I just finished “Why We Get Fat and What to do About it” by Gary Taubes last week and WOW is all I can say. In terms of “diet” books it is definitely the most controversial one I have ever read. 4 Hour Body is definitely up there but the outlandish claims Tim made were at least somewhat justifiable. On contrast, this book led me for the first half waiting for how he was going to prove his case. His case was basically disproving Christianity in the sense of modern health. Showing the flaws in the Calories in Calories Out mindset in regards to fat accumulation. As someone who grew up believing the latter I had to really open up to this idea. By the end of it I was hooked and for the past few days, following the advice given I have made some significant gains/losses/ changes in my body in regards to fat
Here are 9 things I learned from the book.
Fat Gain is from a hormonal imbalance not a caloric one
In a controlled group were two sets of rats. All with removed ovaries which in turn removes any bodily estrogen production. One was allowed to eat to its hearts content and the other was in a caloric deficit.
The first group gained fat…No shit.
The second…also gained fat? How is this possible?
Estrogen influences an enzyme called LPL (Lipoprotein Lipase) . LPL function is to pull fats into cells. Whether it be for fat gain or to pull fat into muscle for energy. With no Estrogen there is no means to monitor LPL and the body begins to store calories as quickly as the organism consumes them.
This leads us to the question: If LPL causes fat gain then how can we influence it in our favor?
You can’t override bodily function
You know how Squirrels get twice as cute in the winter? They get fluffier and seem to put on double their body weight basically overnight. This of course is a biological advantage as it provides insulation to face the cold winter and some minor protection for the organs.
So if I told you they conducted a study and let squirrels eat anything they wanted it wouldn’t surprise you they got fatter? Well what if they were in a caloric deficit and the same happened?
Even without eliminating Estrogen the squirrels in a caloric deficit still gained fat? Now let me clarify they still lost weight. The requirement for the squirrel to gain fat was so critical to its survival that the body stole protein from the muscles to make up for the loss of calories. They even found the body will use protein from the heart muscle to accomplish this goal of fat storage if the food conditions get too scarce.
Why does the body do this?
In reality this all makes perfect sense. If the body doesn’t store fat in the face of a caloric deficit then one bad summer could wipe out the entire species. Animals have adapted to survive in many different conditions included famine and the body will react accordingly.
Why is it so damn hard to lose fat?
Insulin is the storage hormone and is in charge of promoting glucose absorption into fat, liver and skeletal muscle cells. When glucose is low we get hungry and eat to solve this problem. This jumps our blood sugar back up and the body can go back to shuttling glucose to where it seems fit. The problem is when insulin is high the body is unable to consume stored fat for energy. Instead it tells the body to eat more. This is magnified when someone is overweight and insulin resistant. Normally when insulin levels decrease so does blood sugar and the body can resume breaking down triglycerides aka using fat for energy. When someone eats like crap for a long time and becomes insulin resisitnat the blood sugar lowers but the insulin stays chronically higher than normal. Because of this the body can never use stored fat for energy and instead the body stats constantly hungry to combat this.
When the body is in a caloric deficit it does one of 2 things (3 in a healthy human body)
- It makes you hungry
- It makes you lazy
- It uses fat for energy
So you can see if the body can never use fat for energy it will always choose the first 2 options. Fat and lazy. Fat people aren’t fat because they have low will power and eat all the time. They have low will power and eat all the time because they are fat.
Why are carbohydrates so insidious?
Fat is hands down the preferred source of energy for the human body. That being said carbohydrates are much easier to break down and because glucose in high amounts can be harmful, the body uses glucose first in order to regulate blood sugar levels.
Insulin, which is most influenced by simple sugars, regulates LPL production. LPL as we said before makes fat cells even fatter.
If LPL is the evil twin then HSL is the good one. HSL or Hormone Sensitive Lipase is an enzyme that specializes on making fat cells leaner. It breaks down triglycerides into fatty acids (a good thing) and works to keep your waist smaller.
The problem is Insulin is a big bully and just a small amount will shut down any HSL progress you have been making.
The kicker here is the odds are stacked against us
Not only are the foods that we crave the most are typically the most insulin dominant. But also just the mere fact of thinking about your next meal will cause your body to start producing insulin.
Ahhhhg how do we win?
By making a conscious decision to forego the most addictive most delicious foods for healthier options. No soda, no bread, no cereal, no candy, no simple carbs.
The good thing is as the odds are stacked against us, more so for obese individuals, they are in our favor if we work out and eat right. As somoone who works out and is insulin senitive I can lose fat with relative ease compared to most people. As soon as I switch to a low carb diet my body reacts almost immediately and fat just seems to fall off me.
Just as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The lean get leaner and the fat get fatter.
How do I lose these “thunder thighs” or this “beer belly”?
