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Wrapping Our Minds

Can we wrap our minds around a new paradigm?

The paradigm is actually not new: it was first articulated in recent history by Gary Taubes, in Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat. (Read one of Taubes’ books for the historical references to the earlier expressions of the concepts.) The paradigm has been a challenge for people to grasp, because it suggests that overeating is the consequence not the cause of obesity, as the title of this JAMA viewpoint article suggests. That’s right!

NOT: you are overweight because you overeat.

RATHER: you overeat…because you are overweight!

WHY then, you may ask, are you overweight?

Ahah, that is the crucial question. For decades the daring of overweight people to eat normal amounts of food has earned them the judgment of “gluttony and sloth”, from their friends, physician and the general public. You are a rare person indeed if you have not thought or said, “If that overweight person would just eat a little less, move a little more, this wouldn’t be a problem.”

But what if it is not how much one eats, but actually the nature of what one eats that determines whether the body stores fat or burns it? What if different kinds of food are responsible for tipping the body into “fuel storage” mode, on one hand, or “fuel burning” mode on the other. Certain foods, namely sugars, do indeed promote insulin production. Insulin just happens to direct fuel to storage depots in our fat cells, standing guard so no fat can escape (be released into the bloodstream for use as fuel) until the sugar signal disappears.

There are many complications, refinements, and qualifications to the model – such as what happens when sugars and insulin are chronically high – but the rationale of the hormonal orchestration of fat storage starts with insulin.

Next time you are hungry, when really it wasn’t that long ago that you ate, ask yourself if you ate just enough sugar at that last meal to send all your body’s fuel into storage, leaving you unexpectedly and prematurely hungry. Happens to heavyweights all the time.

What do you think, is the world ready for a new paradigm?

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