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Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It Paperback – December 27, 2011
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NATIONAL BESTSELLER • “Taubes stands the received wisdom about diet and exercise on its head.” —The New York Times
What’s making us fat? And how can we change? Building upon his critical work in Good Calories, Bad Calories and presenting fresh evidence for his claim, bestselling author Gary Taubes revisits these urgent questions. Featuring a new afterword with answers to frequently asked questions.
Taubes reveals the bad nutritional science of the last century—none more damaging or misguided than the “calories-in, calories-out” model of why we get fat—and the good science that has been ignored. He also answers the most persistent questions: Why are some people thin and others fat? What roles do exercise and genetics play in our weight? What foods should we eat, and what foods should we avoid? Persuasive, straightforward, and practical, Why We Get Fat is an essential guide to nutrition and weight management.
Complete with an easy-to-follow diet. Featuring a new afterword with answers to frequently asked questions.
The Amazon Book Review
Book recommendations, author interviews, editors' picks, and more. Read it now.
“Taubes stands the received wisdom about diet and exercise on its head.”
—The New York Times
“Well-researched and thoughtful. . . . Taubes has done us a great service by bringing these issues to the table.”
—The Boston Globe
“Compelling and convincing. . . . Taubes breaks it down for us from historical and, more importantly, scientific perspectives.”
—Philadelphia Daily News
“Taubes’s critique is so pointed and vociferous that reading him will change the way you look at calories, the food pyramid, and your daily diet.”
“Taubes is a science journalist’s science journalist, who researches topics to the point of obsession—actually, well beyond that point—and never dumbs things down for readers.”
“Important. . . . This excellent book, built on sound research and common sense, contains essential information.”
“This brave, paradigm-shifting man uses logic and the primary literature to unhinge the nutritional mantra of the last eighty years.”
“Less dense and easier to read [than Good Calories, Bad Calories] but no less revelatory.”
“An exhaustive investigation.”
—The Daily Beast
“Backed by a persuasive amount of detail. . . . As an award-winning scientific journalist who spent the past decade rigorously tracking down and assimilating obesity research, he’s uniquely qualified to understand and present the big picture of scientific opinions and results. Despite legions of researchers and billions of government dollars expended, Taubes is the one to painstakingly compile this information, assimilate it, and make it available to the public. . . . Taubes does the important and extraordinary work of pulling it all together for us.”
“Clear and accessible . . . Taubes’s conviction alone makes Why We Get Fat well worth considering.”
“[Taubes] is helping to reshape the conversation about what makes the American diet so fattening.”
“Taubes is a relentless researcher.”
—The Washington Post Book World
“[Taubes’s] major conclusions are somewhat startling yet surprisingly convincing. . . . His writing reflects his passion for scientific truth.”
About the Author
GARY TAUBES is cofounder and senior scientific advisor of the Nutrition Science Initiative (NuSI). He's an award-winning science and health journalist, the author of Why We Get Fat and Good Calories, Bad Calories, and a former staff writer for Discover and correspondent for the journal Science. His writing has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, and Esquire, and has been included in numerous Best of anthologies, including The Best of the Best American Science Writing (2010). He has received three Science in Society Journalism Awards from the National Association of Science Writers. He is also the recipient of a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigator Award in Health Policy Research. He lives in Oakland, California.
- Publisher : Anchor; Reprint edition (December 27, 2011)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 288 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0307474259
- ISBN-13 : 978-0307474254
- Item Weight : 10.4 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.18 x 0.87 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #31,446 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #30 in Low Carb Diets (Books)
- #294 in Weight Loss Diets (Books)
- #418 in Other Diet Books
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on December 20, 2016
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Everyone in the developed world knows what's causing our obesity epidemic. BBC nailed it: "We eat too much, and too much of the wrong things," and Michelle Obama tells us "We have to move more." Clearly what we need is a balanced diet of lean meats, some good fats, and complex carbohydrates like fruit, vegetables and whole grain bread, and exercise of 30 to 90 minutes per day. Their prescription is completely reasonable and makes intuitive sense.
It is neat, plausible, and wrong. It has in fact been disproved, as nearly as "disproof" can exist in nutrition science.
