The Obesity Code by Jason Fung (Book 15 of my 2018 Reading Challenge)
As I’ve previously discussed on this blog I’ve been losing weight fairly steadily for almost three years now. At my heaviest I was pretty overweight, well over 120kg. Since then I’ve dropped down as low at 95kg but in the last few weeks following another injury I’m back at about 100kg. I’ve read a lot of books on diet and nutrition. For someone who trains a fair amount, I thought I had a decent handle on what I needed to do with my diet. I split my macros so that I have roughly 45% protein, 40% carbs and 15% fats. This split, coupled with highly structured cardio and resistance training seemed to do the trick. The problem is that my shoulders don’t seem to cope very well with long term training. When I take a break from training to recover from injury, I tend to carry on eating as if I’m training. It then leads to weight gain. This book jumped out at me as something a little bit different. As someone who advocates logic, reason and the scientific method, I am always open to having my mind changed.
The worst diets are the ones where you are encouraged to primarily eat one type of food above all others, for example the cabbage soup diet. Then there are the ones that tell you to just avoid a certain food or types of food altogether like avoiding all bread.
Common sense alone tells you that if you restrict your list of available foods then you will lose weight, simply because after a few bowls of cabbage soup you will reach a point at which the thought of another bowl makes you feel a little sick. Reduce calories in then you will lose weight. If you go with the other type of “diet” and suddenly cut out a major part of your regular diet, then common sense again states you will probably lose weight. There is a reason why “diet” books sell in the millions and it is because they pretty much all fail in the long-term. Think about it, if there was a magic bullet to sustained, long-term weight loss then all “diet” books would be worthless. The one who found the magic bullet would sell their book in record numbers. The simple fact that the industry makes as much money as it does should indicate that many of the solutions just do not work.
Honestly, there's only so much of this you can take.
Dr Fung makes some pretty bold claims but what I like about this book is that most of the claims are backed up by research on people. Earlier I wrote about how mainstream media does not report science well; this is because a significant proportion of dietary research is conducted on animals such as mice or rats. The findings are then applied to people. When the media reports this, often the fact that the research was on animals is omitted. This is also a problem with some drug research. Where possible, one should always find the primary source for the research findings. Now, it should be noted that I’ve not done this yet with respect to the arguments made in The Obesity Code but I will be looking into it in more detail.
The main argument put forward is that insulin resistance is the main cause of weight gain and not calorie surplus. That’s not to say that calories do not play a part, but rather the increase in calorie consumption is caused in no small part by an increase in insulin resistance. It becomes a self-reinforcing cycle where the more weight you gain, the more resistant you become to insulin and the more resistant to insulin you become the more you end up eating. I’ve obviously reduced a lengthy book down to the absolute basics but it’s an interesting hypothesis. It is also argued that the best way to increase insulin sensitivity is to eat whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible and to avoid grazing. It has seemingly become more popular in recent years to engage in grazing or to put it simply; frequent snacking. Dr Fung describes how people feel compelled to eat three meals and snack in between as it is thought to keep their metabolism active. This advice is thoroughly deconstructed in The Obesity Code with more simple advice being given:
1. Eat only when you are hungry and avoid snacking where possible.
2. Reduce the number of times a day you eat.
3. Engage in intermittent fasting.
4. Disregard the advice that breakfast is the most important meal. If you are not hungry when you wake up, don’t force yourself to eat breakfast.
The (not so) ideal breakfast.
There is a compelling description and analysis about how the idea of the body going into “starvation mode” is largely overplayed. Overall, The Obesity Code has given me a lot to think about and I’m going to start incorporating some of the advice given. The first step I’m going to take is to engage in intermittent fasting. It may take some adjusting as I go in terms of how long I will fast for and how many calories I will allow when fasting. This will not be the absence of food on fasting days but a drastically reduced amount of food consumed. It’s going to be an interesting experience, I’m sure.
As always, if you are considering making changes to your diet or exercise level please consult a medical professional before doing so.
Critic. Writer. Thinker. Observer. Creator of nowwelive.com.