What Makes Us Fat and Why Nobody Seems to Care – Gary Taubes

June 3, 2009 · 26 comments

obesity

Wonder why counting calories and increasing exercise hasn’t brought you to your target weight?  Wonder why all your creative ways to try and make fat-free, sugar-free fake foods taste good haven’t gotten you anywhere (not long-term anyway)?  If you’re not yet convinced that weight control is all about the carbs, I hope this post will help you get there.

This talk by Gary Taubes, called What Makes Us Fat and Why Nobody Cares, is almost two hours long.  If you’re not able to watch the whole thing, I’ve included some excerpts below from the DVD review in the recent Wise Traditions journal and also some of my own notes taken while listening to the talk.  (Note: I had to download this player to watch it.)

  • We’re drowning in obese and diabetic patients.
  • Current hypothesis of causation: Obesity is caused from excess calorie consumption or inadequate physical activity, i.e. gluttony and sloth.
  • What makes us overeat?  Too many people believe obesity is explained by over-eating.  This is as illuminating as saying alcoholism is caused by too much drinking.
  • However, studies show that under certain circumstances animals can eat unlimited quantities of food and not gain weight.  Under other circumstances, they can eat almost nothing and get fat.  Something controls fat accumulation independent of how much is eaten or how much exercise is done.  That something is insulin.
  • Insulin production is triggered by carbohydrate intake, not fat.  Counting calories doesn’t work because all calories are not created equal.
  • It takes more energy to convert fat to fat than it takes to convert carbs to fat, and our bodies will naturally do what takes less energy.
  • Sedentary behavior can be caused by too many carbs forming fat tissue.
  • Quote from a Berkeley nutritionist in 1967:  “Positive caloric imbalance may be the result rather than the cause of the (obese) condition.  It seems desirable in the treatment of obesity to direct efforts toward an increased utilization of fat.  This effort can be made by restricting the intake of carbohydrates and increasing the ingestion of fat.”
  • Quote from David Kipnis in 1971:  “Insulin levels in obese women are determined by the carbohydrate content in the diet, not total calories.”
  • Fat is mobilized when insulin secretion diminishes.
  • If all this was not disputed in the 1960’s, what happened between then and now?  How did traditional, saturated fats become the villain instead of carbs?  You’ll have to watch the video for that (and read the links below), because this is getting too long!
  • Last point, which I found very interesting… in the question and answer session at the end, he said this:  “It is conceivable that sugar is the primary problem and that the starches would not be that much of a problem if we didn’t eat sugar.” (And my own assumption tells me that traditional foods like potatoes and real sourdough breads would be even less of a problem.)

SO WHY DON’T I STICK WITH IT?

If I know that low carb diets are the best way to lose weight, why don’t I stick with it so that my nagging 10# stays off?  Who knows.  Probably because a low-carb lifestyle is much easier in the summer when we have access to so many fresh foods, and in the off season, it’s just an old habit to serve carbs at meal time.  (Even Gary Taubes said that their two year old loves carbs, probably because kids need to gain weight as they grow…?)  Nothing worth doing is going to be simple all the time.  However, the more I learn (and watch talks like today’s), the better I get.  I hope that this post will help you, over time, to get closer and closer to your goals, too!

What do YOU think about all this?  Is it the first you’ve heard that ‘it’s all about the carbs and insulin’?  Or have you believed it for a while now?

Gary Taubes book: Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health

Photo:  Bellaphon

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  • { 23 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Zeke June 3, 2009 at 1:11 am

    Thanks for this great post! I’ve been meaning to watch the Taubes video for awhile now and have just been swamped with stuff I HAVE to get done. I still plan on watching it, but it seems to not be much I haven’t heard before.

    I am a strong believer in low carb eating. I never felt better than when I was on a strict diet of raw beef and raw beef liver. It was difficult to keep up because I am a foodie, and even though raw beef is basically my favorite food, I had to have more variety and a relatively constant stream of new foods in my diet to keep from going bonkers.

