Fat People, Fatty Acids, And ‘Good Calories, Bad Calories’

A link in comments reminded me of a criticism of Good Calories, Bad Calories I see now and then. In a nutshell, the criticism goes like this:

Taubes says people get fat because insulin makes their fat cells release fatty acids too slowly, so they have to eat more to avoid cellular starvation, and then they get fat. But studies show fat people have the same concentration of fatty acids in their bloodstreams as lean people. So there. That proves Taubes is wrong.

Uh, no. The fact that fat people have a steady supply of fatty acids in their blood doesn’t prove him wrong at all. The people who think it does either didn’t actually read Good Calories, Bad Calories or didn’t grasp one of the key concepts.

Let’s start with an analogy. Suppose we’re studying people on a planet where it’s considered disgusting to have a large savings account. And yet many people do. I want to understand why, so I spend years digging through financial research. Then I offer this explanation:

For half of each year, people on this planet have no regular income and have to live off the interest from their savings accounts. Most accounts pay 10% interest, so most people continuing saving until the 10% interest provides enough cash to pay their bills.

However, because of a banking flaw, some people’s accounts pay less than 10%. At the lower rate, the interest they can withdraw isn’t enough to pay their bills – that is, unless they compensate by making bigger deposits to build up more savings. So they do. Each time the interest rate drops a bit, they deposit and save more until the interest is once again enough to pay their bills. For people whose accounts pay a low interest rate, this requires a BIG savings account.

With me so far? Great. Now suppose another researcher digs up a study showing that people with fat savings accounts withdraw the same amount of cash each month as people with normal savings accounts. Waving that study around, the researcher makes this announcement:

Aha! Naughton is clearly wrong! He claims people grow fat saving accounts because they can’t withdraw enough cash as interest. But now we know people with fat accounts are withdrawing just as much cash as everyone else. So he’s wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong!

You see the flaw in that conclusion, right? The fact that the fat-account people are  withdrawing enough cash to pay their bills doesn’t prove my explanation is wrong – because I never claimed they don’t end up withdrawing as much cash as everyone else. I said they maintain big accounts so that they can withdraw as much cash as everyone else.  The researcher didn’t read or didn’t understand my explanation of how these people solved the defect with their low-interest accounts.  He apparently stopped reading after the description of the defect itself.

Let’s return to our own planet. Here’s my quick, user-friendly summary of some lengthy passages in Good Calories, Bad Calories.

To keep your blood sugar in the normal range, your body needs to alternately store and release fatty acids. When glucose goes up, your body brings it down by storing fatty acids and burning glucose as the primary fuel. But as glucose continues to drop, your body prevents it from dropping too low by releasing fatty acids for fuel. As most of your body switches to burning fat, glucose is preserved for the brain – which requires at least some glucose every minute of every day.

If you can’t release a sufficient supply of fatty acids, you have a problem. When glucose drops after meals (not to mention during the long night’s sleep), your body will experience a fuel shortage. You’ll be hungry. Your brain may sense a threat to the consistent fuel supply it needs. If this is a regular experience, it’s a problem your body must and will work to fix.

That’s the quick summary. Now here are some paragraphs from what I consider the most important section of the book, offering an explanation of how our bodies fix the problem (bold emphasis mine):

If energy goes into the fat tissue faster than it comes out, the energy stored in the fat tissue has to increase. Any metabolic phenomenon that slows down the release of fat from the fat tissue – that retards the “energy out” variable of the equation – will have this effect, as long as the rate at which fat enters the adipose tissue (the energy in) remains unchanged, or at least does not decrease by an equal or greater amount.

Pennington suggested that as the adipose tissue accumulates fat, its expansion will increase the rate at which fat calories are released back into the bloodstream (just as inflating a balloon will increase air pressure inside the balloon and the rate at which air is expelled out of the balloon if the air is allowed to escape), and this could compensate for the initial defect itself. We will continue to accumulate fat – and so continue to be in positive energy balance – until we reach a new equilibrium and the flow of fat calories out of the adipose tissue once again matches the flow of calories in.

By Pennington’s logic, obesity is simply the body’s way of compensating for a defect in the storage and metabolism of fat. The compensation, he said, occurs homeostatically, without any conscious intervention. It works by a negative feedback loop. By expanding with fat, the adipose tissue “provides for a more effective release of fat for the energy needs of the body.” Meanwhile, conditions at the cellular level remain constant; the cells and tissues continue to function normally, and they do so even if we have to become obese to make this happen.

So to sum up:

According to Taubes, if our fat cells begin releasing fatty acids more slowly, we get fatter to overcome this defect. Once we’re fat enough to release a sufficient supply of fatty acids, our weight tends to stabilize again. We’re back in a state of energy balance. We now store and release fatty acids as needed, just like thin people – but we had to get fatter in order to do so. If the fat cells slow their rate of release again, we become fatter again to compensate. That’s how our bodies stay in a state of energy balance.

