Friday, September 19, 2014

When a calorie isn’t a calorie

Last Updated Aug 2008


Almost every lecture at a recent national obesity meeting in New Orleans began with the mantra that the solution to the obesity epidemic is simply “eat less and exercise more”. After all, the speakers said, it is simply more calories coming in than going out that leads to obesity. Nowhere at that meeting did anyone question whether or not such a simple-minded equation is valid. 
 
Calories only describe the amount of heat a food product can release in a laboratory furnace. But in the body, a calorie must be converted to the chemical ATP to run the body’s metabolism as well to move around. If incoming calories can’t easily be converted to ATP, you have to either eat more calories or have less movement. 
 
It turns out that overweight and obese individuals have what can be called a fat trap. Incoming calories get converted into fat and enter the adipose tissue for storage. However, if these people are genetically sensitive to insulin, then that stored fat will have great difficulty leaving the adipose tissue to be made into adequate ATP to fuel the body unless they are following the correct diet. For those with a fat trap, if they do simply “eat less and exercise more,” they will drive the body into starvation with little loss of fat. They will lose weight, but much of that will come from lean body tissue. 
 
Of course, no speaker at the meeting ever discussed this type of thinking. I can hardly wait for next year’s breakthrough topic in obesity, which will probably be “eat even less and exercise even more”. 
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