One of the main, take home messages in Gary Taubes’s book, Good Calories, Bad Calories, is that overeating and inactivity—gluttony and sloth—are not the causes of obesity as commonly supposed. Rather, they are the effects of hormone-driven fat accumulation. In his inaugural blog post, Taubes lays out why overeating is not a causal explanation of obesity—it merely restates the definition of obesity. Fat people must have overeaten—maintained an excess of caloric intake over expenditure. The real question is: Why do some people overeat (and why don’t others)?
The fact is, gluttony and sloth are symptoms, not causes, of obesity. Just as children “overeat” because they’re growing (taller), people also overeat when they’re growing (fatter). This explanation makes a lot of sense: if your body is storing away calories in the fat cells, then the other tissues will have fewer calories available to use. Hence, you will hungrier and less active, in exactly the same way as a lean person who is underfed.
As Taubes explains in detail in the book, a diet high in refined carbs causes chronic high insulin levels, which causes insulin resistance in the lean tissues, causing a compensatory increase in insulin. Insulin is the storage hormone, so with the lean tissues being less responsive, the fat tissue takes up the slack. The fattening continues until the fat tissue becomes insulin resistant, but then one is at risk of becoming diabetic. The basic story is that bad nutrition causes hormone-driven fattening, which makes less fuel available to the lean tissues, causing hunger and lethargy.
It’s hilarious that obesity “experts” think that the gluttony/sloth hypothesis stands securely behind the law of energy conservation. Energy conservation only says that fattening and caloric excess must occur together—it says nothing about causality. They’ve just assumed that caloric excess causes obesity. Taubes has caught them making an embarrassing, elementary error. It’s the fattening that causes the caloric excess. When your body wants to get fat, it adjusts your hunger and energy levels in order to create the caloric excess required.
The bottom line is that gluttony and sloth are effects, and not causes, of obesity. Now stop blaming the victims for a lack of willpower and tell them the real cause of their obesity. (If they don’t lose the weight after that, then you can blame them.)