Nothing in that explanation says obese people release fewer fatty acids into their bloodstreams than thin people. It says they achieve a normal supply of fatty acids by being fatter. That’s why (according to the book) our bodies fight to gain and keep the fat – because if we can’t release enough fatty acids between meals, we can’t keep our cells fed and our glucose levels stable. To shed body fat without fighting our own bodies, we first have to fix the root of the problem. (That’s where the change in diet comes in.) Once we can release enough fatty acids with a smaller fat mass — because the rate of release speeds up again — our bodies will be willing to lose the extra fat.

Again, I consider that one of the crucial ideas – perhaps the most important idea – in the entire book. I don’t know how anyone could miss it. But apparently plenty of people did.

During between-session chit-chat at a conference some years ago, a blogger whose name I won’t mention tossed out the line about how fat people have just as many fatty acids in their bloodstreams as thin people, so Taubes is wrong and therefore the insulin hypothesis is wrong.

“Well, actually Taubes wrote that each time our fat cells become a little slower at releasing fatty acids, we get a little fatter to compensate,” I replied.  “Fat people release as many fatty acids into their bloodstreams as thinner people, but they need more fat mass to do so. That’s why they’re fat. Being fat keeps them in a state of energy balance.”

That drew a look of confusion from the blogger, who then replied, “Hmm, I don’t remember that part of the book.”

I didn’t say anything, but I was thinking, YOU DON’T REMEMBER THAT PART OF THE BOOK?! Are you @#$%ing kidding me? That’s like reading Huckleberry Finn and not remembering the part about the runaway slave.

Don’t get me wrong here. I don’t have a problem with people disagreeing with Taubes, challenging the insulin hypothesis, offering their evidence to counter his, whatever. That’s how it should be. Real science is not (despite what some politicians believe) about reaching a consensus. We should always be questioning and re-assessing our beliefs.

But when people argue that Good Calories, Bad Calories got it all wrong, it would be nice if they read the book first. And then remembered what they read.

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122 thoughts on “Fat People, Fatty Acids, And ‘Good Calories, Bad Calories’

    1. js290

      If it wasn’t SG himself, it must be someone out of the camp that ignores metabolic biochemistry and relies only on journal publications.

      Reply
  1. Wayne Gage

    Very well explained but, “Suppose we’re studying people on a planet where it’s considered disgusting to have a large savings account.” that may be describing half the people on our planet.

    Reply
    1. Tom Welsh

      Yes, I was wondering what the analogy would mean in the case of negative interest rates! I don’t know the name for such a medical condition, but I’m pretty sure it would be quickly fatal.

      Reply
    1. js290

      If it wasn’t SG himself, it must be someone out of the camp that ignores metabolic biochemistry and relies only on journal publications.

      Reply
  2. Wayne Gage

    Very well explained but, “Suppose we’re studying people on a planet where it’s considered disgusting to have a large savings account.” that may be describing half the people on our planet.

    Reply
    1. Tom Welsh

      Yes, I was wondering what the analogy would mean in the case of negative interest rates! I don’t know the name for such a medical condition, but I’m pretty sure it would be quickly fatal.

      Reply
  3. Tom Welsh

    Particularly when reading material that is experienced as “difficult”, it’s very easy to be selectively blind to facts and ideas that contradict our own ideas. IMHO. It must be a century since Upton Sinclair expressed this in the following neat aphorism:

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it”.

    But you don’t need to have a salary to defend; perhaps some people cling to what they believe to be knowledge even more savagely.

    Reply
  4. j

    I think this helps explain why Taubes said ..
    “We don’t get fat because we overeat; we overeat because we’re getting fat”

    Also.. a savings account with 10% rate of return!? Thatd be amazing!

    Reply
    1. The Older Brother

      We’ve been there. That’s not a dream, it’s a nightmare.

      When people were getting 10% on their savings (CD’s), mortgage rates were 15% plus. We actually need to have that for a year or two to kill off all of the zombies we juiced to keep alive in 2008 instead of shooting them in the head, but it won’t be fun.

      Cheers

      Reply
      1. Bret

        I’m not so sure 15%+ is such a bad thing. Climbing interest rates mean depressed housing prices, which means more potential profit upon resale. Similar impact on the stock market.

        Plus, if (and I know this is asking a lot) people can just stick to a monthly budget they can afford when buying a house no matter what, then a higher mortgage interest rate means a regular extra principal payment will get that thing slain MUCH faster.

        And as TOB said, I wecome those monstrous interest rates at the present moment. We’ve been on near-zero for so long that we are losing our grip on reality.

        Reply
  5. Nick S

    Great post. I think my fathead cells are getting a little slow at releasing fathead content, so I’m gonna need you to keep publishing this good stuff so frequently, thanks. 😛

    “I don’t remember that part of the book” seems to be the excuse behind most of the crappy “takedowns” of Taubes. I read the book one time, years ago, and somehow I remember the places where he discusses all of the common anti- arguments while reviewers so often don’t.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton

      It’s a thick book and I understand why people would forget sections. But geez, that “we become fat to get back into energy balance” section was hugely important.