In his previous book, Good Calories Bad Calories, respected science journalist Gary Taubes exhaustively researched and cited two centuries worth of research in nutrition. He came to the conclusion that none of those recommendations is supported by science, because the fundamental theory on which they're based is wrong. Why We Get Fat is an updated summary of that earlier work, much quicker and easier to read, with some significant points clarified.
The most important point of the book is that all those public recommendations -- the food pyramid, the "eat food, not too much" approach, everything we know about a balanced lifestyle -- is founded on the premise of Calories In vs. Calories Out. That we get fat because we eat too many calories, or we don't burn enough of them through movement. But this is nonsense. It's not just wrong, it is actually not a statement about what causes obesity at all (or heart disease, cancer or diabetes, for that matter.) It is, in Taubes' words, a "junior high level mistake," because it tells us nothing about fat accumulation. If we get fat, by definition we have taken in more calories than we've put out -- but WHY we took in those calories, or didn't burn them, is the key point.
Taubes reviews the scientific literature (rather than the popular press) and presents a conclusion that was common knowledge before WWII, and heresy afterward: we get fat because our fat cells have become disregulated and are taking nutrients that should be available to other tissues. Like a tumor, the cells live for themselves rather than in balance with the rest of the body. And since those nutrients aren't available, we become hungry and tired. Therefore we eat more, and move less.
For the chronic dieters among us, one passage about animal models will explain decades of frustration. Rodents with a particular part of the hypothalamus destroyed would become obese and/or sedentary *as a consequence* of their bodies putting on more fat. "After the surgery, their fat tissue sucks up calories to make more fat; this leaves insufficient fuel for the rest of the body...The only way to prevent these animals from getting obese is to starve them...they get fat not by overeating but by eating at all." Sound familiar?
The problem isn't one of gluttony and sloth, as Taubes refers to it, but of hormone balance. Simply put, some people are more sensitive to the hormone effects of insulin, cortisol, and a few other -ols, than other people are. The more sensitive you are, the more you're likely to get fat, and the more fat you're likely to get, in the presence of even small amounts of carbohydrate -- and in the absence of enough fat.
That's right, this book advocates eating fat. Not just moderately, but as much fat as possible, up to 78% of calories. Not lean meats, not Jenny-O 99.6% fat-free turkey, not skinless chicken breasts, but lard. Yes, lard. The healthy way of eating, according to Taubes, is moderately high protein and high fat. Yes, high fat. About a 3:1 ratio of fat to protein, and almost no carbohydrates. (Telling people to eat a balanced diet containing carbohydrates is, he says, equivalent to telling smokers to include a balanced serving of cigarettes.) And he demonstrates exactly why a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet is the most heart-healthy approach, as borne out by several dozen recent studies.
While Taubes acknowledges that exercise seems to be good for us for a variety of reasons, weight control isn't one of them. Study after study conducted by proponents of exercise have admitted that they see no compelling evidence for exercise as a weight-loss tool. And it makes sense if you throw out the calories in/calories out model of why we get fat. If we're fat because our fat tissues are starving the rest of our cells of fuel, exercise is just going to make us hungrier and more tired, not leaner and more fit. (It's worth noting that according to Taubes, in the 1930s obese patients were treated with bed rest.)
[This review was edited to clarify the following point.] The main thrust of Taubes' argument, however, surrounds sugar and to a lesser extent any carbohydrate. Insulin is the primary hormone that fixes fat in the fat cells. This is why Type I diabetics lose weight: they're not producing enough insulin. Since insulin is manufactured in direct response to carbohydrates, if you don't eat them, you won't have a mechanism by which to store fat. (Taubes notes that this mechanism is not controversial; it simply hasn't had an impact on nutrition policy.) Taubes argues that any success in standard diets can be attributed directly to the dieter's reduced intake of carbohydrates, especially sugars and particularly fructose.
Once the underlying cause of obesity is understood (hormone balance, not gluttony/sloth) the recommendations on what to do about it are surprisingly simple and therefore brief. This is a book about the science of nutrition, not a diet book, but there is a list of recommended foods in the Appendix. The book does not tell you how to eat in a restaurant. But it does tell you that the issue isn't in your brain, your willpower, your character, your job, your environment or even (except to the extent that you're sensitive to carbohydrate) in your genes. The problem with fat is in your fat cells.
