Why We Get Fat

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Americans exercise. We go on diets. We have been doing both for decades, and yet as a nation we’ve been getting fatter every year. We invented gyms, popularized marathons, created the home exercise culture, and with Crossfit, Tough Mudder, and P90X, we continue to conjure up new ways to exercise. Sports remain an integral part of the American education, and the American diet and fitness industries continue to be far larger than those in any other country.

So why are we so fat?

American Overweight and Obesity

Source: http://win.niddk.nih.gov/statistics/index.htm#b

We’re fat because of our food. 

As we’ve said before, there are many ways to get fat, but food plays a major part. We’re fat because our culture of innovation extends beyond sports, technology and banking, to include innovation in food. The foods we eat today are radically different from what we ate 40 years ago, with special emphasis on two factors: cheap, omnipresent sugar and cheap, omnipresent wheat (and wheat flour). Thanks to these two ubiquitous ingredients, one in three Americans over age 18 is diabetic or prediabetic.

Blame the new sugar and the new wheat.

Thanks to innovations in corn and wheat, our crops last longer, grow faster, yield more, and have the unintended consequence of making us fat. Both high fructose corn syrup and wheat cause our insulin to spike as soon as we taste them. Wheat has a higher glycemic index (GI) than table sugar. Too many insulin spikes over too many years will lead to diabetes, and along the way we usually get fat. Our hormones determine how fat we get, and these foods wreak havoc on our hormones. 

Our grandparents ate carbs and wheat and didn’t get fat because their carbs and wheat were different. Compared to today’s sugar and wheat, theirs was as genetically as different as humans are to monkeys. Even a small change in the DNA can lead to profound consequences.

But why aren’t athletes fat?

They are. Go to any marathon and you’ll see many non-professional competitors who are neither lithe nor muscular. Look at college and high school teams and you’ll see portly kids on every field.

But maybe fat people don’t exercise enough.

Many do. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) , 22% of overweight people meet the guidelines for aerobic activity - 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise – each week. That is a lot of people doing a lot of exercising.  If exercise were effective, far more people would be losing weight each year.

Weirdly, our competition cultures ritualizes eating sugar by “carb loading.” Go to any race and you’ll see athletes guzzling sugary energy drinks while they run.

Exercise is not the answer. 

The only way to consistently lose weight and keep it off is to dramatically reduce the amount of sugar and wheat in our diet. Eat the normal American diet, and you’ll struggle to keep off the weight, despite all your exercising. Exercise has countless benefits, but weight loss is not among them.

We recommend cutting out sugar and exercising less.  

As shown in Gretchen Reynold’s book,  The First 20 Minutes, many of the benefits of exercise happen in the first few minutes of movement. When people exercise longer, their chances of injury increase, their immune system weakens, and (according to some) all that effort starts showing on their face. This is why all our apps call for 20 minute workouts.

These beliefs undergird the Power 20 Method. We believe – and science repeatedly supports us – that brief, intense exercise, combined with healthy levels of sleep, lower stress, and a very low sugar diet are all steps we can take to be our best, healthiest selves.

To learn more about these issues, we recommend reading these two books:

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