How often have you heard some variation to, “There’s no secret to weight loss, you just have to exercise and eat less.” The implications are clear, if you are fat, it’s because you are lazy (you don’t exercise enough) or you are slovenly (you eat too much). Obesity and the associated diseases are the wages of sin and the only way to overcome these temptations is through will power and virtue.
These ideas that obesity is the result of eating too much or exercising too little or both is treated as a self-evident truth. People invoke the First Law of Thermodynamics and people who argue otherwise are marginalized as not understanding the First Law.
But what if it’s wrong? What if the causality is all mixed up? What if you eat more because your body is getting fat? What if you don’t feel like exercising because you are already obese? What if simple calorie restriction is not particularly effective in losing weight? It isn’t and yet it’s repeated over and over again, “You are overweight because you overeat,” and “If you just eat less, you will lose weight.”
In this lecture by Gary Taubes, he does a great job of showing the fallacy of the conventional wisdom:
It’s a longish video, about 70 minutes, but it’s a nice introduction to his ideas. If you find it all compelling I highly recommend his book, Good Calories, Bad Calories. It’s not a diet book, it’s a science book, and it sets out to demolish some of the conventional paradigms we have about diet, obesity and disease.
UPDATE: Changed the title because we don’t need a new paradigm really, we need an old one. If you watch the video, you will understand what I mean.