I’m skinny but I’m starting to wonder if I may in fact be fat. Last Thursday December 4th I quietly decided to give up sugar. I say quietly, in case I grab a big piece of cake and fall off the wagon. You see, I believe that I’m addicted to sugar.
I grew up in the 70s and this is significant for us sugar loving TOFIs – Thin on the outside and fat on the inside. It was during this decade that fructose consumption began to climb, when studies showed that dietary fat increased LDL levels. This led to the first dietary practice guidelines on fat. In response to these guidelines, the food industry modified their food products to meet the demand for low-fat.
Low-fat gave us food that tasted like cardboard, so the food industry had to find a way to make food palatable, so they upped carbohydrate – specifically, refined sugar. Refined carbs lead to a surge of insulin, which causes energy storage in fat tissue.
Decades ago there wasn’t the understanding of good fats and so all fats were labelled dangerous. In 1993, The Women’s Health Initiative began an 8-year study on 50,000 post-menopausal women. Fat was decreased in their diets to 30% of their total calories. There was no change found in their incidence of heart disease or stroke. It isn’t the fat making ‘us’ sick.
In Dr Robert Lustig’s excellent book, Fat Chance – The Bitter Truth About Sugar, he explains that up to 40% of us skinny types have insulin resistance and 20% demonstrate fatty livers – aka skinny fat! So what is going on here?. Why are skinny people dying of heart disease and diabetes?
A Calorie Isn’t A Calorie
Not all calories are created equal. There are two types of carbohydrate – starch and sugar. Starch is made only from glucose, isn’t that sweet and every cell in your body can use this for energy. Fructose on the other hand is VERY sweet and gets converted to fat and it is this carbohydrate that Dr Lustig dubbed, The Primary Villain.
Fat Is Good!
Subcutaneous fat (think “big butt”) is better for your health. Studies have shown that those with more subcutaneous fat live longer than us skinny types. The fat that is dangerous, is the fat inside your abdomen and inside your organs (especially the liver). So is being overweight good? YES, says Lustig, “provided the weight is in the right place.”
So what causes obesity? Insulin is the greatest cause of obesity, says Lustig and, “there is no fat accumulation without insulin.” High insulin is responsible for 75-80% of all obesity, he warns. There are four ways we increase our insulin:
High carbohydrate meals (think North American breakfast)
A sick ‘fatty’ liver
Stress – Increases cortisol which raises insulin and makes you feel hungry
Medications – steroids and anti-psychotics (to stabilize mood)
Are You Skinny Fat?
The easiest way to determine if you are skinny fat (TOFI), if you don’t happen to have an abdominal MRI to hand, is to measure your waist circumference. Lustig warns that a waist size greater than 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women is a good indicator of visceral fat and it’s the visceral fat that counts most when measuring health. An even better measure is your waist-to-hip ratio. A ratio less than or equal to 0.8 is considered ‘normal’. You’ll need a measuring tape:
What Causes Skinny Fat?
When energy supply overwhelms the body’s ability to cope, the result is a build up of fat in the liver. What food stuffs cause this dangerous energy overwhelm?
Trans Fat – These are man made fats and are found in many processed foods
Corn – animals like beef and pork fed on corn instead of grass
Alcohol – a small daily amount (red wine) has been shown to be healthy
Fructose – Dr Lustig refers to fructose as “The Toxin.”
How To Lose Visceral Fat
Fructose will turn your liver to fat and will denature your proteins and age you. Fructose tells your brain you are hungry, causing you to eat more and more and more of it. We are a nation addicted to sugar. When you go on a diet and lose weight, the weight you are mostly losing is muscle. Unless you are exercising while you are on a diet, you are making your body more vulnerable. The fat you want to lose is visceral fat.
So the toxic villain is fructose. If we want to lose visceral fat and reduce our chances of metabolic syndrome – increasing risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, we’ve got to get serious about our sugar consumption.
So am I skinny fat? No, I don’t believe that I am. I’ve always eaten well (a lot of God Made food vs. Man Made). I never drink juice or pop (according to Dr Lustig, freshly squeezed juice is worse than pop); I exercise daily, sleep eight hours a day and my waist to hip ratio is normal. But sugar has it’s hold on me. I grew up in the 70s having desert after every meal. I suffer the daily cravings of sugar and use sugar as a daily reward for finishing work projects. I don’t binge on sugar, but I have some form of sugar each day. I don’t like the control sugar has over me.
My health is what I value most in my life and so last Thursday December 4th, I had a gentle conversation with myself. I’m taking my addiction to sugar day by day and today is day six without. I’m allowing myself red wine (I don’t consume many units anyway) and fresh fruit for its fiber but I’m not eating cakes, or chocolate, or baked goods or anything that has sugar added – including sauces, jams, breads etc.
I’d love to hear from any of you who think you may be skinny fat. Do you feel you are addicted to sugar? Have you ever given up sugar? What helped you deal with cravings?