Posts Tagged ‘obesity’

Is it dangerous to skip breakfast?

Posted 08 Dec 2014 — by Todd
Category Diet, Health, Hormesis

empty_plateThere is increasing evidence from recent human and animal studies that intermittent fasting — refraining from food or caloric beverages for at least 12 hours a day, several days a week — reduces the risks of cardiovascular diseasedementia and cancer.  Those benefits are well-documented in the hyperlinked articles, so I won’t repeat them here.  Yet many nutritionists hold that skipping breakfast or other meals and snacks can lead to weight gain and metabolic imbalance.  Several recent articles have suggested that IF and breakfast skipping is a particularly bad idea for women. Much to my chagrin, this view been even embraced recently by a number of ‘Paleo’ advocates whom I respect, such as Chris Kresser and Mark Sisson.

In this post I’d like to address three main objections that have been raised against skipping breakfast and other forms of intermittent fasting:

  1. It spurs hunger cravings, leading to compensatory overeating and obesity
  2. It causes cardiovascular disease and metabolic dysregulation of blood glucose and hormone levels
  3. It’s bad for women, leading to hormone imbalance, disrupted menstrual cycle, and heightened stress response

I believe these concerns with breakfast skipping are overblown, based on an incorrect interpretation of a few animal and human studies, and flawed personal implementation.  To the contrary, adaptation to meal skipping can actually help boost stress tolerance and improve blood sugar control. If practiced correctly, intermittent fasting (IF) can actually be a powerful tool to overcome hypoglycemic symptoms, and regain control over a harried lifestyle.   And it can be particularly useful for women who are struggling with cravings, weight management and stress management.

Opposition to intermittent fasting arises from both published research and anecdotal reports.  I’d like to address both in this post.  I’ll first point out some significant flaws in the interpretation of several recent studies purporting to show negative effects of reduced meal frequency on women and other groups.  And I’ll end by pointing out how to avoid common mistakes made by many who try intermittent fasting find it to be unpleasant and unsustainable.

Approached correctly, IF can provide major health benefits for most us.

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What causes allergies and autoimmune disease?

Posted 26 Mar 2013 — by Todd
Category Diet, Health, Hormesis

Unknown-1Allergies and autoimmune disease are reaching epidemic proportions — not just in the U.S. and Europe, but in the rest of the industrially developing world.  Asthma, celiac disease, Type 1 diabetes, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus — all are on the rise. Even certain conditions not previously considered immune disorders, such as autism, metabolic syndrome and obesity, are now seen as manifestations of immune dysfunction.

What caused all this?  Can the epidemic be reversed?  And what can you do if you suffer from asthma, allergies and autoimmune disease?

Many who follow this site are generally sympathetic to the “paleo” hypothesis: namely, that allergies, autoimmune disease , and other degenerative diseases are the spawn of neolithic agents — such as wheat and other grains, and legumes, introduced during the transition to an agrarian society  about 10,000 years ago.  These neolithic foodstuffs expose us to higher levels of carbohydrates and novel proteins and anti-nutrients — such as gluten, phytic acid and lectins — that our evolutionary history as primates did not adapt us (or at least many of us)  to tolerate.   There is a lot of evidence to support this idea — from archeology and comparative anthropology, to studies in genetics and immunology.

But is it true?

There is an alternative explanation that has now been put forward, based upon a revolution in immunology during the past decade.  Like the paleo hypothesis, this new theory is grounded in evolutionary biology, and it likewise sees our modern lifestyle as an evolutionary anomaly.  But this new perspective places the advent of the twin epidemics of allergy and autoimmunity — and more generally inflammatory disorders — not at the introduction of agriculture, but much more recently:  at the upswing and aftermath of the Industrial Revolution. And it identifies the causal agent not as the addition of neolithic foods, but rather the subtraction of a key protective factor that we’ve lived with since the beginning of human evolution, or even mammalian evolution.

The agent of our immunological misery is the disappearance of something we co-evolved with in a mutually beneficial relationships:  microbes and parasites that have lived inside our bodies for millennia.

This new hypothesis is brilliantly summarized in a recent book by Moises Velasquez-Manoff:  An Epidemic of Absence: A New Way of Understanding Allergies and Autoimmune Disease.  In 307 pages the author, a science writer, synthesizes a diverse range of research, interviews and adventures into a detective novel that ends with a quest to treat his own rare autoimmune disorder.  The book is both compelling and honest in probing both the promise and the limits of the arguments and evidence for this new perspective on practical immunology.

This new view leads to some unorthodox ideas about how to combat allergies and autoimmune diseases.  Some of the ideas being tested may seem wild to you.  But I’ll end with one very safe recommendation that makes good sense to me now, despite earlier doubts, and which I’ve already implemented with great gusto.

