The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung came up among my recommended titles on Audible in May of 2018.
The name didn’t put me off, because the subtitle was compelling: “Unlocking the secrets of weight loss.”
Little did I know it would be among the most important books in my health journey.
Dr. Jason Fung is a nephrologist who became increasingly dissatisfied with his practice because he felt helpless to deal with the progressive kidney damage his patients were experiencing.
Many if not most of them had diabetes resulting from obesity, which led them to need increasing amounts of insulin, which led them to gain more weight, and the cycle would continue. Eventually, they would end up on dialysis or would have foot ulcers that required amputation.
In listening to this book, I felt an increasing sense of the despair he must have felt in his practice, because in the first several chapters he laid out the scope of the problem, describing both the epidemic of obesity and why so many diets fail.
Essentially our weight control mechanisms behave like a ratchet, at least in our current food environment. Once we gain weight and our bodies adapt to a new normal, they in effect establish a new “set point.”
If we then follow the “eat less, move more” advice as exemplified by The Biggest Loser, we may achieve some short-term success, but at a long-term price. With chronic caloric reduction, our metabolisms slow because our bodies sense starvation and the need to conserve energy.
Instead of a basal metabolic rate of, for example, 2,000 calories per day it may be reduced to 1,500.
Our body temperature is reduced, as is the stroke volume of our hearts. We end up cold, tired and hungry.
Then when we resume normal eating, we gain it all back (and more) because we still have the lowered metabolism.
Fung describes obesity as primarily a hormonal issue, and highlights those hormones that play the largest roles: leptin, grellin, cortisol and, above all, insulin.
He describes how the Atkins diet showed some success, but that it too tends to have problems with long-term compliance.
This dreary story continues for 18 chapters, until he summarizes as follows:
There are two primary findings from all of the dietary studies done over the years. First: All diets work. Second: All diets fail.
Dr. Fung then gives some helpful advice on the importance of eating whole foods and avoiding sugar and refined carbohydrates. But it isn’t until the final chapter, after nine hours of describing the futility of other approaches, that he provides the solution.
As I said, the title of this book is really unfortunate. I would love to have all of my friends read it, but the title makes it kind of awkward to recommend.
Five days after I downloaded The Obesity Code, I bought a book coauthored by Dr. Fung called The Complete Guide to Fasting, which helped me to understand and implement the solution advocated in Chapter 20 of the first book.
I unreservedly recommend both, but if you want an introduction to Dr. Fung’s message, this address from last year will be helpful.
Next time I’ll tell you what happened when Lisa and I implemented a fasting regimen for 10 weeks starting in mid-May 2018.