, food and pharmaceutical industries, and journal editors that has still not been rooted out, and has allowed bad science to survive and thrive.
Much has been made of Noakes’ friendship with Khan. Yet Khan has published many articles by Noakes over the years without anyone suggesting there was anything untoward.
It gave some of his implacable foes the opportunity to make declarations about most doctors having to sweat “blood and tears” to get their research published. As if many doctors haven’t sweated blood and tears to produce powerful research; or editorials that journals refuse to publish simply because the message is goes up against the status quo and vested interests; or that any friends they might have among journal editors should be similarly without integrity and courage simply because of the connection.
So what became lost for a while, was an important message that even governments are receiving loudly and clearly these days. The science is there to support the editorial’s premise, but you don’t need it to prove exercise is not the best weight loss aid. You just have to look at all those poor souls who pay for expensive gym contracts, workout regularly, religiously follow conventional medical and dietary advice, and stay resolutely overweight and sick.
You just have to read people like top US investigate science journalists Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise.
And British obesity researcher Zoe Harcombe, who points out: “You can sit on the couch all day and still lose weight”.
And you can read the entertaining, informative blog of Canadian nephrologist Dr Jason Fung on Exercise is not Total Energy Expenditure.
More than exercise, it is becoming clear that people need to be taught what and when to eat. And a healthy diet is proving to be one rich in real foods, not processed or refined; foods that don’t constantly raise insulin levels and your risk of serious disease such obesity, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and more recently dementia that is becoming so prevalent doctors are calling it type 3 diabetes.
A healthy diet is not based on official dietary guidelines in place for nearly 40 years; the guidelines that have left people sicker and fatter, despite religious adherence to them for decades; the guidelines Harcombe’s meta-analysis in the BMJ Open Heart in 2015 showed to be without science when they were imposed on an unsuspecting public way back in 1977 in the US, and the rest of the world thereafter.
Harcombe has developed her eponymous The Harcombe diet which she doesn’t call LCHF. However, she says people will tend naturally to eat that way because it’s the best diet for optimum health, wellbeing and weight control.
Her research supports the BJSM editorial message that exercise simply isn’t the best way to beat the obesity epidemic.