Two Reasons Why We Get Fat

I’m re-reading the excellent Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It, by Gary Taubes and will be sharing lots of my notes and highlights.

So let’s get right to the good stuff. While there will be outliers and complications, the truth is that most of us get fat for two simple reasons:

  • when insulin levels are elevated, we accumulate fat in our fat tissue
  • our insulin levels are determined by the carbohydrates we eat

The more detailed explanation from Why We Get Fat (emphasis mine):

First, when insulin levels are elevated, we accumulate fat in our fat tissue; when these levels fall, we liberate fat from the fat tissue and burn it for fuel.

Second, 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,” is how George Cahill, a former professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, recently described this to me.

So there you have it. Control your insulin levels and you can control your fat. Hopefully the book will cover how to control insulin levels in more detail (I bet it does).

If you haven’t read Why We Get Fat, do so now, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Where’s My Debt Emergency?

From the Mr. Money Mustache blog: News Flash: Your Debt is an Emergency!!:

Your Debt is not something you “work on”. It is a HUGE, FLAMING EMERGENCY!!!

I’m buried deep in a serious debt problem. But why don’t I feel like my debt is an emergency? I know that it is, and I certainly don’t feel good about it. Yet I’ve somehow not been uncomfortable enough to take emergency measures.

As I wrote last week, I have way too much credit card debt and the worst of it is more than $5,000 between 20% and 25% interest.


When I really think deeply about the amount of debt I have I start to feel the cloud of killer bees come over me. Yet I don’t feel that way most of the time. Perhaps I’ve become so comfortable with lying to myself about my debt that I simply don’t comprehend the severity anymore.

Intellectually, I know what needs to be done. I guess what’s lacking is discipline. I have to remind myself every day that this debt is in fact an emergency and that’s how I need to treat it. I built a habit of living with debt over many years and now I have to build a habit of hating debt.

I shouldn’t be spending any extra money on anything other than true living expenses. And I should figure out how to make some greater structural changes to my life in order to free up more money — bigger ideas like living somewhere cheaper and closer to work and cutting way back on car use and expenses.

Fortunately, there is hope for the future:

And there is more good news, since this is an Advanced blog: your debts are tiny.

I always have a little chuckle when people talk about a $10,000 debt, or even a $70,000 or $200,000 one as if it is insurmountable.

Sure, these sums of money are big when measured against the cost of groceries, and they are not sums of money to be wasted. But this is an early retirement blog. Here we are learning how to rake together much larger sums of money to allow us to live our lives free from mandatory work. For most of us, that means somewhere between $400,000 and $1.5 million. Beginners to Mustachianism find these sums unimaginable, but after a few years, the same people find their net worth spreadsheets increasing at over $100 grand per year due to investment returns and reduced spending.

If you’re dealing with a debt emergency, definitely go read the whole post from Mr. Money Mustache — it’s much better than anything I’ve written here. And anyone who has struggled with facing up to a debt emergency like me, please share how you overcame it.

Current Progress and Restarting the Blog

It’s been a while and, despite my good intentions, I simply haven’t kept up with the blog like I want to. But I miss writing. When I was writing regularly, this blog really helped me improve myself. Even though I don’t know most of you personally, I feel a real sense of accountability for what I write here. The numbers I share are real, and even though I’m sure no one out there is keeping track of every little detail, I feel an extra sense of responsibility to make wise decisions as if that was the case.

So here we go. My plan is to write occasional updates on my personal progress, and focus more on sharing what I’m learning from books and blogs. I’ve read a lot that I haven’t written about yet, so I have a backlog of quality information ready to go. And I’m learning a lot about myself — which I think is useful to some people, at least those of you who struggle with debt and fat like I do.

Since I started this blog, way back in 2007, I paid off all my credit card debt and two car loans (but this story doesn’t have a happy ending). However, I never had any real success with weight loss. The best I managed to do over the past 5+ years was to lose about twenty pounds, but I always gained it back — and eventually added even more. I finally peaked at an all time high of 278.6 pounds in February of last year.

So as things stand today, I’m actually worse off than I was in the beginning. After having paid off my original credit card debt, I’m now back in deeply. Fortunately, I’ve managed to make some progress with my weight over the past year. I’m still too fat, but I’m down almost forty pounds from my high. So there is hope. It really sucks that I racked up debt while really knowing better, but I don’t feel overwhelmed because I know I can fix this mess again. All that matters is finally learning the lessons and never letting it happen again. And that’s where I think blogging will help.

The Horrible Details

How I got here is a long story. As I write this, my credit card debt is $40,062.89. It’s painful to write that, but I’ve stopped using the cards and the balance has actually gone down this year. Getting under $40,000 next month will actually be a nice milestone.

For my weight, as of last week, I weighed 240.28 pounds with 26.63% body fat (I average my weight weekly to track progress). That’s painful to write as well, but I’m hopeful for the future because it’s a lot less than I weighed last year.

The Plan

This is a big mess I’ve created over many years and I know there aren’t any quick solutions. Lately I’ve put a lot of effort into understanding my behavior and why I’ve made the decisions I have. I see my debt and fat as symptoms of bigger problems. Maybe it could all be blamed on simple stupidity, but I think it’s more complicated than that.

My goal for 2013 is to get my weight down to 215 pounds and my body fat under 16%. For reference, I’m using my Withings WiFi scale for both measurements. I know the body fat measurement probably isn’t truly accurate, but it’s good enough for a point of reference.

For my debt, there’s too much to try to tackle in one year. My goal for 2013 is to pay off my highest interest credit cards. As of today, I have $5,456.30 of credit card debt at over 20% interest. That’s just an absolute killer and paying it off is my top priority.

So that’s a quick look at where I stand today. I hope that sharing this will help me get my act together and I hope there’s someone out there who will benefit as well. It feels good to be writing again and I’ll have a lot more to share soon.

Weekly Weight Loss Update: October 3, 2012

I missed an update last week, but I didn’t stop exercising or getting on the scale. I had some important things come up which took the free time that would have otherwise gone to writing this blog. It was for a good cause though, and I’ll have some good news to report soon. Anyway, on to the updates…

My weight is basically unchanged three weeks in. I kept up with exercise in week two, exercising 6 of 7 days. But week three dropped off a bit due to an injury — I only exercised 2 of 7 days. Not good, but it couldn’t be helped in this case. I’m going to get back on track with exercise soon.

I think that leaves my diet as the explanation for lack of results. It’s been better in general, but not good enough. I should have lost at least a pound or two by now if I was following a low-carb or Paleo diet. I aspire to eat that way — and I do more often than not — but I don’t do it consistently. Making that change is what I need to focus on now.

Week of Average Fat % Average Weight Weekly Change Left to lose (by 12/31/12)
9/26 – 10/2 29.36% 265.12 lb. – 0.51 lb. 16 lb.
9/19 – 9/25 28.8% 265.63 lb. + 0.17 lb. 16 lb.
9/12 – 9/18 29.78% 265.47 lb. N/A 16 lb.