Most people will say we get fat because we eat too much and exercise too little. A surplus of energy = fat gain.  If calories-in out number calories-out, we get fatter.  This makes sense, because back in 1900-something a German dude by the name of Carl von Noorden proclaimed that we get fat because we take in more calories than we expend (1).  He was applying the first law of Thermodynamics to the human body.

The 1st Law of Thermodynamics:

In any given system, the energy of the system = the energy supplied to the system – the energy expended by the system.

Let me be clear on this point.  This is absolutely TRUE.  It’s one of those laws that has stood the test of time.  But it’s sorta like this:  I walk into a bathroom and see that the bathtub is overflowing with water.  So I ask my girlfriend why the tub is overflowing and she says, “Well Rob…it’s overflowing because more water has entered the bathtub than left the bathtub.”

No shit Sally. Thanks for the information.

It’s like repackaging the what into a more complicated form. I get WHAT’S happening.  I want to know WHY.

Did you turn the bathtub on Sally?
Did you block the drain?
Why are you trying to flood the bathroom?

The real crux of our massive fat-gain problem is that most of our fitness and nutrition advice is based on this over-complication of the what.  We’ve noticed that calories-in outnumber calories-out so we desperately attempt to re-balance the math in our favor.

Enter, the 100 calorie snack pack.

This nation (and Nabisco) LOVES The 100 calorie snack pack.

Oreo introduced the 100 Calorie Thin Crisp in 2004.  Grocery stores were buzzing with excitement.

If I only eat 100 calories of Oreos, I’ll get lean.

– everyone

According a Brandweek article, Kraft Foods (owner of Nabisco) wracked in $75 million from 100 calorie snack packs in its first year (and the sales data didn’t include Walmart). Of course Kellogg and General Mills quickly caught on and introduced their own 100 calorie snack packs the following year (2).

It didn’t take long for science to proven the ineffectiveness of the mini munchie craze. (3) [If you want the cliff notes, a study from 2008 in The Journal of Consumer Research concluded that 100-calorie snackers ate significantly more than regular-sized-potato-chips-bag-eaters who actually exhibited better portion control. Woops. Additional studies have been conducted which substantiate the results.]  And still the mini munchie crazy prevails…

Just this past weekend while I was enjoying my Saturday afternoon college football, a commercial informed me that KFC is relaunching their Chicken Little sandwiches. The tag line?

Little is the new big.

It turns out that a recent Facebook poll and overwhelming customer demand brought about KFC’s decision. The people have spoken: “What we eat isn’t a problem, we just need to eat less of it.” *Bows head in shame*

One hundred calorie snack packs and mini chicken sandwiches, of course, aren’t the only thing to blame – it’s just a nice microcosm of our fat accumulation problem. National magazines, credible nutrition and exercise scientists, and next door neighbors offer advice based upon the calories-in/calories-out equation all the freaking time.

Leave 25% of the food on your plate.

Take the stairs instead of the elevator.

Park the car farthest from the movie theatre.

Wear these shoes (which throw you off balance and make you burn more calories) and you’ll have an amazing butt and thigh in no time.

But the fact is WE.  JUST.  KEEP.  GETTING.  FATTER.

To understand our nation’s fattness, we need a better answer to a rather simple question….

Why do we get fat?

Let’s zoom in and take a look at fat accumulation on a cellular level.  To do that, we need to understand what hormones and enzymes regulate our fat tissue.

Eighth grade biology class taught us that hormones are those little chemical messengers inside the body that allow our cells to talk to one another.  These hormones are a complicated system:

1) They’re highly interdependent so a change in one hormone will effect another.
2) They all have different agendas and an entire hierarchy so some hormones will trump others.
3) They can be disrupted by many things in our environment.
D) They’re constantly changing…constantly…right now…they’re changing. This all makes monitoring and understanding them a challenge.

But if we want to talk fat-accumulation, one hormone trumps ‘em all.

Allow me to formally introduce you to Insulin.

Let’s say you eat a meal that contains carbohydrates (as we too often do.)  These carbs get broken down and into smaller carbs and enter the blood stream in the form of glucose, which is a sugar (aka “blood sugar.”)  The body recognizes this spike in blood sugar and starts producing insulin (to be fair, the body has already started producing insulin…just thinking about eating up-regulates insulin production – awesome, no?)  This insulin is a hormone – the hormone – that tells your body to remove glucose from the blood and store it as fat.

Más Carbs = Más blood sugar.
Más blood sugar = Más insulin.
Más insulin = Más fat storage.
(Bilingual. Boom.)

Now of course this is an oversimplification of the getting-fat process. Blood sugar isn’t always stored as fat plus protein has an effect on insulin (but it’s markedly less severe.) HOWEVER, as far as oversimplifications go, it’s a pretty useful one.

