Two weeks ago, I wrote about the metabolic advantage of eating a diet higher in fat and lower in carbohydrates. Last week, I introduced the Hormonal Theory of Obesity (HTO), which provides a much more biologically accurate alternative to conventional wisdom, which tells us that weight gain or loss is a matter of calories consumed versus calories burned. Generally, when a person says they want to lose weight, we mean that we want to lose fat (instead of muscle). What exactly dictates whether fat gets stored or burned? Our hormones! Therefore, a much better equation than calories in minus calories out would be time spent in fat burning conditions - time spent in fat storage conditions. AND, when we are eating, how fattening are the calories that we are consuming?
Moving on, which hormones dictate whether we are in a fat storage or fat burning mode? It turns out there are several, but the predominant one is insulin. If you want to make a person fat, the most effective way known to mankind is to inject him with insulin. If you know friend or family member that is diabetic and injects insulin, they likely gained wait after starting its use. In fact, when insulin was first discovered in the early 1920s, it was used exclusively by farmers to fatten their farm animals!
High insulin secretion has long been associated with obesity. Obese people secret much higher levels of insulin than do those of normal weight. Also, in lean subjects, insulin levels quickly return to baseline after a meal, but in the obese, these levels remain elevated. Insulin levels are almost 20 percent higher in obese subjects.
From a dietary perspective, what causes your insulin to spike? Blood sugar. What causes your blood sugar to spike? Carbohydrates. The more refined the carbohydrates are (like in candy, highly processed foods, and soda), the more quickly it spikes your blood sugar. When blood sugar is high, your body releases insulin, which drives sugar in the bloodstream into your fat cells, especially the ones around your midsection. With all available fuel now stored away as fat, your body signals your brain to increase the sensation of hunger. Ironically, most of us have an excess of energy stores in the form of fat around our bodies, but yet we still get intense cravings and sensations of hunger!
"We consciously decide to eat in response to hunger signals that are largely hormonally mediated. We consciously stop eating when the body sends signals of satiety (fullness) that are largely hormonally mediated. For example, the smell of frying food makes you hungry at lunchtime. However, if you have just finished a large buffet, those same smells may make you slightly queasy." - Dr. Jason Fung, The Obesity Code
Now, some further clarification is needed to describe one of the main tenants of HTO, which states that we overeat because we are fat, instead of the conventional model, which tells us that we are fat because we overeat. Most people gain weight around the midsection. The type of fat stored here is particularly harmful as it provokes inflammation in the body, distorts insulin response, perpetuates insulin resistance, and issues abnormal metabolic signals to the rest of the body. Lastly, this type of fat produces estrogen, which can further lead to fat gain in unwanted areas. All this adverse signaling in the body trigger us to feel hungry despite the fact that we have plenty of calories available. The problem is that we eat foods that spike our insulin, causing the calories to be stored away as fat cells, thus not making them accessible to be burned for fuel.
So in summary, why do we get fat? To borrow the words of Dr. Jason Fung, "We get fat because our body set weight thermostat is set too high. Why? Because our insulin levels are too high." Under normal conditions, high insulin levels encourage sugar and fat storage. Low insulin levels encourage glycogen and fat burning. Sustained levels of excessive insulin will tend to increase fat storage. An imbalance between feeding and fasting will lead to increased insulin, which causes increased fat storage and obesity.
So why am I telling you all this and how does this answer the question posed in the title? In short, because healthy fats in the diet do not spike insulin levels. So, high fat diets, which are conversely lower in carbohydrates, tend to keep insulin levels lower, thus encouraging fat burn versus fat storage. More details in next week's post.
This article will appear in the 9th edition of my newsletter, "5 Big Ideas to Upgrade your Health."
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