Fat Doesn’t Mean Not Fit

Eric “Butterbean” Esch, having weighed 425 lbs at his heaviest, was one of the best boxers of the 1990s. He regularly knocked out his competitors in under a minute. He didn’t look impressive, besides being obese. He wasn’t the best trained nor did he fight with much style. But he was a powerhouse. He could take punches and give them in return. And when he landed a punch, it was devastating.

As with many others, Butterbean’s obesity was not an indicator of a lack of muscle, stamina, and aerobic health. Even in later fights when his power was decreased, he still could hold his own for many rounds. In 2002, he remained on his feet for 10 rounds with one of the greatest fighters of all time, Larry Holmes, before finally knocking him back against the ropes with the fight ending after the referee did a standing 8 count. He expanded his career into professional wrestling and MMA matches, winning many more fights. As late as 2011 in his mid-40s, he was still knocking out opponents and he was still fat.

This is why so few people can lose weight through exercise alone. All that more exercise does for most, specifically on a high-carb diet, is to make them hungrier and so leading to them eating more (exercise on a ketogenic diet is a bit different, though). And indeed, many athletes end up focusing on carbs in trying to maintain their energy, as glucose gets used up so quickly (as opposed to ketones). Long-distance runners on a high-carb diet have to constantly refuel with sugary drinks provided along the way.

Americans have been advised to eat more of the supposedly healthy carbs (whole grains, vegetables, fruit, etc) while eating less of the supposedly unhealthy animal foods (red meat, saturated fats, etc) and the data shows they are doing exactly that, more than ever before since data was kept. But telling people that eating lots of carbs, even if from “whole foods”, is part of a healthy diet is bad advice. And when they gain weight, blaming them for not exercising enough is bad advice stacked upon bad advice.

Such high-carb diets don’t do any good for long-term health, even for athletes. Morally judging fat people as gluttonous and slothful simply doesn’t make sense and it is the opposite of helpful, a point that Gary Taubes has made. It’s plain bullshit and this scapegoating of the victims of bad advice is cruel.

This is why so many professional athletes get fat when they retire, after a long career of eating endless carbs, not that it ever was good for their metabolic health (people can be skinny fat with adipose around their internal organs and have diabetes or pre-diabetes). But some like Butterbean begin their athletic careers fat and remained fat. Many football players are similarly overweight. William Perry, AKA The Fridge, was an example of that, although he was a relative lightweight at 335-350 lbs. Even more obvious examples are seen with some gigantic sumo wrestlers who, while grotesquely obese, are immensely strong athletes.

Sumo wrestlers are also a great example of the power of a high-carb diet. They will intentionally consume massive amounts of starches and sugars in order to put on fat. That is old knowledge, the reason people have understood for centuries the best way to fatten cattle is to feed them grains. And it isn’t as if cattle get fat by being lazy while sitting on the couch watching tv and playing on the internet. It’s the diet alone that accomplishes that feat of deliciously marbled flesh. Likewise, humans eating a high-carb diet will make their own muscles and organs marbled.

I speak from personal experience, after gaining weight in my late 30s and into my early 40s. I topped out at around 220 lbs  — not massive, but way beyond my weight in my early 20s when I was super skinny, maybe down in the 140 lbs range (the result of a poverty diet and I looked gaunt at the time). In recent years, I had developed a somewhat protruding belly and neck flabs. You could definitely tell I was carrying extra fat. Could you tell that I also was physically fit? Probably not.

No matter how much I exercised, I could not lose weight. I was jogging out to my parent’s place, often while carrying a backpack that sometimes added another 20-30 lbs (books, water bottle, etc). That jog took about an hour and I did it 3-4 times a week and I was doing some weightlifting as well, but my weight remained the same. Keep in mind I was eating what, according to official dietary guidelines, was a ‘balanced’ diet. I had cut back on my added sugars over the years, only allowing them as part of healthy whole foods such as in kefir, kombucha, and fruit. I was emphasizing lots of vegetables and fiber. This often meant starting my day with a large bowl of bran cereal topped with blueberries or dried fruit.

I was doing what Americans have been told is healthy. I could not lose any of that extra fat, in spite of all my effort and self-control. Then in the spring of last year I went on a low-carb diet that transitioned into a very low-carb diet (i.e., keto). In about 3 months, I lost 60 lbs and have kept it off since. I didn’t do portion control and didn’t count calories. I ate as much as I wanted, but simply cut out the starches and sugars. No willpower was required, as on a keto diet my hunger diminished and my cravings disappeared. It was the high-carb diet that had made me fat, not a lack of exercise.