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13 Weeks: Misunderstanding Obesity

How come some people can eat tons of butter and stay skinny?

by
Charlie Martin

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January 26, 2014 - 4:09 am
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I was thinking about my old cat Radar this morning. I was having my usual low-carb breakfast of hardboiled eggs with mayonnaise, salt and pepper — sort of Philip Glass egg salad — and bacon, and remembering how much Radar loved bacon. Now, my other two cats don’t have much interest in people food — oh, Ali’i will deign to accept some scraps of roast pork or turkey skin, but most of the time if I offer them something they’ll investigate it politely, maybe take a taste and then look at me clearly saying “are you nuts?” Radar really liked bacon and chicken.

Radar was something like 13 years old when he died, which is pretty old for an Abyssinian — they tend to have limited shelf lives, which is too bad as they’re incredible cats otherwise — and, unusually for an Aby, he was … plump. And a bit of a chow-hound. Ali’i and Kaleo, the current players in the role of masters of the house, are not at all plump; neither was Vashti, my first cat, nor was Yeshimbra, Radar’s predecessor in the goofy Aby role.

They all have lived on effectively the same diet — some good dry cat food freely fed, and a can of Friskies wet food split among them every day, half in the morning half at night. Oh, sometimes I try different kinds of wet food, but honestly they always seem to like Friskies the best and I can buy it at Costco in 48-can megapacks.

So, okay, you might think the difference is the human food, but Shimbra was even more gluttonous than Radar — his opinion was that if I was eating it it must be good, and that you should never eat anything much bigger than your head unless it’s a chicken — and Vashti was quite willing to accept part of any meal of mine, and was an absolute nut for pudding, especially tapioca.

And yet, four out of five cats had no weight problem at all, and Radar was … plump.

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Top Rated Comments   
And yes, this *is* why people don't like you, Warren.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
Charlie, it's a very good question.

I've known hard core alcoholics whose diet was 10,000 calories a day of ethanol sugars who had washboard abs and were strong as death. I knew a neighbor's kid who at six years old looked like a ripped Tri-Athlete and could do 10 pull ups at six. A supervisor in our printing company had washboard abs, lean, lean lean, strong as an ox and ate three stacked sandwiches every day, two sets of Twinkies, a bag of cookies and was always hungry. Then a six pack of beer after work as we sat around BSing each other. The guy had no fat on him.

I've known women who can gain fat weight from reading an ad for water in a magazine. I personally have struggled all my life to keep my weight where I want it, requiring lots of protein and endless activity. While my brother dines on crap and never gains an ounce. In fact he sits in airplanes 7 days out of thirty and the other 23 days are sitting in meetings.

I knew a 70yo lady worked in a flower shop. Widowed, she ate three meals a day at McDonalds. Showed me her Cholesterol test results from her physical. "Jack?" she asks, "Is my cholesterol high?" It was 140. Three meals a day for over ten years at McDonalds.

I can quote tales like this all day. Weight gain and obesity are nothing like the flawed, nonsense Calories + Activity paradigm. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. In fact, this widely accepted nonsense has prevented finding the real Cause (which is clearly a switch in individual metabolism probably in the Endocrine system).

As TeeJaw correctly points of the Calorie Myth is just that .. a dangerous myth. Else there wouldn't be so many 'exceptions'.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
Good article, Charlie.

Don't know if Gary Taubes put forth this narrative, or I assembled it from the clues he dropped along the way, but the following makes sense to me:

Some people are genetically inclined to become obese under modern conditions -- those conditions being, mainly, the widespread availability and inexpensiveness of refined sugar and processed flour.

In times past, before about 1800 AD, there was little opportunity for obesity to occur, as food was far more scarce -- refined sugar and processed flour were either not invented yet, or were a delectation reserved for rich folks.

But obesity, along with diabetes, became more common as a fellow traveler of our modern, mechanized civilization -- it is a disease of civilization. It's the sort of gene that doesn't blossom until the conditions are ripe. Like diabetes, it may have something to do with the effects of insulin, which is supposed to "fill you up". When your pancreas shoots insulin into the bloodstream, it is supposed to signal your brain that you are no longer hungry. But this feedback mechanism doesn't work with some people, and in any event appears to lose its effectiveness as we age.

As a result, some people who try to satisfy the hunger with sugar and flour just continue getting hungrier and hungrier. I think it becomes a form of addiction. Before my change, I had to have a 7-Eleven glazed blueberry donut with my coffee every morning. It was hard giving that up.

