Seasonal Calorie Dislocation Syndrome

January 28, 2013

Calorie Seasonal Dislocation Syndrome – The Real Cause of Obesity 

 Reference:  Personal Hypothesis 

 Ok, have some fun with this one.  But it is actually serious.  I’m not sure this is the final name we should be calling it but follow this train of logic.  We are all increasingly overweight which leads to disastrous consequences, personally, medically and nationally.  I am well aware of processed carbs, trans fats, inactivity, and all the myriad "causes" of obesity.   But hear me out.  Here is another suggested explanation that may be partially to blame. 

 Our historical diet, prior to agriculture, had seasonal cycles to it.  We typically would have 6 months of wet and warm weather followed by 6 months of dry or cold.  During dry or cold, our calories likely came more from animal sources.   At the end of each wet and warm season, we would find calorie-rich plant-based foods.  Today to call those foods apples, pears, potatoes, corn, wheat, squash.  When we found an apple tree, our job was to eat as many apples as we could in the few days that tree was ripe and before the next band of predators would chase us away.  When you are gorging on apples, you are eating more calories than you need.  The calories you are eating are also mostly carbohydrates.  

Now, it makes sense to posit that putting on some weight would be a useful feature for those creatures that are looking at a 6 month cycle of fewer calories that stay still and are easily gathered.  Animals don’t like to be “harvested” and tend to be harder to catch than a pumpkin. Putting on weight is a great strategy at the beginning of winter.  It helps you survive the 6 months of relative calorie deprivation.  Many mammals do that with fierce determination – polar bears being the most obvious.  

Packing on weight in anticipation of that 6 month period would be something for which the human organism would be well served to do.  Hence, insulin plays a very strong role. When we see carbohydrates, we are getting the signal that it is the end of summer, and winter is coming.  Carbohydrates are only going to be around for about 2 months, so pack it on.  You will make it through the winter if you save enough.  Those who avoided the carbs in hunter gatherer days, would have had a much harder time making it through winter. 

 The conundrum is obvious.  We aren’t hunter gatherers anymore.  We don't experience a biological equivalent of winter calorie deprivation.  Our carbohydrates are available year around. We have “dislocated” the timing of the delivery of foods to our body. That dislocates our endocrine response.  We have carbs available to us year around.  You want apples in February?  No problem.  We get them from Chili.  You want corn in April?  It’s in the freezer.  You want bread in March – we have huge storage silos of wheat. This underlines the critical role our macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrates) play as ENDOCRINE signals, as much as calories and building blocks.  The seasonal pattern of our historical past is now disrupted.  We have carbohydrates year around.  Our endocrine response is thereby to store calories, year around. 

 WWW. What Will Work for Me.  I’m making an experiment with myself.  One month on Atkins is now done.  I’ve lost 11 pounds.  I was never hungry.  My blood sugar dropped from 112 to 72 in four days.  And has stayed there.  I’m bored to tears with the lack of variety.  But I’m not hungry.  It is winter.  I’m doing what my ancestors did in January.  But, oh, for May when the greens show up.  I think I may start back on greens a bit sooner.  I’m fascinated that my endocrine system changed my blood sugar in just 4 days so dramatically.  And I never felt hungry all month.  

Column written by Dr. John E. Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI