Overeating is not the main cause of obesity: scientists boldly claim


American scientists, in response to an out-of-control obesity crisis, have released a new model of weight management – a model that is disrupting more than a century of dietary thought.

Scientists claim that overeating is not the main cause of obesity.

Instead, the problem is What we eat – the main culprit being processed, quickly digestible carbohydrates.

These foods cause “hormonal responses that fundamentally alter our metabolism, leading to fat storage, weight gain and obesity.”

Scientists are asking researchers in the field to essentially go back to the drawing board.

The old model may be fundamentally flawed

Losing weight was easy and logical – at least on paper.

All you had to do was reduce the number of calories you get from food and drink and increase the calories expended through physical activity.

This approach, known as the “energy balance” model, indicates that weight gain is caused by consuming more energy than we spend.

Obvious, right?

As the authors write: “In today’s world, surrounded by highly appetizing, heavily marketed and inexpensive processed foods, it is easy for people to eat more calories than they need, an imbalance that is further exacerbated by today’s sedentary lifestyles.

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Therefore, overeating (so many flavors of crisps to try), coupled with a lack of exercise – life on the plains has evolved into life on the couch – is at the root of the obesity epidemic.

The problem is, “despite decades of public health messages urging people to eat less and exercise more, rates of obesity and obesity-related diseases have steadily increased“.

On this basis, either we are deaf to common sense, recalcitrant (why give up such an easy, so cozy way of life?) Maybe it doesn’t tell the whole story.

The researchers, led by Dr. David Ludwig, an endocrinologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and professor at Harvard Medical School, concluded that the “energy balance” has a fundamental flaw.

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“Conceptualizing obesity as an energy balance disorder reaffirms a principle of physics without taking into account the biological mechanisms underlying weight gain,” they found.

What is the alternative?

The authors argue for what they call the “carbohydrate insulin model,” which explains obesity as a metabolic disorder driven by what we eat, rather than how much.

They make some bold statements:

  • Overeating does not cause obesity; the process of magnification causes overfeeding
  • The carbohydrate-insulin model paves the way for more effective and sustainable weight management strategies.

The carbohydrate-insulin model attributes responsibility for the global obesity epidemic to “modern dietary models characterized by excessive consumption of foods with a high glycemic load: in particular, processed and rapidly digestible carbohydrates.”

These foods trigger hormonal responses that fundamentally alter our metabolism, leading to fat storage, weight gain, and obesity.

How it works?

According to the newspaper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the poor quality food we eat makes the brain think we are starving ourselves… making us eat more unhealthy foods.

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How? ‘Or’ What? When we eat highly processed carbohydrates, the body increases the secretion of insulin and suppresses the secretion of glucagon. (Glucagon is a hormone involved in blood sugar control.)

These hormonal responses signal fat cells to store more calories, leaving fewer calories available to fuel muscle and other metabolically active tissue. Indeed, we “starve” ourselves by gorging on bad food.

The brain perceives that the body is not receiving enough energy, which in turn leads to a feeling of hunger. So, we tend to stay hungry even though we keep on gaining excess fat.

If the carbohydrate-insulin model replaced the energy balance model, weight management and the treatment of obesity would be radically different.

It won’t happen anytime soon.

The authors acknowledge “that more research is needed to conclusively test both models and, perhaps, to generate new models that better match the evidence.”


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