Gary Taubes at Google

Here is a fairly new lecture by Gary Taubes on the topic of Why We Get Fat, the title of his last book. Taubes is doing the lecture at Google which is pretty cool. Another thing that is cool is that he is using a few slides I designed for him last year after meeting him at the ASBP/NMS conference in Seattle. At the time it felt like a U2-fan (me) getting to show Bono (him) some new tricks. Weird.

Taubes might be brilliant, but he has a tendency (as he knows) of cramming too much information/details into his lectures, and too much text into his slides. Very common tendencies of course, but still unfortunate.

I have a few other ideas about this lecture but I’d like to hear yours first: What are the strongest of Taubes’s arguments in the lecture and what are the weaknesses? Let me know your thoughts on it in the comments.

36 comments

  1. paul
    GT is a legend.

    However, GT appears to have been nobbled by Dr Lustig, and the message is getting confused. Is the message low carb or safe carb?

  2. paul,
    The message is mainly confusing for people who like their world in black or white. ;)

    I'd say the message is low carb for those who need it/want it, while "safe carb" is an option for those who can handle it (e.g. normal weight healthy people who exercise).

  3. I am a big fan of Gary.

    His weakest point is that he focuses on the hormonal modulation of the diet itself and sort of ignores other natural ways to change a person's hormonal landscape. Exercise being one of them. Resistance exercise (Testosterone) or high lactic exercise (Growth Hormone) and not to mention the insulin sensitive effects of exercise. And that insulin modulation through diet is just 1 way out of many to help the hormonal landscape.

    His strength is that he makes a very strong case for the hormonal effects of weight regulation. He is helping shift our concept of weight regulation, much like many functional medicine doctors are helping us understand that the nutrients we lack have huge effects on our hormones.

  4. Patrik Hägglund
    From a technical/scientific point of view, many of his arguments are brilliant. I have now heard his speech quite a few times, and therefore lost my gut feeling of what's his strong points. However, I think this latest version is slightly improved, compared to his previous versions. (Maybe because of your contribution Doc ;-)).

    The bad points is that he is too much of an "intellectual bully", as he describes himself. He could be more relaxed and "soft". He could point out that misconceptions in the scientific community isn't that uncommon, and how hard it is for most people - even good scientists - to ask the right questions (as examplified about 1:00:00 into the video by the Oxford specialist saying "I newer though about that").

    He could also be more clear that he is presenting the "alternative hypothesis of obesity". His thesis is that fat tissue regulation is the most important mechanism. I agree, but the human body has other regulatory loops too. As a silly example, hunger is usually suppressed (short term) by gastrointestinal illness. My point is that he should present his hypothesis as, in his view, the most _important_ hypothesis, while still acknowledge some other hypotheses as maybe right - just (much) less important. I think that his main argument is to point out what obesity research have missed to examine, and put a new hypothesis on the top of the priority list.

    He could also include something more about fat and its perceived connection to heart diseases, and cut back on some other details. The history behind the diet heart hypothesis helps to explain the current state of affairs.

  5. Patrik Hägglund
    Another thing Gary may do to improve his case, is to present a review of the current intervention studies published, comparing low-carb and low-fat diets (borrowed from Doc's book "Matrevolutionen"). Now, this was only briefly mentioned in the discussion after his presentation.
  6. Bernardo
    One thing that wasn't clear to me was his answer about why high-carb with no sugar can still be a healthy option (when talking about some Asian populations). He hinted that sugar alone could "trigger" the ill effects of the other carbs. What are the scientific basis for that idea? Anyone knows? It gives the idea that with 0 sugar we'd be somehow protected from the effects of insulin.
  7. Ryan
    Very interesting lecture. I'm only half-way through but as a question popped into my mind (which he may answer later).

    Is he saying that even in a calorie excess (eating more on purpose) it is still possible to get leaner, as long as you make the right food choices?

    I understand what he means when he says fat gain is the CAUSE of wanting to eat more, not the result, but what if someone purposefully eats more even though the body doesn't require the energy. What happens then?