I substituted bacon for flour and dropped forty pounds effortlessly.

And like you and Mr. Taubes, I did the math: it only takes an imbalance of 100 calories a day, or thereabouts, to put on ten pounds in a year. That's a slice of bread. That's an apple. That's one lite beer. That's not very much food. The situation is less suggestive of gluttony than of a mechanism that's out of kilter.

I think, regarding weight, that our bodies have a number in mind for us -- that is, there is a hormonal mechanism that seeks an equilibrium, and works hard to achieve a certain weight. If we eat too much to sustain that weight, the mechanism makes us more active or less hungry; if we eat too little, the mechanism makes us more hungry or less active. But a hormonal mechanism, like any other, can get out of whack and require adjustment. For some of us, refined sugar and processed flour damage that mechanism.

So now, when I get hungry between meals or late at night, I pull a piece of bacon out of the plastic wrap where I keep it. Or I cut off a hunk of cheese. When I go out to eat, I eat a steak or a bacon cheeseburger, but omit the bread and fries. I do not say no to butter. I eat all I want. When I have a beer, it's (usually) a lite beer, but my daily poison is usually a spirit of some sort (bourbon or a gin martini). I always feel full, and my weight is stable. More importantly, the doctor tells me my blood numbers are good (I take Zocor for cholesterol, but I did before my new regimen too).

Don't expect your doctor to understand. That's why they call it "the conventional wisdom."
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39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (67)
All Comments   (67)
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It's not the butter. It's the crap you put it on. Primal / Paleo diet works.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
Nearly every weight-loss success story is a short-term "I lost 20 pounds in 3 months after I read (fill in the blank-Taubes, Atkins, WW, whatever)"

Get back to me in 10 years.

Low-carb is usually short-term, hate to break it to you. Look at Jimmy Moore.

I think there are some epigenetic factors at play due to chemicals in our environment or gut flora or something like that. It's clear that some people are pre-disposed.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Low-carb is usually short-term, hate to break it to you."
Hate to break it to you but definitive statements are nonsense.
I join the army in 1977 weighing 130 lbs. Joined ranger battalion.
Breakfast menu: 2 egg omelet, hash browns, cream beef, bacon, milk and juice, toast, peanut butter and jelly minimum every breakfast in garrison. Equivalent lunch and dinner. One year later still 130.
Started ranger school at 130 lbs. Gained 10 pounds in 40 days, then lost 5. After 60 days 5 pounds heavier then went in. On 1 c-ration a day and 3-4 hours sleep a night. Some ranger buddies lost 60+ pounds in that time.
After ranger school gained another 10 pounds within 2 weeks. Continued to eat like the first menu mentioned for 20+ years in military. Have been 148 lbs +/- 3 lbs since. (30+years). Still eat minimum 2 slices bacon, two over-easy eggs minimum every morning. Hi-fat diet (palio) works. Perfect cholesterol / blood pressure / physical.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Hate to break it to you but definitive statements are nonsense."

And you say that definitively.....

Definitive statements are not nonsense when they are true. His was not true.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Low-carb is usually short-term, hate to break it to you."
Hate to break it to you but definitive statements are nonsense.
I join the army in 1977 weighing 130 lbs. Joined ranger battalion.
Breakfast: 2 egg omelet, hash browns, cream beef, bacon, milk and juice, toast, peanut butter and jelly minimum every breakfast in garrison. Equivalent lunch and dinner. One year later still 130.
Started ranger school at 130 lbs. Gained 10 pounds in 40 days, then lost 5. After 60 days 5 pounds heavier then went in. On 1 c-ration a day and 3-4 hours sleep a night. Some ranger buddies lost 60+ pounds in that time.
After ranger school gained another 10 pounds within 2 weeks. Have been 148 lbs +/- 3 lbs since. (30+years). Still eat minimum 2 slices bacon, two over-easy eggs minimum every morning. Hi-fat diet (palio) works. Perfect cholesterol / blood pressure.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
What's more, nearly every weight loss routine has some example of someone who lost a gazillion pounds and don't tell you how many *didn't*. See http://pjmedia.com/lifestyle/2014/01/11/13-weeks-diets-and-black-swans/
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
All I know is, that burger at the top of the page is making me hungry.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm going to make enemies with this one, but here goes. Doctors are experts on disease and injury; they are not experts on health. "Health" isn't just the absence of disease or injury, it's a presence by itself. But no one really studies it.

