Public Health How the Government Makes You Fat—Gary Taubes on Obesity, Carbs, and Bad Science


"The government can come along and, with all the best intentions, cause enormous problems" says Gary Taubes, a science writer and author most recently of Why We Get Fat And What To Do About It .'s Zach Weissmueller talked with Taubes about his controversial work in the world of nutrition and epidemiology, including Taubes' hypothesis that carbohydrates, not dietary fat, overeating, or lack of physcial activity, are the primary factor causing obesity. Other topics include the inability of governments and large informational institutions such as the American Heart Association to adapt to new information, the mess of bad legislation and bad science that Taubes believes led to America's obesity problem, and why many libertarians seem to love the Paleo Diet

Taubes' work has unsurprisingly invited criticism from scientists, government officials and journalists, even in the pages of Reason Magazine, where he went back and forth with Reason contributor Michael Fumento. Read below and decide for yourself who, if anyone, is right:

Fumento on Taubes—

Taubes' response—

Fumento's rebuttal—

Approximately 9:30. Interview and Editing by Zach Weissmueller. Scroll down for downloadable versions and subscribe to ReasonTV's YouTube Channel to receive notifications when new material goes live.

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  1. reason must be desperate for intra-Commentariat slapfights today.

    1. (slaps Randian in face)

      1. [poops in Epi’s “mailbox”]

        1. SPACEDOCK

          1. SPACEDOCK

            I always like to imagine the subjects of these interviews coming over to check out what we say about them, and then running away from the computer in horror.

            1. Poor bastards.

    2. It’s the overweight bronies that are causing all the problems.

  2. Oh, good, I love watching my science crush speak. He’s teh dreamiest!!!!

  3. The government made the problem, and the government is fixing the problem. Just like Saddam.

  4. “””and why many libertarians seem to love the Paleo Diet .””‘

    I think a lot of the love comes from the fact that with the Paleo Diet you can eat lots of bacon and who doesn’t love bacon?

      1. What do you think they ate at the last supper?

        Jesus is a loving god and shares bacon. Its Yahweh and Allah who are jealous gods who forbid the eating of bacon so they can keep all of it for themselves.

        1. Jesus was a good jew, he obeyed jewish law.

          What makes him loving is he let us gentiles off the hook for bacon.

          1. I’m totally stealing this.

          2. All Jews throughout all of history have let gentiles off the hook for bacon. Gentiles have never been expected by Jews to keep more than a few essential of Jewish law.

        2. “Valor pleases you, Crom, so grant me one request, grant me BACON! And if you do not listen, then the hell with you!”

    1. “””and why many libertarians seem to love the Paleo Diet .””‘

      I think a lot of the love comes from the fact that with the Paleo Diet you can eat lots of bacon and who doesn’t love bacon?

      In all seriousness, the idea that “influential libertarians” got it going among us doesn’t explain me, at least. I went on low carb-high fat in the Spring of 2004 as the result of one coworker asking me to support another “going back on Atkins.” Neither was particularly interested in politics, nor diet beyond simply losing weight. They also didn’t succeed at the diet because they tried doing it low fat and low salt. When I lost 2 pounds a week (a friggin’ miracle for me) without being hungry, I read the Atkins Essentials book that had just come out and found out they were missing all sorts of salad, vegetables and fruit, as well as forgetting to subtract out fiber from the carbohydrate count. Then I started losing 3 pounds per week without being hungry.

      1. My doc put me on it three years ago and Warty got me started on Taubes book. DAMN YOU WARTY!!!!

  5. Russ Roberts has an 80 min podcast with Taubes on Why We Get Fat here

    1. Excellent, thank you.

  6. After my heart attacks last year my doctor put me on a “heart healthy” diet that almost made me wish that the attacks had taken me out. I switched after reading Taubes’ book and I’m healthier and a hellava lot happier. Mmm, bacon.

