Character vs. Chemistry, Part Three

      84 Comments on Character vs. Chemistry, Part Three

Well, it’s almost February … so how are you doing on those New Year’s resolutions?

In my first post of the year, I wrote that most weight-loss resolutions fail because we keep making plans that require a change in character, when the actual problem is rooted in chemistry.  I just need to have the discipline to stop eating even if I’m hungry, we tell ourselves.  I just to get off my butt and spend more time at the gym.

Just eat less and move more.  It must work, because that’s the advice doled out by nutritionists, doctors and personal trainers who’ve never been fat.

I can certainly understand why people who’ve never been fat or who lose body-fat easily like to believe getting lean is a matter of character.  After all, that belief is quite flattering to them.  It means their waistlines are a tribute to their superior discipline.

When I was in my 30s, I spent a lot of time hanging out with a buddy of mine – a naturally-lean jock type —  who was about my age and also single.  I remember mentioning to him (once … and only once) that I was frustrated with my efforts to lose weight.  He did his best to muster a sympathetic tone and replied, “Well, I guess at some point you’ll have to learn to push yourself away from the table a little sooner.”

I didn’t bother pointing out that during our many outings together, he matched me burrito for burrito and beer for beer.  I also knew for a fact that I hit the gym and worked out more often than he did.  He joined me for a workout once and later admitted he was surprised that I was quite a bit stronger than he was.  He had probably assumed my big belly and boy-boobs were proof I was lazy in the gym.

People like my naturally-lean friend (as well as millions of frustrated dieters) believe in simple calorie math:  your adipose tissue is a like a savings account for stored energy, so all you have to do to lose weight is make regular withdrawals.  By gosh, just cut 500 calories per day from your diet, and you’ll drain your fat cells of 500 calories in stored energy – one seventh of a pound of fat.  Keep it up for a week, and you’ll lose a pound.  Nothing to it.  You just need the discipline to cut those 500 calories per day.

And guess what?  For people like my naturally-lean friend, it kind of works that way.  In a recent post, I recounted a study in which researchers divided the subjects into three groups:  naturally lean, fat but with a demonstrated ability to lose weight by eating less, and the “resistant obese” who had failed to lose weight even while being monitored in a hospital.  All three groups underwent a 24-hour fast, and researchers measured the concentration of fatty acids in their bloodstreams at several intervals.

The “resistant obese” experienced almost no rise at all in their levels of serum fatty acids – in other words, their  bodies didn’t make up for the lack of food by significantly increasing the flow of fat from their fat cells.  The fat people who’d demonstrated that they could lose weight by dieting did experience a rise in serum fatty acids – not dramatic, but significant.  But the naturally lean subjects experienced a dramatic spike in serum fatty acids while fasting.  They were, like the savings-account model of obesity suggests, making automatic withdrawals from their adipose tissue to offset the lack of food.

My naturally-lean friend did, in fact, once drop 10 pounds rather quickly just by restricting his calories.  He wasn’t fat at all, mind you, but he’d started dating an athletic woman and wanted to get cut to look good for her.  So he ate less and – BINGO – he shed body-fat.  That ability to easily tap stored fatty acids for fuel was, of course, the reason he was naturally lean in the first place.  Unlike me at the time, he wasn’t hormonally geared to store fat and keep it stored.   His body was happy to tap the savings account.  But I’m sure to him, the quick weight loss was proof that eating less is all there is to it.  Nothing required but a little discipline.

To his credit, he didn’t hold himself up as a weight-loss expert or preach to me about eating less and exercising more.  (And if my description of him makes him sound like a shallow human being, trust me, he isn’t.)  But plenty of people like him do consider themselves experts – after all, they’re thin, so they must know what makes a person thin.  I refer to them as people who were born on the metabolic finish line and think they won a race.  Not only that, they consider themselves experts in how to train for and win the race.

These are the people who make idiotic arguments such as, “Of course it’s just a matter of eating less.  No fat people were freed from the Nazi concentrations camps!”  The slightly-less-idiotic version of that argument is to point out that if we lock people in metabolic wards and only let them eat 1,000 calories per day, they lose weight — so it’s clearly just a matter of cutting calories, ya see.

First off, as the researchers noted in that same study I reference above, some people do, in fact, stay fat on very few calories – so few calories that one researcher labeled them “thermodynamic paradoxes.”  Eating less isn’t really an option for them.

Secondly, what happens to people in concentration camps or metabolic wards isn’t relevant to frustrated dieters, because the frustrated dieters don’t live in locked-down environments where other people get to decide they can’t eat more even if they’re ravenously hungry.  Human beings aren’t supposed to endure hunger for weeks on end.  That’s why you have to lock them down to force them to live on starvation rations.  They might lose weight, but they’ll be miserable the whole time.   (Just ask Ancel Keys.  During his WWII-era starvation experiment, most of his subjects became depressed and a couple of them showed symptoms of psychosis.)

As an analogy, I could put a bunch of alcoholics in prison, limit them to two drinks per day, take blood samples to demonstrate that they were legally sober the whole time they were confined, and then declare that I’d proved the key to overcoming alcoholism is to JUST DRINK LESS.  Show some character.  Apply some self-discipline.  Have a couple of beers and then stop, already.  That’s all there is to it.

Almost nobody would expect that advice to work.  Most people grasp that when alcoholics get drunk even after promising themselves and anyone who will listen that they won’t, they’re giving in to powerful biochemical urges that normal drinkers don’t experience.  Most people grasp that the only way an alcoholic could become a normal drinker would be to somehow make those biochemical urges go away — not to overpower them with willpower and character.

But that’s what most conventional weight-loss advice is telling fat people to do – overpower a relentless biochemical drive with discipline and willpower.   That’s what we promise ourselves we’ll do when we make those New Year’s resolutions, and that’s why the resolutions fail.

Fixing our character doesn’t work, but fixing our chemistry can.  More on that later.



84 thoughts on “Character vs. Chemistry, Part Three

  1. Jill

    ANYONE who invokes the Nazi concentration camps when discussing weight-loss
    – and there have been a few – needs a good smack around the head.

    That’s on my bucket list. Someone mentions all the skinny people coming out of Nazi concentration camps … WHAM! A punch to the nose.

    1. Craig

      I’ve also heard that analogy before and it infuriates me. Back when i was in high school we had a camp survivor speak at our school. He talked about guards setting horse meat out to rot on the other side of fences from the prisoners before making stew with it to feed to them. He managed to escape and survive off chickens he would steal from farms while living in the woods. He couldn’t stand the taste of chicken anymore because he had to eat them raw. For the people in the camps hunger was being used as a form of torture. A person hungry enough to eat rancid horse meat or a whole raw chicken isn’t going to use willpower to avoid the vending machine at their work office.


    2. Lori Miller

      I once heard a speech by a woman who was a German girl during WWII. In the aftermath, she and her brother were alone and homeless. They’d been told that American soldiers were a bunch of rapists, but they were so hungry they entered an American camp anyway in hopes of getting something to eat. (Of course, they weren’t raped, the GIs gave them food and water.) In Leningrad, what some people did for food was far worse.

      Yes, WWII experiences show that starving people lose weight, but they also illustrate the power of hunger.


  2. Paul

    My annoying, marathon running, naturally thin sister-in-law actually made the concentration camp argument at Christmas dinner. I honestly thought she was the only one dumb enough to make that argument…. Guess I was wrong.

    You are dead on right that naturally thin people think they have superior character because they are thin. This has annoyed me for 20+ years. It also allows food companies to sell metabolic poison and blame any consequences on their customers.

    Ask her how many healthy people were freed from concentration camps.

    1. Jake

      I agree that the concentration camp analogy is stupid, but did you really use “marathon running” and “naturally thin” to describe the same person? You really don’t see ANY relationship?

      While doing research for Fat Head, I watched an interview with a guy who has run several marathons without losing any weight. Runners tend to be thin because thin people are more likely to succeed at running. Running marathons doesn’t make you naturally thin any more than playing basketball makes you naturally tall.

      1. Jake

        Are you saying that the interviewee switched from a sedenatary lifestyle to a weekly runner without any effect on their weight or any change in their diet?

        Your analogy is not applciable. I’ve never even heard of anyone who has been able to increase their height naturally. However, I do know people that have gained or lost weight through changes in diet and or exercise.

        Some people are also smarter than others, and part of this is genetic. Still, even adults can gain intelligence (not just knowledge) through education.

        The interviewee was, by his doctor’s estimate, 100 pounds overweight. He did triathalons. He ran marathons. He was strong and fit and had tremendous endurance. But he never shed body fat despite all the exercise. I’ve heard from plenty of readers who ran marathons and lost little or no weight. I was a regular jogger in my 30s, and I didn’t lose weight. I bought a treadmill and walked briskly for an hour at least four nights per week. I didn’t lose weight as a result. The clinical research is actually pretty clear on the issue. Exercise is good for health, but does little for weight loss.