      Reply
  6. Stephen

    Gary Taubes drives people like me crazy because I prefer carbs to meat and fat, and lost 60 lbs. eating bread, pasta, potatoes, bean burritos, etc. But I do understand that we’re all different in body types, activity levels, food preferences, and react differently (including over eating) to different types of food.

    I hope Gary is right, and helps the most people possible with his “Alternative Hypothesis”. But for me, the most important thing was overcoming my addiction to fast food, by learning how to cook and love real food.

    I think it’s great we all experiment with our personal food choices and theories, because we need to find the right solutions for ourselves. (For the last 26 days I’ve been on the Potato Diet, and I learned a lot about my overeating.)

    So I’ll be a little “anti-science” here, and not even try to understand Gary’s “Alternative Hypothesis”. Honestly, it’s a little confusing to me, and I can’t follow what he’s saying. I do have a MSEE degree, but I have no chance of re-stating what he believes. Anyway, there’s probably no way I’m going to change what I like to eat.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton

      I don’t believe the insulin hypothesis is the entire story. But I believe it’s a big part of the story for many people.

      Reply
      1. Mike

        Where I think Taubes may be a little off is in his address of Leptin.

        He discusses here, why he thinks it is a secondary effect:

        https://proteinpower.com/drmike/2008/11/17/gary-taubes-responds/

        In my opinion, Taubes’ own discussion suggests we should worry more about Leptin.

        As I understand it, Leptin affects the calories-out side of the equation. Fat makes leptin, leptin tells our cells to turn up the immune system, reproductive machinery, energy levels, etc. It makes sense homeostatically; when we are fat, turn up systems that work better with more energy. If we become “Leptin resistant”, assuming that’s a real thing, it would tend to make us more likely to hold on to fat, even without insulin holding the fat hostage.

        Assuming leptin does matter, what can you do though? Some people insist that flipping from low-carb, to high-carb, and back can cause a “leptin reset” but I’m not convinced that this is a real thing.

        It might be true that this is only relevant to people who are already fat. Taubes may have learned how to keep society from getting fat, but we’ve already got a bunch of fat people.

        Reply
        1. Tom Naughton

          According to Dr. Lustig, at least, high insulin blocks the leptin signal. If so, then a diet that reduces insulin would help.

          Leptin resistance is a real thing.

          Reply
    2. js290

      1st order effect: Insulin inhibits lipolysis
      In contrast to the hormonal activation of adenylate cyclase and (subsequently) hormone-sensitive lipase in adipocytes, the mobilization of fat from adipose tissue is inhibited by numerous stimuli. The most significant inhibition is that exerted upon adenylate cyclase by insulin. When an individual is in the well fed state, insulin released from the pancreas prevents the inappropriate mobilization of stored fat. Instead, any excess fat and carbohydrate are incorporated into the triglyceride pool within adipose tissue.

      Reply
  7. Tom Welsh

    Particularly when reading material that is experienced as “difficult”, it’s very easy to be selectively blind to facts and ideas that contradict our own ideas. IMHO. It must be a century since Upton Sinclair expressed this in the following neat aphorism:

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it”.

    But you don’t need to have a salary to defend; perhaps some people cling to what they believe to be knowledge even more savagely.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton

      “You don’t need insulin to grow fat” isn’t the same as “insulin doesn’t make you fat.”

      Reply
      1. Man

        Haha, rhetorical fun 🙂

        Insulin does not make you fat, this is obvious. Insulin helps you store nutrients, and is part of some metabolic feedback loops for all sorts of signalling (one is to tell the brain that you are being fed, so the brain can reduce hunger as you’re eating).
        What makes you fat is when you are not in metabolic balance and something has to happen to all the incoming energy substrate that can’t be disposed of. Failing to burn it, you store it for a rainy day. If you keep on this path, you start to gain weight, and it ain’t necessary muscle mass 🙂

        But come on Tom, you know this. When you applied your fat-head movie diet for a while, you were conscious about your ingested calories by avoiding carbs and tracking how much you ate. If you had ditched the burger and cheese and only kept the buns + tracked calories as well, you would have lost weight as well. If your movie was a response to Spurlock’s idiotic stunt (overeating food, and only selecting junk food at that!), this wasn’t exactly the right thing to do.

        Anyway, the carb + insulin hypothesis (especially Taubes’ version of it) has been debunked so I don’t know why one would stick to it.

        Reply
        1. Tom Naughton

          I see, so it’s a simple matter of calories in vs. calories out. Okay, thanks for explaining it all to us.

          Reply
        2. Firebird

          Dr. Greg Ellis said in an interview a few years ago, “You could lost weight by reducing your calories to 1,000 per day and eat nothing but cake, but I wouldn’t recommend it.”