  7. I’ve been doing the Taubes thing too – ever since one of my co-workers lent me “Why We Get Fat”. He went from 250pds down to 190. I went from 205-210ish to 185ish, and had to buy a smaller jeans too.

    Best part: bacon.

    1. Taubes plus Rippetoe (thanks Warty!). Five pounds heavier, 2″ off the waist, a whole fuck-load stronger since about March.

      1. Awesome. What have your lifts done?

        1. Deadlift went from about 135 to 195, I kinda ran out of grip strength there and plateau’d. (Just started using the fatgripz every other deadlift session. Its making a difference.) Squats 115 to 165. Press went from 65 to 105, Bench from 115 to 155. (These are all 5 rep numbers). Power clean, I just have no technique, can do about 85. If I wasn’t training for a marathon the other four days a week, I’d be completely off the charts on squats and deadlift. As it is, I only get one really good squat workout in a week. But as someone who was always a skinny, weak runner I feel about 100x stronger. My goal is to be at novice weights for all of these by the end of the year, which will give me about 6 weeks post marathon. I’m also switching my marathon training around so I can get an extra squat session in. It’s weird to me that I’m essentially there on the upper body lifts (I’m sitting about 170 right now) and so relatively weak through the trunk, butt, and legs.

            1. Awesome. Yeah, for some reason my stupid leg muscles can’t seem to figure out that I want both strong and super-efficient.

              1. Run less.

                1. or not at all. Jogging just messes up my ankles and knees.

                2. After the marathon, I’m pretty much quitting. But I committed to the marathon first, then got around to reading Starting Strength and GCBC.

                  1. It’s nice bulking up to the point of not being skinny, but I consider gaining muscle to be one of my bigger mistakes. I went from about 125 and sub-6:00 min. miles to 170 (obviously not all muscle) and ~9:00 min miles with knee problems. Now I’m at about 155 and 7:15 min. miles, and things are better, but I still have a lot of knee problems. It sucked being skinny, but functionally it didn’t make much difference what I weighed.

          1. I gotta get back to weightlifting (also read and followed Ripptoe). It was going low carb (and some pain killers post dental surgery) that initially put me off my exercise. It took a week or two to get over the ‘carb hump’ and as I went Keto, my energy levels were messed up.

      2. Rippetoe rules. His instructional vids on youtube have really helped my lifts. I cut my poundages back and started using proper form. It’s alot easier on my body and I’ve gotten stronger.

      3. Echoing the “thanks Warty!” Knowing Thy Rip is the best defense against retards who will try to tell you stupid shit at the gym. And eating delicious animals is awesome. I don’t know why there’s such a large Venn diagram overlap of libertarians and freaks like us, but cheers to fellow freaks all the same.

          1. Oh yes, back from when he was associated with the Cult.

        1. There really is a huge overlap. I think it has something to do with the fact that the weight doesn’t give a shit about your feelings or how you feel that day. You either lift it or you don’t, and if you don’t, it was either because you were a pussy, or you fucked up, or you were stupid to attempt it in the first place.

          1. Haven’t libertarians been shown to be more willing to change their mind based on new evidence, or something along those lines – more skeptical of received wisdom, more interested in evidence than instinct, etc?

            I think that explains a lot of it. Going high-fat to lose weight goes against all conventional wisdom, but when the evidence starts to pile up, we’re more likely to be early adopters.

            1. True!

    2. 365 to 237. Best part? Barbecued pork, brisket, spare ribs, back ribs, short ribs, country style ribs…

      Actually, the best part is that after losing a foot off my waist, not only did I not have to be hungry to lose weight, my hunger no longer wakes me up at night in the middle of my sleep.

      1. I always presume you to be Tom Naughton, am I just crazy?

        1. I always presume you to be Tom Naughton, am I just crazy?

          I’ll take that as a big compliment! I’m not Tom, but I’m a big fan of Fat Head and his blog. Someone here (maybe Sugarfree?) told me about him. He’s a much nicer guy than I am, BTW.