Doctors, scientists, and nutritionists have studied weight gain up the wazoo. They can explain why and how people get fat: eat too much, drink too much, sleep too much, don't exercise enough, where "too much" and "not enough" are specific to the individual. BUT (here's where it gets radical) that doesn't mean that the opposite - eat less, drink less, sleep less and get more exercise -will make you shed fat. Reverse-engineering the original fat-gaining process often doesn't work. One of the things our bodies are great at doing is adapting; and one of the things your fat cells learn is that whatever that highest of high numbers is, is normal and losing any means something is wrong. You need to re-educate your body (and mind, yes, of course).

Fat people have some additional health problems, we all know that; what's rarely discussed is that there are also health benefits to carrying extra weight, such as increased bone density and a lower incidence of some types of cancer. Fat cells are the most stable cells in the body. Where benefits have been published, it's immediately followed by a PC disclaimer of "but the researchers are quick to add that their findings don't mean you should actually carry extra weight."

If you aren't losing weight, well, to paraphrase what Dr. Atkins often wrote, "If you've gone off the plan, I hope at least that you've been enjoying yourself!"
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
You are spot on with your observations regarding doctors and health.

The basic problem is, nutritionists don't have white rats. They have to rely on questionnaires and interviews and what people tell them. People are liars.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Doctors, scientists, and nutritionists "

I see what you did there. You listed these people as if they are separate categories. So, you are implying that doctors are not scientists, and neither are nutritionists.

That's a very important, and correct, observation.

The sad truth is, neither are many "scientists".

"The basic problem is, nutritionists don't have white rats. "

The basic problem is, see above. What is taught in the standard nutrition programs in this country's universities is mostly a lot of crap, starting with the Not-To-Be-Questioned-Holy-Dogma that people are simple furnaces, so calories in must equal calories out, or there will be fat to pay!

I have yet to meet a college educated nutritionist who knows diddly about biochemistry on the cellular level.

Oh, and the few I know personally are lousy cooks, too!

39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
Quit making excuses. Quit looking for excuses. Get off your butt and move. Do Something. One: You won't have as much time to feed your pie hole. Two: You'll burn off the calories you've consumed.

Or...sit on the couch, feed your face and look for excuses and reasons to be fat as hog.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
For every problem there is a solution that is simple, elegant, and wrong.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
And yes, this *is* why people don't like you, Warren.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
"My guys really seem to like the dry food. It's not like they're eating every scrap of the wet."

They would, of course, if you'd only feed then wet, right?

Let me know if you ever see a cat in the wild grazing on grass or wheat. If you understand the logic behind the paleo/ancestral way of eating, and you appear to, then apply it to your cats, too. For cats, eating "paleo" is eating MEAT and FISH.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
For those who think feeding cats dry food is ideal, check the scientific literature. Why would anyone think that feeding a CARNIVORE grains is a good idea? It's not. Can some cats do okay on dry food? Yes, if "okay" is your goal.

"One of mine gets upset if you change his food mix."

That's why they call cats finicky. Because they are. But that doesn't mean you can't change their diets. Just change it very gradually. Trust me, they'll never know. And they'll thank you for it! Especially when they don't end up suffering thyroid problems, diabetes, kidney disease, etc.

http://www.catinfo.org/
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Is it possible we have some basic misunderstanding of obesity?"

Yes. If anybody had ever discovered THE cause of obesity, we'd all be skinny. I think the experts have lots of information, plenty of ideas - but no answers.

Your body belongs to you. You have to find the answers.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
As someone who lost 70 lbs 2 years ago, I've sense gained back 20-25 after moving out 5 months ago and getting married early this month, I can attest to the low calorie diet to a point.

To start my story I'll explain that my mother had diabetes, most likely since a little girl, which had caused necrosis of her stomach which meant part of her stomach was just dead tissue. Well, after i moved back home at 240 lbs she was approved for the surgery and had to start a new diet, which is the diet she has to be on for the rest of her life(read: lifestyle change). This diet including the following parts that I did:

1) no more carbonated soda's, stomach is only 3 oz and soda's expand your stomach making you feel less full

2) drink plenty of ICE water, pee should be clear

3) eat small meals about 200 calories every 3-4 hours instead of 3 large meals at 500+ calories

4) eat leaner meat, chicken, fish, or my fav 93-7 beef

5) eat less sugary foods like white bread, exchange for yogurt

And for myself I simply ate at a deficit of calories. Instead of eating 2k calories a day, that's for really active people, I simply ate about 1700 calories, not including the 6-7 Mtn dews I'd drink a day which is about 300-400 calories a piece.