For a lay audience, this book is as good as it gets if you want to read actual science about health and nutrition. If you're of scientific or technical bent, read Good Calories Bad Calories first, then give Why We Get Fat to your parents.
The author is incredibly intelligent and that this book took the author more than five years to write, shows. I've read few health books so intelligently written as this one. I thought I was quite well educated about diet and the need to restrict refined carbohydrates (for good health and to stop weight gain) but I learned so much from reading this book.
This book gives you a detailed analysis of why low calorie diets don't work and why restricted carbohydrate/high fat diets do and is backed up by compelling evidence and research at every point. We have evolved to eat a diet that contains enough fat and protein to cause satiety, lots of green vegetables and minimal amounts of fruits and starchy vegetables. Our bodies really can't cope with huge levels of refined carbohydrate as have recently been added to the modern diet.
Because this book was so good but so very long and complex, I really hoped that Taubes would put out a summarised edition of the book that I could lend to my friends and family. I was so happy to see 'Why We Get Fat' had been released and bought a copy right away.
While this 'distilled' book explains the same concepts and comes to the same conclusions as Taubes' previous book, and also explains some concepts in brilliant and remarkable new ways, I am not sure I would have been quite as blown away as I was by Taubes' work if I had read this book first. I couldn't help but think it was somewhat less compelling and made the various points just a little bit less convincingly. Perhaps that is inevitable with a much shorter book and comparing them is unfair? That might well be true.
What I would have liked is for each of the main points to be listed one after the other in one chapter and explained using about a half page for each. To make it really simple for everyone to get the main points.
Main points would include facts such as:
1. The 'calories in, calories out' mantra is a myth
2. 'A calorie is a calorie is a calorie' is a myth
3. The 'just eat less and do more exercise to lose weight' message seems to be logical but is actually wrong and unhelpful
4. Overweight and obese people often eat no more calories, or even less, than their thinner counterparts
5. Low calorie diets also reduce the amount of nutrients in the diet
6. It is a myth that the brain and CNS needs 120 - 130 grams of carbohydrate as fuel in order to function properly, as the body can use fat and protein equally as well, and these fuels are likely the mixture our brains have evolved to prefer.
7. Restricting calories with a low fat/high carb diet just makes you hungrier and more lethargic and slows your metabolic rate. Weight loss is only maintained if the patients stays on a semi-starvation diet forever, which is impossible for most people and also undesirable. Being far more active just makes you far more hungry.
8. It is a myth that reducing calories slightly or increasing activity slightly will lead to weight loss.
9. It is a myth that we evolved through periods of feast and famine to be very good at holding onto fat. Fat gain is due to excessive insulin levels caused by high dietary refined carbohydrate intake. It is a sign of something in the body going wrong, not a healthy adaptation.
10. Fructose is not much better than glucose and the two together may cause more harm than either individually.
11. The idea of a weight 'set point' is a myth
12. Insulin is the overall fuel control for mammals. High insulin levels cause the body to store fat and stop the body from using fat as fuel. This means that high carbohydrate foods make you put on more fat, and also leave you still feeling very hungry and unsatisfied.
13. Our bodies have evolved to do best on a diet of plentiful fat and protein (including saturated fat), lots of greens and minimal fruits and starchy vegetables. This diet is the best for health and also for losing weight and stopping weight gain.
14. Dietary fat, including saturated fat, is not a cause of obesity. Refined and easily digestible carbs causing high insulin levels cause obesity.
15. To say that people are overweight due to gluttony and slothfulness is just not correct and it is very unfair. Overeating and a sedentary lifestyle are often CAUSED by eating a high carbohydrate diet! This association has wrongly been interpreted as a cause of weight gain, rather than an effect.
16. Hunger caused by eating a high carbohydrate diet (or excessive exercising while on a low calorie diet) is a very strong physiological drive and should not be thought of something mild and psychological that can be overcome with willpower. This is something serious occurring in the body, not the brain!
