Saturday, December 4, 2010

Holy Crap! It's Gary Taubes!

As you know, I'm a big fan of Gary Taubes of "Good Calories, Bad Calories" fame.

A few hours ago, Taubes kicked off the marketing push for his new book ("Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It") with a brand-spankin' new blog.

This is awesome.

Taubes' inaugural post is devoted to debunking the conventional "wisdom" (quotation marks = irony) on why people get fat. Little in the post is new to careful readers of "Good Calories, Bad Calories," but it's great to see that Taubes'll be penning short(er) pieces focusing on particular subtopics in the area of nutrition.

Taubes' first blog entry is well worth reading -- especially if you're still convinced that obesity is caused by overeating and under-exercising. He tears down this particular argument, but his larger point is this: The conventional wisdom is wrong -- but why aren't more people questioning it?
What’s been needed (and still is) was for someone (a reasonably smart 14-year-old would suffice) to ask the obvious questions and then insist on intelligent answers. Here’s how such a dialog might go:
The experts: Obesity is caused by over-eating, by consuming more calories than are expended. There’s no getting around the first law of thermodynamics. 
Us: But all that law says is that if somebody gets fat, they have to consume more calories then they expend. So why do they do that?
The experts: Because they do.
Us: That’s not a good enough answer.
The experts: Well, maybe they can’t help themselves.
Us: Why can’t they help themselves?
The experts: Because they can’t.
Us: That’s not a good enough answer either.
The experts: Because the food industry makes them do it. There’s so much good food around and it’s so tasty, they can’t help but eat it.
Us: But obviously some of us can, because we don’t all get fat. Why is it only some people can’t help themselves?
The experts: Because they can’t.
Us: Try again.
The experts: Well, it’s complicated.
Us: What do you mean complicated? We thought it was easy. Just this eating-too-much, exercising-too-little, calories-in-calories-out, thermodynamics thing.
The experts: Okay, how about this? [Now quoting from an NIH report published in 2000.] “Obesity is a complex, multifactorial chronic disease that develops from an interaction of genotype and the environment. Our understanding of how and why obesity develops is incomplete, but involves the integration of social, behavioral, cultural, physiological, metabolic and genetic factors.”
Us: So what do all those have to do with eating too much and the laws of thermodynamics?
Experts: They contribute to making fat people overeat.
Us: How do they do that?
The experts: We don’t know. It’s complicated.
Us: Then maybe there’s another way to look at it. Maybe when we get fat it’s because those physiological, metabolic and genetic factors you mentioned are dysregulating our fat tissue, driving it to accumulate too much fat, and that’s why we eat so much and appear -- to you anyway -- to be kind of lazy. We’re compensating for the loss of calories into our fat.
The experts: Yeah, well, maybe. Your guess is as good as ours.