You may have seen the recent study saying that the “increased food energy supply is more than sufficient to explain the US epidemic of obesity” (Am J Clin Nutr 2009 90: 145). If it is frustrating to me, not being overweight, I can imagine how frustrating it must be to all those poor people who don’t eat very much and cannot lose weight. Are you one of them? Even if you are not, you may have noticed that there is more to obesity than just counting calories.
The old “calories in = calories out” dogma does get you in the ballpark, but not to home plate. The essential issue ignored by the proponents of this outdated paradigm is that food is not just Energy or calories. Food = Energy AND Information, E&I.
I have talked about this issue ad nauseum in my newsletters and in my lectures (references on demand). The prime example is diet soda pop. Surely you have heard that it also makes people obese. Why? It has no calories; but it does have lots of bad Information: think of artificial sweeteners, and who knows what else they put in their secret formulas.
Processed food is the epitome of lots of Energy and very little Information. Our thermostat in the brain does not do well with poor E&I. In fact, nothing in the Universe does.
Here is a quick review of a powerpoint lecture I just gave in Niagara Falls, Canada, on the neglected issues behind the obesity epidemic:
• Metabolism: just like we have cars with different gas mileage, some of us are more efficient than others.
• TOILing membranes: our cell membranes, the brain of our cells, are Toxic, Oxidized, Inflamed and Lacking in optimal mitochondrial function. This TOILing leads to insulin resistance. Our cells are not getting proper E&I to do what they need to do, particularly in the hypothalamic thermostat.
• Xenohormesis: literally, “foreign control.” Very small amounts of micronutrients and toxins, whether in excess or in over-abundance, can have a profound effect on our cells requirements for E&I.
• Nutragenomics: the E&I in food affect our DNA copying. Even though we may have “obesity” genes,” we may overcome genetic tendencies by eating a good diet.
• Addiction: it is impossible to be thin when we are addicted to refined sugars. The addiction is as strong as a heroin addiction. Anyone trying to help people lose weight must be ready to assume the role of a counselor. Anyone wanting to lose weight must be prepared to go through sugar withdrawals.
• Food Politics: the food industry knows their refined foods are addicting. We cannot lose weight unless we are prepared to face head on the underlying, ubiquitous and relentless advertisement that makes the addiction so socially acceptable.
• Community structures: we drive everywhere we go. Our cities are built for “car standards.” We need to restructure them for “pedestrian standards.”
• Pollution: “persistent organic pollutants,” or P.O.P. are poisoning our cell membranes. One may be overweight, but no diabetes or other chronic diseases develop unless we are carrying too many pollutants. You did not read this wrong: pollutants are making us more obese. Get your doctor to check a GGT level in the liver. If it is pushing the upper limits of normal, you are running out of glutathione, the antioxidant in charge of detoxifying POPs.
• Gut connection: you may be colonized by micro organisms in the gut that are not only changing the way you process calories in the gut, but also screaming at you to keep feeding them sugar and chocolate.
• Thermostat: again, your thermostat may be TOILing. It may need antioxidants like alpha lipoid acid, resveratrol, and omega oils to get back on line. With a healthy thermostat we can “obey our hunger” and be satiated with healthy food. Have you ever seen anybody get fat on nuts, fruits and vegetables?
• “Birds of a feather:” if you hang out with obese people, you are more likely to become obese. This does not mean we should dump them, but that we could all resolve to eat better as a group.
• Mind-body-spirit connection: stress, loneliness, depression are closely related to obesity. We need to look inside our hearts for resolution of physical problems like obesity. In fact, abused children tend to be obese.
• Exercise: ok, this one is talked about, but not enough: you will never look the way you want to, unless you work out 1 hour a day. Sorry to put like that.
• Sex: there are not too many things that motivate people more powerfully than sex. For men this is a “duhhh” issue (for some women, too); for a significant number of men and women, it is a matter of how they look. Rather than hating me for stating the obvious, let us concede that losing weight for purely health reasons may not be as powerful a motivator as sexuality. Being open to more pleasure in sex may motivate many to change the way we eat and tackle the above issues. Let me say it another way: would you refrain from eating that twinkie if you knew that doing so will improve your sex life?
Of course, the amount of calories we eat is relevant. My contention is simply that calories are not the whole story.