The question I promised to answer in last week’s self-starvation experiment saga was “why are we so hungry if we’re eating more than ever before?” This is one of the biggest questions of the 21st century, and the correct answer may hold the key to unlocking the entire degenerative process that began at the dawn of carbohydrate refining.
Most people agree that the cause of the Diabesity epidemic (a great term that I stumbled across, as the two, type II Diabetes and obesity, often go hand in hand) is eating too much and exercising too little. But as anyone who has read more than a few paragraphs of this blog knows, my opinions differ. I certainly see this ballooning phenomenon having far more complexity.
It is clear that Americans, as well as many people in many countries across the globe, are eating more calories. In the past few decades caloric intake, according to national data, has gone up by a few hundred calories per person per day. How accurate this is I know not, but this caloric increase accompanies an increase in the consumption of carbohydrates (not fats or protein), particularly refined sugar. Current estimates put sugar consumption, from all sources, at about a half a pound per day per person – even higher amongst young kids. This folks, is insane, and is by far, without comparison, the biggest and most significant dietary and lifestyle change the human being has perhaps ever undergone.
But few have differentiated between refined carbohydrates like sugar and white flour and unrefined carbohydrates like legumes, whole grains, and root vegetables – historically the staples of some of the most disease-free human beings ever discovered. To make matters worse, many who have differentiated between refined and unrefined carbohydrates got it all wrong, thus leaving the accurate theory originally proposed by a really smart dude named Peter Cleave all but completely forgotten. One of the first was Denis Burkitt, who came up with a theory that sent the whole world off on a tangent that has led absolutely nowhere. That tangent? That the removal of the fiber from carbohydrate foods was the problem, and that we only needed to get more fiber in our diets in order to offset the refined foods, the more the better. But that turned out to be totally wrong. Fiber, in and of itself, does not have any known beneficial function as confirmed by over a half dozen major epidemiological studies, doesn’t protect us from any disease, even colon cancer , and has tortured many people with poor digestion (caused, at the core, by refined carbohydrates).
More recently the Glycemic Index has emerged, which is on the right track but almost totally off-base overall. The GI measures the increase in blood glucose levels caused by the ingestion of 50grams of carbohydrate from various sources ranging from white bread and table sugar to pumpkin, potatoes, and frijoles negroes. The GI’s two fatal flaws are elaborated upon in a previous post, “Glycemic, more like Stupidemic, Right?” One of the things the GI doesn’t take into account is that insulin secretion and blood sugar rise aren’t always the same. Anything containing fructose, a type of sugar molecule (as in high-fructose corn syrup, the sweetener that the food processing industry has turned to), causes a small rise in blood sugar but a huge spike in insulin. Fructose, being unique in that it is metabolized by the liver before being converted to glucose in the bloodstream, wreaks havoc on the liver, depresses important hepatic enzymes such as CoA and Co-Carnitine (both of which are known to inhibit excess body fat accumulation), and, most importantly:
Any substance that causes a larger rise in insulin than the relative rise of blood sugar results in excess insulin circulating in the bloodstream (hyperinsulinemia). This can be very problematic.
Insulin is a storage hormone (and has countless other functions), and hormonally unlocks cells in the muscles and liver to rid the bloodstream of excess sugar and thus maintain a healthy blood sugar level. Too much insulin in relation to sugar causes too much sugar to be stored in the cells, which leads to low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia). Don’t get lost now, because this is huge…
Low blood sugar levels cause hunger. When blood sugar levels are too low the body and brain are literally starving. Even if you just ate 1,000 calories, if low blood sugar ensues a few hours later, your body is starving of its most essential fuel source. In a nutshell, increased hunger is often caused by high insulin levels.
In addition to that, when insulin levels spike really high – like they do on a large Coke, it causes an outpouring of adrenal hormones (a stress response). And as Robert McCarrison observed, high adrenal hormone levels are usually associated with an atrophied thyroid gland. This is significant because not only is insulin a building, fat-storage hormone (without it we’d wither and die no matter how much we ate), but the thyroid regulates metabolism, and the atrophy associated with high insulin levels means a slowing down of the metabolic rate.
Based on last week’s post about my starvation experience, as well as those of many men who partook in one of two major studies done on human starvation, accompanying the slowing down of the metabolic rate is a relentless preoccupation with food. As the metabolism slowed, the men, myself included, became obsessed with food, complained of constant hunger, and overate once normal amounts of food became available – up to 8,000 calories a day without satisfaction despite being physically incapable of ingesting more. This accompanied rapid accumulation of body fat. More on this study can be found at Tim Ferriss’s blog.
Simplified, the reason we’re hungrier than ever before despite eating increasingly more (Mickey D’s portion sizes are like 3 times as big as they once were – and will continue to grow I guarantee you), is because insulin levels are too high due to repeated ingestion of refined sugar. When insulin levels become elevated, we begin to store fat much more easily, especially once our bodies start revolting to this excess insulin by becoming “insulin resistant.”
