Overeating isn’t fueling obesity, it’s too many carbohydrates in our diet, researchers say

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Carbohydrates may be your worst enemy if you are trying to lose weight. 

The “Today” show recently highlighted a perspective piece that suggests the key to losing weight is more about cutting carbohydrates rather than worrying so much about balancing the calories we eat and burn, according to paper published this past December in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 

“The body fights back against calorie restriction,” lead author Dr. David Ludwig told “Today.” 

Limiting calories causes people to be more hungry, but also slows the metabolism down, the show said. 

“So there aren’t too many calories in the bloodstream. There are too few.” 

The popular keto diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet that puts your body into ketosis, the process in which your body burns fat for fuel, rather than carbohydrates.

When our body makes too much insulin, the fat cells get programmed to hoard calories, he explained.  

Ludwig, an endocrinologist and professor of pediatrics and nutrition at Harvard Medical School, argues for the “carbohydrate-insulin model” of obesity. 

The pancreas produces a hormone called insulin to control the amount of sugar, or glucose, in our bloodstream where it works like a “key” to help glucose enters cells in our body, according to Healthline. 

Ludwig suggests our way of thinking in regard to weight loss is backwards.  

“Given the choice between bread and butter, for years we focused on getting rid of the butter,” said Ludwig.  

“But maybe between the two, the bread is the bigger issue.” 


He says it’s not so much that eating too many calories leads to weight gain, but the high sugar content of certain carbohydrates triggers our bodies to store too much energy, which in turn causes us to eat even more. 

We start to develop fat stores when the calories we are ingesting is greater than the calories we can burn over time, said Dr. Karl Nadolsky, an endocrinologist specializing in diabetes, metabolism and obesity.  

“The whole world thinks obesity is about energy balance,” said Dr. Robert Lustig, professor of pediatrics in the division of endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco, who described a similar model of excess insulin leading to weight gain in 2006. 

“Therefore, it’s calories in, calories out. Therefore, it’s about two behaviors, gluttony and sloth. Therefore, if you’re fat, it’s your fault. Therefore, diet and exercise. Therefore, any calorie can be part of a balanced diet.” 

Grl looks mirror and measure her weight by scale

Grl looks mirror and measure her weight by scale
(Credit: iStock)

Ludwig and his co-authors note that the energy balance theory of people taking in more than they burn explains why people gain weight, but it’s the “why” that’s not being addressed.   

“The common recommendation, ‘eat less, be more physically active,’ that we tell people doesn’t work very well. Results are not that successful,” said Dr. Samuel Klein, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.  

But Ludwig’s paper stirred up controversy in the medical community, with researchers both “defending and deriding” the piece, according to MedPage Today. 

“If weight loss were as simple as eating fewer carbs, you might think that the two thirds of Americans who diet every year would have found some success by now,” said Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, associate professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa and medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute, a nonsurgical weight management center.  


Nevertheless, meaningful research on low carbohydrate diets is currently ongoing that’s providing tangible results for some patients.  

Dr. Jeff Volek, registered dietitian and professor in the Department of Human Sciences at the Ohio State University who has researched low carbohydrate diets for over 25 years, told the “Today” show that research shows people on a low-carb diet can lose up to 10% of their body weight.  

And people are keeping it off. 

Assortment of unhealthy products that's bad for figure, skin, heart and teeth. Fast carbohydrates food.

Assortment of unhealthy products that’s bad for figure, skin, heart and teeth. Fast carbohydrates food.

The show highlighted one of his patients, a 42-year-old woman, who signed up for a low carbohydrate diet study in 2019, containing 37 grams of carbohydrate daily, which was also high in protein and healthy fats, such as avocados and nuts.  

Within six weeks she lost 20 pounds, but now three years later, she has lost a cumulative 88 pounds.  

She told “Today” that it “wasn’t easy” to forgo her favorite foods at first, like pasta and potatoes, but the results are worth it. 

“When you limit carbohydrates, the body gets really good at burning its own body fat because it doesn’t have a lot of sugar to burn for fuel,” Volek said on “Today.”  

Volek explained to Fox News on why low-carbohydrate diets often fail. 


“The vast majority of adults in the U.S. (well over 100 million people) are consuming too many carbs relative to their tolerance, which is why low-fat diets don’t work for most people. A strong body of research demonstrates that cutting back on carbs is a safe, effective and sustainable approach to improving weight and metabolic health,” he said.   

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