Men have more LPL activity on their abdomen where women have more LPL activity on their thighs and hips. After menopause the LPL activity on their abdomen catches up to it that of men so they gain more weight there also. This is the reason men and women store fat differently. In addition when a women becomes pregnant she will experience increased LPL activity on her thighs and hips for stored fat later to nurse her baby.
Men on average have higher testosterone than women and because test inhibits LPL they usually have a lower body fat percentage. Under that assumption men can lose weight easier than girls. Not sure if this is absolutely true as I am not a girl but it may explain why you are struggling to lose weight if you are in fact a female and are doing “everything right” in the dietary sense.
In addition this is why menreact more to things like beer or food loaded with simple carbs in the stomach area.
How do you lose your “beer belly” (men) or lose your “thunder thighs” (women)?
Reduce LPL activity by eating less insulin producing food.
Why are children fat
As of more recent times we have seen children become more and more overweight even at an earlier age. With the overabundance and targeted advertising of fast food (think happy meals, a burger for $1) it only makes sense we have seen our youth affected by the low nutritional food items flooded in the marketplace.
That being said another variable should also be considered.
High insulin producing cells.
When a woman is pregnant the baby will of course be nourished by her diet. If she eats poorly we can only assume it will have less than positive consequences on her child. What modern studies have found that the more the mom eats, the more glucose the baby gets. With a higher than normal glucose the baby’s blood sugar will indeed increase and correspondingly the insulin will do the same. As the pancreas develops in the baby; the body grows more resistant he the hormone and creates more insulin producing cells. More insulin producing cells equals more fat gain.
The strangest thing about the studies that showcase this phenomenon is when it actually takes affect. Although the baby will be born heavier and have a higher susceptibility towards being overweight, the predisposition is most prominent during the middle of there lifespan.
In short, a fat mom will make a baby who is fat in there adult life
This doesn’t affect everyone
This book does a great job at addressing “this is what we have found” or “this seems to work most of the time”. This not dogmatic but just a pile of studies and results. Which makes it much more valuable than most health and nutrition books on the shelves. Just like the smoker who doesn’t get lung cancer there are also anomaly’s in the world of nutrition. My roommate is this person. I will come home and see him eating a donut or frozen pizza. At the same time even when sitting down he is rocking a complete 8-pack on his abdomen. Yes it’s bullshit but that’s just how his body is.
For the rest of us mortals we need to learn to see what our body reacts the best too. Personally I have found simple carbs and sugars to be insidious. Others don’t have that issue.
You don’t lose fat because you cut calories you lose fat because if you cut the foods that cause you to gain fat
body produces more insulin and a body has a larger amount of insulin coursing its body throughout the day. Because of this the Stay hungrier as it can’t access the stored fats and causes you to be hungrier throughout the day.
We have been eating Low carb for millions of years
Researchers from the United States and Australia studied 229 indigenous tribes and monitored what there diet looked like. Here is what they found:
1 of 5 consumed 85% or more of their caloric intake from animal protein adn fat.
The average tribe consumed 2/3 of the calories from animal and 1/3 from other sources (nuts, fruits, vegetables, etc)
Only 14% consumed 50% or more plant food
Some cultures consume 80% of there calories directly from fat
So what does this show? Well for starters there is zero evidence of a successful vegan or vegetarian indigenous tribe. This either means they died out or humans have always eaten meat. It also proves Ketosis can and may be a more natural way of living. If we spent over 2 million years eating low carb then it is safe to assume we spent that time in ketosis. Under that assumption humans have been in a state of ketosis much longer then we have been utilizing glucose as the primary source of energy.
Just like how lions leave the lean meat for the scavengers in order to focus on the fattiest parts first, humans used to do the same. They ate the most calorie dense parts first and left the lean areas.
The common diseases in America are not so common in other countries
The Inuits never had breast cancer until the 1960s when they were introduced a western diet. Could there be a correlation?
Many diets such as diabetes, coronary heart disease and even some cancers are just not as common as they are here in the US. Many doctors have taken note of this when doing work in other countries.
Even in Japan breast cancer is actually quite rare. Although when one moves to America it only takes two generations for breast cancer to be as frequent as the rest of the population.
They have even scientifically proven breast cancer, colon cancer, and Alzheimer’s are all linked to metabolic syndrome.
What could this be from? The author hints that diet is a fundamental role in the health of a population and here in America we definitely have our own way of eating compared to the rest of the world.
The calories in calories out method although largely true is a grossly oversimplified rationale for an overgrowing obesity problem. The purpose of this blog post wasn’t to inculcate you to have a sense of fear of carbohydrates. The goal was to show fat gain and weight gain are orthogonal. The best way to create the body of your dreams is to avoid the scale all together and focus more on the foods you eat. Avoiding high glycemic foods (simple carbs) and eating more healthy fats is a good start. Remember due to insulin resistance and sensitivity the fat will get fatter and the lean get will get leaner. Which side do you want to be on?