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Jeff Duntemann’s Metadiet Picobook, Part 3

Hypothesis: Sugar makes you fat.

Experiment: Stop eating sugar.

I came upon this whole business when I threw a kidney stone in late 1997. It was very unpleasant, and my urologist told me to drink nothing but coffee and water until the stone was recovered and analyzed. I did as he said. The biggest change was to stop drinking two (sometimes three or four) Snapple sweetened iced teas every day. Tea is a known factor in kidney stones, though not the only one. I did not expect what happened next: I lost weight in a big damned hurry.

The weight went fast enough that, fascinated, I continued the experiment long after the stone report came back. I gave up both sweetened and unsweetened iced tea almost entirely, for obvious reasons. I gave up sugared sodas generally. (This was when I began a love affair with Diet Mountain Dew that lasted ten years.) I stopped snacking on cookies and other sweet things. I did other experiments over the next several years, and I’ll describe them in coming days. In my case, sugar was the big one.

For most people, it may also be the hardest. I admit that there could be a Fox and Heron effect in play for my own situation: I’ve never really loved sweets, so giving them up was no huge effort. Most people I’ve talked to and read about report that giving up sugar is tough. Whether sugar is addictive is still being debated. However, there is an enormous amount of research indicating that most individuals gain weight eating sugar. I know at least one person who doesn’t, and I suspect that there is a smallish human cohort who just handle sugar and carbs better than most of us. Everybody else is going to have to go cold turkey, whatever it takes.

The case against sugar is most clearly made in Gary Taubes’ book, Good Calories, Bad Calories . It’s long, and technical, and can be a slog in spots, but I’ve read it twice and will read it again in the near future. It’s the best description of sugar metabolism I’ve ever seen. It’s how I learned that fructose is metabolized in a completely different way than glucose. Read the book, but here’s the short form: Glucose messes with your insulin levels. Fructose messes with your liver and your triglycerides, which are fat precursors. Either will put fat on you, and sucrose contains an equal measure of both. Whether fructose is worse than glucose is still being debated, but there is clear evidence that overdosing on fructose can destroy your liver. (This may also be why we lost celebrity fruititarian Steve Jobs decades before we should have. Fructose appears to be the food of choice for malignant tumors.)

Giving up sugar is doubly hard because it’s in almost everything, even a lot of things that don’t taste particularly sweet. That said, most of the sugar we ingest these days comes in through sweet drinks, particularly sodas and fruit juice. Dry wine contains almost no sugar. Beer contains very little simple sugar, but may be fattening through a completely different mechanism, which I’ll get to in coming days. Milk contains a little sugar in the form of lactose, probably too little to be a serious fat-factor.

A few researchers say that sweet tastes are enough to make you fat, and that non-sugar sweeteners won’t help you. This cooks down to insulin sensitivity, which varies hugely across the human species. Some people’s insulin systems are so sensitive that sweet tastes of whatever source cause an insulin pulse. However, like the people who can ingest all the sugar and carbs they want without putting on weight, this is a minority trait, on the opposite extreme of the sugar-metabolism spectrum. I’ve known a number of people, some of them quite well, who lost an enormous amount of weight simply by switching from sugared sodas to diet sodas.

So if you really can’t eliminate all sugar from your diet, at least get rid of the obvious sources: Sugared drinks and sweet snacks. Give it a month, and if the trend is in the right direction (even if it’s not a huge trend) give it another month.

Note well that I only mean sugar here, not carbs generally. Carbs are not all the same. This is a point that I’ll come back to later on.


  1. Mike Bentley says:

    Many friends repeatedly recommend tea instead of coffee. I don’t yet know if teas are contraindicated for me, as my personal study wasn’t rigorous, but I do know that as I migrated from drinking some Coke (a cola) to tea of various types, I experienced two kidney stones (with a couple years between incidents).

    I think that my learning to drink strong, black coffee and cutting down the caramel-colored, carbonized sugar water, is an improvement: I’ve gone from wearing waist 33 to waist 29 jeans since mid-2009.

    The bottom line for me is that commercial food producers add sweeteners to their products get people to eat more of their stuff. I think their efforts do produce positive results for their bottom line, and it takes some gray matter exercises to counter it.

    1. If you’re prone to kidney stones (as I am) I don’t think you can swap in tea for coffee. Nor do I think it’s necessary. I’m not aware of any serious health hazards from coffee apart from interfering with sleep, which for me isn’t all that hard. So I’m careful with it. I have a mug in the morning to get the engine turning over, and then I stop.

      I gave up diet sodas for the most part to get my artificial sweetener load down. I don’t think that artificial sweeteners are as toxic as some screamers insist, and I was surprised at how easy it was to set diet sodas aside. (I do have some now and then.) Maybe I’m just easy that way; I don’t get addicted to anything. (My contrarian nature, I guess. The older I get, the more I value my independence. I’ll allow myself to be addicted to Carol only, as the emotional and physical benefits have been overwhelming.)

      If you’re down to a 29 waist, you’re in very good shape, at least with abdominal fat. I’m somewhere between a 30 and a 32, which is a far cry from the 36 I once was.

      1. William Meyer says:

        One of the things which has always put me off the diet fads is that they all make one faulty assumption, that we will all respond in the same way to a given diet. As you have already said, that is false.

        I have struggled with hypoglycemia–a condition in which some doctors “do not believe”–since my teens. The current low-fat mania is a real pain in that regard, as fat moderates the pancreas, helping to hold down its overproduction of insulin. That overproduction is a real challenge, too, with respect to weight loss, as insulin is a signal to store fat.

        I have had success in the past with the Atkins diet. I am easing my way toward it again, partly because I have found that I cannot tolerate dairy products, and am nearly certain that I have also developed an intolerance to wheat. So meat and veggies is my future. 😉

        In addition, exercise, which as you have said is not directly effective, is another challenge. I am soon to have surgery for a torn meniscus, and in the meantime, even a modest walk is less than pleasant.

        As Bette Davis said, getting old is not for sissies. I shall celebrate my 65th in November.

        1. You’re a really good example of an outlier, and you may be of a type more common than we’re willing to admit. Doctors are so used to seeing diabetes that someone with the opposite problem just sort of looks like a mistake.

          This business of One Diet To Rule Them All has got to be thrown into a volcano. Any volcano.

          1. William Meyer says:

            Here’s another datum. Two years ago, I was sent for a lactose intolerance test. There are two ways to accomplish that, a serum test (which was not used) and sampling of hydrogen in exhalations, which is the method which was used on me.

            I fasted before the test, and was given a lactose solution to ingest at the start of the test. Samples were taken every 15 minutes over a three hour interval.

            You will appreciate this: The test device, a small embedded processor instrument, presents a three digit display. The mechanism is based on hydrogen bonding to the platinum sensor. The three digits represent, as I recall, parts per million. At no time in any of the samples did the display register other than three zeroes. You betcha. I asked if they had a sample they could use to test the device. No need, I was told, it tests itself. Uh huh.

            Now the best part. The list price of the device is $2,500. The bill sent to my insurance company was for $8,800!!!

            And the test, in my humble opinion, was useless. Just to substantiate that, about 6 hours after the ingestion of the lactose, my digestive tract went into full panic, and the next 12-18 hours were miserable.

            On the matter of outliers, I am in that camp with respect to pain killers, also. After my second hip replacement (and the epidural plumbing fell apart in the hospital, leaving me on Demarol for too many hours) I had a horrible problem with pain after my release from hospital. Finally, my surgeon prescribed a Fentanyl patch for two weeks. The instructions indicated its use was for terminal cancer patients, not to exceed a week.

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