This is the bare transcript for my youtube video of the same title
Growing up in Texas, I thought that the weight gain of people around me was just something that naturally happened. Though, I didn’t realize how big us Texans were getting until I saw Morgan Spurlock’s “Supersize Me!” and he mentioned how 5 of the fattest cities in America were in Texas. This was surprising, but I was chubby when I was younger and then in high school I exercised and slimmed up. I thought what to do to lose weight was obvious, so I unfairly figured people in Texas were just lazy. Then in 2010 I went to Japan, and when I came back 3 years later I realized people were significantly bigger compared to when I was young – If there was an obesity epidemic then I was looking at it. At this point, I started to think it couldn’t be just a matter of not trying hard enough. Because that would suggest that we really have an epidemic of is not caring.
Maybe what actually happened is that the advice we’d been given for losing weight doesn’t work. This may be hard to believe considering 80% of the USDA’s $140 billion budget goes to the Food and Nutrition Service program, but hear me out.
In my previous video, I talked about how weight regulation isn’t just calories in calories out, which is justified mainly by bad Physics. As Dr. Blake Donaldson suggests in his 1962 book “Strong Medicine,” : Continuous success in any line of endeavor, including weight reduction, demands rigid adherence to biological laws.”
It is Biology, not Physics that will help us to understand the human body, and that when your body is properly fed, it will not choose to store fat in excess nor make you hungry all the time.
First off let’s say you wanted to make an animal fat. What would you feed it? If you want your cows produce steaks with more fat on them, you feed them corn and grain instead of grass. To make Foie Gras, they force feed ducks primarily corn. In this study, they found the best way to fatten up rats was to give them a diet with ample amounts of cookies, cereals, chips, crackers as well as some processed cheese and meats.
Of course, Animals are not the same as humans, so let’s look at a population of humans that intentionally try to get fat. Japanese Sumo wrestlers pack on as many pounds as they can in order to be able to push their opponent out of the ring. According to the Sugahara Institutes’ examination of Sumo wrestler’s diet and lifestyle while in training camp, the wrestlers, as expected are eating massive amounts of food. Some days they are hitting as much as 15,000 calories. But what macronutrient do they rely on to pack on the pounds? They’re getting more than twice as much carbohydrates as they are fat or protein.
It may not be surprising that carbohydrates drive fat accumulation, considering low-carb has been a pretty big thing since 2002, when the New York Times Magazine published a cover story entitled “What if Fat Doesn’t Make You Fat?” What may be surprising is that “low carb” is not new in the least. For almost 200 years, reducing carbohydrates for weight loss was a common practice.
In 1797 the Scottish Military surgeon John Rollo successfully treated a diabetes patient with a low carbohydrate diet. Jean Savarin published a book in 1825 called “the Physiology of taste” in which he talks about his patients not being happy that they need to reduce tasty things like flour, sugar, bread, and potatoes and cookies in order to lose weight. In 1844 Jean Dancel published a book called “Obesity, or Excessive Corpulence: The Various Causes and Rational Means of a cure” that recommended to avoid carbohydrates and eat meat in order to “cure” obesity. There are dozens more examples I could list going up to the late 1900’s, but let’s jump to 1971. This is when Charlotte Young released a study showing that “With fewer carbohydrates and more fat in the diet, greater weight loss and fat loss would be observed in subjects”
So for a while obesity was relatively under control, if people needed to lose weight they knew what to do. That was until around 1977, when something interesting happens. Any graph you pull up on the obesity trends, you can see a very noticeable change around that year which shows a clear increase in weight gain which leads ultimately to our current obesity epidemic. 1977 is the year when the USDA put out the new dietary recommendations to cut fat and replace it with “heart healthy” starches, bread, pasta and other carbohydrates. I guess it’s not that big of a surprise that when you bury a method that worked for 200 years for reversing obesity and controlling diabetes, that you get an obesity and diabetes epidemic.
The history paints a pretty good picture, but it’s important that we understand the biological mechanisms behind this. To save you the suspense, it’s not total calories, but your hormones that cause weight gain. Particularly one called insulin, which you’ve surely heard of. It’s known as the fat storage hormone. Where there’s insulin, there’s fat. And When people have to routinely inject insulin in themselves, they experience something called lipohypertrophy – the site at which insulin is injected has a clear accumulation of fat.
So how does insulin work in the body?
As you know, your blood glucose or blood sugar rises when you eat carbohydrates, particularly ones low in fiber. This then causes insulin to be released so the insulin can carry the glucose into the cells that have an insulin receptor, which then allows the cells to break down the glucose and produce energy in the form of phosphates. So far so good.
However this process can only happen at a certain rate, so glucose needs to be put somewhere else. In the form of glycogen, you can store about 200 grams of glucose in the muscle and 70 grams in the liver. When those are filled up, insulin receptors decrease on those cells so glucose can’t go in. But the glucose still needs to go somewhere because if it sits in the blood stream it will bind to proteins in a damaging process called glycation.
