About a mile and a half up the road is a cute neighborhood bookstore, and Gary Taubes did a book signing tonight for the paperbook version of “Why We Get Fat“. I’m not one of his devotees, but he’s made such a buzz among certain circles that you can’t read the comments on any mainstream media blog post about weight without someone referring to his books, saying calories don’t matter, fat doesn’t matter, exercise is useless, and all that counts is carbs>>insulin>>obese!
He’s actually kind of funny, surprisingly. But here’s the things he said that didn’t pass my sniff test. First was the Pima, a tribe that used to be skinny and now has a high proportion of obesity and the highest diabetes rates in the world. He made it sound as if they used to eat nothing but fish and meat, then Whitey came (obviously I’m paraphrasing here) and then there was famine and then they were fat. He doesn’t mention that their diet back then was a lot of starch (70-80% carb diet), they were farmers too, not just hunters and gatherers.
Second thing that struck me wrong was his explanation of calorie counting. He asked how many people in the room tried to balance their calories. A few of us raised our hands. He went on to say how silly it was, how if you’re even 10 calories off, it causes however much weight gain or loss, and nobody can count that carefully, thus the whole concept fails. I don’t think it works like that, the body regulates much better than that. I don’t think eating an excess or deficit of 10, probably not even 100 calories a day, will cause weight change, I think most people subconsciously adjust, (or fidget, run warmer or colder, etc.) unless they’re actively dieting, in which things can go wonky. I think regular overeating is needed to really gain a lot of weight, and for most of us, difficult efforts to lose much. I don’t count calories, I get on the scale, and if it’s moving the wrong direction, I eat less of them. I don’t need specific numbers.
Which leads to thermodynamics. I did not enjoy physics nor physical chemistry, though they kind of blow my mind, and while I can’t explain most of the concepts very well, my bs detector works decently. He made an analogy of why are more people coming into the bookstore than leaving, thus thermodynamics tells us nothing. Wait, what??!? He seems intelligent, and has a physics degree, I don’t see why he’s feigning ignorance.
I got a chance to ask him a question, so after thanking him for getting me off of low-fat eating, I mentioned that I used to be about 60 pounds larger, and though I don’t eat low-fat, I also don’t eat low carb. Not just fruit, grains, beans, but even sugar in my coffee, even occasional french fries (he talked about them a lot). In other words, Eat Less Move More worked for me. He said, I’m lucky. Or maybe he’s wrong. And though he hates to say it, as I get older, it might not work so well. I’ll give him that point, but the current empty calories in my diet tend to be both high in carbs and fat, as they always have been, now just much less of them, and I don’t see much reason (or science) in just blaming one and giving the other a free pass.
I didn’t buy the book, instead bought a book about the strange phenomenon of science denial. I like neighborhood bookstores, I try to support them when I can. Five years ago, I would have gotten a cookie or a brownie, now I just go look at them, and all the skinny people eating them. I’m not thin enough to eat that stuff, I go home and eat blood oranges, write this post.