What Really Causes Obesity?

One common biological factor leads to obesity: the hormone insulin

Posted Jun 04, 2014

So, what is really causing the increase in obesity?  As it turns out, one common biological factor has an indisputably dominant role: the hormone insulin. It is known that excess insulin treatment for diabetes will cause weight gain, and insulin deficiency will cause weight loss. Many popular foods we eat contain highly refined and rapidly digestible carbohydrates, which produce high amounts of insulin.

The increasing amount and processing of carbohydrates in the American diet has increased insulin levels, put fat cells into storage overdrive and elicited obesity-promoting biological responses in a large number of people.

We consume many processed foods in place of fats that have been the main target of calorie reduction in most diets, since fat has about twice the calories of carbohydrates. The highly processed products such as refined grains, concentrated sugar and potato products are a large contributor to the imbalance of our diets and need to be considered in the goal of achieving a healthy weight. Portion and calorie control rarely work, as evidenced by the obesity epidemic, and therefore, what we eat may have a greater chance of providing success when dieting.

Acutely, reducing dietary glycemic load in a diet may elicit hormonal changes that improve the availability of metabolic fuels in the late postprandial period, and thereby decrease hunger and voluntary food intake.

Recent research compared results from three different diets: low fat, low glycemic and low carbohydrate. The low-fat diet produced negative changes in energy expenditure and with predicted weight regain, was least effective. In contrast, the very low-carbohydrate diet had the most beneficial effects on energy expenditure but this restrictive regimen is very difficult to maintain for any length of time to be practical as a long-term plan. The low–glycemic index diet appears to have similar, although smaller, positive metabolic benefits to the very low-carbohydrate diet but is easier to continue.

These findings suggest that a strategy to reduce glycemic load rather than dietary fat may be helpful for accomplishing weight-loss, including maintenance and prevention of related co-occurring diseases. Successful weight-loss maintenance will require behavioral interventions to facilitate long-term dietary adherence to promote effective weight loss.

Achieving healthy weight goals is possible with an evidence-based approach.  Trained professionals can help address possible underlying issues and provide education to promote mental and physical health while working on diet changes. Treating the mind, body and spirit are all essential to total health.


Constance Scharff is the Senior Addiction Research Fellow and Director of Addiction Research for Cliffside Malibu. She is also the coauthor of the Amazon.com bestselling book Ending Addiction for Good with Richard Taite.