Monday, September 19, 2011

We don’t get fat because we overeat; we overeat because we are fat

Has anyone read “Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It” by Gary Taubes? It is a research book about how the body holds onto fat with the conclusion being avoid grains and the fat will fall off. I was so intrigued I began testing this hypothesis on my family. We are all converts now.

I have summarized the book below as it's not an easy read; mainly a research book examining years of ‘ignored’ research that proves its point. In this summary, I borrowed heavily from the author’s blog where he defends himself after a contentious appearance on Dr Oz.

I will give you the author's hypothesis up front, explain his main points and at the end tell you the “What to Do about It” part.

Hypothesis: “We don’t get fat because we overeat; we overeat because we are fat.”

Unlike what we have been fed by science and media since the 1960s, it is not fat that makes us fat. Nor is it gluttony or sloth as moralists like to guilt trip us to believe. It is hormones that make and keep us fat: Insulin, estrogen, testosterone and more. Some people are genetically predisposed to accumulate fat, others to burn it. It depends on hormones, most of which are out of our control; all except Insulin. Insulin is the one hormone that we all can consciously control through our diet by cutting carbohydrate rich foods: all grains, all sugars, corn syrup and starchy vegetables. This is a good thing as Insulin is the biggest bad guy and needs to be controlled; especially in those who are already fat.

You see, what makes fat cells fat is Insulin. “Raise Insulin levels and we accumulate more fat in our fat cells. Lower Insulin and fat is released from the fat cells so our lean tissues burn it for fuel.” So regardless of our predisposition to get fat, we can lower our fat by lowering our carbohydrate intake. But, “there’s no one-size-fits-all prescription for the quantity of carbohydrates we can eat and still lose fat or remain lean.” “For some, getting lean might be a matter of merely avoiding sugars… And for some, weight will be lost only on a diet of virtually zero carbohydrates”

In a nutshell; “Carbohydrates drive Insulin drives Fat.” This fact is found in European research from the early 1900s on; but after the end of World War II Americans turned their back on it. Around the 1960s we came up with ‘faulty’ science touting low fat diets and exercise as means to lower body fat. Obesity rates have risen steadily since then.

Making matters worse, “a blanket recommendation to eat fruits and vegetables and whole grains, as Oz prescribes and now Weight Watchers and the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, ignores this aspect of human variability completely. It assumes that people who are predisposed to fatten can tolerate the same foods and benefit from the same very mild dose of carb-restriction that the naturally lean can.”

The fact is; the more fat you have; the more fat you accumulate. To understand why; think of it as the evil doings of two culprits: LPL and Insulin. “LPL is the enzyme (in less technical language, the thing) that works to pull fat from the circulation into whatever cell it happens to be sitting on. If that cell is a muscle cell, the fat is used for fuel. If it’s a fat cell, the fat is stored.” Obviously, the more fat you have, the more likely the enzyme will be sitting on a fat cell when it dumps its load. Next the evil culprit, Insulin, comes along; like an overzealous prison warden, he builds more and more prisons that are impossible to escape from. In other words, Insulin — “creates new fat cells… and it inhibits the escape of fat from the fat cell and its use for fuel.”

Now here is a catch 22; with all our fat locked up so we can’t burn it for fuel, we need more fuel for our bodies to burn so that we can move. This is the fact upon which the author based his hypothesis: “we don’t get fat because we overeat; we overeat because we are fat”. Regardless of how much we eat, if our fat cells are hogging it all; our body will demand more. It will harangue us, “Feed me, FEED ME!” Like that plant in Little Shop of Horrors, it’s insatiable.

So what does it do, if you don’t feed it enough to make up for what it is hoarding away in its fat cells? It slows you down, so you won’t burn so much of its precious little fuel: fat…, hungry… and too tired to move. Sound familiar?

You just can’t fool Mother Nature. So what can you do? According to all the research; there is only one thing; fire the prison warden. How? Avoid the foods that increase Insulin levels. Basically, the foods that were absent from human diets during the 2.5 million years of evolution leading up to the industrial era (a scant 300 years ago) that we are still poorly adapted to — easily digestible starches, refined carbohydrates and sugars.

The good news is, we can do this without going hungry. We are advised that if we eliminate carbs, we can eat fats and protein till we are full and still lose weight. In addition, if we avoid sugars and artificial sweeteners, we will eventually lose our cravings for carbs.

If all this is true, which I plan to test on myself; it will explain why I have hung onto my baby fat (i.e. post pregnancy weight gain) despite having always exercised, eaten whole grains and avoided fatty food. While I have dropped a few pounds, I expected more dramatic results in the past 4 years since I became a Pescetarian (a vegetarian that eats fish). I admit I was a vegetarian that also ate sugar every day.

I know it is true that we do crave the carbs that feed the monster. But according to a study of carb deprived kids, they lost their cravings after 12 to 15 months. I think that’s too long to suffer so I am cheating with Shakeology. I’m not sure how that may skew my test results, but I don’t care; after only one month, I no longer craved sweets or coffee and my Reflux settled down. It only has 17 carbs so I don’t see any reason to give it up. If I am going pull off a 50 lb fat loss and win the Beachbody Contest, I need all the help I can get!

I like to think that it is not our fault that so many of us are fat; but I believe it will be, if there is a proven way to reverse it and we don’t try.

Meanwhile one thing we can all do is give a break to the many people (a third of our population) who struggle with obesity. Fat isn’t a reflection on one’s character! As a friend of mine said after reading this, “I might have to stop being so judgmental!” Now there’s an idea whose time has come!

Do it, just for the health of it!



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