Consider the obesity epidemic. Here we are as a population getting fatter and fatter. Fifty years ago, one in every eight or nine Americans would have been officially considered obese, and today it's one in every three. Two in three are now considered overweight, which means they're carrying around more weight than the public-health authorities deem to be healthy. Children are fatter, adolescents are fatter, even newborn babies are emerging from the womb fatter. Throughout the decades of this obesity epidemic, the calories-in/calories-out, energy-balance notion has held sway, and so the health officials assume that either we're not paying attention to what they've been telling us — eat less and exercise more — or we just can't help ourselves.
Malcolm Gladwell discussed this paradox in The New Yorker in 1998. "We have been told that we must not take in more calories than we burn, that we cannot lose weight if we don't exercise consistently," he wrote. "That few of us are able to actually follow this advice is either our fault or the fault of the advice. Medical orthodoxy, naturally, tends toward the former position. Diet books tend toward the latter. Given how often the medical orthodoxy has been wrong in the past, that position is not, on its face, irrational. It's worth finding out whether it is true."
After interviewing the requisite number of authorities, Gladwell decided that it was our fault, that we simply "lack the discipline … or the wherewithal" to eat less and move more — although for some of us, he suggested, bad genes extract a greater price in adiposity for our moral failings.
I will argue in this book that the fault lies entirely with the medical orthodoxy — both the belief that excess fat is caused by consuming excess calories, and the advice that stems from it. I'm going to argue that this calories-in/calories-out paradigm of adiposity is nonsensical: that we don't get fat because we eat too much and move too little, and that we can't solve the problem or prevent it by consciously doing the opposite. This is the original sin, so to speak, and we're never going to solve our own weight problems, let alone the societal problems of obesity and diabetes and the diseases that accompany them, until we understand this and correct it.
Excerpted from Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It by Gary Taubes Copyright © 2010 by Gary Taubes. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. (Read an interview with Gary Taubes.)