        1. Jake

          100 pounds overweight meaning by BMI or 100 lbs of extra fat? The guy would have to be well over 300 pounds to have that much fat. I’d be very surprised if it was the latter, but I have no reason to think you are lying either way.

          The segment in the video didn’t specify, but he did have a pretty big gut on him. Lots of muscle, lots of fat, like you’d expect to see on a lineman.

        2. NM

          Go to the start line of your local marathon or half-marathon. You may be surprised to see the number of podgy people in the lineup. There’s a particular marathon-runner’s “skinny fat” look, which you’ll notice immediately. There are also, of course, those who are as thin as a rake, but that’s not too surprising: there’s a reason they run and don’t play rugby, say! But the rank and file’s cortisol-enhanced, insulin-troubled chub might surprise you.

          As a case in point, compare the below left-hand image of Fat-Burning-Man Abel James (when he was a successul marathon runner) with the right-hand image (when he had stopped both running marathons and ingesting the crap that marathon runners are encouraged to eat):

          Indeed, unhealthy carb-glutting and a reliance on hideous sugary gels is an increasingly discussed problem for marathoners. Thank heavens for visionaries like Professor Tim Noakes, who are shepherding athletes to ketogenic success, are finally turning this damaging nonsense on its head!

      2. Lori Miller

        In my late 30s and early 40s, I worked out hard six days a week and gained 20 pounds. My best friend was similar–she was a gym rat and did triathlons, but struggled with her weight.

        A few years ago when I was injured in a bike accident, I ate like a teenage boy, sat around, and got down to what I weighed in junior high. (I was low carb by that time.)

        1. NM

          Snap. I had an appendectomy, and so had to stop my daily running and weekly gym-going for two months. I lost weight – including fat weight – during that sedentary recuperation.

          1. Galina L.

            I had similar experience recovering from a foot surgery (due to overexercising). I also think that sleeping more because I couldn’t do exercise in the morning was helping with weight loss.

            Yup, that could figure in. Lack of good sleep raises cortisol, which makes losing weight more difficult.

      3. Paul

        Jake – In her case there is no relationship. She was thin before her 3 marathons and she was thin after. She was thin as a child, teenager and adult.

        All the running didn’t make her thin, but being thin made her more likely to take up running.

        Just like being tall makes you more likely to take up basketball.

        1. Walter Bushell

          If you tall enough, you will be pushed into basketball.

          Ah, reminds me of the story of the high school boy approached by the basketball coach. The boy demurs saying that he is clumsy and has never played basketball. The coach, replies of course, “I can teach you how to play basketball, but I can’t teach anyone to be 7 feet tall.”

          A little further talk about how the boys on the team are popular with girls and the deal is done.

      4. Paul B.

        To add to Tom’s response, I have a personal story of a fat marathon runner. A friend of mine was going to get kicked out of the Army due to his weight. He was desperate for any help.

        Now, when I say marathon runner, I don’t mean that he had a sticker on the back of his car because he ran one once. This man would run a marathon about every two weeks. Sometimes he would run them on consecutive weekends, but he was fat. At the age of 50, he’d been doing running marathons for decades, but he was fat.

        I was glad to help him, and because he couldn’t understand what more he could do to lose weight, he acquiesed to my “crazy” plan. I told him to watch Fat Head, and I gave him a copy of Wheatbelly. He had two months to make the change, and he watched/read immediately. I would talk to him daily, and had to correct his thought process the first week; the concept of what is healthful is wrongly seared into our minds.

        Well, good news. In two months he looked like a completely different person, got down to an acceptable weight, and was able to continue serving in the Army.

        Not that I’d want to, but you couldn’t keep him quiet about HFLC. This was a man who was doing everything “right,” but could never see the fruits of his labor.

      5. Jean Bush

        A few years ago I watched a documentary on being “Fit & Fat,” which showcased a guy who ran and ran and ran but was still heavy, although not obese. They concluded that as long as your numbers are good, you can be heavy as long as you stay active, whatever that means.

        The main thing that disappointed me was they never examined this man’s diet to show exactly what and how he was eating on a daily basis. Nor did they examine the fact that exercise makes you hungry so you eat more, thereby keeping your body in stasis, as Gary Taub’s research shows.

  3. John

    Very thoughtful as always,Tom. I sometimes ask the doubters why fat people are ever hungry. With so many stored calories to withdraw from, they should be the last person in the room to experience physical hunger. Fat people are living proof of bodies that withhold energy. I’ve yet to get through to anyone with this line of thinking but maybe some day.

    So I agree it’s not a problem of character, but I have recently fallen off the low carb wagon. I’ve certainly made New Years-style resolutions calling for disciplined behavior but am having trouble. Can a low carber be “blamed” when not following their own advice and “giving in” to a starch-filled world?

    That’s where character comes into play: once you know which foods wreck your chemistry, you have to choose to avoid them. But you can also alter your chemistry a bit to make that choice easier. Pick up a copy of “The Diet Cure” by Julia Ross. She explains how to use various amino acid supplements to reduce the carb cravings.

    1. Tomáš Bleša

      “That’s where character comes into play: once you know which foods wreck your chemistry, you have to choose to avoid them….”

      Diagree! Our chemistry isn’t altered only by eating something, but also by seeing something, by smelling something and by thinking about something. I failed eating low-carb a week ago. I experienced low back pain attack, had really bad mood and felt I really need that pizza.

    2. Pat

      I have also had cravings for sweets, even after being on a low carb diet for years. A friend recommended chromium picolinate, and I find it helps enormously – to the point that I have lost 9 pounds since January 1. I did have to totally cut out alcohol as well to achieve that – my 4 or so glasses of wine/sherry a week are down to 0.

      1. CNC

        Pat, I lost 30 lbs, 195 to 165 lbs on a HFLC diet while still drinking alcohol but stayed with red wine and spirits with zero carb mixers. I slows down weight loss but it still worked for me. Sherry, white wines or any sweet wines have a lots of carbs so may be the problem. Of course no alcohol is best but is a vice I do not wish to give up.

        As to cravings I have maintained my weight loss for over 3 years with some craving. When I have them I will eat pizza but just eat the toppings and not the crust. I make a rootbeer float with homemade whipped cream with splenda and diet root beer. New york cheesecake made with Splenda too. But this is maybe only once a month, best to avoid if you can I assume.

        It is mostly chemistry though I believe.

    3. John

      I was worried you’d say that it still boils down to character, but I’m not contesting it, just disappointed. I’ll check out the book, though I see that the author seems to have a fear of “rich, fatty foods” based on early sections of the book, at least, which tells me some of her dietary advice is stuck in the eighties, which in turn will make skeptical of her scientific claims… but I’ll give it a shot.

      1. Amberly

        I just started using Julia Ross’s supplement suggestions 2-3 weeks ago after listening to some old interviews done by Jimmy Moore. I am amazed at how much the supplements have been helping (I’m using a lot of them … I think I needed help in about 4 of her 8 areas.) I agree with Tom that there is some willpower that will always be needed. Our memories/emotions/habits etc are so wound up around food that we need to change them. But there is a huge difference between “I really WANT that donut” and “MUST HAVE DONUT AND BAG OF COOKIES WITH BIG GULP NOW.” The supplements flipped that switch almost immediately for me. It is such a relief to be able to walk through the grocery store and not really care about all the carbage that is for sale.

        And John, I agree with you about her diet advice. I just use her supplement suggestions and follow typical LCHF diet advice a la Andreas Einfeldt (, Eric Westman, or Jimmy Moore.

    4. NM

      The problem is that the starch and sugar is giving off signals of friendly companionship, of homely comfort. You have to re-imagine them all as nice-tasting rat-poison. As tricksters. I find this takes away the appeal!

  4. Linda G.

    Tom, I am amazed at how insightful you are, and how well you can articulate these ideas in a simple matter – you’ve renewed my faith in how humans don’t just fail to diet, their chemistry often fails them, and each of us must learn how to adjust and manage our own chemistry, and not just “follow a diet”. Your analogy to alcoholics is spot on. I see people at AA meetings, piling the sugar into their coffees.

    Many people do have willpower to restrict calories, or they wouldn’t be trying the grapefruit diet, the cabbage diet, and so on. It has to be more complicated than that. Thanks for your continued thoughts on the “New Year’s Resolution” method of trying to lose weight and become healthier. I loved all three articles, bookmarked and printed out for inspiration!

    Lots of strong-willed people have tried those diets and given up … not because they lack discipline, but because the diets don’t produce good results. Too much sacrifice for too little reward.

    1. Firebird7478

      “I see people at AA meetings, piling the sugar into their coffees.”

      A friend of mine is a recovering alcoholic and meth addict. He’s been clean and sober for two years and has started a successful pest control company from scratch. In that time he has gained close to 40 lbs. He’s 6’1″ and has to be 250 lbs. When I met him 12 years ago he was 155.

      He traded one addiction for another…food, and it’s in the form of cheese steaks and processed foods.

      Yup, he’s finding other ways to make his brain happy.

