Decision Time – Which Diet is Right for You?

With any luck at all you have been following my articles on diet choices. You learned about the standard American Diet (appropriately called the SAD diet), Paleo, Keto, Mediterranean, vegetarian/vegan, and carnivore.  If you missed any, you will can find them by clicking on the names above.

You have learned that all the options have potential drawbacks for some people. What are they?

First your genes are factoring in, sometimes significantly, because your genes define how well your body handles metabolism. Everyone will have some genetic variations that might cause things to go a bit awry.  Since I am a part of “everyone”, that means this applies to me as well.  And I do indeed have some troublesome variations. However, most people haven’t had their genetics tested for health implications and don’t have a clue.

Secondly, plant foods which have bountiful nutrition also have toxic chemical protective mechanisms to discourage animals (like us) and other living beings (like insects) from eating them. Those chemicals can cause digestive issues for those who eat the plant or fruit from the plant. Note the operative word here is can.

Click here to reach about how important digestion is. It will help you to understand the consequences of continuously ignoring symptoms. If you need more information, take a look at this website post of Dr. Amy Myers, renowned expert on autoimmune diseases,

Whether a person reacts negatively to those toxins depends on how often and how much toxin your body is getting and, again, your genetics. Here is my example.

I have a gene variation which reduces my body’s ability to eliminate toxins in my body. This is only me, not necessarily you.  And this would be any toxins including those in the air, water, makeup, household cleaners, pesticides and herbicides, mold as well as food. I do my best to minimize toxins anywhere I can which also includes an emphasis on organic produce. I say “minimize” because avoiding all chemicals in today’s world is impossible.

So, anyway, there are pros and cons to any plant food. And most of us have a body capable of eliminating the toxins unless we overload the amount. Consider the farmer who has significant ongoing exposure to chemical pesticides applied to his crops.

Consider that one person I know who exclusively eats peanut butter. Consider peanut allergy. Consider bee venom for some people. Consider my friend who gets knots in her knuckles whenever she eats tomatoes.  Read more about her dilemma with tomatoes here.

All that brings us to negatives of the SAD diet which typically contains about 60% commercially processed and refined foods, primarily starchy foods like grain (as in flour), legumes, potatoes, etc. That is on average, by the way, so there are some people eating percentages way above 60%. This way of eating has three marks against it.

The processing of the formerly whole food eliminates most of the nutrients originally available in the food. The volume of toxins in the diet (both in the food itself and the chemicals added in processing) as a result are much higher and a significant source of chronic inflammation. Chronic means all the time.

The predominant ingredients in commercially processed foods are grain based starches, dairy, sugar, and commercial grain oils including canola, soy, corn, etc. And the amount of sugar hiding out in the starch is extraordinary. Many a “diet” to lose weight has been torpedoed by hidden sugar. The labels are very misleading, leading you to just look at “sugar” grams when, in fact, all those “carbohydrates” are sugar.

Broken down parts of grain (like wheat, soy, corn) and beans have names you wouldn’t recognize and are included on the ingredient lists of almost everything. Just recently I talked to the mother of a local woman who bought an application for her phone so she could identify the gluten in anything she bought.  Turns out the containers don’t say gluten is in there but it definitely is. The restaurant won’t usually tell you that there is gluten in soups, French fry coatings, and sauces. There isn’t much she can buy in a store or a restaurant and ingest safely. Grain is essentially in everything in some form or another.

The one diet that isn’t susceptible to plant food toxins is the carnivore diet (think about it) because it contains no plant food. Any reactions to the carnivore diet will usually be histamine related.

Histamine is a product released by the body in response to an allergic reaction. Histamines are found in varying levels in all living tissue (including your own) and it has purpose. But if there is too much being released like with peanut or bee venom allergy, it turns ugly. And perhaps you have heard of red meat (and pork) allergies developed from the Lone Star tick. What makes people sick is the histamine overload.

