Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It

Over the years, this calories-in/calories-out paradigm of excess fat has proved to be remarkably resistant to any evidence to the contrary.
— Gary Taubes.

This book throws down the gauntlet at those who preach that the origins of obesity are sloth and gluttony. And about time, too. I’m tired of being considered merely slothful and gluttonous. As it turns out, I’m gullible as well.

Taubes tells the mournful story of knowledge lost. Around the turn of the last century, scientists understood that no amount of calorie cutting was able to produce long-term weight loss. As soon as we resume normal caloric intakes, we swell back up to our hard-wired set point. Damn set point. Scientists understood in the early 1900s that eating carbs was to blame for adding adiposity. They understood how insulin worked to store blood sugars as long-lasting fats. They knew that starchy foods were the culprit. The theory of “calories-in/calories-out” was known to be bunk some 100 years ago! Then came a couple of nasty World Wars, and — perhaps because those scientists were German — we forgot about the whole thing.


Those poor buttons!

Instead, we developed a gloriously pious attitude, blaming the fat man for eating too much or acting so lazy, even if neither were true. It all seemed to fit nicely with those new-fangled theories of thermodynamics. Think of your body as an engine, and then it’s clear that when you run, you burn fuel. Thus, exercising and limiting fuel are seen as the twin virtues resulting in righteous thinness. It was so obvious. And, unfortunately, it still seems obvious. What’s wrong with this picture?

As Taubes explains, we are not machines. I wish he would speak for himself; my friends call me a “fracking sex engine”. Or maybe “lacking oxygen”. Something like that. Anyway, the idea that the human system is as simple as food in and exercise out is belied by the facts. Exercise burns calories, but it’s not a sure way to lose weight. Most people instinctively eat more to compensate. Why not? The body is finely honed to keep you at a set weight so you don’t blow out your organs or starve your muscles. Millions of years of grinding evolution led to beautifully lithe humans, loping gracefully through the savannahs. And then we invented HoHos.

Early version of fast food

Early version of fast food

Really, at some point in our distant past, our bodies were lean and mean. And then we went to seed. Literally. We invented agriculture. Now we have incredibly delicious cereals and breads, but our pancreas is screaming for a break. It’s not the number of calories we eat, it’s the kind of calories we eat. Insulin reacts to starchy foods, but not to fatty foods. It doesn’t make sense, but according to Taubes, your fat comes from eating starch, not fat.

Taubes digs through a hundred years of research and shows how simple-minded approaches based on bad science from a shaky moral high ground are doomed to fail. Instead, he looks at the actual science of how the body malfunctions when too many starches hit the system . It’s like pouring sugar into a gas tank. Okay, not really. We’re not machines, remember? And yet, abuse your pancreas for long enough, say 30 years, and you get insulin resistance, which means the rest of your body is also throwing in the towel.

This book is an eye-opening invitation to a kind of cave-man diet. Back to our roots, our brute roots. I say bring it on! I’ve dug the luau pit and the neighbors seem interested. Let’s party!

I’m not sure that Taubes knows the exact recipe for healthy eating, but he does a great job of exposing some of the hokum around dieting. This book is passionate muckraking at its best. If he’s right, we can turn around our obesity epidemic with a little bit of education. It’s not impossible to follow a low-carb diet, but I’ll still dream about curly fries for as long as I live.

Check out the paperback at Amazon. It doesn’t cost you a penny extra, but when you buy through us, Amazon kicks back a nickel to Notch by Notch which we use to feed our hungry editors. Hey, just because we’re dieting doesn’t mean we don’t eat! Or grab the Kindle edition and start reading now!