A new study sheds light on why we get fat


Fall brings change in more ways than one. As I write this, the leader of our just nation is being voted on. If you read it, the results are there.

(Another minority liberal government in case you missed the news.)

And as the greatest crisis that ever threatened us humans is on the brink – namely our climate emergency, which the heads of state and government of the world will face on October 31st at the meeting of the UN COP 26 (Conference of the Parties) in Glasgow – it throws highlights the crucial role of science: how it can shape our world for the better, how it works just as well on the large scale of world politics and on the microscale of what we stuff into our mouths to energize our bodies.

Unfortunately for all of us, another fall election, the upcoming September election in Germany – ahead of the COP climate conference – will mean Angela Merkel’s resignation from the Chancellery, a position she has held unpretentiously and confidently since 2005 and which makes Germany as well as good Leadership in the driver’s seat in more ways than one.

Executives and leading academic journals around the world lament Merkel’s impending retirement and praise her achievements. How she brought good, solid science to the table alongside her political decisions (many don’t know that she was a quantum chemist who studied the quantum mechanics of gas-particle collisions long before she led Germany to Europe’s powerhouse). How she kept a steady hand on the tiller through crisis after crisis, such as the exit from nuclear power and the confrontation with COVID-19 (many do not know that she grew up in the GDR, when decisions under duress were commonplace). How their legacy will endure.

Science, especially women in science, or its fringes, was on my head too, with a recent report in Science Daily that concluded that we may care more about what we eat than how much we do eat of it.

The American Society of Nutrition report, which I am happy to report actually has more women than men as board members, concludes that overeating not the main cause of obesity. It is more what we eat than how much.

All of this reflects the long-standing “you are what you eat” axiom, which dates back to the early 19th century, but was popularized by Adelle Davis, the most famous nutritionist of her day.

In the 50s and 60s, Ms. Davis was a maker and shaker, a kind of food guru, especially in hippie and hipster circles, highly regarded for some of her good conclusions – like diets high in salt, refined sugar, pesticides, growth hormones, preservatives and other additives are definitely unhealthy. Or that we should eat a lot more whole grains and unprocessed foods, even a macrobiotic diet. But Ms. Davis was later also rightly denigrated for some of her flaky nutritional information not scientifically based – like taking large doses of magnesium to prevent epilepsy. Your legacy has withered.

But back to the American Society of Nutrition report on this new “carbohydrate-insulin” model that is based on science and concludes that obesity is more of a metabolic disorder and that the process of getting fat actually triggers overeating.

“The energy balance model, which says that weight gain is caused by using more energy than we use, restores a physical principle without considering the biological mechanisms that promote weight gain,” the report said. Rather, the excessive consumption of foods with a high glycemic load – “especially processed, quickly digestible carbohydrates” such as white bread or fructose / glucose syrup increases the blood sugar level, stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin and makes us fat. So we need to focus more on what we are eating in order to better control weight.

In other words, the age-old energy balance model that tells us that we are gaining weight because we are simply consuming too many calories, i.e. simply exercising more, is the simplest case. No wonder, eh? Because we could pretty much tell if we look around or look at our own habits, when we don’t go to death but often push ourselves to the limit and still have to buy a size or three larger pants.

Now, before you do something stupid, like tweeted like Bar-tosh (wink, wink), one nutritional model is Tosh, be aware that the science is complicated. So as not to further confuse things, this latest report also calls for more investigation and investigation into both Obesity theories.

Also remember that good science, like most good things, is in the works – it is constantly being optimized, challenged, enriched by new research, new understanding. But it is also guided by the eternally sane principle known as the Scientific Method, which you may have learned in Science Class 5:

1. Make an observation;

2. Create a hypothesis and then test it;

3. Make a conclusion, then refine your hypothesis.

I love it when new science gives old science the boot! But I also understand that this kind of ever-changing science can confuse or frustrate people, maybe make them stick to old, all-too-simple ideas. Or super angry social media. Or just say hell with him and grab some crackers or crappy candy filled with glucose-fructose to get that flawed sugar high.

Instead, try a handful of nuts and think of Angela Merkel, who grew up in East Germany – her resilience and wisdom to make quick but good decisions that are based on solid science and stand the test of time. And if you have leftover energy, maybe pass it on to all of the new leaders in Ottawa and beyond as they make their way to the COP climate change meeting this fall. You will need it!

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who supports the World Federation of Science Journalists and Evidence for Democracy.


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