          No, I’m a twice-former business owner who’s just starting into a third (much easier) career.

    3. I’ve seriously cut down on carbs and sugars, and have been eating a lot more meat, but haven’t lost any weight.

      1. how many g’s of carbs are you eating per day? I do under 30g unless it’s a rare drink lots-o-beer with my buddies night.

      2. My nephew had that problem. Turned out for dinner he was eating baked chicken breast, salad and broccoli. “Where’s your fat?” I asked. You need fat to fuel the body and train it to burn fat. Also, it turned out he didn’t realize the six-pack of Budweiser he was drinking every night was full of carbs.

        Usually it takes bringing your daily net carbs (total carbohydrate minus fiber) below 100 grams to lose weight. I had to keep it below 50g to lose weight. Don’t go hungry! Just eat the kinds of foods you’re supposed to. The Atkins website has a great “acceptable foods list” you might find handy. The Fat Head movie site has all sorts of resources too.

        1. My doc said less than 10g of carbs for me. And GI of under 30…so tree fruit is out, legumes are out, anything that sat on the same shelf as a piece of bread is out. I am no longer much of an omnivore, really just a carnivore.

          1. My doc said less than 10g of carbs for me. And GI of under 30…so tree fruit is out, legumes are out, anything that sat on the same shelf as a piece of bread is out. I am no longer much of an omnivore, really just a carnivore.

            Sounds like. Ten grams? Wow, that’s tight! Even the Induction Phase of Atkins allows 20 net grams. Glycemic Index doesn’t seem to help me much. As long as I stay below 100g/day I seem to maintain my weight fine.

  8. Bureaucratic inertia is part of the problem? How did that happen?

  9. I’ve always eaten a pretty low-carb diet, but it was awesome to read GCBC and realize that I didn’t need to feel guilty about how much fat I eat. A 12-egg omelet filled with cheese and ham and onions fried in bacon grease, you say? HEALTH FOOD

    1. So much ^^this^^ (except for the already eating a low-carb diet)

      I switched about 2 months ago, and aside from some very big slip-ups have lost 20lbs already.

      My normal breakfast is 5 eggs with sour cream and cheddar cheese mixed in cooked in butter and the leftover grease from the 4 strips of bacon. YUM.

      Not usually hungry for lunch but if I am will eat a string cheese or two. Then something like a cheap steak and veggies for dinner.

    2. Yeah, I lost almost 20 points of BMI, lowered my BP, blood sugar and cholesterol, and kept it off for 8 years now. But people kept telling me low-carb high-fat was going to kill me. You can imagine the science showing otherwise is of great interest to me.

  10. My lunch today: 1/2 lb. pepperoni, 1/2 lb. mozzarella.

    1. My lunch today: 1/2 lb. pepperoni, 1/2 lb. mozzarella.

      I had 4 ground beef tacos with cheddar cheese, lettuce and hot sauce, except I took out 3 of the corn tortillas and diced up the fourth one, mixed it back in and ate it with a fork.

      I’ve never made a good purist.

      1. I’m going to eat about a pound of cherries later. With (full fat) yogurt, but still.

        It’s still better than corn flakes and toast for breakfast and sammiches for lunch.

        1. For snacking I’ve always liked ‘tater chips. Until I discovered pepperoni chips.

          Spread ’em across a plate, nuke for 2 minutes, let them cool into crispy deliciousness.

          1. Some people like chicarrones or fried pork rind.

        2. I’m going to eat about a pound of cherries later. With (full fat) yogurt, but still.

          It’s still better than corn flakes and toast for breakfast and sammiches for lunch.

          Sorry for all the drool you had to wipe off this post.
          I love good cherries! Strawberries too! We were also getting some apples recently that were wonderful. Like Fujis, but better. “Kawazi?” “Wazaki?” Something like that. Damn, but they were good.

