Obesity is clearly a huge problem in the United States and abroad, I won’t spend any time trying to convince you of this, I assume you already recognize this as an issue. It is interesting because our society views obesity as such a problem, and we spend so much of our resources combating it, and yet it persists. Here I will use hyperinsulinemia and its relationship with obesity to possibly explain why obesity has become such an issue and why it can be so difficult to overcome.
Hyperinsulinemia is an excess of insulin in the bloodstream. To understand its implications we must first understand insulin’s role in energy intake. Insulin binds to a neuron called POMC/CART which in turn inhibits another neuron called AGRP/NPY. This causes our brain to decrease food intake and is basically the body telling the brain that it is full. In individuals with a high fat diet we observe above normal blood insulin levels. This should cause them to feel full all the time right?
Well, not quite. We observe insulin resistance in individuals with high fat diet which essentially means their insulin receptors don’t respond to insulin as actively. This could be because their receptors have been over stimulated or due to other downstream factors associated with a high fat diet. Insulin resistance prevents insulin from fulfilling its regular duty and therefore prevents people from feeling full even after a large meal which could lead to more weight gain.
To further complicate matters extra body fat secretes molecules that are involved in insulin synthesis leading to even more insulin in the blood. So to recap, high insulin levels can make the body gain fat and body fat can increase the insulin levels in the blood. This is a positive feedback loop which is anything but positive. It seems that the more we look into obesity the more we find these situations where once a single domino falls things just get worse and worse. It is very difficult to set things straight because our body and brain keep trying to make things worse.
This got me thinking about what could cause that cycle. Certainly there is some genetic predisposition, but that can’t be everything. There must be a point. A single tipping point where that first domino falls and a person finds themselves on the wrong track. As we have seen it is very difficult to get back on the right track once the wrong chemical cascades begin. I suspect it is in childhood. This is when we form our initial relationships with everything. This is when we first form our relationship with food and if that relationship isn’t healthy it can have dire consequences.
When I think of the negative aspects of our relationship with food I immediately think of stress eating. When we have a bad day we just want to eat something that will make us feel good, and what do we turn to? For me it is mac n’ cheese, the cheap kind from the box. This is something I remember eating since I was a kid, and maybe, just maybe, if I eat that box of mac n’ cheese things will be simple again. Things will be like when I was a kid, the mac n’ cheese can make me feel just a bit closer to that nonexistent perfect past I can’t to return to.
We need to be careful with how we teach our children about food because forcing them to finish that bowl of mac n’ cheese could be that first domino.