          Reply
        3. Mike

          But Taubes has pointed out that you can take someone eating primarily fat and protein but fewer calories than they burn and they can feel fine. Then if you add carbs to the exact same budget of fat & protein, those same test subjects get hungry when they weren’t before.

          If you have enough insulin in you, your body will store fat, even if it really ought to be burning some, and then you get hungry because your fat just stole breakfast from the rest of your cells.

          Taubes discusses experiments in which rats full of insulin get fat and then suffer from malnutrition and even die of malnutrition while fat.

          Reply
  8. j

    I think this helps explain why Taubes said ..
    “We don’t get fat because we overeat; we overeat because we’re getting fat”

    Also.. a savings account with 10% rate of return!? Thatd be amazing!

    Reply
    1. The Older Brother

      We’ve been there. That’s not a dream, it’s a nightmare.

      When people were getting 10% on their savings (CD’s), mortgage rates were 15% plus. We actually need to have that for a year or two to kill off all of the zombies we juiced to keep alive in 2008 instead of shooting them in the head, but it won’t be fun.

      Cheers

      Reply
      1. Bret

        I’m not so sure 15%+ is such a bad thing. Climbing interest rates mean depressed housing prices, which means more potential profit upon resale. Similar impact on the stock market.

        Plus, if (and I know this is asking a lot) people can just stick to a monthly budget they can afford when buying a house no matter what, then a higher mortgage interest rate means a regular extra principal payment will get that thing slain MUCH faster.

        And as TOB said, I wecome those monstrous interest rates at the present moment. We’ve been on near-zero for so long that we are losing our grip on reality.

        Reply
  9. Todd

    Great analogy. Instead of ‘My 600 Pound Life’ we need a show called ‘My Huge Bank Account Life.’ That would get some attention.

    By the way, I know a skinny guy who eats a lot of carbs, proving Taubes wrong. lol. Had to throw in some sarcasm.

    Reply
  10. Pam

    I read Why We get Fat and Good Calories Bad Calories. I have been low carb for 5 years ever since. But i missed that part too. I do remember the line,

    “We don’t get fat because we overeat; we overeat because we’re getting fat”

    I probably just didn’t fully understand it.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton

      I explained it in Fat Head, using more user-friendly words, of course. GCBC is a challenging read. In Fat Head, I showed the fat cells expanding and then releasing fatty acids. The voice-over was something like, “… and they keep on getting bigger until they can release the fuel your body needs.”

      Reply
      1. Mike

        His book, Why we Get Fat and What to Do About it, is also a good read and doesn’t spend time following the exploits of the poo-obsessed guy in Africa.

        In the forward he encourages readers to buy extra copies to give away to doctors. I know, such a selfless act, but it is considerably shorter and more to the point of weight management in particular.

        Reply
  11. Nick S

    Great post. I think my fathead cells are getting a little slow at releasing fathead content, so I’m gonna need you to keep publishing this good stuff so frequently, thanks. 😛

    “I don’t remember that part of the book” seems to be the excuse behind most of the crappy “takedowns” of Taubes. I read the book one time, years ago, and somehow I remember the places where he discusses all of the common anti- arguments while reviewers so often don’t.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      It’s a thick book and I understand why people would forget sections. But geez, that “we become fat to get back into energy balance” section was hugely important.

      Reply
  12. Stephen

    Gary Taubes drives people like me crazy because I prefer carbs to meat and fat, and lost 60 lbs. eating bread, pasta, potatoes, bean burritos, etc. But I do understand that we’re all different in body types, activity levels, food preferences, and react differently (including over eating) to different types of food.

    I hope Gary is right, and helps the most people possible with his “Alternative Hypothesis”. But for me, the most important thing was overcoming my addiction to fast food, by learning how to cook and love real food.

    I think it’s great we all experiment with our personal food choices and theories, because we need to find the right solutions for ourselves. (For the last 26 days I’ve been on the Potato Diet, and I learned a lot about my overeating.)

    So I’ll be a little “anti-science” here, and not even try to understand Gary’s “Alternative Hypothesis”. Honestly, it’s a little confusing to me, and I can’t follow what he’s saying. I do have a MSEE degree, but I have no chance of re-stating what he believes. Anyway, there’s probably no way I’m going to change what I like to eat.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I don’t believe the insulin hypothesis is the entire story. But I believe it’s a big part of the story for many people.

      Reply
      1. Mike

        Where I think Taubes may be a little off is in his address of Leptin.

        He discusses here, why he thinks it is a secondary effect:

        https://proteinpower.com/drmike/2008/11/17/gary-taubes-responds/

        In my opinion, Taubes’ own discussion suggests we should worry more about Leptin.

        As I understand it, Leptin affects the calories-out side of the equation. Fat makes leptin, leptin tells our cells to turn up the immune system, reproductive machinery, energy levels, etc. It makes sense homeostatically; when we are fat, turn up systems that work better with more energy. If we become “Leptin resistant”, assuming that’s a real thing, it would tend to make us more likely to hold on to fat, even without insulin holding the fat hostage.