Insulin resistance is a phenomenon where insulin stops working to store sugar, and blood sugar levels remain high – the last step on the way to full-blown type II diabetes (where the blood is oversaturated with sugar all the time). It also causes our metabolic rate to slow down over time. This makes us capable of gaining weight on a smaller amount of food while at the same time making us even hungrier.
We’re not getting fatter because we are lazier than ever. Humans have always been lazy. We are not eating larger portions and able to down 44 ounce sodas in a matter of minutes because we’re more gluttonous than ever. We’ve always been gluttonous. We’re getting fatter and hungrier, as a species, because of a pronounced physiological imbalance that is caused, at the core, by insulin-spiking refined carbohydrates, especially white table sugar and high fructose corn syrup (beer is also worth mentioning). What we inherit from our parents, genetically and otherwise, determines the speed, the severity, and the ways in which this imbalance manifests (as obesity, as tooth decay, as autoimmune disorders, as ADD, as Autism, as digestive problems, as acne, as asthma and allergies, as arthritis, as cancer, as diabetes, as heart disease, as high blood pressure, as neurological malfunction – or a combination of several of these). But look no farther as to the root cause. None of this existed, just as none of these problems exist for wild animals with rare exception, prior to the widespread use of refined sweeteners.
Refined sugars are the root cause of the degenerative process, but there are of course many other factors that exacerbate it – too many to mention in full. The most important and compelling ones, in my current opinion (known to change hourly), are:
Calorie-restricted dieting and meal skipping – Causes increased hunger, greater decrease in metabolism, and an even greater increase in hunger and fat-storing ability. Signals famine and is probably the best long-term way to store fat ever discovered.
Artificial sweeteners – Cause an insulin response but no rise in blood sugar, a virtual guarantee for low blood sugar, increased appetite, especially for sugars, and a slowdown of the metabolic rate.
Refined grain – By themselves they have trouble getting everyone all aboard the hungry hippo train (sorry for the medical terminology here, just try your best to follow along). All modernized nations eat refined grain as a staple, but the ones who eat less sugar are much healthier, like France and Japan, who eat far fewer calories as a result (less hunger). Much more sugar though, and those refined grains will exacerbate fat gain and they will begin getting lung cancer from all those cigarettes just like Americans do.
24-7-365 fruit availability – Fruit contains fructose. This is a type of sugar that has a symbiotic relationship with its eaters in nature. Not only does it taste good so that we’ll eat it and spread the fruit’s seeds, but contains a mechanism for keeping the eater coming back for more. Fructose stimulates hunger (for more sugar especially) and triggers fat storage and reproduction (one reason why 8-11 year old girls menstruate and have bezongas now – again, apologies for the medical terminology – average age of first menstruation was 17 a century ago — the amount of fructose eaten ffrom refined sugars causes this, not blaming this on fruit mind you). This all works out great when fruit is seasonally available, right before winter, helping us to fatten up before hibernation. When it’s available all the time it causes us to be ‘storing up for winter’ hungry, crave sugar (when surrounded by an ocean of chocolatey treats), and develop insulin resistance like bears do for optimal fat storage. That’s why the food industry’s use of white sugar (50% fructose) makes us hungry and crave more of the same. The switch to high-fructose corn syrup has made the food industry even more money.
Television, video games, and computers – Looking at bright flashing lights late at night (like I am right now) triggers an undesirable hormonal response. Insulin levels remain high instead of converting to melatonin, which is delayed because your body is tricked into thinking it’s still daylight. This kind of bizarro-sounding theory is actually well understood and well documented, both in animal subjects and in humans — federally sponsored and recorded n’ everything right down at the National Institutes of Health in D.C. It is undoubtedly significant, the question is how significant. The correlation between hours in front of the television and pounds overweight is actually quite remarkable, but it’s not because of physical inactivity like most suckaz think it is.
Stress – Stress, defined here, is anything that causes an outpouring of stress (adrenal) hormones – not just worrying about things, but out-of-breath exercise, caffeine, alcohol, and many more. This, as mentioned above, leads to lowered metabolism and you know the rest. Exercise does help burn glucose and reduce insulin resistance and obesity, but repercussions are felt when exercise stops or decreases if the level of exertion is metabolically damaging. The pace of your breath is the best indicator of whether or not undue damage is being done. Non-endorphin triggering exercise/movement is highly beneficial.
Flavor enhancers – Strong flavor enhancers, such as those used in packaged and corporate-restaurant food, can form strong flavor-calorie associations, especially when those flavors are bound to rapidly-digested, calorie-dense foods (which they always are). Just eating homecooked meals and unseasoned food may be of tremendous significance. Psychologist and fellow human guinea pig Seth Roberts, has actually found completely flavorless calories to be a very substantial appetite controller and weight-loss tool, the merits of which I’m currently experimenting with right now.