We get fat because....? We never have winter

May 19, 2014

We Get Fat Because….?  We never have winter

 Reference:  Ludwig JAMA  May 16 2014 

 You have heard it said a hundred times.  “You are fat because you overeat!”   That means the flaw is in you.  You don’t have enough willpower.  You must be lazy as well as glutinous.  We quote the laws of thermodynamics and tidily wrap it up with the stock phrase, “Calories in, calories out.”   The only problem is, it doesn’t work.  It’s not true.   For all of us who have tried to lose weight, and can’t, it is because it isn’t true.  We’ve had it exactly, immutable, precisely backwards. 

 That’s what Ludwig is arguing in this editorial in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association).  The idea is now hitting mainstream if it’s showing up in JAMA.  The implications should be huge.  We need to redo all of our concepts of calories in and out.  Most of all, we need to recognize that how we get fat.  Then we need to redo 100% of our flawed national guidelines in the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, the American Dietetic Association and every other "backwards" advice source that doesn't work, and perpetuates disease and misery. 

 Here is the simplest explanation of what Ludwig is arguing.   Insulin is your strorage hormone, designed to put calories into storage when they are abundant.  It reacts to glucose calories that come from carbohydrates.  Carbohydrates are foods that are abundant at the end of the growing season.   What follows is the "starvation season" (winter or dry season).   Throughout human history, insulin served us well as we were meant to pork up  and gain weight when carbs were around so that we would have adequate calories to tide us through the following season of no carbs.  

Our seasonal year first had green plants for the first 3-4 months which are high in fiber, nutrients, minerals, protein but low in carbs (think broccoli, spinach, asparagus, kale). Along comes civilization and the growing of crops we store and save for year round use.  In the modern world, we have carbs around all the time.  We put out insulin to store those carbs every time we eat that because that's what our bodies were designed to do with carbs.  Our fat cells get bigger.  They become insulin resistant.  Our insulin level rises.  We store calories all the easier as our insulin goes up.  Our fat cells get more and more bloated, our insulin rises higher and higher, we get fatter and fatter.  Round and round and round we go.  

And then we blame you. How do you get off this bus?  You have to get rid of insulin and calm its effects. The only way to do that is to simulate the season that follows summer and fall with the abundance of carbs. That season would be …?   Winter!   (Or dry season if you are in Africa).  The only calories around for the next four-six months will be meat and fat.  Meat runs away when it sees you coming, looking hungry.  So you don’t always eat.  To survive, insulin disappears and your fat cells get the message, “It must be that time of year we share our calories.”  They open up.  You get those calories flooding into your system, providing the fuel you need.  You feel fine.   You have enough energy to chase down that kudu (elk, deer, bison, gnu, llama) by running after it for 20 miles until it drops from heat exhaustion.  You lose weight.  

That’s the teleological explanation – based on how our body would need to perform throughout most of human history prior to our learning to grow carbohydrates. That explanation also fits precisely with what our body does when we go on a low-carb diet.  It has to be low enough in carbs for our body to believe it’s winter, and not have a shred of stimulation to put out insulin.  It may take drastic effort at first to break the insulin resistance we are caught in by the nature of our accumulated obesity. 

 But did you get the change in direction?   It’s our HORMONES that drive our behavior.  We eat carbs (the wrong food if you want to lose weight, the right food if you want to gain weight) that change our hormones.  That’s what comes first.  It’s not a flaw in your personality that comes first, it’s eating the wrong food.  That drives up insulin and you drive calories into storage, and don’t have them to burn.  The direction is thus:  wrong environment (free carbs) comes first, increased appetite and storage hormones come second, behavior inexorably driven comes last.  (And anyone who argues that hormones don’t drive behavior haven’t watched teenagers anytime recently) 

 WWW. What will work for me?   This is easy.  Now that the lights are on.  Ludwig is our most brilliant advocate and prophet.  My addition is to recognize the seasonality of food.  We were designed to survive in wicked world that kept throwing drought, dry or freezing cold seasons of prolonged calorie shortage, alternating with carbohydrate abundance.   If you want to lose weight, you have to intentionally and carefully manage your hormones and recreate winter.  (Just skip the living outside in the snow part.)  In winter, you just eat meat and fat.  That’s it!  Do it every year for three –four months and make up for the gains of the prior eight.  If you gain too much, you might need a longer winter.     

Balanced diet is a bunch of hooey.  If you want balance, eat your hearts out on green plants, the kind that ripen in May (asparagus, spinach, kale).   

 Pop Quiz 

 1.  Human history designed us to eat carbs year around?  T or F                   If you said T, go back to square one and read this article over again. False.  Through the vast majority of human history, we got carbs only at the end of the growing season, and that signaled our body that winter was coming soon. 

 2.   Humans make it through a starvation period better is they have more calories stored.  T or F                      Answer:  True 

 3.  Insulin is your storage hormone.   T or F                     Answer:  True.  Repeat.  It is your STORAGE hormone.  Not your glucose-controlling hormone.  We have had its teleological use confused and backward, much to our suffering. 

 4.   We gain weight easily when we eat asparagus and broccoli.  T or F                   Answer:  False.  Again, that's your spring veges and you don't signal your body that starvation is coming.  You don't need to gain weight in May.   Bears don't.   They wait till September. 

 5.    The concept of a balanced diet with equal parts of carbs, veges, and meat is sensible - all things in moderation.  T or F                       Answer:  False as it can be.  Brought to you by the American food industry through the channels it can manipulate and give money too. 

 6.  The Paleo diet makes more sense now.  T or F True - but only in the bigger picture.  It doesn't take into account the seasonality of our lives and environment.  I suspect it leads to eating too much meat all the time.  We are likely better off eating more veges more of the time. (Eat Food, Mostly Plants, Not too Much - Michael Polan)