Calories don't drive obesity, it's hunger - a rant

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Who is to blame?

The food industry and nutritional guidelines successfully convinced us that we can eat anything, if we just eat in moderation and exercise to keep the energy in balance. Or even go for a simple calorie deficit to lose weight. Sounds easy enough.

Well, the reality is, it's not easy. Healthy people can get away with a lot, but according to a study the majority of the population is metabolically sick (88%). Many are obese and type 2 diabetic. They cannot eat anything they want in moderation. Eating the exact same amount of food, same macros, same exercise, they will gain weight while their lean friends maintain it.

The counting calories lie is so ingrained in our society, that it is hard to unlearn. Obese people are shamed for having no restraint on food. Obese people are expected to stop eating despite still being hungry. A concept that would not fly for healthy people.

The reality is, it is less important how many calories we eat, but what the body does with the energy. Hormones determine whether to use the energy to grow, to burn or to put it into fat storage. Calories from sugar are metabolized very differently than calories from protein and fat.

Another problem, carbs don't trigger satiety. So, when eating high carbs, glucose spikes and drops again. The spike and drop is more pronounced for metabolically sick people. The drop makes us hungry no matter how many calories we ate. Willpower only goes so far until the hunger signal is too overwhelming.

The sensible thing would be to eat a satiating diet. A diet high in fat and moderate protein will do exactly that.

So why do calories not drive drive obesity?

It seems to make sense, you eat too many calories, you don't expand enough energy, you are in a caloric surplus, so you gain weight. It is the physical law, the first law of thermodynamics, energy in - energy out.

The problem is that this law applies to closed systems. It doesn't apply to the human body.

The human body stores and releases fat. In healthy people this is perfectly regulated with hormones. When they eat more, hormones make the body burn off the extra energy, when they eat too little, hormones make the body conserve energy.

Hormones in metabolically sick people are dysfunctional making them hungrier. Choosing healthy and satiating foods can help the body heal and optimize weight.

Why am I so passionate about this?

I spent three decades trying to lose weight, following the nutritional guidelines, thinking processed food didn't matter as long as I counted calories. As hard as I tried, I could not muster the willpower to see this through and kept gaining weight instead. Now I know that the cards were stacked against me. Cutting carbs to under 20 g per day, implementing daily intermittent fasting, letting go of ultra processed food, I was finally able to lose weight and improve my health. I lost 106 pounds in 23 months and my weight keeps dropping. I learned this isn't about willpower, it is about true satiety, feeling content and happy.

Final thought: Do we gain fat because we eat too much or do we eat too much because we are gaining fat?

To share your thoughts, join our Facebook group Reversing Insulin Resistance.


Written by Roxana Soetebeer
Fact-checked by Dr. Ben Zacherl
Published October 2nd, 2021