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ATB BB Series 2: Why we get Fat

Thank you all for the heart warming response to the introductory post in the series.

Now whenever you talk to anyone you know for advice on weight loss, we’ll be instructed to exercise regularly, to diet, to eat less, as though the thought of doing so, the desire to do so, would never otherwise have crossed our minds.

Those of us who are overweight or obese will spend much of our lives trying to eat less, or at least eat not too much. We will struggle to avoid "fatty" foods. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail, but the fight goes on. For some, the battle begins in childhood. For others, it starts in college, while spending the first year away from home.

We are convinced we are fat because we are consuming more calories that we can burn. 

This way of thinking about our weight is so pervasive that it is virtually impossible nowadays not to believe it. Even if we have plenty of evidence to the contrary — no matter how much of our lives we’ve spent consciously trying to eat less and exercise more without success —  we’ll question our own judgment and our own willpower than we will this notion that our fatness is determined by how many calories we consume and expend.

What I'm trying to say here is 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.

I don’t mean to imply that there is a magic recipe to losing weight, or at least not one that doesn't include sacrifice. The question is, what has to be sacrificed?

When I was a size 28 waist and my tops were mostly Small in my twenties. My diet was a typical Punjabi diet - eggs, milk & milk products everyday, and of course regular food - sabzi, dal, parathas -  I ate two parathas a day. One at lunch, another at dinner. I also ate ice-cream every single day. Yes, I was not concerned about the ghee / fat in my food at all. My attitude was bring it on. I never saw the inside of a gym, but walking up & down in college & lab activities I suppose was enough. I didn't put on any weight at all.

Once I began working / doing my MBA, the weight slowly started to pile on. I was eating outside - South Indian food - idlis & dosas, sandwiches, burgers. But even then I didn't get too concerned. It was just a couple of kilos. The real change happened after my marriage. Hubby disliked eggs, non-vegetarian food & milk. So I also moved to a all veg diet with him. Mornings I made Oats with low fat milk - no sugar, some daliya (wheat porridge) or poha once in a while, afternoons/evenings was regular roti - sabzi. I used whole grain / multi grain atta. The food was cooked at home, made using Zero-Oil techniques. I ate fruit everyday. I made salads a part of my diet. I had given up my indulgences like cheese & butter. Yet, I just got fatter! I was even going to the gym three times a week, yet there was just no difference. Was it possible that my body had turned vengeful for all the abuse, and now that I was leading a healthy lifestyle it had decided to revolt?

I got the thyroid / PCOS testing done. Nada. I couldn't blame my problem on an hormonal imbalance.

Or could I? Did I somehow cause an hormonal imbalance because of what I was eating?

It looks healthy, but it is full of fattening Carbs

On a lark, I googled the phase "Why do we get fat" and came across this article by Gary Taubes.

Insulin and glucagon are the primary hormones involved in the storage and release of energy within the body. When we eat, insulin drives our metabolism to store the excess food energy for use later. When later comes, glucagon drives the metabolism the other way, letting us burn our stored fat for the energy we need to swim or walk or sleep in the hours long after we’ve eaten.

When insulin levels are elevated, we accumulate fat in our fat tissue; when these levels fall, glucagon levels rise & we liberate fat from the fat tissue and burn it for fuel. This has been known, scientifically proven since the early 1960s and has never been controversial. Ask any doctor & they will tell you that this is correct.

Our insulin levels are effectively determined by the carbohydrates we eat—not entirely, but for all intents and purposes. The more carbohydrates we eat, and the easier they are to digest and the sweeter they are, the more insulin we will ultimately secrete, meaning that the level of it in our bloodstream is greater and so is the fat we retain in our fat cells.

“Carbohydrate is driving insulin is driving fat"

Now do you see the difference in my two diets. I eliminated almost all fat & protein and was eating a normal, Indian, vegetarian diet - one that is full of carbohydrates.



In other words, the science itself makes clear that hormones, enzymes, and growth factors regulate our fat tissue, just as they do everything else in the human body, and that we do not get fat because we overeat; we get fat because the carbohydrates in our diet make us fat. The science tells us that obesity is ultimately the result of a hormonal imbalance, not a caloric one—specifically, the stimulation of insulin secretion caused by eating carbohydrate-rich foods: cereal whole grains (wheat, rice, corn et al) & flour, pulses & dals, legumes, starchy vegetables such as potatoes, and sugars, like sucrose (table sugar), honey, high sugar fruits and high-fructose corn syrup. It doesn't matter if the carbohydrate is simple (sugar) or complex (wheat). To the body it is a carbohydrate and it will secrete insulin to break it down. Insulin that will make you fat.

