Big Fat Lie

Posted on June 7, 2008  Comments (9)

cover of diet delusion

Big fat lie

‘I got actively attacked, but I guess I had to be,’ Taubes says. ‘What are the chances of writing an article that says the entire medical establishment is wrong, and them going, ” Good point, thank you, Gary. Can we give you an award?” When people challenge the establishment, 99.9 per cent of the time they are wrong. If I was writing about me, I’d begin from the assumption that I am both wrong and a quack.’

At least he is right on this. You challenge the accepted scientific understanding and this is what will happen. But if the evidence is there scientists will be won over by the evidence over time.

‘Reading the research was a reawakening for me,’ he says. ‘I did all the things that the rest of us did. I ate a low-fat diet, went to the gym and was getting heavier anyway. But once you flip your way of thinking about it, it seems so absurd: the idea that what you put in minus what you expend equals how fat you are. Our bodies don’t work like a car. We are not thermodynamic black boxes; we are biological organisms and we have evolved complex systems of hormones and enzymes and proteins. That’s how we are regulated.’

The obesity epidemic began in America during the late 1970s, which is also when the low-fat, high-carb diet-and-exercise revolution began. ‘You have a starting point,’ says Taubes. ‘The question is what is causing it? Then I realised that we were first told to eat less fat in the late 1970s, and, if you eat less fat, you start to eat more carbohydrates – it’s a trade-off.’

The whole healthy eating debate is sure not easy to figure out. But I think some things are clear. Eating too many calories and not exercising enough are problems. And it also makes sense that it is not only the number of calories that matter but what type. We are biological beings and how we process food is not just by a count of the calories. It seems the evidence of bad effects of too much carbohydrates is growing.

It also makes perfect sense that our bodies evolved to store energy for worse times (and some of us have bodies better at doing that). Now we are in a new environment where (at least for many people alive today) finding enough calories is not going to be a problem so it would be nice if we could tell our bodies to get less efficient at storing fat for bad times ahead. But we can’t so we need to take actions to remain healthy given the how our body reacts to what we eat and do. And it seems one of those actions might mean we have to eat less than we might want to.

Related: The Diet Delusion by Gary Taubes – Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.Obesity Epidemic Explained, Kind OfDon’t Eat What Doesn’t RotGood Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes – Energy Efficiency of DigestionAnother Strike Against Cola

9 Responses to “Big Fat Lie”

  1. David Brown
    June 7th, 2008 @ 10:07 am

    Hi John,

    You said, “The whole healthy eating debate is sure not easy to figure out. But I think some things are clear. Eating too many calories and not exercising enough are problems. And it also makes sense that it is not only the number of calories that matter but what type. We are biological beings and how we process food is not just by a count of the calories.”

    I’m the curious sort myself. I began studying nutrition about 30 years ago after sustaining a back injury. I would have terminated my investigations after 4 or 5 years were it not for the controversies over caloric intake and saturated fat consumption.

    Caloric intake may or may not be related to weight gain depending upon biochemical and physiological makeup. Benjamin Franklin is credited with the observation, “You are what you eat.” More recently, Jeff Volek noted, “You are what your body does with what you eat.”

    What most scientists don’t realize is that caloric absorption efficiency varies widely. At one extreme are those with small stomachs, short intestines, and a very active gut microbe population. This sort of physiological digestive makeup is associated with reduced caloric absorption efficiency. This would explain why some people can consume enormous amounts of food without gaining weight.

    For further discussion I suggest you Google “David Brown calorie excretion” or “David Brown unabsorbed calories.” I also urge you to read “Biochemical Individuality” by Roger J. Williams, PhD.

  2. curiouscat
    June 10th, 2008 @ 7:19 pm

    Well I agreed that some people’s bodies are more efficient at extracting energy and storing fat from food consumed. Some people get to eat more food and not gain weight than others do (the fact that some are more efficient than others just means perhaps they have to eat 20, 30%… less to get the same energy output or fat creation or whatever). That make sense to me.

    It seems that just means some people (in our lives of oversupply of food and sedentary lives) which do a more efficient job of turning calories into fuel and fat have to eat less than those that are inefficient at doing that if they don’t wish to gain weight. My guess is most of those wish they were less efficient but so far we haven’t figured out how to make people absorb fewer calories in a healthy way. My guess is we will at some point. On the other hand their ancestors were probably happy for that trait in an age of scare food and demanding physical needs.

    Obviously there are additional complexities but this difference in our bodies efficiency just means different people have to eat different amounts to be health (which makes perfect sense).

  3. Anonymous
    October 4th, 2008 @ 11:54 pm

    I think you nailed it when you said “But I think some things are clear. Eating too many calories and not exercising enough are problems”

    We try to make things too complicated and convenient when we try to lose weight. We want everything to taste like cookies and pizza and we want to exercise no more than 5 minutes at a time, and it has to be fun! The harsh reality is that if you are looking for shortcuts you’ll never lose weight because its hard work and dedication to the diet that really work.

    Genetics plays a big part in it, I come from two overweight parents, but I know that if I want to lose weight I need to understand my body and my metabolism and make adjustments accordingly.

  4. Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog » Bacteria and Efficient Food Digestion
    November 5th, 2008 @ 8:40 pm

    […] within us and our health I find fascinating. And I fall for confirmation bias on things like becoming inefficient at converting food to energy as a way reduce obesity. You could have two people sitting down to a bowl of cheerios, they could […]

  5. bob marvin
    January 26th, 2009 @ 3:02 pm

    The prevelance of processed foods in our diets, combined with little or no exercise and too many calories over decades has made americans the fatest in the world. Obesity in children is now epidemic. Time to turn off the tv and video games and get those kids off the couch. Our future depends on it!

  6. Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog » Study Shows Weight Loss From Calorie Reduction Not Low Fat or Low Carb
    March 3rd, 2009 @ 8:31 am

    […] Big Fat Lie – posts on medical studies – Waste from Gut Bacteria Helps Control Weight – Common virus may […]

  7. Jason
    March 12th, 2009 @ 2:58 am

    I’m in agreeance with Bob Marvin above – many of our obesity problems in North America and across the world are completely due to a lame, homebound lifestyle combined with eating ridiculous amounts of sugar!

    For about 97% of people body fat % and weight simply comes down to mathematics. More calories consumed than burned through metabolism/exercise = weight gain. More calories burned and fewer calories consumed = weight loss.

    It’s pretty simple!

  8. Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog » The Calorie Delusion
    July 16th, 2009 @ 8:43 am

    […] Big Fat Lie – Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. – Waste from Gut Bacteria Helps Host Control Weight – […]

  9. MikeB
    November 13th, 2016 @ 9:25 am

    The prevelance of processed foods in our diets, combined with little or no exercise and too many calories over decades has made americans the fatest in the world. Obesity in children is now epidemic. Time to turn off the tv and video games and get those kids off the couch. Our future depends on it!

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