Without question, one of the biggest battles everyone is fighting today is the "Battle of the Bulge"--no, not the German offensive against the Allies in December of 1944 but, rather, the fight to keep excessive fat from our bodies. This battle isn't just about "looking good" but, more importantly, about staying healthy.
Being overweight is, after all, a precursor or marker for the most lethal diseases--i.e., cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes, cancer, etc. Beyond that, becoming overweight can greatly affect quality of life, perhaps to the point of leading to a premature, painful death.
If most people around you, though, know about the dangers of being overweight and about the fact that there are many tools, techniques and professional assistance that can help keep excessive weight off, why are we still in the midst of an obesity epidemic? Yes, people lead excessively sedentary lives, consume diets too rich in carbs/fat/etc., and fail to exercise enough. These deficiencies, however, don't completely explain the problem.
Why, for example, are so many young people succumbing to overweight issues? It's easy for older adults (over 35 years) to put on the weight but young people, in theory, should be burning off the excess calories, even if eating too much and the wrong foods.
Why are even people who are regularly exercising and, for the most part, eating the right things (which these days usually involves what nutritionists and doctors are telling them to eat) still having problems with their weight? This, by the way, sometimes includes athletes who, like young adults and children, have always been less prone to overweight problems.
Clearly, something is "rotten in Denmark" (to quote Shakespeare) and there are enough reasons to believe that there is more at play here than meets the eye. In other words, this epidemic isn't just being caused by the most obvious causes. There are, in fact, forces behind the scenes that are secretly making us fat.
Here are five possibilities for your consideration:
1. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
As the price of sugar continued to escalate, the food industry desperately looked for and found a much cheaper alternative, high fructose corn syrup. Since it is much cheaper than sucrose, HFCS, ironically, has led to what can only be described as an obsessive use of this stuff in processed foods. Although HFCS, like sucrose, breaks up into fructose and glucose when digested, HFCS can be as high as 80% fructose.
Metabolized in the liver, fructose, furthermore, has qualities that can be highly detrimental to the body, especially if consumed excessively, which is generally the case these days for most people--ostensibly, for people who drink lots of soft drinks, overdo desserts, and rely on processed foods for most of their daily diet.
You may know all this. What you may not realize, though, is that HFCS is a key reason why you're struggling to maintain a healthier weight. For one thing, HFCS can be found in many of the foods and personal products you use everyday, including vitamins, candy, cosmetics, gum, toothpaste, etc. If you were to add up the amount of HFCS you consume everyday, in fact, you would no doubt be unpleasantly surprised.
Fructose, studies show, can affect areas of the brain (like the hypothalamus) that control/regulate appetite differently than glucose. It can make people feel less full and, therefore, more likely to keep eating/drinking. The very fact that fructose appears to be able to cross the blood brain barrier and affect the hypothalamic region of the brain is reason enough to express concern, something that may perhaps lead to more extensive studies.
Meanwhile, we know that fructose also doesn't prompt production of insulin (as much as glucose), which is important in controlling excessive calories taken in; additionally, fructose doesn't help reduce (the way glucose does) the amount of hunger-managing hormone ghrelin in the bloodstream. If too much fructose is consumed, furthermore, the liver can undergo damage. One of the consequences of a compromised liver is these free calories then having to be stored as fat (or in fat cells)--thus leading to potential overweight issues.
2. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
Used in just about every packaged/processed food out there, MSG presents a huge problem for which there may not be an easy fix. For one thing, the food industry spends millions each year for an on-going campaign to defend MSG, regardless of what negative things science has to say about it. It becomes very difficult to warn people about something when a well-supported "all -out denial" campaign is so strongly entrenched in all media outlets, especially the Internet.
Nevertheless, in spite of all the misinformation out there designed to make you think MSG is a harmless food additive, if one thing has been scientifically proven about MSG it is that it can fatten lab animals quickly, effectively, and continuously (meaning that the fat it imparts is almost impossible to take off afterwards). You need to understand that studies involving animals are very accurate ways to gauge toxicity--in fact, most of what we know about what is and isn't toxic came from animal studies discoveries.
Although long-term toxicity studies involving humans would be the ideal way to prove that MSG is playing a key role in the obesity epidemic of humanity, more limited studies (some involving humans) thus far are strongly proving the connection, albeit in piecemeal ways. We know, for example, that MSG can leat to both leptin and insulin resistance, both of which are intricately connected to weight management/gain. We also know that MSG can damage the hypothalamus (of animals, for sure), can activate AMPK (which helps slow metabolism and affects physical activity inclinations), greatly enhances appetite (why it's so obsessively used by fast food restaurants), motivates hunger, and compels the pancreas to unnecessarily produce insulin.
Sadly, most people haven't even heard about these chemicals, even though they can be found ubiquitously in many products used or "touched" everyday. The "touching" is key because that is how these chemicals are absorbed in many cases.
