The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss

The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss by Dr. Jason Fung

The more calories you consume, the more likely you are to gain weight. This idea about weight gain is well known, adopted by many, and… incorrect? In fact, it's just one of many myths floating around about weight loss. The Obesity code digs into this myth and many more: imparting various lessons about weight gain, weight loss, and what you can eat to feel healthier and improve your quality of life.

Myth: Social environment has a huge impact on weight

Fact: Research says, genetics matter more

Where you are has a lot to do with what kind of food you have access to, so it should have a huge impact on how much you weigh, right? Research done by Albert J. Stunkard indicates that this might not be the case. He researched Denmark families with adopted kids, and discovered that the weight of parents and access to junk food weren’t indicators of obesity. In fact, the most important factor which determined whether or not a child would be obese was the weight of their biological parents. Obese parents were more likely to produce obese children. According to Stunkard’s research, genes account for roughly 70% of the likelihood that someone will become obese.

Myth: Weight loss is about cutting calories

Fact: The relationship between calorie intake and weight loss isn’t so simple

Though rates of obesity in America have increased, according to doctor U. Ladabaum in the American Journal of medicine, average calorie intake hasn’t risen. Obesity has risen from 1990-2010 at a rate of roughly .37 percent a year. If calorie intake isn’t increasing, what gives? On the topic of calories, it's important to understand that calories don’t immediately become fat. Fat production is one of the many things your body does with the calories you consume, including: keeping you warm and fueling your brain. Since calories don’t go directly to fat, and there hasn’t been an eating increase that’s causing obesity, there’s another factor which is contributing to obesity: the way people’s bodies use energy. Some people’s bodies use calories for fat, while others develop bigger muscles or bones. If you’re on of the individuals whose body uses calories for fat, you will gain weight eating the same amount as someone who’s body uses them differently.

Myth: Reducing calories is the best way to lose weight

Fact: Reducing calories doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll lose weight - and it can have nasty side effects

It turns out that when you cut calories, your body actually slows down your metabolism. Think about it like this: if you cut calories for a long period of time, and your metabolism didn’t slow down, you would die! Your body’s natural defense is to slow things down to keep you alive. Great for survival, not so great for weight loss. This finding was produced in a study done at the Carnegie Institute in Washington. When participants were put on a diet that significantly cut calories, their bodies changed: but not in a good way. People experienced no weight loss, but their energy fell significantly. When Ancel Keys did research on this in 1945 in a similar experiment, he also discovered there was no weight loss, but participants constantly felt cold, had slowed heartbeats, and decreased brain function.

Myth: Obesity is caused by overeating

Fact: Obesity is caused by high insulin levels

Imagine if, no matter how much you ate, you never felt full. That is the nightmare many people with obesity experience: after eating, they’re still hungry. A significant link between high levels of insulin and obesity has been established. Robert Lustic, endocrinologist and obesity expert, believes it is because insulin controls the release of leptin, which tells your body when it’s full. When the average person eats a meal, their body releases leptin to indicate fullness, so the person can stop eating. However, when an obese person finishes a meal, their leptin levels actually decrease. This is a big problem because it means that people who are obese do not experience fullness, and therefore struggle with being able to stop eating. No matter how much their body fat increases, their leptin remains low. Though the exact link between high insulin levels and obesity still needs research, the idea is important. It explains why those who continuously gain weight can’t stop eating, and why high insulin levels are so heavily tied to obese individuals.

Myth: Dieting shouldn’t be that hard

Fact: For some, changing insulin levels can make dieting feel nearly impossible

When we eat sugar, our body produces insulin. Insulin removes sugar from your blood and puts it into your cells. When you eat lots of sugary snacks your body starts producing more insulin to cope with the increased sugar in the blood. If you eat too much sugar, your cells will eventually become insulin resistant. Cells are no longer receptive to the insulin hormone telling them to accept more sugar, so they start feeling desperate to be fed. This is a two fold problem. First, excess sugar in the blood becomes fat. Second, it creates a vicious cycle: People continue eating but their cells won’t absorb the sugar, so they don’t feel fed. Most people will keep eating for this reason, and generally give up on diets because of how intensely their bodies crave sugar.

A tip to decrease insulin levels (and avoid the scary situation mentioned above) is to snack less. Snacking between meals causes your body to produce medium to high levels of insulin. If you’re snacking all the time, your body is releasing insulin more consistently, increasing the possibility of insulin resistance. Periods of fasting can allow your body periods of no insulin release, but, this is only possible if you fast from 4-5 hours between eating.

Myth: Income has little to do with obesity

Fact: Poverty and obesity are highly correlated

The two cheapest things to produce are refined carbohydrates and sugar. For low income families, these two things can become a dietary staple. They also wreak havoc on insulin levels, and act as the likely culprit for obesity in impoverished areas. The US government has also contributed to the affordability of these items, with a combined total of 41% of subsidiaries going to wheat farmers and corn production. Since vegetables and other healthy foods are less affordable, those with income restrictions reach for the most affordable items - and often unknowingly wreck their health in the process.

Myth: Fats are unhealthy

Fact: Modified trans fats are the real bad guys

Ever heard of a low fat diet? Or using a low fat diet to lower your cholesterol? When researchers discovered a link between high cholesterol and heart disease, they figured cholesterol was related to how much fat you consume… in spite of the fact that none of their research confirmed this. The myth that a high fat diet increases cholesterol is held so tightly that the New England Journal of Medicine in 1981 released a paper about how the two were linked, in spite of the fact that their data did not support it! There isn’t much to back fats as being a problem, but modified trans fats should be avoided. What are they? Think about margarine or some vegetable oils. They come from vegetables, but they’re saturated to extend shelf life. In research done by Dutch Researchers in 1990, modified trans fats were linked to increases in bad cholesterol, with a decrease in good cholesterol.

Myth: Sugar intake is a problem for people who want to avoid obesity

Fact: Sugar and high fructose corn syrup are a HUGE problem for people who want to avoid obesity

First off, the most significant thing you can do to cut down your risk of being obese is cutting out sugar. This sweet little devil increases insulin levels. Since it contains fructose it can only be digested in your liver, thereby causing insulin resistance in your liver. Once your liver is insulin resistant, it turns fructose into fat. High fructose corn syrup is the only thing worse than sugar, because (like the name implies) it’s a more concentrated amount of fructose, increasing the likelihood of insulin resistance, and a fatty liver.

Myth: Coffee is bad for you

Fact: Coffee is great for you

Coffee can do more than give you an early morning jolt of energy, it turns out, it's great for your health too. A 2005 study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition determined that coffee has more positive side effects than negative ones. It is rich in antioxidants, and the magnesium is good for your bones and heart. Further research has possibly linked coffee consumption to a decreased likelihood of diabetes, alzheimers, and parkinson's disease.

So, there are a lot of ways to lose weight. But research shows intermittent fasting, avoiding sugary foods, and slugging a cup of coffee now and can help protect you from the threat of developing weight problems or obesity. Pretty sweet, right?

Summary

The more calories you consume, the more likely you are to gain weight. This idea about weight gain is well known, adopted by many, and… incorrect? In fact, it's just one of many myths floating around about weight loss. Learn why coffee is good for you, the single most determinant factor of obesity, and why cutting calories can lead to a lot of awful outcomes - and no weight loss