© Sarah Beesley MHD Hons

The Fat Trap refers to a set of factors which result in people not being able to reduce or stabilize their weight despite increased exercise and a better diet. Those who are likely to have a fat trap operating are more genetically predisposed to becoming insulin resistant in response to high carbohydrate foods. This means that starchy foods such as potatoes, bread, cereal, rice, pasta, baking and sugar affect them more negatively and lead more easily to weight gain. They are often referred to as people with the “thrifty gene”.

However, just having a predisposition does not mean it is inevitable. It comes down to individual choices and conscious eating habits. The Fat Trap is brought about primarily by eating more starchy foods than the body can comfortably handle, and at the same time eating foods that contain too many omega 6 or saturated fats. Over time this creates a state of chronic inflammation which disrupts the way insulin works and how fats are utilised.

Insulin is the primary hormone the body produces and uses to get the sugars that come from carbohydrate foods, from the blood stream into the cells. People with a fat trap are more sensitive to carbohydrate foods because they have become insulin resistant. This means their cells no longer respond to insulin in a normal way, and it happens because they have over-exposed their cells to high levels of it on a frequent basis through their food choices.

Once they become insulin resistant, they also have a difficulty turning their fat into energy when they experience a blood sugar low. This situation will result in regular hypoglycemia (3.30-itis), fatigue, and sugar or carbohydrate cravings which serve to fuel the problem.

They usually have elevated cholesterol because high insulin levels activate the enzyme responsible for making cholesterol, especially LDL cholesterol. Glucagon, which is the hormone secreted when blood sugar levels drop, turns it off. Some of the first signs that insulin and glucagon are no longer working together in the way they should are abnormal cholesterol readings.

Fuel is added to the fire when high insulin levels are combined with an imbalance between omega 6 and omega 3. This causes more arachidonic acid to be produced which leads to inflamed fat cells and further issues in using insulin correctly. (See the article “Insulin and Arachidonic Acid; A Dangerous Combination” under “Resources” to understand more about arachidonic acid and insulin).

Increased inflammation creates a higher risk of heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes.

How does the Fat Trap operate?

A typical cell can only store about 10 seconds worth of energy. It relies upon a steady source of glucose either through food that is currently being processed, or through fat that has been turned into glucose if food is not available. When the fat stores no longer behave as a ready source of energy, an individual will feel they either need eat more to get more fuel into the bloodstream, or to sleep more and exercise less (to conserve their existing energy levels). The problem is that once the fat trap is operating, the food the person eats isn’t readily turned into energy; it is more easily stored as more fat, and the fat they have can’t be turned easily into energy either. The end result is a lower metabolic rate which most people experience as a lower energy level and lower body temperature.

Eating less and exercising more doesn’t work well long term for those who are genetically predisposed to having a high insulin response unless they learn how to control the insulin. If they simply eat less and reduce calories without understanding how to control their insulin level, they end up with less fuel available to make energy which leads to a drop in metabolism in an effort to conserve resources. If they have a fat trap operating, they won’t be able to use the fat stores in their body efficiently to counteract the drop in calories. Their body will begin to break down and use muscle tissue and organs to supply the necessary raw materials for continued energy production because the “emergency” fuel that it would usually use is not readily available. The person may initially lose weight, but not nearly the amount of body fat that would be expected. The weight loss will be mainly muscle. In addition, with less food and too high a carbohydrate intake comes an increase in the hunger hormone ghrelin. So as well as losing muscle tissue, the genetically predisposed individual with an active fat trap has even greater hunger when eating less. This is why willpower alone is insufficient to continue such measures for an extended period of time.

If they try to exercise more and eat less, they often become more tired and the exercise becomes harder to maintain. The increase in exercise increases their need for energy but because their body is not able to tap into its reserves the way it should, the fatigue continues to get worse. Fuel will not be supplied efficiently from the fat stores, forcing the body to further cannibalize muscle mass and organs for the raw materials necessary to maintain energy levels. Sugar and carb cravings are also likely to get worse as their body desperately tries to supply the energy it is being asked for. The exercise may appear to result in a faster weight loss initially, but they will plateau fast and a lot of the weight loss will again be through the loss of muscle not fat.

Obesity and cancer

Obesity and cancer share many similarities. They are both characterized by increased inflammation, seemingly uncontrolled growth, as well as metastasis (movement) to other organs. The excess fat mass in an individual who is actively storing arachidonic acid from the circulation could be likened to a benign tumor because it does not at that stage compromise physiological function. As long as the fat tissue is composed of healthy fat cells and is able to generate new ones, any increased production of dietary-induced arachidonic acid can be safely handled by their continued expansion and the fat stays within the fat tissue. When the fat cells get overloaded with either arachidonic acid or toxic wastes, the fat starts depositing in other organs and tissues such as the liver and pancreas in a similar process to that of a cancer tumour metastasising. When this happens, the fat is no longer benign. Left untreated, metabolic syndrome will usually result in the development of Type 2 Diabetes within 8-10 years.