High-carb/Low-fat vs “Banting”: a Man Who Lost 67kg (147lb)’s Experience

Liz – one of the people whom I try to help with weight-loss motivation and information by sharing my trials and tribulations – mailed me to ask whether I think Tim Noakes’ low-carb/high-fat Paleo diet is a good idea for she and her husband. I thought I’d share my reply – and my experiences – with everyone. Please feel free to add your insight, experience or questions…

Quick Bit of Background

I have always suffered with my weight. In 2009, I weighed almost 155kg. Then I lost almost 70k in 14 months and kept them off for three years. Check out the Pica-award-winning  feature I wrote on it. And, the many weight-loss articles I wrote for my old site here (hint: start at the very bottom and work your way up).

Over the past year (2013), I have been horribly up and down. Largely due to a lot of added responsibility at work, living with my (normal-weight) girlfriend (I’ve never lived with a partner before) and, frankly, fatigue from being on a strict diet for three straight years. Not “excuses”. Just… the reasons.

2013 was up and down. I lost and gained more than 10kg three times. Going into 2014, I am about 20kg overweight. My life is otherwise really great (touch wood) but this is causing me as much concern and depression as it did when I was 70kg overweight. It’s literally ruining my life. Again.

It’s time to do something! But what? the same as I did four years ago, right? You’d think so, right? I’m not so sure. See, I’ve researched myself into a state of utter confusion…

The Carbs vs No-Carbs Debate

I do as much as I can to help, inform and motivate others like me who battle with obesity. One lady – let’s call her “Liz” – mails me sometimes to ask for advice. The other day, she asked whether she and her husband should try the Tim Noakes (low/no-carb Paleo) diet.

I wrote a detailed response, and I thought I’d share it here to inform and get input from everyone invested in (and confused by) the whole “carbs vs no-carbs” debate.

Liz wrote:

Hi Gordon,

I wanted to ask you what your thoughts are on Prof Noakes?

My husband and I have seen that he has a new book out, and we are not sure if we should follow his eating plan?
Thanks :)Liz

My response:

Hey Liz!

It’s a tricky one to answer as I’m struggling with the same question myself.

Prof Tim Noakes
Prof Tim Noakes

Last year was all about yo-yo dieting for me. It was exhausting, depressing and I’m overweight right now. I’m also geared up, motivated and have already started my mission to get back on track, but for the first time, I’m questioning everything I “know.”

Essentially, I took just more than a year to lose all that weight in 2009. I kept it off for almost three more years, and have spent the last year yo-yoing to 15-20kg overweight. The trouble is that I’ve researched myself into a state where I’m not sure anything is true anymore. So, I’ve lacked faith in my last few “plans”.

When that happens, you hit one speedbump and… despair! Then, failure.

When I lost that 67kg in 14 months, I was on a programme from my wonderful trainer and friend Warren Germishuizen, who has never steered me wrong. I followed it to the letter. Thing is, it was a low-fat diet with rotating amounts of carbs. Very little for two days, a medium amount for two days, a lot for two days and then none for a day (there was also a hardcore, four-day version but that’s another article altogether).

I was eating four low-GI carb meals per day, six days a week. And many of them. It was a lot of strict, routined dieting, but it worked like a flippin’ charm. I lost 1 to 3kg a week. Every week.

Doing My Research

Gary Taubes "Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It."
Gary Taubes’ “Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It.”

Then last year, after more and more people started raving about Prof Noakes/Gary Taubes modern take on Atkins Dieting, I read Dr Gary Taubes’ book (he’s the American scientist that Noakes bases much of his plan on and references for almost all the hard science) “Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It“. Essentially, Noakes’ book is a more accessible, less science-text-book-ish version of Taubes’. Plus Noakes adds the whole Paleo angle (where you eat things only naturally available to cavemen, basically). Taubes is just long, deep science, really.