          Except for bananas and grapes, the carbohydrates in fruit and vegetables tend to be moderate compared to grains. Just don’t let fruit juice fool you!

    2. Mixed greens, spinach, garlicky chicken, snow peas and bell pepper. Never thought I’d be a salad guy, now I don’t know how I’d ever get tired of it. And I don’t get that odd feeling in my stomach like when I eat (tasty) sandwiches.

      Despite being such a fairly big guy, I’m surprised how little I eat, even compared to you folks. Eating a dozen eggs for any meal sounds impossible. (though I probably do binge on almonds and dark chocolate; it’s too easy to do so).

  11. and why many libertarians seem to love the Paleo Diet .

    It seems this particular memo was not distributed as my last Bilderberg meeting. All this time, the house chefs have been preparing nothing but foie gras, lobster, oysters, and various endangered species generally served with bread or pasta made by child laborers in my slave granary mills.

    I shall have to remember to commence the lashings to my underlings for failing to notify me of relevant trends in my community. And I’ll probably have to off the children that staff my granary as well just to ensure they don’t rat to OSHA, NLRB, and the like.

    1. All the things you mentioned are permissible, for low-carb if not specifically paleo.

      1. Oops, not the bread. **sighs** I guess we just expected you to notice how much the toiling classes enjoyed bread.
        gives Sudden a contemptuous glance

  12. That’s like $10

    Needs more flour,yeast and tomato sauce.

    1. Unnecessary. I get the best of the flavors without the useless bread.

      Some tomato sauce might be a nice accompaniment, though.

      1. Tomato sauce covers a multitude of evil.

  13. I trust that everyone here has the proper licenses to be discussing diet and fitness on the Internet.

    1. OH SHI-

    2. I actually do. Well, the fitness part anyway (ACSM-HFS).

  14. Taubes complains about too much grain in our diet, blames the government, but can’t find 30 seconds to talk about grain subsidies?

  15. The original NYT Taubes article that Fumento responds to is here.

  16. Those dudes sure do talk a lot of smack lol

  17. Farmers who still have good crops are going to price gouge consumers. Obama should redistribute the money made by farmers who grew good crops to the ones who didn’t. Or they can stick fist dildos up each others hillrod asses.

    1. It’s not like they raised those crops themselves!

      (Ouch. I think I pulled something…)

      1. Going for the Providence angle. Very Aaron Copland of you.

        1. It’s not like they raised those crops themselves!
          (Ouch. I think I pulled something…)

          Going for the Providence angle. Very Aaron Copland of you.

          I know who Copland was (I love the music for Rodeo and Fanfare for the Common Man), but I’m afraid the reference otherwise went over my head. My knowledge of American composers is quite shallow.

          Providence? Hehehe. Whoever thinks God’s the one who grows little green apples has never tried raising new trees for an orchard. Apples are extremely heterozygotic. A seed from even the best tree in the world will most likely grow a tree yielding really crappy fruit.

          I only intended to make fun of Obama’s recent “you didn’t build your own business” crap, in case that wasn’t obvious.

    2. Lots of corn goes to feed hogs, who in turn, produce….bacon!

  18. Although I agree that the gov gets things wrong again and again and again, I think Gary Taubes may be a victim of his own thesis; not all low-fat diets are the same. Grouping diets together and treating them as pure science is exactly the kind of thing that gets us here in the first place. Furthermore, weight should never ever be the absolute goal for a diet. A healthy person that eats tons of nutritious, fresh food and is slightly overweight will be ten times (yes I am missing a reference there for my math!) healthier than a waif smoker who eats a small meal once or twice a day.
    In my own experience, I have seen dozens of people lose tremendous amounts of weight and reduce health problems simply by eating a macrobiotic diet. This type of diet (grains, beans, veggies, tofu, fish, etc), while low in fat and high in carbs, has many facets that transcend the simple calorie counting approach which we all know. In addition, it is a much more value driven diet because vegetarian ingredients are much cheaper than a daily routine of animal proteins.
    In the end, I dont think there is a specific diet which works for everyone and Gary comes off slightly smug in the video which is exactly what Reason is not. Any thoughts?

