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Gary Taubes: Why We Get Fat (Condensed) by Gary Taubes - CrossFit Journal

In CrossFit, Nutrition, Videos

December 18, 2011

Video Article

Join investigative journalist Gary Taubes, author of Why We Get Fat and Good Calories, Bad Calories, as he addresses CrossFit HQ Seminar Staff at the Trainer Summit held in October in San Diego, Calif. In this condensed version of the presentation, Taubes shares his research on fat accumulation and the risk of disease.

According to Taubes, obesity rates have increased dramatically in the past 50 years, which goes along with the increasing diabetes epidemic. He says both are related to a whole host of metabolic diseases.

Taubes’ argument is simple: “The same thing that makes people fat is what causes all these diseases.”

According to Taubes, conventional medical wisdom explains obesity as a caloric imbalance: consuming more calories than we burn. Taubes critically evaluates this explanation and challenges it with examples of obesity unconnected to a toxic environment of overconsumption. Cutting calories or exercising more should reverse obesity if calories out are greater than calories in, but Taubes shows that research does not support such a conclusion.

His conclusion is that obesity is a disorder of fat accumulation, which is regulated by insulin and dietary carbohydrates.

“Carbohydrates … drive insulin, and insulin drives fat,” he says. “That’s the simplest explanation for what’s going on.”

“The only non-pharmaceutical remedy is to restrict or remove the causative agent—i.e., the carbohydrates,” Taubes says.

For the full presentation, please click here.

24min 22sec

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28 Comments on “Gary Taubes: Why We Get Fat (Condensed)”

1

wrote …

I think as simple as he tried to make it, that the lecture was still over my head. It sounded to me like he didn't tell us anything we didn't already know. He sure made it confusing and complicated though!

2

wrote …

That's scary. We've known that the carbs/starches cause obesity since 1951 but our FDA food pyramid promotes it. WTF? All the more reason to go Paleo.

3

replied to comment from KTA B

That is largely true.
I think that the reason that he didn't tell us anything we didn't already know is that the CF Community is well ahead of the general population on this front. Largely because of Gary's work and the work of people like him.

To most people this is ground-breaking and shocking stuff that cuts against everything they know about weight management and healthy eating.

Which, I assume, is why both the condensed and unabridged versions of the presentation have been made free downloads, so that we can refer people to them to help spread the word.

They're a great resource, thank-you to the CFJ for making them available.

4

wrote …

I agree and disagree with this fellow. Speaking of an inconvenient observation relative to his theories, if he were correct then those long lived cultures in Japan, the Mediterranean and so on would all be obese as carbohydrate intake is a HUGE component of their diet. The same would be true for distance runners whose intake can be 70%+ carbs. Heck, I read a study of elite Kenyan runners and their diets were almost 80% carbs if my memory serves.

I agree with his thought process relative to insulin being an big driver of fat accumulation, but that is really only of significance in a caloric surplus, not at maintenance or below maintenance.

To say carbs are the sole issue is really to massively oversimplify matters just like when people used to say fat was the issue for cardiovascular diseases.

5

wrote …

I don't know much about those cultures but i think those few cases would be the exception to the rule.

6

wrote …

The oversimplified critique is unfair. We ask him to explain why we are fat in 24 mins. Of course it's simplified and the exceptions weren't explained.

7

wrote …

The oversimplification is addressed to the fact (as I understand it) that in his mind if you remove the carbs you solve the issue (see below).

"His conclusion is that obesity is a disorder of fat accumulation, which is regulated by insulin and dietary carbohydrates.

“Carbohydrates … drive insulin, and insulin drives fat,” he says. “That’s the simplest explanation for what’s going on.”

“The only non-pharmaceutical remedy is to restrict or remove the causative agent—i.e., the carbohydrates,” Taubes says."


The point is that if carbs cause obesity even in hypo-caloric states as a rule then anyone consuming them as a large percentage of their diet should be obese. There have been many cultures for many, many years that consume a high percentage of their intake from carbs and do NOT (or did not) suffer an obesity problem.

High carb intake IS part of the problem, but only part of it.

8

Paul Southern wrote …

Gary's new book "Why We Get Fat" is one that should be in every coaches library.

