Dr. Atkins wasn’t a quack- he knew his physiology. He clearly understood the importance of insulin resistance and it’s connection to obesity and obesity related conditions. For that matter, he was able to put two and two together and started using a low carbohydrate diet to lower insulin levels and reverse insulin resistance. The Atkins diet isn’t just a low carb diet- it’s a low insulin diet.
While the rest of the world and medical community is ready to dismiss as obesity as a simple thermodynamic problem, Atkins realized that there must be something else going on. The “calories in, calories out” viewpoint is not only fundamentally flawed– I think it’s hurt people in more ways than we can even imagine. The obese are looked down on and ridiculed. People are often quick to make snide comments about how the obese need to just eat less and move more, and often go further to say they “don’t understand why they don’t”. The thing that non-overweight people don’t understand and can’t fully understand is that there are reasons why they don’t “just” do it, and they are called neurology and hormones. Obesity is NOT an issue of gluttony and sloth– it is a symptom of something much more complex.
The neurology of overeating and unhealthy eating is complex, but I will try to give you an idea of some of what seems to be at play. Leptin and insulin resistance in the brain, as well as changes in other hormones like ghrelin, causes the patient to feel hungry more often and crave different (often sugary) foods. High levels of leptin and insulin also cause a tremendous amount of inflammation which is felt at the brain-level as well as the rest of the body. Food additives like MSG and aspartame cause excitotoxicity in neurons that alters brain firing and chemistry. Soda is not only loaded with sugar or sweeteners, but a ton of salt, which makes you more thirsty instead of less thirsty. Gluten and Casein (the proteins in wheat, barley, rye, and milk) both have forms that are similar to morphine and can cause a similar addictive response in the brain. These are among the reasons why “clean eating” is such an important part of any weight loss plan- cut out the junk that is messing with your brain and causing these food addictions and inflammation.
Hormones affect every single cell in your body- and many do so in numerous ways. So it should be no surprise that dietary choices affect hormones and hormones affect the rest of the body in innumerable ways. One of the biggest things that sets the low-carbohydrate diets apart from the rest is their affect on insulin levels.
Insulin is secreted by the pancreas in response to sugar and carbohydrate ingestion, and to a much lesser degree, protein ingestion. The more carbs and sugar you eat, the more insulin you will need to bring your blood glucose back to normal levels. This is how we usually see insulin- a simple process by which we regulate our blood sugar. However, insulin does a LOT more than that. Among the many things that insulin does, one of the most noteworthy in regards to weight loss is it’s affects on hormone sensitive lipase (HSL). HSL is the enzyme that frees fat from the fat cells so that it can be used for energy. Insulin strongly inhibits this enzyme, thus ensuring that fat stays in the fat cells. Insulin effectively puts the brakes on any weight loss efforts- this is why a low-insulin diet is crucial if you want to lose weight!
Atkins wasn’t a quack- he simply saw the value in lowering insulin levels so that the body can finally start burning fat.
Granted, there are many other things that can put the damper on an otherwise good weight loss plan. Anemia, hypothyroidism, inflammation, and detoxification problems are some of the most common things I see holding people back from their weight loss goals. This is why a functional medicine practitioner such as myself makes a great addition to your support team through this process.
If you or somebody you know is interested in working with a functional medicine doctor please call my office at (919) 238-4094 and see if we are the right fit for you. Infinity Holistic Healthcare is located in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, part of the Raleigh-Durham “triangle” area.