Friday, January 28, 2011

Book Review - Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It by Gary Taube

I just bought Gary Taubes' book, "Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It." The central thesis of the book is that we get fat not because we eat too much and exercise too little but that we are consuming far too many refined carbohydrates. The cure, he says, is to eat a high fat diet, at least 3:1 fat to protein and not overdo the exercise. There are alot of diet books out there that give similar advice, South Beach, Atkins, etc., but Taube manages to pull all this together in one fairly short and readable book that argues his case very effectively. This advice tracks to my own experience.

I am 51 years old and 5'11" tall. At this time last year I weighed somewhere between 180 and 185 pounds (depending on whose scale I was standing on). I didn't think of myself as especially heavy but my weight had gradually crept up over the years, even though I am physically active. Last year my doctor told me I had developed type 2 diabetes. I have no family history of it and I don't even like sweets, which doesn't seem just somehow. But who said life is fair? 

Pre-diagnosis I went to the gym 3 times a week spending 2 hours at a time. That included spending an hour on an elliptical machine with the goal of 900 calories and 60 minutes. That is, if I made it to 900 calories in 58 minutes, I'd keep going to 60 or if I was a bit short on calorie burn at 60 minutes I'd keep going until I got there. I didn't overeat at all, I've never been a big eater and yet the weight kept creeping up.

I have a strong aversion to taking medications of any kind so I asked the doctor what I could do to avoid it. He told me to avoid pasta, potatoes, white rice and bread, essentially the same advice Taube gives. So I did that.

Now I eat meat/chicken (skin on)/fish, butter, eggs, bacon, cheese and all the green vegetables I want. I don't even worry about fat, except to make sure I am getting a good balance of Omega 3 to Omega 6. I still go to the gym 3 times a week but ony 1 hour each time and have changed the routine. I spend an hour lifting weights (to build lean muscle mass which burns fat) on two of those days and I take a yoga class on the third day for strength, balance and flexibility.

The result of the changes to my diet and exercise routine were that I lost 35+ pounds in less than 6 months and am back to the weight I was in my early 30's and have stabilized around 145-147 pounds. My blood glucose is regularly in the high 70's to high 90's range now (normal is 65-99) and my A1C is down to 5.8 or almost back to the normal range. My cholesterol is normal with an HDL (the good kind) of around 70. And note, the weight loss is with half the time spent at the gym every week compared to before. Finding the two hours to spend three times a week before was quite a challenge.

Fat is the body's preferred fuel. If you deprive the body of fat that little reptilian part of your brain will start thinking "famine" and start slowing your metabolism and signalling your cells to store fat. Refined carbs are the most easily converted so the more of that you consume the fatter you will get. Eventually the cells are going to say no more and that is where the insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes begins.

Obviously I didn't have the benefit of the Taubes book a year ago but previous readings did help me figure out the diet and exercise routine necessary to reach my goals. Three books I can recommend in particular are "Real Food: What to Eat and Why" by Nina Planck. I think highly enough of it that I've given away probably a dozen copies to family, friends and even my doctor. One of her source material books was "The Schwarzbein Principle" by Diana Schwarzbein MD, an endocrinologist. If you read nothing more than the introduction to her book you'll learn alot (and it's a Look Inside book at Amazon, so you can). Lastly, I got the exercise part figured out by reading "Fit for Combat : When Fitness is a Matter of Life or Death" by JD Johannes, a combat filmmaker and retired (there's no such thing as ex!) Marine. I am not as extreme as he is but he got me pointed in the right direction. There are other books too numerous to list but these are all very readable and the ones I credit most with helping me get on track.

Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It (Borzoi Books)   Real Food: What to Eat and Why  The Schwarzbein Principle: The Truth About Losing Weight, Being Healthy, and Feeling Younger  Fit for Combat: When Fitness is a Matter of Life or Death

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