9

wrote …

Awesome talk. Is it just me or does Gary remind you of Owen Wilson both in appearance and the way he pronounces some words?

10

wrote …

As someone who is at a healthy body weight but has been diagnosed "Insulin Resistant" with the host of physical ailments that result, including infertility, hormonal abnormalities, difficulty losing weight, low enerrgy etc., the diet this man describes is exactly what the doctor ordered. My symptoms vanish in a matter of weeks with a low carb diet and Crossfitting.

That being said, I know many people with a higher carb requirment than I have who function well without any issues eating more healthy carbs (fruit, veg, potatoes) than what I eat!

11

wrote …

If you watch the end of the unabridged version he briefly brings up other issues people associate with the so called diseases of wealth (obesity, heart disease, diabetes), and acknowledges he feels that removing high GI carbohydrates from the diet is the mostly right answer but it may not be the entire answer. His approach is a scientific one where you change one variable and observe the results. If I tell a study population don't eat fat and don't eat carbs and then they do and then they lose weight I have to wonder was it the reduction in fat or the reduction in carbs that caused the weight loss. It also sets up a statistically unfavorable situation having 2 variables and violates Occam's razor. I think his main goal is for people to see the current research is hitting a dead end and America is getting fatter. The point I took away was let's take a look at the way we are doing science and revisit the low carb approach on a grand scale and if we disprove that hypothesis we can move on to something else, but stop beating the low fat dead horse.

12

wrote …

Anyone ever thought that Technology = Obesity? From 5:28-5:52 was the most disturbing part of the whole bit. I have a four year old and similarly my son doesn't like going outside right now (winter), and would much rather watch a cartoon that do other things, but it is we as parents that set the example, and if we allow our kids to watch TV/play video games all day then we are encouraging/enticing fatness as a lifestyle. Doing a quick run of the US Census numbers and Taubes' numbers from 1980 vs 2010(census date vs 2008 date for 16.8 million americans having diabetes) Diabetes has gone from 2.2% TO 5.4% of the US population, not a 3 fold percentage, but still nearly that. When did computers begin to come out, 1980's? Correlation? Diabetes started really growing more rapidly around 1998-2000. When did cell phones become huge? Summation - lifestyle may be more of a cause than diet. Also, from Chris's comments - what is the lifestyle of Japanese culture/Kenyans/Endurance runners?

13

wrote …

The thing about the technology is Taubes brings up studies from 5 or 6 regions of the world where there are populations that conduct hard labor and live in poverty and those specific populations from the past and present have level of obesity similar to that of the US. These populations have or had far less technology than the US and less access to food. We don't like to blame high GI carbs but what do kids eat cereal, bread, rice, potatoes and corn. Most children are "picky" but maybe thats because in nature finding high GI carbs is like finding Gold. Major grocery stores can average around 40000 different items and most of them are corn based, compare that to 60 years ago. Children eat in a default mode, they just find carbohydrates, until they are able to learn otherwise and parents are too lazy to address it until their children are overweight and dealing with self esteem problems. Strength athletes have known how to get larger for the past century if not longer drink milk, eat eggs and meat and eat starch and lift heavy things they pack on fat and muscle then they dropped the milk and starches to get rid of the fat on their bodies. They got rid of the SUGAR.
Long distance runners need to take in large amounts of carbohydrates before during and after long runs to ensure they have muscle and liver glycogen readily availble for their muscles and brains, although probably not as much as one would think.
The Japanese haved lived on a diet of rice for a long time, but when machine polished (white rice) rice was introduced to the masses beriberi (vitamin B1 deficiency) became became widespread. When there is a selection event like that in nature organisms that do not have the proper genetic machinery will die off and the organisms that can tolerate the new enviroment will survive and reproduce. The same thing can happen to people. Asian cultures rely on rice but the nordic populations at one time came to rely on dairy and it may be through a similar genetic mechanism. It is thought that as much as half the world's population continues to produce lactase after being weened off milk and those who do can trace their lineages back to one of two genetic mutations allowing adults to express the genes for lactase production. Modern nutritionists tell biologists like myself you can not apply evolutionary biology to humans, but hopefully if they decide to start being scientists again they will look at an evolutionary approach to investigating nutrition, like those in the paleo camp have, rather than just saying,"if a person follows the USDA recommendations and becomes overweight then they are an anomoly. It is their genes fault and there is nothing they can do about it." That is crap, but if you do not like stuffing peoples faces full of corn you do not get nutrition research grants from the government.