    Zeke

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    2 Henriette June 3, 2009 at 5:22 am

    I believe strongly in low carb eating
    – but not in no carb eating!

    AND I think it is a very individual thing how low carb you need to be.
    Some people handles more carbs than others – just like some people benefits from more fat and protein .

    I tries to avoid grains and sugars most days- in weekends I am more flexible( like to be more social)
    I don

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    3 Cathy Payne June 3, 2009 at 7:16 am

    Great topic, Kelly! I do believe that there is not “one size fits all” in regard to weight loss. One explanation why is that individuals react differently to various foods. The way to find out is by going on an elimination diet. We talked about that on our Podcast #26. The link to audio, show notes, and more links is here.
    http://www.ournaturallife.com/blog/?p=213
    After eliminating sugar, grains, caffeine, processed food, soy, peanuts, dairy, and alcohol for 2-3 weeks, you can start testing a single food every other day to see how your body reacts. I found that when I eat corn, I get ravenously hungry and gain weight and inches within hours. As long as I avoid corn (even organic) and all corn products, I rarely have between meal cravings. I also gain weight and get sluggish with cow’s milk, even raw, but can enjoy raw goat’s milk with no problems. Knowing how I react to foods is very empowering because I don’t feel deprived if I avoid a food that I know does not support health. And, of course, I eat lots of healthy fats such as butter, lard, and coconut oil every day. This way I lost 20 pounds and flattened my stomach. I have energy and feel so much better. We avoid processed foods and eat local sustainable foods when possible, and organic from the store. Food should taste great, be nutrient-dense, and promote health! My favorite cookbooks are Nourishing Traditions and anything by Julia Childs.

    Cathy Payne

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    4 Local Nourishment June 3, 2009 at 7:24 am

    My hubby and I did South Beach about three years ago. I lost almost half of what I needed to lose (40 pounds) and he got within 10 of his goal weight. We weren’t eating real, traditional or organic foods, just low carb foods. I regained every ounce of it (plus five more) within a year of coming off the diet.

    Now I am beginning to understand that my body has a problem with carbs and I need to see it as a permanent change, not a “diet.” I need to kiss bread goodbye forever. Bread for me is “fast food.” I can take leftovers and toss them into a sandwich and it’s a meal. I have a hard time mentally accepting a meal that doesn’t have some kind of bread. Upbringing and habit, I know.

    So, I’m using coconut flour for its great glycemic profile, and I will not, not, NOT stop veggies of any kind. I’ve cut back a teensy bit on fruit, which kills me during summer, but I’m not going to cut it out. At this point in my life, I’m not looking to lose those 100 pounds anymore. I just want to eat as healthily as I can. If the pounds come off, fine. If not, that’s okay too as long as I’m not contributing to further problems.

    Local Nourishment

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    5 Renee Russo June 3, 2009 at 7:29 am

    Thank you so much for the links to Gary Taubes. I’ve been trying to get through his 600 page book, “Good Calories, Bad Calories”- because it makes so much sense and has so much research behind it. Very interesting to learn the history behind the misconceptions that the AHA have been standing behind for decades- and won’t let go of! Maybe I’ll just watch the video- and return the book- whew! One thing off the to do list! :)

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    6 Teena June 3, 2009 at 8:35 am

    So does anyone have a recipe that would make broccoli taste like cheesecake?

    I read somewhere (I wish I could remember so I could give them credit) that if you put sugar in your mouth you are telling your body that you don’t want to burn fat for 2-3 hours. That really hit home with me and made it easier to stay away from the vending machines.

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    7 Karen Ferguson June 3, 2009 at 8:36 am

    Kel, thank you for reducing the book down a bit. I agree w/ Renee!! I’ve been dragging that book around for a year. Alas, this time, I forgot it in Mexico. :-) ha! But will go to the library and get a copy….again. You’ve inspired me.

