Most people have been getting dietary advice all wrong. Eat less, move more works only for some people for a period of time, but it is not solid long-term dietary advice. Low carbohydrate diets again and again show greater weight loss, increase in HDL, reduction in blood pressure, resolving diabetes and metabolic syndrome and also reduce risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer in numerous studies. So why do we still give the wrong information? In the next few articles, we will look at how the body becomes fat and the best performing dietary change for weight loss: a low carb/high fat diet.
Fat Metabolism 101: How Your Body Makes Fat Cells
In society today, obesity is largely blamed on the individual, the result of overeating and too little exercise. But behavior does not always drive weight gain. More than a consequence of poor diet and lack of exercise, obesity is primarily a disorder of excess fat accumulation —not energy balance, not over-eating, not sedentary behavior. The same mechanism that makes our fat cells fat is what makes us fat. A fat person, after all, is a person with a lot of overstuffed fat cells — and what makes our fat cells fat is fundamentally the hormone insulin. Raise insulin levels and we accumulate more fat in our fat cells. Lower insulin and fat is released from the fat cells and the cells of our lean tissue can burn it for fuel.
Research also suggests that an excess of food doesn’t necessarily make people fat or obese. Studies on mice revealed that mice make fat out of their food under the most unlikely circumstances, even when half starved. Eating less slows metabolism. Slowed metabolism means more fat is stored and consequently, weight increases. Every animal experiment has shown that the animals didn’t get fat by overeating.
What does this mean? More than eating too much or too little, fat is regulated by hormones — primarily the hormone insulin.
Insulin is “the principal regulator of fat metabolism” by increasing the non-esterified fatty acids. When insulin is secreted or chronically elevated, fat accumulates in the fat tissue. When insulin levels drop, fat escapes from the fat tissue and the fat depots shrink. We secrete insulin primarily in response to the carbohydrates in our diet.
Insulin does not respond to dietary fat; it responds to carbohydrates and excess protein.
The degree of insulin resistance or sensitivity is a key factor in the equation of fat accumulation, and it explains why type 2 diabetes and obesity often go hand in hand.
What causes an increase in insulin? Insulin resistance is the primary trait of type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance means that the body doesn’t recognize signals from the insulin and therefore tells the pancreas to make even more insulin, leading to chronically elevated insulin levels.
How to lower insulin levels
Excess dietary fructose from added sugars is a leading cause of insulin resistance, but it is not the only cause of elevated insulin levels. Dietary carbohydrates and protein (but mostly carbs) also stimulate an overproduction of insulin. This is why research shows over and over again that eating fewer carbs not only drastically reduces insulin levels, but also results in nearly automatic weight loss.
Lower your carb intake and you will lose weight. Although a low-fat diet can result in temporary weight loss, a diet that is low in carbohydrates will result in greater, sustainable weight loss.
In our next article, we will take a look at how fat cells are made. Stay tuned!
Betty Murray, CN, IFMCP, CHC is a Certified Nutritionist & Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner with the Institute for Functional Medicine, founder of the Dallas-based functional medicine clinic Living Well Dallas and Executive Director of the the Functional Medicine Association of North Texas. A master of the biochemistry of the body, Betty teaches her clients how to utilize nutrition for autoimmune diseases, digestive disorders, MTHFR and weight loss. You can find her book “Cleanse: Detox Your Body, Mind & Spirit” on Amazon here.
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