Before You Start Loss Weight Process Why We Put On Weight?
if you want to slim down it is worth understanding why we get fat in the first place. The obvious answer, ‘because we eat too much and don’t do enough exercise’, is too simplistic.
It’s like going to a tennis coach to improve your game and being told that all you need to do is
‘win more points than your opponent’. True, but not useful. So why has there been such an explosion in obesity, worldwide, over the last 40 years?
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There are plenty of plausible explanations, including increased anxiety, stress, poor sleep and becoming less active, but top of my list is more snacking and the fact that we are eating lots more junk food – not just more cola, cake, and candy, but refined carbs, up by a whopping 20% since 1980.2 These foods are packed with calories and are highly addictive. Bursting with sugar and processed fats, they play havoc with our hormones, and one hormone in particular: insulin.
Carbs and insulin
The thing about carbs, particularly the rapidly digestible carbs you find in junk food, but also in white rice and most bread, is that they are swiftly broken down in your gut to release a flood of sugar into your blood. The result is instant energy and a brief feel-good sugar ‘high’.But having lots of sugar in your blood is bad for your body because it damages blood vessels and nerves.
So your pancreas responds by releasing a hormone called insulin. Insulin’s main job is to quickly bring high blood-sugar levels back down to normal, and it does this by helping energy-hungry cells, such as those
in your muscles and your brain, to take up the sugar.
But if you’re constantly snacking and doing very little to burn the calories off, your body will become less and less sensitive to insulin. So, your pancreas has to work harder to produce more and more insulin. It’s like shouting at kids. The more you shoot, the less attention they pay. Two bad things now happen:
- Your fat cells become large and inflamed, as your body tries to cram more and more energy into them. At some point, you exceed your ‘personal fat threshold’. There is no space left to store fat safely, so it begins to overflow into your internal organs, such as your liver. This is how the French makes foie gras, their famous liver pâté. They feed geese so much starchy maize that their livers are soon bursting with fat.
This ‘visceral’ fat – which also infiltrates your pancreas and wraps itself around your heart – is much more dangerous than fat on your buttocks or thighs. It leads to something has known as metabolic syndrome, which in turn leads to heart disease, diabetes and dementia.
- Despite carrying around too much fat, you still feel hungry all the time. That’s because you now have high insulin levels, which encourage continuous fat storage. Which means there’s less fuel around to keep the rest of your body going.
It’s as if you’re constantly pouring money into your bank account, and then finding it incredibly hard to get it out again. You have money, but you just can’t get at it. High levels of insulin prevent your body from
accessing and burning its own energy supply.
So, despite the fact that you are carrying around lots of energy in the form of fat, your muscles and your brain can’t easily access it. Deprived of fuel, your brain tells you to eat more. So you do. But because your high insulin levels are encouraging fat storage, you get fatter while staying hungry.
In other words, if you have a weight problem it may not be because you lack willpower or you’re greedy. It is more likely that, as one in three Americans, you are insulin-resistant and therefore have too much
insulin washing around in your blood. Does this sound crazy? What I’m describing is based on the work of
some of the world’s leading metabolic specialists. Dr Robert Lustig, a renowned paediatric endocrinologist who has treated thousands of overweight children, points out in his excellent book, Fat Chance, that understanding insulin is crucial to understanding obesity. ‘Insulin shunts sugar to fat.
It makes your fat cells grow. The more insulin the more fat.’ Dr Lustig blames the modern diet, rich in sugar and refined carbs, for pumping up our insulin levels, a claim supported by many other leading obesity experts, including Dr David Ludwig, a paediatrician from Harvard Medical School, and Dr Mark Friedman, head of the
Nutrition Science Initiative in San Diego. As Ludwig and Friedman have put it: ‘The increasing amount and
processing of carbohydrates in the American diet has increased insulin levels, put fat cells into storage overdrive and elicited obesity-promoting biological responses in a large number of people.
High consumption of refined carbohydrates – chips, crackers, cakes, soft drinks, sugary breakfast cereals and even white rice and bread – has increased body weights throughout the population.
Other damaging effects of raised insulin
you are insulin-resistant and your body is forced to go on producing lots of insulin, this will not only keep you hungry, but it will also contribute to many other diseases. It will increase your risk of developing dementia, breast and bowel cancer, contribute to high blood pressure and raise your cholesterol levels. In women, raised insulin levels to lead to acne, mood swings, excess hair growth, irregular periods (polycystic ovaries)and infertility.
The good news is that, if you change what you eat and lose weight, your insulin levels will come down. Cassie, a nurse with type 2 diabetes who lost 20kg doing the 8-Week Blood Sugar Diet – the key tenets of which are incorporated into the Fast 800 approach – was not only able to come off all medication but soon became pregnant, after many years of trying, with twins!‘You have not only freed me from food and put me back in charge of my life but helped me make a miracle possible – which I thought would never happen.’
The rise and rise of junk food
The fact that we now eat so many refined and sugary carbs, and eat them so often, isn’t an accident. It was an unintended consequence of the low-fat campaign, the biggest and arguably the most disastrous public health
experiment in history.