14

wrote …

Protein is a powerful stimulant of insulin as well. A low carb high protein meal will have a higher insulin response than a high carb low protein meal. High protein diets are more satiating. So you want to eat less, and the food is less energy dense so most likely the diet contains less calories. So a lower calorie diet, with a higher insulin response results in weight loss.

If insulin is what causes weight gain, how is it possible that eating high protein diets that will increase insulin secretion causes you to lose weight?

I doubt insulin is the bad guy here. It seems more like misdirected vilification.
I'm not saying high carb diets aren't a cause of obesity or weight problems, just I'm not convinced it's insulin.

Read up on articles from Aragon, Kreiger, Norton..

15

wrote …

16

replied to comment from Jerrod Anderson

Jerrod thanks for that link!

17

wrote …

I thought the most interesting part was the final part of his conclusion:

"A functioning diet to keep weight up is diet that's carbohydrate rich."

This explains why those Kenyan runners Chis (#4) mentioned are eating 80% carbs as I imagine they're not struggling with obesity but rather that running several consecutive sub 5 min miles causes them to lose too much weight unless they fuel themselves in this way.

I apply the logic from his conclusion to make nutritional recommendations to my clients. If the person is overweight and/or looking to reduce his/her body fat- I recommend cutting out processed carbs. For conditioned lean competitive athletes (most of mine are rugby players or CrossFit fanatics) I just want to make sure they are getting enough calories and protein to optimize their recovery and game day performance.

18

wrote …

I must thank Gary for opening my mind in nutrition and forcing me to examine the issue more thoroughly for myself. The mistake in any conclusion on "causes" is when we confuse physiological responses with pathological problems. Insulin in itself is harmless in a healthy functioning body, may even have satiating and other useful properties. However, when insulin resistance becomes pathological, carbohydrates have the opportunity to be much more of a problem.

Context must be considered, and I believe that quality makes a huge difference. Typical carbohydrate consumption in the Standard American Diet is highly processed (blend of flour and sugar), void of nutrients (unless 'enriched'), and almost exclusively packaged with high amounts of poor fat sources (vegetable oils, sometimes partially hydrogenated trans fat). A recipe for disaster.

High Carb/Low fat, High fat/moderate protein/low carb, or "zone" like breakdowns can all work in the right context and depending on training/goals. I used to think that calories didn't matter after listening to Taubes, however now I do believe they matter, I just think individual requirements are too hard to determine based on too many factors.

19

replied to comment from Tim O'Brien

Comment 12 - widely held belief you articulate, and appeals to folks' moral sense that we could just purify ourselves of technology, and get out and play more and we'd all be well.

However, it does not jive with the observations of hardworking and poor populations that are also obese and live primarily on cheap carbs.

There is also a logical objection to the "we just don't exercise as much as we used to" assumption (which is questionable on it's face, and would be difficult to measure). If you have a clerk typist working at a lumberjack job site, the lumberjack does about 5000kcal of work per day and eats accordingly. The clerk typist does about 2500kcal of work per day and eats accordingly. Neither gets fat, nor do all sedentary people, nor should they assuming the body is designed correctly to match food intake with metabolic need. The carbohydrate hypothesis is based in the idea that carbohydrates have had a disrulating effect on normal feedback systems resulting in fat accumulation which begins to cause increased food intake.

It may be correct that inactivity causes obesity, but that makes little sense to me. It may be correct that telephone poles cause obesity, as the number of telephone poles has increased in proportion to the fattening of the US. I don't find that argument compelling. There have been many changes associated with the fattening and sickening of the US population. A testable hypothesis is that excess carb consumption results in the majority of obesity and related sickness in the US, in paleolithic cultures transitioning from their traditional diets (inuit, pacific islanders, native americans, africans, trinidadans; all documented examples). Further, when tested, carb restriction trips every available measure of health the right direction for the obese.