  5. Tanny O'Haley

    Doesn’t fixing our chemistry require discipline? In times of deep stress I have a strong desire for candy and like the alchoholic who can’t just have one drink, once I’ve had one piece of candy I have an insatiable desire for more. It seems to me that no matter how your chemistry works, it still requires discipline to loose weight.

    The person who can lose weight by eating less and exercising has to discipline themselves to eat less and exercise. The person who can only loose weight by changing what they eat has to discipline themselves to eat the “right” foods. Both cases require discipline and when you “fall”, how do you deal with the guilt that you just aren’t disciplined enough?

    Agreed, and that’s a topic I’ll get into in my next post. Once you understand the chemistry, that’s where character comes in — you have to make choices. But without understanding the chemistry, all that discipline goes to waste.

    1. Dave

      I prefer to think of it this way… Chemistry doesn’t make us robots. Character is more than just ‘discipline’ and the dogged determination to deprive oneself of perceived pleasures that ‘must be bad for you.’ Chemistry explains why our bodies and minds work. That’s all. Character, in my estimation is better expressed by a willingness to learn, an ability to admit mistakes, a knowledge of one’s limitations, and critical thinking skills. I could go on and on about ‘character,’ but hopefully what I’ve written sums up the fact that it is a positive, productive state of mind. Think of the mind as a garden. If you don’t want ‘guilt’ to grow there, improve the ‘soil.’

      I like your explanation.

  6. Thomas Dill

    Your friend can eat all he wants and not get fat but is there anyone who can drink all they want and not get drunk?

    Yes, because “all they want” may be a couple of drinks. Normal drinkers hit a point where they don’t want another drink long before becoming drunk. They’re like lean people whose appetites are satisfied long before they eat enough to gain weight.

    The KGB apparently developed a drug that allowed their agents to drink massive amounts of alcohol while remaining sober — but they still had to endure the hangover.

  7. CeeBee

    I had The Diet Cure, by Julia Ross, on my Kindle for months before I actually got around to reading it. After I finally read it, I started taking some of the amino acids she recommends and I ordered her other book, The Mood Cure, as well. It has been a big help, especially the L-glutamine for the carb cravings.

    That’s what I like about her books. She recognizes that addictions — to sweets, cocaine, white flour, etc. — are about brain chemistry, so that’s what she addresses.

  8. Weezy

    I agree with you completely, Tom…. I love the Diet Cure and used her advice to get me kickstarted on kicking the cravings.

    But there may be even more to the chemistry issues than we realize. I successfully lost about 100 lbs. over 18 months and have kept it off for over a year now. It was hard to lose as I seem to be metabolically broken on many many levels. I did it doing first low carb, then ketogenic.

    But after a year or so on a ketogenic diet, my bread cravings came roaring back with a vengeance (I’m a lifelong bread and sweets addict). I was really struggling to maintain low carb, much less ketogenic. I wasn’t continuing to feel better and it felt like I was feeling worse. I really need to be closer to keto because that controls my T2 completely. Unfortunately, I’ve had decades-long chronic fatigue and I’m one of those people whose energy improved oh-so-slightly going low carb, but I never experienced that great leap of energy and well being so many talk about.

    So I did the 23andMe DNA tests and started exploring. There’s a little site called Genetic Genie (and there are many others too) where you can run your 23andMe results through to explore your methylation pathway (B12) issues. Turns out I’m REALLY REALLY broken when it comes to utilizing any of the B vitamins and various amino acids and I have so many broken pairs that have obviously expressed themselves negatively (just because they’re broken doesn’t mean they’ll express negatively–but mine certainly are).

    To make an even longer story long, I’m now on several different amino acids and vitamins/supplements for methylation issues. It’s been three weeks now and I’m sooooo cautiously hopeful.

    I know I don’t have a weak character when it comes to weight loss…I’m so good at denying myself food that I became borderline anorectic and ill in my teens/early 20s. Then later I discovered that I would maintain my weight on 650 calories a day and no one believed me. Even now I only eat about 1000 calories a day, but at least it’s because I’m not hungry and not because I’m depriving myself.

    There’s so much more to this puzzle than we know; I’m SO tired of people telling me it’s only a matter of eating less and moving more….were it truly that simple I would have been model thin my entire adult life!

    I had a good friend in high school whose sister was obese. She once complained that she was eating smaller and smaller meals without losing weight. We assumed she was lying. (In our defense, we were stupid teenagers.) Now I believe her. As you stated, there’s way more to this than we’ve identified.

    1. Kathy from Maine

      Weezy, i didn’t do 23andMe, but I did do a whole series of tests called NutrEval. Like you, I found i was not metabolizing B vitamins virtually at all, nor was I absorbing the amino acids from the protein I was eating. In fact, the commentary repeated the phrase “protein malnutrition” over and over again.

      I need to supplement with B vitamins, but only in their active forms because I apparently can’t convert the commonly used forms. I was also told to add two protein shakes to what I’m already eating … and I typically eat 100 or more grams of protein daily. I also have to take digestive enzymes at every meal. I’m so glad I never fell for those “experts” who say you only need around 50 grams of protein daily. I feel like crap now … how might i have felt if I had been eating only half the amount of protein? I shudder at the thought.

      So, are my challenges with losing weight caused by the fact that my body has not been getting virtually any of the nutrients from the food I have been eating, and instead it’s been simply shuttling it off to be stored as fat? That would certainly explain my inability to lose weight while consistently eating from 1200 to 1500 calories (all very low carb) day in and day out.

  9. Bret

    “Just eat less and move more. It must work, because that’s the advice doled out by nutritionists, doctors and personal trainers who’ve never been fat.”

    Reminds me of an excellent interview Jimmy Moore conducted of Dr. Doug McGuff, who said the omnipresence of these incorrect beliefs is “a matter of social contagion. It gets said enough times and gets into the public consciousness, and repeated enough times in the mass media that it’s just taken as a forgone conclusion that that’s the way that it should be.”

    On a separate note, I love the researcher’s brilliant “thermodynamic paradoxes” explanation. If there was ever an example of establishment hypocrisy, that line takes the cake. Because, a key tenet of the committed calorie counting religion, exemplified by the arrogant lecture Jillian Michaels gave Gary Taubes on national TV a few years back, is that the laws of thermodynamics are set in stone. Those laws prove that external manipulation of caloric equilibrium is the only way to lose weight, and there’s no two ways about it.

    I guess the only exception to that tenet is when those researchers see evidence that contradicts their beliefs. Then it’s a paradox.

    I once asked Gary why he didn’t remind Jillian Michaels that she’s a personal trainer and he’s a guy with a degree in physics from Harvard, so he probably understands the laws of thermodynamics better than she does. He said he was in something like a state of shock. He couldn’t believe she was lecturing him about physics.

    1. Firebird7478

      Before she was a “personal trainer”, Jillian Michaels was a model whose agent told her about “this TV show about weight loss” and should get certified as a personal trainer. That’s painfully easy to do. I’m being told on a regular basis by the management at the gym I train because of my proficiency with kettlebells. And, to that end, I never took up weightlifting to lose weight or be a competitive bodybuilder. I hurt my back when I was 11 and took up training when I was 14 to strengthen it. The rest fell into place and I haven’t stopped in 35 years. (And boy are my arms tired).

    2. emi11n

      Jillian Michaels has also stated that when contestants are driven to exercise until they vomit that they are ‘eliminating toxins from the body’, and that’s why they vomit. Yeah, right!

      Good grief. Guess I’ll go chug some bourbon so I can throw up and eliminate some toxins.

  10. Angel

    This is what I like about the Paleo diet (and autoimmune diets, GAP diet, etc) – they recognize that some foods cause inflammation (and other health issues usually related to the inflammation) and weight problems, independent of the number of calories consumed. Low carb helped me lose some weight, but several months ago when I cut out dairy, I dropped ten pounds in 3 months time while eating the same or more calories, and leading a very sedentary lifestyle. (I had already cut out several other foods, like grains, legumes, nightshades, and egg whites, which helped with some gut/digestive issues but didn’t lead to significant weight loss.)

    I’ve since started exercising, and for the first time EVER, I enjoy the exercise, I feel great afterwards, and I’m gaining strength and endurance. None of that happened during any of my previous attempts at exercising (and I’m a military veteran!). I realize now that I was NOT a lazy slob, I was in really poor health and the exercise was just making things worse.

    Yup, it’s difficult to exercise when you feel lethargic.

  11. Josh

    I have a co-worker who is skinny as rails. Two years ago, he was diagnosed with diabetes. It was pretty advanced, too. After he was diagnosed, he cleaned out his refrigerator and freezer, and gave his supply of Haagen Daaz ice cream to another co-worker. She was overweight, and her daughter was still living with her at the time. Several months after this happened, all three of us were in the break room having lunch. The overweight co-worker had mentioned that she and her daughter had finally finished all of his ice cream. The diabetic co-worker was surprised, because to him that was a week’s supply (he lives by himself, so he was not sharing it). Now I don’t know how much ice cream was involved in this, but I figured that if it took three months for two people to go through it, it probably was a lot. I had said to the diabetic coworker, you must have really liked your ice cream. He responded by saying that since he was never getting fat, he must not have been eating too much.

