4 Research-Backed Ways This Science Journalist Shed Weight When Nothing Else Worked
Gary Taubes, award-winning science journalist and author of The Case for Keto, is fed up with conventional nutrition advice. On his own weight loss journey, he struggled for years and found mainstream dietary recommendations (read: eat less, exercise more) to be all but futile.
"One of the problems is we've been getting a 'lean and healthy' person perspective on what we have to do to correct our health and our weight," he shares on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast. "And that's the wrong perspective because what works for them doesn't work for people who are struggling with their weight."
So, what did work for Taubes? He explains how he finally reached a healthy weight below:
He focused on lowering his insulin.
"For those of us who gain weight easily, we have to keep our insulin low," he says. In fact, according to Taubes, lowering insulin is the key to shedding pounds—even more important than calorie restriction. "When I was [researching] my first book, Good Calories, Bad Calories, I had the opportunity to interview all these researchers who did the research on fat metabolism," he explains. "I would say, 'So what makes a fat cell fat?' Their answer was 'Insulin.' And then, 'What makes a human fat?' Their answer was 'Eat too much.' And I would tell them that when you're talking about fat cells, it's about insulin. Why aren't they the same?"
Essentially: Taubes stresses the importance of quality rather than quantity. Once he cut the foods that raised insulin (rather than cutting calories in general), the stubborn weight finally melted off.
He removed refined sugars and carbs and went keto.
So, which foods raise insulin? Well, those are your refined sugars and carbohydrates. "Sugars and highly refined, high glycemic index carbohydrates are a mistake," he notes. "If anything causes the chronic diseases that beset us, heart disease, it's sugar first and refined grains second. I would avoid those if I wanted to be as healthy as I could."
Of course, that means he nixed the white bread and pasta. However, when he was trying to lose stubborn weight, he lowered other types of carbs, like sweet potatoes and beans, and legumes. "[Sweet potatoes] may be fine for some people, but they're not fine for me, and if I were trying to lose a significant amount of weight, I wouldn't include them in the diet," he explains. "They still have a significant amount of carbohydrates, and they're easy to overeat."
That's not to say he cut all healthy carbs cold turkey (leafy greens do contain carbs, too, after all), but he certainly focused more on a high-fat, low-carb diet (aka, the building blocks for keto). Research backs this up, too, as a systematic review found that individuals who followed a very-low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet achieved greater weight loss (and kept it off long term) than those who followed low-fat diets.
He evaded his sweet tooth.
We've already touched on how Taubes eliminated refined sugar from his diet and went keto. Which raises the question: What about all those keto-friendly sweeteners, like monk fruit, allulose, and the like? While Taubes generally regards those sweeteners as A-OK (you're getting a fraction of the amount of sugar), he actually decided to nix them as well.
For him, it was all about willpower: He found that any sort of sugary sweetness (no matter how keto-friendly it may be) amplified his sweet tooth tenfold. "As soon as I have the taste, I'm locked in," he says. "It creates a fierce urge to eat more." Of course, this is just his experience. If you can manage a few bites of a keto-friendly treat and remain satisfied, well, the more power to you! "The more you learn about your own interactions with food, the more you learn what you can control and what's a slippery slope." For Taubes, eliminating his sweet tooth entirely was the key.
He tried intermittent fasting.
"I tried it as an experiment four years ago," he shares. "I always thought it'd be difficult to do." However, he committed to the task for three days—that's it!—and found that after a short time period, the fast became easier and easier to accomplish. "At the end of three days, I wasn't hungry anymore. And I lost a dozen pounds over the course of about three or four months that I never thought I really had to lose. I thought I was at a healthy weight, and then I got to a healthier weight," he recounts.
Of course, the same time-restricted eating plan doesn't work for everyone (or fasting at all, for that matter), so at the end of the day, it's important to find the right eating plan for you. But if you'd like to try your hand at intermittent fasting, by all means.
"I think [fasting] works because it extends the period of time in which insulin levels are very low," Taubes says. "The fat cells have to not be able to see insulin in the bloodstream. And if they're not, then they're going to mobilize fat from the fat cells, the fat cells are going to get leaner, and the lean tissue is going to burn that fat." With intermittent fasting, "you prolong the amount of the time in the day in which the fat cells are mobilizing fat and your lean tissue using it for fuel."
Everyone's weight loss journey is different, and there's no one plan that's 100% gospel. But if you've tried every eating plan under the sun and can't seem to shed stubborn weight, perhaps try viewing it from Taubes' keto-friendly, insulin-first perspective.
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