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By Dr. Mercola
A staggering two-thirds of Americans are now overweight, and according to the American Heart Association,1 five percent of American children can now be considered “severely obese,” which puts their health at grave risk.
One in four Americans are either diabetic or pre-diabetic, and an estimated 110,000 Americans die as a result of obesity-related ailments each year. This includes cancer, about one-third of which are directly related to obesity.
Carb-rich processed foods, along with rarely ever fasting, are primary drivers of these statistics, and while many blame Americans’ overindulgence of processed junk foods on lack of self control, scientists are now starting to reveal the truly addictive nature of such foods.
The video above features Huffington Post’s Editorial Director Meredith Melnick and a panel of experts in nutrition, public health, and obesity. In it, they discuss the effects that our toxic food environment have on weight. The video also includes clips from the four-part HBO documentary series,2 Weight of the Nation.
As reported in the featured article:3
“Obesity is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. People who are obese may also face social and professional discrimination, limited mobility and elevated rates of depression.
In June of this year, the American Medical Association (AMA) classified obesity as a disease for the first time — and what a complicated disease it is. At the time of the resolution, the organization wrote:
“The suggestion that obesity is not a disease but rather a consequence of a chosen lifestyle exemplified by overeating and/or inactivity is equivalent to suggesting that lung cancer is not a disease because it was brought about by individual choice to smoke cigarettes.”
It is this gray area — “the suggestion of the chosen lifestyle” — that we joined together to discuss.
Obesity—A Disease, or the Outcome of Poor Lifestyle Choices?
As the article mentions, the conventional view has been that obesity is either the result of “bad genetics” or poor lifestyle choices combined with a certain amount of laziness or lack of willpower.
But as panelist Walter Willett (who chairs the department of nutrition at the Harvard school of public health) points out, the fact that obesity rates 50-60 years ago were only one-third of what they are today is a potent clue that genetics are not to blame.
Also, a number of other affluent nations do not have the same obesity problems as the US. For example, the obesity rate among Swedish and Japanese women is between five and six percent, compared to almost 40 percent for American women. Furthermore, when people from such countries move to the US, they end up gaining significant amounts of weight…
This tells us there’s something in the American diet that is different from other nations, in which people do not have the same level of difficulty with their weight.
Unfortunately, branding obesity as a disease is not going to do anything to change matters for the better. If anything, it will only deepen the problem, as drugs, surgery and even “anti-obesity vaccines”4 will quickly become the advertised answer for this new “disease.”
For example, just one month before the AMA’s reveal of obesity as a disease, a new diet drug sold under the name Belviq became available by prescription to patients with a body mass index (BMI) above 30, or a BMI of 27 with at least one weight-related condition, such as hypertension or Type 2 diabetes.
The drug works by activating serotonin receptors in your brain, which is thought to reduce feelings of hunger—although it sounds awfully similar to the action of certain antidepressants, known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which boost serotonin levels and are fraught with dangerous side effects, including suicide. CNN Health5 also reported that some patients taking the drug have reported heart valve problems.
The drug’s website6 admits that it’s still not known whether Belviq might increase your risk of heart problems or stroke. A sound health care system simply would not encourage the use of a weight loss drug that might lead to increased heart attack or stroke risk when the appropriate dietary- and lifestyle changes would REDUCE those risks right along with the lost weight…
The fact is, well-educated nutritional experts already KNOW what’s causing obesity and how to fix the problem. But this involves massive changes to the processed food industry, updating agricultural subsidies to promote healthier non-processed foods, and telling the public the truth about nutrition—without any regard for industry profitability. We also need to stop the dangerous marketing of junk food to children.
Food Addiction and Obesity Is a Profit-Driven Enterprise
At the heart of the problem is the issue of toxic food—foods that are heavily processed and purposely designed for maximum “craveability.” None of this happened by chance. Companies spend untold amounts concocting just the right flavor formulas to keep you coming back for more. To illustrate my point, consider this: Researchers at the Boston Children’s Hospital recently demonstrated that highly processed carbohydrates stimulate brain regions involved in reward and cravings, promoting excess hunger.7 As reported by Science Daily:8
“These findings suggest that limiting these “high-glycemic index” foods could help obese individuals avoid overeating.”
While I don’t agree with the concept of high glycemic foods, the featured research shows just how foolhardy the AMA’s decision to reclassify obesity as a disease really is, because drugs and vaccines are clearly not going to do anything to address the underlying problem of addictive junk food!
“Sensory-specific satiety” is a fundamental guiding principle in the processed food industry, and this applies to everything from junky snacks to staples like pasta sauce—that’s part of the problem! Processed fructose, salt and fat are the top three substances making processed foods so addictive. Novel biotech flavor companies like Senomyx also play an important role in the development of foods that trick you into thinking it’s healthier than it really is.
Senomyx, for example, specializes in helping companies find new flavors that allow them to use less salt and sugar in their foods. But does that really make the food healthier? This is a questionable assertion at best, as these “flavor enhancers” are being created using carefully guarded patented processes. They also do not need to be listed on the food label, which leaves you completely in the dark—all you see is that the food contains far less of the dietary culprits you’re told to avoid.
