The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. Throughout history, malnourishment and starvation have been associated with a lack of food. The World Health Organization (WHO)—you know, the ones who screwed up the COVID-19 pandemic, classifies protein malnourishment into four categories:
- Nutritional deficiencies. This situation is where a person lacks a specific nutrient such as vitamins and minerals. This type of malnourishment is becoming somewhat less common in developed countries.
- This condition is mainly found in children where their height is significantly below average.
- This condition is caused by a lack of food and nutrition, resulting in a loss of weight and an abnormally low body mass index.
- This condition is a more severe form of weight loss due to a lack of food.
Throughout our society, food insecurity and the various forms of malnourishment seem to be closely interconnected. It’s hard to find any mention of obesity when exploring the world of food insecurity. That’s why it’s a bit surprising that several studies and journal articles have shown a correlation between food insecurity and obesity over the past several years. We understand that correlation doesn’t necessarily mean cause and effect, yet there must be some connection between these two states. The literature has been relatively vague about this possible connection. Some have speculated that those who were food insecure when growing up, end up becoming obese in later years when they have access to adequate food, and they overeat in response to their previous lack of food.
Studies have also noted the association between increased hunger and food insecurity. Based on traditional views of appetite control, this does make sense. If someone doesn’t have enough food much of the time, this could result in enhanced hunger. When they do have access to food, they tend to overeat, consuming excessive calories that can lead to obesity.
The True Nature of Obesity
Several studies have found that food insecurity and obesity seem to coexist in many individuals. How is it possible to become obese when you suffer from a lack of food? To understand how this might occur, we need to let go of the tight relationship between excessive calories and obesity. It’s important to remember that obesity is defined as “excessive body fat.” That means that from a scientific standpoint, obesity is a body composition issue. Years ago, the so-called experts decided that it was too complicated and expensive to measure body composition. Hence, they recommended using weight or BMI to define obesity in clinical settings. What do BMI and weight tell you about the amount of fat in your body? The answer is zippo. Although percent body fat, BMI and weight correlate in populations, they don’t always correlate in individuals. A large person with a lot of muscle mass can have a high BMI and weight but a low percent body fat, so they aren’t truly obese. Likewise, a thin person with a low BMI and weight can have excessive body fat. We call them thin but obese.
The Obesity/Brain Connection
I know a thing or two about this issue because when I was in private practice for over 30 years, I measured all my patients’ body composition at every visit. When they lost or gained weight, I knew precisely what body component they were losing or gaining. I eventually took over 10,000 body composition readings. Over time I noticed a strong correlation between common brain dysfunction symptoms and changes in body composition. I also noticed that increases or decreases in brain dysfunction symptoms seemed to precede increases or decreases in percent body fat. These brain dysfunction symptoms seem to be generated by depletion of monoamine neurotransmitters like dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Over time, it became evident to me that this process’s primary trigger is long-term exposure to highly processed food. This scenerio has the appearance of a distinct disease that has been missed by the medical and scientific communities.
Hudson and Pope were two Psychiatrists from Harvard who first proposed that 14 common brain disorders were part of the same disease process that they termed Affective Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Because their proposal was so radical for its time, the ASD concept never made it out of academic medicine. Based on my observations, I decided to change this condition’s name to Carbohydrate Associated Reversible Brain syndrome or CARB syndrome.
Thin, But Obese
There are 22 brain dysfunction symptoms associated with this disease and many of them overlap with many traditional brain disorders, creating massive diagnostic and therapeutic confusion. The lead symptoms of CARB syndrome are excessive hunger and intense cravings for sweet and starchy food independent of food consumed. When you view food insecurity through the lens of CARB syndrome, the connection with obesity becomes obvious. These individuals often do not have access to enough food, and when they do eat, they can only afford to eat inexpensive, highly processed food. The more highly processed food they consume, the stronger they crave this type of food. They don’t need to consume excessive amounts of highly processed food to end up with their brain in the toilet and excessive fat storage. People with anorexia are a classic example of this process. They obsess about being obese, so they purposely limit their caloric intake. