What makes us fat ?

lose weight

After my last post on the failures of calorie restriction I am sure there are many people wondering how to lose weight if we don’t follow a sustained calorie cutting diet ? To lose weight effectively we first need to understand what makes us fat. Yes – eating junk ( which includes all processed foods) , we know that – but what does the junk do to our bodies that causes a long term battle to correct it ?


Understandably it’s difficult to leave the calories in calories out (cico) myth behind us because dietitians , doctors , fitness trainers world over with an inadequate understanding of the aetiology of obesity are still drumming this BS into our brains. Eat less, exercise more and yet there is no doubt that this advice is failing.

I have heard many stories from patients when questioned about their dieting history, familiar and sad tales.


 Years of yo-yo dieting on calorie restrictive diets. Feelings of inadequacy and failure spawned by the creators of diets and fitness programs.

fat body
another prevailing myth ! Exercise more, eat less !

The fault is YOURS ! You’re not sticking to the diet , you’re cheating , you’re eating too much , you’re not exercising enough. I’ve heard it all. There are thousands of people rigidly sticking to calorie restrictive diets finding that their weight won’t budge. But NOBODY has told them that in order to lose weight , you HAVE to address the hormonal imbalance that caused the weight gain in the first place.


Studies that have been done with diabetic patient have shown that weight gain  occurs in the presence of high insulin doses. Over a period of 6 months diabetics were given increasing amounts of insulin to control their blood glucose levels. In spite of the average patient decreasing calorie intake by on average 300 calories per day ! 

How is this relevant to non diabetics who are not being injected with insulin? Well, insulin is a hormone naturally found in our bodies. It is a hormone that is important for metabolism and utilization of energy from the ingested nutrients, especially carbohydrates.The body breaks down or converts most carbohydrates into the sugar glucose. Glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream. Insulin plays a number of roles in the body’s metabolism, including an increase in the fat cell uptake of fatty acids from the blood.

Our Western diets are loaded with glucose. Apart from the added sugars that we find in processed-foods (1)processed foods and soft drinks, many of the “normal” foods we eat convert to glucose in the body. Potato, bread, rice, pasta – these all convert to glucose. One cup of cooked spaghetti contains the equivalent of 10 spoons of sugar! Let’s pick a “healthy” example – a slice of low GI seeded brown loaf contains the equivalent of 8 spoons of sugar! These carbohydrate rich foods all require large amounts of insulin to metabolise them.

If our bodies can only use a teaspoon of glucose at any one time, what is happening to the rest of the glucose we are pouring into our bodies? We need to take the glucose out of the blood stream because too much glucose in the blood is damaging, so under the influence of insulin, the excess glucose is stored as fat.

The more carbohydrate we eat, especially the refined carbohydrates, the higher the glucose in our systems and the more insulin we need.This sustained high level of insulin results in the cells in the body becoming resistant to the insulin.

Certain cells in the body, especially those in the liver, muscle and fat tissue, contain what we call insulin receptors. Imagine a door lock and key. The receptors are the lock and insulin is the key.  These receptors respond to insulin, the key to the door, opening the cell membrane to allow glucose into the cell. With an endless onslaught of insulin hammering away at the lock, the key no longer fits well and the door does not fully open. We therefore have less glucose entering the cell and the cell in turn signals that it is starved for glucose. As a result the body produces more insulin (the keys) and the cell is eventually able to get enough glucose.

IRAs we develop resistance, our bodies increase the insulin levels to get the same end result – glucose in the cell.  However, this results in ever increasing levels of insulin and so a cycle of ever increasing resistance and higher insulin secretion develops.


Insulin resistance = high insulin levels = increased body weight

But why are we eating so much carbohydrate then ?

In 1977, an American committee of the U.S senate led by George McGovern published the first Dietary Goals for the US in order to reverse the epidemic of heart disease in the country. This is when this whole charade of a “healthy” diet of Low Fats and high Carbs started. Fat had been vilified by an American scientist Ancel Keys who did an observational study in 1958 known as The Seven Countries Study. The study was to examine the association between diet and CVD (cardiovascular disease) in these different countries. So in short the study revealed that the countries where fat consumption was highest had the most heart disease, supporting the “idea” that dietary fat caused heart disease.

ancelThe problem was that Keys left out countries like Holland and Norway where they consumed a lot of fat and had very little heart disease and he also left out countries like Chile where people had a lot of heart disease, but did not consumed lots of fats. In fact he had reliable data from 22 countries and the results were all over the place. But Keys decided to look at the data that only fitted he’s theory and this was the data from the only 7 countries he used. His reward? He became the “father” of Lipid Hypothesis which claimed that eating saturated fats raises high cholesterol in your blood and high cholesterol in your blood clogs your arteries and causes heart disease. This observational study of Keys obviously gained massive media attention and had a major influence on the dietary guideline of the next few decades.

Prior to 1977 our nutritional guidelines were passed down by our mothers, not the government ! Everybody knew that sweets and starchy carbs added weight.Suddenly all the foods we previously knew would add on the pounds became acceptable, even sugar, as long as we laid off the saturated fat! And where have these dietary guidelines left us ? See the graph below – in a fat, sad ,sorry state.


Exercise it off !

hadzabeFat people are frequently accused of being lazy. The idea is that if they got off their butts and did some activity, their weight would decrease. This is yet another pervasive and unhelpful myth that has often left overweight people feeling demoralised. Looking back through human history we can see that exercise did not feature in a significant way ( if at all) Some argue that our ancestors were more active than we are. That our cars and desk jobs have contributed to our burgeoning waist lines. Herman Pontzer, a researcher and professor of Anthropology, found that the Hazda, a hunter gatherer society in Tanzania expended no more calories walking miles in a day than the average modern day desk worker.

We found that despite all this physical activity, the number of calories that the Hadza burned per day was indistinguishable from that of typical adults in Europe and the United States

outrunFurthermore data shows that there has been an overall INCREASE in physical activity in the U.S adult population. As obesity has increased so too has exercising in an attempt to lose weight and yet obesity numbers continue to rise.

In the words of Dr Jason Fung “There is no measurable association between obesity and physical activity.  I’m not saying exercise is not good for you.  It just doesn’t work that well for weight loss

We only believe that exercise is effective for weight loss because it has been drilled into our heads since primary school.  The relationship simply does not exist.  Somebody thought it sounded good, but the evidence simply does not back up this relationship.”

Jason discusses the exercise myth and why exercise is not effective for weight loss in far more detail on his blog and I highly recommend you read what he has to say.

So what is the bottom line here ? Obesity is caused by high insulin levels that result from a diet high in processed carbohydrates. In order to reverse the problem we need to target the cause – which is not calories , not lack of exercise but high insulin levels and the resulting insulin resistance.



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