There is really no great mystery as to what causes obesity. Like most other health conditions it boils down to diet and lifestyle. More specifically, in this case, the primary contributing factors are sugar and carbohydrates, stress, and environmental toxins. If these issues are addressed properly, weight loss and improved health can be achieved.
Carbohydrates are the Primary Cause of Obesity
Anytime you consume sugar, or carbohydrate of any kind, your blood sugar (glucose) levels increase. When blood sugar rises, then the pancreas is prompted to deliver insulin which directs your glucose receptors to open up and one of three things occurs. The sugar is used immediately for energy, it gets stored as glycogen in the liver or muscle to be used as energy at a later date, or it is stored in the cell as fat as a long-term future energy source. At this point, your blood sugar will return to normal and insulin is no longer released.
If you eat sugar or carbohydrates frequently, then this process is going on all the time. Since the body can only burn so much sugar at one time, and the liver can only hold so much glycogen, then a great deal of it is getting stored as fat. The more sugar and carbohydrates you eat, the more fat you are storing.
After a while, the glucose receptors recognize that there is too much fat in storage so they tell insulin they will not store anymore by refusing to open up, also known as insulin resistance. The pancreas says, “but this person keeps on pumping us with sugar and we can’t have all this sugar in the bloodstream, so you have to open up,” and then it releases even more insulin. The glucose receptors get even more stubborn and push back harder, refusing to open up; and so the pancreas throws greater amounts of insulin at them in a desperate attempt to restore balance to blood sugar levels. At this point, insulin levels in the bloodstream are very high, which is called hyperinsulinism.
High levels of insulin increase the conversion of gamma-linolenic acid into arachidonic acid, which results in higher than normal levels of arachidonic acid, which is converted into high levels of pro-inflammatory mediators known as prostaglandins and cytokines that results in inflammation, which puts one at risk of the long list of conditions and symptoms associated with inflammation.
Guess what kind of fat sugar is converted into? Triglycerides. And, when the glucose receptors prevent the fat from getting stored in the cell, then it is shuffled into very-low-density lipoprotein particles (also known as LDL on cholesterol tests) and gets recirculated into the bloodstream. However, LDL occurs as two different types, one is large buoyant particles and the other is small very low-density lipoprotein particles known as VLDL. LDL is actually needed in the body to heal damaged vessels; it is the VLDL that is associated with clogged arteries and heart disease.
If you continue to put your body through this ferocious pattern by eating sugar or carbohydrates, then eventually the glucose receptors will completely stop acting in response to insulin and there will be both high levels of sugar and insulin in the bloodstream. The pancreas will then get worn out from its futile battle and will no longer be capable of generating insulin and moderating your blood sugar levels, which is known as type 2 diabetes.
This explains why obesity often occurs and is associated with many other health conditions like type 2 diabetes, inflammation, heart disease, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, and high cholesterol.
Additionally, insulin increases another hormone called ghrelin which activates hunger and decreases leptin, your hormone that tells that you are full. Therefore, you will never feel full and you will overeat.
Carbohydrates = Sugar
Sugar = Insulin
Insulin = Fat
So how do you stop this vicious cycle? You simply stop eating sugar and high levels of carbohydrates. Avoid high carb foods, even the complex ones, and eat animal protein and fat instead. People think they are doing something good for themselves by eating whole grain and complex carbohydrates, but they are not. Yes, they are converted into sugar a little slower than refined foods; but in the end, sugar they are, and they get stored as fat. In his book Wheat Belly, Dr. William Davis explains that two pieces of whole wheat bread or a bowl of oatmeal can increase blood sugar levels even more than table sugar or some candy bars. Dr. David Perlmutter writes in Grain Brain that “so-called ‘complex carbs’ may actually represent a more significant threat to health than simple sugar in that they may not only raise blood sugar but keep it elevated for a more prolonged period of time.” Dr. Perlmutter also states “most grain foods, whether we’re talking about quinoa, amaranth, the very popular grains of the day – the reality is they still are associated with a carbohydrate surge.”
In order to lose weight when one is obese, daily carb intake usually needs to be under 50 grams of carbs per day. This is especially true for post-menopausal women. When you replace the sugar and high-carb foods with animal protein and fat, you interrupt this cycle, blood sugar levels balance out, and not only will you lose weight, but cravings for sugar and carbs disappear as well.
