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Has anyone read "Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It"? Here is the book on amazon.

His basic argument is this (my words):

The author argues that insulin in large part is responsible for regulating how much fat you have, the more the insulin the more fat. Insulin tells your fat cell to absorb and maintain their supply of fat, and not to release it into the blood stream. Insulin is produced in response to the presence and amount of blood sugar in your body, when you start to eat your blood sugar increases. Fructose and carbohydrates rapidly increase your blood sugar levels resulting in a highly elevated level of insulin. Eating a lot of fructose and carbohydrates every day will result in a condition known as insulin resistance. This will result in your body having an elevated level of insulin at all times, making you virtually incapable of using anything but glucose and carbohydrates as energy. Because the cells in the rest of your body quickly run out of energy you get hungry faster because you are just coasting off of the carbs from your last meal.

My question is, is Gary Taubes correct?

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closed as off topic by Ivo Flipse Feb 22 '12 at 18:35

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5 Answers

Even if his theory is correct, it focuses on only a very small subset of the issues that could potentially cause weight gain.

The reason nobody has been able to produce a single bulletproof theory on weight gain is due to the fact that there is no single cause. Weight gain is the result of many potential causes:

Excess Catabolism of Muscle Mass:

Many people say that running (aerobically) is effective for weight loss but there is a case where it isn't. For instance, say you routinely run vary long distances but don't consume enough calories to sustain the energy... What happens is, your body will kick into catabolic metabolism and start using your muscle as energy. Less muscle means your caloric expenditure decreases. That means that you will have to start eating even less to maintain your current weight in response to the physiological changes. If you don't, whatever energy you consume that your body doesn't immediately use is stored as fat. Body fat is not necessarily bad as it creates a buffer between an empty tank of available energy and catabolism.

Survival Mode

Ever wonder why people who take up extreme dieting can never keep it off in the long term? One possible reason is that they have cut their caloric intake too much. Initially, your metabolism will continue to burn energy at the same rate resulting in quick fat mass losses (ex a 1500 KCal diet). But, your body's number one concern is survival and it will adjust to the changes in food intake. In the long term your metabolism will lower to the point where, if you do eat a 'normal' meal your body will store as much excess energy (in the form of fat) as physically possible.

I have experimented with this to a small extent. I wanted to see how effective I could lose some fat mass with no exercise (I weighed 185 at the time whereas 170 is my 'healthy weight'). I have always been one of those 'you have to workout to lose weight' types so it was more of an experiment than anything.

Let me tell you, it wasn't fun. Not only did I put on weight faster than I ever had before when I started eating normal again but I was freezing all the time (and I'm one of those guys who never gets cold).

Hormone Imbalance

If you genetically have a hormone balance or you live an unhealthy lifestyle you can throw your hormones into a tailspin. By unhealthy lifestyle I'm referring to sleep deprivation and/or obesity. Your body returns your hormones to a healthy state while you sleep, especially the hormones that control hunger, metabolism, and weight gain/loss. See my answer here for a more detailed breakdown. If you gain too much fat mass your body will also start to produce less testosterone and more estrogen. Hormone balance is partially to blame for what people call 'man boobs'.

Eating Too Much

I know everybody pulls the 'eat less' card but there's more to the relationship between weight gain and eating too much. I attempt to sum it up here.

First, humans are a pretty versatile animal. Like pigs, we can survive off of just about anything as our digestive systems are very versatile at converting a wide range of different foods into energy. What most people don't consider is the amount of energy present in the food we eat.

Consider this, a seed has enough energy to sustain a plant's full germination until it grows large enough to send roots down and leaves up (over the period of days-months). That's a lot of energy and we eat them by the shovel full. Just the fact that we provide ourselves with such large quantities of food with little/no effort involved in obtaining such food is a risk factor all on it's own.

Many people preach whole bread as a healthy alternative to white bread. In reality it isn't really. You're still eating flour (which is just crushed wheat seeds) except with the outer husk of the wheat included in the mix. You could eat a white bread sandwich of grass from your lawn and get the same affect (dogs eat grass all the time for the same reason). Fiber is good for keeping things moving well through your digestive system but in the end you're just eating ruffage that your body can't digest.

Eating Too Fast

Second, digestion is chemistry and chemistry takes time. When was the last time you had a camp fire. Remember how long it took to burn a log? Now, consider that fire is an extremely fast process of converting energy to heat and it still takes hours to break down a log of wood. Now consider that digestion is a similar but much slower process. True, chewing helps you get their quicker but in the end it still takes hours to completely digest food from beginning to end (depending on what type of food).

Now, take into consideration that our body doesn't know how much we eat until it can digest some of the food and trigger a response. In fact, it takes until about 15-20 minutes after you start eating until you really start to feel satisfied. Unless you are eating pure sugar (which is digested much faster).

You literally may be full for 15 minutes before you know it and continue to keep eating. Especially if you are eating dense foods like carbohydrates and protein (which take much longer to break down). Take your time eating and you won't eat so much that you feel sick afterward.

