Friday, January 18, 2013
Book Review: Fat Chance
Normally, I don't do a book review before I have completely finished reading a book, but I really wanted to share this one, Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease. I subscribe to the NPR "Your Health" podcast and heard an interview with the author, Dr. Robert Lustig, called "The Fallacies of Fat." I was so fascinated by the interview that I immediately bought the audiobook on Audible, and have been listening ever since. I'm as far as Part 5, when the author starts to explain what we can do about fat and excess weight. I'm finding the book really fascinating. It explains the biochemistry behind our excess weight.
Lustig places the blame for what he calls the "obesity pandemic" (pandemic because it's worldwide) squarely on the shoulders of fructose. Not, as some gurus have, specificially on high-fructose corn syrup, but fructose itself, in every form except whole fruit. Fructose is worse than glucose because every cell in the body can metabolize glucose, but the only part of the body that can handle fructose is the liver. I know we've all heard about the sugar-insulin-fat link before, but knowing why and how fructose is so bad is helpful -- I was at a co-worker's farewell party today and easily said no to the cake, because all I could think of was that frosting turning to toxic fat in my liver. I've stayed away from sugar (and diet) sodas for a couple of years now, because of my family history of diabetes, and it seems like that was a good instinct. Dr. Lustig says that the big problem with high fructose corn syrup is that it's cheap, so we have more of it. I am guessing that cheap sodas, sugary drinks, and juice are responsible for a huge percentage of the increase in obesity. I'm old enough to remember when restaurants did not offer free refills on sodas and vending machines sold 12-ounce cans instead of 20-ounce bottles.
I actually wonder if the reason I have had less trouble restricting my calories lately is that I have cut most of the added sugars out of my diet -- except when I am with my family, which is when I feel most out-of-control around food. At home, I have very few sugary foods around, and I keep my dark chocolate stash (I have a serving now and then) in an opaque jar. My parents' house has open dishes of candy everywhere and I always thoughtlessly grab some as I'm walking by. Dr. Lustig would not be surprised to know that the first piece always leads to several more.
The parts of the book destined to be controversial among the readers of this blog are his suggestion that it is difficult, if not impossible, for a person to make changes to subcutaneous fat through diet and exercise, because the body will fight the change. According to Dr. Lustig, we can do side-bends and situps, but we won't lose that butt. (OK, he doesn't quite say it like that, but he does mention Sir-Mix-A-Lot when talking about differences in attitudes about fat between ethnic groups.)
The fact that exercise won't get rid of saddlebags doesn't let us off the hook, though. The reason to exercise and "eat properly" (which requires a lot of explanation but Lustig mostly agrees Michael Pollan's advice) is to decrease the amount of visceral fat, which accounts for only 4-5 pounds of body weight but almost all of the negative health effects associated with excess weight. Exercise and proper food is also the best antidote to insulin resistance, which is the big bad guy responsible for most of our modern health problems. Even if we can't get rid of our "big-butt fat," the subcutaneous fat that causes swimsuit shame, we can be healthier. "It's better to be fat and fit than to be thin and sick," says Dr. Lustig, and skinny people can have visceral fat and metabolic problems without being aware of them.
I am still holding out hope that I can get rid of my "big-butt fat," but am also grateful for another confirmation that doing the right thing is its own reward, no matter what the scale says. If there are any fat-busting secrets in the second half of the book, I will be sure to let you know.
"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07