It was an eye opening moment for me when I realized it wasn't Butter & Eggs that was making me fat or lack of physical activity, it was my supposedly "healthy" whole grain based vegetarian diet.

I know, right now some of you will have a ton of questions. Aren't pulses supposed to be good protein sources? You mean my roti / dosa is making me put on weight? My best friend / colleague / neighbor is a pure vegetarian & is stick thin, why don't carbs make her fat? Aren't vegetarian / vegan diets are best for the environment / planet? How can fruits be making me fat, they are supposed to be fat free?

I will be dealing with all the questions in coming posts. In case you have any doubts or questions, please leave them in the comments below.

To summarize:

1. Insulin secretion, which means eating carbohydrates makes you fat.
2. Eating fat does not make you fat.

Further Reading: 

1. Why we get fat & what to do about it by Gary Taubes.


This was the first book I read in June last year. It is a pretty recent book, published in 2011. The author before this wrote Good Calories, Bad Calories, which is essentially the same book - but the science in it is too complex for me to understand. But "Why we get fat" is written very well & easy to read.

This was the book that first opened my eyes to the possibility that what I had been taught was all wrong. If you are serious about losing weight, and have tried everything & given up, are sick of starving & exercising till you drop dead, then please buy & read this book. It is a big book, but it is a must read according to me. It's also not very expensive. The paperback costs only 350 bucks.

Gary Taubes is an American Science Writer, a journalist. This was the only book out of the lot that I read that was not written by a doctor or a cardiologist or a medical expert. But just because Gary is not a medical professional, it is not reason enough to dismiss this book. He may not have done the research himself, but he is a science writer. He is able to read studies, and decipher them for people like you & me. 

At the end of the day I'm not an expert, but I know what it is like to be fat. Whether it is the emotional issues or the physical ones. Hence I'm going to suggest that if you are serious about losing weight, spend the time, money & effort to read the books suggested, and also Google them up for related articles & videos.

This is not intended to replace medical advice. This is just a honest recount of what worked for me. Please consult your doctor before any diet changes. Your health is your responsibility. 

Questions?? Please leave them in comments below! :-)

Comments

  1. Have gone low carb since nob end and have lost 6 kilos..and inches as well.....fat is my friend !!!

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    1. Excellent! That is great! I love being able to eat butter & cheese again :D

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  2. Thanks for sharing :) ..share some menu plans as well if possible please :)

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    1. Please do so soon. I am battling fat and really inspired by your before and after pic. Congratulations btw and best of luck for the rest of the journey :)

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  3. Thats such a well written post Tanveer...I hv been hanging onto each and every word of this post...waiting for the next post impatiently ....<3

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  4. OMG Tanz... this is the story of my life... i started eating cereal, daliya, oats trying to lose pregnancy weight. I ate parathas without oil / ghee / butter... i reduced my sabzi intake to reduce masala and oil!

    Maybe this is what I am doing wrong...

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    1. Anks, I know what you mean. I went nuts eating all the good non-fat food & avoiding foods like butter, cheese, nuts, eggs, chicken & going to the gym everyday yet piling on more & more. And I kept blaming myself for it.

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  5. Interesting read. During my school and college days I never crossed 37-38kgs(i'm very short too). I was never concerned about what I was eating. I was very active and my stamina was great. I could walk miles and stay hungry for hours.
    Now that I'm trying to maintain a good diet, I'm gaining weight and my skin is creating havoc.
    Waiting for your next post..

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    1. I wld keep getting 3-4 acne spots every month on my earlier healthy Indian diet.. But since I made the switch, I've been acne free :)

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    2. I guess you're right.. Even after maintaining a good diet and using good products at times I don't understand why I still get acne.. Now I'd try to switch to a proper diet..
      and also I guess we shouldn't give up completely all that we've been having for years. A sudden transition also creates problem.
      When I stopped eating rice suddenly, my stomach didn't like it. and moreover rice never made me fat.. So, I went to back to my staple rice, but have reduced the quantity a lot.

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  6. Tanveer, great post n so true, carbs are the main killers .. am also trying to go the chicken n salad way :)

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    1. Good for you Saumya! Pls do share with us your stories. It will motivate others as well :)

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  7. Interesting read. I always love reading about health/food/fitness/weight. Just my own two cents about this subject: I think carbohydrates are essential in a healthy diet. I don't think it is a good idea to avoid ALL (or even MOST) carbs, because you need carbs for energy.

    However, if you eat carbs (= energy) you have to do something with that energy. You can choose to 1) eat just enough carbs for the things you do in a day or 2) eat all the carbs you want and exercise enough to get rid of the energy you just ate. If you just sit behind a desk all day, you can't eat as much carbs/energy than if you work on the fields cultivating food.