The hardest part for me was to get the taste of sugar out of my body, switching to a low sugar, not synthetic sugar, yogurt or getting a 70-79% cocoa chocolate bar for those chocolate fixes helped me a lot.

Now, since then I've gained 20-25 lbs, probably 10-15 is muscle from work and I feel terrible, my back hurts, by legs are sore, and I have started drinking large soda's at work, to be fair I'd rather drink a soda than fall asleep driving a pest control truck all day, my medium sized shirts are snug on me and my size 32 pants don't fit as well* this is why I'll be changing my bad ways now and hopefully get my wife of 23 days on it too.


*I did look rather sickly at 170 lbs as a 6'1" tall man, I just don't think I should be 200 lbs unless it's all muscle.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
> pee should be clear

All things considered, I think I prefer vermouth.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hey Wibbins, give Adkins a try. It's the best diet I know. I'm 6'1'' and weigh 210, down from 240 (and I've put on about 20 lbs of muscle in the last 18 months.)

Sugar is an addiction, frankly. It seems to function on the body and the pleasure centers of the brain the same way as narcotics do. The best way to beat it is to kill it, not wean off of it. You'll get cravings for a week, then they go away and your energy goes through the roof.

Soda of any kind is from the devil. If there's one thing that distinguishes fat people from lean people, it's the propensity to drink soft drinks. It's probably why Mexicans are so much fatter than Americans, in spite of the fact they work longer hours doing much more physically demanding work. They drink soda like breathing air.

Drinking beer all day is less fat-inducing (and probably healthier all over) than drinking soda all day. The stuff is just poison. Drink coffee or tea for caffeine.

Drinking Mountain Dew in particular is like drinking a bottle of pancake syrup. When I was in Iraq in the summertime I would drink gallons of unsweetened iced tea for caffeine. If I had relied on energy drinks or soda I would have come home looking like Jabba the Hutt.

39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
This has been my experience in losing weight:

It wasn't just the calories for me. I have always eaten a lot of veggies (even as a kid). The one change I made in my diet was to reduce carbs and sugars and increase fats. I found out I eat much smaller portions and have more energy. However, the diet change only helped my weight loss a little.


5 years ago I messed up arm in an accident. As a result, I did a lot less physical activity and turned into a fatty. Being fat is physically and emotionally miserable. My weight and my LDL cholesterol numbers went into the danger zone.

So I bought an exercise bike and began to do regular exercise every other evening. Result: dropped 5 lbs. However, my body would seem to shut down, fighting to keep the fat on. Exercise became very laborious. My doctor explained to me that this is called 'plateauing' and I was losing the fight to break through it.

One day I read in the WSJ about clinical trials of pantethine (a version of B-5) used to reduce (successfully) LDL cholesterol. So I bought some off Amazon and gave it a try. I have no idea yet if it helped reduce my LDL, but man.. it had a huge positive effect on my workout performance. I found out later it also been known help adrenal function.

So I took the supplement regimen further: I began taking a series of B vitamins (nicotinic acid, biotin), tocosorb (vitamin E), krill oil, vitamin K2, and some non vitamin supplements as well (i.e. tribulus). Result was that I dropped 25 lbs.

A few months ago I started a weight training program as the nerve damage reversed itself enough to allow me to do so. Nothing special, just a bench and some dumb bells. Muscle soreness moved me to try taking a free form version of L-Arginine. The result was a much faster recovery from workouts and the ability to push my self farther. I have never put on muscle as much as I have in any other time in my life (I am in my mid 40's).

Today, I am still overweight, but much better than I was before (back to fitting into size 34 pants). My body fat continues to drop and my muscle mass continues to improve. I plan to go through a full physical this quarter to see how good of shape I am really in.

Just wanted to get this info out to anyone else who is having trouble losing weight. Maybe what worked for me may work as well for you.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
Your experience is pretty typical, although I admit that I am utterly ignorant about supplements or their value, especially the ones you mentioned. If you want to see your muscle mass increase and fat-loss spike, start training the big lifts: squats and dead lifts. Those heavy full body lifts cause testosterone levels to shoot up, stimulating both muscle growth and fat loss. But they are also very uncomfortable to start.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
And how to people with bad knees approach this?
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
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