The Three (Parts Of The) Body Problem And What I Learned From National Public Radio

Hi folks,

This post is about thinking about food, and the fact that the behavior of two interacting variables may be predictable, but for three it is not. I spend a significant amount of time listening to teenagers interact (I’m lucky that way) and, boy, I wouldn’t be a teenager again for all the tea in China. A few days ago teenage girl A (16) was arguing with one of her close friends, teenage girl B, which resulted in a schism between A and B. As B was going away very upset, teenage girl C (with a friend, D) turned up. A series of bizarre (to this older human male) interactions occurred. The final outcome of these dynamics between A, B, and C/D, was that A and B reconciled and they all four went off happily together. Classic ‘three body problem,’ an old conundrum in physics, which if I have my physics right (I’m a veterinary pathologist with an interest in physics and math, not a physicist) was one of the underpinnings of Chaos theory, sensitivity to initial conditions and the excitement about the Lorenz strange attractor. Two moving and interacting bodies in space form a stable system, but three do not, even though they might  appear stable for a long time (like our solar system, for instance). A critical aspect of this arrangement is the nature of the forces binding the bodies. For teenage girls A, B and C/D, the force is clearly emotional in nature, or at least in outward expression. For planets the force is gravitation. Here is an introductory video, in which two mathematical bodies form a stable binary system (very solid friendship, but beware, you can never be sure with the three body problem), with a third, smaller body failing to disrupt the relationship (though it might!). You may have to wait for the video to load, but it is worth the wait.

If you add a third body of similar size, which is linked to both of the first two by gravitational forces, the outcome is rapidly much more complex and may result in a slingshot effect, ejecting one or all three of the bodies from this oscillatory dance. This is actually a risk for our solar system, but probably a small one (hope so!). Here is the best three-body video I could find that shows the slingshot effect. These objects change size as the solution is in three dimensions.

But what, you may ask, have the dynamics of gravitationally directed bodies in space, and emotionally directed teenage girls in my house, got to do with National Public Radio (NPR) in the title of this post? The answer is Gary Taubes.

To be read, not skimmed. Excellent review of an important topic. From:

I fortunately tuned into NPR whilst driving, and heard Gary Taubes speaking about his latest book on The People’s Pharmacy. He seemed to be making a lot of sense, based on my previous 20-year interest in the biochemistry of energy regulation (Bioenergetics). So I bought his book, ‘Why We Get Fat And What To Do About It.’ I then read the book, which I enjoyed, and promised to provide a review to another blogger as a guest post, which I will do in the next few days.

This morning I awoke thinking about my approach to the review, when it occurred to me (for the first time in my life) that here we have another ‘Three Body Problem.’ Fats, proteins and carbohydrates are three variables in our bodies, and they are linked by biochemical forces of many kinds, from resource availability to messenger RNA intercommunication (my obsession for the last 12 years of my research career). As an aside, a brief observation of the ‘white or so-called storage fat transcriptome (population of all transcripts of mRNA in the tissue)’ several years ago led me to the rapid conclusion, concurring with comments by Gary Taubes, that fat doesn’t just lie there, it is highly dynamic (busy all the time!). Here is a simplistic view of the most obvious links between fat, protein and carbohydrates.

  1. Fat can be made from carbohydrates (but not the other way around, in large part) with the help of proteins (enzymes).
  2. Carbohydrates can be made from the carbon backbones of certain amino acids (building blocks of proteins), using energy derived from fat to drive the process.
  3. When proteins are scarce, non-essential amino acids (not essential amino acids, which we have to consume or we become sick) are made from biochemical intermediates, derived from fat and carbohydrates using energy largely derived from fat.

Furthermore, these resources are all linked by your blood, which completes a trip around your body (simplistically speaking) about once a minute, carrying these things into and out of your fat, muscle, liver, brain, skin and everything else. Life is wet and dynamic, so if you are hoping to build a mental picture of how you work, you would be well advised not to forget this important fact. How else will you understand your body? I tried to draw a picture to clarify this point several years ago, and here it is:

A picture I drew to show how foodstuffs move around your body all the time. Red represents the blood compartment, into and out of which things are flowing all the time. This is a glycogen-o-centric model because we were working on that at the time. If you really want to understand it, read Harper's Biochemistry, one of my favorite books, which is updated every few years.

Clearly, these major body resources are dynamically linked, with much interchange occurring. Gary Taube’s iconoclastic thesis is simple, and [to me, at least] makes total sense: ‘we don’t need carbohydrates in our diet as an energy source, and doing so comes with considerable disease risk.’ I will talk about that in more detail in my review, but the point I want to make is that you should avoid thinking simplistically about interconnected variables, which include this three body problem:

  1. Your genotype.
  2. Your diet.
  3. Your training.

As Gary Taubes says in his book, you have to work out what is best for you, personally. There is no simple, one size fits all, solution. Awareness is the key. Physical, emotional, and intellectual awareness. Don’t worry, these pursuits will keep you young and oscillating dynamically for many years to come.

-k Your Medical Mind



  1. The Three (Parts Of The) Body Problem(s) And What I Learned From National Public Radio

  2. Right.

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Disclaimer: As a veterinarian, I do not provide medical advice for human animals. If you undertake or modify an exercise program, consult your medical advisors before doing so. Undertaking activities pursued by the author does not mean that he endorses your undertaking such activities, which is clearly your decision and responsibility. Be careful and sensible, please.