One of the most interesting thing about meat (and actually everything) is that as food ages, bacteria develop. The bacteria release histamines. For most people, the body handles the bacteria unless there is an overload. What is an overload? You may be able to eat leftovers in your frig for two weeks; your neighbor might become ill when something is one day old.  The bacterial growth is attached to the age of food. Your bacterial tolerance is uniquely yours.

Bottom line, the right diet for you won’t have a “name” as much as it will not include any foods that create symptoms. Symptoms are a wide spectrum and usually non specific. Acid reflux, stomach ache, IBS, diarrhea, headaches Including migraine, aches, gas and bloating, joint pain, swelling, brain fog, weight gain, the list goes on.

You MIGHT have an issue with aged meat. You MIGHT have an issue with the toxins in nightshade vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplant, and potatoes. But what you most assuredly will have an issue with is commercially processed and refined food at the store, especially if they are present to any significant degree in your diet.

So if you have “symptoms” the simple first step is to eliminate commercial processed food and oil for two weeks to a month. Why? Because the odds are that your problem lies in those foods. And the chances that you will feel at least a partial resolution in that time period are good.

According to Dr. Myers, the next thing to eliminate would be dairy, the second most likely “suspect.” Be alert when you get symptoms. What did I eat or what have I eaten a lot of lately? And maybe what did I eat yesterday because symptoms are sometimes delayed.

If you need help, consider books and website by Dr. Amy Myers, Dr. Tom O’Bryan, Dr. William Davis, and  for particularly complex issues, Elaine Gottschall.

Let’s not forget the point of this wander through diet wonderland. The right diet for you won’t have a “name” as much as it will not include any foods that create symptoms.

Pat Smith is the author of “It’s All about the Food,” a book that guides nutritious food choices as the way to avoid illness and maintain a healthy weight. Pat is a resident of Montgomery County, AR, president of Ouachita Village, Inc. board of directors (Montgomery County Food Pantry); chairman of the Tasty Acre project; and member of the Mount Ida Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors. Her Facebook page is  Her website is


Vegan or Vegetarian? Or Maybe Carnivore?

We are on a quest to review the major diet “types” talked about in the nutrition world today. Pushing past Paleo, Keto, and the Mediterranean diet we arrive here: what about vegan, vegetarian, or carnivore.

One of the things that the Paleo, Keto, and even the Mediterranean diet have in common is the presence of meat protein. Sometimes lots of meat protein, sometimes less but still there. Now for something different.

A vegetarian is meat free but generally comes in variations on a theme. One variation allows meat by-products like eggs and/or dairy. Another variation allows fish. Then there are folks who operate in the “most of the time” variation. “I don’t eat meat except on very special occasions; otherwise I eat vegetables and an occasional egg.”

Unfortunately they often consider commercially processed foods and seed oils perfectly ok because they aren’t “meat”.

The interesting thing about vegetarianism is that people seem to pick this diet for reasons not associated with nutritional value. Maybe because they feel sorry for the animals (I don’t want to eat anything with a face), don’t like the taste of meat, or believe that the natural resources required to grow animal meat is environmentally wasteful. In my experience most vegetarians just eat what they eat and don’t feel driven to convert the masses.

When you shift from vegetarian to vegan, however, it can to be a extreme shift. Honey isn’t allowed because it is manufactured by bees. Sometimes animal skins are nixed. Sometimes animals are considered sacred and killing them is cruel.

So vegans only eat plant food and even then many consider animal based fertilizers like manure or blood meal unacceptable. See what I mean about extreme? These are people with a passion who sometimes ARE driven to convert the masses.

This really isn’t the most extreme, however. Raw vegan is the full extreme with emphasis on maintaining the highest nutrient levels in the plants. Cooking reduces and often destroys the enzymes required to digest food.

Food can only be considered raw if the natural enzymes remain intact. So “cooked” food must be below 115 degrees internal temperature. That can usually only be accomplished by using a dehydrator. The time required to dehydrate can be very long.

