Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Well-researched and thoughtful . . . Reconsidering how our diet affects our bodies, how we might modify it to be healthier, and being less harsh with those who struggle with their weight are all worthy goals. Taubes has done us a great service by bringing these issues to the table.”
            -Dennis Rosen, The Boston Globe
“Less dense and easier to read [than Good Calories, Bad Calories] but no less revelatory.”
            -Jeff Baker, The Oregonian
“Taubes’s critique is so pointed and vociferous that reading him will change the way you look at calories, the food pyramid, and your daily diet.”
            -Men’s Journal
“Gary Taubes is a science journalist’s science journalist, who researches topics to the point of obsession—actually, well beyond that point—and never dumbs things down for readers.”
            -John Horgan, Scientific American
“Important . . . This excellent book, built on sound research and common sense, contains essential information.”
            -Larry Cox, Tucson Citizen
“This brave, paradigm-shifting man uses logic and the primary literature to unhinge the nutritional mantra of the last 80 years.”
“Aggressive . . . An exhaustive investigation.”
            -Casey Schwartz, The Daily Beast
“Passionate and urgent . . . Backed by a persuasive amount of detail . . . As an award-winning scientific journalist who spent the past decade rigorously tracking down and assimilating obesity research, he’s uniquely qualified to understand and present the big picture of scientific opinions and results. Despite legions of researchers and billions of government dollars expended, Taubes is the one to painstakingly compile this information, assimilate it, and make it available to the public . . . Taubes does the important and extraordinary work of pulling it all together for us.”
            -Karen Bentley, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“Clear and accessible . . . Taubes’s conviction alone makes Why We Get Fat well worth considering.”
            -Lacey Galbraith, Bookpage
“An enlightening treatise that is meticulously researched yet approachable by all, this will captivate anyone interested in the science of diet and disease.”
            -Starred review, Library Journal
“This is the book you can give to people who want to understand the science of why you’re finally losing weight . . . without being hungry and miserable doing it.”
            -Tom Naughton, FatHead
Why We Get Fat is nothing short of tremendous . . . This is a seminal book . . . What if the calories-in/calories-out hypothesis is wrong? What if we’ve spent two generations and billions of dollars re-engineering our food system and altering our eating habits away from fat . . . and making ourselves fatter and unhealthier as a result? That’s what Taubes convincingly argues with clear logic, specific evidence, and brilliant illustrations on every page.”
            -John Durant, Hunter-Gatherer
“Compelling . . . Gary Taubes has done it again . . . [Why We Get Fat] takes a hard look at the commonly held belief that the reason why we gain weight is because we consume more calories than we expend and turns it upside down . . . Packed with eye-opening information and elucidating studies.”
            -Diets in Review
“This is the book I knew was inside of Good Calories, Bad Calories . . . Why We Get Fat is the book to give to friends, doctors, congressmen, and anyone else who wants to understand the futility of our current nutritional advice . . . Clearly, obviously, succinctly, Taubes shows us how scientific theories that explained obesity as a hormonal rather than moral issue were abandoned during World War II for simplistic theories based on thermodynamics that work in physics, but make no sense when used to describe the behavior of complex biological systems.”
Library Journal
Award-winning science journalist Taubes, author of the best-selling Good Calories, Bad Calories, once again challenges the conventional belief that weight gain is caused by overeating and a sedentary lifestyle. To disprove the idea that taking in more calories than one expends leads to weight gain, he scrupulously evaluates human metabolism and analyzes nutrition research dating back to the 19th century. Taubes is especially interested in separating the "ethical, moral, and sociological considerations" of why we get fat from the science of it. He shows how false conclusions have been drawn about the causes of obesity and related maladies as a result of poor science and biased research, and he carefully details why increased consumption of refined carbohydrates, not fats, is to blame. Readers also get a succinct explanation of the theories discussed in Taubes's previous book. VERDICT An enlightening treatise that is meticulously researched yet approachable by all, this will captivate anyone interested in the science of diet and disease. A good choice for the general public. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 8/10.]—Erin Silva Fisher, Univ. of Nevada, Reno
Kirkus Reviews

Science magazine correspondent Taubes (Health Policy/Univ. of California, Berkeley) provides "an extension and distillation" of the research that produced his 2007 bestseller, Good Calories, Bad Calories.

