What the Authorities Won’t Tell You: “Why We Get Fat”


Gary TaubesPeople are more commonly overweight and obese today versus years ago and though it seems like a mystery as to why, Gary Taubes explains a view of why this issue has become out of hand in his book “Why We Get Fat”. Taubes is a renowned science writer and has been awarded several times for scientific journalism. Nutrition can be a controversial topic as he explains, since the general population will typically believe “the authorities” as he calls them referring to organizations such as the American Heart Association, the World Health Organization, the American College of Sports Medicine, local physicians, etc. Readers are asked to acknowledge a different set of nutritional advice, one that is supported more heavily by science and clinical trials (dating back to the early 1900s!) and strays from the common Western diet. Taubes presents an array of research to reinforce his belief that carbohydrates have driven Western society into a place of Western disease.

Taubes is a renowned science writer and has been awarded several times for scientific journalism. Nutrition can be a controversial topic as he explains, since the general population will typically believe “the authorities” as he calls them referring to organizations such as the American Heart Association, the World Health Organization, the American College of Sports Medicine, local physicians, etc. Readers are asked to acknowledge a different set of nutritional advice, one that is supported more heavily by science and clinical trials (dating back to the early 1900s!) and strays from the common Western diet. Taubes presents an array of research to reinforce his belief that carbohydrates have driven Western society into a place of Western disease.

I’ve written about the “Westernized diet is pretty much devoid of fresh foods that naturally contain living enzymes. When you’re filling up on processed foods (they naturally contain no living particles because of processing and pasteurization), the body will work in overtime trying to digest these foods” in my blog here, Apr 11, 2011. In “Why We Get Fat” Taubes focuses on the common misconceptions about nutrition that are promoted by health organizations nationwide. As Americans we are advised to detach ourselves from our typical “sedentary and gluttonous behavior” since these are the proposed causes of our poor health.

Taubes introduces his point of view with a thorough explanation of how fat regulation works within our cells to communicate the falsehoods of the “calories-in/calories-out” logic which doctors continuously abide by in their daily practice. He stresses that we are “not fat because we overeat, we overeat because we are fat”. Enzymes and hormones carefully regulate the way fat storage in our bodies yet “we’re putting the ultimate blame on a mental state, a weakness of character, and we’re leaving human biology out of the equation entirely” (Taubes, 85).

Taubes urges the reader to open up to the idea that metabolism of food is a complex process that has often been ignored among modern health advisors.

He clears up the myth on the health benefits of carbohydrates and rationalizes that the “reason nutritionists like to think (and like to tell us) that carbohydrates are somehow the preferred fuel for the body, which is simply wrong, is that your cells will burn carbohydrates before they’ll burn fat” to keep your blood sugar levels in check (Taubes, 114).What he is referring to is the difference in fed-state and fasted-state metabolism as described in this article by the American Diabetes Association. When we have just ingested a meal we are entering the fed-state of metabolism as opposed to the resting state known as the fasting-state. During fed-state metabolism, there is a net secretion of insulin in response to increased blood glucose which Taubes agrees is the primary culprit to fat accumulation. He gives numerous accounts of studies done on various populations that show how any amount of processed carbohydrate intake will generally lead to weight gain since carbohydrates are metabolized into glucose. Insulin prevents your body from burning up its fat for energy and instead burns blood sugar and stores fat.  His research gives insight to imperative European medical history documented before World War II that has lost its standing in today’s American medical community.

This has left many to believe that the obesity epidemic “poses a challenge to public-health programs” whereas the evidence Taubes presents seems to pose a challenge to the individual’s beliefs. Though authorities continue to claim the health risks of high fat foods and advocate the health benefits of carbohydrates, Taubes suggests a transition from our typical lifestyles if we are expecting any type of healthy results. I indefinitely agree that “going to the gym regularly will often not be enough—it takes conscious daily changes in order to lead a fully active lifestyle.” (SM Aug 12, 2011) With his studies, Taubes is pushing the reader to make use of their own instincts rather than to blindly absorb health advice that has been circulating simply because it was believed by “respected people”. After all, there is no such thing as an “essential carbohydrate”. To conclude his piece Taubes offers an alternative to the common Western diet, one that allows you to eat as much as you’d like! He explains that this creates a “cognitive dissonance” but we should be aware of this and make a decision not because he tells us to, but because the scientific evidence speaks louder than any health organization’s claims.