Saturday, September 13, 2008

Why low-carb and not something else? Part 2

Let's talk a little about why studies show that people are more successful on low-carb than on other approaches.

If you haven't noticed already, you're body is pretty good at holding onto weight once it gets it and if you're someone who has been challenged with being heavier than you'd like for a good part of your life, then you've probably noticed that your body may have an affinity for adding on extra weight even after you lose some.

From what I've learned by reading Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes where Gary cites well known medical facts as well as in depth of analysis of the studies that have been done to give us the currently accepted "healthy" diet recommendations. The main culprit is insulin.

Insulin is a hormone secreted by your pancreas to help regulate your blood glucose levels as well as regulate fat storage and use.

To summarize how your body handles carbohydrates:
  1. Eat carbohydrates.
  2. Blood glucose levels rise as carbohydrates are digested.
  3. Insulin output increases to reduce blood glucose.
  4. Blood glucose gets moved to fat cells or to glycogen stores in muscle tissue.
  5. If you're a person who is predisposed to fat storage continue to step #6, otherwise stay skinny and fit.
  6. Energy levels drop because too much energy is moved to fat cells.
  7. Eat more carbohydrates because you're hungry, tired, etc.
  8. Repeat, starting with step 1.
So why does this happen to you and not others?

That's the million dollar question.

There are those of us who are predisposed to this from birth, it is simply a question of when the problem manifests. For some people it comes early in life for others it comes much later. Many people wrongly assume that the excess weight is because they're not as active as they used to be or that they just eat too much, but those are merely symptoms of the problem. For me the obesity came in my teens, but the lack of energy came much younger.

If you're overweight or obese, then you're problem isn't one of overeating or not exercising enough, it's a disease of excess fat storage. Your body is so good at storing weight that when you eat your body doesn't want you to use it, it wants to store it.

What happens?

Your body stores weight instead of telling you to go burn it off. You try to lose weight by eating less, or exercising more, but your body remains good at storing fat. If you eat less and your body is still good at storing, you may find it hard or impossible to lose weight or you may find that you lose it but are constantly hungry or tired.

Why do you gain the weight back?

Your body is still good at storing weight and it drives you to eat more so that you can maintain the fat storage.

Why doesn't exercise help?

If you exercise more, you think you can fool your body by not eating enough to make up for the exercise, but eventually your body continues to drive you to make up the difference and you obey because BIOLOGY RULES! You don't tell your body's biology how to work, it tells you what to do.

Why you've failed...
  • I have no (or not enough) willpower.
  • I must not be trying hard enough.
  • I'm just not disciplined.
  • I'm just lazy or unmotivated.
  • I know what you need to do, you just need to do it.
  • I am just predisposed to being overweight or obese and there's nothing I can do about it.

Have you ever thought any of the above?
Has anyone ever told you any of these?
Have you ever thought this of someone that was overweight or obese?

I have. About me and about others. I was wrong. If you answered yes to any of the question above, so are you. Think I'm wrong? Let's duke it out (verbally, of course). I love to debate this as I find the subject fascinating! Post a comment or send me an email.

Trying to resist your body's propensity for fat storage by reducing calories or exercising doesn't work for most people because BIOLOGY RULES! Let's say you need to go to the bathroom, but you can't find one, or you're busy, or it's the wrong time. What do you do? Your resist biology. You tell your body "this will have to wait". But you can only hold out so long. It doesn't matter the circumstances, eventually you will have to give in. It doesn't matter how inconvenient or inappropriate it would be, you will have to give in. Your body's drive to store fat is the same. You may resist for some time, but eventually you'll fail if your fat storage process stays broken.

So, why does low-carb work?
  1. If insulin regulates fat storage and use and insulin increases in response to carbohydrate consumption, then if you reduce carbohydrate consumption insulin production will fall.
  2. If insulin production falls then fat will be used for energy more easily.
  3. When stored fat is used for energy you will have more energy and need to eat less. Your body won't be constantly trying to put those calories away for later.
That is what makes low-carb different from any other diet. It may not be able to fix your broken fat storage mechanism, but it can work around it in a way like no other diet can.

Soon I'll talk about some of the challenges you'll face on low-carb and how to ensure your long-term success.

In the meantime, if you have questions about a particular dietary approach you want to talk about or need some advice or guidance on, feel free to write to me at

If you have success or failure stories to share, please post a comment. I'd love to hear about what's worked or hasn't worked for you. If you are trying to troubleshoot why you're not losing, let's talk about it and see if I or any of the other readers can help.


PS. Don't fear the fat!


David Brown said...

Hi Alex, Nicely done post. You seem to have a good grasp of the biochemical/physiological variability phenomenon. Have you read Biochemical Individuality by Roger J. Williams, PhD?

The Kitava Study contains some interesting perspectives on how both food quality and biochemical makeup affect individual responses to food choices. Here are a couple links to explore if you're interested:

DJ Graham said...

Great Post Alex. Nice read and very informitive. I would like to duke it out still. DJ

Alex said...


Thanks for the compliments. I've read a lot and find myself drawn to learning as much as I can about the subject.

I haven't read Biochemical Individuality, but I'll look into it.

Thanks for the links. I look forward to reading more about the Kitava Study.

I love Hyperlipid's blog ( Reading his blog has inspired me to experiment with Dr. Kwasniewski's Optimal Diet which Peter (Hyperlipid) follows.


Alex said...


Glad to see you're reading the site.

I look forward to duking it out with you! Bring it on!