Health And Wellness

Everyone Thinks Obesity Is Caused By Overeating, But A New Model Blames A Different Culprit

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The common belief is that overeating leads to obesity. But, if you're not among the subset of previously enlightened professionals then you may find the latest obesity research headlines shocking.

The news that overeating doesn’t cause obesity confronts many deeply held beliefs about dieting and weight loss.

First, it’s important to understand the limitations of the research behind the headline.

RELATED: 8 Scary Things That Happen To Your Body When You Overeat

Does overeating lead to obesity or not?

The paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition consists of a review of the energy balance model (EBM) of obesity along with the author’s proposal of an alternative explanation — the carbohydrate-insulin model (CIM).

It includes no original research. Rather, the paper outlines the limitations of the EBM models and sets up hypotheses arising from the CIM model. Therefore, the conclusions are primarily the opinions of the authors.

The debate behind this paper is well known within the weight loss industry.

The lead authors are well known for their work promoting their alternative carbohydrate-insulin model. This model is also the basis for the popular "keto" and other low-carb diets.

Secondly, it’s important to separate what is known about each of these models.

It’s been known and accepted for years, if not decades, that the energy balance model of weight is inadequate to fully explain weight loss or gain.

What’s important to understand is that how much you eat does matter, it’s just not the whole explanation behind your weight.

However, the alternative carbohydrate-insulin model is only one proposed alternative explanation and not settled science.

In fact, there's research disputing, as well as refining this model, plus ongoing research on multiple other models of weight.

The authors acknowledge this while putting forth nine testable hypotheses and noting criticisms of their model.

One of the critiques is that research confirms that weight loss is not greater in low carbohydrate diets in long-term trials. This has been confirmed in dozens of studies and meta-studies.

Additionally, concerns about the negative effects on the health of high protein and high-fat diets have not been adequately disproven.

In the end, no diet has been proven to lead to long-term weight loss, and in fact, having been on a diet is one of the strongest indicators of weight gain.

RELATED: Why So Many Parents Fail To Recognize Childhood Obesity In Their Own Kids

A criticism not noted in the paper is that our understanding of insulin response has radically changed in recent years.

Protein is now known to trigger insulin response when it was thought not to in the near past. And wearable blood sugar monitors are revealing that insulin response is highly individual, and often not what was predicted.

Other factors including air pollution and stress are now known to trigger an insulin response. Therefore, many of the ideas that people have about low-carb dieting may be outdated or ineffective.

Also important to note is that many people are confused as to the label "low carb" or "carbohydrate."

Several sources of nutrition essential to health and longevity are carbohydrates — including all vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains.

While cutting down on the excess intake of cookies or crackers can be a positive for your weight, drastic reduction of carbohydrates is counter to what's known to be health-inducing.

Another theory not discussed in the paper has to do with the ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fat in our diet.

Our modern food system provides an excess of Omega-6 fats which have been a long-standing concern.

Now, new research shows the previously unknown value of stored fat in providing a source of Omega-3 affecting such things as fertility, cognitive ability, and weight.

According to this "alternative to the alternative" model, you will continue to gain weight and experience an inability to lose weight so long as the ratio of fat in your diet, and reflected in your body fat, is not in balance.

And, of course, not discussed at all is the contribution of genetic factors estimated to explain as much as 70 percent of what you weigh. Or that even laboratory animals in controlled food environments are getting fatter.

Where does this leave us?

The bottom line is that, as concluded in this paper, overeating isn’t the only contributor to our weight. There are many additional factors at play when it comes to obesity. 

Unfortunately, this piece of research doesn’t provide any further direction than what we already know, which is that our weight is the result of multiple complex and interrelated factors.

RELATED: Understanding (And Overcoming) Obesity Once And For All

Lisa Newman, MBA, MAPP is a positive psychology practitioner and health coach specializing in eating behavior and body acceptance. She is a certified mind-body eating coach and certified intuitive eating counselor. You can find out more at the Women Eat blog.

This article was originally published at Women Eat blog. Reprinted with permission from the author.