Weight Loss and Insulin Resistance

Last modified on September 28th, 2013

I’ve been writing about obesity and something called hyper-insulinemia for about as long as I can remember. For those of you who don’t know, many people nowadays have something called metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of symptoms including obesity, high blood pressure, elevated insulin levels, and high cholesterol. The main component of all of these is something called hyper-insulinemia (which is also called insulin resistance).

What I just wrote is pretty much accepted as fact nowadays. What is still up for debate is a) whether insulin resistance is the cause or the effect of obesity and b) whether insulin plays a larger role in weight loss than originally believed. You see, there are two competing genres in this war on the bulge. On one side of the ring you have those people who believe a calorie is a calorie, and the only thing required to lose weight is a bit of will power. For those that continue to gain weight, the people in this camp simply dismiss them for people lacking the will to watch what they eat or to make a bit of time for exercise.

Photo by ieatstars on Flickr

What bothers me about that camp is that most of the people I know who have always been a bit stocky are basically always watching what they eat, and always making time for exercise. These people aren’t eating huge meals, or eating cookies non-stop — they make an honest attempt to lose weight, but simply are unable to shed any pounds.

On the other side of the ring are those people who do not believe in the caloric theory of food (which basically says that food that you put into your body gives the same amount of energy as burning it, which is actually the definition of a calorie), but rather believe that weight loss and weight gain are the result of the complex nature of hormones in the body.

I’ve been reading medical research papers routinely for about eight years now, and there is growing consensus, at least in my mind, that there are parts of caloric theory is wrong, and that some parts of the endocrine theory are correct. The following is a brief exert from an article I read years ago – pay special attention to the stuff in bold (and also bear in mind that Harvard Medical is one of the most prestigious research universities in the world):

Five recent studies have shown that subjects on some form of the [low carb] diet lost twice as much weight as those on low-fat, low-calorie diets. In general, the more carbohydrates consumed, the less body fat is lost. Meanwhile, an additional five studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health failed to demonstrate any link between eating fat and developing heart disease.

In other words, the recommendations that put a whole nation on a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet have been overthrown and the USDA Food Pyramid toppled. Nevertheless the Department of Agriculture still maintains this standard for a healthy diet. Why has the USDA not responded to information that alternative medicine practitioners have known for years?

The Harvard researchers suggest that the low-fat-is-good-health hypothesis has failed the test of time. The current obesity epidemic, as well as a significant rise in Type 2 diabetes, began in the early 1980s with the rise of the low-fat dogma.

For a large percentage of the population, perhaps 30 to 40 percent, low-fat diets are counterproductive,” concludes Eleftheria Maratos-Flier, director of obesity research at Harvard’s prestigious Joslin Diabetes Center. “They have the paradoxical effect of making people gain weight.” Nevertheless, he notes, that still leaves a sizeable proportion of the population who might benefit from the whole-grain, complex carbohydrate diet favored by low-fat advocates.

I once lost about 50 lbs in about five months, simply by giving up the majority of carbohydrates in my diet. I wasn’t going to the gym at the time (although I was walking places), and I didn’t really watch my portion sizes. Contrast that to the six or seven years of “dieting” I did before that which consisted of three or four visits to the gym each week along with the recommendation from a nutrtionist that my diet consist of no more than 20% fat ( the majority of my diet was supposed to come from carbohydrates), during which I slowly gained about 40 lbs.

The point of this article isn’t to swing my low-carbohydrate hammer at anyone. I think dieting is really a personal preference, and if what you are doing is working then go ahead and continue that. However, if you’re one of those people that has struggled for years despite advice from doctors or nutritionists, then I encourage you to read up on insulin resistance and make up your own mind.

To that end, I’m going to keep writing about the subject, and giving a bit of advice when I can. I also might do something along the lines as Rebecca, and do a for-charity multi-month weight loss event or something.