Simply put, obesogens are endocrinologically-disrupting chemicals--i.e., chemicals that mimic hormones naturally produced by the human body or that can affect the human body in the same ways (usually negatively) hormones do. These chemicals can be found in foods, food/product packaging, cosmetics, and household products.
Some of the disruptive activities attributed to obesogens can include:
- Preventing hunger/appetite-controlling hormones to act appropriately
- Motivating cells to store fat or to become fat cells
- Helping the liver to become insulin-resistant
- Prompting the pancreas unnecessarily to produce more insulin
- Preventing leptin from being released from cells (thus failing to control appetite)
Some of the most common chemicals suspected of being obesogens include:
- High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
- Atrazine (found in tap water--a nasty pesticide)
- Tributylin (a fungicide that may also be found in tap water)
- Bisphenol-A (BPA) (a synthetic estrogen, it's found in most cans, plastic water bottles, etc.)
- Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) (affects weight-controlling thyroid glands; found in Teflon coatings, popcorn bags, and pizza boxes)
- Phthalates (found in fragrance products & plastic products such as shower curtain, vinyl flooring, and wrapping; lowers testosterone & metabolism, leading to muscle mass loss & weight gain)
- Triflumizole (a fungicide used on many food crops; can routinely lead to obesity in lab animals)
- Emulsifiers (found in foods like mayo and salad dressing; is also an effective lab animal obesity-inducer)
- Antibiotics & hormones (these are routinely injected into animals for human consumption)
4. Olive Oil
This substance may perhaps be the least suspected weight-gaining culprit in this list. Yes, olive oil has some wonderful qualities but, to be blunt, some of those qualities have been exaggerated or misrepresented.
Most people, for example, are familiar with one major study that took place in the 50s which concluded that people living in a section of the Mediterranean (including Crete) were less prone to cardiovascular disease than people elsewhere. Because most of the people consumed olive oil, it was concluded that this oil was the main reason for their longer life spans and fewer inclinations to die from heart attacks.
We now know, though, that these people also ate a diet rich in whole grains, fruits & vegetables; they were also very active; in other words, olive oil was one of several variables that led to their good health.
Well, the people of Crete today live a more sedentary life and they consume more processed foods (and fewer natural foods); in spite of still heavily using olive oil, though, they are no longer as free from CVD as in the 50s. Maybe olive oil wasn't the magic bullet it has since been presented to be?
At any rate, olive oil's nutritional qualities are not in question. This oil is indeed rich in omega 3, monounsaturated fat, and polyphenols; for these reasons, it is better than so-called "low fat" spreads and most other oils. Like other oils, however, olive oil needs to be consumed in moderation.
People forget, for instance, that olive oil, like other oils, also contains some amounts of saturated fat. Whether unsaturated or saturated, though, our bodies need only limited amounts of fat. Some people, however, having been told that olive oil is "heart healthy" (when it's more accurate to say that it's "healthier"--than, say, canola oil) have gone overboard and, to put it bluntly, have resorted to over-using this oil.
Consequently, some people are having trouble losing weight (in some cases, gaining too much of it) because they use too much olive oil in their diet. These people forget that olive oil packs many calories for the polyphenols it delivers--polyphenols and phytosterols that could be more efficiently derived from other plant-derived foods not packing so much fat/calories. This goes for omega 3's benefits; again, there are sources for this nutrient that are much healthier than olive oil, without the excess calories.
5. Packaged/Processed Foods
As Dr. Mercola reminds us "excess sugar consumption is linked to insulin resistance, high triglycerides, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer." Sugar may not be the only thing that is used excessively in processed foods but it is certainly one of the most unhealthy ones. Whether it be refined sugar (which in addtion to packing too many calories also has several toxic contaminants) or high fructose corn syrup, many people consume many more calories than they are burning up through exercise and movement.
Beyond this, processed food is often egregiously lacking in simple micronutrient nutrition, which is why it is often referred to as empty-calories "junk." Then there is the issue of all the toxic chemicals that are indiscriminately thrown into most packaged foods. Some of the worst offenders include artificial sweeteners, highly toxic preservatives (like BHA, BHT, and TBHQ), slow-poison-acting natural flavors (like diacetyl, found in most processed popcorn), and artificial colors (few of which, if any, should have ever been okayed by the FDA).
When you put the whole formula together (few micronutrients, very little fiber, etc.), what we find is food that is essentially unsuitable for human consumption. With things like exorbitant amounts of trans fat and partially- hydrogenated fat (as well as high amounts of saturated fat), processed foods are undeniably one of the main reasons for the obesity epidemic now raging. This may not be a "secret" but it is certainly one factor that most people either don't take into account or can't get away from (because they cannot afford to give up processed/packaged foods).
Yes, you can win the "Battle of the Bulge," but it's going to take more than bland guidelines from your nutritionist and doctor. It's going to take, in fact, a comprehensive plan that realistically and aggressively looks at all the reasons why you are having trouble losing weight.
In the rare event that this does not apply to you, certainly it applies to some of your friends and family. You can help yourself (or them) best by knowing what you're up against. Only then can you mount an adequate plan of defense.