10 Things You Can Learn From ‘Why We Get Fat’

Posted on 14. Aug, 2011 by in Product Reviews

Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It is a must read for anybody interested in health and nutrition.  Gary Taubes wrote the book as a way of creating a more accessible version of his 2007 bestseller; Good Calories, Bad Calories.  Taubes has a knack for turning the world of health and nutrition on its head, and he doesn’t hold back in Why We Get Fat.  Here are 10 great reasons to check out the book!

(All quotations are direct from Taubes in WWGF, unless otherwise stated.)

1) We have the wrong way of thinking about getting fat.

‘We have been told that we must not take in more calories than we burn, that we cannot lose weight if we don’t exercise consistently,’ he wrote.  ‘That few of us are able to actually follow this advice is either our fault or the fault of the advice.’  Malcolm Gladwell The New Yorker 1998

‘Undereating isn’t a treatment or cure for obesity; it’s a way of temporarily reducing the most obvious symptom.  And if undereating isn’t a treatment or a cure, this certainly suggests that overeating is not a cause.’  Bruce Bistrian

2) The model of calories in, calories out, says nothing about why we get fat.  If we want to know why we get fat, we need to specifically look at what regulates fat accumulation.

“Obesity is fundamentally a disorder or excess fat accumulation…then the natural question to ask is, what regulates fat accumulation?”

“The science tells us that obesity is ultimately the result of a hormonal imbalance, not a caloric one. “

3) We can learn a lot by applying many of the same principles to growing fat as with growing tall.

“Had we been discussing disorders of growth – why some people grow to be more than seven feet tall and others never make it to four feet – the only subject of discussion would be the hormones and enzymes that regulate growth.  And yet, when we’re discussing a disorder in which the defining symptom is the abnormal growth of our fat tissue, the hormones and enzymes that regulate that growth are considered irrelevant. “

(Taubes referring to his growing son) “He didn’t grow because he consumed excess calories.  He consumed those excess calories—he overate – because he was growing. “

4) When it comes to getting fatter, the most important hormone we have is insulin.  The easiest way to control insulin is by controlling carbohydrates.

“You secrete insulin primarily in response to the carbohydrates in your diet, and you do so primarily to keep blood sugar under control. “

“When insulin levels go up, we store fat.  When they come down, we mobilize the fat and use it for fuel.”

5) Increased insulin not only drives the storage of fat, but it also drives hunger.

“Just by thinking about eating (bagels and other carbohydrate-rich foods), we secrete insulin.”

“Avoiding carbohydrates will lower your insulin level.  Given time, this should reduce or eliminate the cravings.”

6 ) Government and health officials would like us to believe that obesity is a mental issue, a fault in our own character.

“So long as we believe that people get fat because they overeat, because they take in more calories than they expend, we’re putting the ultimate blame on a mental state, a weakness of character, and we’re leaving human biology out of the equation entirely.  It’s a mistake to think this way about any disease.”

7 ) Obesity is more closely related to malnutrition than overnutrition.  It’s not the quantity of the food we are eating, it’s the quality.

“Put simply, if we want to prevent obesity, we have to get people to eat less, but if we want to prevent undernutrition, we have to make more food available.  What do we do?”

8 ) Fattening carbohydrates are largely a recent phenomenon that didn’t exist for most of human history.

“Just two hundred years ago, we ate less than a fifth of the sugar we eat today.”

“The essential point, as this 2000 analysis noted, is that the modern foods that today constitute more than 60 percent of all calories in the typical Western diet – including cereal grains, dairy products, beverages, vegetable oils and dressings, and sugar and candy – ‘would have contributed virtually none of the energy in the typical hunter-gatherer diet.’”

9 ) Lowering carbohydrates also lowers cravings.  This makes a low carbohydrate lifestyle much easier to sustain.

“When you eat sugar…it triggers a response in the same part of the brain – known as the ‘reward center’ – that is targeted by cocaine, alcohol, nicotine, and other addictive substances….sugar seems to hijack the signal to an unnatural degree, just as cocaine and nicotine do.”

“When you restrict fattening carbohydrates, however, you don’t have to restrict consciously how much you eat; indeed, you shouldn’t try.  You can eat all you want of protein and fat….the biggest challenge is the craving for carbohydrates…the craving for carbohydrates is more like an addiction.”

10 ) Low carbohydrate diets are about more than just losing body fat.  But losing body fat alone will almost always improve a ton of important health markers along with it.

“The fatter we are, or at least the more obese we are, the more likely we are to get virtually every major chronic disease.”

“The argument that a diet that restricts fattening carbohydrates will be lacking in essential nutrients – including vitamins, minerals, and amino acids – does not hold up.  First, the foods that you would be avoiding are the fattening ones, not leafy green vegetables and salads…Moreover, the fattening carbohydrates that are restricted – starches, refined carbohydrates, and sugars – are virtually absent essential nutrients in any case. “

My take:

While there are times where Taubes oversimplifies the bodily functions that go into the accumulation and burning of fat, I think the simplification is necessary to make it understandable to a large audience.  He provides substantiated evidence and research throughout the book to support the many claims he is making.

I especially liked the way he takes down the calories in, calories out framework, since I have never been a particular fan of that model.  This is not a diet book by any means, but rather a different way of looking at health altogether.  I highly recommend this book to low-carbers, high-carbers, and everyone in between.  It will certainly alter your viewpoint of why we get fat.

Click here to purchase the book.

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