This is part two of a series looking at overall health in relation to healthy weight.
Part One looked at how a body in balance, or homeostasis, is more likely to be a body able to tolerate stress, recover from illness, and maintain a healthy weight. We know entire communities of healthy, balanced people have existed in the recent past and may still exist today. The question remains – why are so many of us still so unhealthy?
Let’s again look at some history. These examples are discussed in Gary Taubes book Good Calories, Bad Calories:
In 1882 at the University of Göttingen in Germany, a professor of medicine, Wilhelm Ebstein, wrote a paper titled “Obesity and Its Treatment”. Professor Ebstein had a famous patient, Prince Otto von Bismark, who was able to lose 60lbs. in less than a year. Prince Otto followed Professor Ebstein’s diet which banned sugar, sweets and potatoes and limited bread. The diet allowed green vegetables and meat of every kind. Professor Ebstein particularly insisted that fatty foods were crucial to weight loss because they increased satisfaction with meals and decreased fatty tissue accumulation in the dieter. Remember, this was still long enough ago that all meats and vegetables were still what we would today classify as “organic”. It was also still early enough in modern history that industrialized vegetable oils had not become mainstream.
In 1951 Dr. Raymond Greene and six other British doctors published a book titled The Practice of Endocrinology. In their book they outlined a diet remarkably similar to the one Dr. Atkins would publish 20 years later. Dr. Greene and colleagues encouraged their patients to eat meat, fish, poultry, all green vegetables, eggs, cheese and fruits with the exception of bananas and grapes. They advised avoiding anything made with flour, breakfast cereals, potatoes and other white root vegetables, all sweets and foods containing a lot of sugar.
In 1957 a German-born American specialist on eating disorders, Dr. Hilde Bruch, wrote the following quote: “The great progress in dietary control of obesity was the recognition that meat was not fat-producing, but that it was the ‘innocent foodstufs’, such as bread and sweets, which lead to obesity.”
In the 1960s and 1970s clinical trials were being conducted in Sweden, England, France and the United States studying carbohydrate-restricting diets. These diets were shown to be extremely effective at producing weight loss.
In the 1980s it suddenly became popular to avoid fat and anything containing fat. Entire cookbooks and television shows were produced centering on this low-fat craze. Bread, potatoes and pasta became the main dish, the darling of the diet world, while meat, especially red meat, became the villain. Even with more than 100 years of study and success using low carbohydrate diets, suddenly the AMA labeled these diets as “fads”. Fat suddenly became the cause of heart disease.
Something that Mr. Taubes doesn’t mention that I personally feel is significant is that during the 1970s and 80s the CAFO, concentrated animal feeding operation, became the norm for beef and pork production rather than the historically traditional and biologically normal pasture or free-range method. It is in the CAFO that the meat we eat gets fattened up as efficiently as possible and as quickly as possible. What is the feed that gets meat animals fat quickly? Grain, corn and soy, the very same foods the experts were telling us to eat in order to get thin.
In the 1900s obesity rates in America were very low, less than 1%. By 1960 they had risen to around 12%. This rate stayed fairly steady up to about 1980 when it began rising. By 2010 obesity rates had skyrocketed to 35%. Gary Taubes notes “this parallels the years when we were told to stop eating fat and start eating more breads and grains.”
The federal government, the food industry and many physicians and other public health experts took some studies from the 1940s showing a correlation between a high-fat diet and high cholesterol levels that concluded high-risk heart patients should lower their fat intake and decided that the general population should go ahead and do the same. (Remember, blogger Denise Minger’s favorite mantra “correlation does not prove causation”). These experts assumed that if we ate less fat our weights would go down. They thought this because fats contained densely packed calories. What they did not take into consideration was that the composition of the calorie is far more important than the calorie itself. Instead of weight going down the opposite happened. Weights went up, portion sizes went up (because this new way of eating still left us hungry unlike the fattier foods of old), and the actual amount of food eaten also went up since what we were eating was no longer nourishing us very well and we kept craving more. Foods that are lower in fat are naturally higher in carbohydrates. People ate more because without the fat there was no satiety – our bodies didn’t register “full” as easily.
The end result is that now everyone just assumes that fat is bad. More and more fat-free foods became available as the food industry leaped to the forefront to “rescue” us from evil fatty foods. Now we have fat-free ice cream, fat-free cookies, fat-free yogurt, we even have fat-free half & half! (How is this possible? I thought the definition of half & half was half cream half milk!) Still obesity rates have gone up and up while the media and public health experts are accusing us of being lazy and cheating!
This makes me furious! Can you tell me one single person who WANTS to be obese?! Often times it is these people accused of being lazy and cheating who are working the hardest to get thin! They literally starve themselves on diets and liquid-fasts of 700 or fewer calories per day and yet they still gain weight!
What are we doing wrong? ………to be continued………..Part Three is here.