  8. Patrik Hägglund
    Ryan #7,

    "What happens then?"

    If you eat much more, you probably gain weight, but your sense of fullness would be above normal. It works the same the other way around: if you eat much less, you probably loose weight. The problem is that your sense of fullness will be (significantly) below normal, and therefore, in practice, it will be hard to follow through. The first law of thermodynamics holds. It just don't tell you the causality.

    As a side note: Your fat tissue is also able to store (some amount of) fat on a zero-carb (moderate/low-protein, high-fat) diet. Otherwise, such a diet would be unhealthy, due to the risk of becoming too thin, which I not have heard any example of.

  9. Milton
    @Ryan: proponents of the concept of 'metabolic advantage' believe that certain food choices can lead to greater weight loss/gain at equal caloric amounts. It's a concept that appears to be fairly controversial, and is separate from the idea that a diet based on the right foods will be self-regulating (ie, you will not eat more than you should because the foods satisfy you more quickly and for a longer period of time).

    I don't know if those ideas and concepts are correct or not, my own experiences don't convince me one way or another. I do try to watch my daily caloric intake, and it's pretty clear to me that certain foods and nutrients do delay hunger much longer than others. But I don't know if equal amounts of certain foods provide more/less energy than others.

  10. @Milton and @Patrik: Thanks for the replies guys.

    In the talk he mentions that him and his brother have different body types due to their genes dictating their predisposition to store fat. It sounded as though he was saying that even by not eating high GI carbs he would still never be as lean as his brother due to this factor (but that he would be fatter that he is now if he ate carbs).

    Does that mean that some people may never be able to get lean?

  11. Milton
    @Ryan: I believe that genetics does play a role in our ability to gain/lose weight and maintain a certain weight. I'm not sure if it means that some people are limited in their ability to reach a specific goal (like body fat % for example) versus others. I hope not, as I am on the last leg of my own health journey and the only thing left is to get rid of the last of this stomach fat, and I'd really like to see a defined abdominal display in its place before long. :)
  12. Ryan
    @Milton: I'm with you on that one! Trying to get sub 10% body fat and was worried for a minute that Gary Taubes research was saying I never would! So, are you going to restrict your calories to get to your goal, or do as he suggests and eat when you feel hungry but cut out carbs? I'm leaning towards trying the later now, but am currently doing the former (as well as not eating 'bad' carbs).
  13. Mike
    @ Ryan @ Milton
    In GT's book, he specifically points out that long-term exposure to high carb and high insulin eating may do irreversible damage and that by following a low carb lifestyle you may only get as lean as you can be, which may not be as lean as you want. This is definitely more of a subjective statement than objective, but I believe there is truth to it. Can all Type 2 diabetics completely reverse their issues and return to 'normal' through a low-carb lifestyle? Some might be able to, but I wouldn't bet that everyone can.

    Obviously...this doesn't make me happy because I want washboard abs too!

  14. Milton
    @Ryan: I have always had success with calorie restriction in the past, but it was generally short-term. I would use a low-fat approach to dieting and while it worked for me, over time I would wear down from the fact that I was hungry pretty often. Having learned that fat and meat are not the problem that the establishment has made them out to be, I have been able to maintain a lower caloric intake (1,800-2,200 kcal per day) while almost never feeling hungry.

    Of course, my problem in the past was that I ate too much in general, and my food selection was poor. Too few vegetables and fruits, and too much starch, sugar, and grains. I probably eat more meat and dairy now than I did then as an absolute; I can't even imagine now how much sugar and starch I was eating in the past!

    I don't do LCHF, I go with a more balanced approach of 20-25% protein, 30-35% carb and 40-50% fat. I would guess that a fair amount of the fat is of the saturated variety. I eat very little refined sugar (ice cream about once a month, candy and cake almost never), almost no refined flour, almost no wheat or grain-based products, very little corn. I enjoy rice or potatoes only occasionally (twice a month or less). I cook with real butter, coconut oil, or olive oil. I eat meat, fish, eggs, a bit of dairy (whole milk, or sometimes almond milk or coconut milk) a serving or two of fruit (strawberries are my vice) and a cup or two of vegetables every day.

