Americans became very diet conscious in the 1960s when slogans like “You are what you eat” were popular. Vegetarians got a lot of press for the first time, extolling the virtues of a meatless diet. The “Food Guide Pyramid” was taught in school, recommending 6-11 servings of bread/cereal/rice/pasta; 3-5 servings of vegetables and 2-4 servings of fruit; 2-3 servings of dairy/meat; and “sparing use” of fats/oils/sweets – each and every day:
Statistics demonstrate that Americans dutifully adjusted their food purchases and consumption habits accordingly, as TV commercials pushed high-carbohydrate, low-fat foods – from breakfast cereals to yogurt to just about everything imaginable.
You would think, with all that “good nutrition” going on in the US for the past 50 years, that Americans would be among the most sleek and svelte in the world. However, the opposite is true.
The shocking truth, as presented with excellent dynamic wheel charts by Infogram that:
“Over the last half-century the percentage of obese and overweight Americans has more than doubled.”
That’s right: rather than slim down, people in the US fattened up. I’ve already written about “The Dangers of Obesity” – but how have we come to this state of national obesity?
The answer is simple, yet many people do not want to hear it. The Food Pyramid and the “science” underlying it, are all wrong – in fact, the pyramid is upside down.
Authors like Pulitzer-prize winner Gary Taubes, who wrote “Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It” and “Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health,” looked into pre-WWII German research on nutrition and discovered that obesity is not a thermodynamic function of “energy in equals energy out” at all. A biochemical mechanism is, instead, at work.
That’s right, the national obesity epidemic is not due entirely to the couch potato culture we now cultivate with passive entertainment media like TV and the internet coupled with high-calorie snack foods.
The problem lies with insulin production. When we consume carbohydrates, the body responds by making glucose (blood sugar) and raising insulin levels to process the glucose. Carbs consumed are burned as fuel for the body first. Excess carbs will be stored as fat.
Too many carbs for too long a time period results in good insulin production gone horribly wrong. The body “forgets” how to burn carbs and wants to store them all, distending existing fat cells – and that’s why we get fat. Going on a calorie-reduction diet at this point typically fails because the body believes it is starving and hangs on to those fat cells as long as possible.
What is really interesting, though, is that fat we consume is a better energy source, compared to carbs. According to Human Kinetics:
“Fat is the body’s most concentrated source of energy, providing more than twice as much potential energy as carbohydrate or protein.”
As Taubes put it: “To lose fat, eat fat.” Yes, it sounds contradictory, but recent research is confirming what Atkins and Taubes said decades ago about the relationship between what we eat and obesity.
The astounding news from Intensive Dietary Management (IDM) is this:
“It appears that insulin is not merely associated with obesity but causes obesity.”
Remember, insulin is produced after we eat carbs from any source, be it a fresh, juicy apple or Juicy Fruit chewing gum or fruity Skittles candy.
The biochemical insulin mechanism explains why it is possible for some people to expend very little energy without gaining weight. Likewise, it is not uncommon for those who work out hard on a daily basis to gain weight – and not just because muscle weighs more than fat (which it does). Activity levels are important to good health, but do not relate directly to obesity: diet does.
The fact is that we Homo Sapiens sapiens have been hunter-gatherers for a very, very, very long time. Processed grains, starches, and sugars are brand new on the human dietary timeline.
Our bodies are designed to burn animal fats and proteins as fuel. Carbohydrate sources were rare, historically, which is why we hoard and crave candy even though there are plenty of places to get it and no one will ever really run out of sweets. Our minds know this is true, but our bodies just don’t believe it.
I became addicted to sugar as a child growing up with the food pyramid. For most of my adult life I struggled with overweight and tried countless “yo-yo diets” (lose weight, gain it back, repeat). It wasn’t until I read Dr. Robert Atkin’s first book “The Atkins Diet” that I began to understand that life for a pre-diabetic like me required special nutrition.
The gist of the Atkins philosophy is to eat lean protein and low-starch vegetables and avoid simple carbohydrates such as flour and sugar. I succeeded in going two weeks without any carbs – one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done – to complete the 20-gram daily “induction phase” which would force my body into a fat-burning state.
For the next three years, I gradually added back carbs to my high-protein, high-fat diet as I lost weight gradually. It took that long to break my sugar addiction, but it was worth it.
Now, I know when I’m full and stop eating, naturally. I don’t feel obligated to clean my plate – ever. I can’t even eat an entire doughnut: one bite and my body goes, “Heck no!” as sugar courses through my veins. This from a woman who, when feeling low, used to polish off an entire 9″ square of Sara Lee brownies in one sitting.
Today, I never count a calorie and don’t think much about what I eat and drink since my new regime has become the norm rather than the exception.
Since Dr. Atkins published his then-revolutionary nutritional findings in the 1970s, research has continued along this line. We saw the South Beach Diet, the Paleo Diet, and other low-carb/high-protein+fat regimes influence the average American’s menu.
The ketonic diet, known more simply as the keto diet, also follows this dietary philosophy. It has been described in the 2017 movie “The Magic Pill” as “Atkins on steroids” with its zero tolerance for processed foods containing starches and sugars.
Ruled.me describes a keto diet as “a low carb diet, where the body produces ketones in the liver to be used as energy.”
To the credit of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food Guide Pyramid was renamed MyPlate in 2011 and looks like this, with more equal portions of all the food types:
Still, this nutritional model does not go far enough, in many people’s opinion, to redress the national obesity epidemic. The actual plan looks like the old food pyramid reversed. Meats and dairy products replace sugars and starches:
If you struggle with poor health due to extra weight you just can’t seem to lose and keep off, I strongly suggest you examine the science behind modern low-fat, high-protein/fat diets. If I could break my sugar addiction in late adulthood, so can you, regardless of your age.
You are what you eat. Eat fat to burn fat. Keep the faith – and best wishes for good health!