In our society, food is abundant. The food industry spends nearly $10 billion every year advertising junk food and fast foods. (1) Over the years we have created a “toxic food environment” of unusually large portion sizes of foods that are processed and high in sugar, sodium, and fat. In the last 35-40 years, obesity rates in the United States have more than doubled. (2) The average American is more than 24 pounds heavier today than in 1960. (2) As of 2012, more than a third (34.9%) of the adults and 17% of children in the United States are obese. (2)
Conventional strategy for losing weight has always been “eat less, move more!” But if it were that simple to lose weight, we likely would not be facing an obesity epidemic in the United States. Is it the question of some people having more willpower to control what they eat and how much they exercise? Or is there something more to losing weight and keeping the weight off for a long period of time?
Since dietary fats have twice as many calories as carbohydrates and proteins, the message to the public has always been to eat less fat to lose more weight. Fat received a bad reputation and the recovery from that message has been very slow. But, we are now seeing healthy fats make a comeback in our diets.
The fat that we eat and is in our body plays an important role in producing energy, insulating our body, and regulating the body’s temperature. We may be able to unlock and understand some of the weight related questions we have based on where the fat is stored in the body and how it behaves.
The fat that is stored in our abdomen, underneath the muscles, is called visceral adipose tissue (VAT). This type of fat gives us the infamous “apple shape” that is linked to several poor health outcomes such as diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. VAT is a dynamic, metabolically active endocrine organ that produces adipocytokine hormones that help regulate insulin and vascular function. (3) It is also capable of taking a role in a number of significant physiological functions such as appetite regulation, glucose and lipid metabolism, body weight homeostasis, and vascular tone control. (4)
However, having too much VAT can cause dysregulation in appetite control, making a person feel hungrier than normal because it increases resistance in leptin. Leptin is a hormone that plays a key role in regulating energy intake and expenditure by inhibiting hunger. (5) So, although our bodies may be producing enough leptin, we may not get the feeling of satiety we would normally feel after eating a meal. This leads to a person overeating and gaining weight.
Since excess VAT is produced by being inactive and consuming highly processed, refined carbohydrates such as white bread, white rice, juices, sodas, and sugars in our diet, replacing these with healthy unsaturated fats such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish, and focusing on whole, fresh foods along with daily physical activity will go a long way in winning the weight battle.
1. Corinna H. Regulating food marketing to young people worldwide: Trends and policy drivers. Am J Public Health 2007; 97 (11): 1962-1973.
4. Coelho M, et al. Biochemistry of adipose tissue: an endocrine organ. Arch Med Sci 2013; 9 (2): 191-200.