Book review: Why We Get Fat

In 2011, a friend introduced me to the Atkins diet. I had heard of it before, but I assumed it was a fad promising quick weight-loss results with little effort. I did try the diet, and it did work! After a week of the Atkins “Induction Phase,” I lost 7 pounds, which was all I needed to lose at the time. I then returned to my typical carbohydrate-rich diet and promptly regained the weight. For a few months, I would return to Atkins now and then, usually for one or two weeks at a time, and invariably I lost weight. Even more important, I felt good.

But I didn’t stick with it.

The fact is, living a low-carb life is difficult in a high-carb culture. It takes more time, more planning, more shopping. I found that investment difficult and couldn’t stick with it consistently. Even though I was seeing results. (If you’d like more detail about the Atkins diet, here’s a review by Jen Miller.)

Recommitted

But now I’m recommitted. Thanks to Gary Taubes and his book, Why We Get Fat—and what to do about it (available from Amazon.com in a variety of formats), I am now convinced that the Atkins diet and other low-carb diets are not fads but are scientifically backed, medically proven, healthy ways to eat.

Now, Taubes takes quite a long time to answer the question, “Why do we get fat?” The short answer is, “Because we eat too many carbs” and Taubes doesn’t actually say that until Chapter 11. But all the background information he provides is actually very helpful.

Re-educated

Taubes spends the first half of his book dismantling the assumptions we’ve always been taught about food and fitness. If you’ve been desperately trying to balance “calories in” (your diet) with “calories out” (your exercise), you’ll probably find some affirmation in learning that this just doesn’t work. If you’ve been wondering why the abundance of low-fat foods now available in our grocery stores has not led to an abundance of low-fat people, you’ll find Taubes’ explanations undeniably logical. I found myself saying over and over as I read, “Yes! That makes so much sense!”

For example, Taubes comes to the conclusion that being “too fat” is not much different from being “too tall.” If someone grew to 15 feet, we wouldn’t blame him for eating too much or not exercising enough. We would more likely assume there was a biological reason for his unusual growth, and we would look for biological corrections. Yet when those same growth hormones cause fatness instead of height, we assume the problem is behavioral, and we attempt to correct it with behavioral solutions, like “Eat less” and “Exercise more.” But behavioral corrections can’t work on a biological problem. Makes sense, right?

So even though I’ve given you the short answer to why we get fat, I recommend reading the whole book. The studies Taubes cites are fascinating. And the re-education is important. Understanding why our current mentality and our current diets don’t work is helping me make new choices, even though they cost more time and effort.

Re-focused

After revealing that we get fat because we eat too many carbs and produce too much insulin, Taubes spends some time explaining the larger health benefits of a low-carb diet. Not only do we become leaner and more energetic; we also become less prone to heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer. His research is impressive, and he offers convincing evidence that low-fat diets have done nothing to reduce the instances of these diseases. Low-carb diets, on the other hand, do.

So, as I said in my New Year’s Resolutions post, I want to eat healthier this year. Not just to reach a certain number on the scale, but to reduce my risk of Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and cancer—all of which have affected my family—and to minimize the grip that diabetes has on me.

Results

Why We Get Fat does not offer much advice on how to actually follow a low-carb diet in a high-carb world, but Taubes does compare it to quitting smoking:

“If you do compromise and eventually return to eating these carbohydrates in quantity, the only reasonable response if weight loss remains your goal will be to try again, just as smokers might try to quit numerous times before they ultimately succeed.” (p. 210, emphasis added)

So I’m going to keep trying. And when I fail, I’m going to start over and try again. Until it becomes a lifestyle.

And I’ve also found another resource that is already helping me see results. I invested in the Kindle version of Dana Carpender’s 300 15-minute Low-Carb Recipes. Now, I am not a chef by any measure, and I have never felt very at-home on the range. In fact, this may be the first cookbook I’ve ever intentionally purchased!

And I love it! Carpender does a great job of explaining where to find ingredients I’ve never heard of, and how to organize each recipe so that you can accomplish it efficiently. I haven’t always achieved the 15-minute goal, but I attribute that to my learning curve. As I become more familiar with the recipes and my own kitchen, things will go faster.

Even so, the meals have all turned out delicious! And they’ve all been very satisfying. And, after my first week of low-carb eating, my blood sugar levels were very steady, and I had lost three pounds. In the second week, I lost another 2.5.

Reaching out

Maintaining this healthy diet will require that I continue to structure my time so that I can plan my shopping, shop more often, organize my meals, and then actually cook and clean up! So far, so good, but I am concerned about how long I’ll be able to stick with it.

That’s why I’m reaching out to you, my blog-reading friends. I’m inviting you to keep me accountable, to ask me how it’s going, to post recipe ideas, to make suggestions, to encourage me. Will you do that?

And if this whole “healthy eating” topic is interesting to you, let me know if I should post more about it in future blogs!

 

3 thoughts on “Book review: Why We Get Fat

  1. Great post Melanie! I borrowed this book and thought I would just glance through a few pages and ended up reading it cover to cover. Really was fascinating! Every time I see your lunch I think “that looks good!”. Now I just have to commit myself – something I haven’t been good at in the past. Baby steps… :)

    • It’s definitely helpful to be on this journey WITH other people! A few of us have been sharing recipes and resources and results—and that provides some “fun accountability.” Plus, I think it’s helpful that I’m not trying to lose a certain amount of weight in a certain amount of time. Instead, my commitment is to a lower-carb lifestyle overall. That means I know there will be times when I fall off the wagon, but I also know I will get right back on it! Thanks for your encouragement!

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