Let me share with you my one week personal experience in a raw vegan institute. The kitchen had only dehydrators, busy all of the time. The day we ate grapefruit for breakfast was the highlight of my week. Some people will do anything in the interest of research.  I was not sold but I assure you there were others there who were “all in.”

There are drawbacks to eliminating meat products from the diet.

Vitamin B12 is an essential dietary element that is absent in a vegan diet. Also missing are two essential omega 3 fatty acids commonly found in wild caught fatty seafood and pasture raised animals. Further vitamin A can be a problem. Vitamin A is presents and immediately bio available in meat. Beta carotene in plants can be converted to vitamin A by the body unless your genes cause a problem.  That would be me.

That all means that, at least for a vegan, supplements will be required to make up for deficiencies. Actually the required amount of B12 and omega 3 is relatively small so a vegetarian who incorporates some eggs, dairy such as cheese, and occasional fish in the diet can be fine.

A carnivore diet, on the other hand, is just meat and meat products. Most of the people I have kept up with on a carnivore diet were first on a low carb/higher fat version of Keto. Eventually they found themselves still troubled symptomatically with vegetables in their diet. So they went straight carnivore and their problems went away.

Would you be surprised to know that, for some people, there can also be side effects to a carnivore diet. More about that in my next article.

The bad news in any diet is the presence of commercially processed foods and seed oils. This is not a problem for raw vegans or carnivores. But as I said above, it can be a common problem for vegetarians. My book shares the example of one “vegetarian” I observed in a buffet eating food that was full of sugar and fried in bad oil. Rest assured, however, there was no meat.

As I said in an earlier article, some 50 million or so Americans have one or more autoimmune disease. While environmental toxins and genes can be a factor, the most common issue is digestive problems with some plant food(s) for that one person. That means that some people can do just fine with a vegetarian or even vegan (with supplements) diet and others will not. I know of real people who fall into both categories.

What’s important for everyone is making dietary choices that are right for them. In my next article I will try to help you make the right decision for YOU.

Pat Smith is the author of “It’s All about the Food,” a book that guides nutritious food choices as the way to avoid illness and maintain a healthy weight. Pat is a resident of Montgomery County, AR, president of Ouachita Village, Inc. board of directors (Montgomery County Food Pantry); chairman of the Tasty Acre project; and member of the Mount Ida Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors. Her Facebook page is  Her website is

Is The Mediterranean Diet Right for You?

It’s enough to drive you crazy. One diet after another and you are supposed to “pick one.” I didn’t realize how confusing that might be for the average person. Well, here is the good news. They really aren’t all that different.

The Mediterranean diet has much in common with Paleo and Keto.  All three diets veto commercially processed food including anything made from refined flour. All three disallow refined commercial oils such as soybean, corn, and canola. And all three prohibit sugar sweetened beverages and added sugar.

But the differences, however minimal, are very important. Potatoes, grain (whole, not refined), and legumes are allowed and actually encouraged in the Mediterranean diet. There is bountiful nutrition in those three foods. However, all three contain the most calories and carbohydrates of any other vegetable and demand the most insulin.

So if your interest is in losing weight, the more of these three you include in your meals, the less likely you are to lose weight.

Beyond the carbohydrate content, there are also toxins in the three that plants have developed to protect themselves. In potatoes that would be solanine which is found in all “nightshade” vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers.

The number of people who react to solanine appears to be small but it is still real. Read a bit more about Amelia in my post from late last year, Tomatoes are Healthy – Usually.

The more common toxins are lectins (most often gluten) found in grain and legumes (beans). An individual with autoimmune disease(s) and digestive issues is likely to encounter trouble with grains (particularly) and legumes. So if this is you, these foods are not for you.

The AARDA (American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association) reports that 50 million Americans have at least one autoimmune disease and all have a need to manage their diet. That is unfortunate. What I am seeing right now is that grain and dairy are the top two foods creating autoimmune response.

