Taubes - Chapter 09 - Laws of Adiposity

- POSTED ON: Jan 01, 2011

 Taubes starts out by talking about lab rats that had their ovaries removed,
became ravenously hungry, overate and became obese. Then, in a second experiment
the researcher took other lab rats, and after this surgery, put them on a strict diet
where they couldn’t eat any extra food. These rats got just as fat by becoming
completely sedentary. When estrogen was returned, the fat rats became normal weight.

The researcher explained it this way

“The animal does get fat because it overeats
It overeats because it’s getting fat.
The cause and effect are reversed.
Both gluttony and sloth are effects of the drive to get fatter.

They are caused fundamentally by a defect
in the regulation of the animal’s fat tissue.
The removal of the ovaries literally makes the rat stockpile body fat;
the animal either eats more or expends less energy, or both, to compensate”

Taubes talks more about enzymes,
and then says that in dealing with Obesity, medical experts have
ignored the fat tissue because they’ve decided the problem is Behavioral,
and lies in the Brain, not the Body.
He says, if medical experts were discussing growth disorder instead of fat disorder
the subject would be hormones and enzymes regulatory growth.
But when discussing a fat disorder,
which is defined by the symptom of abnormal growth of fat tissue,
the hormones and enzymes that regulate fat growth are considered irrelevant.

Taubes says…
this is the cause of obesity.

“those who get fat do so because of the way their fat happens to be regulated
and that a…consequence of this regulation is to cause the eating behavior (gluttony)
and the physical inactivity (sloth) that we..assume are the actual causes.”

He states Three Laws of Fat (Adiposity),
and gives examples and explanations of how they work.

The First Law
Body fat is carefully regulated.

The Second Law
Obesity can be caused by a regulatory defect so small
that it would be undetectable by any technique yet invented.

The Third Law
Whatever makes us both fatter and heavier will also make us overeat.

Taubes gives illustrations and examples of each of these laws, a
nd how they work….
One of his examples was the Zucker rats, which are genetically predisposed to get fat.

“when these obese rodents are starved to death…
the animals die with much of their fat tissue intact.
In fact, they’ll often die with more body fat than lean animals have
when the lean ones are eating as much as they like.

As animals starve, and the same is true of humans,
they consume their muscles for fuel, and that includes,
eventually, the heart muscle.

As adults, these obese animals are willing to
compromise their organs, even their hearts and their lives,
to preserve their fat."

 Taubes says….

“If this is true of humans,
and there’s little reason to think it’s not,
it is the explanation for..
the extremely poor but overweight mothers with thin stunted children.
Both mother and children are indeed half-starved.

The emaciated children, their growth stunted, respond as we’d expect.
The mothers, however, have fat tissue that has developed its own agenda…
It will accumulate excess fat, and does so,
even though the mothers themselves, like their children,
are barely getting enough food to survive.
They must be expending less energy to compensate.”

 Taubes then talks about the existence animals
whose genes have been manipulated
so they are leaner than they’d otherwise be.
Those animals will remain lean even when force fed,
and he says this is probably done
by increasing their expenditure to burn off calories.

He says just like gluttony and sloth
are side effects of a drive to accumulate body fat

 eating in moderation and being physically active
are not evidence of “moral rectitude”.
Rather, they are simply metabolic benefits
of a body that’s programmed to remain lean



Taubes concludes by saying that the evidence implies
that we don’t remain lean because we’re virtuous
and get fat because we’re not
He says when we grow taller,
it’s hormones and enzymes that are promoting our growth,
and we consume more calories than we expend as a result.
When we grow fatter, the same is true as well.

We don’t get fat because we overeat;
we overeat because we’re getting fat.”


I find it easy to believe in those three “laws” that Taubes states.

It is harder to accept Taubes’ Reversal of what is commonly believed
about the Causation of Obesity, and consider overeating and inactivity
to be “side-effects” of a (perhaps genetic) “defect of our fat regulation”,
because it is very Different from my usual Way to Think about Obesity.
Still….it COULD be true…..
I need to spend a lot more time considering this whole concept.

