Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It

Why We Get Fat. Gary Taubes. 2010. 272 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence from chapter one: Imagine you're serving on a jury.

Premise/plot: Taubes asks readers to forget everything they think they know about obesity, nutrition, and weight loss. At least everything that they may have picked up from the 1960s on. Taubes' theory on WHY we get fat may shock some, but, of course not all of his readers.

Here are a few of his potentially controversial claims:

Obesity is not caused by overeating and lack of exercise. If you're obese it is not because you're a lazy glutton with no self control.

There is a connection, of course, between obesity and overeating, but Taubes insists most people have it backwards. We overeat as a result of being fat. That is, there is something going on in our bodies--in our cells--that causes us to store fat, to hold onto fat, to not use the food we eat at fuel. It is our bodies quest for more fuel to burn that leads us to eat more, to overeat, if you will. It's a cruel cycle. Our bodies aren't getting what they need from food, but, our bodies keep trying. What causes this? Well, Taubes argues that there are a handful of factors: our genes, our hormones and enzymes, our insulin. (Specifically, he discusses having too little estrogen, and too much insulin.) Our bodies can--at any age really--become insulin resistant. And being insulin resistant leads to trouble, for one thing our bodies turn carbohydrates, sugars into fat. I know I'm forgetting something--I think LDL? Anyway, Taubes explains the science of how our bodies work. And reading it, well, it made sense at least at the time!

Taubes insists that both being obese and losing weight is not a matter of calories in/calories out. Of balancing how many calories are consumed by eating and drinking and how many calories are burned by exercise. He is emphatic about this: eating less calories does not make for successful weight loss AND increasing one's activity through exercise does not make for successful weight loss. Exercise makes you hungrier. Being hungrier makes you eat more. Eating more means more calories than you would have consumed had you not exercised. Eating less and doing less is not a long-term solution either. Yes, one can fast and lose weight. One can lose weight on bed rest. But not as part of a successful long-term solution to losing weight.

Some people are naturally lean. But that doesn't mean they will always, always, always be lean. At some point, they too may become insulin resistant. If that happens--when that happens--they too will start to store fat and pack on the pounds.

Many people, however, are not naturally lean. Though not a main point in his book, he did point out that the blood sugar levels of the mother effect the baby in the womb. (Very scary thought!!!) Their bodies can start out life being a bit insulin resistant. This is something that just progressively happens. Perhaps this is why children--even young children--are growing up overweight and obese. Perhaps this is why more children and teenagers are becoming type two diabetics.

As I was saying, unless you have incredible genes and are fortunate enough to be able to eat anything and everything you want, there's a very large chance that you're fat because of the carbohydrates you're eating. The only way to successfully lose weight--Taubes insists--is to eliminate carbohydrates from your life. Taubes attacks simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. He's not just targeting donuts, but, things like carrots and lima beans as well. Also fruit. Taubes really seems to have something against fruit.

To those that would say carbohydrates are essential fuel for your body, that your brain cannot function without carbohydrates, Taubes would respond with this: your body can and will learn how to use fat for fuel, and, that fat is a better fuel for your body, for your brain, anyway. 

Taubes insists, and, I fully concur, that this is not a diet book. This is a commit-to-do-something-for-life book. This is a book that asks readers to make difficult decisions. Give up almost all carbohydrates while losing weight, and, to once they reach their goal weight, possibly allow up to 72 carbohydrates a day. (Though I think he still would prefer you eat vegetables and fruits as opposed to grains.)

What would Taubes have you eat? A LOT OF MEAT. As much meat as you want, as often as you want. Don't worry about lean meat, any meat will do. GOOD QUANTITY of fat. Though he doesn't include a list of what fatty foods are healthy fat and which are not, he does emphasis that fat is not the problem. Eating fat does not make you fat. He recommends things like olive oil, avocados, eggs, etc. This book was written before the coconut oil craze, so he's silent on that issue. CERTAIN VEGETABLES. Essentially if it's a leafy green or a head of cabbage, you can eat however much you want. Acceptable vegetables are: artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, eggplant, green beans, jicama, leeks, mushrooms, okra, onions, peppers, pumpkin, shallots, snow peas, sprouts, sugar snap peas, summer squash, tomatoes, rhubarb, wax beans, and zucchini. (Two cups per day of leafy greens. One cup (measure uncooked) per day of other vegetables.)

My thoughts: Do I have thoughts?! YES. I think I agree with him up to a point. I do think that carbohydrates--especially overly processed, simple, turn-to-sugar-in-your-mouth carbohydrates are a big, big, big problem and should be the first thing to go if you're looking to be healthy and lose some weight.

However, Taubes has it in against complex carbohydrates. But some carbohydrates, I believe, are very slow to be digested and do not raise one's blood sugar or wreak havoc with insulin levels. And I do believe there is such a thing as resistant starch, and that resistant starch can be good for you. 

I believe that protein, fiber, and fat are KEY essentials in the weight loss journey. I do not believe that complex carbohydrates should be eliminated completely. Just measured. Eating a half-cup of lima beans is different than eating two cups after all. And so long as you don't go overboard and eat JUST carbohydrates at a meal, I think it all balances out in the end. I also am a big fan of fruit. Not eating just a meal of fruit. Not eating it in excess. But moderation is key.

Taubes definitely has something against sugar, high fructose corn syrup, honey, molasses, fruit, etc. But he did not say enough--in my opinion--against artificial sweeteners. He was, in fact, allowing them as substitutes. In my opinion, perhaps with the exception of stevia, and, I'll be honest organic stevia, artificial sweeteners should be avoided completely.

I do think it's wise to avoid sugar and sweets. But Taubes zero-tolerance is too much for me. I may not have a lot of sugar in my diet, some would say I have barely any, but no one will make me surrender my teaspoon of honey per day, and my 'starchy' (though measured) vegetables (lima beans are candy, don't you know!!!) and my fruit. If you give up the junky-sugar, there is plenty of naturally occurring sweet things to enjoy.

Another thing that Taubes does not mention--perhaps because the book is 'old' now--is probiotics and prebiotics, and the microbiome in general. The gut is the second brain, and, you might be surprised at how your GUT effects your brain. How essential a healthy gut is, and, how important GOOD BUGGIES are to your life and well-being. I do believe you have to starve off the bad guys, the guys telling you EAT SUGAR, EAT SUGAR, MORE SUGAR, NOW, NOW, NOW.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Michelle Ann 3:26 PM  

There may be something in this. There must be some reason so many people are becoming diabetics.

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