    One solution, part of the “pie” so to speak, is NOT complicated: just abstain from sugar and all it’s 25 forms [including bread and most alcohol]. For most of us, moderation doesn’t work: it just does not reveal what sugar really does to us. On top of which, one is still dealing with the cravings by taking a little bit each day.
    http://www.diet-blog.com/archives/2007/03/05/25_names_for_sugar.php

    I didn’t think I was addicted to sugar but I was very overweight. It’s been a year now and I’m 60+ pounds down. Flour, which turns into sugar, and sugar have been eliminated. Lucky me.

    Know what a batey is?? Check it out. If for no other reason, it’s politically incorrect to eat a crop like sugar. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batey_(sugar_workers'_town)t

    Know who the Fanjul family is from Florida?? Check out the documentary “The Sugar Babies.” Extraordinary.

    Know why you haven’t heard of it?? Pressure by the Sugar industry…it was up for a Emmy award in the documentary catagory but was taken off the list due to pressure from the sugar lobbyists.

    Experiment:withdrawal from sugar for 3 months. You’ll notice a difference in a week. If you need encouragement, email me. Hold on tight…you’re in for the ride of your life. :-)
    You rock, girlfriend!!
    Hugs,
    Karen
    karenferguson@compuserve.com

    Reply

    8 Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship June 3, 2009 at 8:56 am

    I read a book about sugar called Lights Out by TS Wiley. Hated it – the author is really overdone and kind of a fanatic with no flexibility. It basically says in caveman times, we wouldn’t have had access to sugar Oct-May or so, so we shouldn’t eat it then in our age – but! in the summer we can eat all the fruit we want. ;) Who knows!

    Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

    Reply

    9 Raine Saunders June 3, 2009 at 9:42 am

    This IS a great topic! I’m always frustrated by people who are counting calories and fat, but are not eating real food. I have several posts on my web site that deal with this topic, and I think it’s critical that people become educated about food so they stop going about trying to lose weight the wrong way! Thanks for bringing this subject up, Kelly, it’s a topic that is not talked about enough!

    Raine Saunders

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    10 Elizabeth June 3, 2009 at 10:09 am

    For quite some time I’ve been researching TF and weight loss, reading all the recommended resources (EFLF, The Maker’s Diet, Mercola, etc) but after reading Gary Taubes book it “clicked” for me and I eliminated/reduced grains and sugar… and I’ve lost 16 lbs so far! I’ve been incorporating ideas from EFLF (eating coconut oil!) and basically cut out all the bread and sugar I was eating, except for a bit of sugar in my coffee (I know!) and the very occassional slightly-sweetened dessert (with honey or unrefined sugar, fruit-based.) I have QUITE a ways to go, but literally for about a year I have been trying different things to get the scale to move and it would not. I’m no longer panicked about getting this weight off of me, but feel confident that over time my body will recover (yes, I view this as a recovery from poor nutrition) and that I will reach a healthy weight for me and feel great. Because I’m already feeling better!

    Here is the amazing thing… I am not hungry between meals. I am not counting calories. I chose nutrient-dense foods (think in terms of good fats, proteins, and veggies/fruit to taste and make sure that the veg have fat with them to increase absorption of nutrients) and that is all I do. I don’t have sugar cravings or longings anymore. I feel like I can eat this way for the rest of my life. I am absolutely shocked and relieved, and a little bit angry about the nutrition misinformation I received over the years.

    The cool thing is… I’m still transitioning fully into eating traditional foods. I eat very simply right now, and there are a lot of great things I haven’t tried (homemade bone broths/stocks, fermenting things, etc), and I know that once I add those I will benefit from those. I think what has really helped me is my “fat transition” from industrial fats to healthy fats. I also do take CLO, eat the best eggs I can find, drink raw milk, use lots of butter, buy pastured or grass-fed meats as I can, eat local in season veggies, and of course added coconut oil.

    I’m probably rambling here, but I am just so excited about this, that I have finally figured out how to eat, so to speak. Taube’s book, Nina Planck’s books, this blog and others from Real Food Media, and of course WAPF have been so very helpful to me, so thanks to those who take the time to get this information out there. :)

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    11 Cara June 3, 2009 at 10:21 am

    Great information, I really hope this can get out there. I just feel bad for all the overweight but nutrient-deficient people out there who are uninformed. I personally just lost 65 lbs (pregnancy weight, but still) in 6 months on my ‘real food’ diet. Even my mom, queen of non fat everything, is noticing that maybe what I’m doing is working!

