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The following is from the transcript of a podcast.

Dieters can choose from an array of snacktackular options in which sugars and fats are replaced by artificial, low-calorie substitutes. That sleight of hand seems ingenious. You can let your body think it’s getting the sweets and fats it craves while keeping the calorie count to a minimum.

But the new study suggests that this strategy is likely to backfire. Rats that consumed a mix of full-fat chips and chips with olestra wound up eating more and got fatter than rats that noshed on regular chips alone.

Their bodies were apparently getting mixed messages. A mouthful of fat is usually a signal that calories are coming, and the body reacts by getting ready to burn fuel. But olestra, which tastes like fat, carries no calories at all. So the body soon learns to stand down in the face of fat. All fat. Even real fat. Because as Shakespeare almost said, a chip by any other name still swells your seat.

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary, "stand down" has the following meaning:

1 : to leave the witness stand
2 chiefly British a : to go off duty b : to withdraw from a contest or from a position of leadership

But I still don't understand what the sentence "So the body soon learns to stand down in the face of fat." means.

Does it mean that the body will not react with all kinds of fat? Then how can one get fatter when such thing happen?

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2 Answers 2

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In this case it's the second meaning of "stand down." Since the body is used to olestra, it thinks that real fats are not actually fats, and it won't attempt to break them down, going "off-duty." This leads to fat accumulating.

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It's a terrible mixed metaphor. As Jackgill points out, it's the second meaning is closest. I think of "stand down" as chiefly military, meaning to abandon an aggressive position. There's even a charity for drug-addicted homeless veterans called Stand Down.

"In the face of" is phrase referring to the imminence of some negative condition. Military law says "in the face of the enemy"; you might also hear "in the face of disaster" or "in the face of defeat".

Putting an vague expression together with an anthropomorphizing metaphorical phrase and you get, as you have seen, confusion.

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Well, this is from a source that's quite happy to write snacktackular. Not much of a 'word' anyway, but if it were, it'd definitely be spelt snacktacular. In short, there's little mileage in studying such texts in order to gain command of the English language. –  FumbleFingers Jun 26 '11 at 19:58

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