Read more about autoimmune disease in this post, Autoimmune – What is It?

I hope you will make your dietary decisions based on your goal.

If you are interested in ridding yourself of a significant amount of body fat, and perhaps have a tendency to overeat, then the simple Keto diet is the most likely to carry you to your goal. The eating structure minimizes the insulin requirement, positioning you to accomplish steady weight loss.

If you have any autoimmune diseases, food allergies, and general ongoing symptoms, either Keto or Paleo can do it for you. Paleo is best if you have problems with dairy.

If you are diabetic or diabetes runs in your family, the potatoes, grain, and legumes in the Mediterranean diet may not be to your advantage. They certainly aren’t for me.

If you goal is simply a nutritious, whole foods diet then the Mediterranean diet fills the bill. Exercising moderation with potatoes, grains, and legumes, you could comfortably eat a Mediterranean diet for the rest of your life.

Pat Smith is the author of “It’s All about the Food,” a book that guides nutritious food choices as the way to avoid illness and maintain a healthy weight. Pat is a resident of Montgomery County, AR, president of Ouachita Village, Inc. board of directors (Montgomery County Food Pantry); chairman of the Tasty Acre project; and member of the Mount Ida Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors. Her Facebook page is  Her website is


Is the Keto Diet Right for You?

The Atkins diet introduced back in the 80’s by Robert Atkins was the first ketogenic eating plan intended as a weight loss diet. It was (and is) essentially a meat and fat diet broken ever so slightly by a few green leafy carbohydrate vegetables. It pretty much guaranteed weight loss and the absence of hunger.

Atkins ideas were before their time and he was heavily criticized. In recent years, however, much of the value in his diet premise has become quite mainstream. It was the absence of hunger that made it initially successful. However, it was boring and frequently abandoned once the desired weight was achieved – the problem with most weight loss diets.

Here is how Atkins worked. You cut your carbohydrate levels to almost nothing. Then when you lost most of the weight you wanted, you started adding back more carbs until weight loss stopped and then you were supposed to stop and eat that forever. This is where the trouble usually started. We Americans tend to revert back to the SAD diet.

The word “Keto” comes from the liver process that converts body fat into “ketone bodies.” The ketones are then used by the body for energy in lieu of the carbohydrate sugar that isn’t allowed.  When fasting (as in while sleeping or other long periods of not eating) body fat is converted to ketones for energy.  A steady maintenance of low carbohydrate over longer periods of time allows a person to achieve an ongoing production of ketones and weight loss.

Carbs and fat are the two primary energy sources for the body and they have to be balanced. The lower the carbs in the diet, the higher the fat in the diet and vice versa. The calories from fat are supposed to be adjusted downward (lower) as the carbs are allowed to go higher. What frequently happened with Atkins diet folks is they added carbohydrates back into their diet but didn’t change the higher fat consumption.  Oops!

The pattern of percentages allocated to carbs, protein, and fat is referred to by Keto geeks as macros.

From the voice of experience I suggest that counting macros is every bit as hard as counting calories. And in fact you really can’t calculate your macros without first determining how many calories you should be eating. Lots of counting going on.

An intense Ketogenic diet frequently has body composition and health treatment applications beyond any issues of weight loss. At its most intense, the diet usually includes a very small number of vegetable carbohydrates, like maybe 20-30 carbs per day, and LOTS of fat. There will be no fruit, no potatoes, no grains (processed or otherwise.), no beans.

At the grand level, the differences between Paleo and Keto are minor and those differences tend to be “intent” oriented. Paleo intends to prescribe what you can eat based solely on what the paleolithic folks ate. Keto prescribes what you can eat based on the amount of insulin the diet requires for energy digestion and storage.

The minimization of insulin creates the opportunity for body fat to burn and ketones to be created.  Paleo also minimizes insulin but usually doesn’t talk about it. If you need to understand this insulin thing better, read an earlier blog of mine,  The Human Body Design is Magical – Plan B, providing a pretty simple explanation.