    I eat two meals most days. Mornings are a protein smoothie (milk or a real fruit smoothie with additional fresh/frozen fruits and some protein powder) or eggs with bacon and sausages cooked in butter. Dinner is meat (beef, pork, chicken, etc) or fish with vegetables. I will sometimes snack on some almonds or cashews afterwards, or have some fruit. If I happen to be hungry at midday (never happens when I have the eggs and bacon breakfast :) ) then I'll have a salad or some fruit for lunch.

    I exercise, but that is less about weight loss and more about feeling better and stronger. This diet has eliminated my stomach issues (daily upset stomach and acid reflux) and seems to have eliminated my lactose intolerance, which is both unexpected and absolutely awesome! It may have also eased the joint pain I've suffered for many years, a change I only noticed recently.

  15. Margaretrc
    #6 @Bernardo, "One thing that wasn't clear to me was his answer about why high-carb with no sugar can still be a healthy option (when talking about some Asian populations). He hinted that sugar alone could "trigger" the ill effects of the other carbs. What are the scientific basis for that idea? Anyone knows? It gives the idea that with 0 sugar we'd be somehow protected from the effects of insulin."
    I haven't watched this particular lecture yet (I will), but I have seen GT speak and read his books and pretty much every article of his--at least that I could find--on the topic of nutrition. I've also seen several lectures by others (including Lustig) on sugar--particularly fructose and its damaging metabolic effects. Whatever hypothesis we accept has to account for the cultures--Asian, French, Mediterranean for example--that do eat carbs and remain healthy (there's no such thing as a paradox in science!) I think there is something to be said for the idea that, if your metabolism has been damaged (you are insulin resistant or almost), you might need to be more drastically low carb than someone who has not damaged his/her metabolism. The latter can probably handle moderate carbs intake. And excess sugar may very well play a role in damaging metabolism. Fructose, particularly, is more and more implicated in the development of fatty liver, which in turn causes insulin resistance and all the other symptoms of metabolic syndrome. I also believe, as GT does, that genetics plays a role in how susceptible we are to developing insulin resistance, etc., under the right circumstances. But genetics alone can't account for huge populations of people around the world who seem to be able to eat carbs of the refined kind with impunity. I think it's that they a) don't eat much sugar and b) have never been afraid of fat, so eat it in plentiful amounts, thus lowering the glycemic load of any particular meal and the corresponding insulin response. The fat they include in their meals would also go a long way toward providing satiety before they've eaten too much of anything! I believe our troubles began when we learned to be afraid of fat and cholesterol. Check out Lustig's lecture, "Sugar, the Bitter Truth" on You Tube for a very scientific explanation of exactly how sugar (the fructose fraction of it) damages the liver and sets us up for insulin resistance and other facets of metabolic syndrome.
  16. Peggy Holloway
    I won't add a lot to this discussion, but on the topic of long-term damage from a high-carb diet along with genetics, my family is very insulin-resistant with most of us having some sort of related health issue, ranging from ADHD to "Type II Diabetes." My sister, brother and I all went low-carb in 2000. My brother and I have had great success reversing some health and mood disorder issues, but my sister, who had already received her diagnosis of "Type II," has not been as fortunate. She is still overweight and has high morning fasting blood sugars. (usually around 150; when she tried to go off Januvia, her H1AC went up to 12!) This has been a frustration for me, since everything I have read and come to believe indicated that this was reversible with a low-carb diet. I think there is a possibility she still consumes too much carbohydrate for her degree of resistance, and perhaps too much protein and definitely not enough fat. There may be other hormonal issues. Since we live in the Plains States, she has made an appointment to see Dr. Mary Vernon and hopefully she can tweak diet and exercise and look into thyroid, etc. and resolve these problems. On the other hand, there is a possibility that the damage from 40 years of low-fat dieting has taken its toll.
    I wonder if Gary has decided to focus more on the dangers of sugar because it is much less controversial than the general carbohydrate arguments. (I believe he has said so much on this blog). His message from the 2002 NYTimes story and his first book have met with too much skepticism from the mainstream and downright hostility from the low-fat camp. If he can get the medical community to listen to the arguments against simple sugars, then he will have an audience to move on to make the case that "all carbohydrates act like sugars in the body."
  17. Lori
    Peggy,
    Whether or not Type II diabetes can be reversed by a low carbohydrate diet depends on how you define "reversal". It is possible for Type II diabetics to achieve normal blood sugars. But if by reversal you mean that they can resume the usual high carb American diet without having high blood sugars, I do not believe that is possible once someone has been diagnosed as diabetic. If you achieve normal blood sugars and then return to eating a high carbohydrate diet, the insulin resistance and high blood sugars will return.