        Assuming leptin does matter, what can you do though? Some people insist that flipping from low-carb, to high-carb, and back can cause a “leptin reset” but I’m not convinced that this is a real thing.

        It might be true that this is only relevant to people who are already fat. Taubes may have learned how to keep society from getting fat, but we’ve already got a bunch of fat people.

        Reply
        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          According to Dr. Lustig, at least, high insulin blocks the leptin signal. If so, then a diet that reduces insulin would help.

          Leptin resistance is a real thing.

          Reply
            1. Tom Naughton Post author

              I can’t recommend a specific primer on leptin, but Dr. Lustig has spoken about it, Dr. Richard Johnson has spoken about, and Dr. Bill Lagakos wrote about in “The poor, misunderstood calorie.”

    2. js290

      1st order effect: Insulin inhibits lipolysis
      In contrast to the hormonal activation of adenylate cyclase and (subsequently) hormone-sensitive lipase in adipocytes, the mobilization of fat from adipose tissue is inhibited by numerous stimuli. The most significant inhibition is that exerted upon adenylate cyclase by insulin. When an individual is in the well fed state, insulin released from the pancreas prevents the inappropriate mobilization of stored fat. Instead, any excess fat and carbohydrate are incorporated into the triglyceride pool within adipose tissue.

      Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      “You don’t need insulin to grow fat” isn’t the same as “insulin doesn’t make you fat.”

      Reply
      1. Man

        Haha, rhetorical fun 🙂

        Insulin does not make you fat, this is obvious. Insulin helps you store nutrients, and is part of some metabolic feedback loops for all sorts of signalling (one is to tell the brain that you are being fed, so the brain can reduce hunger as you’re eating).
        What makes you fat is when you are not in metabolic balance and something has to happen to all the incoming energy substrate that can’t be disposed of. Failing to burn it, you store it for a rainy day. If you keep on this path, you start to gain weight, and it ain’t necessary muscle mass 🙂

        But come on Tom, you know this. When you applied your fat-head movie diet for a while, you were conscious about your ingested calories by avoiding carbs and tracking how much you ate. If you had ditched the burger and cheese and only kept the buns + tracked calories as well, you would have lost weight as well. If your movie was a response to Spurlock’s idiotic stunt (overeating food, and only selecting junk food at that!), this wasn’t exactly the right thing to do.

        Anyway, the carb + insulin hypothesis (especially Taubes’ version of it) has been debunked so I don’t know why one would stick to it.

        Reply
        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          I see, so it’s a simple matter of calories in vs. calories out. Okay, thanks for explaining it all to us.

          Reply
          1. j

            Nice…lets eat pizza and candy all day..as long as we’re under a calorie count..Im stocking up on Snackwells

            My takeaway from the movie was that we have and make choices, and that those choices determine our results. No one forces us to eat junk food or go to McDonalds.

            Also, it’s not the fat that makes us fat. It’s not that simple. If you look at his food blog, youll see his daily saturated fat intake was 2-4 times the “recommended” amount , and his daily carb count was 71-131 grams per day.

            Lastly, why stick to the low carb hypothesis in regards to a daily diet? Because for many that have tried and failed on the ‘eat what you want, low calorie’ garbage, a lower carb diet is something that works, and improves their health. It’s not the only option…but it’s an effective one.

            Reply
            1. Man

              Of course you can eat pizza and candy all day if that’s what you feel like eating:

              http://edition.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/11/08/twinkie.diet.professor/

              http://nypost.com/2016/01/27/how-i-lost-nearly-100-pounds-eating-pizza/

              But that’s not the problem. You can lose weight any way you like as long as you create a caloric deficit. However, this is not a lifestyle to adopt. Dieting always sucks. Even low carb, which always starts like a magic weight loss tool is just another derivative of the negative caloric balance. You simply eat more proteins overall, which is satiating. And when you reach a lower setpoint, you stall because you reached some new balance (your calorie intake matches CO).

              I know, this is not sexy at all, and eating disordered people can’t really accept the fact that there is no free lunch. To be honest, I am not defending any particular diet (low carb / low fat / high protein / low protein). This is not the point. The real point is that one has to adopt a lifestyle that brings him/her health (lean and toned body, clear mind, positive mindset) without the feeling of being deprived. That’s not what we see in all these diet circles. people create way too many taboos around particular foods or nutrients, when the path to good health is a holistic one combined with a rather laid back attitude when it comes to food choices.

              So defending a theory like Taubes’ is in my opinion idiotic because it does not give the correct picture. Don’t swallow his bologna 😀 But nothing prevents anyone to try low carb and lose weight that way, it certainly works but not because of insulin / carb. And like most diets, it eventually stops working. Look at Jimmy Moore .., an exemplary case of why calories matter, no matter what you ingest. An example to be followed … NOT!

            2. Tom Naughton Post author

              So again, you’re re-stating your opinion that our bodies work like piggy banks and therefore gaining and losing weight is a simple matter of calories in vs. calories out. Well, that is a brilliant insight and explains everything. Please, please, please write a book to share this insight with the world.