Thus Paleo does not do cheese but does allow fruit. Keto is fine for cheese but would really restrict fruit. Otherwise both limit and allow the same foods, just for different reasons. For example, both instruct avoiding commercial grain oils and focusing on olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil.

It is important to remember that an intense ketogenic diet can be very nutrient deficient due to the very low levels of vegetables. Managing those deficiencies needs to be met with supplements. The trick is knowing which supplements. For this reason, an intense ketogenic diet is rarely required; the best idea is eating a lot of non-starchy vegetables and eliminating processed foods which contribute minimal nutrition and require a lot of insulin.

In its simplest form most people can have great Keto success without worrying about macros, calories, fat or nutrient deficiency. I have had conversations with eight people in the last week that simply eliminated sugar and processed food and starches including pasta, bread, all things sweet, minimizing starchy foods like potatoes and rice and eating lots of vegetables.  They report that the weight just seems to melt away with essentially no effort.

A friend just said yesterday that he had figured out that the pasta he had formerly eaten as a base for a shrimp stir-fry was just filler. The part that tastes fabulous is the stir-fry.

Pasta, rice, and potatoes have essentially no flavor of their own. Cauliflower can become faux mashed potatoes or rice. Zucchini can become “zoodles” for faux noodles and meatballs or sauce. A tad of creativity can work a miracle. In other words, use whole food vegetables in your diet instead of processed foods. It is within those vegetables that nutrient density resides.

Several things happen with this simple Keto change. The weight starts to come off in a reasonable, paced way. The goal is not quick loss; the goal is losing slowly but surely. Symptoms (aches, bloating, joint pain, etc.) start to disappear. Energy is restored.

Diet change will be easier if you can recruit somebody else to join in the effort. Between the two of you a lot of good recipes can be created and enjoyed. Everyone else will be pretty convinced that life cannot go on without chips, pasta, and French fries.

When your body reaches the right body fat threshold for YOU, you simply stop losing weight. Your body is really pretty smart. You don’t have to think about it. You don’t adjust your diet. Just continue eating a healthy, nutritious diet for the rest of your life.

Interestingly, the top two foods likely to cause autoimmune reactions are grains and dairy. Grain is the biggie. Paleo precludes both of those; Keto precludes only grain. So depending on your personal food reactions, either might be protective. Read more about autoimmune disease here.

The foods included in a simple Keto diet are nutrient dense and minimize hunger. One could comfortably eat a simple Keto diet for the rest of their life.

My next post in this diet round up will be the Mediterranean diet.

Pat Smith is the author of “It’s All about the Food,” a book that guides nutritious food choices as the way to avoid illness and maintain a healthy weight. Pat is a resident of Montgomery County, AR, president of Ouachita Village, Inc. board of directors (Montgomery County Food Pantry); chairman of the Tasty Acre project; and member of the Mount Ida Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors. Her Facebook page is  Her website is

Is the Paleo Diet for You?

The Paleo diet created by Loren Cordain is designed on the premise that we should only be eating foods that our Paleolithic ancestors could hunt and gather from nature. It isn’t entirely clear that we humans really know what the cavemen ate; after all we weren’t there at the time. But there is general and reasonable consensus that they ate animal meat and plants they could find in the area where they lived.

There has been much hybridization and genetic modification in animals and plants over recent years. It is unlikely we could actually match the diet of the cavemen. For example, the fruit we eat today did not exist in its current form 10,000 years ago. Modifications have made the fruit much sweeter (and much more attractive) than nature apparently intended.

In its strictest form, the Paleo diet includes meat/fish/eggs, non-starchy vegetables, fruit, and healthy fats like avocado, olive, and coconut. Most fruit has minimal fat but note that these fats are extracted from fruit.