    I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes 8 years ago. At the time my fasting blood sugar was 200 and my H1AC was 8. Since then I have followed a low carb diet -- sometimes more strictly, sometimes far too loosely. My H1AC has ranged from 5.7 to 6.6 and my fasting blood sugars are generally in the 100 - 120 range. These numbers are higher than normal, but they are much better than they were when I was diagnosed. I am currently working very hard to improve them by lowering my carb intake and being strict about not veering from my diet. I can see a direct correlation between how much carbohydrate I am eating and what happens to my fasting blood sugar and H1AC. The more carbohydrate I eat, the worse my blood sugars are.

    I suspect that you are right that, although your sister may have lowered the amount of carbs she was eating, she has not yet lowered them enough. She is fortunate that she is able to visit Dr. Vernon and I am sure the doctor will be able to help her.

    I'd also like to recommend the work of Dr. Richard Bernstein, who has had great success treating diabetics. His goal for diabetics is blood sugars that are absolutely normal and to accomplish that he advocates a diet of less than 30 grams of carbs per day. His book, "Dr. Bernstein's Diabetes Solution" is full of important information for diabetics. I wish your sister the best of luck in her journey to improve her health!

  18. Bernardo
    Thank you @Margaretrc for your response. I checked the video and it was really interesting. The speaker doesn't seem to care about carbs in general, just sugar, fructose specificaly, but I can see how the complete absence of sugar in a given population may prevent the development of insulin resistance which would enable them to live mainly on carbs without ever experiencing any problems. So, if we could eliminate sugar completely from our diets, the next generation would probably be "cured", being able to live on carbs with no problem. This is the vegetarian solution, right? Unfortunatly it doesn't do anything for us that are already too sensitive to carbs.
  19. Margaretrc
    @Bernardo, #18--I'm not sure "it's the vegetarian solution". There are few populations worldwide that are naturally vegetarian and those that are--in southern India, for example--do still have problems with diabetes and heart disease. They do eat some sugar, but the vast majority of their diet is other carbohydrates. Most populations that do eat carbs without problems--the rest of Asia, France, the Mediterranean, for example--also eat meat and fat. I think it's important to understand that, even in the absence of sugar, eating a diet that is all carb, with little or no animal products and not enough fat, could lead to problems. I don't advocate vegetarianism, though I'll admit there are those who seem to be able to manage--at least for a time--to be vegetarian and not run into problems. You're correct, though--once you are carb sensitive, there's no going back!
  20. Alexandra
    I think Gary Taubes' gifts are in the area of research and writing and not so much as a public speaker... I respect him for being willing to put himself out there even though he appears to be a very private person. Both of Gary's books on this subject are wonderfully written and a great read.. I would suggest anyone who needs to lose weight and improve their health buy them both.
    I am living proof of the science of LCHF (having lost over 100 lbs and, at 50 years old, completely healthy and full of energy.)
  21. Joshua Maciel
    Everyone must realize that carbs are sugar...when both are broken down in the small intestine both become the same thing: glucose. Glucose levels (blood sugar) is what induces the insulin and the problems. When GT says sugar it is the same as saying carbs.
  22. Margaretrc
