Why are we fat? The multimillion-dollar scientific quest to find out

Gary Taubes and Peter Attia

Gary Taubes and Peter Attia

Why are more and more people fat? The conventional view that it’s all about calories (eat less, run more) remains unproven and it doesn’t work very well.

Gary Taubes and Peter Attia are on a quest for the answer to the question. Is it only about calories or is it just as much about the quality of the calories? Is it about carbohydrates and their hormonal effects?

The sad truth is that we don’t know with certainty yet. At least not with enough certainty, so that all of those who are able to rethink, would be willing to accept the evidence. To really find the answer will be expensive, very expensive. This requires bigger and more carefully done studies than what have been done so far.

Fortunately, Taube’s and Attia’s non-profit organization NuSI has already acquired $40 million in donations and is trying to get an extra $190 million to finance the studies needed. Three big studies are already going on.

Read this excellent article about the quest for answers:

WIRED: Why Are We So Fat? The Multimillion-Dollar Scientific Quest to Find Out


A Calorie Isn’t a Calorie – Not Even Close

“I Was Wrong, You Were Right”

Why We Get Fat – Interview with Gary Taubes

Dr Attia at TEDMED: What if We’re Wrong About Diabetes?

The Controversial Manhattan Project of Nutrition


  1. Boundless
    I'd like to think that NuSi is accounting for all the known confounders that plague most of what passes for nutrition science these days, like gut biome, but I have to wonder when I read things like:

    "... Rudolph Leibel, one of the researchers working on the consortium study at Columbia, also has similar doubts—not least because his own research fully supports the calories-in/calories-out model, which holds that all calories have equal impact on our weight. ..."

    It is way too easy to sabotage a nutrition trial (even unconsciously). I was lately reading of one testing fish oil, and comparing it to olive oil, not as a comparison, not as a control, but supposing the olive oil to be a PLACEBO. Hello, nutrition "science". Is anyone home in your skulls?

    Replies: #2, #3
  2. murray
    Taubes is obviously of different view than Leibel. That is why Leibel was recruited by NuSi, in order to anticipate objections to the experimental design from all camps. It also insulates NuSi from charges that their research is biased to favour LCHF.

    I spoke to Gary about the design of one of the studies and they are being very thorough. For example, in assessing the CICO hypothesis, they are even measuring calories excreted through urine (especially ketones) and feces (especially surplus dietary fat and fat made by bacteria). One should not expect rigorous science to be all wine and roses.

  3. Paul the rat
    Olive oil can be used as placebo when studies involve impact of EPA/DHA . Hello, do we understand what we read?. Is anyone home?
    Reply: #4
  4. Boundless
    > Olive oil can be used as placebo when studies involve impact of EPA/DHA.

    I would not think so when the focus of the study was CVD. Assuming that the benefits of olive oil (and it's not clear exactly what olive oil they used) are well understood, I could see it being used as a control, but hardly as a placebo.

    Reply: #6
  5. Victor
    I agree. A placebo should be an item that has no effect on the body. Water would make a good placebo. Taking olive oil will probably have some effect, so it hardly makes for a valid placebo.
  6. Paul the rat
    Boundless @ Victor,
    please check relation CVD - EPA/DHA (PubMed) . Check EPA/DHA fish oil and olive oil content.
  7. mary baechler
    Gary, that's a little ominous with the knife! LOL Mary Baechler, Yakima Wa.
    Reply: #8
  8. FrankG
    It *is* a steak knife Mary :-P

    Although now that I have taken more of an interest in what I eat and found grass-fed beef, I've come to learn that a really good steak should not need a special serrated blade :-)

  9. Loy sequeira
    I believe the industrylization of america is the root cause of obesity. If we looked at photographs of people a scant 50 years ago they were lean and active. The whole population were in varyinhg degrees of lean and mean.
    With the advent of cars trains planes elevators and taxis people do not walk anymore.
    Its sitting and sleeping and eating.
    Food real food has always been around
    Even if they ate junk food they would walk it off
    Like the maasai.

    There are other factors like stress which are adding to the issue.
    Thats it.

