I’m a naturally athletic person. But I’m not a naturally fit person. There’s a difference.

I used to enjoy all sorts of sports from skateboarding and snowboarding to basketball, football, weightlifting, and breakdancing.

These days though I mostly just enjoy putting all of my energy into my work, and saving the rest for my family. Since my kids are really little, we don’t do much in the way of sports and athletics yet. That means I live a pretty sedentary life since I’m a designer by profession (in other words I sit on my butt all day, every day).

Add to that the fact that I married a girl who can cook like the best of them, and the reality is I’ve gained about 75lbs since I married her nearly 7 years ago at the age of 25. Or to say it bluntly, I got fat, yo.

Understanding why we get fat

I’ve battled this fatness for the last few years, but with little apparent or long lasting results. I was starting to just chaulk it all up to my inevitably sedentary lifestyle and slowing metabolism when my friend and fellow GitHubber Tim helped me realize there is more to the obesity equation that I was seeing - or than what most people are seeing.

He suggested I read some of Gary Taubes work, so I got Taube’s book Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It. In the book, which is quite dense with medical science, Taubes explains that our current collectively agreed upon understanding of obesity is wrong. Popularly accepted science tells us that obsity is caused by an inverse calorie deficit - or in other words when we consume more calories than we burn. However that idea is based on poor scientific research and not actually supported by reality.

The reality, as Taubes explains, is that obesity is a problem of the body getting fat (duh). But when you start with obesity being a problem of fat accumulation as a first principle, and just answer the next logical question “well why does the body accumulate fat”, you end up with a different conclusion.

It turns out that a hormone known as insulin is primarily responsible for fat accumulation in fat cells. Insulin is what triggers fat cells to hold onto the fat inside of them (rather than releasing to be burned) and also what triggers those cells to draw in new calories from the blood stream to grow even fatter.

So the next question is, “well what makes insulin levels rise in the body?” And the answer is blood sugar. As blood sugar rises, insulin levels rise. The two have a direct correlation.

So the final important question to our simple scientific method based on first principles - I think you see where this is going - is, “well then what makes blood sugar levels rise?” And the answer is: carbohydrates. Foods that are or contain sugar and starches (aka carbohydrates) make the body’s blood sugar rise.

And in four paragraphs of text I’ve walked you through the simple logic of why carbs are primarily responsible for obesity. Now there’s a ton of science in Taube’s book worth reading and understanding (itself actually a much condensed version of Taubes OTHER, much long book, “Good Calories, Bad Calories”). But if you just want the spoiler version, that’s it: carbohydrates are what make us get fat.

Note: Here’s a really helpful infographic called Carbs Are Killing You I recently saw floating around on Facebook explaining this same science.

Putting it into practice

So over the last five or six weeks I’ve been practicing a low carb lifestyle, and I’ve already lost nearly 12lbs (about 10 of that came in the first three weeks, but I’ve slowed down my progress lately because of holiday festivities). This is almost entirely just from the diet change, as I’ve literally only exercised once in the past 6 weeks due to a pretty busy schedule lately and cold weather (no excuse, but it’s reality).

But the best part is when you realize that carbs are the enemy of someone trying to stop getting fat, and not actually a lot of other things like fatty foods, it becomes much easier to diet when you’re only cutting out some of the things you love.

For example, a low carb diet makes breads, cereals, sugary drinks like milk, juice and beer all off limits. But it doensn’t make meats (including steak or bacon), cheeses, and plenty of other delicious stuff off limits.

I’ve had to stop eating my daily morning oatmeal with nuts and raisins, but I’ve been able to replace it with a four egg omlet complete with cheese, mushrooms, onions and bacon.

Also great is that you don’t completely fall flat on your face if you cheat and have something from the bad category. In a given meal for example, if you are cutting out all carbs it may mean you shouldn’t eat the bread, the potatoes and the corn. If you go ahead and eat the corn, at least you are still avoiding the bread and potatoes so you can indulge a little while still overall doing better for your body than otherwise.

Time will tell

This isn’t the first time I’ve made a dietary change since I’ve gotten heavier in my old age. But I’m hoping it’s the last new change I make. Previous changes (like the Dukan Diet) have been a lifehack at best, unsustainable at worst, and my lack of progress has proven the unsustainability part.

This change is based on real science which was actually accepted science for a long time up until the 50’s when one man’s crappy research became wildely popular with the media and never really stopped being accepted as correct.

I suppose time will tell if a) this approach works for me, and b) if I can keep following it’s practical implications. But here’s hoping I do.