    1. Any thoughts?

      Many more than I have time or space for.
      Value is a thing to be sought or kept. I don’t see any value to me eating a diet that runs counter to my health. The neolithic change to agriculture is consistently accompanied by a rapid decline in height, health and life expectancy. Vegetarianism, even more so. Tofu, being soy, is an endocrine disruptor causing all sorts of reproductive abnormalities (Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology Metabolism 2010 Sep;23(9):855-61), low testosterone, low sperm concentration, birth defects, cancer, thyroid disease, and so on. It’s nasty stuff for a species that spent 3MY as a predator with the ability to take advantage of other foods.
      If you care to sicken yourself and shorten your lifespan, by all means feel free. But read the man’s arguments if you are interested in living a longer, healthier life. My BMI dropped from 55.5 to 36.0 without being hungry, and with every health indicator improving except age. And using a high-animal-fat diet did it without being hungry, and has kept it off for eight years. I’ve even dropped a few more pounds along the way, even though that wasn’t my goal.

  19. Speculating on the paleo diet trend, I’ve concluded that the reason there’s so much anecdotal support for it is that it covers a host of specific dietary evils: ciliac disease, lactose intolerance, intestinal flora issues, and for those who lose weight on a paleo diet, I suspect that they reduce their caloric intake because there aren’t good culinary substitutes for gluten. I also suspect that meat consumption tends to be self limiting for some people, call it protein fatigue.

    1. I suspect that they reduce their caloric intake because there aren’t good culinary substitutes for gluten. I also suspect that meat consumption tends to be self limiting for some people, call it protein fatigue.

      Paleo isn’t high-protein, it’s high-fat. The media keeps getting that wrong. BTW, gluten is plant protein. “Protein fatigue” would apply to that too, right?

      When I first tried LCHF, I was losing more than 3 pounds per week while eating in excess of 4000 calories a day. Try to explain that by self-limited calorie intake alone. I can assure you that my much-reduced appetite today, 8 years later, is not from being bored with food.

      1. If you eat a high fat low carb diet, you eat fewer calories. It’s that simple. Most people can only eat so many calories in fat at a time without vomiting, but it’s easy to eat tons of calories in grains and sugar and other such carbs. I lose weight on low carb diets, because I end up eating less. There’s only so much bacon I can stand, but let me have a slice of low fat turkey bacon and some pancakes…and I’ll eat more calories. I lose weight on low carb diets, but I hate, hate hate them. The Irish in me cannot abide. I feel so sluggish and depressed, and I crave carbohydrates nightly.

    2. Meat and fat cause satiety. You feel full when you have eaten enough naturally stop eating. It is much easier to eat 2000 calories of cookies or rice or potatoes or pies than it is to eat 2000 calories of fatty steak or chicken.

      You can even eat carbs, just eat the whole fruit when you want to cheat on the low carb thing. One or two apples is very filling with nowhere near the calories of a large soda.

  20. the inability of governments and large informational institutions such as the American

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  22. Good interview.

    I have to say that the low carb diet does not work well for me but I am very active. I average about 8000 miles a year on my road bike and probably a 1000 on my mountain bike. I need to eat a good amount of carbs before these rides. I have found that if I do not and eat a really fatty meal the day before or day of then I just cannot finish the ride strong. But I do eat a lot of protein though. Just the other day I rode 50 miles and had a big turkey leg sticking out of my back pocket. It is nice to chew on every few miles.

    All this “science” talk is kind of BS IMO. Basically I say that because I don’t understand it and I really don’t have the time to understand it. I mean, I have a job and shit to do right? I cannot read all this crap. And I don’t really care if two guys go at it on a web site.

