Taubes - Chapter 08 - Head Cases

- POSTED ON: Jan 01, 2011

Taubes says calories-in/calories-out is a damaging theory.
It reinforces what appears to be obvious, which is:

“Obesity as the penalty for gluttony and sloth”

He says it is Harmful because…
It is partly responsible for the growing number of obese;
It directs attention away from the real reasons we get fa;,
It reinforces the perception that fat people have no one to blame but themselves.

Instead of making us question our assumptions
about calories-in/calories-out..... .

...The fact that eating less FAILS as a CURE for obesity
is taken as evidence that fat people
are incapable of following a diet and eating in moderation
and they are blamed for it.

Taubes says

“There has to be a reason…
why anyone would eat more calories than he or she expends,
particularly since the penalty for doing so is
to suffer the physical and emotional cruelties of obesity.
There must be a defect involved somewhere;
the question is where.”

“The logic of calories-in/calories-out
allows only one acceptable answer to this question.
The defect cannot lie in the body—in the enzymes and hormones
that control how our bodies turn what is eaten into fat—
--because this would imply that something other than overeating
was fundamentally responsible for making us fat.
And that’s not allowed.

So the problem must lie in the brain.
And more precisely, in behavior,
which makes it an issue of character.

So, both eating too much and exercising too little are Behaviors,
not Physiological states,
a fact made even more obvious by the use of the…terms -- gluttony and sloth.”

Suggesting as an answer that fat people
respond to food restriction just as animals do
--that they reduce their energy expenditure
while experiencing increased hunger—
opens up the possibility that
the same physiologic mechanism that drives fat people
to hold onto their fat—even when semi-starved—
--might be the cause of their obesity in the first place.

This thinking is not allowed under the calories-in/calories-out theory.
So instead it is said the diet didn’t work
because the fat persons failed to stay on it.
They are blamed lack of willpower,
a lack of strength of character
to eat in moderation the way lean people do.

Once the fundamental cause of obesity
is established as overeating, 
blaming behavior—a lack of character and willpower—
is the only acceptable explanation.
The fat have a “perverted appetite”.

Taubes talks about the History of how this “insidious logic
invaded the American science community in the 1920s,
and continued through the second world war.

He says the only thing different now
is that experts word it in less demeaning terms.
Like referring to obesity as an Eating Disorder,
which has become common since the 1960s. 
 He says by the 1970s “Behavioral Medicine” emerged to treat fat people with
behavioral therapies” which are ways to make the fat eat like the lean.
When speaking of these behavioral treatments, Taubes says

“None of these therapies has ever been shown to work..
even so..many are still with us today.”

Taubes says that today most of the leading authorities on obesity
are psychologists and psychiatrists…
people whose expertise is in the ways of the mind,
not of the body.

He points out

“Imagine how many more dead diabetics we’d have
if victims of that disease
were treated by psychologists instead of physicians.

And yet diabetes and obesity are so closely linked…
...that some authorities have taken to calling the two disorders “diabesity”,
as though they’re two sides of the same pathological coin,
which they assuredly are.”

Taubes concludes with

“So long as we believe that people get fat because they overeat,
because they take in more calories than they expend,
we’re putting the ultimate blame on a mental state, a weakness of character,
and we’re leaving human biology out of the equation entirely.”

He says it’s a mistake to think this way,
and he will give us a better way to think about it in the rest of the book.

This chapter very much rings true for me.

I have a life-time of personal experience
in being blamed for failing to eat in moderation,
despite extensive and almost continual efforts to do so.

For me, this started at puberty and continued until
this present time when I began weighing in the normal range.

 I’ve experienced this issue with regards to
parents, siblings, boyfriends, husband, children, and other relatives;
friends, acquaintances, and strangers, teachers, potential employers,
Doctors, Psychologists, “Eating Disorder” specialists, Diet Counselors,
but most of all with my own accountability.

Details of my History are in the "About Me" section.
Personally, I’d very much like to have a better way to think about it.


Leave me a comment.

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Existing Comments:

On Feb 18, 2011 wrote:
I did think weight was a matter of willpower because I managed to stay reasonably thin from after college until I got pregnant for the first time at age 35 and gained 60 pounds! My appetite was insatiable, and I had to wonder if it wasn't from all those years of dieting. ………………………………………………………………………………Now I think of the very obese people I know who are some of the most giving and caring people I know. Three in particular stand out for me: the woman who runs the church's youth group and the husband and wife who run the Scout troop even though their only child, a son, is now in college. These people have full time jobs and yet also give of themselves to help others. There is no way these people are slothful or selfish. ………………………………………………………………………………..What I have come to believe is that the obese tend to be naive and trust in authority and follow what the authorities say is the right way to do things and that way is wrong. The current philosophy for weight control is frequent eating with portion control. I just saw in the last few days a recommendation to eat at least every four hours so that you aren't ravenous. Ravenous? Really? I have now had an adjustment to fasting that makes it easy to not eat for 24 hours. I did believe that you would be in trouble if you didn't eat frequently, and the adjustment to No S was traumatic. …………………………………….So here's my theory: we've bought into a bunch of lies, and those of us who are obese were naive enough to follow the advice and it led straight to obesity. Now I'm doing the opposite of conventional wisdom: infrequent meals with no portion control -- none at all. It's easy to wait several hours to eat if you know you can eat as much as you want when you do eat.

On Feb 18, 2011 wrote:
I agree with Taubes that it is inappropriate to judge obese people as either gluttons or sloths. That's why I cited examples from my own life of people who are about as unselfish and energetic as they come. My current assessment is that the problem has to do with the body never feeling satisfied (portion control) and too frequent eating (meal-timing). ……………. This is my acknowledged bias as I read the book. ……………………………………………….. Tabues’ summarized Newburgh in this way:………………….. "Fat people are unwilling to make the effort, they lack the willpower, or they're simply unaware of what they should be doing." ……………………………I would agree with Newburgh that fat people don't know what they should be doing. I think fat people do make the effort, and I think fat people do have tremendous willpower. Several years ago, I worked with a woman who was on Weight Watchers for the third time to lose the same forty pounds. That takes tremendous willpower. I am open to reading Taubes to understand what more he has to say.

On Feb 19, 2011 Karen925 wrote:
I look forward to your posts on EDs. Though I have not suffered from one, I attended a lecture by a therapist, who approached this problem from a spiritual/psychological perspective. I kept thinking, maybe people have EDs in large part because their bodies are not working correctly and they are being told something that has no bearing in fixing the problem. The word malaria is derived from "bad air" because that is what people at one time thought caused it as opposed to the correct understanding of mosquitos. Fides et Ratio.

On Feb 19, 2011 Dr. Collins wrote:
             I think you may be on the right track. Many people find the subject of ED emotionally disturbing. Also many of my personal opinions on the subject are somewhat controversial, so I will probably not be making in-depth posts on that topic until this site is well-established. My video section, under Resources, has a section rated Triple X, about Disordered Eating. I labeled it "XXX"...not because of restricted content...but due to the highly charged emotions many people have about the subject....I wanted to point out that these videos are a matter of "watch these at your own risk".

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