Absent in this strict version are dairy, all grain, legumes (beans) and commercial oils made from grain (such as corn, canola, soybean, etc). Our Paleolithic forbearers didn’t have cows to milk, cookbooks to read, someone to somehow extract/process grain into oil. They got all the fat they needed in the meat. Also excluded are all processed foods, sugar, and artificial sweeteners.

The foods excluded in a strict Paleo diet tend to be those that many folks have difficulty digesting and cause autoimmune or allergic reactions.  In the typical autoimmune “elimination” diet, these are definitely the foods on the first elimination list.You can read about autoimmunity on my website,

The Paleo diet can be and frequently is modified although Loren Cordain will not approve. For example, if dairy is not a digestive issue for you, then some will add in dairy. Legumes contain anti-nutrients that impact digestion and reduce the availability of minerals. However, there are ways to prepare beans to minimize those issues. My book has a chapter, “What the Heck is Phytic Acid”, that describes the way to prepare legumes.

A good case can be made for a Paleo diet, particularly if you have digestive issues or autoimmune disease(s). Absent are the high carbohydrate (and by extension, calorie) processed foods that generate hunger and are a primary cause of overeating.

While information you read on the Paleo diet doesn’t mention “ketones,” the mark of a Ketogenic diet, the elimination of processed foods is absolutely going to result in the burning of body fat. That “burning” creates the ketones you will read about in the discussion of a Ketogenic diet.

Following the Paleo diet with reasonable care eliminates a need to count calories. Foods can be made to look and taste good. Whole foods included are nutrient dense. Paleo is touted as a healthy diet but it will inevitably be a weight loss diet if you are carrying extra weight. Weight can be be lost and kept off because adherence to the diet is easy. One can comfortably eat a Paleo diet long term.

Next week we will examine the Keto diet.

What Diet Will Allow You to Lose Weight and Keep It Off?

More and more often I talk to folks who are on a certain “diet.” The big question for them is, how can you keep the weight off permanently? Anyone who has ever done some serious calorie cutting or Weight Watchers knows, weight can be lost and then regained with great ease.

Over the next few weeks my blogs will focus on the currently popular “diets” like Paleo, Keto, and Mediterranean. I will describe each one, highlight the pro’s and con’s, and clarify how this diet might be particularly helpful for some.

My primary purpose is to help you decide which diet will allow you to lose the weight AND keep it off.

Today the discussion is the standard American diet (SAD), the default diet of the vast majority of Americans today. This diet is both high in carbohydrate and fat. This is not a planned diet; nobody goes down a list and purposely selects a SAD diet. It just happens because we have eaten it all our lives and our taste buds like it a lot.

So here’s the deal. Carbohydrate (sugar) and fat are the primary sources of energy in your food. Vegetables don’t have much sugar. Starches have TONS. The amount of total energy you eat BEYOND what is required for your body to keep going will result in lots of body fat and eventually illness.  So with that in mind —

The typical SAD diet is heavy with starchy commercially processed food, stuff like pasta, bread (bread and more bread), chips of every possible combination (double row aisle at the grocery), cereals, sweet any-and-everything, fried any-and-everything.

If you start with pasta (high starch) and then make it taste good with the addition of butter, cream, cheese, you have a high carb starch/high fat food. It is essentially impossible to make a sweet anything without both flour (high carb starch), sugar (high carb) and fat in the crust (high fat); you have a high carb/high fat food. Ice cream is carbohydrate (sugar) and fat.

Fried food inevitably seems to need a batter, flour or cornmeal, (high carb starch) and then fry it up in oil. The oil gets absorbed and voila’, high fat. Bread (including corn bread) is just high carb starch, period. It’s the volume along with the fat you spread on it (butter) or dip it into (olive oil) or ladle over it (gravy which is both flour {high carb starch} and fat {high fat}. And then there are pancakes with butter and syrup.

So you can see how it sneaks up on you. A diet that is a combination of high carb (starch or plain old sugar) and high fat is going to be a major overload of energy and just guaranteed to put on and keep putting on the weight.