The author closely examines a 2007 Stanford University comparative study of heart-risk factors, which showed that low-carbohydrate diets high in saturated fat were the best by all criteria, with the exception of the increase in high-density lipids, which Taubes believes to be insignificant. The author extrapolates from a short-term, one-year research study in which subjects followed a strict Atkins diet for three months only, and he bases his claims that a rise in LDL (so-called bad cholesterol) levels can be considered insignificant on speculative new research which indicates that the size of lipid particles is also important. If this proves to be the case, then it might not constitute a significant risk factor compared to the other positive results, but the jury is still out. Though Taubes admits that, as yet, there have been no definitive trials, he writes that the Stanford "clinical trials alone should put your mind to rest about the idea that eating high-fat or high-saturated diets will give you heart disease." The author is on firmer ground when he debunks simplistic notions about how to deal with the current obesity epidemic by exercising more and eating less. It's not just how many calories we consume but the kind of calories—sugars such as the fructose and glucose found in fruit, fruit juice and soft drinks—that are key to how the body metabolizes them.

An interesting book, though readers might be advised to take the author's diet recommendations with a grain of salt.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307474254
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/27/2011
  • Series: Vintage Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 39,484
  • Product dimensions: 4.92 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Table of Contents

Author's Note ix

Introduction: The Original Sin 3

Book I Biology, Not Physics

1 Why Were They Fat? 15

2 The Elusive Benefits of Undereating 33

3 The Elusive Benefits of Exercise 40

4 The Significance of Twenty Calories a Day 57

5 Why Me? Why There? Why Then? 62

6 Thermodynamics for Dummies, Part 1 72

7 Thermodynamics for Dummies, Part 2 77

8 Head Cases 80

Book II Adiposity 101

9 The Laws of Adiposity 89

10 A Historical Digression on "Lipophilia" 106

11 A Primer on the Regulation of Fat 112

12 Why I Get Fat and You Don't (or Vice Versa) 127

13 What We Can Do 134

14 Injustice Collecting 140

15 Why Diets Succeed and Fail 144

16 A Historical Digression on the Fattening Carbohydrate 148

17 Meat or Plants? 163

18 The Nature of a Healthy Diet 173

19 Following Through 201

Afterword to the Anchor Edition: Why Do We Get Fat Answers to Frequently Asked Questions 219

Appendix: The "No Sugar, No Starch" Diet 229

Acknowledgments 237

Sources 239

Illustration Credits 257

Index 259

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Interviews & Essays

Dear Barnes & Noble Customer,

As you know, we are in the midst of an obesity epidemic of historic proportions in this country (and around the world). The rise in diabetes is staggering and unprecedented as well. Not only does this harm the lives of so many of our loved ones and fellow citizens but the cost our national health care system will have to bear as a result is, well, disturbing to contemplate.

There have been lots of theories as to why this is happening, all of which effectively blame those of us who are obese for failing to eat in moderation and exercise, or the food industry for making too much palatable food available. As I began rigorously studying the science about a decade ago-and I continue to monitor it daily-it became clear that the standard explanations for why we get fat are surprisingly unconvincing, especially as obesity continued to climb. The "calories-in, calories-out" model-the idea that if you take in more calories than you expend in daily activity, regardless of the type of calories, you will gain weight-is, I believe, based simply on bad science. In my first book, Good Calories, Bad Calories, I argued that refined carbohydrates (white flour, sugar, easily digested starches) are the problem-an argument that directly repudiates the reasoning behind some of the most popular weight-loss programs. Why are some people thin and others fat? What roles do exercise and genetics play in our weight? What foods should we eat or avoid? WhyWe Get Fat answers these questions in a manner both easy to read and scientifically rigorous. It also includes a recommended diet.

I want very much to create and contribute to a national debate with this book, and I hope you will support the effort. There is too much at stake to sit back and watch what has come to be the conventional wisdom continue to put our health at risk, and that of our children.