Thus psychological 'treatments' for obesity are inappropriate and cruel. Most people are overweight due to bad medical advice, NOT a lack of willpower, greed, laziness or because they lack 'moral fibre'
17. People have different insulin secretory responses. Even if insulin secretion is slightly off, weight gain can occur.
18. Eating large amounts of a high sugar and high fat food like popcorn is easy because the body will not use most of the carbohydrate and fat for immediate fuel but will store much of it as fat - leaving you able to eat a lot of it and still be hungry a short time later as well.
19. Eating foods with a large bulk or high in fibre wont fill you up, you need the correct proportion of macronutrients and will stay hungry until you get them.
20. Those advocating the low calorie and high carb diets for health and weight loss are not involved in legitimate science. These approaches are not supported by the evidence.
I took 6 pages of notes while reading this book. Even though it is short, it does still give you a ton of information and research. It isn't one of those books stuffed with 'filler.'
Reading the first book I wished the author had included some sort of basic eating plan that followed his principles. After reading this book, I wish the author had not included the basic eating plan he gives at the end of the book. I realise that it is probably only there for illustrative purposes, but it really is of quite poor quality. Yes, it describes a low-carb diet which will be helpful for weight loss...but it is very far from being a healthy diet with regard to additives, nutrients and so on. This is an important failure when one of the main reasons many of us wish to lose weight is to improve our health.
Eggs are not even mentioned in the eating plan which is quite bizarre. Even worse, microwaving is recommended and processed meats are allowed to be eaten. (Pork rinds, pepperoni, etc.) The diet allows up to 4 tablespoons of mayo daily, despite the fact this often contains unhealthy types of fat including trans fats. Aspartame, splenda and saccharin are recommended too, I was surprised to see. No mention is made of the importance of choosing grass-fed meats over conventionally farmed meats, if possible, and coconut oil is also not even mentioned.
The diet recommends 3 cups of vegetables daily which is okay, but for my preferences, I don't see why one can't eat quite a bit more than that if one chooses green leafy vegetables which are of course very low carb. Choosing what to eat is about weight control, but getting as many nutrients in is also important and this is especially true if you are ill and trying to become more well. I also just like eating lots of nice veggies with my meals, and for me 3 cups is just not enough long term. (Been there done that!)
Far better books for giving you practical diet information for weight control and health are Eat Fat, Lose Fat: The Healthy Alternative to Trans Fats and Primal Body, Primal Mind: Beyond the Paleo Diet for Total Health and a Longer Life , among others.
Even with the above small quibbles, this is still an impressive body of work. I wish we had more investigative journalists writing about 'controversial' topics to such a high standard. I'm grateful to Taubes for writing his two books.
I highly recommend this book or (if you are up to reading a very, very big and dense book) Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health (Vintage) would be even better. Check your library for a copy of one of them, at least! This information is so important.
I give the first book 5 stars and this summary book 4.5 stars.
Jodi Bassett, The Hummingbirds' Foundation for M.E. (HFME) and Health, Healing & Hummingbirds (HHH)
Top reviews from other countries
Some of the writing is a little technical, but generally not too bad - so I got through the book in only a few days (unusual for me).
The ultimate test is that having read it - and applying this methodology of what to eat, I have already lost weight. 4 lbs in week one and almost at the end of week 2 .... I'm sure more has come off but am waiting until the week is done to weigh myself. My clothes are looser still .... so happy with the way things are headed.
I've not gone hungry and still managed my twice weekly mountain biking, without any huge energy issue (having cut out carbs).
I am very interested to see if this book gains wider knowledge over time, to then change the usual advice given to those wishing to lose weight, since it appears we have all been told the wrong information for too long,
Gary Taubes also has some useful lectures on-line covering some of this material.
I'm now reading - The art & science of low carbohydrate performance - to see if it gives further refinements of what to eat to allow my mountain biking to further improve - but it seems this way of eating will actually provide athletes with MORE useable energy stores, than the traditional carb-loading option.
So - very happy to have discovered this book and it's recommended plan.
This book gives lots of detail about what is happening in our bodies, fascinating.