Gary Taubes “Why We Get Fat”

Okay – book review time!

I will say that I really wanted to read the entire tome of Good Calories, Bad Calories by Mr. Taubes and it was just a little too much for me to take.  Too heavy a reading for my bedside table.  The Why We Get Fat (heretofore called WWGF) is pretty much a distillation to make it more easily absorbed by more casual readers, although I think he distilled a little too simplistically at times.  I had a very hard time making this organized, so I am going to bullet points things that I jotted down as I read it.

  • The book is divided into a couple parts. The first part is what does not work to keep us thin or get us thin.  This is the part of the book that I found really annoying and too simplistic.  The 2nd part of the book is the interesting part with how the body works and how insulin and correlating (his theory) carbohydrate intake are what makes the body store fat.  I like the 2nd part way better than the first.
  • I am not sold that insulin is the be all and end all for every overweight person.  I think it is of importance, of course, but it isn’t the only answer.
  • When talk is of what our ancestors ate, well that also irritates me to a degree.  Yes, there were times when our ancestors ate only meat.  When they brought down a big mammoth,  what were they supposed to do, save it for later?  It’s not like they could stick it in the fridge with some marinade and plan a paleo BBQ for 2 weeks later.  It had to be consumed as much as possible before it went bad.  Same thing with finding honey or a patch of berries.  I bet they ate all of them.  No thoughts of “Hmmm… better only eat a handful of these berries and save the rest for the big bonfire tomorrow“.  Or “I’ll just drizzle a little bit of this honey over the nice apple I picked today.”  They ate what they could find because they did not know if that would be available to them again tomorrow.  A problem we just don’t have.   So, I don’t know if you would call their diet really balanced in the typical manner that we think of today.  Some days they ate only protein, some days they ate only fruits and root veggies.

Pros:

  • This book makes many references to how fat has been demonized irresponsibly, which I happen to agree with.  He brings up study after study and the flaws in them – at times flaws recognized by the study conductors themselves.  If you believe that saturated fat is evil (and I used to), then please really read this part.  He is not presenting anything new here, as it has been disproved already, but nice to have it all in a nutshell if you have never read about this before.  Then go eat some coconut oil :mrgreen:
  • Easily digested (haha) science on how the body works and what happens to food once it enters the body.
  • Explanation of the distinction between sucrose and fructose and how the body reacts to it.  (although I think the fructose in fruit is not treated the same as fructose in HFCS or honey in the body)
  • I really like that he does not prescribe a specific diet (although he does list the Duke Medicine diet in the appendix), so we at least know that this book is not tied to the Taube’s Diet program and products.  He acknowledges that some people may just have trouble taking and keeping off weight.  If fact, he specifically states on page 204

But there’s no guarantee that the leanest we can be will ever be as lean as we’d like. This is a reality to be faced.

Then he goes on to state that there is no set level of carbs that one is able to consume and still be lean.  It is different for everyone.  Thank you!

Cons:

  • Oversimplification.  Weight loss just isn’t as simple as eating low carb.  It just isn’t.
  • Still not convinced on the calories don’t count.  I do think the quality of the quantity of calories matter.  My opinion is the efficiency of how the body uses the calories consumed can really determine how much we can eat and not gain weight.  However, there just is a max amount before you gain weight. At that point, it doesn’t matter which macronutrient it is.  I don’t think Mr. Taubes understands how much a person who overeats can really overeat.  I would assume he never consumed an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s with a bag of Doritos as a chaser.  Or snarfed an entire 1 pound bag of peanut M&Ms.


