The Straight Skinny on Fat
Everyone seems so confused on what and how to eat. There has to be more than 100 different “diets” currently being marketed in the United States. The “obesity industry” will likely top $315 billion this year. But the grim statistic shows that 95% of diets fail and most dieters will regain their lost weight in 1–5 years. Why are these diets failing? And why are we gaining so much weight in the first place? About 5 years ago before my grandmother passed away, I asked her if she remembered seeing obese adults when she was young. She told me it was very rare, the exception; and there certainly were no obese children. Now in 2014, obesity is an epidemic! In 1996, Surgeon General C. Everett Koop declared a “War on Obesity.” Is obesity a cause of our current increase in degenerative diseases, or is it just another symptom of a deeper more complex origin? Is obesity what we are really fighting and should we be fighting anything at all? By the end of this article, I hope that I have answered this and have been able to create a new way of thinking, one that involves awakening every level of your awareness: the mental, emotional, environmental and physical.
Most of the diets currently on the market are based around the calorie in/calorie out model. I am sorry to say it is much more complicated than that. Our bodies have complex regulatory mechanisms for food intake and energy expenditure, so amazing that the complexity continues to astonish scientists and doctors who are seeking to understand these relationships. The more we learn, the more we are humbled by the miracle of our bodies. You are not a single being but rather a community of cells and bacteria that are working together in harmony toward the survival of you. Health, longevity, energy, and aging are all dependent on the communication between the different parts of you and your microbes. This communication is through the use of hormones. Our hormones work together to keep the body in homeostasis, so when the environment of the body changes (weather, food, medications, supplements, chemicals, etc.) the whole hormone system changes, not just one parameter. A disease is never a disease of an individual part. For instance, osteoporosis is not due to lack of calcium; anemia is not about lack of iron; high cholesterol is not a problem of high consumption of cholesterol; diabetes is not a disease of blood sugar, and hypertension is definitely not about salt. Therefore, when you look at weight loss you have to look much deeper than the surface—obviously; it is more than just a calorie in/calorie out model,as those mechanisms fail terribly. Weight loss is in fact about hormones! Hormones tell your body when to eat, when to store fat, and when to increase sugar for energy, as opposed to fat and protein. The system is not a closed system but rather a system of loops and feedbacks that communicate to each other the delicate homeostasis that is required for life. With the right food at the right time this communication and harmony give health and longevity. The very hormonal systems that are in place to help us survive are now, in modern life, creating disease and death. I repeat:
The very hormonal systems that are in place to help us survive are now, in modern life, creating disease and death.
I will explain to you how we have gotten ourselves to this place of seemingly no return, but first let me start with a few definitions.
- Fructose—A monosaccharide sugar found naturally in fruit. Fructose is also 1 of 2 sugars that make up the composition of “sucrose,” aka sugar cane, white sugar, turbinado sugar, evaporated cane juice, table sugar, etc. Fructose is also found in high fructose corn syrup and grains. Vegetables contain very little fructose.
- Hypothalamus—A hormone gland located in our brain that coordinates hormonal and behavioral circadian rhythms. It controls hunger, body temperature, thirst, attachment behaviors, energy and sleep.
- Leptin—A hormone discovered in 1994. It acts as a messenger from stored fat to the brain to signal how much fat is in storage. More fat, more leptin. Leptin sends a signal to the body that the body feels full, or sated.
Hormonal Control of Appetite and Fat Loss
There are many hormones involved in the regulation of appetite including insulin, ghrelin, melatonin, and prolactin, but for the simplicity of this article, I will talk mostly about leptin. I want to emphasize that despite the fact that we have 24-hour fast food restaurants on every corner, our DNA always expects that food will run out soon. Therefore, the only way to survive the coming famine is to have high appetites and store more energy as fat. The problem is we no longer have famines. Through research we have discovered that leptin is responsible for shutting off our appetites. It is secreted by our fat cells and sent to our central nervous system to stimulate a decrease in energy consumption, therefore, the more fat we have the higher amount of leptin we have in our blood. But in modern times it seems like leptin is no longer working, which led to the theory of “leptin resistance.”
Leptin resistance is when the hypothalamus does not respond, no matter how high our leptin level climbs.
How does this happen and why in the world would our bodies do that? One word—fructose. The over consumption of fructose is what creates leptin resistance. Fructose is only metabolized in the liver. Once the liver has received all the energy it needs, the rest of the fructose is turned into triglycerides, sent into the blood to the fat cells for storage. While the triglycerides are in the blood, they prevent leptin from binding to cell receptors in the hypothalamus. Therefore the more fructose you eat the more fat you build and the hungrier you become! Think about it, it’s so easy to eat a pan of brownies, but to overeat the same calorie content of chicken is virtually impossible.