What Taubes said about the Zucker rats really struck home for me.
That parallel provided me with a possible answer to a question
that has been bothering me for some time.

Due to my interest in Eating Disorders,
I’ve spent quite some time studying Anexoria.
I am aware that the teenage dream of looking like a fashion model
is beyond the capability of most Anexorics,
because losing weight doesn’t turn an Endomorph
into an Ectomorph…only into an Emaciated Endomorph.

However, I’ve been puzzled by Documentaries that
follow real-life young females with Anexoria
who are in danger of death from loss of heart muscle
….when I can SEE many of those girls

Many of the females in those studies are very, very thin
but also, some of them are not.
I’m seen plump cheeks, large (natural) breasts,
rounded tummies, large thighs…
and in fact…they appear to be “overweight” .

These girls clearly still have quite a lot of fat on their bodies,
but according to medical authorities,
their bodies are shutting down life-supporting functions.

This sounds like the same problem as with those Zucker rats.

Leave me a comment.

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Existing Comments:

On Feb 18, 2011 wrote:
Taubes’ says:………………………… "Eating in moderation and being physically active...(are) he metabolic benefits of a body that's programmed to remain lean. If our fat tissue is regulated so that it will not store significant calories as fat, or our muscle tissue is regulated to take up more than its fair share of calories to use for fuel, then we'll eat less than those of use predisposed to be fat... or we'll be more physically active...or both, because of it." (p 104-105)………………………………………………………This is a stretch, in my opinion. Taubes has said there must be some reason why people eat in moderation and are physically active naturally in order to be lean whereas others are not. I agree with that. I think that there is something that drives people to overeat that is not about character but rather is about a misunderstanding of what actions they can take to reduce their weight without feeling like they are starving all the time. …………………………………………………….Taubes, in my view, seems to slip in his idea that the difference has to do with whether fat is floating around in the bloodstream or is in fat cells. Where are the experiments that show there is more fat floating around in the bloodstream of the rats? ……………………………………………………………Regardless, I would agree with Taubes that there is something physical that is occurring which drives some to overeat and others to eat in moderation. Personally, I think the worst thing you can do is use portion control as a solution to the problem since that solution exacerbates the underlying problem that the person feels hungry, incessant insatiable hunger. …………………………………………………………………. Do I care what is the difference? Not really. I care if there is some way to eat less and not experience that incessant insatiable hunger. I'll follow his argument that there is a difference in the disposition of fat, but I don't buy that this is what makes one rat overeat and another not. The studies only look at remaining fat. If a very obese person gets no food for a period of time, I would think they could still die of starvation and still have fat on their body. Here's where I definitely agree with Taubes: The interesting question is why we would want to overeat in the first place

On Feb 19, 2011 Karen925 wrote:
It is harder to accept Taubes’ Reversal of what is commonly believed about the Causation of Obesity, and consider overeating and inactivity to be “side-effects” of a (perhaps genetic) “defect of our fat regulation”, because it is very Different from my usual Way to Think about Obesity. Still….it COULD be true….. *****I like this view very much. It helps me to view the obese (and the extremely lean) with greater charity.

On Feb 21, 2011 TexArk wrote:
I think it is sometimes informative to look at things from the opposite perspective. Thin people have a difficult time putting on weight. Why? It seems they would just need to up their calorie intake a little and would gradually put on weight. But it doesn't work that way. My brother in law was very thin, but in good health. He tried and tried to add pounds. I lived with the family one summer when my husband was overseas. The entire summer I was trying to get my weight down to 125 and he (at 5' 10") was trying to get up to 125! He drank milkshakes, ate extra bread, and sometimes ate so much he would make himself sick. All to no avail. Whatever was regulating his body fat was possibly defective; but he was not thin due to any discipline or moral superiority! I think of the example of making a whippet into a bloodhound or vice versa.

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