Gary Taubes
October 26, 2010

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 210 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 211 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 20, 2011

    Critical for Your Health

    As far as diet advice goes, this book is the anti-magic pill. It won't simultaneously perform Botox, plastic surgery, gastric bypass, liposuction, and apply anti-age cream. But it will make you think. If you dislike that sort of book, I would recommend paying a friend to lay out the book for you--because the contents are that important.

    "Why We Get Fat" delves into the current state of the obesity epidemic in America and its root cause. Namely, one that the healthcare authorities still ignore or on which choose not to educate themselves. Taubes presents a straightforward case for re-examining traditional nutritional advice, backed by more studies than a doctor would care to read. It's simple, useful, and produces results. While the book suffered minor stylistic and organizational errors, nothing overrides the need to give this book a full five stars.

    The advice works broadly, and the science has been the means of changing hundreds of individuals whom I've had the pleasure of working with as clients over the last several years. The positive change in blood work, the weight loss, the increased health and energy are all real and palpable; and Taubes writes in such a way as to make these changes personally accessible without a medical education. I echo his comment that this book "needed to be written." However, more importantly, I know it needs to be read and shared. Give this a read and take some ownership over your own health.

    18 out of 18 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 6, 2011

    Hits the Nail on the Head!

    After reading the book I can say the author makes a very persuasive point in eliminating carbohydrates and I agree. The book points out reasons that make some of us "fat" even in poor situations and during starvation mode as well as looking into other causes such as in my case- genes. In my family some are heavy and on the other side skinny, I got the fat side. Along with the fat gene, many family members are severely diabetic (both I and II type), I was spared being a diabetic unlike my father and his father, but notice how fast I "blew" up when including carbs in my diet. I defiantly agree, there is a connection to sugar ( have you seen how sugar is made, a lot like cocaine) and other processed foods that contributes to weight gain. I was born 11 10oz, I can say being almost a 12lb baby from a 130 lb mother and a heavy father, you defiantly can see where the genetic influence comes from. This book is great and answers many questions I've had over the years. If you always carried weight with you, and can lose weight when cutting back carbs or exercising your head off on a calorie in/out theory with no results, than this book will go through why that happens. Excellent read!!

    15 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2011

    A disappointment

    This book was not what I was expecting....the author went on for page after page about how badly most other weight-loss researchers had messed up and how he was one of the select few who knew what they were talking about. After plodding through this endless book, readers learn his opinion that the Atkins Diet is the best way to lose weight.

    15 out of 40 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 1, 2011

    Fantastic Book

    This is a nice fast book to read for your good health. I read Good Calorie Bad Calories but it was a hard read, this gets to the points without the 600 pages of technical reading.

    14 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 31, 2011

    Highly recommended

    This book is great for those who have an open mind about what really makes us fat. It makes complete sense. I found it very informative. He reviews past research regarding weight loss and it becomes clear as you carefully read that we have been sold a bill of goods re: low fat diets. For those who want to really understand why they are fat - this is a must read!

    11 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 10, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    It's about nutrition - not a "diet" book

    I recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn about nutrition and how it affects our general health. The author Gary Taubes is not a doctor but a journalist who specializes in scientific writing. He explains how mistakes have been made in the field of nutrition for the last 40 or 50 years. The misunderstandings have led to many of America's current health problems - obesity, heart disease, diabetes, hypoglycemia, and even Alzheimer's disease - are affected by "bad" nutrition and incorrect eating habits.

    Today's doctors and nutritionists are not going to change their minds about what they've been taught in medical school - even though there's a mountain of evidence to prove them wrong. Taubes makes a strong case for us Americans who care about our health to take matters into our own hands. If we wait for the medical schools to start teaching correctly about nutrition - and they will change - it will be 40 or 50 years down the road. We'll all be dead by then!

    Read this book with an open mind. You'll be amazed and want to start changing your bad eating habits immediately. For anyone who's seriously overweight or obese, you'll find that Gary Taubes is very sympathetic and not judgemental. He says repeatedly that it's not our fault if we're overweight but we can do something about it.

    10 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2011

    Great Book! And it does work!

