Why We Get Fat

I just finished watching another lecture by Gary Taubes called (if you haven’t guessed) “Why We Get Fat”. It was a poorly timed lecture, in that Mr. Taubes promised quite a lot at the beginning, but failed to deliver. He focused about 3/4 of the lecture on the problem, but failed to explain in depth the solution to the problem proposed, leaving me with more questions. Which can, arguably, be more beneficial.

Anyways, I was really glad I watched it, because it did tie up some loose ends for me. I can see now that all of the systems and processes, causes and reactions, are interrelated in our body. Here is a rough run down of his lecture.

Mr. Taubes introduces a fundamental problem in the current paradigm of how society perceives is the cause of obesity. Let”s begin with the conventional definition  which says that obesity occurs by putting more calories in than expending, otherwise known as a basic law of thermodynamics. Change in energy = energy in – energy out.

However, that doesn’t make sense if you really think about it. According to that definition, all of us would be obese, since we obviously don’t balance calories consumed with calories expended, that’s impossible. That right there, is problem #1 with our current paradigm.

Problem #2 can be brought into light when we examine people who are obese. Historically, one tends to think that nations that are wealthy, andhave that citizens have enough expendable income to buy processed foods and sit on the couch all day, should have more obese citizens. Just look at America. However, Taubes argues that populations that historically have been poor, such as certain native american populations in the early twentieth century, as well as “Nigerian fish ladies” or people living in Trinidad, have also had high levels of obesity. When one looks back on the hypothesis of calories in greater than calories out, things don’t quite match up. Moreover, many times, the mothers are obese, and the children are emaciated. Certainly, they are both consuming the same amount of food, so what is the missing variable?

Society’s current answer to obesity is clearly inadequate. Taubes likens the situation to an analogy to crystallize the situation even more. Lets say that when one asks, “Why do people get fat?”, it can be equated with when one asks, “Why are there so many people in the auditorium?” The current answer that dietitians and policy use for the obesity question is, “Well you’re just putting more in than you’re taking out.” Following that same logic, the answer to the auditorium question would be, “Well there are just more people coming in that going out.” Clearly, that doesn’t answer your fundamental question. It doesn’t give a reason for why so many people are in the auditorium (like because it is hot outside and the auditorium has AC). Thus, Taubes concludes that the answer to why we get fat lies not in the process, but the reason, and society hasn’t provided that yet.

The crux of Taubes’s argument lies in this fact: “We don’t get fat because we overeat, we overeat because our fat tissue is accumulating excess fat”. So if obesity is a disorder of excess fat accumulation, what regulates fat accumulation? In other words, there must be a hormone regulating the production of fat. It’s seen in animals too. When they are denied food, their bodies adapt by storing fat, thus, hibernating animals get “fat” during the wintertime.

In humans, that hormone would be insulin. Insulin increases the use of glucose to make  glycerides, and then it increases the use of those glycerides to make fatty acids, which are then bonded into threes to make triglycerides, the principal storage form in adipose (fat) cells. So, there are three things that one must know coming away from this lengthy post:

1. When insulin is secreted or chronically elevated, fat accumulates in the fat tissue. (as explained above)

When glucose is produced/stored, insulin is released. That makes sense.

2. When insulin levels drop, fat escapes from the fat tissue and the fat depots shrink.

“Release of fatty acids from fat cells “requires only the negative stimulus of insulin deficiency” – Rosalyn Yalow (a respected pioneer in this field)

Moreover, when fructose is consumed and not metabolized by the liver, insulin levels drop. Wait, does this mean that fructose gives you diabetes?? (slightly confused here…)

3. We secrete insulin primarily in response to the carbohydrates in our diet.   

“Carbohydrate is driving insulin is driving fat” George Cahill

Yes! That is because carbohydrates are metabolized into glucose! It all makes sense now!

Despite the above though, I’m still at a standstill and not too far from where I started (in terms of my understanding). If insulin regulation is the reason why we get fat, and carbs are driving insulin production, isn’t eating carbs making us fat? But then, isn’t that the Atkins diet, which is nonsensical (look at the Japanese diet…lots of carbs!) Hmmm….something’s a bit fishy here…


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