Being overweight causes junk food…and not the other way around

Overweight and obesity are always perceived as consequences of a calorie intake that exceeds energy expenditure. But what if it were the other way around and it’s rather the excess weight that incites a person to overeat? A look at a fascinating hypothesis, which could revolutionize the fight against obesity.

For more than a century, it has been assumed that controlling body weight simply depends on the difference between the number of calories ingested and those expended through physical activity. In other words, if a person is overweight, it is because their daily food intake is greater than their energy needs and the excess calories are stored as fat. Losing weight should therefore in theory be very simple: all you need to do is show a little good will and eat less to avoid the accumulation of fat associated with calorie overload.

In reality, however, this strategy simply doesn’t work, and the vast majority of people looking to lose weight are unable to achieve it by simply decreasing their food intake. Several studies show that weight loss diets can generate significant weight loss in the short term, but that these losses cannot be maintained over a longer period: the feeling of hunger that accompanies reduced calorie intake quickly becomes too intense and it is almost impossible to resist.

Being unable to lose weight is therefore not a consequence of a lack of willpower, but above all the reflection of a fierce resistance of our metabolism which seeks to maintain constant body weight by stimulating the appetite.

Too much sugar leads to lack of sugar

How can an overweight person always be hungry when their excess fat should be more than enough to provide the energy needed for the body to function? According to a hypothesis that was recently put forward by two scientists specializing in the fight against obesity, this hunger would be the manifestation of a metabolic imbalance caused by excess weight.

These imbalances are particularly favored by the consumption of foods high in sugar or containing refined flours (soft drinks, pastries, morning cereals). The ingestion of these foods causes a massive influx of sugar in the blood, which triggers an exaggerated secretion of insulin by the pancreas and a too rapid conversion of sugar into fat in the adipose tissue.

As a result, even if a significant amount of calories have just been ingested, this energy is not available to meet the needs of the cells, because it is stored in fat instead of circulating freely in the blood.

A vicious circle then sets in: despite the excess weight, the brain has no choice but to stimulate the appetite to compensate for the lack of sugar in the blood, but these new calories consumed are once again immediately converted into fat, which again stimulates the appetite and so on. In other words, it is not because we eat too much that we become fat: rather, it is the fact of being too fat that pushes us to overeat.

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These observations are very important, because they indicate that the maintenance of a normal body weight is not exclusively a question of the quantity of ingested calories. It is of course necessary to avoid repeated overeating, but it is above all the type of calories consumed which has the greatest influence on the risk of overweight.

In this sense, a very large number of industrial products that are offered to us contain extraordinary amounts of sugar and refined flours which cause enormous fluctuations in blood sugar and an excessive conversion of energy in the form of fat.

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The abandonment of these industrial products in favor of healthy foods, cooked by ourselves at home, therefore represents an essential step in the fight against overweight.


Ludwig DS and Friedman MI. Increasing adiposity: consequence or cause of overeating. JAMA.


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