I’ve made a point of reading a ton this year. I started the year with a long list of books I was going to Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It by Gary Taubes.
read, and a New Years resolution was to get through it. Well, I’m almost done with the list I started the year with. One key item in that list is
This is an author Tim Ferriss mentions a few times in The Four Hour Body, including in the chapters on the Slow Carb Diet, which I’ve been following for over a year now. Taubes has a much longer version of the same subject called Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health. Taubes wrote Why We Get Fat to be an easier-to-digest (no pun intended) version of the lesson with a bit less science and less overall content. A noble and worthy cause. Overall, I think he wrote an incredibly useful and powerful book, but it could have been 40% shorter and still delivered as powerful a message.
Why do I say that? It’s the same reason I said you should skim parts of Tread Lightly – that’s a great and informative book, but reading about the history of footwear from the 1400s won’t really help you in your quest to find the perfect running shoe and avoid injuries. OK, maybe it will a little, but not much. That’s the issue I have with Why We Get Fat. Taubes establishes right away that the current popular reason people get fat held by the American medical community is that we eat too much relative to what we burn. He then establishes that this is flawed. He shares example after example showing how it is flawed – people who eat little are still fat. People who exercise a lot are still fat. People who overeat and don’t exercise are still lean. Obesity and diabetes rates are higher amongst the poor – i.e. those who can’t afford to eat a lot. Starving children have overweight parents, and it’s not because their parents are eating all of their food. He shares example after example.
For 10 chapters.
He still hasn’t told us why we get fat until the 11th chapter. At that point, the book really gets powerful and enlightening. I’m highlighting a ton as I go along (no, I’m not done, but I’m nearly done with it). I went from having to force myself to read it to wishing my train was delayed so I could squeeze in another chapter during my commute.
The reason we get fat is exactly what the Slow Carb Diet teaches us – it’s not about the fat we eat, it’s about the carbs we eat (and drink). It’s about the glycemic index of foods and the insulinogenic index (the response of our insulin production and release to the foods we eat). It’s brilliant, powerful and actionable. And proven. “Eat less, exercise more,” as Taubes shows, is proven to be inconsistent and often incapable of leaning a person out (for good, especially).
Fat is not the enemy. I’ve learned that myself as I eat way more fat than I ever did, though my body fat percentage is lower than its ever been. I used to diet via a fat-restrictive diet, and the way we make up for missing fat is by filling our diet with carbs. Look at the fat free foods in the supermarket. They have higher sugar content to make up for the flavor. In fact, this is exactly what the food industry did when the focus shifted onto cutting fat from the diet. And guess what’s happened? Nearly in lock step, obesity and diabetes rates went up as fat content in America’s foodstuffs went down.
So, why the need for 10 chapters of repetitive background info? Taubes, while making complete sense logically and physiologically, is going against the current establishment. I say current because what Taubes talks about was the widely accepted gospel pre-WWII, and still is in many parts of the world. It is extremely hard to go against the medical community. Oddly enough for a bunch of scientists, they have a funny way of often ignoring observations that go against their widely held beliefs. Science has a history of this, from the flat Earth to the Earth-centric universe to letting blood as the default treatment for most ailments. It’s not to say all current medicine is wrong, but it is to say that just because something is held generally by current medicine, that doesn’t make it right.
That leaves the question of whether I recommend this book. I do. Emphatically. But I do suggest you ask yourself if you’re open-minded enough to believe Taubes right away. If you are, you should read the introductory chapter, and then jump to chapter 11. If not, or if you aren’t sure, then you should try to read the entire book. If, after a few chapters, you find yourself saying, “Wow, how could the whole ‘eat less’ thing be right?” I suggest you jump ahead to 11.