    Fact is, you will die someday. You do not need a bunch of abbreviations after your name or write a book to know that. Might as well enjoy your life. If bacon makes your happy or bread makes you happy then I say “go for it!” and to hell with anyone who thinks otherwise.

  23. I’m a big guy. Not fat, but being sedentary had caught up to me. 6’4, 36″ waist, 235 lbs.. Three years ago I began bicycling to work every day. 20 miles a day with hills. Dropped from 235 to 218. Old knee injury caught up with me. Had surgery but now new job too far to bike. Went back up to 235.

    Three months ago I read Taubes. Cut almost all carbs out of diet. Full fat plain yogurt or eggs cheese avocado for breakfast. Large salad with tri-tip or salmon for lunch. Meat and veggies for dinner. Snack on nuts as needed. I eat more (in terms of calories) than I did when bicycling 20 miles a day, but weigh less. I’ve dropped into the 208-210 range and still losing about a pound or two a week. Little exercise aside from a one mile walk around the block once a day. I’m not hungry, the pounds are just melting off.

    I’d always been active and thin when younger. Used to think weight was all about working off what you ate. Now I realize I was wrong. I’m getting much less exercise, but I’m losing more weight. Blood pressure has dropped, blood fats are improving. Feel better, look better, not hungry.

    Good Calories, Bad Calories is a fascinating history of bad science. The basic story is inherently appealing to libertarians because it’s all about how do-good government meddlers screwed up and got behind the wrong science with the full force of the .gov medical bureaucracy.

    Hooray for Mr. Taubes!

    1. “I eat more (in terms of calories) than I did when bicycling 20 miles”

      Are you sure? Did you count calories both times and keep a record? Or were you maybe eating more calories in carbs than you reazlised, and by switching to a high fat diet, did you actually limit the total calories your consumed per day?

      1. Re total calories consumed- I’ve never kept a record, and certainly french fries, cookies ice cream can add to a calorie count pretty quickly. However, I now eat a lot of nuts between meals, and those also add up pretty quickly. I’m eating over 1/2 lb of tri-tip (with the fat left on) with a large salad for lunch almost every day. When I was biking regularly, most of my regular carbs were brown rice, sweet potato breads. (I grew up in the household of a type 1 diabetic, so I’m pretty good at eyeballing serving size and calorie count). If I have dropped caloric intake, it’s not likely by much. The change in the composition of my intake is probably the bigger factor.

        For me, the real takeaway is that I’ve shed over 25 lbs without hunger and with little exercise. I’m not practicing any conscious caloric restriction. I’m currently relatively sedentary but 10 lbs lighter than when I was biking 20 miles a day, just by eliminating the casual intake of carbohydrates.

        I’d like to begin biking again, if I can work it into my schedule. I may add some complex carbs back at that point. But in the mean time, I’m enjoying eating ’til I’m full and watching my weight drift back down to my skinny college weight.

        For me, Taubes’s central hypothesis that elevated insulin levels cause the accumulation and retention of fat has certainly been bourn out.

  24. Phooey to all of it.

    I love bread. All kinds of bread, I eat it every day.

    What I don’t do? I don’t have an inside job. I also don’t have a car. I’m outside in the rain, heat, snow, or shine, 12 months a year.

    If I want to go somewhere I haul my ass to the bus stop. I trudge our groceries home in a cart. I work outside, haven’t had a job inside a building since 1986.

    I’ve put on 10 or 15 pounds in the last 40 years. I smoke like a chimney. I never get sick. I’ve never had surgery. There is nothing wrong with me and I am 60 years old.

    All of it is bullshit. It’s not the carbs or the fat or the carrot juice. It’s driving around in your fricking car, working in a cubicle, and living in a suburban no-man’s-land that is killing Americans.

    It’s not the food, it’s the lifestyle that is deadly.

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