What I didn’t understand – because they don’t teach you much, if anything, about nutrition at medical school – was the effect these foods were having on my body. Eating a boiled potato will push your blood sugars up as quickly as eating a tablespoon of sugar (I’ve tried it!). Ironically, if you eat the potato with fat, such as cheese or butter, the fat will slow absorption and the blood sugar peak will be slower and less extreme.
Nor had I appreciated that carbs, particularly refined carbs, are so much less satiating than fat or protein. You have a bowl of cereal for breakfast and a few hours later you are hungry.
So you have a snack. On my high-carb diet, I was constantly hungry, so I was snacking all the time. And that was keeping my overworked pancreas busy pumping out insulin – which, as we have seen above, was making me fatter and fatter.
Why snacking makes us fat?
People used to believe in the quaint idea of ‘not eating between meals’.In the 1970s, before the modern obesity crisis, adults would average four and a half hours between meals, while children would be expected o last about four hours. Like flared trousers, those times are long gone.
Now the average window between meals is down to three and a half hours for adults and three hours for children, and that doesn’t include all the drinks and nibbles. The idea, which has come to dominate, is that ‘eating little and
often’ is a good thing. This idea was driven by snack manufacturers and it was and, incredibly, still is supported by some dieticians.
The argument goes that it is better to eat lots of small meals – anything up to six a day (i.e. breakfast, lunch and supper along with mid-morning, afternoon and bedtime snacks) – because that way we are less likely to get hungry and gorge on high-fat junk. That’s the theory. In the real world, people do the opposite.
Compared to 30 years ago, not only do we eat around 180 calories a day more in snacks – much of it in the form of milky, sweetened drinks and smoothies – but also more when it comes to our regular meals, an average of 120 extra calories a day. In other words, the more we snack the more we eat overall.
Eating throughout the day, from when we first wake to that little treat the last thing at night, is now so normal that it is almost shocking to suggest doing the absolute opposite. In other words, fasting.
The modern obesity epidemic wasn’t triggered by a collective breakdown in willpower in the late 1970s. It happened because food manufacturers have found more and more ingenious ways to make us buy their products. Like the tobacco industry, they know how to hook and hold their customers. Junk food is clearly not addictive in the same way that cocaine is, but it shares some of its qualities.
The pleasure you get from it is normally very short-lived. It is about compulsion. We eat junk food knowing it is bad for us. We do it because we can’t stop ourselves. The purveyors of junk food like to claim that it’s ok to have ‘a little bit of everything’ or ‘everything in moderation’. You wouldn’t say that about arsenic.
I love chocolate, particularly milk chocolate. My cravings for chocolate have nothing to do with hunger. There are times when I can be ravenously hungry, be in a supermarket, and find it easy to walk past the prominently displayed racks of chocolate. There are other times, particularly late at night, when I find myself prowling around our kitchen, looking in cupboards for the stash of chocolate that I think Clare may have left somewhere.
I have bought a bar of chocolate in a motorway service station, thrown it into the back seat to stop myself wolfing it down, then pulled into the next service station to eat it. I have broken up a chocolate bar and thrown it in a bin and then, minutes later started to root around in that bin. A particularly low point was when I ate my six-year-old
daughter’s Easter egg.
Don’t tell me this behaviour is normal. These cravings are strongest late at night when I am tired, but also when I am stressed, upset or simply bored. I have tried to wean myself onto dark chocolate, but that doesn’t fulfil the same emotional needs.
I am a chocoholic and suspect I will always be. Which are the most addictive foods and why?
Some people claim that sugar is addictive, but even a moment’s thought will show you that can’t be true. I love sweet treats but even I did routinely bury my face in a bowl of sugar.
I recently tried eating a small bowl of sugar and began to gag halfway through the first tablespoon. It is not an experience I want to repeat.
So what is it that so many addictive foods have in common? In 2015, researchers from the University of Michigan decided to find out.5 They got 120 students, offered them a choice of 35 different foods, and asked them to fill in the Yale Food Addiction Scale, a measure of how addictive you find a particular food.
The foods were then ranked from 1 to 35 by the students. Not surprisingly, top of the list of ‘most addictive foods’ was chocolate, followed by ice cream, French fries, pizza, biscuits, chips(i.e. crisps), cake, buttered popcorn and cheeseburgers. Somewhere in the middle were cheese, bacon and nuts, while at the bottom were salmon, brown rice, cucumber and broccoli.
When you look at the list below, what strikes you? The first thing is that the highly addictive foods are also highly processed foods, designed to be absorbed very rapidly and give your brain an almost immediate dopamine (the reward hormone) rush. In addition, they are the sort of foods that are heavily advertised, particularly to children.
But the thing that really sets them apart is that they are a mixture of of fats and carbs. And not any old mixture. Broadly speaking, whether it is chocolate or crisps, cake or cheeseburger, they are all made up of roughly 1g fat to 2g carbs. It is a ratio that we seem to find particularly irresistible.