    @Joshua: Yes, carbs are sugar and, but not all carbs are the same nonetheless. Starches are indeed broken down to produce glucose and glucose levels induce insulin, so too much starch can truly lead to problems with hyperinsulemia and hyperglycemia, and all the attendant issues. But "sugar" can also mean sucrose, which is half glucose and half fructose, which is an entirely different thing. Fructose never reaches the blood stream as fructose, but is metabolized in the liver, and while some of it does indeed get converted to glucose, when there is too much of it, a lot of it is converted to triglycerides, much of which end up being stored in the liver or floating around in the blood stream, neither of which is a good situation! Lustig et. al. show how too much fructose is particularly insidious and can really mess everything up far more than glucose alone and, in this country, pretty much every processed food and beverage one can buy has fructose in it, either in the form of sugar, fruit juice (fruit without the fiber) or high fructose corn syrup and it is easy to overwhelm the system with fructose. I believe our ancestors probably ate some starches in the form of tubors and such and thus we have evolved the ability to deal with a moderate amount of glucose in the diet--hence the cultures that eat starches with apparent impunity. Fruit, however, would have been a very small part of the diet and only as fruit. The fiber in fruit does a lot to mediate the problems of consuming fructose in fruit, so we would never have evolved the ability to handle it in the quantities consumed today here. So, while all sugars are carbs, not all carbs are glucose.
  23. Thank you for posting this link, and for your consultation / recommendations on Gary’s presentation. I know, from my own experience - Food for Thought and Turning the Food Pyramid Upside Down - how hard it is to focus a presentation on such a large subject. Part of this is unavoidable. You cannot just talk about restricting carbohydrates in the diet without addressing the fact that dietary saturated fat does not cause heart disease. Gary has tremendous experience giving his presentations, and he knows his material. It does seem to me, however, that he gets a little distracted at times and loses focus.

    One suggestion would be to discuss the associations between the various metabolic diseases (which Gary introduced at the beginning), and the increased risks diabetics have of contracting heart disease, cancer, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, etc. Obesity is an obvious symptom of metabolic dysfunction, but there are those who are weight normal but metabolicly obese. The true epidemic are those who are metabolicly obese regardless of their weight.

    Thanks again. See you in August at the Ancestral Health Symposium.

    Regards,
    Peter Ballerstedt
    Grass Based Health

  24. Zap
    Doc, did you see this site: http://www.sugarstacks.com/
    Shows things in sugar-cube equivalents
  25. Funderaren
    Zap they seem to have missed to count starch (glucose).
  26. Margaretrc
    @Ryan, "Is he saying that even in a calorie excess (eating more on purpose) it is still possible to get leaner, as long as you make the right food choices?"

    No, I don't think GT is saying that. (Disclosure: I still haven't watched this particular video, but I have heard him speak and read his books.) What I believe he says--and what makes sense to me--is that eating the wrong kinds of foods--carbohydrates--generates a hormonal environment that tends to store excess calories as fat, and also blocks access to fat stores that exist so they can't be used. On the other hand, eating the right foods--ones that don't stimulate a strong insulin response, such as meat and fat--creates a hormonal environment that allows the body to self regulate such that the you only take in as many calories as you need to meet your needs. It is much more difficult to eat too much protein and fat, which are inherently satisfying, than it is to eat too much starch and sugar, but if you do take in more fat/protein than you need for the moment, you are more likely to burn the excess calories than store them as fat--as long as there are no carbohydrates stimulating an insulin response! You will have "energy to burn", so to speak and will thus look for ways to burn it. I don't believe you will get leaner, but you will not get fatter! You still need a calorie deficit to get leaner--it is just much easier to create that deficit without discomfort if you are filling up on protein and fat rather than carbohydrates.