Following USDA Diet Recommendations is a Recipe for Obesity
Some of you may be old enough to recall the 1992 Food Pyramid, which had grains as the largest bottom block of the pyramid, encouraging you to eat 6-11 servings of bread, cereal, rice and pasta each day. This excess of carbohydrates, most of them refined, is precisely the opposite of what most people need to stay healthy. At the very top of the pyramid was fats and sugar, and while sugar clearly belongs there, healthy fats do not. In fact, most people would benefit from getting anywhere from 50 to 70 percent of their total calories from healthy fats!
The food pyramid was replaced with “MyPlate”9 in 2011, which slightly downplayed grains as the most important dietary ingredient, making vegetables the largest “slice,” but it still has a long way to go before it will offer a meal plan that will truly support your optimal health.
One of its most glaring faults is that MyPlate virtually removed all fats from the equation! In fact, except for a small portion of dairy, which is advised to be fat-free or low-fat, fats are missing entirely… There is no mention of the importance of dietary fats, even the “politically correct” ones like the monounsaturated fats in olive oil and nuts, such as pecans (canola oil is also in this category, but I advise avoiding it and using coconut oil instead).
The US government refuses to accept the ever mounting data showing that saturated fat is actually an incredibly healthy, nourishing, and all-natural fat that humans have been thriving on for generations. It provides the necessary building blocks for your cell membranes and a variety of hormones and hormone like substances that are critical to your health. Saturated fats from animal and vegetable sources (such as coconut oil, avocado, non-CAFO meat and dairy, also provide a concentrated source of energy in your diet.
When you eat fats as part of your meal, they also slow down absorption so that you can feel satiated longer, which helps curb overeating. Additionally, they act as carriers for important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, and are needed for mineral absorption and a host of other biological processes. To get these healthy saturated fats in your diet, you need to eat animal foods like butter and other full-fat raw dairy products and eggs, yet these foods are still demonized by the establishment.
Take Control of Your Health and Embrace REAL Food
With a food system and dietary guidelines that promote obesity and actively prevents optimal health by restricting critical nutrients, is it any wonder Americans are struggling? If you’re at all concerned about your health, nutrition is paramount, and you’re simply not going to get what you need from a boxed concoction of processed ingredients.
So, first and foremost, you have to realize that a healthy diet equates to fresh whole, preferably organic foods, and foods that have been minimally processed. I advise spending 90 percent of your food budget on whole foods, and only 10 percent (or less) on processed foods. If the food meets the following criteria, it would fall under the designation of “real food,” which is the very foundation of good health:
- It’s grown without pesticides and chemical fertilizers (organic foods fit this description, but so do some non-organic foods)
- It’s not genetically engineered
- It contains no added growth hormones, antibiotics, or other drugs
- It does not contain any artificial ingredients, including chemical preservatives
- It is fresh (keep in mind that if you have to choose between wilted organic produce or fresh conventional produce, the latter may be the better option)
- It did not come from a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO)
- It is grown with the laws of nature in mind (meaning animals are fed their native diets, not a mix of grains and animal byproducts, and have free-range access to the outdoors)
- It is grown in a sustainable way (using minimal amounts of water, protecting the soil from burnout, and turning animal wastes into natural fertilizers instead of environmental pollutants)
How to Combat Food Addiction and Regain Your Health
The sad fact is, if you eat a standard American diet (SAD), which primarily consists of processed foods, you’re virtually guaranteed to inadvertently pack on extra pounds, even if you think you’re eating healthy. For the majority of people, limiting carbs to non-starchy vegetables and severely restricting or eliminating carbohydrates such as sugars, fructose, and grains in your diet will be the key to sustained weight loss.
It’s important to realize that refined carbohydrates like breakfast cereals, bagels, waffles, pretzels, and most other processed foods quickly break down to sugar, increase your insulin levels, and cause insulin resistance, which is the number one underlying factor of nearly every chronic disease and condition known to man, including weight gain.
As you cut these dietary villains from your meals, you need to replace them with healthy fats, such as the following. (Avoid the common Paleo mistake of replacing carbs with protein as that could actually convert to sugar in your diet and could be more problematic than excess carbs.)
I’ve detailed a step-by-step guide to this type of healthy eating program in my free comprehensive nutrition plan.
Additionally, a growing body of evidence shows that intermittent fasting is particularly effective for losing weight. One of the mechanisms that makes intermittent fasting so effective for weight loss is the fact that it provokes the natural secretion of human growth hormone (HGH), which is a fat-burning hormone. Fasting also increases catecholamines, which increases resting energy expenditure, while decreasing insulin levels, which allows stored fat to be burned for fuel. Together, these and other factors will turn you into an effective fat-burning machine. Hence, if like many tens of millions of people, your goal is to shed excess fat, fasting can be both effective and beneficial for improving many disease markers.
Best of all, once you transition to fat burning mode your cravings for sugar and carbs will virtually disappear—it’s really as close to a “magic pill”-effect as you’ll ever get. While you’re making the adjustment, you could try an energy psychology technique called Turbo Tapping, which has helped many sugar addicts kick their sweet habit.
Last but certainly not least, to boost weight loss, make sure to incorporate high-intensity, short-burst-type exercises, such as my Peak Fitness Program, two to three times per week. Several studies have confirmed that exercising in shorter bursts with rest periods in between burns more fat than exercising continuously for an entire session. High intensity exercise can also combat food cravings. It always amazes me how my appetite, especially for sweets, dramatically decreases after a good workout. I believe the mechanism is related to the dramatic reduction in insulin levels that occurs after exercise.