Cause of Obesity


Before we can truly fight obesity, we must first understand the cause.  The problem is, we THINK we KNOW the cause.  You’ve heard it a million times, right?  “Just eat less and exercise more.  It’s all about a simple formula, calories in vs calories out.  If you are overweight or obese, it is because you lack willpower or are generally lazy.”

Unfortunately, ALL of those concepts are dead wrong.  None of them get to the root of obesity, and unfortunately, leave us pursuing the wrong “solutions.”

Telling someone who is overweight to “eat less and exercise more” is like telling someone with an alcohol addiction to “just drink less” or telling someone with chronic depression to “just cheer up.” Why is this unhelpful, borderline cruel, advice continuing to be perpetuated?  It is important to get to the root causes of obesity, but more importantly, to find real solutions.

Obesity is multi-factorial, it has many causes.  Genetics play a role.  Hormones play a more significant role.  Diet also plays a significant role.  You can review all the links below to learn the etiology of obesity.

As you are aware, this page promotes a low carb way of living as a treatment for obesity and weight gain.   Why do I feel this is effective?  What is the biggest reason we gain weight on a diet that is too high in carbohydrates?

When we eat carbohydrates, particularly those that are processed like sugar and grains, our blood glucose levels will rise.  Our body then has to make a hormone called insulin, to bring down elevated blood glucose levels.  Insulin takes glucose from the bloodstream and allows it to enter into the cells to be properly utilized.   So why does this make you gain weight?  Well, insulin is a fat storing hormone. How is this happening?

Basically, when your body utilizes glucose, it has two options.

  • Use glucose, or
  • Store glucose

Now, most people don’t get active right after a meal, so very little glucose will actually be used around the time we consume a meal. The majority will be stored. There are three main places your body will store glucose.

  • Liver
  • Muscles
  • Fat

Your body stores glucose (in its stored form) in the liver. This glucose is used in between meals and during sleep to keep blood glucose stable when you’re not eating. There is a very limited space in the liver to store glucose. If you stay in the fed state too long or too often, and don’t allow sufficient fasting periods, these stores can stay full, not allowing more glucose in. What is “fed state” and “fasting state?” We are in the fed state when we eat a meal and for about 4 hours thereafter. In a fed state, your body relies on glucose from the food you have recently consumed. Then you enter the fasting state, where your body relies on stored glucose from the liver. (See my fasting page HERE for more explanation.)  So if you eat often, such as if you eat 3 meals per day, plus snacks in between, you are in a constant fed state for the majority of your day. This keeps your liver stores full. And if you have a bedtime snack, you are even interrupting your night time fast. This is not good.

Your body also stores glucose (in its stored form) in the muscles. This is glucose that can be quickly used for exercise or activity. There is a limited space in the muscles to store glucose. Also, if you have less muscle, you store less glucose. And if you are not active, these stores can stay full, not allowing more glucose in.

So, when muscle and liver stores are full, what happens to all of the glucose?  It stores as fat! What’s worse, it stores as visceral fat, or fat around our organs, in other words, belly fat. This is dangerous. And guess what? Fat storage is unlimited. There is no end to how fat we can get.

So, is this whole picture insulin’s fault? No. Insulin’s job is to bring down blood glucose SO HIGH BLOOD SUGAR WON’T KILL YOU. The problem likely is, you are giving your body TOO MUCH GLUCOSE TO STORE. That is why it is imperative to control the amount of carbohydrates in your diet so that you do not raise insulin to very high levels.  So how much glucose do we NEED to take in? Very little. The blood needs to maintain a circulating level of glucose of about 1 teaspoon (4g). We DO NOT need a bunch of carbohydrates to supply that glucose.  Healthy carbohydrates, like non-starchy vegetables, as well as protein (which causes a small rise in blood sugar), can provide all the glucose our body needs.

What can we do to lower insulin levels?  Spend less time in the fed state and more time in the fasted state. Go more than 4 hours between meals, avoid snacking, have a long daily fast at night by not eating within 2 hours of bedtime, all the way until you wake up the next morning. Even better, try intermittent fasting. This allows us to access and burn stored glucose in the liver. Once again, we have to use and deplete stored glucose regularly. This will allow us to replenish those stores from our meals. Daily adequate fast periods are a key to using this stored glucose.  (For more information on fasting, visit my fasting page HERE.)

What else helps? Get active. Exercise improves insulin sensitivity. In other words, the insulin your body makes will work better and you’ll need to make less. And don’t just focus on cardio (walking, jogging, etc). Build some muscle. The more muscle we have, the more our body can both burn glucose and store it. We have to use and deplete stored glucose regularly. This will allow us to replenish those stores from our meals. Daily exercise is a key to using this stored glucose.

A high carb diet, frequent snacking and a sedentary lifestyle, is a recipe for disaster. Expect to gain a lot of weight.  Expect a rapid decline in your health. Expect Type 2 diabetes in your near future. Expect your heart, kidneys and brain to suffer significant damage. Expect fatigue, depression, sleep disturbances and memory problems. Expect chronic aches and pains. Expect vision problems. Expect pain in your legs and feet. Expect urinary tract infections and yeast infections. I could really just go on and on…

How do you know if you are taking in too much glucose? Well, how much weight are you gaining? If you are gaining weight, your stores of glucose are likely full. So you have to eat less glucose, by adopting a low carb way of eating, and burn more glucose, by exercise and allowing greater fasting periods in your daily routine.  Add other healthy lifestyle habits such as managing stress and getting enough sleep (learn how to HERE) to better control glucose and insulin levels.

