In March of this year I got asked when–not if, when–I was due. Twice.
Historically speaking, I’m going to describe myself as fairly average in terms of looks and weight for someone who came of age in the 1980s. I was a skinny kid, but by puberty I had a slight layer of fat on my belly, enough for me to worry that I was overweight. By today’s standards, I would have been considered skinny.
I stayed this way into my early thirties–before I quit smoking.
I did gain weight when I quit smoking at 33 years old, but it wasn’t a horrible amount. Maybe five pounds or so. (Back when I was averaging around 135, five pounds felt like a lot. Now, not so much.) When I got married (a few months after I quit smoking) I weighed in at 138 and I was 5’5″ and as much as I would have loved to have been 128, I was okay with this.
But my weight didn’t just stay in that relatively healthy, not-hating-myself range. It crept up. So by the time I was around 38 and beginning a myriad of fertility treatments, I was in the mid 140s. I wasn’t happy about this, but I wasn’t at the self-loathing stage yet. IVF would change all that, and so would twin pregnancy.
Now the thing is, I always ate pretty much whatever I felt like eating. Usually, it was lots and lots of pasta. And anything else. Really, even though I knew I should eat healthy, I never dieted. Losing a few pounds meant cutting back on junk for awhile and not gorging myself on a whim.
Since having three IVF procedures and twin pregnancy and childbirth, my weight has been stubbornly in the 160s. I have tried to diet and failed. I believed that the cause of my excess weight was a combination of being 42 and not exercising enough and not being able to control what I eat. In other words, it’s my fault and I’m a failure because I can’t just do whatever the hell it is I have to do to make myself not eat. And so I believed I was destined to be 30+ pounds overweight or more, and incurring the associated risks of heart disease (runs in my family) and cancer (also runs in my family) and Type 2 Diabetes (which also runs in my family) because I am failing at not eating like shit. So I’m destined to look like this, or maybe even worse.
And here’s where Gary Taubes made me cry. But in a really good way.
Many of my Twitter friends tweeted a link to Taubes’s story in the New York Times on sugar a few weeks ago. Taubes is a Columbia University trained journalist with an MS in aerospace engineering from Stanford. He is not a scientist, but rather a journalist who knows science–an indispensable participant in the translation of research to people like me, who otherwise just won’t read it. In any case, I bought his book Why We Get Fat.
And I read the whole thing last night. And so now, the reason I was crying.
See, if you actually believe the science that Gary Taubes is presenting (and I can’t really think of any good reason not to), the reason we get fat is not because we are actually failures at controlling ourselves. It’s not actually because we eat too much and do too little. It’s not a calories in/calories out situation at all. We get fat because [SPOILER ALERT] of hormones, most notably insulin. Of course there’s a lot more to it than that, but really you should buy and read this book, multiple times, if you want to know all the science behind it. But the punchline is the following:
- We don’t get fat because we eat a lot and aren’t active enough. We eat a lot and/or are less active BECAUSE WE ARE FAT. Do you get this? It’s like a revolution in my psyche. It’s like kids who eat a lot because they are growing. We’re growing, too–outward. This explains to me how I can be so active chasing twin toddlers around and not lose weight, too. It’s because I’m eating like a pig. And if you follow this logic, I need to eat like that because my body craves it–because I am active AND BECAUSE I AM FAT. If I was less active, I would eat less, and I would STILL BE FAT. Bummer? Not really. Because I can see the way out of this now, which leads me to punchline #2:
- If we want to lose fat, we have to control insulin, and…
- We control insulin by controlling carbs.
Which logically leads you to the Atkins Diet. There’s been a ton of controversy regarding the Atkins diet for many, many years, I know. But if you just look at the science and not the media hysteria, and if you trust Taubes to present the science and the history of the science accurately, then this is where you go.
My only real problem with Atkins is that it’s not simple enough for me, and I need simple. The more planning and strategizing I need to do, the less likely I’ll do it. (Because I have twin two-year old boys, so it’s not always easy to meticulously plan meals, you know?) I’ve decided that I’m going to start with a “Slow Carb” kind of diet a la Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Body, but my suspicion is for a woman in her 40s, you have to be more drastic in your quest to get rid of carbs. But if eating beans and having one cheat day a week works, I’m doing it.
My father has Atherosclerosis and had a stint put in his heart when he was 61. My mother was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes when she was 64. Both carry the mid-section visceral fat that I’m now sporting, (the reason I’ve been asked multiple times when I’m due) and both my parents started to show this at my age. So I know where this is headed if I do nothing. If the science says cut the carbs, I’m going to do it.
Before I read Taubes’ work, (and honestly, Tim Ferriss’s book too), I really felt hopeless that I could do anything about my weight. Because seriously? If I could just eat less, I would. I really, truly would. Sometimes it’s not a matter of your will power, you know? It’s a matter of your biology, and your thoughts and your will are not always more powerful than your cells. In my case, that’s certainly true. And I don’t want to hate myself for that anymore.
Thanks to Taubes, I don’t.