    Eating only or mostly protein is not a good idea because if you skip carbs you will also skip essential nutrients (vitamins and minerals) because obviously, fruits and vegetables contain carbs!

    If you insist on eating a diet largely based on protein, please do continue eating fruits and vegetables. Just skip the breads, rotis, rice (if you must, you can also just consume less).

    Said all that, I think it's great that you point out that eating too much carbs (like sometimes happens in a vegetarian diet) can add weight, and that avoiding fat is not the solution. Obviously your diet is working for you, so that's great!

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    1. Thank you so much for the comment N! And I totally agree with you! In any case a diet with only protein wld get boring & very difficult to follow, so one does need to supplement with proper veggies.

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  8. Hmm
    Tanveer, glad you posted this. Thanks a lot. Am no expert but would like to share something here-
    The only job of carbohydrates is to provide energy. So eat that much which you can burn during the day time. Cut down its intake totally in the last meal of the day (it works wonders)

    And if you are eating the same diet as you were ten years before then you are in trouble. And this applies to all age groups.

    Stay beautiful ladies :)

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    1. Thank you for sharing Priya! I agree with what you have said. :D

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  9. Hmm
    Tanveer, glad you posted this. Thanks a lot. Am no expert but would like to share something here-
    The only job of carbohydrates is to provide energy. So eat that much which you can burn during the day time. Cut down its intake totally in the last meal of the day (it works wonders)

    And if you are eating the same diet as you were ten years before then you are in trouble. And this applies to all age groups.

    Stay beautiful ladies :)

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  10. I am looking for a diet for my mom(age 55) she cannot go to gym and do heavy work out. Though she goes for morning walk for 45 mins 6days a week and consumes just 3 rotis a day. Yet her weight has been stagnant just a kilo + or -. The only thing i can see and blame are fruits may be. Thanks for the article. looking fwd for more.

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    1. Thanks Shreya. More than the fruits, I wld say the rotis are to blame. They are much higher in carb content than a fruit. Plus wheat has a whole host of associated issues of gluten & gladin protein which cause weight gain. More in future posts :)

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  11. the worst part is that all the fours have carbs :( including whole wheat and even the brown and whole wheat breads....i am thinking of replacing it with ragi or jowar or some other grain which has less gluten and carbs!! and, all veg diet really lacks a lot of vitamins and proteins which also causes a lot of nutritional deficiency in the body!

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    1. I agree Swati.. on the GI index, a slice of bread has more sugar than a spoonful of sugar. Wheat isn't all what it is being touted as. And abt the all veg diet also I agree. I had a lot of hairfall, dry skin & acne issues at the same time. Plus no stamina. Protein is imp and very necessary for proper bone growth, & height development.

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  12. Hey this seems to make sense ! Gosh...my life had followed the same track like yours now when i am eating 'healtheir ' and lesser' i seem to have put on nearly 15 kgs in last 10 years.And though it may also because of sedentary jobs yet i move and do more physical work now than in my carefree days..

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    1. Zee, I'm glad this makes sense to you. I stupidly kept blaming myself for putting on weight, I thght I was being lazy. When it was so called healthy carbs to blame all along.

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  13. This was really an eye opener....
    Iv been the same weight round about but i have a tendency to just put on 3-4 kilos up and down.....
    But after marriage i too have gained weight :(...would yo be doing like a post on what all you cut down on and what you let yourself eat in detail? I still eat a protein diet (Cant live without my eggs) but i dunno my skin is feeling more sallow than usual, and im not really feeling completely energised.

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    1. Thanks Mehak.. yes I will be doing more detailed posts abt my diet plan in the coming few days. :D

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  14. Yknow what another thing now that i think about it.
    I had cut down my intake of rotis for dinner before marriage....from 2 to 1...i used to eat more of the dal alon but eliminated 1 roti..and honestly within a month i lost a bit of weight...so hmm all that makes sense now..

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    1. :D.. Yes, cutting down on carbs or best of all - totally eliminating grains worked very well for me :)

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  15. Just a week back, I read or rather saw a video about No-grains diet. And was wondering what would i eat? You should share your diet. Please.

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    1. Sheetal, my diet is a no-grains diet. I will be sharing my meal plans in a few days. :)

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    2. It would be really cool ya if you could share your meal plan. And hopefully "indianised" meal plan!

