The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 110,000 Americans die as a result of obesity each year, and that one-third of all cancers are directly related to excess weight. Data collected from over 60,000 Canadians also shows that obesity now leads to more doctor visits than smoking. One in four Americans is also pre-diabetic or diabetic, and heart disease and cancer—both of which are associated with obesity—top the mortality charts.
According to Christopher Murray, one of the authors of a comprehensive new analysis published in The Lancet, all this excess body weight causes an estimated 3.4 million deaths worldwide each year. As noted by Bloomberg: “The estimated number of overweight or obese people almost tripled from 857 million in 1980 [to 2.1 billion in 2013]… Worldwide prevalence of obesity and overweight rose by 28 percent for adults and by 47 percent for children from 1980 and 2013…
‘The rise in obesity among children is especially troubling in so many low- and middle-income countries,’ Marie Ng, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of Global Health at the University of Washington, said in a statement. ‘We know that there are severe downstream health effects from childhood obesity, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and many cancers.'”
Obesity Is Now a Global Health Threat
It’s easy to think of obesity as a problem affecting only the wealthiest of nations, but recent research shows that even developing countries are increasingly plagued by expanding waistlines.
The featured analysis discovered that more than half of the world’s obese people congregate in 10 countries: United States, China, India, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Egypt, Germany, Pakistan, and Indonesia. The analysis also reveals that:
One-third of the global population (about 2.1 billion people) is now overweight or obese, 671 million of which fall into the obese category. Worldwide, rates of obesity among children have risen by 50 percent between 1980 and 2013. In Tonga, more than half of all adults, both men and women, are obese.
In Kuwait, Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia, Libya, Qatar, and Samoa, more than half of all women are obese.
Of the more than 180 countries analyzed, the US carries the heaviest obesity burden, followed by China and India. Obese Americans account for about 13 percent of the world’s obese people, while China and India together account for 15 percent of the total.
Non-starchy, carb-rich, highly processed foods, along with being in continuous feast mode, are primary drivers of these statistics. Wherever a highly processed food diet becomes the norm, obesity inevitably follows. Americans are notorious for eating a primarily processed diet, so it’s not surprising that we have the highest obesity rate in the world. What’s worse, the rate of “extreme obesity” in the US (defined here as people with a BMI above 40) has risen by 350 percent over the past few years alone!
It’s also worth noting that it’s the poorest Americans have the highest obesity rate, another indication that there’s something in cheap processed foods that promote weight gain. Sadly, lower food prices apply primarily to packaged processed foods. And if you base your diet on these foods, you are virtually guaranteed to experience weight gain, as they are loaded with sugar, fructose, and grains, all of which will pack on unnecessary pounds and make it more difficult to get excess weight off.
Skyrocketing Obesity Is the Result of Misleading Health Information
Previous estimates have suggested that more than one billion people may be categorized as obese by 2030. According to the featured analysis, we’re already at 671 million. Clearly, something must be done to curb this trend. But what’s really at the heart of this global problem? As stated by Murray:
“Countries need to be looking at how they communicate effectively both what people eat and how much they should be eating. Because what we’ve been doing up until now isn’t working. Strategies to tackle obesity need to address both physical activity, total caloric intake and the different foods we eat.”
Indeed, most of the conventional information about what makes for a healthy diet is flat out wrong, and is actually causing or significantly contributing to obesity. The US government also focuses the lion’s share of agricultural subsidies on crops used as processed food ingredients, primarily corn and soy, instead of health promoting whole foods like fruits and vegetables.
If You Follow These Conventional Health Guidelines, You Place Your Health at Risk…
It’s one thing for corporations to put out misleading junk food ads. Honesty is not in the self-interest of the processed junk food and beverage industry. It’s another when the government falls in line with for-profit deception and becomes a propagator of corporate propaganda drivel. And this is exactly what has happened. Conventional advice that is driving public health in the wrong direction includes the following, but this is just a tiny sampling of the pervasive misleading information on weight and obesity disseminated by our government agencies.
A more complete list of conventional health myths could easily fill several books. The unfortunate truth is that the very industries that profit from these lies are the ones funding most of the research, infiltrating our regulatory agencies, and bribing our political officials to support their financially-driven agenda through any number of legal, and at times not so legal, means.
“Cut calories to lose weight”: Contrary to popular belief, calories are NOT created equal, and will not have identical effects on your weight or health. Counting calories, therefore, will not help you lose weight if you’re still consuming the wrong kind of calories while cutting out the good ones. When it comes to calories, it is far more important to look at the source of the calories than counting them. Dr. Robert Lustig, an expert on the metabolic fate of sugar, explains that fructose in particular is “isocaloric but not isometabolic.”
This means you can have the same amount of calories from fructose or glucose, fructose and protein, or fructose and fat, but the metabolic effect will be entirely different despite the identical calorie count. One of the key dietary changes that you need to implement if you want to lose weight is to swap out carbohydrates (sugars, fructose, and grains) for larger amounts of vegetables and healthy fat, and to be moderate in your protein consumption.
The reason why this is so important is because starchy carbs, like potatoes and rice, sugar and grains, but fructose in particular) elevate your insulin and leptin levels. These two hormones play key roles in weight management and fat regulation, and chronically elevated levels ultimately lead to insulin resistance and fat accumulation. Fats and proteins affect insulin and leptin to a far lesser degree.