    Of course, most people would think that my overweight co-worker eats too much and is lazy, and that my co-worker who is diabetic, is healthier because obviously knows when to push away from the table.

    As Dr. Mary Dan Eades told me, skinny diabetics can be some of the most stubborn patients when it comes to convincing them to change their diets. Many think if they’re not fat, they must be okay.

  12. Galina L.

    It takes discipline to be even on a diet which keeps you from being insanely hungry. Actually, I think that years of trying to diet conventional way which was semi-successful (sort of worked, but less and less till at 45 yo I couldn’t stop the creeping weight gain) helped me to develop the discipline part.
    Many naturally thin people start to loose that quality with age, and it catches them totally unprepared.

  13. Green

    Putting aside for a moment how patently offensive it is to point to genocide victims, when trying to prove some specious claim about gluttony, the example doesn’t even prove the point. In all likelihood, the only people who could survive hard forced labor on extremely limited rations were those who could maintain some body mass on very limited calories. The so-called naturally thin likely could not survive working at hard labor for long hours while subsisting on minimal calories.

    And, that points to our human survival mechanism. Early man had to engage in physical labor, without a reliable source of food. Those who were genetically “gifted” with a thrifty metabolism stood a much greater chance of survival during winter and other times of famine than those who were “naturally skinny.” It is only when food is readily and constantly available that those with the thrifty metabolism get and remain fat, while the naturally thin survive to reproduce and fat shame everyone who has a different metabolism.

    1. MATPER

      Green: I think most of the metabolic disorders (inability to mobilise fat from adispouse tissue is not a “genetic gift” or a “survival mechanism”) in modern society are diet related, not caused by genetics. The obesity “epidemic” is only minimally influenced by genetics. Most of these people are born “naturally skinny” (metabolically healthy) and then damage their metabolism through diet and lack of exercise. Early man didn’t have these diseases. They are a modern phenomenom. Pretty much everyone was “naturally skinny” before agriculture, sedentary lifestyles, fake man-made foods and so on. And btw a damaged metabolism may not be completely and utterly broken. You don’t have to remain fat. The whole low-carb movement is proof of that.

      Sori me not speak english so gud. 🙂

      1. Kristin

        Don’t think it is quite that simple. I recently read an article about researchers identifying for the first time a gene that when duplicated as it is in some people, causes the person to be chronically underweight despite calorie intake. In the article they also mentioned that several genes had already been identified that when damaged, duplicated or enabled resulted in the person being chronically overweight.

        I agree that modern food has created a landslide of metabolic disorders but just like it isn’t as simple as eat less and move more it also isn’t as simple as eat low carb and be skinny. I’m slimmer eating this way and in fact know that I must eat low carb to maintain a healthy weight. But I’m under no illusion that I can be skinny. I’ll be a size 12, not a size 6.

      2. Walter Bushell

        And then there is the American 25? pounds which Europeans get from coming to America to live. It’s not because our food is tastier.

        Oh, well European food is being Americanized and this phenomena will disappear in time.

  14. Lynda

    I made up my mind a few years ago to never go back to Weight Watchers… it made my character very, very bad 🙂 It made me binge on any item of food I could lay my hands on. My character is immensely better since going low carb/primal. Funny that.

    I know the feeling. I had lousy character when I tried the Fit For Life diet.

  15. Chris

    I suspect there is no research for this question, but any informed thoughts you have – do you think that the “resistant obese” were resistant prior to becoming obese? In other words, does the body play a nasty little trick by becoming resistant as a result of the effects of obesity – with the obesity itself resulting from some other cause eg diet or whatever (‘diet’ as in what a person eats, not as in to lose weight).

    I guess my questions are:

    1. what percentage of people are naturally resistant – presumably at the highest its less than the number of people who are obese (because otherwise we would always have had the same number of obese people as current); unless

    2. one of the effects of obesity, at least for some (many?) is that they become resistant. In which case, it needs to be emphasised that not becoming obese in the first place is a much ‘easier’ solution than becoming obese but assuming you can lose weight when you feel like you should.

    Finally, the concentration camp analogy is obviously ridiculous; but what about the ‘Biggest Loser’ analogy – that is, almost everyone on that show loses quite a bit of weight (even if only temporarily)? Does this not show that extreme behaviour can be effective, so far as the body is concerned (I am being careful here not to argue that Biggest Loser creates long term results, because I’m pretty sure most of the contestants have terrible diets if not psychological issues re food and that, unless properly treated over the long term, they will simply go back to their old ways).

    Purely a guess, but my guess is that the “resistant obese” have always been around and are victims of a genetic quirk. When I was in grade school in the 1960s, there weren’t nearly as many morbidly obese people walking around as now, but I did have one teacher (who I remember fondly as a very good teacher) who was just huge. I sincerely doubt she was happy to be that size and hadn’t made any efforts to lose weight. We’d also usually have a couple of kids in school who were very, very fat.

    “The Biggest Loser” is just the concentration camp environment at work. They’re starving and overworked. Yes, it’s extreme and therefore not sustainable. Many end up with wrecked metabolisms, and most of the contestants gain back the weight after their stint on the show is over.

    1. Walter Bushell

      RE: The extremely obese teacher:

      Probably the extreme obesity was due to many attempts to lose weight. Most of us here, I presume, tried many time on high carb starvation diets and found ourselves rebounding and trying again from a higher initial weight etcetera, ad nauseum and way beyond.

      Or trying weight watchers and going bonkers as happened to me. Fortunately I had enough residual sanity to relent.

    2. Chris

      Just to add to my own question, based on another article I co-incidentally read last night, what about the role of the ‘fat setpoint’ – that is, the amount of body fat we carry is regulated by the brain “We essentially have a fat mass “setpoint” that the brain defends through a number of mechanisms, such as increasing or decreasing hunger and metabolic rate” (quote is from the article linked below)

      I’m wondering whether the ‘fat resistance’ is actually part of, if not the same thing as, the fat set point? And changing that set point is hard, but can be done – just not through ‘traditional diets’.

      (article is here and scroll down to the bit headed “The amount of body fat we carry is regulated by the brain”. Indeed, the whole article is quite interesting).

      It’s a good read, thanks.

  16. Ulfric Douglas

    I was naturally thin and strong until the age of (? thinking) 44.
    Good home cooked food, sensible portions, a few crisps, some cider.
    Suddenly 215 pounds (for the yanks) and I had to get rid of the gut!
    If I’d known how easy it was going to be on bacon & eggs & roast pork joints with crackling I might have not bothered … no, really.
    I’m not, and never have been, keen on losing weight for the sake of it or aiming for an ideal body composition, but sticking to approx 186 pounds seems comfortable.
    There is no way, no WAY it’s calories in, calories out.

    If it were as simple as CICO, there wouldn’t be so many frustrated dieters in the world.

    1. Firebird7478

      Dr. Greg Ellis is/was a big proponent of CICO, but recently has veered into environmental pollutants and their impact on weight loss. Not sure I’m buying it.

    2. Roy

      Sure, CICO is in play, but the thing that’s overlooked is that a FAT calorie(9) seems to be more than 2.25 times as satiating as a CARB calorie(4). We eat less with less suffering on LCHF because FAT has more bang for the buck!

  17. Pierson

    This was a really good post, although this response is OT. Do you know if there’s ever been an economic catastrophe of any kind caused by consumers being overwhelmed by having too many choices? You seem quite well-read in economics, so I wanted to know if you knew of anything like this happening, or where to go to learn more.

    A catastrophe? Not that I can recall. I did once read that having too many choices tends to leave some consumers frustrated and less likely to make a decision. Those people seem to be happiest with their decisions when they were offered three choices.

  18. Jake

    Hi Tom,

    I really liked your film and it did get me thinking. I used believe the lipid theory (it did make some logical sense to someone without a medical background), but now I’m doubter.

    However, I’m still in the in the calorie balance camp. By that, I mean that I agree that a calorie isn’t a calorie, but I still beleive many calories you eat and how active you are still overide any genetics. You lost weight eating fat, but you also walked more than you did before the diet and you carefully controlled and monitored your caloric intake. If you had instead established a diet of 1700 calorie diet with a lot of carbs do you think you would have not lost weight?

    I very rarely eat until I’m full at home. I do at restaurants, but then I usually take leftovers home. Never order appetizers (i’m already hungry, what’s the point?) and very rarely order desert. I drink water at almost every meal. I eat lunch at restaturants almost daily, but rarely dinner.

    However, I don’t beleive this is because I have superior chracter: I just dont’ have the same “cravings”. Part of this is probably genetics (I’ve always been a picky eater) and part of it is probably this is what I’ve adapted to over the years. So I while I think that genetics may have an influence on how often and how much someone eats, I find it hard to believe there are overweight people running 4 times a week at 1500 calories diets or skinny people sitting on couch all day eating 3000 calories.