When I learned about this leptin discovery, the first thing I had to do was figure out why our bodies create leptin resistance. Through my research I learned that we are dependent on this leptin resistance, and in fact, this is how we once survived the harsh winters. Before modern times, fructose was only consumed in high amounts during the spring, summer and fall when the high fructose fruits and vegetables were at their peak. Leptin resistance kept our species searching for food during this time to store brown fat for the cold, food-scarce winter that would follow. It also kept our ancestors’ appetites high so they continued eating and slowed their metabolism as they didn’t have to use much energy for warmth or to find food. Summer was a fat storing time. When winter came along and fructose was scarce, leptin resistance was reversed and they went into fat burning mode and metabolism was increased. They needed the higher metabolism for thermogenesis to stay warm and the energy to seek out food. Food was not readily available during this time and those who survived had higher metabolisms and lower appetites. Winter was a fat burning time. I find this interesting because most of our society now lives in the illusion that summer is fat burning and winter is fat storing, but the reality is our bodies are not hormonally aware of how drastic life has changed over the last century. Leptin resistance also slowed thyroid function and decreased fertility. Leptin resistance was meant to be reversed with the natural cycle and never meant to continue on forever. All of these modern day symptoms of “dis-ease” are just the body trying so desperately to follow its natural rhythms that we all so ignorantly ignore.
Symptoms Associated with Leptin Resistance:
- Uncontrolled cravings, especially sweet foods and refined carbohydrates (crackers, chips, etc.)
- Late-night eating
- Stress eating
- Weight gain around the middle
- Inability to reach a goal weight
- Yo-yo dieting
- Thyroid symptoms
Are these symptoms familiar to you? If so, you are probably leptin resistant. There is no drug that could ever manipulate leptin, so there is no impetus for drug companies to study it, hence why I believe most doctors do not know about it.
This is a greatly simplified explanation as there are so many other factors that affect our fat burning and fat storing hormones, one of those factors being sleep and melatonin. The more melatonin production, the more fat burning we experience. The less melatonin we produce, the more fat storing. Longer days = less melatonin = increased body fat. Again, summer is fat storing. The more melatonin we produce, the more fat our bodies will burn. Shorter days = more melatonin = decreased body fat. This is why sleep is so important in order to lose weight and why we must do our best to follow the natural circadian rhythm of the earth. Does insomnia cause weight gain and/or does weight gain lead to abnormal hormones that promote insomnia? In other words, did the chicken or the egg come first? It is very hard to say, however, it does make sense to work on both at the same time in order to balance out the body’s hormonal system. This is why taking a holistic (meaning “whole body”) approach is crucial if we really want to experience healing.
Returning to my earlier question, is obesity the cause of modern day degenerative diseases? NO. Obesity is merely a symptom of the underlying hormonal imbalance that we all have created through industrialization and our modern day life. Our world has drastically changed over the last century, so quickly that our bodies have not been able to adapt. This brings me back to question #2. Should we be fighting this epidemic? I say no. We can try to fight nature but nature will always win. What we need to do is educate ourselves. We can no longer rely on our hormones to properly regulate our appetite and have to begin making educated decisions. We must understand how we got here, learn how to reverse it, and then allow our hormones to regulate. We have to make informed choices that allow our bodies to work as they were intended. If not, we will continue to have symptoms as our bodies try so hard to stay in homeostasis. The real answer is not to start a “fight” or “war” against obesity but rather learn how to return to a life lived in better harmony with nature. Even though our society seems to be progressing in the complete opposite direction, there is a lot we can control and with this knowledge we can try our best to help our bodies stay within the natural circadian rhythms of life and prevent disease and suffering. Next time your doctor tells you diet does not matter and/or natural substances cannot be powerful, I would suggest you run, and run far!
- Shapiro, Alexandra et al. “Fructose-induced leptin resistance exacerbates weight gain in response to subsequent high-fat feeding.” American Journal of Physiology. Nov 2008
- Elliot, Sharon, et al. “Fructose, weight gain and the insulin resistance syndrome.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. November 2002 vol. 76 911-922.
- Pawlak, Laura. Appetite the Brain-Body Connection 1996
- Teta, Jade and Keoni Teta. The Metabolic Effect Diet 2011