            3. Stephen

              Would you disagree with my statement that “managing weight is a function of many variables, and trying to manage insulin levels via diet is very low on the list”?

            4. j

              Lol Tom’s response..

              To Man’s “one has to adopt a lifestyle that brings him/her health..without the feeling of being deprived”. I agree. For many, a low..or even a lower carb diet (50-150g) helps with satiety due to higher protein, fiber and fat intake. Not to mention the benefits of not constantly spiking blood sugar. For others, maybe it’s not the best diet. I think most people (at least here) know that it’s not the end-all answer for everyone.

              Jimmy is a case of one person, and really youre not making your case by using him or someone else as that one example. I believe what youre doing is cherry picking. It’s a method that can be used in any argument against any type of diet (high calorie, low calorie, high or low carb, etc). More so, it looks like youre even partaking in a bit o’ trollin’ and also making fun of Jimmy. I can see why Tom doesnt bother explaining things out for you.

              I do believe calorie intake plays a role, but the type of calorie is immensely more important. Can someone lose weight on a low calorie twinkie or pizza diet? I guess, according to your links. But I’ll choose not to..I dont like feeling sick, and I value my health and fitness. Also I like eating a satisfying amount of healthy, whole foods, without having to track calories.

              PS. Interesting that you mention set-point as it relates to diet. It’s something heavily discussed by Jonathan Bailor.

            5. BobM

              Many studies indicate that if you restrict calories, your basal metabolism simply reduces. Maybe not right away, but certainly within months. That’s why calorie restriction never works long term. This is also discussed in Taubes’ books.

        2. Firebird

          Dr. Greg Ellis said in an interview a few years ago, “You could lost weight by reducing your calories to 1,000 per day and eat nothing but cake, but I wouldn’t recommend it.”

          Reply
        3. Mike

          But Taubes has pointed out that you can take someone eating primarily fat and protein but fewer calories than they burn and they can feel fine. Then if you add carbs to the exact same budget of fat & protein, those same test subjects get hungry when they weren’t before.

          If you have enough insulin in you, your body will store fat, even if it really ought to be burning some, and then you get hungry because your fat just stole breakfast from the rest of your cells.

          Taubes discusses experiments in which rats full of insulin get fat and then suffer from malnutrition and even die of malnutrition while fat.

          Reply
  13. Todd

    Great analogy. Instead of ‘My 600 Pound Life’ we need a show called ‘My Huge Bank Account Life.’ That would get some attention.

    By the way, I know a skinny guy who eats a lot of carbs, proving Taubes wrong. lol. Had to throw in some sarcasm.

    Reply
  14. Pam

    I read Why We get Fat and Good Calories Bad Calories. I have been low carb for 5 years ever since. But i missed that part too. I do remember the line,

    “We don’t get fat because we overeat; we overeat because we’re getting fat”

    I probably just didn’t fully understand it.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I explained it in Fat Head, using more user-friendly words, of course. GCBC is a challenging read. In Fat Head, I showed the fat cells expanding and then releasing fatty acids. The voice-over was something like, “… and they keep on getting bigger until they can release the fuel your body needs.”

      Reply
      1. Mike

        His book, Why we Get Fat and What to Do About it, is also a good read and doesn’t spend time following the exploits of the poo-obsessed guy in Africa.

        In the forward he encourages readers to buy extra copies to give away to doctors. I know, such a selfless act, but it is considerably shorter and more to the point of weight management in particular.

        Reply
  15. Jeff C

    That passage regarding Pennington’s insight regarding expanding fat cells is probably my favorite from the book, a real “aha” moment for me. Pennington goes on to say that the notion dawned on him with such clarity that he felt foolish for not having seen it before. He also went on to explain how it suddenly made so many contradictory aspects of obesity fit together “like clockwork”.

    Probably like many here, I’ve read GCBC cover to cover at least four times, it truly is a revolutionary book that changed my life. It’s now been out nearly nine years and it seems like we’ve finally reached a tipping point. Hopefully Taubes get the recognition he deserves. It’s not an overreach to say a Congressional Medal of Honor is appropriate based on the impact to our nations health.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton

      I’d call it an “aha” moment and then some. When I read the part about Pennington’s insights, I said something like “holy @#$%!” and set the book down and just let it all sink in. As Pennington himself said, suddenly what appeared to be contradictory pieces of the puzzle fell into place. I still can’t believe a health blogger read that section and didn’t remember it.

      Reply
        1. Patricia

          The civilian version is the Presidential Medal of Freedom. I’m a fan of GCBC myself, but suggesting that Gary Taubes get a medal for putting together ideas that had been out there for decades into one document is a bit on the extreme side.

          Reply
  16. Jeff C

    That passage regarding Pennington’s insight regarding expanding fat cells is probably my favorite from the book, a real “aha” moment for me. Pennington goes on to say that the notion dawned on him with such clarity that he felt foolish for not having seen it before. He also went on to explain how it suddenly made so many contradictory aspects of obesity fit together “like clockwork”.

