Have you ever wondered why people respond differently to diets? Why is it that one person can eat all they want and never gain an inch, while someone else gains weight just looking at food? Can we really say this is all about genetics?
After all, the collective genetics of our society didn’t just drastically change in the last fifty years. We have roughly the same genetics as our grandparents, yet they did not have the same struggles with weight. These questions have confused and frustrated dieters and health care practitioners for decades. But why is it so confusing? Doesn’t it go without saying that every person is unique, and therefore, requires a different approach to food? While this may seem like common sense, it is not common practice. In fact, the very people who claim to be the experts on diet and nutrition have been pushing a one-size-fits-all approach for years, and it is just not working.
People come in all shapes and sizes. We have all come to appreciate the unique appearance of individuals. It is actually pretty amazing to think that of the close to 7 billion people on the planet, not one is physically identical. Even twins can vary in shape, behavior, likes and dislikes, etc. The fact is we are as different on the inside as we are on the outside. We each have a unique biochemistry that sets us apart from everyone else. While we all undoubtedly share common traits and overlapping metabolic tendencies, to assume we all derive equal benefit from the same diet is a bit short-sighted.
Hormones and Diet
When most people think of dieting they imagine calories and weight loss. This way of thinking is not the most beneficial way to think for a couple of very important reasons. First, there are different types of calories you can eat. There are calories from fat, carbohydrates, and protein, but these same calories bring varying micro-nutrient content.
As far as the body is concerned, all these calories are not equal. It is no longer accurate to treat all calories the same, because calories from different sources affect the body differently. Likewise, there are differing calories available to burn.
When talking about diet, most people desire to lose fat and therefore seek to burn fat calories. Speaking of calories and weight loss in general terms is not useful because it treats all calories from any source as the same and ignores the individual nature in which people burn fat. What is needed is a new conceptualization of the calorie/weight loss model.
The hormone model of weight loss can help because it explains the variations people see in outcomes from different diets. Every time a person eats, they release hormones into the body. The type of calories consumed directly determine the hormones released. For instance, starch or sugar are major stimulants of insulin as well as is protein. Protein, however, is also a major stimulant of the hormone, glucagon. This is a hugely powerful piece of information. Insulin is a fat storing hormone, as well as a blood-sugar-lowering hormone. So despite calorie intake, excess insulin will make us more likely to store fat in calorie excess and less likely to burn it in calorie deficiency.
While glucagon raises blood sugar and can indirectly impact fat metabolism. Both protein and carbohydrates supply calories, but these calories affect hormonal biochemistry differently. The choice of the type or quality of food eaten determines a great deal related to body composition.
Hormones and Body Shape
Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a way to look in the mirror and have a clue of your individual needs and which diet may be right for you? To a degree you can. We have all heard of “apples” and “pears”. These terms are a reference to different fat storage patterns on the body. “Apples” store their fat in the belly or midsection, while “pears” store it lower down. There are also other types of fat storage. Some people tend to have large fat deposits on their sides below their armpits and on the back of their arms. Some people store fat as love handles, and some more in the front of the belly.
Others store in the backs of their legs or sides of their hips. Still others store fat mostly in their upper back. And of course many people store fat all over with no apparent pattern. Most likely you already know where you tend to store your fat. But what is responsible for this site-specific fat storage? Hormones not only tell the body how to use the fuel it consumes, but they also may be playing a role in where on the body fat is stored.
Food and Hormones
Hopefully you are beginning to see the problem. We each have a unique hormonal makeup in the body. Some of us have higher insulin and lower catecholamine influence or sensitivity. Some of us are more “estrogen dominant”. Others have high testosterone levels. Now, there are also people with unique nature...and things are impacted even more.
A study, published in the 2007 May 16th issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, shows what we have always known. People respond differently to diets based on their individual nature. This study confirms the determining factor for success or failure with a diet is hormonal responses in the body. The goal was to use two diets that affected insulin differently, and observe performance in people with varying insulin responses.
The diets compared were a low carbohydrate diet (40% carbohydrate and 35% fat) and a low fat diet (55% carbohydrate and 20% fat). In this study, “apples” (individuals who store fat primarily in the midsection) were compared to “pears” (people who tend to store fat in the hips and thighs). Apples secrete more insulin after meals and pears secrete less. The apples lost more weight on the low carbohydrate diet and maintained that weight loss for 18 months.
The pears lost weight on both diets as long as the calories were reduced. Pears lost weight more slowly and tended to regain weight more quickly.
What this study shows is that body shape and hormonal influence play a role in responses to dietary interventions.
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