Taubes - Chapter 11 - Primer on Regulation of Fat

- POSTED ON: Jan 01, 2011

 In this chapter Taubes talks about the Science issues
of how some hormones and enzymes work
(issues that weren’t, and still aren’t, controversial)
which were worked out between the 1920s and 1980s.

Most of the chapter is about those “Basics” physical concepts
that are connected with the issue of Why anyone Gets Fat.
There is a small part at the end about the “Implications” of those Basics.
Taubes says that fat tissue is more like a wallet than a savings account.

“You’re always putting fat into it, and you’re always taking fat out.
You get a tiny bit fatter…during and after each meal,
and then you get a tiny bit leaner again…after the meal is digested.
And you get leaner still while sleeping.

In an ideal world,
one in which you’re not getting any fatter,
the calories you store as fat immediately after meals during the day
are balanced out over time
by the calories you burn as fat after digesting those meals
and during the night. “

He says,

“Anything that works to promote the flow of fatty acids into your fat cells,
where they can be bundled together into triglycerides,
works to store fat, to make you fatter.

Anything that works to break down those triglycerides
into their component fatty acids
so that the fatty acids can escape from the fat cells
works to make you leaner.

There are dozens of hormones and enzymes
that play a role in these processes, but one hormone dominates the action.
That’s insulin, and this has never been controversial.

We secrete insulin primarily in response to the carbohydrates in our diet,
primarily to keep blood sugar under control.
But insulin also does other things including,
controlling fuel storage in our fat tissue.
Because of this, insulin is the “principle regulator of fat metabolism”.

 Taubes continues talking in technical terms about various body functions,
then says..

"In short, everything insulin does in this context
works to increase the fat we store
and decrease the fat we burn.
Insulin works to make us fatter.”

After describing in detail how insulin is activated and how it works,
ahe says,

“The bottom line is something that’s been known
(and mostly ignored) for over forty years.
The one thing we absolutely have to do if we want to get leaner
--if we want to get fat our of our fat tissue and burn it –
is to lower our insulin levels and to secrete less insulin to begin with.”

Leaving the “Basics”, Taubes goes on the “Implications”.

“When insulin levels go up,
we store fat.
When they come down,
we mobilize the fat and use it for fuel”

He states that when insulin is high, the fat from storage is not available;
that insulin also works to keep the protein stored away in muscles;
and insulin keeps the carbohydrate supply that is stored in the liver
and muscles locked up as well.

“As a result, the cells find themselves starved for fuel,
and we quite literally feel their hunger.
Either we eat sooner than we otherwise would have
or we eat more when we do eat, or both. …
Anything that makes us fatter will make us overeat in the process.
That’s what insulin does.“

 Taubes ends this chapter with

“…as we fatten, our energy demand increases,
and our appetite will increase for this reason as well
--particularly our appetite for carbohydrates,
because this is the only nutrient our cells will burn for fuel
when insulin is elevated.

If we’re predisposed to get fat,
we’ll be driven to crave precisely those
carbohydrate-rich foods that make us fat.”

The insulin issue is interesting to me personally
because all during my lifetime I’ve felt
driven to crave carbohydrate-rich foods
…..and I’ve spent much of my lifetime as a fat person.

I have discovered that for me
(and I’ve learned it is also true for many others),
I can eat sweet and starchy foods until my stomach hurts,
and just a very short time later,
I want and I’m ready to eat more of them.
The more I eat, the more I want. 
and on…and on…and on…
until I’m so full and tired that I just go to sleep. 
 This is the “binge” behavior that I’ve had to deal with my entire life,
and it comes from a very physical feeling, which is often totally unrelated
to any positive or negative emotional issues I might be having.

I have never experienced this with foods that are primarily protein and fat,
only with foods that contain a lot of sugar and/or starch.
For me, personally, even dense whole grain bread,
white and sweet potatoes, corn, as well as cooked dry beans
tend to set this “binge mechanism” off in me.
I tend to crave those foods, and have eaten massive amounts of them. 
  I am a person who has always kept my refrigerator and pantry
supplied with food that I’ve been taught are the “basic necessities”
like: eggs, milk, butter, flour, sugar, oatmeal,
oil, spices, condiments, fresh, canned and frozen vegetables;
fresh, canned and frozen meat/fish/poultry…among others.
Therefore, in my own lifetime,
that Behavioral therapy technique of eliminating all “trigger” foods
from my house…that almost every diet recommends…
…(even some Intuitive eating experts)…..
was always pretty much meaningless to me.

After I cleared my house of cookies, cake, pie, candy, chips, crackers etc.
I would still binge on bread and butter. If I didn’t have bread,
I would make some from my supply of flour, fat, and spices on hand.
If there were no “sweets” in the house, I’d sprinkle sugar on my bread and butter, 
 or I’d bake “sweets” with the flour, sugar, and oil or butter on hand.

Enough said for now,
more about that binge behavior
and how it might relate to these issues at another time.

Leave me a comment.

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Existing Comments:

On Feb 18, 2011 wrote:
OK, I think I'm overdosing on reading about carbs and insulin because it is fascinating. This morning, on the way back from dropping a daughter off at the Science Museum for a class, I listened to a Tabues interview on my iPod. Then I got home and listened to the youtube video and read the diabetes article. I'm somewhat overwhelmed by the science, so I will focus on what I can grasp from this chapter Taubes says………………"The more time passes after a meal, the more fat you will burn and the less glucose." (p. 114) …………………………"You secrete insulin primarily in response to the carbohydrates in your diet, and you do so primarily to keep blood sugar under control." (p. 118) ………………………………………………"If we can get our insulin levels to drop sufficiently low (the negative stimulus of insulin deficiency), we can burn our fat. If we can't we won't. When we secrete insulin, or if the level of insulin in our blood is abnormally elevated, we'll accumulate fat in the fat tissue." (p 125). ……………………………………….."Anything that makes us secrete more insulin than nature intended, or keeps insulin levels elevated for longer than nature intended, will extend the periods under which we store fat and shorten the periods when we burn it. " (p. 135). …………………………………………………………………………………………My personal bias is that there is more to be learned from religious practices than scientific studies but scientific studies can shed light on the wisdom of religious practices. For that reason, I am thinking of the Greek Orthodox policies on when to fast and when not to fast, to the extent that (as I recall) you were excommunicating for fasting on Sundays and holy days! Why am I thinking this? Because there is a mind game here with the body. The body secretes insulin in anticipation of getting carbohydrates. Constant fasting would mean there is predictability in when food will be eaten. With intermittent fasting, there is no predictability. What does the body do? The body must stay in a state of preparation for fasting not knowing whether or not there will be a fast. It may be that this will keep insulin levels low even after pizza or pancakes! …………………………………….My father has a Ph.D. in Chemistry, my mother has a B.A. in Chemistry, and I barely got through high school chemistry. I took one science course in college and got a C in it. I'm really not open to low carb but am intrigued by the possibility that intermittent fasting could produce a low carb effect without my having to restrict my diet to low carb foods. Anyway, the argument looks pretty convincing to me despite my limited scientific aptitude.

On Feb 19, 2011 Karen925 wrote:
If we’re predisposed to get fat, we’ll be driven to crave precisely those carbohydrate-rich foods that make us fat. ***** How very true. As I have had many people ask about my successful weight loss, I have told a few when pressed honestly, and I talk about lowering calories/carbs. We talk about what we ate. No one I know, myself included, got fat eating 2 steaks, consuming another stick of butter, or getting that extra helping of roasted green beans. However, the carby stuff is a different animal altogether.

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