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  17. just loved the article...i totally agree about the carbohydrate concept you brought forward...i did not read the book you mentioned,but being a doctor knew this concept..though everybody was against me doing it this way (esp my grandma). I was adament, my mom helped ofcourse but my grandma!!!!..It has worked for me, I lost around 14 kgs in 6-7 months, in perfect shape and weight now and have been maintaining my weight for the past 1 1/2 years....one thing to all those who were misled by healthy eating and its relation to losing weight....healthy diet is not necessarily low calorie/or weight losing diet,it is a diet that keeps you in good health which does not have any implication on losing weight. Whereas a diet helping you lose weight may not be healthy and you could still lose weight. Maintaining a balance between the two is the key to both losing weight and staying in good health too

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    1. Yes, all doctors know abt this carb - insulin - fat relationship, but somehow there is so much misinformation in the general public. Kudos to you for following through despite opposition! And I am encouraged by your example - you have been doing it successfully a lot longer than me. Thank you for sharing your story here :)

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  18. Great article Tanveer! You're a punjabi and the kind of food you've grown up eating is what your body knows best!

    Just like my body works best when I'm consuming roti/sabzi cos that's what in my genes so to speak and that is what my body digests best. If I switch to any other kind of cuisine, I put on.

    While I was consulting a nutritionist, she gave me a very healthy and wholesome diet with peanuts, dry fruits, eggs, a cube of cheese (as a mini meal in itself), milk, yogurt apart from my the kind of foods I had always had and loved to eat - poha, upma, sandwiches, idli/dosa and roti/sabzi for meals. This worked extremely well for my body!

    Looking forward to your next post!

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    1. Thank you Ankita! :D

      I agree. Everyone's body is different & responds to food differently. It is always best to eat what suits you best. :)

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  19. The 2 major factors why I've battled with weight gain are 1) eating wrong portions at the wrong timings 2) lack of activity.

    While in college, there was so much of physical activity in a regular day that that by itself kept the metabolism up! In my last semester, I started eating too late in the night - something I had kept in check for over a year and my weight shot up! When I graduated and began working from home, the lack of activity further caused me to put on weight.

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    1. Ankita, it is great that you figured out the real reason for you putting on weight. Once one knows that it is easy to solve the problem. For me it was a simple matter of too much carbohydrates in my diet.

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    2. And I just realized I've not been having milk, dry fruits etc. lately. Thanks for the wake up call!

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  20. Your posts are truly inspiring Tanveer!
    I'm on a weight loss trip myself. Could you possibly post your regular diet and exercise routine in one of the posts that follow? I'm sure that might help a lot of us get an idea of what changes we could make as well

    Cheers,
    Jianna.

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    1. Hey Jianna, I will post more about the diet in the next few days. Hopefully you will find that useful :)

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  21. Our lifestyle is really causing havoc. For my case, I have to keep watch more so because we , in our family are genetically on the heavier side. After I had quit taking my dance lesson etc, I had gained just so much of weight! And added to that, stretchmarks and all. Later, with some change in diet, things rapidly got back to normal. I am not really 'thin' now, but I feel healthy.
    You are so right about the carbohyrate! Even I noticed cutting down on them indeed helps a lot!
    May be I should also start a series as well.
    You have really come a long way Tanz. But if I may, I would say slow down a bit now and give your body time to reconcile with the changes. That way it would be easier to maintain the weight as well as there would be no loose skin, strecthmarks etc.
    You inspired me to take a better care of myself. Keep up the good job dear

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    1. I agree Nive.. There is misinformation plus hectic lifestyle means that our health generally goes for a toss. As long as you feel healthy it is fine. The imp thing is to be fit & have enough energy through out the day to do all our tasks :)

      And do start a series! I might get some useful tips from you!

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  22. absolutly 'god-sent' post...!and dis came just at the perfect timing...it was only dis morning that i felt that i have put on a few kilos...!neeed ur help...cud u plz give us a plan...?!

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    1. Thanks Sakshi.. I will share bits & pieces of the plan in the next few days :)

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  23. I am feeling enlightened! didnt know carbs caused so much havoc!

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  24. Hi tanveer
    Reading ur blog for the first time and I am so, so inspired. God bless u and your family for sharing such good knowledge. I have come back to my pre-prego shape now, but need to lose about 10-15 kgs more. Will start following ur dvise right away.
    I have a suggestion.
    Beginning with your first chapter in this series, can u please add a next and previous button, so we can easily navigate. I am finding it difficult to connect successive chapters in the series. Thanks..

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  25. Hi tanveer
    Reading ur blog for the first time and I am so, so inspired. God bless u and your family for sharing such good knowledge. I have come back to my pre-prego shape now, but need to lose about 10-15 kgs more. Will start following ur dvise right away.
    I have a suggestion.
    Beginning with your first chapter in this series, can u please add a next and previous button, so we can easily navigate. I am finding it difficult to connect successive chapters in the series. Thanks..

    ReplyDelete

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