Taubes - Chapter 02 - Elusive Benefits of Undereating

- POSTED ON: Jan 01, 2011

In this chapter, Taubes’ focus is on “the elusive benefits of undereating”.
and says:

“Of all the reasons to question the idea that overeating causes obesity,
the most obvious has always been the fact that undereating doesn’t cure it.”

The chapter begins with a research project started in the early 1990s.
Twenty thousand women were told to eat a low-fat diet,
with lots of fruits, veggies and fiber, and received regular counseling
to help them stay on the diet.

They weren’t told to eat less, but they ate 360 less calories a day
which was about 20% less than the charts gave
as their daily weight-maintenance requirement.
But, after 8 years of this, the women lost only an average of 2 pounds each,
and their waist measurements increased,
suggesting that they lost muscle, not fat.

Taubes quotes some Experts who in 1959 studied all the medical literature
for research results on dieting and found those results were

“remarkably similar and remarkably poor”.

A 2007 review analyzed all the diet trials since 1980 and found the same thing.
Taubes says that the reality of this doesn’t keep Authorities
from recommending that people undereat to lose weight.
He quotes from medical textbooks that say..

”Dietary therapy remains the cornerstone of treatment,
and the reduction of energy intake continues to be
the basis of successful weight reduction programs”

But then later the same textbooks go on to say that the results

“are known to be poor and not long-lasting”.

He points out that if a you are stranded on a desert island and starved for months on end,
you will waste away, whether you were fat or thin to begin with.

“Try the same prescription in the real world, though,
and try to keep it up indefinitely—try to maintain the weight loss
—and it works very rarely indeed, if at all.”

Taubes says this isn’t surprising.

most of us who are fat spend much of our lives trying to eat less.
If it doesn’t work when the motivation is …decades of
the negative reinforcement that accompanies obesity---.
social ostracism, physical impairment, increased rate of disease—
can we really expect it to work
just because an authority figure in a white coat insists we give it a try?.”

“the fat person who has never tried to undereat is a rare bird.
If you’re still fat…that’s a good reason to assume that
undereating failed to cure you of this particular affliction,
even if it has some short-term success
at treating the most conspicuous symptom—excess adiposity.”

Taubes notes that until the 1970s,
the medical term used for low-calorie diets was “semi-starvation” diets;
and the medical term for very low-calorie diets was “fasts”.
He says that experts say a diet has to be something we can follow for life
– a lifestyle program, but asks

“how is it possible to semi-starve ourselves or fast for more than a short time?"

Taubes ends the chapter by saying

“undereating isn’t a treatment or cure for obesity;
it’s a way of temporarily reducing the most obvious symptom.
And if undereating isn’t a treatment or a cure,
this certainly suggests that overeating is not a cause.”

Personally, I have to agree with Taubes here.
I’ve spent my entire life losing and re-gaining weight,
a few times involving 100 lbs, several times 50 lbs, and many times 10 to 20 lbs.
Until the present time I always regained all my lost weight and more.

For the past 5 years I’ve been able to maintain my current weight by “semi-starvation”,
which, as I’ve shared before, takes a lot of Effort, Focus and Acceptance.
I’ve learned that I cannot trust my body to tell me what or how much to eat.
Without conscious monitoring, the default choice of my body is always to “overeat”..
meaning …take in more energy than my body can use…and store it as fat.

It is true that “undereating” hasn’t “cured” my obesity,
it has only relieved me of the symptom of being fat.
Every day, my reduced obese body still wants me to eat far more than it can use up.

It’s a problem that I deal with every day.
Is low-carb a solution?
I don’t know.
However…..I do know a great many Ways-of-Eating that are NOT solutions.

In Chapter 2, Taubes uses the pre-1970s medical term
---“semi-starvation” when he refers to “undereating” or dieting.

I've been thinking more about this question as applied to me personally.
I think there can be little doubt
that my current, maintenance, eating-lifestyle is one of "semi-starvation".

My body wants me to eat far more than it can use,
which, of course, would result in weight-gain.
Since previously in my lifetime, I've regained more than 100 lbs more than once,
and 20 to 50 lbs more times that I can count,
I know this to be a True Personal Fact,
and according to the applicable Research
it is true for the majority of those who are "Reduced Obese".

In fact, I strongly identify with the subjects of that famous Keyes’ Starvation experiment.
The last part of that Study showed that when the semi-starved men were allowed
to again eat as they wished, they had insatiable appetites, yet never felt full.
Even five months later, some continued to have dysfunctional eating,
although many, after regaining their lost weight,
also regained some normalization of their eating.
So....how have I lived with this "semi-starvation" long-term -
- for more than the past six consecutive years,
and how do I plan to continue to live with it for the rest of my life?

I’ve found it necessary to Accept my own eating Realities,
and to be personally Accountable to myself for what I eat.
I’ve chosen to treat “Dieting”, and the issues surrounding it as a Hobby,
finding enjoyment and personal fulfillment in dealing with the issues…
learning more about them, reading the latest diet books,
sharing experiences and ideas with others.

Throughout my lifetime I have always had Hobbies.
Some of these are ....building stained glass windows,
building and collecting miniatures, gardening, cooking, sewing,
Play station RPG games, and many others.
Dieting is another one of these Hobbies.

 Now that I’ve retired from my law practice,
I have much more free time to spend on my Hobbies,
and so I’m currently doing that.
I will be talking more about Dieting as a Hobby
here on my personal thread,

Reading about new Concepts and trying them out,
is part of my ongoing Hobby.
It is part of my Lifestyle,
and it helps me live with “semi-starvation” long-term.
Of course….. if there is a way to maintain my current normal weight,
without the hunger and cravings of semi-starvation,
I want to know about it, and I want to make it part of my life.


Leave me a comment.

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Existing Comments:

On Feb 14, 2011 wrote:
Weight loss and maintenance without consistent semi-starvation is a positive for me! I'm interested.

On Feb 18, 2011 wrote:
Taubes says at the end of chapter 2 ………"How is it possible to semi-starve ourselves for more than a short time?"………………. To me, that is an interesting question. Taubes seems to indicate that you should eat as much as you want while restricting carbs………… Fasting is one way to have a severe restriction of carbohydrates. I like the idea of intermittent fasting…………….. Your description of the semi-starved solution is very touching. It's a great sacrifice to feel like you never have enough.

On Feb 22, 2011 TexArk wrote:
I am a work in progress so time will tell. However, after a lifetime of semistarvation to lose and maintain weight only to regain eventually, I think Taubes has given me the answer. I have eliminated sugar and wheat since January 1. For me, carbs stimulate cravings and hunger. I am also tracking calories just to make sure I am not fooling myself. But I have been completely satisfied with an average of 1200 calories daily. Some days are under 1000 and some days are close to 1500. My husband also reports that he has no trouble with the office goodies that used to call his name. I think intermittent fasting is an OK strategy, but if one binges on carbs when the fast is broken, the bad effects (long lasting) of the insulin rush still have to be addressed. When I understand what excess carbs are doing to my body that also helps me look at these foods in a different way.

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