More Heresy on Obesity

Obesity — its causes and consequences — is a frequent topic on this blog (and the podcast too). In the podcast, Eric Oliver argued that “the causal relationship between weight and maladies like heart disease, cancer, and even diabetes has not been firmly established.” That certainly strikes some as heresy. In a recent EconTalk podcast, noted heretic Gary Taubes lays out a well-argued position:  

Taubes argues that for decades, doctors, the medical establishment, and government agencies encouraged Americans to reduce fat in their diet and increase carbohydrates in order to reduce heart disease. Taubes argues that the evidence for the connection between fat in the diet and heart disease was weak yet the consensus in favor of low-fat diets remained strong. Casual evidence (such as low heart disease rates among populations with little fat in their diet) ignores the possibilities that other factors such as low sugar consumption may explain the relationship.

Anyone for the paleo diet? 

Joel Upchurch

It is important to remember that physicians are not scientists. Physicians are narrowly trained technicians and people need to treat them with the same level of skepticism as their auto mechanic. Most Physicians aren't really trained to do properly controlled studies. This results is a lot of very shoddy medical research that is usually disproved by later research.


Paleo taps into some powerful dieting mechanics, namely high protein and low energy density. Most standard American diets are protein deficient or intermittently deficient which up regulates hunger, for more information look up "protein leverage hypothesis". Low energy density: filling your stomach sends a hormone fullness signal and when you can do it while ingesting fewer calories you lose weight.
Then there's a million (individual) reasons while it makes you feel better but that wasn't the subject of the original post.
How paleo lets you burn fat and gain muscle I have no idea. Certainly doesn't fit with calorie in, calorie out.
To eat paleo you simply replace all your bread, pasta, beans, rice with vegetable dishes and ditch sugar, eat a bit more so you don't get too few calories. No need for a carnivore diet. It should be possible to get fat on paleo though with enough coconut flour, almond meal, and dried fruit. Just drown out the protein with fat and carb.



"Most standard American diets are protein deficient or intermittently deficient which up regulates hunger, for more information look up “protein leverage hypothesis”."

You'd be hard pressed to find any evidence suggesting Americans eat protein deficient diets. It even exceedingly rare to find a preplanned diet that is deficient.


It's also worth diving up carbs as well. Taub has a great argument, and it's well known that Sugar isn't the most healthy thing to eat, yet it's in virtually everything and in particular is piled into things which are "fat free."

Sugar is the demon, really, but it always seems to get off scott free.

However, the argument that Obesity is not related to other maladies like diabetes or heart disease does seem like heresy to me, as the causes for obesity are not limited to overconsumption of fat.


It's much simpler than all this:
1. Avoid high-fructose corn syrup
2. Eat omega-3 fatty acids, not omega-6 fatty acids (though you do need a tiny amount)

It also doesn't hurt to exercise and eat fiber.


I kind of have one question to ask all of you that are spouting on about calories in, calories out. Have you ever been fat? Ever? Do you know what it's like to follow every dietary recommendation your doc throws at you, the establishment, the culture.... and still not only not lose weight, but gain? Have you ever trained for a marathon and ended up 2 sizes BIGGER while being completely compliant because you started with a metabolic derangement to begin with?

If the answer is no, and you haven't struggled through the "suggestions" of people who have not been through what you are going through, then you kind of need to shut up.

Here's the thing. You do what works for you. And until you find what works for YOU, keep looking. I will argue anyone personally who says that the weight loss on paleo/low carb/keto is muscle glycogen loss. Seriously? So the 12 inches I've lost off of my belly, and the 42 lbs.... that's a lot of glycogen huh?

Diets can be difficult, or they can be simple. Paleo isn't that difficult. Meat and animal protein. Minimally processed fats. vegetables and what carbs come with them. We complicate things when we stray to far from nature. For instance, cows did not evolve to eat corn, but we feed it to them anyway. They are sick, we eat them, we get sick. We didn't evolve to eat almost 2/3 of our diet from processed foods. If you simplify things, no matter what you call your diet, your health will improve. If you don't know what an ingredient is, don't put it in your mouth. As your health improves, your body will get back to a natural state, storing fat as needed, not ad nauseam.

If you're eating a diet that is treating you and your body well, awesome. If not, and you're shaking your head at Paleo, stop shaking it so much and do some reading, then give it a good try. The diet you're eating right now will always be there to go back to.


Jeremy Vaught

Booyah! I've been hoping Freakonomics would cover this subject.

My story is that since high school I've slowly gained weight. I have a large frame anyway, according to the gym, if I were 0% body fat I'd weight 196lbs.

Anyway, in 2004/2005 I went from 270lbs to 235 by doing many many many hours of running/swimming/biking and being hungry because I was reducing what I ate.

Then I stopped working out much and over the next few years and gained the weight back.

This last January, I started eating low-carb/Paleo, and with just basic exercise, I made it from 270 to 230 in about 9 months and never was hungry the entire time.

All the while, I'm sick less, not tired in the afternoon, not hungry, and eat great food. It just doesn't include sugar, much bread, pasta, or potatoes. The benefits way outweigh drinking Coke and eating ice cream all the time.

Josh Bobbitt

I've been doing the paleo thing for almost a year now. It's amazing. I've lost nearly 50 pounds, which is nice, but my health markers have improved SIGNIFICANTLY. I no longer have insulin resistance issues. I don't have mood swings from not eating for a few hours. I'm more productive. I'm more happy. I'm stronger. I also discovered that I do, in fact, have a gluten intolerance, and that it REALLY hurts when I eat any at all.

More than that, it's completely changed the way I look at food. Now I think about food, where it came from, and what it's doing to do to my body. That's made an incredible difference.