    I ddi look at the study you mentioend (from 1960), but I couldn’t draw any conclusions from it. It was a very small study for starters:
    2 “normal- weight” men (mass and age not specified),
    2 normal women,
    1 “thin” (actually underweight) 25-yo, 95lb women
    1 thin 12-yo (yes, *12*) 47 lb boy
    11+ obese males and females 17-53yo, 170-388 lbs

    Also, note that this study was only conducted for 24h period.

    More important, even the authors themselves had inconclusive results:
    “Under these conditions, a rising level (of non-esterified fatty acids in the blood stream) might be due to an accelerated rate of mobilization,
    a decreased rate of utilization, or both…. Thus it appears that obesity is characterized by an increased, rather than decreased rate of FAT utilization”

    So while the study could be showing that the obese participants are pulling the fat from their fat cell int othe bloodstream at a slower rate, it couls also be showing that they are burnignt he fat in the bloddstream at a higher rate.

    Here’s an analogy I find useful: If your sink is clogged and begins to overflow, is it because more water went in than drained out? Yes, of course. But if I showed up as a plumber, you asked me why your sink was clogged, and I told you that the problem was more water going in than coming out, you’d fire me. My answer in that case merely tells you what’s happening. It doesn’t tell you why it’s happening. Therefore, it’s not an explanation at all and doesn’t help solve the problem.

    Same goes for saying that people get fat because they take in too many calories. If people get fat, they are of course taking in more energy than they’re burning. But that statement of fact tells us nothing useful about why they’re taking in more energy than they’re burning. Or to borrow an analogy from Gary Taubes, when kids get taller, they are taking in more calories than they’re burning … but we wouldn’t say they’re getting taller because they’re eating more. We’d recognize that the growth is triggered by biochemistry and eating more is the response. And yes, you could starve a kid to stunt his growth, but he’d be miserable and unhealthy as a result.

    You don’t think there are skinny people eating 3,000 calories per day and not getting fat despite not exercising? I beg to differ. We’ve all met those people who eat like horses and never gain an ounce.

    Yes, if we horsewhipped people into running four times per week and living on 1500 calories per day, most of them would lose weight. That’s nothing more than the concentration-camp theory again, and it’s not helpful. They’d lose weight, and they’d also be completely miserable and ravenously hungry, just as concentration-camp prisoners were miserable and ravenously hungry. Telling people they must endure lifelong misery to be lean isn’t an answer.

    1. Jake

      Okay, try this analogy: if you basement flooded during a ordinary rainy day, you’d also fire the plumber who said the problem was more water going in than coming out. Both cases, too much water. But in your example, the probelm is too little water going out, and my example was too much water going in. In the end, neither example is actually a usefu analogy because they both are based on an inherent assumption (too much calories going in vs too much going out) that isn’t necessarily true.

      I agree that telling people they must endure lifelong misery is not the answer, but neither is telling people “it’s not your fault” as removing any responsibility also removes motivation to change their behavior.

      Also, I do agree that refined sugar is a big problem, and perhaps consuming too much sugar is a bigger problem than too much animal FAT. However, the problem with not restricting fat is that it is difficult to keep the calories low if you are eating a lot of fat.

      Also, I don’t beleive that there are skinny, *sedantary* people eating 3000 calories on a daily basis. Can a skinny person eat 2000 calories in one meal? Yes! This doesn’t mean they are pigging out all the time.
      It is often the in-between snacking and high-calorie drinks (soda and cappacinos) that makes the long-term difference.

      We can just agree to disagree on the 3000-calorie skinny couch potatioes because it’s heresay anyways.

      I’m still interested in your comments about the study I critiqued. In the meantime, let me get through more of your recommended reading.

      It isn’t about removing responsibility from the individual. It’s about understanding that fat accumulation is largely driven by hormones, and as long as you’re hormonally geared to store fat, losing it is going to be a damned difficult proposition. If you change your diet so that fatty acids are more likely to be released from your adipose tissue, now it’s a much easier proposition because dieting doesn’t mean starving your other cells of fuel.

      It’s entirely possible to be sedentary and not gain weight on 3,000 calories. Your body can turn up the body heat, engage in more futile cycling, excrete food without burning it, etc.

      The idea that it’s difficult to keep calories low if you’re eating a lot of fat because fat contains 9 calories per gram while carbs and protein only contain 4 calories per gram sounds logical, but doesn’t work that way in practice. We don’t sit down and eat a specific volume of food. We eat until we’re not hungry. Fat is satiating. Look around at comments on previous posts and notice how many people say they often skip meals now simply because they’re not hungry, or at least have stopped snacking because they’re no longer hungry between meals. Or look at the studies in which people who went on the Atkins (high fat) diet spontaneously eat less and lost more weight than people put on a calorie-restricted low-fat diet — even though the Atkins dieters were told to eat until satisfied.

      You’re still thinking of this in terms of calories. Control the calories, we control the body fat. If only it were that simple.

      Try thinking of it in terms of fuel availability and appetite. If I’m partitioning a disproportionate share of what I eat into adipose tissue and have difficulty releasing those fatty acids between meals, I’m going to experience a fuel shortage, which is going to drive up my appetite, which is going to lead to eating more. Consuming “too many” calories isn’t the cause. It’s an effect of a disregulated metabolism. If you turn me over to Jillian Michaels and she screams at me to exercise all day and only eat 1,000 calories, yes, I’ll lose weight. But because I can’t automatically tap my fat reserves at the rate necessary to make up for the deficit caused by burning more calories and eating fewer of them, my body will respond by slowing my metabolism and cannibalizing muscle protein to produce glucose. Neither helps me stay lean in the long term. In fact, both make it more likely I’ll regain the weight. Meanwhile, my appetite will be ramped up as my brain goes into survival mode and sends me ever-stronger signals to eat more.

      Jonathan Bailor has a good explanation of all this in his latest book “The Calorie Myth.” (Not on the recommended reading list yet because I haven’t finished it and written a review.)

      As for the researchers offering the possible explanation that the fat people were mobilizing more fatty acids, that’s all it was: one of a few possible explanations they felt obliged to mention. They offered no evidence that it happened, and in fact pointed out that since fat people in similar experiments didn’t demonstrate a rise in ketones (a by-product of burning fat for fuel), it wasn’t the likely explanation.

      1. Galina L.

        I grew-up in a fast-food-free society, cook my food all my life, and I also avoided making and buying sweets most of my life because of the predisposition to gain weight easily. My good eating hobbits didn’t take such predisposition away, just I my chubbiness is less prominent then a frank obesity in the people eating SAD. I have to say that the people who are naturally thin just have no idea how strong and overwhelming the desire to eat can be. It is the hunger which doesn’t go away, which turns you into some sort of a maniac in a search for food, and if you wolfing down supposedly healthy food, it is still fattening. Exercise doesn’t compensate overeating, especially for the people who are used to physical activity. I know the difference in hunger because the LC diet changed the quality of my hunger. I am finally in a control.

      2. Lori Miller

        Jake, you must have missed Sam Feltham’s self-experiments and Donan O’Neill’s movie Cereal Killers. Both guys tried LCHF diets and lost weight. Feltham ate 5000 calories a day; O’Neill barely exercised.

        Before LC, back when I ate a “balanced diet” and avoided fat, I was hungry enough to eat the carpet within a few hours after a meal. I’m from a family full of diabetics and hypoglycemics and I had most of the symptoms of hypoglycemia. Short of going on a starvation diet, someone with rock-steady blood sugar won’t understand how it feels. But *in the context of a LC diet* (that’s important), it’s easy to get full and stay full for several hours. Fat doesn’t raise or lower blood sugar, which would distort your appetite. Ever hear of anyone with an eating disorder bingeing on sausage (no breading, no sauce) or full-fat cheese (no sauce or crust) or a stick of butter? Binge eaters tend to go for carb/fat combos like cookies and ice cream and chips that will raise their blood sugar and (eventually) make them feel full.

      3. Damocles

        I wonder if in the many CICO experiments, did they measure the
        calories retained in the poop?

        Its a valid part of CO. Thermodynamically a human is not a closed system….

        If so, I haven’t seen the studies.

    2. Kristin

      It is astonishing to me how many naturally thin people just cannot grasp that concept. I can watch their eyeballs vibrate as they are unable to even focus on me when I suggest such a thing as that if a person’s chemistry is in fat accumulation mode they are driven to eat to maintain that need to grow (out) the same way an adolescent is compelled when they are growing up. I will always get back that this is ridiculous and you ALWAYS have control over what goes in your mouth. I think we are back to them really liking being superior in character to the rest of us.

      1. Jake

        I’m sure there are some people that don’t understand that some people have stronger cravings than others. Heck, my stomach is growling now, but I’m not really craving food. I don’t beleive that is because I have a stronger “character”.

        However, I also don’t beleive that the reason I’m in good shape is because I am just lucky, and not because I eat fast food less than once a month, order pizza delivery less than once every 2 years, put napkins on the pizza to drain the fat, order baked sweet potatoes with no sugar or butter when it’s available as a side, drink soda less than once a month, eat fried chicken < once a year, eat pretzels for snacks, etc. I don't like to do any of the above, but I DO it anyway.

