Why We Get Fat
by Gary Taubes
Buy it here
This book was eye opening, largely because the answer referred to in the title is shockingly simple: carbs. But not just any carbs- refined sugar, flours, and starchy and sweet foods. This shouldn’t really be news to any of us, and saying it here isn’t revealing some big secret. We know that cakes, cookies and sodas aren’t good for us. We know they are nutrient-poor and take up room in our bellies where instead we could put meats and veggies. However, mainstream diet wisdom does not specifically condemn carbohydrates for our spare tires and health woes, despite them being the most likely culprit.
This book is essentially about debunking the “calories in, calories out” theory of why we get fat. It’s about identifying the true culprits on whom we should blame obesity and fat accumulation (hormones- namely insulin) and how we can change how to approach health going forward (avoid carbs, especially sweets/beer/quick carbs).
“Calories in, calories out” is the most damaging assumption we could have made regarding health and weight loss/gain. It seems obvious to say this, but it’s so oversimplified and has lead to countless unsustainable diet recommendations and plans, and therefore countless disappointments and frustrations. It takes the focus off of the real reasons we get fat and puts the blame on the person themselves. What a waste of time, effort and emotional turmoil that could have been spent on solving the real issues at hand!
Unfortunately, weight loss has become the ultimate test of willpower, and virtue even. This is not fair. The implication is that fat people simply cannot ignore their cravings because they just love food so much and they’re gluttonous. Blaming the victim and leaving human biology out of it is just plain wrong. Wrong morally, intellectually and scientifically.
Here are some of my favorite tidbits I discovered in this book:
- Fifty years ago, 1 in 8-9 were obese and now its 1 in 3. (p. 7)
- Research has shown that poor people are both malnourished and obese- revealing that fat doesn’t equal nourished or well-fed. (p. 24)
- People keep wanting to blame either gluttony or sloth for obesity when it may be neither. (p. 29)
- The first law of thermodynamics is that matter can not be created or destroyed, and people use this to justify “calories in, calories out” and it simply doesn’t work that way.
- Insulin is our “principal regulator of fat metabolism.” (p. 118)
- Cortisol can make us fatter or leaner; fatter if insulin levels are high and leaner when they’re low.
- If your HDL cholesterol is low, it’s a good bet that you’re eating more carbs- and this is not a good thing bc then your heart attack risk goes up. Conventional wisdom says the opposite, but uses the same science. It’s known that high carb leads to low HDL (not disputed) and they say that puts you at lower risk for heart attack. It’s wrong. (p. 188)
- High carb diets lower HDL, raise triglycerides and make LDL particles small and dense, which raises heart disease risk. If we eat low-carb with plenty of healthy fats and proteins, the reverse happens and LDL particles are big and fluffy. So even if LDL numbers rise, they’re not the “dangerous” kind. (p. 193)
- Metabolic syndrome: low HDL, high triglycerides, small, dense LDL, hypertension, insulin resistance and chronically high insulin. (p. 198)
- Alzheimer’s and many cancers are associated with metabolic syndrome. (p. 198)
Favorite quotes from this book:
- “When isolated populations start eating Western foods, sugar and white flour are invariably the first, because these foods could be transported around the world as items of trade without spoiling or being devoured on the way by rodents or insects. The Inuits, for example, living on seals, Caribou, and whale meat, begin eating sugar and flour (crackers and bread). Western diseases follow. The agrarian Kikuyu, living in Kenya, start eating sugar and flour, and these diseases appear. South Pacific Islanders living on pigs, coconut, and fish start eating sugar and white flour, and these diseases appear. The Maasai add sugar and flour to their diet or move into the cities and begin eating these foods, and the diseases appear. Even the vegetarian Hindus in India, to whom the fleshpot was an abomination, ate sugar and flour. Doesn’t it seem a good idea to consider sugar and flour likely causes of these diseases?” (p. 172)
- “Eat Western diet, get Western diseases – notably obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.” (p. 168)
- “The number of Americans with high levels of LDL cholesterol has recently been decreasing, as would be expected in a nation avoiding saturated fat (and spending billions of dollars yearly on cholesterol-lowering drugs), but the number of heart attacks was not decreasing with it.” (p. 181, from JAMA 2009)
- “The obesity/heart disease link, combined with the obesity and diabetes epidemics that began more or less coincidentally with the advice to eat less fat, less saturated fat, and more carbohydrates, is a good reason to doubt that it’s the fat and the saturated fat that we have to worry about.“ (p. 182)
- “When researchers look for genes that predispose individuals to living an exceedingly lengthy life – more than 95 or 100 years- one of the few genes that stands out is a gene for a naturally high HDL cholesterol level.” (p. 187)
- “Nearly half the fat in lard (47%) is monounsaturated, which is almost universally considered a “good” fat.” (p. 189)
- “The hunger that accompanies our attempts to eat fewer calories is an unavoidable physiological phenomenon; the craving for carbohydrates is more like an addiction.” (p. 209)
- “Sugar appears to be addictive in the brain in the same way in which cocaine, nicotine and heroin are.” 209
Gary Taubes is a very convincing writer. He writes confidently and with citations to back up his claims. He does an amazing job of driving home the history of obesity research and studies from the previous 2 centuries, which we have been quick to forget in favor of the diet-heart hypothesis and low-fat diets which were proven to fail 150 years ago. I have not found another book like this that delves into the history this far back. Anyone interested in losing weight (and especially questioners like me) NEEDS to read this book. It explains everything so clearly, and now I understand why Gretchen Rubin likes Gary Taubes so much. If you have no idea who Gretchen Rubin is or what I mean by being a “Questioner,” see her work here!
As with everything I read about and study, I always go back to bioindividuality. On this topic, some bodies can tolerate more quick-burning energy in the form of carbs; others’ cannot. Taubes addresses this in the book as well, and despite my lengthy synopsis in this article, the whole book is well worth the read!
My rating for Why We Get Fat: 9/10 (point off for recommending artificial sweeteners at the end)