In other words, even if carbs are not causing it and sedentary living is, you can treat the problem with carb restriction.

20

replied to comment from Andy Ewington

Andy, if one feeds obese people high protein, low carb diets, they lose weight like gang busters and generally without hunger. You can get folks on high protein diets down to 1200kcal per day, and compared with a group eating a high carb diet at the same calorie level, the high protein/low carb group will report lower hunger levels, higher activity levels, and will simply feel better much longer than the high carb group. In other words, the oft cited argument "it can't be insulin" is not a complete answer and clinically, carb restriction works better than calorie restriction - for most but not all people.

There are several explanations to why a high insulin response to protein is not harmful but a high insulin response to carbs is. I've read Krieger, Aragon and the Whole Health Source guy - they all have their axe to grind and I find their arguments incomplete. But even if they are "right" in their interpretation of the science and their resulting (untested) conjecture/hypothesis - who cares? Carb restriction works better for most obese people for weight loss and makes them measurably healthier in days - some studies show improvement in glucose, lipids and NALFD in as little as 3 days.

Practitioners know this in large part, the question is how to get the government and the medical community to quit pushing diets that don't help on a needy public.

21

replied to comment from Chris Mason

"if he were correct then those long lived cultures in Japan, the Mediterranean and so on would all be obese as carbohydrate intake is a HUGE component of their diet."
--Chris, how would you quantify that observation? I do not think it is accurate to say that these cultures eat HUGE amounts of carbohydrates. Percentage wise, perhaps the eastern cultures used to eat an amount greater than what would be good for an obese person.

"The same would be true for distance runners whose intake can be 70%+ carbs. Heck, I read a study of elite Kenyan runners and their diets were almost 80% carbs if my memory serves."
--It isn't difficult for me to accept that carb tolerance for ectomorphic hyper-active people could easily be higher without negative consequnce than it would be for endomorphic folks who just work 8-10 hours per day, and perhaps workout 3-5 days/per week. The question is, is there a threshold of carb intake that the obese have crossed, and is that the primary driver of fat accumulation as well as the diseases of civilization?

"I agree with his thought process relative to insulin being an big driver of fat accumulation, but that is really only of significance in a caloric surplus, not at maintenance or below maintenance."
--His point is - for the obese, excess carb intake becomes a cause of excess total caloric intake by disregulating hormonal responses which results in sequestration of carb energy as fat, as well as by making stored fat inaccessible as a fuel source. "Obesity is a problem of fat accumulation." Conjecture: If you lose 25% of the food energy you eat to fat storage, you wind up short of what you need to run your body and you eat more, and 25% of that gets stored too ... this is an gross simplification of Taubes' articulation of the carbohydrate hypothesis, but I think it makes the point.

"To say carbs are the sole issue is really to massively oversimplify matters just like when people used to say fat was the issue for cardiovascular diseases."
--If you read his books and still believed this, I would just say "OK." But based on my perception of your desire to know more (eg, powerlifter who sees the value of CF), if you read his books, I doubt you would say this. The statement is simple, but the analysis is multi factorial and based on an exhaustive review of the (regrettably poor) science of diet. I read "Good Calories Bad Calories" four times (and counting) until I felt like I "got it." He wrote "Why We Get Fat" because so few were willing to read GCBC four times (apparently, some folks have a life).

You could prove to me that carbs are not the sole issue if you could show me a population of fat, sick people who got fat on less than 100g of carbs/day. I'd be surprised if you could find such a population that got fat on even as much as 150g/day. When carb intake is restricted, it's difficult to gain weight, much less get and stay fat (granted - there are remarkable genetic exceptions to all generalities, like those who are fat below the waist and emaciated above the waist). Paul

22

wrote …

Derek, Ryan, well said (IMHO).

23

replied to comment from Paul Eich

Paul, I disagree with the following especially:

“Carbohydrates … drive insulin, and insulin drives fat,” he says. “That’s the simplest explanation for what’s going on.”