        Again, I DO understand that it may be easier for me to do these things (now) than it may be for others, but the point is that I DO keep my calories well under 2000 on a daily basis and exercise 3 times per week.

        I doubt that gentics has evolved over the last 100 years in such a way that the majority of overweight people are eating the same amount of calories and gettign ther same amount of exercise as people did 100 year ago.

        If someone wants to claim that the typical foods availables in America increases their apetitie *and then they eat more food because of that*, fine. I'm just not buying the notion that people are getting more cravings, *ignoring the cravings* and then still gaining more weight than their early 20th century ancestors.

        The point of the whole weight-gain/weight-loss section in Fat Head was that the food choices we’ve been told to make — eat more carbs and less fat, switch to vegetable oils instead of animal fats, make grains the basis of your diet, etc. — have helped to kick more and more people into a hormonal state where their bodies want to accumulate fat. For reasons I explained when replying to a previous comment and also in the film, when you’re in fat-accumulation mode, your appetite will definitely go up. After all, you’re storing more energy as fat and having a more difficult time mobilizing it. Having food in the pantry doesn’t do you any good if the pantry door is nailed shut.

        You can ignore hunger, but hunger isn’t just some annoying sensation that your body produces to torpedo your weight-loss efforts. It’s a signal that your body body need something — protein, nutrients, energy for your cells, etc. If you’re hungry because your body is experiencing a fuel shortage and you decide to just ignore that for weeks on end because you’ve been told that’s how to lose weight, your body will respond by slowing your metabolism or cannibalizing muscle protein, as I mentioned before. So being “disciplined” and ignoring constant hunger is a lousy idea.

        I’m not a big fan of comparing humans to lab animals when it comes to health, but since losing weight is supposedly a simple matter of thermodynamics and mice are just as subject to the laws of thermodynamics as we are, please read this post about what happened when researchers put mice on a calorie-restrict diet.

        The mice ate less than the control group, but ended up with more body-fat. That’s not a matter of character, and obviously eating less didn’t do them any good.

        Look at what happened when some kids started over-producing insulin as a result of cancer treatment and got fat. Notice Dr. Lustig didn’t tell their parents to feed the kids less or start wiping the fat off their pizzas. He understood this a hormonal issue, not a “just eat less and exercise more” issue:

        In Good Calories, Bad Calories, Gary Taubes describes experiments in which hibernating animals were only allowed to eat half as much food as they normally would during the fattening-up season. They got just as fat on half as much food because their hormones were telling them to get fat. That doesn’t mean any laws of physics were violated. It means their bodies were so determined to get fat because of the hormonal signal, their metabolisms slowed way, way down to obey the order.

        Seriously, if you checked the published research, you’d give up on the idea that we’re fat because we don’t exercise enough. Never mind 100 years ago. Go back to the 1950s or 1960s when far fewer people were obese. Were health clubs popular? Did people go jogging? Had anyone heard of aerobics or jazzercise? My parents and their friends were pretty much all lean, and I don’t remember a single one of them joining a gym or going jogging. My dad’s exercise was playing golf. This isn’t about exercise. It’s about diet.

        Question: have you ever been fat? I’m guessing the answer is no. Your habit of wiping the fat off your pizza isn’t the reason you’re not fat. Your hormones aren’t commanding your body to divert calories to adipose tissue and keep them there — that’s why you’re fine with smaller portions and wiping the fat off your pizza. You have to turn the arrow of causality around in your mind. Instead of deciding people are fatter because they’re eating more, start with the idea that hormones drives fat accumulation and make fat loss difficult.

        1. Toni

          Jake sounds miserable.

          You only eat pizza once every two years, yet you wipe the fat off? Anything eaten that infrequently is NOT going to make a big impact. I eat pizza about once a month. I make it myself – no sugar in the sauce, very thin crust (and no, not a low carb crust), whole milk mozzarella, plenty of pepperoni and sausage – and I only have two slices (and don’t eat the “bones”). That with a big salad loaded with cheese, avocados, almonds, and drowning in olive oil and I can’t eat another bite. And I lose weight.

          You say you don’t like to do what you’re doing, but you do it anyway. I’ve BTDT. And yeah, counting calories, cutting fat, eating lots of whole grains did technically “work” (tho I couldn’t get below 175 lbs, as a 5’7″ woman that’s not terrible, but it’s not where I wanted to be), but I was miserable. I felt deprived. I felt hungry most of the time. Since I started LCHF (about 6 months ago) I’ve dropped from 175 to 143. That’s less than I weighed my senior year of high school. I didn’t change my activity level at all, so there is no reason I should be burning more calories. And I “cheat” and eat higher carb indulgences (like the pizza I mentioned) about once every two weeks.

          I do think you are lucky to be naturally thin, and the things you are doing (wiping fat off pizza, skipping the butter on your veggies, and whatever else yo do to restrict your fat intake) are NOT the reason you are thin. You are thin *in spite* of doing those things (well, except skipping the soda and sugar – that’s working to your advantage). Kinda like the smoker that never gets cancer, that is lucky.

          1. Chris

            I suspect Jake’s issue, and I have to say I share it so some extent, is that the ‘hormone/resistance’ argument appears to say to obese people ‘its not your fault’ (its the hormones) which, in turn, says ‘so dont try to do anything, its not your fault’ (or ‘dont criticise me, its the hormones’) and leads to ‘eat as much junk as you like, the hormones mean it doesnt matter anyway’.

            But I think the issue is more nuanced that this and indeed more than is often argued (by ‘both sides’).

            Firstly, there is a difference between ‘why cant overweight people lose weight’ and ‘why do people get overweight in the first place’ (no one is born overweight).

            Secondly, as Tom said, the food choices we’ve been told to make have helped to kick more and more people into a hormonal state – created more overweight people.

            They are linked and my view – right or wrong – is that people who make good food choices in the first place do not get overweight. And, yes, the evidence is leaning toward ‘good food’ being LC, but even if your diet involves a ‘traditional’ high carb diet, making good choices includes not drinking sugar (soda), not eating high sat fat foods (donuts etc), not munching candy and ice cream etc etc.

            This is where the ‘character’ issue, for want of a better word, comes in. Not indulging yourself. And I suspect where Jake is coming from – if he can avoid those foods, and we know the foods are ‘bad’ (regardless of which diet advice we follow), why should he feel sympathy for someone who doesnt follow that advice?

            But then Tom’s point adds further complexity – have we created a situation where people get overweight, or a more susceptible to being overweight, because of the ‘approved’ food pyramid? Are some people getting overweight even without overindulging in ‘bad’ food?

            However, once you have put on weight, getting rid of it is not totally a character issue, its a diet (food choice) issue. Not, obviously, reducing food but eating the right kind of food. This is still, I think, able to be characterised as a character issue (no more bread, candy, soda etc is a hard choice) but its more a knowledge issue (it can only be ‘character’ if you know what to do and dont do it).

            The fat resistance/hormones etc explain why its harder to do than some people think it should be.

            Correct, I’m not suggesting character plays no role at all. But plenty of people have struggled and sacrificed while following bad advice that doesn’t work very well. They didn’t lack character. They lacked good advice.

          2. Jake

            I try to be precise in my langauage: not the difference between not like (neutral) and dislike (negative). I’m not miserable at all. I would prefer to eat steaks, cookies, ice cream, and butter on everything. I also like the taste of some processed foods (frozen meals, cookies). However, isn’t that part of the point? That the food industry has made food that we like to eat even though we shouldn’t?

            I’m sure many of the people on HFLC diets like the taste of many processed, sugary foods as well, but I don’t presume they are miserable.

  19. Babs

    I looked at several pictures of Christy Brinkley the other day when she turned 60. She looks like she hasn’t aged since she was 32. She truly looks young. She makes the claim that she has been a vegetarian since childhood. I think she is really just a naturally thin person. But there’s another example of someone who probably thinks their superior morality for never eating animals and eating less has led to her beauty.

    Personally I think she made a deal with the devil;)

    Perhaps there’s a picture of her tucked away somewhere that keeps getting older and uglier.

    1. Jake

      I think that she is a rich celebrity that probably has her own dietician, personal trainer, money to buy the best foods, and lots of free time for physical activity. Kind of like a milder version of Biggest Loser.

      It’s no secret that higher wealth and income correlate positively with lower weight (in the US).

      I think she was also born with good genes. Models generally have that advantage.

      1. Walter Bushell

        Airbushed? If that were all. A team of makeup artists, hair stylists etcetera to start costing thousands maybe tens of thousands. Then:

        It’s just amazing what you can do in Photoshop these days.

        The women you see in ads don’t look that way in real life.

  20. Carole W

    Tom, I just want to tell you (again) how much I appreciate your blog, your movie, your work in this arena in general. Even your responses to commenters are helpful, level-headed, and make so much sense (although it seems some of them just really want to keep those blinders on).