In this house, we obey the laws of thermodynamics! ~ Homer Simpson

  • There is also the issue of exercise.  He says it only serves to make us hungry and does not make or keep us thin.  He says there are other benefits to exercise.  Okay.  Mr. Taubes obviously has never had a serious weight problem.  I totally agree that one does not need exercise to lose weight.  There are plenty of stories out there of people who either cannot or will not exercise and are still able to take off weight (and some keep it off).  I do think, however, that exercise is key in helping keep off the weight once lost.  Particularly if you have lost a lot as your metabolism is not what it once was if you lost a lot of weight.  It’s not the sole thing, though.  You know that saying that you can’t out train a bad diet.
  • He contradicts himself as well talking about how calories in/calories out doesn’t work, and then goes on to say how each body is different in how it metabolizes food.  So which is it??
  • There is also a lot of comparisons to wild animals and how they don’t get obese.  This just doesn’t work for me.  If you want to compare humans and food to wild animals, why not compare our diets to chimpanzees (as our closest genetic relative)? In the wild – they are omnivores with the majority of their diets from carbs and they don’t get obese.  Wonder why?  They should be according to Taubes because not only do they eat a lot of carbs, they eat fructose!  (Lori’s note – it’s the processed foods, people! Don’t be afraid of fruit)

I tried really hard to just review this book on its own and not get into the aspects it covers so much (low carb, no carb, vegan, athletic performance).  There certainly could be a whole slew of opinions from me on this stuff.  I am a little concerned that Mr. Taubes is so enamored of his own theories that he is becoming blind to things that might be counter to his opinions.  I hope that is not the case.

So, there is a meandering review in several nutshells for you.

Overall, though, I would say there are enough interesting points that WWGF is worth a read.  Particularly in understanding what food/insulin does once it enters the body.  It is a fairly quick read, too, which I think was the whole point in him publishing this.

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19 thoughts on “Gary Taubes “Why We Get Fat”

  1. Marisa @ Loser for Life

    Fantastic review, Lori! I have heard of Taubes and his books, but haven’t gotten around to reading them. Honestly, I’m a little burnt out on diet/weight loss/health books. It seems like each book contradicts another. Instead of educating the public, I think it tends to make us more confused. Or at least it does me!

    Thank you for breaking down the book and giving your thoughts!

  2. debby

    Excellent review, Lori. You pointed out some of the same faults in his writing that I had heard from a couple of other places. So many people seem to get stuck on their THEORY being the only cause and/or solution for obesity. Its really driving me nuts lately.

    Love your description of what/how our ancestors ate. Every time I read about paleo diet, I think, I have to do a biblical study on what people ate in there, Didn’t God create grain because it might be good for us? Ditto on your ‘processed food’ comment. Oh, I could go on and on. I’ll just say, we think alike!
    debby´s last blog post ..Sometimes My Life is not ALL about the Food

  3. Amy in Belgium

    Thanks for this excellent review, Lori. It confirms for me that I won’t be reading the book, because it sounds like he would make me mad! I agree with you on the points you make, especially about not being afraid of fruit, about exercise being absolutely necessary for weight maintenance (if I didn’t do the exercise I currently do, I’d be much heavier right now), and about carbs not being evil.
    I do think it’s true that we just might never be able to get as lean as we would like, but part of that is the way we are warped by the prevailing culture to want to be perhaps too thin for our body shapes. We all need to find a happy, healthy weight for ourselves, and the way to get there will be different for everyone.
    And good point about the paleo diet! When I hear people talking about eating like our ancestors, I always think that if they think eating like our ancestors is the solution, what about making other lifestyle changes to be like our ancestors – like wearing skins, living in caves, and not brushing our teeth?
    Amy in Belgium´s last blog post ..New World Record

  4. Darlene@Connecticut Weight Loss Surgery

    well, in the first place, we should not be compared to our ancestors, since we don’t have proofs on their stomach situations, I bet they had stomach issues with their “diet”.
    Secondly, exercise is a way of keeping yourself on track, staying motivated and consuming calories…so, yes, I believe it to be a way of losing weight, directly or not, depending on each person’s metabolism.
    So, I like the way you presented the book, too, but I like reading about things that I didn’t know or that don’t interfere with what it is so logical, so I don’t think I’ll be reading this book.

  5. Kim

    I had been thinking of downloading this book to read. I heard Gary Taubes interviewed on the podcast “Healthy Mind – Fit Body”. I can appreciate people being so incredibly passionate about their lifestyle, and am sometimes tempted to jump on the bandwagon, but then I think of what works for me and what I can sustain for a lifetime. All things in moderation will continue to be the mantra. Thanks for the review, I think I will check it out. Kim

  6. Fran

    Hmm I don’t think I would like this book.