    Cara

    Reply

    12 Janet W June 3, 2009 at 11:01 am

    Because I’m hypoglycemic, I’ve done a lot of reading and testing (using me as the guinea pig) to see what works and what doesn’t. For me, more is involved than just insulin, I also have problems with serotonin and beta endorphins. I’ve tried Paleo and low carb and end up getting sick again. The Metabolic Typing Diet: Customize Your Diet to Your Own Unique Body Chemistry by William Linz Wolcott and Trish Fahey says for fast burners (like me) watching carbs is important (duh) but also discusses what level of carbs are good. He says no carb/very low carb will bring about the same depression as too many carbs do (it does). I have also found that eliminating food groups doesn’t help at all. Right now I am using The Schwarzbein Principle as a guide. She advocates low carb, but does not get rid of starchy foods. Instead she has amounts of carbs you should eat per meal and snack (about 60 gms carbohydrate/day at the lowest level). She says do NOT go no carb. I use soaked oatmeal, sprouted wheat or rice/millet bread, sprouted corn tortillas, soaked beans, some fruit, nuts, some yogurt and it seems to work ok. I also eat 99% organic, grass fed, pastured. I gave up sugar, eating out, and chocolate this past Christmas (caffeine is NOT recommended with blood sugar problems) and that was a real eye opener about how much better I felt after I did that. At this point, I’m not trying to loose weight, but to try and balance by metabolism.

    Maybe this is another part of eating well — low carb, but that does not necessarily mean get rid of grains and beans and fruit (unless your body just can’t process them), but limit the total number of carbs per day.

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    13 Jenny @ Nourished Kitchen June 3, 2009 at 11:04 am

    I’m still reading GCBC, and I LOVE it. Taubes is so insightful, thoughtful and really has a great way of dissecting the research so that laypersons can understand it.

    Jenny @ Nourished Kitchen

    Reply

    14 Lisa Sargese June 3, 2009 at 11:20 am

    I had a professor once, in the phys ed department, who insisted that “a calorie is a calorie”. He’s been gaining and losing the same 30 pounds for the past 25 years. Go figure!

    Lisa Sargese

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    15 Vin | NaturalBias.com June 3, 2009 at 11:26 am

    The reason why most people can’t stick to a low carb diet is because the sugar and gluten contained in many of the high carb foods we eat are highly addictive. The Diet Cure by Julia Ross is an excellent resource for addressing this. In my mood disorders post linked below, I wrote about her other book, The Mood Cure, which discusses how high protein whole foods and supplements can curb this addiction.

    Also, as Janet said, Metabolic Typing is important as well. I do very well on a low carb diet and my wife is the opposite. I’m a Metabolic Typing Advisor and have seen such differences with many people. We’re all different. However, many of the grain based processed foods that are the primary source of carbohydrates for most people are bad for everyone.

    Vin | NaturalBias.com

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    16 Catherine June 3, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    Wow, what a response to this topic! Great info. I do low carb because of candida issues. Been low carbing for over a year and am still cleansing from Candida Yeast. I could not kick the grains until I decide one day that I have had enough suffering from the Candida (after 16 years!) that I will give up fruit for good. Once I did that, giving up grains was not hard at all.

    The hard part was that I could not in my mind imagine that fruits can hurt me. All those wonderful vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and natural sugars that are in fruit are supposed to be good for you and not harm you!

    What it is is that sugars are addictive. You digest fruit quickly. When I was eating mostly raw foods (still with meat and fats) I was incredibly hungry. It was the fruit sugars that created the hunger. I ate from the time I got up till night fall. Always snacking and always preparing food.

    So if you want to do low carb, try kicking the fruit first. Even strawberries and other summer berries create awful food cravings.

    Below in the link I have a recipe of Grain Free Coconut Herb Buns. I will submit it to the Real Food Wednesday Carnival.

