13 Weeks: Frobbing the Knobs


Okay, look, the first thing is I owe you folks an apology: with the new day job and holidays and a half-dozen other ordinary-life crises, I’ve just not gotten columns done. I’m sorry.

The most important thing I think I’ve learned in the last year has been just how complicated the whole issue of body weight and glucose regulation can be. Here’s just a selection of diets that have had reports of dramatic weight loss and health effects:

  • Low Carbohydrate Diets
    • High Fat
      • Atkins
      • South Beach
    • Low Fat
      • Stillman’s Quick Weight Loss Diet
  • Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load diets
  • Low Fat, High Carb diets
    • Ornish Eat More, Weigh Less
    • The Okinawa Diet
  • Balanced, Calorie Restricted diets
    • Diabetic “Exchange” Diets
    • Weight Watchers
  • Radical Calorie Restriction
    • Scarsdale Diet
    • Duke Rice Diet
    • Protein-Sparing Fasts
  • Intermittent Fasting
    • Fasting 2 days a week
    • Sixteen hour fasts every day.
  • Eating more often
    • Body For Life
    • “Grazing”
  • Dietary Restrictions
    • Eliminating wheat or grain
    • Paleo
    • Vegetarian
      • Ovo-Lacto
      • “Pescatarian”
      • Macrobiotic
      • “Never Eat Anything With a Face”
    • Vegan
    • “Fruitarian”


Now, think about this in terms of what each diet does: You can change the proportion of any of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, you can regulate calorie intake or not, you can regulate when you eat — fasting or eating more often than Americans usually do — you can eliminate various common categories of food, like grains or dairy.

The fascinating thing about this is that, as I alluded in my Kipling quote, “every single one of them is right.” That is, every one of these diets can point to someone who has used the diet to lose significant weight, improve their cholesterol, reduce their blood sugar, and so on.

All these dietary changes are things we can do externally that change our metabolic balance — the “knobs” we can adjust from outside to change our weight. For example, it’s pretty clear that eating a lot of simple carbohydrates causes larger variations in blood sugar than a diet that limits simple carbohydrates; blood sugar peaks lead to increased insulin production, and insulin encourages storing those sugars are triglycerides. On the other hand, grain-heavy diets have a lot of carbs, but a grain-heavy, low fat and protein diet like Ornish or the Okinawan Diet tend to have fewer calories because there’s only so much rice and tofu you can eat.

This leads me to the notion that perhaps we need to be more conscious that there are a number of different knobs and consider diets in terms of which knobs we adjust.

Can we, by experimentation, learn which knobs have the most effect on our personal metabolisms?