The literature on obesity is not only voluminous, it is also full of conflicting and confusing reports and opinions. One might well apply to it the works of Artemus Ward: “The researches of so many eminent scientific men have thrown so much darkness upon the subject that if they continue their researches we shall soon know nothing”.
– Hilde Bruch, The Importance of Overweight, 1957
The most common complaint concerning weight loss is hunger or feelings of deprivation. The media and latest marketing strategies try to portray their weight loss solution as “eat what you want without any hunger” in some shape or form.
The effects of semi-starvation – a low-calorie diet mixed of carbohydrates, proteins and fats – have long been documented, since at least 1917 by Francis Benedict. He was trying to get his subjects to lose 10 percent of their weight in a month by eating 1400-2100 calories per day, and see if they could adjust and thrive at that caloric intake. The subjects lost their weight, but they were also “constantly hungry”.
Once the deprivation portion of the experiment finished, the subjects were allowed to eat as they wanted. They overindulged immediately, craving “sweets and accessory foods of all kinds”. They regained their weight in less than two weeks, and on average they exceeded their initial weight three weeks post-weight loss.
Hmm. That did not seem like the most effective strategy for weight loss. Sure, the subjects lost their weight, but with the feelings like they were exhibiting, who would want to stay on such a eating regimen? If you are somebody who has tried to lose weight and you did not succeed in keeping it off, does it sound familiar?
Most of us know we should not overindulge on eating, but, just like these subjects, it does not matter, we still do anyway. The subjects still did, even when the researchers warned them that overindulging is unhealthy. Why would these subjects or anybody want to maintain what appears to be insisting on eating more than is needed?
In the book Good Calories Bad Calories, Gary Taubes describes the “lost” experiments of Jacque Le Magnen of the Collège de France. During the mid-1970’s, Le Magnen published a series of studies from rats that looked at weight regulation and hunger.
Le Magnen’s research resulted in two fundamental observations: 1) The size of the meal determines how long rats will go before they get hungry again, and 2) rats eat to excess during their waking hours, which means their intake exceeds their expenditure of energy, and so they are storing fat during this period of time.
When rats are awake, they are searching for food, eating and building up fat reserves in their adipose (i.e. fat) cells. While rats are sleeping, they mobilize fatty acids for fuel from their adipose tissue and use the fatty acids for fuel. The human body, like rats, uses fatty acids as fuel over the course of time while it is sleeping. It is the concentration of fatty acids in our blood that typically does not wake us up in the middle of the night from hunger. The availability of these fatty acids in the blood promotes satiety and inhibits hunger.
Therefore, this can be summed up as saying anything that promotes the availability of fatty acids in the blood will promote satiety and a feeling of “fullness”. Anything that inhibits fatty acids in the blood, thereby removing the fatty acids and promoting fat storage, will promote hunger.
By the mid-70’s, Le Magnen had demonstrated that insulin, the primary hormone that regulates blood sugar and inhibits fatty acid utilization (promoting fat storage), is the driver of the diurnal cycle of hunger, satiety, and energy balance in rats. At the beginning of the waking hours, the insulin response to glucose is enhanced, and it is suppressed during sleep. This pattern is “primarily responsible” for the fat accumulation during the waking hours and the fat utilization during sleep.
This work is unique because it suggests that hunger and weight gain are a physiological entity rather than a “Set Point Theory”, or a lack of will power – a psychological entity.When Le Magnen infused insulin into rats, it lengthened the fat-storage phase of their day-night cycle, and it shortened the mobilization and usage of fatty acids while they slept. This injection of insulin interrupted their normal sleep-wake cycle of fuel homeostasis by keeping the rats awake and causing them to eat past their normal sleeping hours.
Le Magnen took it another step further: when he infused insulin into sleeping rats, thus, dropping the blood fatty acid concentration, they immediately woke and began eating, and they continued eating as long as the insulin infusion continued. When during their waking hours he infused adrenaline – a hormone that promotes the mobilization of fatty acids from the fat tissue – they stopped eating.
If this is what happens in humans, then this research implies that we gain weight because our insulin levels are chronicly elevated longer than nature intended, with an out-of-balance accumulation of body fat:stored fat ratio. Weight stability is nothing more than an equilibrium between the fatty acids flowing into the energy buffer of the fat tissue and the fatty acids flowing out. What the body regulates, as Le Magnen suggested, is the fuel flow to the cells; the amount of body fat we accumulate is a secondary effect of the fuel partitioning that accomplishes this regulation.
Therefore, if we are concerned about managing our body fat percentage and health, we need to manage the factors that affect our hunger. Le Magnen’s research suggests we need to maintain a circulation of fatty acids in our bloodstream, make them available for muscles to use and keep them out of our fat cells. The primary factor that will inhibit this process is the hormone, insulin. Insulin increases in our bloodstream the most by eating processed starches, sugar, and flour.
Benedict’s subjects ate a high-carbohydrate diet. Scientists had not discovered insulin at this time, so we do not know what their blood insulin levels were. However, because we know the meal composition, today we know that it was higher than those who eat a low-carbohydrate meal. We have known for forty years that the levels of circulating insulin in animals and humans will be proportional to body fat, but few health recommendations support this knowledge: the US Department of Agriculture recommends eating a diet high in grains, dairy, fruit and low in fat – the Food Pyramid. Thus, people in the United States are one of the fattest populations in the world. Hilde Burch’s quote suggests that we did not have many answers in the 1950’s, and the U.S.’s gaining on the totem pole of obesity does not suggest we have improved since then.
What can you do to minimize your blood insulin levels? There are several things you can do:
- Eat nutrient-dense foods such as grass-fed meat, eggs, green and cruciferous vegetables, nuts and seeds.
- Fast for 12-24 hours once per week, perhaps 2-3 times if you need to lose 40 pounds or more.
- For alcohol, drink a glass of red wine because it has more nutrients than white wine. Don’t like red wine? SOL…. Avoid anything fermented from grain, like beer.
- Avoid sweet foods, even artificial sweetners. These can also “trick” the body into secreting insulin.
- Exercise at least twice per week.
By doing the above steps, you will minimize insulin in your blood, decrease your hunger and cravings, and without feeling deprivation, you will decrease your body fat percentage.