  27. Ryan
    @Margaretrc Thanks for that. I now understand that his main point is the body will self-regulate and that eating until you feel full, and making the right food choices (mainly protein and fat) is more healthy for a person.

    I still think it may be possible to get leaner whilst NOT in a calorie deficit though, as the fat storage mechanism is separate from that which regulates body weight. In other words, in a calorie surplus, could the body simply not gain lean tissue and decrease fat mass, if the main source of fuel throughout the day was fat and protein not carbs? This is where I feel the confusion comes in.

  28. Jon
    Vegan propaganda!!!!!

    something to figure out, especially when set up against the Taubes framework?

    I see many posters have weight-loss issues. Here's a good article to what happened to bunch of urban dwellers in a less-priviledged hoods after they were being subjected to McDougalls-plan way of eating, ultra-high carbo-diet. I know it's not a the worshipped kind of randomized-contorolled-trial but nevertheless good pilot info for everyone struggling with health issues.

    In 65 days the average weight-loss was reported to ne 25 pounds, several participants got off meds "eliminated of GERD, constipation, abdominal pain, asthma, diabetes...it's an amazing experience"

    http://www.vegsource.com/news/2011/06/meet-sylvia---meals-for-health-...

  29. JAUS
  30. There is a nice paper online here
    REVIEW Obesity and energy balance: is the tail waggingthe dog?
    JCK Wells and M Siervo
    that I'd like people to read and spread round the web.
    The authors take Taubes and Lustig's work and build on that with some ideas of their own regarding the role of sleep deprivation in childhood obesity.
    I think it's interesting that scientists are beginning to think about whether it may be timely to question the basis for obesity advice. We should encourage this debate.
  31. @ Jon
    Earthsave seems to be an organisation devoted to the vegetarian way of life.
    Those who are lucky enough to be able to go to the Ancestral Health Symposium will be able to meet Denise Minger and hear her talk.
    For those who aren't yet aware of her work on The China Study here is a link to her latest blog.
    One Year Later: The China Study, Revisited and Re-Bashed but it's in addition to her earlier work and anyone with any ideas that the science supporting a vegetarian way of life is firm needs to understand everything Denise has written.
  32. Milton
    @Ted, thanks for the link, it's been a while since I visited Denise's site. I'll take a moment to gloat over the following passage in her most recent update: "*It’s also worth noting that”The China Study”—the one written by Campbell and published by BenBella Books—is not peer reviewed." But since some people (cough) are hung up on peer-review, she also has a list of peer-reviewed publications that can be used to counter the Campbell book. That should tie some people into a few knots. :)
  33. Lu Smith
    I watched this lecture about a year and a half ago. My husband and I have been using coconut oil ever since. Ken lost 20 lbs and almost eliminated many of his allergy problems as well as almost all symptoms of psoriasis.
    I lost about 40 lbs.
    I couldn't be happier than "meeting" Gary Taubes. I'm happy to hear it all over again.
    Lu
  34. Lu Smith
    His strengths are that he has done the research, been true to the scientific method.
    (Nothing at all to do with his weaknesses or strengths is a side anecdote: In another lecture he gave, he tells that when he started on the high fat, low carb diet his wife made him take out a million dollar life insurance policy.)

    His weaknesses are that he seems a little anxious when speaking. It may be because previous audiences have been against his theory before he even opens his mouth. I wonder if its because so many of his audiences have been just that, so he's anxious at the get-go whenever he speaks. Or it could be that just happens to be how he is when he speaks in public. I hope he knows that he has many fans, of whom I am one.

  35. Shannon
    I completely followed and understood GaryT. I think he is a great speaker and I am pretty sure Google employees can follow him.., I read his books though and they may have helped ! My guess is Google will change their fare / tucker in their cafes! I think his presentation is amazing as well!
  36. Shannon
    If anyone wants see simplicity in action, follow Dr Ted Naiman on Twitter; he thinks like Gary T but uses super simple infographics. He is also a fabulous speaker and physician, I would have thought! ?

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