We need to eat less carbohydrates, to produce less insulin, to store less fat.

Let me say that again.  If you want to get lean, you need to eat fewer carbs.

A third time?  Manage your carb intake and you’ll be shredded.

Let’s look at the other side of the coin:  How do we break fat down?

Allow me to introduce you to Hormone-Sensitive Lipase.

Hormone-Sensitive Lipase (HSL) is an enzyme that hangs out in our fat cells. Eighth grade biology class taught us that enzymes….you know what, eighth grade biology class didn’t really teach us much about enzymes. Enzymes are substances inside the body that act as a catalyst to make biochemical reactions occur (4). So this HSL hangs out inside fat cells and breaks down triglycerides (the storage form of fat) into fatty acids (the move-around-the-body form of fat.) This fatty acid can be used directly as energy or be further broken down to create glucose. Yes, the same glucose as carbohydrates. The body does this (constantly) to provide a sort of energy buffer (5).

Here’s the real problema. When insulin levels are elevated, HSL is down-regulated. If HSL drives fat breakdown, insulin cuts the breaks. It makes sense.  Insulin levels elevate when our blood is full of sugar (in a normal, healthy body.) Our body doesn’t need to mobilize fat tissue when our system is teeming with energy. And so, when you eat carbs you breakdown less fat (5).

Zooming back out, we come to a simple conclusion. Fat accumulation, in a large way, can be blamed on a carbohydrate rich diet because those little (tasty) carbs increase fat storage and decrease fat breakdown.

Consume a carbohydrate rich diet and your bathtub starts to overflow.

A qualifier – not all carbs are created equally. Different carbs have different effects on your insulin levels. Different carbs are also packaged very differently. Some come with lots of vitamins and minerals, phytonutrients, pH balancing benefits, fiber, and very few insulin effecting calories. We call these carbs “vegetables.” More specifically, “non-starchy vegetables.” You know, things like broccoli and brussels sprouts. A low-carb diet never, ever means a low-vegetable diet (again, non-starchy). Vegetables are awesome for you.  Infact, it’s hard to overstate just how awesome vegetables are for the human body.  Never limit your vegetable intake. Ever.

Another qualifier – If you’re looking for additional science on the getting-fat process, many books have been written on the subject. A good place to start: Why We Get Fat And What to Do About It by Gary Taubes.

A summary – it’s true, too many calories means we’ll get fat. But carbohydrates activate this process. Limit your carbohydrate intake, store less fat, breakdown more fat. Win, win, win.

*This article was originally posted on www.schwarzenegger.com on Sept 26th, 2012.

 (1) Taubes, Gary. Why We Get Fat: Adiposity 101 and the Alternative Hypothesis of Obesity. BioSignature Convention. Las Vegas. Sept 2, 2012.
(2) Wong, Elaine, Brandweek. 5/25/2009, Vol. 50 Issue 21, p36
(3) Maura L. Scott, Stephen M. Nowlis, Naomi Mandel, and Andrea C. Morales.  “The Effects of Reduced Food Size and Package Size on the Consumption Behavior of Restrained and Unrestrained Eaters” Journal of Consumer Research: October 2008.
(4) A dictionary. Any dictionary. 
(5) Taubes, Gary. Why We Get Fat And What to Do About It. Anchor Books. New York. 2011.

 

Engaging is the fun part. Don’t be shy. Drop me a comment with the hashtag #BandanaArmy.

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  • Blackout Trainer

    Solid write up brother and gratz on getting on Arnie’s site.

    • BandanaTraining

      Appreciate it yo. Am pretty damn excited about it all.

  • Jamiejoe

    I like it! Retweet!

    • BandanaTraining

      do it. twice.

  • Ashley

    People don’t seem to grasp this. As a Type 1 diabetic losing weight is very challenging. Explaining the relationship between insulin & fat to people always surprises them. I’m not sure I would know either if I didn’t have diabetes though. Thanks for educating the public on this, it should be widely known.

    • BandanaTraining

      Totally agree. The more we understand this stuff, the leaner, sexier, and healthier we all will be.

  • ITStephen13

    Processed carbs are the enemy of everyone. Though going too low didn’t do me any good, once I found the right balance, I was visibly getting more ripped. Nice consise article, putting things in easy-to-read terms.

    • BandanaTraining

      Visible rippedness is always a win. As in balance. …Appreciate the love.

  • Nicely done! As a retyred RN who has had to teach diabetics from time to time this is one of the clearest explanations of insulin, enzymes, and fat I’ve seen.

    • BandanaTraining

      Shucks. Thank you.

  • Spiderdog

    As a biology major, gotta say I love the simple way you explained some of those details. Plus the pinch of attitude makes it more interesting. Cheers

  • I’d like to hear what you have to say about exercise! 🙂

    • BandanaTraining

      In the process of penning.

