Is too much insulin in your body responsible for obesity?

If you’re struggling to lose a few pounds, it could be that you have too much insulin in your body.

While many assume obesity is linked to overeating, one Ontario doctor doesn’t seem to think so. Dr. Jason Fung, a kidney specialist from Scarborough and author of The Obesity Code, says obesity is linked to ‘excessive insulin.’

“When you eat, insulin goes up and your body stores energy. When you don’t eat, insulin goes down and your body takes stored energy and uses it,” Dr. Fung tells the Toronto Star.  He says when your body has too much of the hormone it becomes resistant to its effect and produces even more, calling it a “vicious cycle.”

Dr. Fung recommends not eating for set periods of time – or fasting. This will lower both insulin and the body’s set weight.  

Andrea Mawson, a registered dietitian in Alberta who specializes in weight loss, says the statement isn’t all that surprising.

“Fasting can be a useful strategy for some adults; studies however have shown that this approach will not work for the majority of the dieting population. For that reason, yes, I do feel this to be a bit of a radical diet.”

She says fasting can also lead to feelings of fatigue, irritability and extreme hunger, which puts you at risk for overeating and binging.

Annie Tsang, a registered dietitian from Vancouver, says you can likely see the same result from following a healthy diet without skipping meals. She suggests there’s not enough evidence to know the long-term effects of fasting.

“While I do agree with some of Dr. Fung’s reasoning on excessive insulin being a cause for obesity, I cannot agree to all his findings. There are definitely obese people who are not insulin resistant. Besides obesity, diet, physical inactivity and genetics can be risk factors for insulin resistance.”

Rather than fasting, Mawson recommends changing your diet and exercising to get insulin down. 

“Research has shown us that the more preventative medicine to decreasing insulin production is to exercise. Our body becomes more sensitive to the insulin when we exercise thereby producing less.” 

But it’s not all about exercise. If you’re set on losing weight, there are certain foods you can add to your diet that will help you with your goal. She suggests filling up on fibre and protein at every meal. These foods are low in calories and will leave you feeling full and energized.

“Diet trumps exercise in the weight loss equation. It is 75% diet, 25% exercise. It is much easier to cut calories than to burn them off.”

While Dr. Fung claims cutting calories doesn’t work, Mawson says it’s calories that control weight gain or weight loss. 

“It you ingest more calories then you require, these extra calories will be converted into fat and vice versa, eating less calories will cause the body to use your bodies built up fat stores.”

She does agree with the Scarborough doctor that people eat more times a day than they used to. Snacking in between meals means we are constantly triggering insulin.

“We have become a society of oversnackers. We do not need to eat every two to three hours. Eat your meals, snack once a day – but do not oversnack!”

Just as important as exercise and diet are to weight loss, so is one’s mentality. Tsang says change won’t come if you’re not ready for it.  

“The key is making small changes that are realistic to you. Everyone is different and there is not ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to healthy weight loss.”