Sugar in any form digests quickly in your body, gets delivered to your cells quickly, and your brain suggests (firmly) that you have used up available energy in your blood and should eat again. This is called “hunger.” It’s so hard to ignore your brain.

You don’t get hungry based on the number of calories eaten. You get hungry because the energy consumed from sugar has been used up and appetite rears its ugly head.

The SAD diet often consists of three meals plus innumerable snacks (or perpetual snacking all day.)  The inevitable excess energy consumed (both in sugar and fat) will be stored somewhere in body fat, over and over again.

Whole vegetables and fruits are natural sources of small amounts of carbohydrates, minimal fat, and a plethora of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients you can’t do without. On the other hand, processed foods that are made primarily of starch (wheat, corn, soy, and other grains as well as root vegetables like potatoes) are extremely high in carbohydrates (sugar), tasteless on their own until they are augmented with fat or even more sugar, and nutrient deficient.

Plus plain old sugar and grain based starches are most often the primary causes of autoimmune dysfunctions like arthritis, lupus, etc. Everything likely to spark an autoimmune response is common in this diet. Read more about autoimmune diseases here.

In other words, overfed, undernourished, and sick. This isn’t the best option for good health.

Weight can be lost and managed on the SAD diet by tightly controlling calories. But this is difficult to do (particularly long term) because, regardless of calories, hunger soon returns. Hunger is impossible to ignore. You might exercise enough will power to get past it part of the time but you won’t ignore it.

Counting calories and exercising will-power every day for the rest of your life is an almost overwhelming idea that just takes the joy out of eating. The only pro I can find in the SAD diet is it is convenient. Everything else is a con.

Next week we will take a look at the Paleo diet. Perhaps that will work better.


How Does Exceeding Your Body Fat Capacity Make You Sick?

In a recent post, Seriously Now – How Much Can I Afford to Weigh?,  my message was that the fat capacity of any individual, the point at which fat cells are full and cannot store more fat, is the key to the many inevitable manifestations of ill health associated with obesity.

As that post describes, it isn’t how much you weigh. It’s not if you are obese or even if you are thin. Its how much more you can weigh without getting sick.

Your fat capacity (technically called fat threshold) is genetically defined; it is what it is. The question is how does exceeding that threshold make you sick and what can you do about it?  In the end, it all boils down to understanding insulin.

The symptom of diabetes is high blood sugar. Just the symptom. But the cause of diabetes is excessive insulin (technically called hyperinsulinemia) followed by the inevitable insulin resistance. And excessive insulin has many more health consequences than diabetes.

Insulin is a hormone like cortisol or estrogen and many others. Under normal circumstances each and every hormone in your body increases and decreases as required over time and isn’t supposed to stay persistently high. Anytime one hormone stays high for a long time, body cell receptors recognize the error and resist accepting the hormone. It might be floating around in your blood but it isn’t doing its job.

Consider cortisol, a stress hormone.

Quoting from WebMD, “Cortisol receptors — which are in most cells in your body — receive and use the hormone in different ways. Your needs will differ from day to day. For instance, when your body is on high alert, cortisol can alter or shut down functions that get in the way. These might include your digestive or reproductive systems, your immune system, or even your growth processes.”

“— (once) the pressure or danger has passed, your cortisol level should calm down. Your heart, blood pressure, and other body systems will get back to normal. But what if you’re under constant stress and the alarm button stays on?”

When stress and cortisol levels remain persistently high, receptors resist. Consequently all those happy things that are supposed to happen from the normal body use of cortisol get whacked up.

Now let’s consider insulin.

At the simplest possible level, when everything is working as intended, three things are of particular importance.

(1) Insulin permits glucose in the blood to deliver to body cells for the production of energy. It also allows the liver to store a small amount of that energy in backup glucose storage (glycogen).

