Are You on Board with the New Obesity Paradigm?

Some scientists are starting to believe that obesity research has been coming from a failed paradigm. For close to a hundred years now it has been believed that the cause of obesity was a surplus of calories. When a person takes in more calories than they expend, overtime, that individual becomes overweight. Many think, however, that obesity research is based on a misbelief. According to the World Health Organization, though, it’s still about “an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended.” So who do we believe?

Many researchers and science reporters, like NYT best-selling author Gary Taubes, believe that it’s time for a new paradigm. A group of these researchers have actually published a lengthy review article on this obesity topic, that comes out today in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. This group believes we should move away from the current energy balance model (EBM) to a new carbohydrate-insulin model (CIM).

Moving Towards a Possible CIM: Carbohydrate-Insulin Model

According to this model, increasing fat deposits in the body, resulting from the hormonal responses to a high-glycemic-load diet, is what drives positive energy balance. Other words, it’s not about eating too many “good” calories, it’s more about “food quality.” We need to be aware of the quantity and quality of specific calories coming from carbohydrates.

A high percentage of carbohydrates in each meal, coming from processed foods, contain high amounts of added sugar. Each time we eat meals and snacks like this, our body has to deal with a sugar spike. When this occurs, the pancreas releases the hormone insulin, to bring down blood glucose. The by-product of this? the body stores more fat (triglycerides) in adipose tissue.

This new paradigm shift states that obesity is not an energy balance issue but rather a hormonal disorder or what the researchers call a “disorder of fuel partitioning.” The calories in versus calories out debate says nothing about why it happens.

Where Do You Lie on this Obesity Topic in Favor of the EBM or CIM?

We mentioned author Gary Taubes earlier. If this topic is of interest to you, he has some outstanding books that explore various obesity-related topics and does a deep dive into why too much added sugar is so unhealthy for us.

So what do you think? do we become obese by taking in more calories than we expend? Or is it more about the quality and quantity of carbohydrates and what those sugar calories do to our physiology over time?

Jules Hirsch of Rockefeller University, one of the most celebrated obesity researchers, told Gary Taubes in 2002 that after 40 years of research he still didn’t know why people got fat to begin with. Looks like this debate will rage on for a bit longer but let’s hope it’s not another hundred years!

References

Taubes, G. (2021). How a “fatally, tragically flawed” paradigm has derailed the science of obesity. STAT.

Ludwig, D., et al. (2021). The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqab270

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