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Does tasty food make us fat?

Posted 09 Sep 2011 — by Todd
Category Diet, Psychology

Are we getting fatter because there is just a lot more irresistibly delicious food around us?  Does that explain the obesity crisis?

That theory has been around the block but it is in fashion again.   In 2009, David Kessler’s book, “The End of Overeating” put forward the thesis that food in contemporary American food has been deliberately engineered–by adding fat, sugar and salt–to exploit our neurochemistry and hijack our free will.

More recently, one of the luminaries of the Paleo movement, Stephan Guyenet, has formulated his own version of this theory, in a compelling series on his Whole Health Source blog, arguing that  “food reward” is a main driver of obesity. His prescription:  eat a bland diet. Guyenet’s talk about this at the Ancestral Health Symposium last month is the buzz of the paleosphere.

But I think the theory is wrong, for the simple reason that it too blindly takes correlation for causation. And in doing so, it gets the causal direction mostly wrong. We don’t get fat because food has become too tasty. Rather, to a large extent, it is the metabolism and dietary habits of the obese that make food taste too good to resist, leading to insatiable appetites. And the good news is that we are not consigned to blandness.  If we eat and exercise sensibly, we can eat flavorful, delicious foods and enjoy life, without packing on the pounds.

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Does insulin make you fat?

Posted 03 Feb 2011 — by Todd
Category Diet

Whether or not insulin is to blame for the obesity epidemic is one of the hot questions being debated on heath and diet blogs.  On the surface, this seems like an arcane question that would mainly interest physiologists and diet researchers.  After all, who really cares about the underlying mechanisms of fat storage and release?   Most of us just want to know some practical steps we can take to lose excess weight and keep it off and, beyond that, to stay healthy.

It seems like a simple yes-or-no question of fact that you could settle by studying populations and doing lab studies. But it’s not so much a question about facts as one about causation.  Questions of causation are often the thorniest ones. This particular question has taken on almost political or religious overtones, provoking emotion and acrimony in the diet blogosphere. On one side are defenders of the Carbohydrate/Insulin Hypothesis, like Gary Taubes and Michael Eades.  This is laid out in detail in Taubes’ book  Good Calories, Bad Calories (2007), and more compactly in “Why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It” (2010). On the other side are opponents such as James Krieger and CarbSane, who find the Carbohydrate/Insulin Hypothesis to be oversimplified and deeply flawed, citing recent scientific advances. People tend to chose up sides in this debate.  I’ve been participating in this debate myself (while still learning a lot) on the websites of Jimmy MooreJames Krieger, and CarbSane. I won’t rehash all the technical details here. Instead, I’d like to propose a “frameshift” that recognizes and integrates the strong points from each side, attempting to overcome their shortcomings.

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Change your receptors, change your set point

Posted 25 Oct 2010 — by Todd
Category Diet, Fitness, Hormesis

Why is it so hard to make permanent changes to your habits, your health, and your happiness?  Some of the most difficult struggles in life involve losing weight (and keeping it off), overcoming addictions, and recovering from depression. Many diets and therapies deliver great short term results, but the most common pattern appears to be relapse.  It often seems that you are destined to fulfill some biological program — that you are stuck with a high body weight set point or an addictive or depressive personality that cannot be escaped in the long run.

This pessimistic message is prevalent among those who have investigated the track records of the “helping” industries: the weight loss companies, the addiction recovery centers, and the various schools of psychology and psychiatry. Unlike the advocates, those who investigate them often find the results are less than what the practitioners might want you to believe.  In the arena of dieting and weight loss, books such as “The Dieter’s Dilemma” (Bennett and Gurin, 1982), and  “Rethinking Thin”  (Kolata, 2008) echo the original set point theory first propounded by Gordon C. Kennedy in the 1950s; they conclude that your body weight is largely predetermined by a biological set point that is handed to you at birth, plus or minus about ten pounds. I do agree that sustained weight loss cannot be achieved through sheer will power alone, or simply by using diet and exercise in order to create a calorie deficit. Yet, while there is some plausibility to the set point theory, I am convinced that it is wrong because it overlooks some important factors. I’ve already given some of my reasons for my disagreement with set point theory in other posts on this blog (Flavor control diets, How to break through a plateau). But in this post I’ll present some strong evidence for an alternative theory, based on the homeostatic regulation of cellular receptors for hormones and neurotransmitters. This is a variable set point theory which I call the receptor control theory. This theory proposes a mechanism that controls appetite and body weight, as well as regulating the balance of  energy and pleasure in your life. It provides practical tools to lose weight and keep it off, overcome addictions without relapse, and move out of depression into happiness.

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