(2) When excess energy is available (beyond that required for energy production and glucose storage in the liver/) the liver converts the extra into fat and insulin permits that fat energy to be stored as body fat.

(3) And because glucose and fat are not supposed to wandering around in the blood at the same time, insulin also stops fat cells from releasing fat freely into the blood. When insulin is low fat cells are permitted to release fat, also used for energy as plan B.

Here is how resistance starts.

The occasional higher insulin demand attached to a meal (or a piece of cake) is not a problem. But when the diet (or some other factor like stress, illness, medication) results in a persistent amount of insulin in the blood stream, resistance first build up in the body cells, muscles as an example. The message from the cells is “I have all the energy I need and I don’t want any more.”

The resistance fails to permit the delivery of the glucose. Hiding behind all that glucose in the blood stream is an increasing level of insulin working to compensate for the excess glucose. And it works, at least for a while.

Eventually the high blood sugar levels damage the pancreas (the maker of insulin) and its ability to generate insulin is compromised. Then blood glucose goes even higher. Understand that the persistently high blood sugar alone (without consideration of the insulin effect) also damages the kidneys, the eyes, the brain, the blood vessels, nerves, etc.

In the face of insulin resistance in the body cells, the liver is working hard converting the excess glucose into fat, which is then permitted to go into fat storage. Note that the last place that insulin resistance develops is in fat cells.

Excess insulin, excess fat. So you can conclude all on your own that obesity is the result of excess insulin.

NOW, when you reach the fat capacity of your fat storage, there is a new problem. The fat cells now develop their own insulin resistance. “Nope, there is no more room here either, do something else with that stuff.”

And it’s not just an ability to store more fat that is blocked. One of the jobs of insulin was to keep fat in the fat cells when the blood stream is dealing with glucose. But in the presence of insulin resistance, the fat cells don’t hold on to the fat already there. It starts to spill over into the blood. Fat and glucose are not supposed to be present continuously at the same time.

Remember that the look and feel of a person’s body fat may not reflect the capacity problem. There are examples in my previous article. But the problem is exactly the same, obviously obese (diabetic or not) or looking fine (but diabetic). The fat has to go somewhere. Nothing just disappears in the human body.

When your capacity for subcutaneous fat is reached, energy is already not storing properly. Blood sugar goes higher and higher. Your cholesterol and triglyceride levels get too high. You start to have heart trouble. Your blood pressure goes up. Your (other) hormones get messed up and you have lots of symptoms. And your liver has to figure out where to put that excess energy that can’t be stored in your fat cells.

The only option open is to stuff the fat in and around your muscles and body organs like the liver, pancreas, kidneys, and heart. So you have non-alcoholic fatty liver and then the doctor gets really excited.

We have now arrived at the end of the journey that started with continuously high levels of insulin and ended in a very bad place.

The fix for this problem has to come from where it started –  with high insulin. What usually starts accumulation of body fat from high insulin is diet.

It sometimes takes only a small reduction in body fat to get below your fat capacity threshold. This may not take extraordinary effort. Rather, even just a reduction in carbohydrate foods that require a lot of insulin may be all that is required. These are invariably processed foods in sacks and boxes, primarily including sugar (pies, cakes, cookies) and starches – starches like grain (wheat, corn, etc as in flour and cereal) and root vegetables (potatoes).

It is actually remarkable how quickly body fat can disappear with that dietary change.

Sometimes we hate changing. But considering the long term health implications of high insulin described above, it is certainly worth a shot.

Just remember that whatever dietary change you employ, it needs to be permanent and not a one-time shot. Otherwise you just put the fat back on and the cycle starts all over again.

Pat Smith is the author of “It’s All about the Food,” a book that guides nutritious food choices as the way to avoid illness and maintain a healthy weight. Pat is a resident of Montgomery County, AR, president of Ouachita Village, Inc. board of directors (Montgomery County Food Pantry); chairman of the Tasty Acre project; and member of the Mount Ida Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors. Her website is

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