Glycation is a process where sugar in the bloodstream mucks onto proteins, creating something called advanced glycation end products or AGE’s for short. It’s the cellular equivalent of pouring maple syrup on your keyboard. One example is a banana. As it gets more ripe, you see some brown spots on the peel and if you peel the banana you can see some dark spots which are particularly sweet. The same thing happens to your skin over time: proteins in your bloodstream get sugar stuck on them and the resulting AGE’s damage your skin internally, creating age spots. You also see these spots from external damage from the sun. Where these things become a real problem is in diabetics who have trouble controlling their blood sugar, and end up with a large amount of AGE’s. This is why diabetics can lose sight in their eyes and may even end up having to amputate their toes because these are the places with very small capillaries where it’s easy for these AGE’s to get stuck and cause serious damage.
So back to the glucose processing: Your muscles and liver have stored as much glucose as they can, and your body really does not want glucose overloading the cells, so it decreases the insulin receptors on most cells preventing the glucose from getting in. Then, glucose is broken down and stored as triglycerides in the only place where insulin receptors are actually increasing- your body fat.
So this is how carbohydrates and the insulin response cause you to get fat.
A couple years back before I learned about intermittent fasting and this low carb business, there was an all you can eat Yakiniku- Japanese barbecue place that I’d sometimes go to. It’s common to always have a bowl of rice to accompany the meat when you’re eating, but one day I decided to skip the rice and just focus on the meat. The next day I noticed something new: I felt stuffed the entire day and I didn’t want to eat until dinner. Whereas when I usually had the rice with my meat, I was already starving for breakfast by morning.
Now, I finally understand what was going on. To use the energy within our fat tissues, fatty acids are taken out of the tissue to be broken down for energy. Which obviously would make you shed fat. But when you have a high serum insulin level from eating too much carbohydrate, you cannot break down your fat tissue because the enzyme that allows that – hormone sensitive lipase, is sensitive to insulin, which will not allow the fat to be broken down.
So you then have this situation where insulin won’t let you use your fat for energy, so when you’re low on energy, you’re going to feel very lethargic and hungry until you get new glucose. This is how high blood sugar and insulin keeps you fat and keeps you hungry.
People don’t get fat because they want to eat all the time, they want to eat all the time because they’re getting fat. So then, are people staying fat because they don’t exercise, or do they not exercise because they don’t have any energy available to do so? I would argue the latter.
So the diet and exercise recommendations we’ve been getting the past several decades ignore basic endocrinology and something natural to all animals: the desire to keep their biological processes balanced and remain in homeostasis. For example: Your body always wants to stay at a constant temperature, so when it’s too hot, your metabolism slows down so you don’t overheat from the inside. When it’s cold, you start to shiver so the glycogen stored in your muscles breaks down and produces heat to maintain your body temperature. Your body will also auto regulate your blood pressure, as well as your sodium and other mineral levels.
Physiologist Edward F Adolph back in the 1940’s found that however he tried to trick his lab rats, he couldn’t get them to take in more nutrients than usual. He would dilute their food with water and they just drank more of it until they got the same amount of nutrients, and he would even pump food into their stomachs and they would then just eat less.
So why would we humans, the smartest and most evolutionarily successful creatures on the planet, have to expend willpower and consciously regulate how much we eat? The simple answer is that if you feed your body properly, it will regulate consumption for you.
In the 1960’s Ethan Sims conducted experiments where he took prisoners from the Vermont State prison and tried to overfeed them with either carbs or fat on top of their normal diet. He could get them to eat an excess of 7000 calories in carbs per day, yet getting them to eat 800 calories of fat, about 1 stick of butter, took a heroic amount of effort. It takes willpower to overeat if you are on the right diet, but it takes even more willpower to not overeat if you are on the wrong diet
This is the issue. Humans have not had time to adapt to the massive amount of low fiber carbohydrates recently introduced to our diet. The low fiber aspect is important because Fiber reduces the rate of intestinal carbohydrate absorption, reducing the insulin response, and essentially preventing all these problems I just talked about. Way back when we were hunting and gathering and before the cultivation of sweeter and juicier fruit, we were getting about 100 to 300 grams of fiber a day, whereas today the average is more like 15 grams.
So no, the people of Texas and others struggling with their weight are not just lazy, we’ve just had the wrong food and the wrong advice pushed on us the past 40 years. By the way, remember how I said I slimmed up by exercising when I was young? That wasn’t really me, it was my hormones. I went through a massive hormonal change called.. puberty, which slimmed me up and gave me the energy to exercise- not the other way around.
★Credit for some of the information in here goes to Albert Lehninger’s principles of Biochemistry textbook, Gary Taubes’ book “Good Calories Bad Calories,” his other book “Why we get fat”, Robert Lustig’s book “Fat Chance” and Johnathon Bailor’s book “The Calorie Myth”