This is just driving people to be scared of eating something that they think will cause an insulin spike. If insulin drives fat accumulation, then a higher fasting insulin level should decrease resting energy expenditure. However, that hypothesis has been tested and shown that people with higher fasting insulin levels have higher resting energy expenditure. Obese people are obese despite having higher fasting insulin, not because of it.

Aragon, Kreiger and co might have incomplete arguments. But Taubes' insulin argument is nonsense.

24

replied to comment from Andy Ewington

Andy is confident in his position and appears uninterested in learning more. But the point Andy raises is a good one, "how could the Taubes hypotheses be tested and falsified?"
Taubes' suggestion to test the carb hypothesis is a test using doubly labeled water with isocaloric diets of varied macronutrient components. I have not read a detailed description of how he would recommend such a study be laid out, but it seems to me there would need to be several cases tested. A very low calorie version, a moderate calorie version (estimated to be slightly below maintenance calorie requirement) and a high calorie version - est. maintenance plus 10%. The priority in my mind should be testing for those with metabolic derangement, as this is the group for which these tests would be most significant. I predict at very low cal levels, macronutrient composition will not matter much, much less than at high calorie levels.
I'd be happy to look at Andy's fasting insulin level tests and determine what I think they do or do not mean, but off the cuff, I'd guess that the significance of fasting insulin levels is relative to the individual. Krieger and the WHS author like to point to a study on insulin injections in the brain as proof that insulin lowers vice raises hunger levels/satiety - but the way that study was set up makes it ludicrous, and proof of nothing. Ultimately, all tests of discreet elements of these concepts are pointless. Either someone funds high quality, massively expensive testing of varied macronutrient isocaloric diets or they do not. Some have been done, the vast majority of which show a benefit for carb restriction.
As a practitioner, I don't care if Taubes' argument is proved or falsified. Carb restriction is effective for most if not all folks. There's no risk in carb reduction and no reason to eat more than ~150g carbs per day, especially for those who have metabolic derangement. Folks that want better body comp, better fasting lipids (measureable change in as little as 3 days), folks who don't want to have to eat every four hours to avoid hypoglycemia, folks that want to treat gout, folks who would like to treat NALFD, folks who want to stop taking blood pressure meds, folks who would like to reduce/stabilize blood sugars ... all of this can be had, for most folks, with carbohydrate restriction along with appetite control. Further, the carb hypothesis aligns with an overall construct that aligns well with the Paleolithic model and accounts for many/most of the diseases of civilization. IOW, it makes for a logically consistent analysis, which of course proves nothing but makes it more appealing than other unproved hypotheses/conjectures.
These factors are the reason why I tend to think Taubes' ideas will generally be proved accurate, but it hardly matters either way since the prescription - carb restriction is good for folks that have too much fat and/or metabolic derangement - is useful. If the utility is due to palatability or some other reason, that’s OK too.

25

replied to comment from Chris Mason

Well said.

But this book and lecture is for lay people, and I think an oversimplification is acceptable here. Leave the research to physicians and scientists. But as in this case; pop culture lectures/books are perfect for the general public.

26

replied to comment from Chris Mason

Well said.

But this book and lecture is for lay people, and I think an oversimplification is acceptable here. Leave the research to physicians and scientists. But as in this case; pop culture lectures/books are perfect for the general public.

27

wrote …

CHO provides 20 kcal/min, FAT provides about 12 kcal/min. Power yield per liter O2 is higher with CHO, it is simply more efficient. If you sit behind a desk all day that's one thing. If your workout is limited to 20 minutes all out, that's another. Run a 13.1 or 26.2 near LT, and you're burning 100% CHO at about 1 kcal/kg/km no way around it. When you run out of CHO, whatever mile that is, you're done. Doesn't matter what anyone thinks or believes in, the principles of human exercise physiology and biochemistry are what they are. You can't eat like a marathon runner but sit behind a desk or play video games all day, that will certainly lead to obesity. It isn't as easy as people think to turn CHO into FAT, however just a little insulin will shut down fat oxidation. The problem is our addiction to CHO in the absence of exercise and our genetic fat setpoint. See N Engl J Med 2011; 365: 1597 - 1604.

28

wrote …

Chris, where are those studies that show high carbohydrate intake. Back up what you say with references please. I'll be glad to look it up.

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