  • Good article 🙂 I learned about it from tweet of Arnold Schwarzenegger

  • robogles

    and this is why i now started following you on twitter, nice write up

  • Oh the carb phobias once again. Just go to
    http://www.30bananasaday.com/ and feel your ……

    • BandanaTraining

      Not carb phobic. Just carb smart.

  • J-P

    This was a fantastic article. Keep writing, man

    • BandanaTraining

      Appreciate that, J-P.

  • Kyle

    Aren’t carbs necessary to restore glycogen in muscles post work out? Eating less carbs works, Atkins proved that but isn’t about when to have carbs and when not to?

    • BandanaTraining

      I would absolutely agree with that. And I’m currently polishing an article about how exercise changes our relationship with carbohydrates.

  • byron

    Just became a follower

    • BandanaTraining

      Pow

  • I started educating myself awhile ago on how regulating blood sugar effects your performance. I found this article a good starting point as this monitoring will also help in losing fat or avoiding it. Personally, I believe carbs aren’t the devil lack of education on the role they play in weight management is.

    • BandanaTraining

      I agree. Carbs aren’t necessarily bad for you…but monitoring them will help you lose weight. Plus, as you get leaner, you get more carb tolerant…which is fun.

  • Dogspider

    Psy, I like your style (Psy is the new bro, btw)

    • BandanaTraining

      like, gangnam style psy? Ha. My client was partying with him last week – said it was bananas.

  • Kdog

    I wonder if all the GMO foods play a part?

    • BandanaTraining

      Yea. GMO is a whole other bag of fun.

  • Pete

    Makes sense, good message. What the font with that “natural handwriting” font or whatever though.

    • BandanaTraining

      Pete….it’s called Rock Salt.

  • They should teach this stuff to kids at an early age. I would even go so far as saying that any video game aimed at kids should include some type of healthy education. Mario shouldn’t be fat, Santa shouldn’t be fat. The Easter Bunny should bring healthy food. Great Article by the way.

    • BandanaTraining

      Hmm. I’m with ya…kids need to learn this. It’s essential to an awesome life. But I dunno…I sorta like that Santa is fat and jolly.

  • Zebedee breastfeed

    Loves it

    • BandanaTraining

      Love you for saying so.

  • Rscott

    Good stuff. I’ve ben following a Taubes diet for the last year..it work, but that last 15 around the midriff just won’t go away

  • Ok, maybye I’m slow but I don’t get it…. If my energy input is 2500 calories a day and my energy output is 2500 calories a day (energy balanced), would a hypothetical diet of 100% carbohydrate make me more fat than a hypothetical diet of 100% fat? Or protein.

    • BandanaTraining

      AWESOME QUESTION – YES! It absolutely WOULD make you more fat. Isocaloric diets of greater carb % = greater weight gain. Crazy, right??

      • I still don’t get it, what puzzles me is that firstly you state that

        “The 1st Law of Thermodynamics:
        In any given system, the energy of the system = the energy supplied to the system – the energy expended by the system.
        Let me be clear on this point. This is absolutely TRUE.”

        i.e
        If I eat 2500 calories and spend 2500 calories I shouldn’t gain weigt.

        But now you’re saying, If I’ve understood you right, that by eating carbs I somehow create extra energy? And that energy is stored as fat?

        Where does the extra energy come from?

        • BandanaTraining

          Almost. I’m not saying that you create extra energy when you eat carbs. I’m saying is that by eating carbs your preferentially store more of that energy as fat. Does that clear up the point?

          • almost.
            Fat is just stored energy, right?
            What I don’t understand is that if I use all of the calories that I eat then there is nothing TO store, then there is no excess energy left to store as fat.

            According to the 1st law of thermodynamics, I have to have excess energy in order to store fat, but if I use all the energy I put into my mouth then there is no energy left to create fat from. Regardless of that energy source being fat, carbohydrates or protein.

          • BandanaTraining

            Hakan…I totally understand what you’re saying. We know that if energy input = energy output you WON’T get fat. It can’t happen. BUT we also know that a 2500 calorie diet of carbs will lead to more fat gain than a 2500 calorie diet of protein/fat despite the same physical activity with the two diets. You’re saying this seems like a contradiction, right? And the reason basically comes down the other side of the equation. Not more calories created, but more calories BURNED on a low-carb diet. And we’re not talking ’bout exercise here (which is voluntary) – we’re talking ’bout involuntary stuff like enhanced thermogenesis, the favoring of gluconeogensis over glycolysis (which is an energy-consuming process), increased turnover of body proteins (which is an energy-consuming process), etc. etc. General metabolic insufficiencies = more calorie burn. Does that clarify??

  • BEE EEE AYE EUTIFUL!

