Put down that bag of baked potato chips and listen up. Gary Taubes, the author of Why We Get Fat—and What to Do About It, has some controversial opinions about the reasons Americans are obese (33 percent of us are—up from 13 percent just 40 years ago) and how we can slim down. According to Taubes, a science writer who studied applied physics at Harvard, these commonly accepted truths just don’t stand up to the evidence:
- Weight gain is basic arithmetic. The more calories you shovel in, the fatter you’ll get. The truth: “You don’t get fat [simply] because you are overeating.” You get fat, says Taubes, because your overeating—specifically what you are overeating—has led to a disorder in the way your fat tissue is regulated.
- You’ll lose weight if you just eat less of what you’ve been eating. The truth: “Diets don’t work because you adjust your energy expenditure to match your reduced intake. Studies in animals show that if you restrict energy intake, their cells actually burn less energy.”
- Hitting the gym five days a week will turn you into a lean, mean, fighting machine. The truth: “The more energy you expend, the hungrier you get,” says Taubes, who adds, “When you look at the data from the research on obesity and exercise, there’s no compelling evidence that exercise has any effect on weight.”
- Eating less fat will help you shed pounds. The truth: “Fat isn’t the enemy. Easily digested carbs are.” Fat-free yogurt, plain baked potatoes, plain pasta—they actually reset our physiology to make us pack on the pounds. “The reason is that refined carbs raise your insulin levels, and insulin is the primary hormone that regulates your fat tissue,” he says.
So what is Taubes’s solution? A low-carb (not low-fat) diet. And to those who say dietary fat causes heart disease, Taubes says that on the contrary, the evidence now shows that low-carb diets not only improve your cholesterol profile, they lower you blood pressure and your insulin levels to boot. Plus, they make you feel satiated in ways carbs don’t, which means you eat less. So go ahead and order that baked potato slathered in sour cream. Just be sure to have them hold the potato.
—Interview by Lisa Davis