Big Fat Lies: The Truth About the Atkins Diet
by Bonnie Liebman
November 2002, volume 29 / number 9
Center for Science in the Public Interest
"What If It's All Been a Big Fat Lie?" asked the cover
story of the July 7th New York Times Magazine. The
article, by freelance writer Gary Taubes, argues that
loading our plates with fatty meats, cheeses, cream,
and butter is the key not just to weight loss, but to a
long, healthy life.
"Influential researchers are beginning to embrace the
medical heresy that maybe Dr. Atkins was right," writes
Taubes. Taubes claims that it's not fatty foods that
make us fat and raise our risk of disease. It's
carbohydrates. And to most readers his arguments sound
perfectly plausible. Here are the facts--and the
fictions--in Taubes's article, which has led to a book
contract with a reported $700,000 advance. And here's
what the scientists he quoted --or neglected to
quote--have to say about his reporting.
Perhaps the most telling statement in Gary Taubes's New
York Times Magazine article comes as he explains how
difficult it is to study diet and health. "This then
leads to a research literature so vast that it's
possible to find at least some published research to
support virtually any theory."
He got that right. It helps explain why Taubes's
article sounds so credible. "He knows how to spin a
yarn," says Barbara Rolls, an obesity expert at
Pennsylvania State University. "What frightens me is
that he picks and chooses his facts."
She ought to know. Taubes interviewed her for some six
hours, and she sent him "a huge bundle of papers," but
he didn't quote a word of it. "If the facts don't fit
in with his yarn, he ignores them," she says.
Instead, Taubes put together what sounds like
convincing evidence that carbohydrates cause obesity.
"He took this weird little idea and blew it up, and
people believed him," says John Farquhar, a professor
emeritus of medicine at Stanford University's Center
for Research in Disease Prevention. Taubes quoted
Farquhar, but misrepresented his views. "What a
disaster," says Farquhar.
Others agree. "It's silly to say that carbohydrates
cause obesity," says George Blackburn of Harvard
Medical School and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical
Center in Boston. "We're overweight because we overeat
calories." It's not clear how Taubes thought he could
ignore---or distort---what researchers told him. "The
article was written in bad faith," says F. Xavier
PiSunyer, director of the Obesity Research Center at
St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York. "It
Here's a point-by-point response to Taubes's major