Saturday, January 19, 2008

Notes on Gary Taubes' Lecture at Berkeley

I watched this video over the last two days. I highly recommend it, although I cannot (yet?) say whether he is actually correct or not.

A few things that jumped out at me:
  1. An analogy: we don't say that growing kids grow because they eat a lot, we say that they eat a lot because they are growing. Couldn't the same be true of fat?
  2. Fat cells are active, not passive. Therefore, they can "tell" the body to modify its calorie intake and expenditure. Rats who are deprived of calories slow down and conserve while those overfed are more active and don't gain.
  3. Insulin is necessary for fat storage and carbohydrate intake causes insulin.
  4. Before 1950 it was "common knowledge" in the scientific and lay communities that carbs cause obesity and that the way to lose weight was to reduce carb intake.
  5. The idea that obesity is caused by "sloth and gluttony" is so ingrained that scientists have trouble seeing past it even when the carb-obesity data are right in front of them.

Number 1 really got me. It cuts right to the heart of the willpower debate. Suppose we didn't want kids to grow -- would we insist that they eat less and exercise more? Suppose some succeeded? Would that prove that growing is caused by overeating or being sedentary? By analogy then, if our bodies grow fat because of insulin the way children grow height because of other hormones, then treating the problem by maintaining a calorie deficit doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Why not fix the root cause (excess insulin due to carbs) rather than struggling with our own bodies?

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