Do overweight people eat less than thin people (or do they just think they do)?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009 15:51
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A lot of people are excited about Gary Taubes' book Good Calories, Bad Calories, which claims that weight loss or gain has nothing to do with how many calories you eat but how much refined carbohydrate you eat. I heard Taubes present his ideas at a conference last year and he makes some great points. Ultimately, I agree with his conclusion–over-consumption of refined carbohydrates is a primary cause in today's epidemic of "diabesity."

But I think he over-argues his case–and some of his arguments about how and why carbohydrates lead to obesity are flawed.

For example, as proof that excess calories are not the cause of weight gain, Taubes cites studies showing that that overweight people eat the same or less than thin people. Here's the problem: The studies he cites use self-reported intake records. We know that overweight people consistently under-report the number of calories they eat. (Here's yet another study measuring this.) The more overweight you are, the more you tend to under-report.

In fact, when you put overweight people into controlled (i.e. in-patient) settings and feed them the number of calories they think or say they are eating, they reliably lose weight–regardless of whether they are eating refined carbohydrates or not. (Whether this weight loss is sustainable in the real world is another question).

I think it's more accurate to say that refined carbohydrates seduce us into eating more calories than we need.  They taste good, you can consume a lot of calories before you get full, and you're hungry again sooner than you would have been had you eaten proteins, fats, or non-refined carbs. Excess calories = weight gain.

Eliminating or reducing refined carbohydrates may help realign your appetite regulation systems with your actual energy needs.  Reduced calories = weight loss.

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