How much fructose is too much? If you are obese or have insulin resistance, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or heart disease, you’d be wise to limit your fructose to 15 grams per day or less from all sources until your insulin level is normalized. After that, proceed with caution. For all others, my standard recommendation is to limit your fructose consumption to a max of 25 grams per day.
“Choose ‘diet’ foods to lose weight”: Substances like Splenda (sucralose) and Equal or Nutrasweet (aspartame) may have zero calories, but your body isn’t fooled. When it gets a “sweet” taste, it expects calories to follow, and when this doesn’t occur it leads to distortions in your biochemistry that may actually lead to weight gain. If you’re overweight, you probably need probiotics (beneficial bacteria), NOT artificial sweeteners. In many respects, fermented foods would be a more accurate description of a true “diet food.”
About 80 percent of your immune system resides in your gut, and research shows that probiotics affect your health in a myriad of ways; it can even influence your ability to lose weight. A healthy diet is the ideal way to maintain a healthy gut, and regularly consuming traditionally fermented foods is the easiest, most cost effective way to ensure optimal gut flora. As for beverages, clean, pure water is your best bet. It’s really the only liquid your body truly needs.
“Avoid saturated fat to protect your heart health”: The myth that saturated fat causes heart disease has undoubtedly harmed an incalculable number of lives over the past several decades, even though it all began as little more than a scientifically unsupported marketing strategy for Crisco cooking oil. Most people are insulin and leptin resistant and actually would benefit from anywhere between 50-85 percent of their daily calories in the form of healthy fats such as organic, pastured eggs, avocados, coconut oil, real butter and grass-fed beef in order to optimize their health. Increasing your healthy fat consumption is particularly important once you decrease grain carbs. Many believe you need grain carbs for fuel, but fat is actually a far better energy source. Saturated fat is the preferred fuel for your heart, and it’s also used as a source of fuel during high levels of activity. Fats also slow down absorption of your meal so that you feel full longer, which helps prevent snacking.
“Reduce your cholesterol to extremely low levels”: Cholesterol is actually NOT the major culprit in heart disease or any disease, and the guidelines that dictate what number your cholesterol levels should be to keep you “healthy” are fraught with conflict of interest — and have never been proven to be good for your health.+
Junk Food Marketing Tactics Rival Those of Big Tobacco
Another major factor in the obesity epidemic is that kids are a primary target for processed food and beverage manufacturers. They know that lifelong taste preferences are set early on in life, and children are inundated with junk food marketing; at home, in public places, and at school. Food advertising is far from innocent when it comes to creating a global obesity pandemic. According to recent research into food addiction, “highly processed foods can lead to classic signs of addiction like loss of control, tolerance, and withdrawal.” What other industry is infamous for aggressively marketing a highly addictive product to kids?
Big Tobacco… And just like the tobacco industry, the processed food industry is fighting tooth and nail to divert responsibility away from their products when questions are raised about the root causes of obesity and food addiction. Stone-wall as they might though, the processed food industry has created an entire field of science devoted to creating flavors and textures that people will crave, and junk food addiction is very real indeed.
Kids do not become obese because they’re too lazy and eat too much. They become obese because they get addicted to processed foods that create metabolic havoc. Isn’t it time to hold the processed food industry accountable for what they’re selling, and how and to whom they direct their marketing? UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, thinks so. Speaking at the opening of the 2014 World Health Organization’s annual summit, he warned that “obesity is a bigger global health threat than tobacco use.” He’s calling for nations to join forces to place stricter regulations on unhealthy foods:
“Just as the world came together to regulate the risks of tobacco, a bold framework convention on adequate diets must now be agreed,” he said.
Exercise and Intermittently Fasting—Two Important Allies in Your Efforts to Be Lean
Besides addressing what you eat, you would also be wise to consider when you eat. A growing body of evidence shows that intermittent fasting is really effective for losing weight and improving your insulin and leptin receptor sensitivity. This makes sense when you consider that our ancestors didn’t have access to food 24/7. Your body is indeed “programmed” to undergo “famine” from time to time.
One of the mechanisms that makes intermittent fasting so effective for weight loss is the fact that it helps your body to shift from burning sugar to burning fat as its primary fuel. It also 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. To learn more about the specific how tos of intermittent fasting, please see my previous article, “What the Science Says about Intermittent Fasting.”
Another important factor for weight loss is exercising efficiently, which means including high-intensity activities into your rotation. High-intensity interval-type training also boosts HGH production, which is essential for optimal health, fitness, and weight management. So along with core-strengthening exercises, strength training, and stretching, I highly recommend doing Peak Fitness exercises–which raise your heart rate up to your anaerobic threshold for 20 to 30 seconds, followed by a 90-second recovery period—two to three times per week.
Together, intermittent fasting, high intensity exercise, and eating a healthy diet will turn you into an effective fat-burning machine. Again, in terms of diet, you’ll want the bulk of your meals to be vegetables and healthy fat, a moderate amount of organic, grass-fed or pastured protein, and very low amounts of carbohydrates (sugar/fructose/grains).