    Catherine

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    17 Shauna June 3, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    Hey Kelly! Long time no see! I’ve been a busy woman…… sorry it’s been so long since I’ve checked in.

    Anyway – you know I’ve had permanant weight loss with all that you’ve written here. And, my body responds as Gary said – no sugar, but I can do real, whole carbs in moderation (veggies, I do unlimited, grains greatly reduced, and starchy veggies moderately, however I don’t usually eat corn except on the cob when it’s coming out of the gardens here locally.)

    What has been my biggest thing lately, is now that I am seriously running (currently training for a half-marathon!), my “carb” intake MUST be higher. Funny thing is, the “whole” carbs give me serious gastric distress if I don’t time them right….. and I run better on the “refined carbs”. So the night before my long runs, I need white rice and white pasta….. the bran/germ in the whole grains make for a miserable gastric experience.

    So – I’m trying to figure that all out. I once read that Americans eat like marathoners (referring to carbs) but live like couch potatoes….. which I now understand. Glycogen (which are stored carbs) fuel running – literally. So I’m trying to figure out how to live a NT lifestyle and be a runner.

    Shauna

    Shauna

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    18 Kyle June 3, 2009 at 6:07 pm

    Wasn’t the Atkin’s Diet about lowering your carbs?

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    19 niki June 4, 2009 at 9:38 am

    I completely believe this (especially as someone who went from being hypoglycemic to insulin resistant to diabetic). I didn’t believe at first but now I sure do.

    American diet is far too high in sugar and carbs.

    niki

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    20 used cars sioux falls June 4, 2009 at 9:55 am

    I had always thought sugar was the evil product that should be avoided. I was stunned when a nutritionist for diabetics said it was carbs. Carbs? Why I had I never heard this before? I wish this knowledge would get more mainstream.

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    21 Lisa June 4, 2009 at 10:10 am

    I’ve been on diets before and lost weight before, but this time I’m trying to do it right while preparing for my wedding in October! I’m learning so much. I’m starting to eat fat (butter, olive oil and coconut oil as well as fats naturally found in traditional foods) for the first time, I’m really watching my carbs and making sure they are packed with the right nutrients rather than just processed foods. Thanks for this great entry! I appreciate your Web site so much.

    Reply

    22 Kelly June 5, 2009 at 12:06 am

    Soooooooooo many great comments – thank you everyone! Sorry that I can’t reply to each one (I’m tired!), but I do have comments on a few…

    Lisa, I loooooved your comment – it’s SO cool knowing that you’re starting your new life right, and now you can raise such healthy children, too!

    Elizabeth, I SO enjoyed reading your testimony! Thanks for sharing!

    I agree with those of you who talked about low carb being better than no carb, and as always it’s good that you’re listening to your body.

    Catherine, I wonder if once you are healed of candida (are you doing the GAPS diet? Look for the posts over along the right in the topic section), maybe down the road you could eat fruit again? Once your immune system is healed, I’ve heard you can sometimes carefully add things back in…

    Shauna, geesh girl, now you’re training for a half marathon?!! I may do another 5K in August, but that’s as far as I’m going for now! One point just to get your wheels turning… I think it was on Dr. Eades Protein Power blog that he said it’s a myth that athletes *need* carbs – I know NOTHING about this, and I know that’s the opposite of what you’ve found with your body, but it’s something you may want to research… (Is my site loading any better for you yet?)

    Kyle, yes, Atkins is low-carb.

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    23 Melissa from South Beach Diet Adviser October 19, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    Consider going on the South Beach Supercharged diet, which includes exercise. Users often report that they feel surprisingly refreshed during the first phase. Eliminating all those bad carbs and sugars will actually do you a favor and lend you some clean energy. Once you start exercising on the South Beach Supercharged program, you will benefit from the adrenaline and endorphin rush. Recent studies show that regular exercise actually increases energy and reduces fatigue. On the other hand, living a sedentary lifestyle brings on more fatigue and more lethargy than usual.

    Reply

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