    I heard Gary Taubes talk about this book on NPR and bought it for the Nook as soon as I could. For the past decade (since giving birth), I've found that dieting doesn't work when I'm trying to lose that extra 20 pounds I've put on. What Taubes said resonated with me, so I decided to give his advice a try. And it's true -- you can lose weight even if you don't count calories, even if you eat all the fat you desire or can stand, so long as you cut out sugar and most carbs. Within 3 weeks, 13 pounds came off. Even if half of these were water weight, I look and feel much better now. I am confident I'll continue to my goal weight without any more effort. This has been fairly easy. Although I had been craving sugar/breads like crazy before, these physical urges disappeared after two days of carb-free meals. Now I can eat all I want of high-fat foods, so long as they have no or next to no carbs in them. This means I've rediscovered the pleasures of real mayo and tuna or chicken salad, fried chicken, bacon cheeseburgers wrapped in lettuce, almonds (my new munching food), peanut butter (on celery), bluecheese dressing, eggs with cheese and ham, etc. What Taubes explains makes total sense scientifically, as well. All of this low-fat nonsense is probably why Americans (including me) have gotten so fat over the past three decades. I had adhered to that low fat stuff for years, thinking mistakenly that it was healthy of me to have high fiber cereal, high fiber bread, and low/skim milk, yogurt, meats, etc. But yet I was always hungry and wanting more, including the stuff I knew I shouldn't eat. Now, the cravings are gone. I eat some food and am full. I don't think about food as much. Sure, I could joke to friends about my diet pretty much consisting of cutting out the top 10 foods I love most, but it doesn't seem so funny anymore because what I'm eating is satisfying enough and it works. I can see this as a lifetime eating program with the possible re-introduction of a modest amount of fruit and the occasional glass of wine once I reach my target weight. So if you are frustrated with being plagued with that extra 10-20 pounds, I recommend you read this book and act accordingly. It makes sense!

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2011

    Simple proof instead of theory on why we must cut carbs.

    I've never read so much compelling proof of why & how carbs are at the heart of all disease. This book goes way beyond losing fat & I liken it to reading a book on how to stop smoking: we all might know smoking (like alot of carbs) is bad for us, but until you see the proof from clinical studies, photos, patterns from tests made in this century & last century you don't feel as compelled to stop. This book will quickly reveal how this info has always been out there, but how & why it was dismissed by mainstream healthcare - and i can clearly see how so many people can,t lose weight given the current medical "advice".

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 20, 2011

    Finally, someone how makes sense of all the nutrition mush out there

    I've tried everything from vegan to gluten-free to whole foods-only to food pyramid. I was thin until my 30's and then couldn't seem to reverse the direction of the scale. 2 pregnancies and 20 years later, I was up to 180, even tho I walk marathons and really enjoy exercise.

    This book gave me the explanations I was looking for, and a plan that works for both me and my husband. Eat the right foods when we are hungry, stop when we are full with no calorie-counting. We know why thin people don't have to "diet" and we know we can live without cravings and feeling starved while losing weight. It turns everything I've learned about nutrition on it's head, but obviously, what we've been learning about nutrition is just making us fatter.

    Try it for a week, and you will be amazed. My husband (age 57)and I (age 52)are each consistently losing 2-2.5 lbs per week (we are very active) and have lost a total of 20 lbs in the last month.

    If you have specific questions, the author, Gary Taubes, has a website, and answered our question within half an hour...pretty exciting!

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 20, 2011

    Must Read, very interesting and surprising

    Gary Taubes clearly understands the science behind obesity, and in Why We Get Fat, he explains it in a relatively clear way (though at times it is still drawn out a bit[on the other hand, I like the science and detail, and as such enjoyed 'Good Calories, Bad Calories' more])

    Super briefly, don't eat to many carbs, especially flour and sugar. This book certainly convinced me the carbs are the enemy of good health!

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 4, 2012

    Life changing book!