    • BandanaTraining

      W. H. Y. THAAANK YOUUUU.

  • Thanks for the useful information <3

    • BandanaTraining

      Happy to help. =)

  • Aka Macnificent

    That was helpful…

    • BandanaTraining

      excellent.

  • Bruce

    As a kid I used to eat nutella sandwitches for a breakfast = huge amounts of carbs. Nutella based breakfast EVERY SINGLE (school) DAY for at least 6 years (I mean, 6 years ago I noticed that I had been eating it since I could remember). And I had never got any problems with obecity, in fact I was very lean. I have always been a quite vivid child with lots of physical activity, maybe it’s what has saved me… anyway, about a year ago I started eating “normal” breakfasts with much more proteins and less carbs, and I actually don’t feel a big difference 😉 I don’t say that eating the former way was good, just adding my example as the one against the grain. I’m waiting for the next post about carbs!

    • BandanaTraining

      Yo Bruce, thanks for sharing. Some people are naturally more carb tolerant than others. Not everyone needs to be on a low-carb diet, but for those who are looking to lose weight, it’s a smart place to start. I’d encourage you to keep experimenting to find what works best for YOU. That’s what it’s all about in my book.

  • Do not buy the food that you see in commercials. Get the things that have no brand like vegetables and fruits. This will help you to lose weight. Exercise 1/2 an hour a day by walking around or just have sex with your spouse. This will help you to burn your fat.

    • BandanaTraining

      interesting tips. thanks for sharing.

  • That’s a very good article that not only talks about the problem but the origin of the problem as well, the tips make absolute sense !!!

    • BandanaTraining

      Thank you Ricardo.

  • I’ll be comment number 48 🙂 Great article! I am definitely going to read Gary’s Book now.

    • BandanaTraining

      Boom. Good stuff. Thanks for reading.

  • I have been follow Gary Taubes findings and can 100% certify his logic is sound. I’ve lost 25 pounds and kept it off since I dropped a majority of crabs. No increase in exercise.

    • BandanaTraining

      shaBOOM.

  • Vouty1978

    Great blog and many many truths, one question I have is how can you break the Carb pangs? I love my exercise and work hard to keep a healthy diet but I can never seem to stop myself eating those tasty carbs

    • BandanaTraining

      I find that meal frequency helps, along with more fiber, healthy fats, and a protein rich breakfast.

  • Thanks for writing this article. What about when you are trying to gain weight and bulk up to get bigger? You definitely need a lot of carbs to do that, right? Can you write up some tips for bulking and not gaining fat?

  • rhett

    Great Article, nice to see someone driving at simplicity with the explanation and recommendations on how to fix it.

    • BandanaTraining

      Why thank you. I aim to please.

  • Sophia Law

    Wow Rob You really did miss your nutritional Rap calling. You know how rock the mic and rock the mic right lol. Question though, how low carb would you recommend going? Say, 1 or two pieces of fruit a day? I ask cause I tried to super hero my way to weight loss by no fruit/suuuper low carb and nearly ROBBED A BAKERY to get my carb fix. Also, tried to just eat WHOLE grains and my fab turned to flab real quick. I need to know a basic daily amount to get so I can get lean again and stay out of prison ( Courts don’t consider bread addiction a real disease, go figure) Also, do you believe in a carb cut off time, say like 7 pm? Thanks for this post and the info in the email. Rock on #BANDANAARMY

    -Chick hugs lol

    • BandanaTraining

      Hey Sophia. How long have you maintained a low carb regimen? Usually the first 72 hours are the most difficult – while your body is shifting its metabolic fire power to utilize fat as energy. Under 50g per day of carbs should keep you in ketosis – which means your body is burning fat instead of glucose (a good thing if you’re trying to, you know, lose body fat.) Try to stick with the routine for 2 weeks and see how you feel / progress. If low-carb isn’t for you, that’s cool too – you can have a lot of success from a moderate, more balanced diet. #BandanaArmy

      • Sophia Law

        Hi Rob, I usually start having trouble around day 7. I get bad brain fog and start to need a quick bread(any carb) fix. I will give it a try again and stay toward the higher end of 50g per day and see how I feel.Thanks so much for the info. 🙂 #BandanaArmy

  • Jirawat Maan Sriluansoi

    Gary Taubes. !!!his books changed so many things!

    • Jirawat Maan Sriluansoi

      oh another book of him is really good too
      Good Calories, Bad Calories
      i respect you even more when we read the same book!,
      i would love to do the online training course with you ` how do i contact you ?

  • Benvocation

    You rock!! I love your blog. I’m an ex fatty endomorph that was skinny, had a kid and got a little fat again. Now I’m on my journey back to shredville. Water always worked wonders for me, but now that I’m older I freakin pee too much. Keep up the great work!!
    – Ben from Knoxville TN

    • BandanaTraining

      Thanks for reading, Ben. Hope your shredville quest is going well.