If you want to curb your hunger quickly but still enjoy a full meal, consider a light serving of an appetizer containing fat and/or sugar to satisfy your appetite so you don't end up wolfing down large quantities of high carb food during the main course.


This list is just the start... There is no 'magical cause' to accumulating fat mass. Increased fat mass production is simply a product of many different bodily reactions to your environment.

If you want to improve your diet to lose fat mass I have a simple formula:

Get Over Your Anthropocentric Self. Take a minute to get comfortable with the fact that you are an animal. Our bodies have an amazing capacity to adapt to maximize the resources at our expense. If fat mass loss is your goal then stop and consider 'what type of environment do I need to be in to have an active healthy body' with a low fat percentage. I can give you a clue, it has nothing to do with living in a temperature controlled building, sitting 95+% of the time with an inexhaustable source of food within reach.

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Another great answer @Evan –  Ivo Flipse Jun 4 '11 at 1:11
    
Hey Evan -- your answer is a bit odd, because, that's largely what he says in the book!. Have you read that book?! –  Joe Blow Sep 20 '11 at 2:26
    
@Joe lol... Actually, no. I was just responding directly to the passage the OP quoted. Maybe I'll check it out to see if I could learn something new. –  Evan Plaice Oct 10 '11 at 7:14
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This recent study from Johns Hopkins, while far from conclusive, supports Taubes' position. It shows that a group of people on a low carb diet lost weight faster than those on a low fat diet (each eating the same number of calories), while not adversely affecting their coronary risk factors. It is not conclusive, because it is just one study, and a small sample size. It also had both groups on a reduced calorie diet, while Taubes claims calories don't matter. But it does suggest that the conventional wisdom (reduce weight by reducing fat intake) is not correct.

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I'm in agreement with Gary Taubes when you want to put it in terms of sustainable weight loss and maintaining healthy organs. Over production of insulin causes your body to resist its presence so that its role in building muscle is limited just as the fact it is converting your excess blood sugar to fat.

The pancreas is also responsible for producing a complimentary hormone called glucagon which is used to convert stored fat to blood sugar. The pancreas is designed to cycle between insulin and glucagon production, and consuming too many carbs severely limits the production of glucagon.

Essentially, by limiting your carb intake to say once a day, you remain in a fat burning state longer.

You still need to keep your total calories lower than what you burn in a day to lose weight. However, you can lose faster and more sustainably if you limit your carbs. I've been told that you can reverse insulin resistance after three weeks being in the state of ketosis. It might take longer if you have a modest amount of carbs.

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There is a ton of awesome knowledge in this post! You rock! –  Levinaris May 26 '11 at 20:23
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The description you put in your own words does seem correct, in the matter that insulin does make fat. However, insulin is a necessary hormone. It is the consumption of excess calories and the lack of exercise that makes people fat. Insulin can convert fatty acids, carbs, and protein into fat molecules; however, insulin uses about ten times more energy to convert carbs and protein into fat than it does to convert fatty acids to fat molecules.

Here's a great article on How Fat Cells Work: http://health.howstuffworks.com/human-body/cells-tissues/fat-cell.htm.

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hi Andrew - quite simply, low carbs means low insulin. What the OP wrote above: insulin in large part is responsible for regulating how much fat you have, the more the insulin the more fat. Insulin tells your fat cell to absorb and maintain their supply of fat, and not to release it into the blood stream. Insulin is produced in response to the presence and amount of blood sugar in your body is perfectly correct - and a great summary. It doesn't matter at all WHAT gets converted to fat in fat cells. Quite simply, no insulin, no fat going in to fat cells! –  Joe Blow Sep 20 '11 at 2:33
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Insulin is absolutely proven to be a major contributor in the production of new fat cells. Fructose, sucrose, and glucose all rapidly increase your blood sugar, causing an equal or greater insulin reaction as well. Weight and weight loss still essentially boil down to calories, though.

If you take in 1200 calories a day in almost nothing but carbohydrates, and you expend 2200 calories a day, you can lose fat, and you will lose 2 pounds a week using this method. Is it healthy? No. Can it be done? Sure. Since your body needs more energy than is provided by 1200 calories, the carbohydrates are burned first, and as your blood sugar decreases, your body stops producing insulin, and then the excess required energy is taken from the body's fat supply.

Trust me, I actually tried this 1200 calories of carbs a day one time to see it's effect, and I lost quite a bit of weight. Eventually, I did reach a plateau though that could not be broken. Unfortunately, excess carbohydrate intake also causes you to be hungry pretty much all the time. I was eating four meals a day and was still pretty hungry in between when I was doing this.

Weight loss this way is very slow and ineffective, difficult to maintain, and very bad for your body. Reducing your carbohydrate intake makes it significantly easier to maintain a diet, a healthy lifestyle, and lose weight.

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in your picture you look significantly overweight, i'm a bit confused about your giving advice on this issue, though what your saying makes 100% sense... could you explain? –  Timtam Mar 11 '12 at 6:32
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