Next, you might want to review two ways that will NOT result in weight loss…don’t forget to read my pages “Counting Calories” and “Exercise and Weight Loss.”

Zoe Harcombe, Nutritionist, Obesity Researcher “Weight gain is about fat stored”  HERE

Authority Nutriton: “Causes of Weight Gain and Obesity”  HERE

Authority Nutrition: “Leptin 101” HERE

Authority Nutrition: Fix the Hormones That Make You Fat  HERE

In this very informative series, Dr. Robert Lustig, Pediatric Endocrinologist delves into the origin of the obesity epidemic.  

Watch the full program HERE

Or watch individual segments below:

The Skinny on Obesity – Part 1 – An Epidemic for Every Body  HERE

The Skinny on Obesity – Part 2 – Sickeningly Sweet  HERE

The Skinny on Obesity – Part 3 – Hunger and Hormones – A Vicious Cycle  HERE

The Skinny on Obesity – Part 4 – Sugar – A Sweet Addiction  HERE

The Skinny on Obesity – Part 5 – Generation XL  HERE

The Skinny on Obesity – Part 6 – A Fast-Paced, Fast-Food Life  HERE

The Skinny on Obesity – Part 7 – Drugs, Cigarettes, Alcohol…ans Sugar?  HERE

The Skinny on Obesity – Extra – Four Sweet Tips from Dr. Lustig  HERE

Book Suggestion, Click Image Below
More Resources

This six part video series by Dr. Jason Fung, Nephrologist and Founder of Intensive Dietary Management, delves deeply into some of the root causes of obesity.  Below that, are numerous links to his research on different obesity theories, such as the calorie theory and the hormonal obesity theory, as well as discussion on the role of exercise.  There is a lot of good content here that can help ones effectively address obesity issues.

The Etiology of Obesity – Part 1 – A New Hope  HERE

The Etiology of Obesity – Part 2 – The New Science of Diabesity  HERE

The Etiology of Obesity – Part 3 – Trial By Diet  HERE

The Etiology of Obesity – Part 4 – The Fast Solution  HERE

The Etiology of Obesity – Part 5 – Diet and Disease  HERE

The Etiology of Obesity – Part 6 –  Dietary Villains: Fat Phobia  HERE

And a final video to this series…Dietary Villains: Salt Scare  HERE

“Why are there fat doctors?”  HERE

Intensive Dietary Management – Hormonal Obesity Series

“Historic Perspective on Obesity – Part 1”  HERE

“The Odious Dietary Guidelines 1977 – Part 2”  HERE

“I can make you fat – Insulin – Part 3”  HERE

“Insulin causes weight gain – Part 4”  HERE

“I can make you thin – Insulin – Part 5:  HERE

“The carbohydrate – insulin hypothesis is wrong – Part 6”  HERE

“How insulin works – Part 7”  HERE

“Insulin resistance – Part 8”  HERE

“Drug tolerance – Part 9”  HERE

“Insulin causes insulin resistance – Part 10”  HERE

“The new science of diabesity – Part 11”  HERE

“Prevention of resistance – Part 12”  HERE

“The perils of snacking – Part 13”  HERE

“Time dependence of obesity – Part 14”  HERE

“Good carbohydrates, bad carbohydrates – Part 15”  HERE

“The role of fiber – Part 16”  HERE

“The role of fiber 2 – Part 17”  HERE

“The Atkins onslaught – Part 18”  HERE

“The Atkins revolution – Part 19”  HERE

“The Atkins decline – Part 20”  HERE

“Replace, don’t add fruit – Part 21”  HERE

“The incretin effect – Part 22”  HERE

“Insulin index – Part 23”  HERE

“Is dairy fattening? – Part 24”  HERE

“If protein fattening? – Part 25”  HERE

“Red meat dilemma – Part 26”  HERE

“Red meat dilemma 2 – Part 27”  HERE

“The benefits of vinegar – Part 28”  HERE

“Sugars 1 – Part 29”  HERE

“Sugar sweetened beverages – Part 30”  HERE

“The deadly effects of fructose – Part 31”  HERE

“Fructose causes insulin resistance – Part 32”  HERE

“Populations in transition – Part 33”  HERE

“Fat phobia – Part 34”  HERE

“The diet heart hypothesis – Part 35”  HERE

“Trans fat and coronary disease – Part 36”  HERE

“Saturated fat and heart disease – Part 37”  HERE

“Polyunsaturated fats – Part 38”  HERE

“Cardio-protective effects of saturated fats – Part 39”  HERE

“A closer look at cortisol – Part 40”  HERE

“Sleep deprivation and obesity – Part 41”  HERE

Intensive Dietary Management – IDM Series

“Breakfast – or to break your fast – Part 1”  HERE

“Carbohydrates and the faulty GI Index – Part 2”  HERE

“Understanding digestion: why you should eat carbohydrates with fat, fiber and vinegar – Part 3”  HERE

“Why dietary cholesterol is important – Part 4”  HERE

“Having the right fats in your diet – Part 5”  HERE

“Bone broth – a broth that can cure a cold – Part 6”  HERE

Intensive Dietary Management – Epiphenomenon of Obesity Series

“Childhood obesity – Part 1”  HERE

“The genetics of obesity – Part 2”  HERE

“Poverty and obesity – Part 3”  HERE

“The Pima, Sumo and Canine diets – Part 4”  HERE

“The diet soda delusion – Part 5”  HERE

“Of Traitors and Truths” – Part 6  HERE