    Replies: #11, #12, #13
  10. Galina L.
    There are lot of seriously fat people who are involved into the labor which requires whole day physical activities (farmers, migrant Mexican workers, construction workers, cleaning ladies) to question your theory.
  11. bill

    Apparently, you have missed the whole message of this

    To help further dispel the notion that one may slim down
    by moving more, this guy:



    Teaches dance all over the world, wins dance competitions,
    and dances much of his waking hours.

    I rest my case.

  12. Paul the rat
    Yeah, just eat less, run more and you'll be fine.
    (and when you'll hit 50, came to my office, we'll start easy with metformin)
  13. Wade Henderson
    Interesting article coming out in the September issue of National Geographic



    National Geographic doesn't seem to have a ax to grind

    Reply: #15
  14. Boundless
    > National Geographic doesn't seem to have a ax to grind

    Disagree, and dropped my subscription decades ago on account of it. Keep your guard up.

    However, if they've discovered an authentic paleo cookbook, the recipes might be worth a look :)

    And it may turn out that the dirt on the food was as important as the food itself.

  15. Tammy
    I'm a 52 year old woman and fat but I should be skinny because I am active and eat very little. I thought HFLC was the answer for me but I lost the first few weeks of the diet and the weight loss stopped.
    I now know that I have lipoedema. I have large legs that are very painful and also have it in my arms. It is very frustrating to eat healthy but everyone assumes that I overeat. This type of fat is very resistant to diet and exercise. I wish someone would do more research on this condition.
  16. Marcella
    What I find interesting is that not only are middle age women overall becoming more and more obese but mainstream medical science is baffled as to how to reverse the damage caused by the poor food supply available. These women tend not to respond well to HFLC in terms of dramatic weight loss, meaning they lose a bit but then the weight loss seems to stall out on them. From everything I read, our weight is largely controlled by our diet and exercising to excess out of desperation also works to a woman's disadvantage. Men appear to respond well to HFLC with a bit of exercise but middle age women in particular seem to have a much harder time losing weight. Women tend to accumulate fat around their middle and it seems to stay stuck there. I am sure some of it is visceral but I don't think most of it is since the fat seems to be the loose kind just under the skin. It would be nice if the Diet Doctor could provide a section specifically for middle age women battling the mid section bulge because these women seem to be in a special category all their own.
    Reply: #18
  17. Galina L.
    Many hormones affect body composition and fatness. Diets which limit carbohydrates help, but often not 100%. Just look at the females after hysterectomy or rats with removed ovaries.
    "Success stories" are often too rosy, and the reality is way more complicated. Also, human body resists weight loss, especially in females. On a positive side, for middle-aged thinner doesn't always translates into "younger". I think with BMI 27 I look better than I would with BMI 20 at my age (53.5 yo), but I am pear-shaped.
  18. Kathy from Maine
    I actually love the picture at the top of Gary and Peter.

    Forks and knives? That certainly wouldn't be a rather obvious reference to "Forks Over Knives"? ;-)

    Marcella, I agree whole-heartedly. I'm 59, post-menopausal, and have extreme difficulty losing weight (even on a whole-foods ketogenic plan) and my propensity to gain weight is all out of proportion to what I eat and how much I move. I just saw my primary care physician yesterday for a yearly physical. He's naturally lean, has always been lean, and is a runner. He won the genetic lottery, in other words. So he believes anyone should be able to maintain a lean body weight effortlessly. He told me to just eat a little less and move a little more.

    He even said to me at the end, "How about we make it a goal for you to lose 20 pounds over the next year?" I looked him square in the eye and said, "If it were that easy, don't you think I would have done it by now?"

    So frustrating. When I told him what I ate (1200 - 1500 calories a day; I'm 5'6"), he obviously didn't believe me. So, I'm a liar. And even though I told him I eat a whole-foods diet and shun processed food, sugar, grains, and starch, he offered to write a referral to a nutritionist. So, I'm stupid.

    Thanks for nothing, doc.

Leave a reply

Reply to comment #0 by

Older posts