    I’ve told you my story before (thisclose to being diagnosed as diabetic, then I saw Fat Head and started LCHF — whaddya know, my blood sugar normalized right quick!), but in light of this Character vs Chemistry series, I thought I’d add a bit.

    My favorite thing about eating LCHF is that, for the first time in my life, I can make actual choices about what I eat. Food is not controlling me anymore. My whole life, I was addicted to sugar. I snuck cookies in the pantry (so my kids wouldn’t see) — for breakfast!, I cringed when people brought candy to meetings at work because I couldn’t stop eating it (it was embarrassing!), I was conflicted about going to parties because I could NOT stay away from the food. Someone once told me, when I commented about all the candy people took to share at work around Halloween, “You know you could just *not eat it.*” And I thought, “But HOW???? It’s like it screams at me all day!!”

    But a few weeks ago at my mom’s house for Christmas, I had no trouble, no distress, no embarrassment, no hard choices even though she’d made most of my favorite sweet treats (for my brother and his family). I sat in front of a plate of Snickerdoodles and IGNORED them. !!

    I could be a poster child for Character vs Chemistry. Even though I actually worked a heck of a lot harder and showed a heck of a lot more character (not to mention the guilt) when I craved sweets all the time, I still ate so much more of them than I do now. Now, I don’t have to work at it or exercise my character or willpower or choices hardly at all. It’s rare that I have a craving, and even when I do give in I eat maybe 5-10% of what I used to eat, even though I was working so much harder to stop back then!

    So I sincerely thank you. Beyond just rescuing me from diabetes, your work has allowed me to actually feel like an adult around food. And it is such a RELIEF! 🙂

    Well said. To me, that’s why this diet works for so many people. It’s not that calories magically disappear (they don’t), or that we end losing weight while consuming 5,000 calories per day (we don’t). The difference is that our appetites are now naturally controlled.

  21. Lonestar

    I have had a “weight problem” all my life (currently age 63) and, while I can lose weight with strenuous dieting, I haven’t been successful in maintaining the weight loss except for once in my life which proved to me that thinness and weight loss success had very little to do with character and discipline and everything to do with biochemistry.

    I lost the same 40 pounds three separate times during my life and regained the weight quickly except for one time when I maintained the loss for about 5 years. At age 26 I lost weight on the Weight Watchers program (mid 1970’s version which was moderate carb/low calorie) and at age 54 on a very low carb Adkins induction diet. Both times I rather quickly regained the lost weight when I quit dieting. At age 30, however, I lost weight due to a severe depression during which I pretty much stopped eating except for scrambled egss, toast and coffee! I lost 35 to 40 pounds over 7 months or so during which time I tried different anti-depressant drugs until I found one that worked remarkably well and I stayed on that drug for about 5 years during which time I effortlessly maintained the entire weight loss without dieting. I ate whatever I wanted including all the high carb foods I had loved all my life but, and this is the miracle, I did not gain one ounce over all those years.

    This experience has mystified me all my life. What changed to allow me to maintain a weight loss at age 30 when I could not do this either before (age 26) or after (age 54)? The biscuits, cookies, tortilla chips, and scones I ate after the weight loss at age 30 were just as “rewarding” as before but I didn’t regain. Why? It was not some feat of willpower – I did nothing different to achieve this! Maintaining the weight loss just happened without any conscious control on my part whatsoever. This is why I have no patience with the negative moral judgments about overweight people who regain lost weight. I know from my own life that morality and self-denial (character and discipline) had nothing at all to do with my accomplishment. My body was acting like that of a naturally thin person whose weight is tightly regulated within a pound or two regardless of diet. If I had never experienced this then I also might be tempted to see obesity as a “moral” failure, particularly if I had never had a weight problem.

    My theory is that my success at age 30 was due to the antidepressant drug (phenelzine) I was taking for those 5 years. Various studies on phenelzine have indicated that it can alter fat metabolism and circadian cycles, activate HPA activity, moderate appetite and somehow affect leptin and the immune system. Anti-depressant drugs are known to affect weight, however the drugs usually seems to act to cause weight gain. This article in Discover magazine: “A New Suspect in the Obesity Epidemic: Our Brains” ( explains just some of the very complicated and interrelated neurological/hormonal mechanisms involved in weight regulation. Other studies have implicated gut microbiome and virus exposures to obesity.

    Because of my experience I have no doubt that there are medical interventions that can affect the weight loss/weight maintenance equilibrium. The complexity of this system works against simple answers and probably against a single remedy for everyone with the problem. Relegating the entire obesity problem to failures in individuals’ character and discipline, however, is not only unhelpful (and cruel) but actually stands in the way of finding answers.

    Absolutely. You don’t solve a problem by going after the wrong cause.

  22. Jake

    I really think it ironic that so many on this log are upset that *some* thin people think they are morally superior because they think they have better self control, yet the “naturally fat” on this blog think the *exact same thing*.

    Here are your beliefs (correct me if I’m wrong)

    1) Activity level has no effect on weight for a “naturally thin” people
    2) It doesn’t matter how many calories a “naturally thin” person eats or whether it is a high-carb or high fat diet, they will always be thin.
    3) People that have been thin all their lives have done so through pure genetic luck.

    4) Activity level has no effect on weight for a “naturally fat” people
    5) It doesn’t matter how few calories a “naturally fat” person eats, only whether it is a high-fat diet or not
    6) “Naturally fat” have higher craving levels, but do not respond to these higher cravings by eating more food -> now that is some serious self-control!

    I’ll correct you, because you are very wrong indeed. Here are the correct versions of what we believe:

    1) Thin people are thin because they are not hormonally driven to store fat. So when they eat, they have more fuel available than a person whose body is geared to store a disproportionate share of the calories consumed. Because of the high fuel availability, naturally thin people feel more of a compulsion to move and be active. They’re not thin because they’re active; they’re active because their bodies would rather burn fuel than store it.

    2) If a thin person forced himself to overeat way beyond his appetite for weeks on end, yes, he’d probably gain weight. That isn’t the point. Because naturally thin people aren’t hormonally geared to store fat, they do exactly what fat people do — eat until they receive biochemical signals telling them to stop — but they receive those signals at level of food intake that matches their bodies’ tendency towards staying lean.

    3) Yes, most of the time. My wife and my son are both naturally thin. They accomplish this feat by eating whenever they’re hungry. Neither chalks it up to discipline, because they know they never deny themselves when they’re hungry. And like I said, my son tried to gain weight twice by overeating. The scale didn’t budge. His body just stoked the metabolic furnace to burn off the extra calories. He’s like the 25-year-old woman with the “healthy appetite” the researchers mentioned in the paper I linked.

    4) The clinical research is crystal clear on that. The type of exercises people are told to take up to lose weight (aerobic exercise, walking, jogging) have very little effect on body fat. That isn’t to say there are no other health benefits.

    5) For the thousandth time, if you lock a fat person in prison and force him to live on 1,000 calorie diets, he will lose weight. He’ll also be ravenously hungry, end up with a slower metabolism, and cannibalize his muscles to produce glucose from protein. That sets him up to be fatter, not thinner, over time. Ask yourself one simple question: If fat people can’t actually pull the fatty acids out of their cells quickly enough to make up for a calorie deficit created by eating less or going jogging, how will their bodies react to that calorie deficit? What happens when a person’s cells are screaming for fuel that isn’t available?

    6) Fat people become fat because unlike thin people, their bodies are hormonally driven to store more calories as fat and keep the fat in storage. Eating more isn’t the cause. It’s the effect. If they don’t solve the hormonal problem first, eating less simply causes a fuel shortage at the cellular level, which leads to the effects described in 5). If you and I eat exactly the same meal but my body puts more of that meal into storage than your body does, I’m going to be hungrier than you are because I have less fuel available than you do. I’m also going to be less likely to feel like participating in some activity than you, once again because I have less fuel available. You seem determined to confuse the cause the effect. Read this again:

    The hormonal drive to store fat was causing the increased appetite and the decrease in activity, so that’s what Lustig addressed. He didn’t tell the parents to make those kids eat less and move more. When he treated the hormonal problem, the kids ate less and moved more naturally, because they now weren’t suffering from a constant fuel shortage. Feeding them less and making them exercise when their bodies were storing fuel instead of burning it would have been child abuse.

    Seriously, Jake, you’re coming across as what I described in my post: a person who was born on the finish line and not only thinks he won a race, but believes he understands how the race is won. If you’ve never been fat and then lost the weight, what makes you think you understand what weight loss is all about?

  23. Josh

    All of this talk reminded me a webpage I found that compared the weights of all of the Biggest Loser finalists to that date. The information on there would be about four years old, and I found it two years ago. It has either been taken down or updated. What I found is that most of the finalists have regained at least a portion of their weight. I think half of the people regained a quarter of their weight. A few regained everything, and a few kept it off.

    I did find this link. This just follows the winners of each season. I noticed that the winners of the earlier seasons have regained more weight than the winners of the recent seasons.