Now, the book was hard going; slow, gruelling reading. But it was soundly scientific, thoroughly referenced and is literally being more and more widely accepted as the new foundation of nutritional science. Check out some of Taubes’ many talks on Youtube.

(Very) simply put, it says that only sugars/carbs can cause insulin-spikes in the bloodstream, and only through insulin-spikes can the body store fat as triglycerides (wobbly ass/belly fat, basically), and that your body gets most if not all of the nutrition it needs from eating fat, which is actually good for you and doesn’t cause cholesterol etc. Also, he explains that the vilification of fat in US Media (via the government) a few decades ago is the reason for the first-world obesity epidemic, which now kills more people than HIV/AIDS in the Western World… Everything we believe is wrong.
I will attach a pic for you that illustrates it nicely (see the end of this article*).

Dr Gary Taubes
Gary Taubes, author of several intensive scientific research books, including two on human fat storage.

The book was massively informative, and I believed every word of it. Then, I tried it: High-fat, almost no carbs at all and a lot of protein.

Trying it Out

After three weeks, I smelled bad, my mouth tasted foul (which, admittedly, Taubes warns about in his book). I felt like I was a living corpse, rotting from the inside. I was eating lots of fat (as the book says you should, as long as they’re the “good” kinds) and lots of meat. Sometimes it tasted great. But mostly, I just craved fruit, which this diet strictly limits or prohibits entirely.

After three weeks of total diligence, I had gained a kilo and felt like I was dying of a necrotising disease. I was literally sweating wax. Gross.

What You “Know” vs What You’ve Experienced

So, here’s my current conundrum. According to a great, increasingly accepted, scientific book that’s changing the world (etc etc, blah blah) and an increasingly popular diet book from a local professor, the fairly high-carb diet that had me losing 1-3kg per week for 14 months should cause me to gain loads of weight, make me feel unwell and possibly even give me diabetes.

Meanwhile, the diet that’s scientifically “proven” to work made me feel like death and caused me to gain a bit of weight after three weeks of diligent adherence. After three weeks of sticking to any good diet, you should, at the very least, start seeing promising (if not excellent), encouraging results. If not, it’s probably not a great diet, I say.

Today, I have absolutely NO idea. I can’t tell up from down, I’m so confused and I have no faith in any diet anymore. That’s critical; belief that what you are doing works is imperative if you’re going to see a challenge of this nature through.

Back to Square One

My trainer, Warren Germishuizen
My trainer, Warren Germishuizen

So, what I’ve decided to do is go back to my trainer Warren and start again. I’m meeting him this weekend. He’s a professional bodybuilder, a qualified nutrionist, a great friend, he’s always in shape, he’s never steered me wrong and by obeying his every instruction I cut almost 70kg and felt (mostly) wonderful. He’s a bit of a stickler for science and research, so I’m going to ask him to explain every detail of why and why not. And then I will do exactly what he says.

I’m 20kg overweight and it’s depressing me as much (possibly more) than it did when I was 70kg overweight. It feels like an even bigger, much harder challenge now. Why? Because I do not believe. I have no idea whether carbs are good or bad. I believe and understand the science (“carbs: bad”) but I lost 70kg eating 1,5kg of oats or brown rice (“carbs: good”) a week for more than a year.

I will report back when I’ve spoken to Warren and stuck to his plan for a full month at least. I’m sorry I wasn’t more help here. Noakes/Taubs has been getting great results for loads of people. I’m certainly no more of an expert than either of them are. But I do know it did not feel like a good fit for me at all.

In short: what I now genuinely believe and what I have genuinely experienced first-hand are completely opposed. Now I’m going to do what I know has (and will) worked for me before.

I see this whole challenge like this:

40% diet
20% exercise
40% believing that you can and you will.

Without either of the 40% elements, you cannot really win. [ends]

*Here’s that infographic I mentioned earlier:

An infographic I found about how carbs cause the body to store fat.
An infographic I found about how carbs cause the body to store fat.

What do you think of the whole debate? What’s worked for you? Leave me a comment below…