    Probably like many here, I’ve read GCBC cover to cover at least four times, it truly is a revolutionary book that changed my life. It’s now been out nearly nine years and it seems like we’ve finally reached a tipping point. Hopefully Taubes get the recognition he deserves. It’s not an overreach to say a Congressional Medal of Honor is appropriate based on the impact to our nations health.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I’d call it an “aha” moment and then some. When I read the part about Pennington’s insights, I said something like “holy @#$%!” and set the book down and just let it all sink in. As Pennington himself said, suddenly what appeared to be contradictory pieces of the puzzle fell into place. I still can’t believe a health blogger read that section and didn’t remember it.

      Reply
        1. Patricia

          The civilian version is the Presidential Medal of Freedom. I’m a fan of GCBC myself, but suggesting that Gary Taubes get a medal for putting together ideas that had been out there for decades into one document is a bit on the extreme side.

          Reply
    2. BobM

      I’ve read both Taubes’ books (GCBC, Why We Get Fat…) multiple times. The part for me that is the hardest to swallow is that athletes could exercise because their insulin/fat system is portioned to shuttle calories into muscle cells instead of into fat cells, and not for other reasons. It makes sense, but only after reading it many times and letting it sink it. This is especially true as someone who has always exercised, a lot, and still got heavier while exercising a lot. But it’s hard when something you believe in — exercise causes weight loss and low fat/high carb is good – turns out not to be true.

      Reply
  17. Liz

    “Facts that challenge such basic assumptions—and thereby threaten people’s livelihood and selfesteem— are simply not absorbed. The mind does not digest them.”

    Daniel Kahneman in Thinking Fast and Slow.

    Also mentioned in Kahneman’s book are wisdom of crowds, regression to the mean…

    Reply
  18. Liz

    “Facts that challenge such basic assumptions—and thereby threaten people’s livelihood and selfesteem— are simply not absorbed. The mind does not digest them.”

    Daniel Kahneman in Thinking Fast and Slow.

    Also mentioned in Kahneman’s book are wisdom of crowds, regression to the mean…

    Reply
  19. Mike T

    Good explanation. The balloon analogy is a good way to explain. If you have a one of those heavy hard to inflate balloons (they resist inflation) air will rush out readily. The thin ones that are easily inflated, need much more inflation to produce the same airflow out.

    Have you read Mike Eades latest post on the how high PUFA intakes also impacts our fat burning metabolism? Good explanation of the possible mechanism behind the recent study that found that Soy oil was caused greater fat gain (than what I forget, but it might have been canola or olive oil).

    Peter over at Hyperlipid had written on the same subject, but I generally find his writing a bit more challenging to interpret.

    If you haven’t you should check out Tommy Woods. He is British Dr. and has interesting views on the role of insulin. Cole’s notes: It primarily acts to shut down fat burning and energy storage is secondary. For me, it does provide another explanation why very high carb diets work and why following the SAD lots of carb and fat is such a disaster.

    Reply
    1. BenG

      I’ve always understood excessive PUFAs (w6/trans/damaged fats) as causing unfavorable changes in the cellular membranes leading to more insulin resistance leading to more insulin being secreted. I remember there was a french fish oil study done in the 90’s showing a slight drop in weight probably from the improved insulin sensitivity from the w3 oil.

      Reply
  20. Galina L.

    I definitely didn’t have a weight issue because I ate too much sugar and bread. However, a LC diet basically sorted out all my health issues, and first of all,such diet normalised my appetite. Most probably, proponents of LCarbing don’t explain everything with 100% accuracy, but who is perfect? The book”Good Calories, Bad Calories ” gives a lot of support to the LC ideas, and it is enough for a reader to start own health improvement journey.GT doesn’t promise 100% success as far as I remember.

    Reply
  21. Mike T

    Good explanation. The balloon analogy is a good way to explain. If you have a one of those heavy hard to inflate balloons (they resist inflation) air will rush out readily. The thin ones that are easily inflated, need much more inflation to produce the same airflow out.

    Have you read Mike Eades latest post on the how high PUFA intakes also impacts our fat burning metabolism? Good explanation of the possible mechanism behind the recent study that found that Soy oil was caused greater fat gain (than what I forget, but it might have been canola or olive oil).

    Peter over at Hyperlipid had written on the same subject, but I generally find his writing a bit more challenging to interpret.

    If you haven’t you should check out Tommy Woods. He is British Dr. and has interesting views on the role of insulin. Cole’s notes: It primarily acts to shut down fat burning and energy storage is secondary. For me, it does provide another explanation why very high carb diets work and why following the SAD lots of carb and fat is such a disaster.

    Reply
    1. BenG

      I’ve always understood excessive PUFAs (w6/trans/damaged fats) as causing unfavorable changes in the cellular membranes leading to more insulin resistance leading to more insulin being secreted. I remember there was a french fish oil study done in the 90’s showing a slight drop in weight probably from the improved insulin sensitivity from the w3 oil.