    He also forgets that our ancestors moved a lot more than we do nowadays and needed more food back then than we do now.

  7. Amber

    Interesting review – I wish I could get into weight loss books. It’s not that I don’t love books about food, but something about a doctor telling me what I should or shouldn’t be eating just doesn’t do it for me.

    I’m kind of an anthropology nerd and have taken a couple of classes on medical anthropology and in one of them we discussed the evolution of disease and nutrition. I DO think it’s important to learn about what our ancestors ate and how they got their food because it really does show how certian diseases occur more often in certian cultures or ethnicities.

    I’m not quite sure what the book exactly said but to me any diet that focuses on one item (high protein, high fiber, low carb, high raw foods, high twinkies?!) really just isn’t the way to go. Our ancestors may have eaten a lot of protein one day, but that might’ve been all the protein they had for a month! So that means they probably had a fairly good variety of foods, just kind of lump summed into a day.

  8. Kelly

    You should post that review on amazon if you haven’t already. Great review. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read it or not. Might wait until my library gets it. 🙂

    I have a book that discusses insulin and how the body processes it in The Insulin Resistance Diet which is basically combining carbs with protein. That’s a *very* simplistic summary but I’ve had more than one doctor recommend it. It has certainly worked for my mom who has lost 41 pounds in 3 months!

    Thanks again for the review. I especially enjoyed reading your opinions on the various points.
    Kelly´s last blog post ..Trying New Things

  9. Beth Lamb

    Thank you for this review! I, too, had a hard time reading Good Calories, Bad Calories. But now I’m going to pick up this book, which sounds like it will be the Cliff Notes version. Can’t wait to read it!

  10. Sharon

    Absolutely nothing more I can add to your review and the comments except to say thank you for taking the time to post such a comprehensive review. Your entire story, successes and honesty make me so respectful of your opinions and I value them highly. I may read the book later on, but right now, I’ve heard enough!!
    Sharon´s last blog post ..Frightening Friday

  11. Jody - Fit at 53

    Great review Lori! Lots of interesting points you made in why your did & did not like it. I may have to check it out at the local bookstore & see if I want to read it….

    I like how you talked about calories & especially exercise. All studies or most point to the fat that the people that lose & MAINTAIN weight loss are those that change their lifestyle completely meaning food & exercise. And honestly, I would not look like I do at 53, meaning holding on to good bone & muscle without exercise.

  12. Helen

    Weight loss is not as simple as we think – you can’t narrow it down to no carb, low carb, no fat, low fat, etc., etc. It’s just not that simple, though we’d like it to be.

    I say good for you on power through this book as lots of times when things start irritating me, I put the book down and never pick it up again 🙂

  13. Ang

    Good review! I would probably read the book but I feel like I would have the same reservations as you. Also I agree that the ancestors argument wears me out. Even given my gluten issues I have a hard time saying that no one can digest it, especially when I see so many people around me who are perfectly healthy and feel great on gluten and grain filled diets.
    Ang´s last blog post ..Valentine Goodies

  14. cammy@tippytoediet

    Thanks for the excellent review, Lori! I’ve pretty much quit reading all the “guru” stuff. It’s all so commercial and a lot of it (not necessarily this author) is based on junk science.

    I’ll just keep doing my “moderate and mindful” approach to everything. 🙂
    cammy@tippytoediet´s last blog post ..Frugal Friday

  15. Jane

    Agreeing with those of you who are rather “burned out” on the guru stuff. I got rid of a lot of my books a few months ago, and posted about it. As for the Paleo diet, I always ask myself this: If the diet of that era was so healthy, why was the lifespan so short. They also got plenty of exercise. Yes, I realize that there were other issues that led to early deaths, but it seems that if the diet were so “human friendly,” they would have been around a bit longer.
    Jane´s last blog post ..Staying the Course -The Importance of Consistency

  16. DebraSY

    Good review, Lori. Much better than my feeble attempt. I just lost my cool reading the book. I like to think that calling someone a “nincompoop” is not normally my style. Oh, and your review reminds me, I awarded him a doctorate he hadn’t earned. He is MR. Taubes, a science journalist. Need to go back and correct.

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