    I am sure that most of those people have improved their eating habits. I am sure most of those people avoid sugar, they probably cook at as opposed toe eating burgers and fries. Although if they follow the advice of Jillian Michaels, then they still fighting their cravings, eating lots of hearthealthywholegrains, and lots of vegetables.

  24. Toni

    Since I can’t reply further up, I’ll respond here.

    @Chris: Saying that there is a hormonal problem that is at least partly to blame for someone being overweight or having a hard time losing weight is NOT in any way, shape, or form, a means of telling them that they should resign themselves to being fat. Actually, it gives them hope. If they can learn to work with their chemistry, rather than against it, they can actually have success. Yes, a certain amount of willpower is still involved, especially in the beginning (LC often represents a HUGE deviation from the way people have been told to eat their whole lives). What the CICO camp doesn’t seem to realize is that by ignoring the chemistry aspect, you are dooming a whole subset (and a rather large percentage, at that) of the population to end up giving up because that advice *doesn’t work* for those people. It just doesn’t. Who is more likely to resign themselves to being fat, in your opinion: someone who understands their body chemistry and can then use “character” make appropriate choices based on that, or someone who is told to simply “eat less and move more” and ends up struggling, suffering, and failing time and time again?

    Sure, both require willpower. However, your “willpower” will fade really fast if you aren’t getting results. Hence Tom’s reference to why so many “give up” on their New Year’s resolutions to lose weight after just a couple months.

    I will tell you that I didn’t get fat by eating crap. I got fat eating whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean meats, low fat/fat free dairy. I didn’t drink soda, I didn’t eat lots of candy/pastries, I didn’t eat fast food more than once every couple of months. Of course, T2D, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s run in my family, and I’ve had symptoms of hypoglycemia since I was a teenager. I am insulin resistant. That’s not my fault. But there is something I can do about it. HFLC is the first “diet” I’ve ever tried that allows me to get to and maintain a healthy weight without it being a Herculean effort. Finding something that addresses my chemistry so that I now have more control is extremely liberating.

    I suspect we’re on the same page here, but as for Jake, he’s assuming people only get fat by failing to “follow the rules”. And that is simply not the case. I “followed the rules” and still got fat.


    You said you don’t like doing the things you do, but you do them anyway. You can argue semantics and tell me you didn’t mean that in a negative way, but it certainly sounds negative to me. It also sounds like you are holding yourself up as a moral example, a martyr of sorts, who “doesn’t like” his diet, but does it anyway.

    If that’s how you want to live you life, rock on. I was always told to work smarter, not harder. I’ve found a way of eating that allows me to not have to exercise willpower (my cravings went away pretty quickly once I started HFLC), but rather to simply make smart choices (and now they actually ARE choices, I’m not driven by extreme hunger anymore) that work with my chemistry.

    Maybe miserable was the wrong word, but you certainly don’t sound enthusiastic about your diet. I don’t like it, but I do it anyway isn’t a ringing endorsement.

    Do I like cookies and ice cream? Sure. And I can eat them. In *true* moderation. Because I’m not on the blood sugar roller coaster, because I no longer have cravings, and because I am full and satisfied from all that steak and butter. Processed foods have actually lost their appeal – they don’t taste very good anymore and the smell of fresh baked bread has actually become a little nauseating. In short, I love my diet. I do it because it works, but I also do it because it is truly enjoyable. Best of both worlds. I was just pointing out that you don’t seem to be nearly as enthusiastic about your own diet.

    Heck, Toni, you practically wrote my next post. Those are all good points that I plan to tackle next.

  25. Chuck

    I’m interested in post pregnancy weight loss. I have many friends who have had kids that were always thin before getting pregnant, but after they just can’t lose it for anything. I know hormones probably play a big part of it and one of my theories is that many of them pick up bad eating habits while they are pregnant that they did not have before and once the baby is born it has become normal routine for them. I don’t think that is the only reason just a possibility. I have tried to steer many of them the LCHF way, but that seems to terrify most of them even though they have seen my results. The main excuses I hear are that they love carb loaded foods, your a guy it’s easy for you and of course the usual that stuff is bad for you.

    Have you covered this topic yet? Do you or your wife have any advice to help steer these women in the right direction? I just hate seeing my friends torture themselves with the low-calorie and CICO nonsense then feel horrible when they fail in a week or less.

    Pregnancy causes a dramatic change in hormones. Dr. Michael Fox has done a lot of work in that area. Here are some interviews:

  26. Jake

    Let me be clear:

    I’d rate my personal satisfaction with the volume and taste of my diet an 8. I *like* my diet but not all aspects of it.

    If I ate whatever and whenever I wanted, I’d rate my diet a 10 (as would everybody by definition). However, I also freely admit that even if I ate as much as I wanted, it would probably be a lot less than calories that most people, so I’m lucky that way.

    1. Babs

      I don’t think you *get* it. Why don’t you actually measure out everything you eat, write it down in a little book, and keep track of your calorie intake? And we will just see if you really eat LESS than a fat person. This is something fat people are told to do all the time to lose weight.

      Fat people are told, “Are you sure you are only eating 1,200 calories a day? Are you writing down everything you eat? Are you measuring your food?” And yet here is a naturally thin person assuming, without writing it down, that they must eat less because they are thin and you are “lucky that way.” Let’s just see if it’s luck or if you actually eat just as much as everyone else, most likely more. Write it down for a week and please come back here to share the results.

  27. Mark

    So if I’m not really losing any weight (body fat specifically- I’m a little soft around the centre), I’m tired ALL the time (even after a good solid 9 to 10 hours sleep), don’t especially feek like exercising, could it be that I’m not eating enough? I’m still hardwired to the old ‘eat less, move more’ mantra, so I’m perhaps not eating enough to repair my metabolism and kick start my body tapping its fat stores. Does this scenario seem plausible?

    Yes, that’s possible. Also keep in mind that there’s no one diet that’s ideal for everyone. If you’ve been trying to lose weight by going almost zero-carb for awhile (long enough to have adjusted) and don’t have any energy, you might do better with something like Paul Jaminet’s Perfect Health diet. (It’s still low-ish carb, but not low-carb as defined by, say, the Atkins diet.) Or you may want to try a cyclical ketogenic diet. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

  28. Nick

    I agree that chemistry plays a huge part. I have a couple of friends who are recovering alcoholics. Every day they have to make the decision not to drink.
    Me on the other hand, I couldn’t care less about alcohol. I’m not teetotal. I’ll have a drink every now and again maybe once or twice a month. But usually I can’t manage more than one glass of wine or a pint of cider. I just can’t physically drink any more. It’s not because I’m morally superior to people who can’t stop drinking. I don’t have more willpower or discipline. My whole body just gives a really clear cut off signal “That’s enough” and so I stop. I imagine that people who get strong signals not to overeat get a similar signal with food.

    For me with food, I just don’t get that same signal. And at the wrong time of the month my body is just screaming at me to eat and gain the weight that I lost during the previous three weeks and usually I do gain it all back in that one week. I can’t ignore it. Low carb has helped but not eliminated the cravings.

    I did see on the TV years ago there was a theory about there being a continuum depending on whether in times of stress you would turn to alcohol or food. The theory came about because researchers found that obese people who turned to food when stressed were lacking in a particular hormone. They started giving the obese people this hormone, but found it was turning them into alcoholics. They had to halt the study before completion because it is worse for your health to be an alcoholic that obese. I can’t remember any more details and haven’t found it again when I searched for it but it sounds very interesting and backs up the character vs chemistry argument very well.

    Thanks for this series Tom, I’m really enjoying it. Will look forward to the next part.

    When I was a heavy drinker, I drank as much alcohol as I wanted. I still do, but I want a whole lot less. Changing my diet has definitely made a difference. I now get that cutoff signal you mentioned after two or three drinks.

    1. Walter Bushell

      Ah, alcohol or glucose as emergency brain food? Particularly on a low fat diet I could see that happening.

      Oh and caffeine boosts blood glucose levels, but apparently does this through lipolysis[1] which is a good thing.

      According to

      J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2001 Apr;47(2):139-46.
      Caffeine as a lipolytic food component increases endurance performance in rats and athletes.

      “These results suggest that the caffeine ingestion enhanced endurance performance resulting from spare stored glycogen with increasing lipolysis from adipose tissues and fat oxidation during exercise both in rats and in athletes.”

      [1] breakdown of fat.

      I don’t care how coffee works. All I know is, anyone who tries to make me give it up better be armed.

  29. Dan

    Tom, you really hit the nail on the head when you mention the kind of diet and fitness advice that comes from people who have never been fat. I wouldn’t ask someone who has never driven a car to teach me how to drive – so what sense does it make to ask someone who has never had to lose weight how to lose weight?
    Your comparison to your friend remind me a lot of my brother-in-law. Really skinny guy, eats about 4000-5000 calories per day, can’t put on weight. He is living proof that the calorie model is not correct. If it were, he would be morbidly obese!

    Yup, my son is like that. He tried to gain weight a couple of times by overeating … didn’t work.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.