    Have you ridden the diet roller coaster? Practically killed yourself to lose those 10 or 20 lbs before a major event, only to gain it all back and then some the second you relax? Ran/worked out your legs off, ate healthy just like your doctor told you, yet still gain weight? Wonder why you're so tired all the time, wonder what's wrong with you, wonder what you're doing that's so wrong when you eat so well and so little and still are overweight? This book has the truth (finally!) in it. The problem is not with you, it's with the advice and info you've been given. We can't even blame our health professionals, it's what they've been taught all along, and they're often as clueless as you. The truth is we were never designed to eat grains and processed foods and when we do, bad things happen. Stuff like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. Sound familiar? Read this book to learn the truth, take responsibility for your own health and get HEALTHY! I did and in less than 2 months, I've lost 20 lbs and my cholesterol went from 205 to 164, my triglycerides went fro 127 to 74, my LDL went from 165 to 99 and my HDL went to 50. These are real numbers from a real person who hasn't exercised in too many years, but who now has the energy to start a weight training program and get her body and her life back. READ THIS BOOK. CHANGE YOUR LIFE. Thank you, Gary Taubes, for finally explaining this stuff to me.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 4, 2011

    This is science.

    Stop eating what the marketeers of big agribusiness and the FDA (bought by big agribusiness) tell you to eat. Our conventional "common sense" is obviously flawed. This book demonstrates that obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and the rest of the metabolic diseases (including cancers) are very easy to overcome, once you understand the science. READ IT, with an open mind, and think for yourself.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2014

    Read this before you diet

    This book is an excellent summary of the science behind dietary recommendations for losing or maintaining a healthy weight. The two leading camps are low fat and low carb diets. The author has done an in-depth analysis of the scientific literature and summarizes it in a very readable form. Spoiler alert: the low carb diet wins. This is not a traditional diet book, and contains not a single recipe. It does give the general outlines for a low carb diet, however. This is the most sane and well-reasoned book on diet and weight regulation I have ever read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 24, 2014


    Too disappointing for words. A co-worker recommended this book; I can only surmise that she's been living in a cave the last 20 years to not already know this. The author drones on endlessly about the "why" - nothing new there - before getting to the "what to do about it." Again, anyone vaguely familiar with Atkins/Weight Watchers/ADA guidelines already knows "what to do about it." The only nice thing I can say is that it doesn't take up any space after I hit the Delete key.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 10, 2014

    I Also Recommend:

    Taubes' science background and passion for finding truth whereve

    Taubes' science background and passion for finding truth wherever it leads him shines through in his writing. The majority of the book
    is a careful examination of the case for  a complete change in how we view our food and how it interacts with our bodies. It's the advice
    in the back of this book that could change your life, though. Following the diet in this book (and the same from his older, much more
    technical book) I lost 125 pounds relatively easily. I have kept it off, too. No, I'm not skinny, but I'm much, much closer to my proper
    weight, and far healthier than I was before.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 23, 2012

    Excellent and informative

    A very well written book, explaining where the current diet guidelines went wrong, and why. He uses clear language with a minimum of medical terminology. I started following his advice 3 weeks ago, and my blood pressure and blood sugars have been much better than they were before. I have also lost 7 pounds, so far.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2012

    Eye-opening! I've incorporated his ideas and also Dr Atkin's and ive lost 8 lbs in 2 weeks.

    This should be the foundation of nutrition education. Forget the pyramid! Our government controls the current nutrition education as well as runs this country on agriculture that feeds its needs, not ours. This book will open your mind.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2012

    It has been effective for me

    It may not be appropriate for everyone, but Mr. Taubes' description of how carbohydrates can act on the body rang true with my own experience. Cutting out carbohydrates has had a profound and positive effect on my body.

    That this is less a "diet" book, and more an overview of the science of metabolic regulation might make it boring to some, but I appreciated the way things were presented--without certainty, for Mr. Taubes is aware that none of the science in this field has yet been structured to as to "prove" anything, but with assurance grounded in attention to details that flow from the research has been done.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 7, 2012

    more from this reviewer


    Gary Taubes summarizes in more simple language his discussion from Good Calorie, Bad Calorie. What makes us fat is carbohydrates.This book has changed the way I eat.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2011

    So good

    This book makes so much sense, now if someone would combine the info on GMO and food additives with this....learned so much, now if we could change the worlds thinking esp the medical community

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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