It Ain’t

‘Contrariwise,’ continued Tweedledee, ‘if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.’ 

–Lewis Carroll

When I first read Why We Get Fat, by Gary Taubes, and even more so when I delved into his longer book, Good Calories, Bad Calories, I felt a kind of mental relief, as if someone had removed a splinter from my brain.

You see there were certain logical inconsistencies with conventional wisdom about health, obesity and weight loss that had always bothered me. Taubes’ hypothesis clears up a lot of them, doesn’t it?

You haven’t read one of his books yet?

What are you waiting for? ….

(dinner?)

Don’t get me wrong. I think science is important, and I don’t think we can logic our way alone. However logic has an important place, and when logic tells you there’s something wrong with the hypothesis: that’s useful. It may not be able to do anything more than suggest another area of hypothesis, but it can tell you the first one is idiotic. And when logic is satisfied by a hypothesis, that’s a great clue that your hypothesis is a place to start.

One thing that had always bothered me was the concept that being fat causes certain things.

You’ve heard this, right? Obesity is what makes you get cancer, or heart disease, or diabetes. Or at least it’s a big contributor. So whatever else you do, you’ve got to lose weight. In fact, maybe we should start shaming fat people publicly, because the condition of “being fat” causes so many other health problems. Maybe we should deny them healthcare till they stop eating pizza. (Of course, if you’re skinny you can eat all the pizza you want…) Maybe we should take away their children.

But…

But…

Have you SEEN some of the skinny people who have diabetes? I have. What happened to them? Or how about the skinny people with heart disease? There seem to be a ton of them around. Ever watch a breast cancer survivor rally? Pretty much equal distribution between fat and skinny people. And what about all the fat people who seem perfectly healthy? What about recent studies that say people carrying a little extra weight live longer than the thin?  Or the ones saying that a fat person who is active is healthier than any thin person who isn’t?

It all makes the brain hurt if you think about it too hard.

But if you consider the possibility that obesity might be a symptom rather than a cause? A symptom of an underlying metabolic condition–which also can contribute to heart disease, cancer and diabetes–then it hurts less to think about. After all, no matter what condition you’re talking about, not everyone gets all the same symptoms. What if instead of being fat because we eat too much, and fatness causing us to get sick, we’re all–skinny or fat–being poisoned by exactly the same behavior: eating till we feel no hunger (the mechanism God gave us to tell us when our cells need fuel) of the foods that are readily available around us and we’re told are good: specifically low-fat, high sugar, high grain foods, thereby keeping our blood sugar constantly elevated for decades on end. And what if this condition of chronically elevated blood sugar is breaking us, and some of us show different symptoms at different times, obesity being one of them?

I mean foods that spike your blood sugar like canned fruits and fresh fruits and flavored yogurts and muffins and bagels and french fries and baked potatoes and waffles and pancakes and cookies and chips and whole grain bread and breakfast cereal and snack bars and energy bars and pretzels and candy and rolls and biscuits and skim milk and strawberry flavored skim milk and chocolate flavored skim milk (which the government wants to force schools to feed your kids instead of evil, plain old whole milk) and 24oz of concentrated sugar in the form of juice and gummy bears and sodas and sweet teas and coffee shop drinks and brownies and popcorn and pasta and dumplings and rice and toaster pastries and pizza and calzones and low-fat salad dressings and trail mix and granola and crackers?

And then when mom and dad feed junior Cocoa Puffs with skim milk (which has added sugar, by the way) because Cocoa Puffs are “healthy whole grains” and have the heart-check logo on them…Obesity experts from Harvard want to take junior away from them because he’s fat.

Here’s another one: people are fat because they’re lazy and/or greedy.

This is wildly popular. I guarantee that you can find a headline stating this very thing on Google “news” or Yahoo “health” in under 1 minute.

Go ahead and try. I’ll wait.

See?

Now this didn’t make sense to me for two reasons. Let’s take them one at a time.

1. There are too many other motives and disincentives for that to be true.

Ever thought about this? People absolutely lust after movie stars and sometimes sports stars, too. They want their hair. They want their clothes. They want their shoes. They want their Botox injections. They want a living room that looks like a stars’, and they want to eat the foods and drink the drinks and buy the products that the stars endorse. (If that wasn’t true, advertisers wouldn’t pay stars gazillions of dollars to endorse things, now would they?)

But these same people don’t want the stars’ bodies?

People will murder to get shoes with Michael Jordan’s name on it. They will steal to afford their bling to look like Beyoncé. But it never occurred to them to just go on a diet to look like these people? It’s so simple…you just eat less and exercise more. Yet these people can’t do it?

