In October I devoured Good Calories Bad Calories by Gary Taubes, a nutritional masterpiece of sorts, but I’ve yet to share much of the beauty of this book. It is one of the most intelligently written books I’ve ever encountered. Nowhere does it repeat the rhetoric of today’s McNutrition. It seeks, quite objectively, the truth about what causes obesity, type II Diabetes, heart disease, and many of the other most common degenerative illnesses of modern man. With well over 100 pages of references alone, it is one of the most thoroughly researched mainstream books on any subject.
Taubes spent seven solid years researching health and nutrition information spanning centuries and continents, and the most reassuring part is that he had no earthly idea when he began that he would come to the conclusions that he came to. In other words, he didn’t set out to prove a hypothesis by scrounging up research that supported it. He set out, with a clean slate, to find the absolute truth ? and I think he comes about as close as anyone (despite his fatal flaw of confusing consumption of carbohydrates with overconsumption).
With that said, I wanted to bring up one of his more interesting discoveries ? that the obese often display characteristics of calorie-deprivation, and by eating less they merely intensify this state. Let me explain.
The common belief about fat gain and obesity is that it is simple and boils down to calories consumed versus calories burned. The proponents of this theory (almost everyone in the weight loss/dieting/health industry), feel that arguing against this is downright absurd ? the notion being that weight cannot be gained without an excess of calories consumed vs. calories burned and vice versa. Any other theory would have to overcome the laws of physics. The cure for this is of course to, sing along if you know this one, ?eat less and exercise more.
Even if the above hypothesis is true, it doesn’t address why people are hungrier. Of course to say that we eat more because food is more available now is just dumb. Bottomless amounts of food have been available in many cultures, in many eras, and obesity doubling in the last few decades (for the first time in history) certainly can’t be explained by this. To think that we are more sedentary as a country now than we were a few decades ago is also preposterous. There is a higher percentage of office jobs nowadays no doubt, but ?getting lots of exercise? and ?working out? were foreign concepts to mankind just a half century ago. Gym memberships, running, cycling, yoga, exercise equipment sales, fitness magazine circulation ? you name it ? all are currently at an all-time high. Besides, those with office jobs have the lowest obesity rates. Those who earn closer to the poverty line, which includes the majority of our nation’s physical laborers, are by far the fattest.
Fat storage triggers and lack of available calories
I fill up on roughly 2,500 calories in a day because all of those 2,500 calories are available for my body to use, I am never hungry, have plenty of energy, and do not have excessive bodyfat stores. Because my major hormones (insulin, cortisol, adrenaline) are in balance and my metabolism therefore functions properly, all of the calories I ingest are utilized for energy and basic bodily functions. 2,500 calories in, 2,500 calories used, 0 calories stored, and my weight stays stable from day to day, week to week, and year to year. I always weigh within 5 pounds of what I weighed at age 15 (15 years ago). When I drastically increase exercise or decrease food consumption, I lose about five pounds of bodyfat until my metabolism adjusts so I don’t continue wasting away. When I drastically increase food consumption or decrease exercise I gain about five pounds and then the weight gain stops once my metabolism makes an adjustment.
In other words, my caloric consumption and caloric output allow my weight to fluctuate only within the boundaries of my metabolic range, which is very small because I don’t have any excess fat storage triggers in place.
Now let’s look at the scenario when someone stores fat:
Someone with chronically high insulin and cortisol levels, which are triggers of fat storage, will eat 2,500 calories, but a portion of those calories are stored as fat and unavailable. Thus, although we both consume the same number of calories, the other person is starving, tired, and wanting more food (because they aren’t getting as much as I am). They are experiencing the intake of say, 1,800 calories and not 2,500. This is why it’s possible and totally common for people (with willpower that greatly exceeds anything I can even fathom) to exercise and eat as little as 1,000 calories per day and still gain fat. Eating more just makes them gain it faster, which gives the appearance that eating more calories causes more rapid fat storage, but that’s not the core of the problem.
From my experience with calorie restriction while being out in the wilderness for many weeks (~2,000 calories per day while very physically active), I can say, with 100% certainty, that insufficient calories leads to increased hunger, lethargy, insomnia, constipation, irritability, and inability to keep warm ? among other things. Many incredibly thorough and well-documented studies (cited by Taubes) have been done on calorie restriction that are seamlessly congruent with what I’ve discovered to be true. Many of these symptoms are identical to those of hypothyroidism, a state of undersecretion of the thyroid hormones which is yet another trigger of fat storage. I argue that most sufferers of hypothyroidism, suffer not because there is something wrong with the gland itself, but because decreased thyroid hormone is a natural physiological response to calorie-deprivation.
The reason that I bring this up is because many overweight people are truly suffering from too few calories. Many overweight people need to eat more calories to get what they need and therefore feel full. What matters is not how many calories that you put in your mouth, but how many calories are available for bodily function. The idea that people are unhealthy and overweight because they eat too much and don’t get enough exercise is a misunderstanding based on an oversimplification. The truth is that often people don’t feel well enough to exercise and are overly hungry because of a diseased condition in the body that causes calories to be stored as fat instead of being utilized for energy, cellular reproduction, etc. (high insulin alone also causes low blood sugar and therefore hunger and cravings ? especially for sugar, caffeine, and alcohol).
The conclusion is this:
If your food is being stored as body fat, and the hormonal state that is required to mobilize fat tissue is never in place, then you are receiving less nourishment and are very likely to suffer from subclinical malnutrition. Inducing a heightened state of starvation by increasing caloric output or decreasing caloric intake intensifies malnutrition. This in turn also frequently causes fat storage triggers such as hypothyroidism and hyperinsulinemia to intensify. The result is increased appetite (and increased amount of calories needed to feel full), increased lethargy, constipation, and an increased ability to store bodyfat while exercising and eating normal amounts of food. This is yo-yo dieting/exercise. This is why eating less and exercising more is NEVER a long-term, lifelong solution to a fat storage issue.
The answer is patiently feeding the body in a way that restores proper metabolism by lowering insulin and cortisol levels, restores digestion, and thoroughly nourishes the body with proper nutrients, fatty acids, amino acids, and enzymes. This takes time, several months to several years, but is effective for the majority of persons with this illness. The root cause of this problem, and all of the illnesses associated with excessive fat storage, is overconsumption of carbohydrate foods, particularly refined grain, sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, beer, and additive-laden, chemically altered, processed food. There is no reason to fear carbs outright, but ?adjusting the balance? as Sir Robert McCarrison once suggested, is what is needed to achieve and restore good health.
For more information on the dietary and lifestyle specifics of healing the metabolism and nourishing the body please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The work of Endocrinologist Diana Schwarzbein, which I frequently recommend, is also a great reference presented in a simple and realistic format.