What You Can Do To Dodge America’s Obesity Epidemic

by Dr. Victor Marchione

I’m not going to beat around the bush here: too many Americans are obese. It’s a health concern of epidemic proportions, and the costs to individuals and the healthcare system are enormous. And by the looks of things, it isn’t going to let up anytime soon.

Now I’m not going to sit here and remind you how harmful obesity can be to your health; the associated health concerns, like diabetes, heart disease, stroke, disability, high cholesterol, and hypertension, have been well documented and that information is in abundant supply. Instead, I’m more interested in exploring why this phenomenon has taken over America and what, if anything, you can do to protect yourself from it.

Generally speaking, Americans are overweight and obese because they eat too much. But why do they eat too much? Is the food too good to resist, or are there physiological and genetic factors at play? Some research is saying that it’s not overeating that’s causing people to become overweight and obese, but it’s being overweight and obese that causes people to overeat.

The traditional thinking of weight gain has to do with simple math: if you eat more calories than you expend, you’re going to store them as fat. But research is challenging this opinion, saying that weight gain is highly related to insulin response. But more on that in a moment.

The idea that people are eating more because they are overweight or obese is rooted in the idea that many of the calories being consumed are going straight to fat storage, leaving less to circulate and perform basic physiological functions in the body. Because the calories are in the wrong place and not really doing their job, people feel the need to eat more.

This is where insulin response comes into play. If you don’t mind jogging your memory a bit, you may remember that in the 1990s and early 2000s there was an all-out war on fat in food. It was said that fat was the cause of all kinds of problems and needed to be avoided at all costs. Food manufacturers responded by lowering or eliminating fat in their products, while replacing it with sugar. Big mistake.

Refined sugars are digested and absorbed almost instantly upon consumption, causing insulin levels to spike. These calories are virtually unusable, especially when they’re consumed—through food and beverage—in high amounts. They are stored almost instantly as fat and don’t satisfy hunger, often resulting in big-time weight gain. There is evidence that the two are closely associated by looking at how obesity numbers have jumped in the past decade or so.

However, there are a number of reasons why you gain weight. Genetics play a role; your level of physical activity does too, as well as things like your quality of sleep and stress. But insulin sensitivity seems to be the largest factor. In fact, research has shown that insulin treatment for diabetes results in weight gain, while insulin deficiency causes weight loss.

Changing how you think about food is imperative to weight loss. As has been proven time and time again, calorie-restrictive diets don’t work. Instead, it’s more about what you eat, not how much.

Adopting the mentality that fat is OK—which is true in almost every case, except trans fats – and that refined sugars are bad for you is the key to weight loss/management. Reading labels and eating whole grains, unrefined carbohydrates, unprocessed foods, and fruits and vegetables – all in abundance – is the best way to manage weight and stay healthy. In sum, weight gain – and therefore, weight loss – isn’t necessarily about how much you eat, but what you eat.

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Victor Marchione, MD received his Bachelor of Science Degree in 1973 and his Medical Degree from the University of Messina in 1981. He has been licensed and practicing medicine in New York and New Jersey for over 20 years. Dr. Marchione is a respected leader in the field of smoking cessation and pulmonary medicine. He has been featured on ABC News and World Report, CBS Evening News and the NBC Today Show and is the editor of the popular The Food Doctor newsletter. Dr. Marchione has also served as Principal Investigator in at least a dozen clinical research projects relating to serious ailments such as bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

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