Imagine, if you will, a world in which all of our current assumptions about what makes us fat are erased. It's hard to do, because we are all so certain that we get fat from eating too much. That little tune has been played for us every day of our lives in excrutiating repetition. We are so brainwashed that we've never stopped to consider whether it's true.
Suppose what makes us fat is not what we are eating but something that gets disordered in our fat cells? Suppose these cells, because of a hormonal imbalance or disrupted signal, start to suck in too much fat and get out of control? Imagine now that these voracious cells not only gobble up everything we eat but jealously lock all that energy up, thus making it unavailable to the rest of the body. Under the rules of normal physiology, our fat cells release fat whenever it's needed for momentary energy needs. But not anymore. Not this rogue fat. This misbehaving fat isn't releasing anything.
Imagine now that you set out to walk from your bedroom to your living room. You ate a half hour ago, but now everything you ate is locked away in your fat cells where the rest of you can't get to it. What fuel is going to power you? Your brain directs you to eat, pronto! How can you be hungry again you wonder. How can you have such little will power? Why can't you just forget about food? What's wrong with you anyway?
Far fetched? Not at all. For years, scientists have made various animals fat by manipulating their hormones or operating on certain areas of their brains. These manipulations have created a disorder in fat storage such that fat is inappropriately sucked into the fat cells. Animals will often eat more to compensate for the fact that their other cells are starving, or they may stop moving around to avoid burning calories they don't have. In the case of certain rats who are genetically manipulated to be obese, starving them still leaves them fat. Their fat is not available for burning, so instead they burn up their muscles and vital organs until they die, still with fatty tissue intact. All of this is well documented in the Taubes book I've recently been referencing, Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It. The example of the genetically doomed rats will undoubtedly leave some wondering whether they too are genetically engineered to be fat no matter what they do. While there may be a tiny fraction of us with some unavoidable genetic variance, we can be fairly assured that this is rare. We know this because obesity rates were low until just recently. Genetic variations of the required magnitude would not have occurred in the past 20-30 years.
In his book, Taubes discusses concepts developed by Julius Bauer, a German geneticist and endocrinologist, in the late 1920s.
"Bauer considered the fat tissue in obesity akin to malignant tumors. Both have their own agendas, he explained. Tumors are driven to grow and spread and will do so with little relation to how much the person who has that tumor might be eating or exercising. In those who are predisposed to grow obese, fat tissue is driven to grow, to expand with fat, and it will accomplish this goal, just as the tumor does, with little concern about what the rest of the body might be doing."
"The abnormal (fat) tissue seizes on foodstuffs, even in the case of undernutrition,"Bauer wrote in 1929. "It maintains its stock, and may increase it independent of the requirements of the organism. A sort of anarchy exists; the adipose tissue lives for itself and does not fit into the precisely regulated management of the whole organism."
Ever have that anarchy feeling? There's probably a good reason that this fat thing seems to be so out of control....make so little sense.
While there are many signals and hormonal components that regulate food intake, the primary hormone that puts fat into the fat cells is insulin. Many overweight people are making way too much insulin, a problem that leads fat cells to avidly store and trap too much fat. The overproduction of insulin is usually the result a insulin resistance, a situation in which muscle cells become deaf to insulin while fat remains responsive. This insulin resistance may start once we have eaten too many starches and sugars, or as the result of developing in the womb of a mother who ate many S foods, or simply as a result of aging. Some people have a tendency toward it and other don't. Whatever the cause, though, once the cycle gets started, the fatty tissue goes rogue, expanding beyond the needs of the body, creating hunger and stealing energy from other bodily cells.
We can respond by starving ourselves, but we may wind up like the rats who burned up their muscles because their fat was entrapped and couldn't be released for body needs. I often notice that people on low calorie vegetarian diets (which rely on grains, breads, etc..) have an emaciated appearance, as if they are losing muscle mass. I caution that this is strictly an unscientific observation, but it would make sense if they are losing weight while still eating a diet with significant insulin stimulus. Again, using nothing but subjective observation, I note that our patients who have lost large amounts of weight on low carb, low insulin diets look very well balanced---often as if they had never been heavy.
If fat is a rogue that gets out of control as a result of disordered insulin signalling, guess what? Being overweight is not the fault of your weak will or your big appetite. It's just the other way around. Your inability to stop eating or tendency to store fat easily are side effects of the chaos imposed by a run away tissue.
If we know this and work to get rid of excess insulin secretion, relief is in sight. Fat will again flow freely from fat cells and hunger levels will decline. If we remain in a low insulin state, it will be very difficult for the body to find a way to store fat again. We will have tamed the beast.
But ultimately, will power does factor in. We still have to have the strength to turn our backs on the starchy-sugary diet that's created all of this. Can you do it? You can.