How about this: nothing could be clearer to your average television and movie viewer, or to your normal internet surfer who sees headlines, than that fat people:

Are ugly

Are stupid

Are killing their own children

Are going to die

Deserve to die

Don’t get good jobs

Don’t get respect

Get actively made fun of

Don’t get beautiful sexual partners

Ruin their marriages

Don’t have friends

Are dismissed by their own doctors

Are liars

You know fat people watch TV, go to movies, and surf the net, right? So they see all this too. They know what everyone thinks about them.

And not one of these motives is enough to get them to stop stuffing their faces? Or go for a walk? They don’t love their children more than pizza? They don’t want sex as much as they want food? They don’t care about their marriages as much as their Twinkies? Burgers are more important to them than cash? They’d rather eat bacon than be respected? They’d rather get diabetes and heart disease and cancer than put down the peanut butter?

Impossible.

Something is going on here more profound than just “people are eating too much and exercising too little.”

2. The most self-controlled people I know are all overweight.

You scoff, but it’s true. Since we’re being very frank on this blog, let me ask you frankly: which of you doesn’t know a little, short, fat powerhouse of a woman who scuttles about her life from dawn till dusk till it makes you tired just to watch her? And which of you doesn’t know a painfully skinny guy, mid 40s or so, who is so inert you’d think he was dead if he didn’t speak once in a while?

If you asked me to choose one man and one woman I know who have incredible self-control; who can ignore pain and discomfort, who can refuse to eat because they’re busy, who stay up late to finish projects, who won’t go out to play because work needs to be done, who don’t even know what movie you’re talking about because they don’t waste time that way, who get up early to go exercise…(TRUE)

The two I’d choose are also very obese. In fact, they are the fattest people I know.

How can that be? If all weight gain is about–except for an acknowledged few, rare individuals with hormone problems–is eating a bit less and exercising a bit more, how can such self-controlled people simply fall apart when it comes to food? How can so many tremendously active people be so fat? In fact if you read that article I linked to above, you hopefully noticed this logical problem right away. If exercising makes you lose weight, how can there be any fat yet fit people? For that matter, how can there be any thin, sedentary ones? Why didn’t they all balloon up as soon as they stopped exercising?

Ever been in a hospital? As a shrinking person who was formerly obese myself and did not stop being that way through “eating less and exercising more”, I think I can just say it: you can’t throw a bottle of $10-dollar-a pill Tylenol in an American hospital without clonking a fat lady nurse.

But you’ve seen nurses in a big, busy hospital, right? They’re the ones running around. They’re the ones on their feet constantly. They’re the ones who hardly have time to eat. They’re the ones who make you wish you were more diligent when you watch them. If you see one sitting down who’s not behind a desk, you might want to check her pulse and make sure she’s not dead.

This holds true for lots of professions, and for the whole general societal truth that the poorer a person is the more likely they are to have a physical labor job; yet the more likely they are to be fat.

And of course if you mention that, you get told that poor people “don’t have access to healthy food” and “need more education about a healthy diet.” Maybe they should be educated by Kelly D. Brownell (see the last point below)

Which is a polite way to say that poor people are stupid and lazy, which is a lazy way of avoiding the problems in your own logic. A way of avoiding the truth that your whole theory might be just one giant hollow Twinkie.

Here’s one more: why are health professionals fat?

Speaking of nurses, have any of you been told by fat doctors that you need to lose weight? I have.

HOW CAN THIS BE?

It’s so simple, right? They tell you to just eat less and exercise more, and apparently you aren’t supposed to think the obvious: If that’s all there is to it, why haven’t you done it?

Even more inexplicable is Kelly D. Brownell, Yale’s foremost obesity expert.

He’s also quite obese. You wouldn’t know it from some of the pictures on his bio at Yale. Those are carefully chosen. But in reality, this guy’s fat.

How can that be? This is the man who came up with the LEARN diet. This is the man who would like to make certain foods illegal and would like to tax you for buying anything he thinks is unhealthy. He’s a paragon of public virtue and nutritional wisdom.

Except he’s enormous.

HOW? That’s what I want to know. If it’s so easy; if it’s just eat a bit less and exercise a bit more; if it’s just avoid junk food and fat–how can Dr. Brownell not be taking his own advice? Is he crusading for Ronald McDonald’s head on a pike by day and snarfing Wendy’s at night? Is he demanding a tax on Twinkies because he’s already got a lifetime supply stashed away in a secret vault? (They do keep forever, you know).

One more time: something more profound is going on here than simply eat less and exercise more.

Plato says he’s hungry

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