Eating a low-fat diet is not effective, because fat is not stored as fat unless one is consuming a lot of carbs. It is sugar and carbohydrates that are stored as fat. Eating a traditional primal diet that consists of animal protein, fish, eggs, low-starch vegetables, and small amounts of low-sugar fruit, nuts, and seeds is the diet that will restore balance to your endocrine system and help prevent and overcome obesity. This is why many people continue to gain weight even though they follow the doctor’s order. Because the doctor’s order of eating complex carbohydrates and avoiding fat is the very thing that will make you fat. Fat cannot be stored as fat without insulin and insulin is called upon with the presence of carbohydrates.
How Chronic Stress Causes Obesity
When the stress response system is activated, epinephrine stimulates the liver to release the glycogen it has stored back into the bloodstream because a lot of energy is needed to deal with a stressful event. This means that blood sugar levels rise, and as we discussed above, anytime there is an increase in blood sugar, then insulin is released to restore balance. If stress is ongoing, then that means that the liver will be releasing sugar (glycogen) on a regular basis, which means a continuous insulin response and the inevitable storage of fat, and eventual resistance of glucose receptors, higher levels of insulin, and type 2 diabetes. The more stress you have, the more fat you are going to store. It’s as if you are eating sugar. Stress can perpetuate insulin resistance, obesity, type 2 diabetes, etc. if it has already developed, or it can be the sole driving force in and of itself.
Stress = Sugar
Sugar = Insulin
Insulin = Fat
You can help yourself lose weight and overcome obesity by adopting a variety of stress management techniques on a daily basis like, mild to moderate exercise, deep breathing exercises, mindfulness, smiling, and mindfulness-based meditation, and mindfulness-based yoga.
Environmental Toxins Also Cause Obesity
When we are exposed to environmental toxins, it sets off the stress response system. As you learned above, when we are under stress, then there are high levels of sugar in the bloodstream and the inevitable response of insulin and the cascade of events that leads to the storage of fat.
Therefore, if you are living in an environment that has high levels of environmental toxins, you will be storing a lot of fat. Since much of the population is living in a toxic environment, this is a common cause of obesity.
Toxins = Sugar
Sugar = Insulin
Insulin = Fat
By environmental toxins, I am referring to those found in your common everyday products like pesticides, herbicides, air fresheners, perfume, cologne, personal care products, household cleaning products, traffic exhaust, gas heat, etc.
If you adopt a green living lifestyle, you can reduce your exposure to environmental toxins, which will reduce the amount of sugar in your bloodstream, which reduces the amount of fat you are storing and can ultimately help you overcome obesity.
Now, you may be wondering why lack of exercise is not mentioned in this list of causes. Yes, of course, exercise is crucial in any weight management plan, but that is because it burns sugar and fat, and as we have discussed on this page, the sugar and fat occur primarily because of carbohydrates, stress, and environmental toxins. The most important factor in regard to managing weight is insulin management, so exercise will do little good if these three factors are not addressed first. However, exercise does improve receptor sensitivity of insulin, therefore it will assist in keeping blood sugar and insulin levels stable, as long as it is accompanied by changes in diet that we have discussed.
But, it’s important to be aware that too much exercise, or the wrong kind, is just as bad as no exercise at all. Cardio, excessive jogging, long work-outs in the gym, marathons, or other endurance types of exercise is not natural and triggers your stress response system, which as you learned earlier, means it will incite insulin and the inevitable storage of fat. You should exercise frequently, but it should consist of lots of slow-moving with occasional bursts of intensity. Walking, Tai Chi, and Yoga are good light exercise activities, which can be combined with some moderate weight lifting, squats, and push-ups. It’s also good to throw in an occasional sprint.
Other Contributing Factors to Obesity
Additionally, it’s important to note that alcohol is a potent form of sugar, and nicotine and caffeine incite the liver to release its glycogen stores into the bloodstream and thus increase blood glucose levels and prompt the same insulin response and fat storage as the other issues we have discussed. So, nicotine and caffeine must be eliminated as well to successfully lose weight. Other factors that may contribute to obesity or the inability to lose weight include hypothyroidism, adrenal fatigue, and hidden food sensitivities.
Many people may be surprised to learn that carbohydrates, stress, and toxins are really the primary contributors to what causes obesity and that by making simple changes in diet and lifestyle they can lose weight and improve their health overall.