      Reply
  22. Galina L.

    I definitely didn’t have a weight issue because I ate too much sugar and bread. However, a LC diet basically sorted out all my health issues, and first of all,such diet normalised my appetite. Most probably, proponents of LCarbing don’t explain everything with 100% accuracy, but who is perfect? The book”Good Calories, Bad Calories ” gives a lot of support to the LC ideas, and it is enough for a reader to start own health improvement journey.GT doesn’t promise 100% success as far as I remember.

    Reply
  23. Josh

    IMHO, some people lose brain cells whenever their pet beliefs are threatened… So, in order to reach equilibrium (justification and certainty) in their beliefs, they need more pet beliefs until the number of pet beliefs is so high that they don’t need brain cells anymore.

    Or, more simply put “tell me more of what I want to hear, and don’t confuse me with the facts”.

    Reply
      1. Walter Bushell

        It happens to the best of us. Sometimes we can have our minds changed by overwhelming evidence. Most of us here except for the noisemakers, have had a conversion or deconversion experience.

        One may need an educational experience.

        Wisdom is dependent on our ability to get the lies and half truths out of our truth tables.

        Reply
  24. Josh

    IMHO, some people lose brain cells whenever their pet beliefs are threatened… So, in order to reach equilibrium (justification and certainty) in their beliefs, they need more pet beliefs until the number of pet beliefs is so high that they don’t need brain cells anymore.

    Or, more simply put “tell me more of what I want to hear, and don’t confuse me with the facts”.

    Reply
      1. Walter Bushell

        It happens to the best of us. Sometimes we can have our minds changed by overwhelming evidence. Most of us here except for the noisemakers, have had a conversion or deconversion experience.

        One may need an educational experience.

        Wisdom is dependent on our ability to get the lies and half truths out of our truth tables.

        Reply
        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          Experience is the key, and it’s why people showing up here to push the “it’s a simple matter of calories in vs. calories out” theory — because by gosh they READ ABOUT IT AND AGREE! — are wasting their time. Words won’t convince a man he didn’t experience what he experienced.

          Reply
          1. BobM

            I also think this is true. I tried Atkins on a whim and after several weeks felt great. However, I could not believe it was true. It took me years before I finally transitioned over to a low carb diet for good, as there’s so much to overturn (you need carbs to exercise and for your brain, saturated fat is bad, etc.). Even today, I’ll look at food with a lot of fat on/in it and remark to myself about how much fat there is in it. And I try to eat as much fat — particularly animal fat — as I can per day. But I spent decades believing fat was evil. It’s hard to change that even after a few years.

            I also have a hard time when people advocate high carb diets and say they can lose weight on them. I spent years eating high carb and low fat, and I remember how I was always hungry (could eat brown rice and beans and be hungry 15 minutes later), my blood sugar control was horrible to the point I’d get depressed frequently, etc. Now, I experience none of that.

            Reply
            1. Tom Naughton Post author

              Some people do lose weight on high-carb diets. That’s what was interesting about Chris Gardner’s A-Z study. He found that insulin-resistant people lost much more weight on a low-carb diet. But for insulin-sensitive people, all four diets produced roughly equal results.

  25. Manuel

    Hi tom i am from México and i whatch fathead and i think is a great documentary bery good information. Tom what do you think about Andrew Saúl from doctor yourself.com who is a vegetarían i think he is got a good opinar too hope you check no him

    Reply
  26. Manuel

    Hi tom i am from México and i whatch fathead and i think is a great documentary bery good information. Tom what do you think about Andrew Saúl from doctor yourself.com who is a vegetarían i think he is got a good opinar too hope you check no him

    Reply
  27. js290

    Taubes is referring to energy flux. On a macro level, this is where CICO makes sense. Sometimes an increase in CI is required for a subsequent increase in CO. Similarly, a decrease in CI may unexpectedly result in a decrease in CO.

    Reply
  28. js290

    Taubes is referring to energy flux. On a macro level, this is where CICO makes sense. Sometimes an increase in CI is required for a subsequent increase in CO. Similarly, a decrease in CI may unexpectedly result in a decrease in CO.

    Reply
  29. Michael

    “Cliffy explained that it’s physiologically impossible to gain muscle mass while losing fat mass”

    It must be for the same reason that it’s physiologically impossible to gain fat mass while losing muscle mass. The laws of physics?

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton

      I suppose he thinks so, but I posted about a study in which calorie-restricted mice lost muscle and gained fat mass.

      Reply
  30. Michael

    “Cliffy explained that it’s physiologically impossible to gain muscle mass while losing fat mass”

    It must be for the same reason that it’s physiologically impossible to gain fat mass while losing muscle mass. The laws of physics?

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I suppose he thinks so, but I posted about a study in which calorie-restricted mice lost muscle and gained fat mass.

      Reply

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