Gary Taubes Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It begins as an exhaustive look at what we don’t know about obesity science. Tracing various weight truths back through the decades or centuries is an interest of mine. Body perception is very tied to class or worth in American culture. The obvious genetics of body size are generally ignored in favor of one size fits all truths. That dieting fails is not a fault of the advice, it’s the moral failure of the dieter. Most of what we accept as truth about human weight isn’t well supported by clinical studies. Even the familiar BMI test fails to stand up to rigorous scrutiny.
The first half of Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It unpacks these unsubstantiated truths nicely. Taubes is downright evangelical in his outrage that we actually don’t know what’s driving the latest version of the obesity epidemic. (Fun fact – we’ve been in an obesity epidemic for about a century now, perhaps a bit longer. Yes, that includes the Great Depression.) It’s super fun to blame modern lifestyles so newspapers have been doing it for ages.
“If people have been thinking about this idea for more than a century and trying to test it for decades and they still can’t generate compelling evidence that it’s true, it’s probably not. We can’t say it’s not with absolute certainty because science doesn’t work that way. But we can say that there’s now an exceedingly good chance it’s simply wrong, one of the many seemingly reasonable ideas in the history of science that never panned out. ” – Gary Taubes, Why We Get Fat pg 56
In the second half Taubes offers a far less critical eye to his one size fits all super hypothesis of weight management. As I said in the spoiler alert, he’s a strong proponent of the Atkins diet. It works for his body chemistry, it fits his view of sugar and carbs as evils, and it dovetails with a sidecar of privation as a sign of intelligence. Atkins works for a number of people, but it doesn’t work for everyone. Those who fail on it are no more weak or uncommitted than those who fail as vegetarians, paleos, or whatever other fad diet is sweeping the nation. Taubes, who has already acknowledged we don’t know the mechanisms behind metabolic changes and that different body types are a real thing, doubles down for Atkins parade. Eliminate sugar. Increase fat. Eschew carbohydrates. It’s depressing.
When Taubes is summarizing the advice and science behind the dietary beliefs of others he’s engaging and exhaustive. When looking at his own, he gets a little starry eyed. Enjoy the first half, but take the second with a grain of salt.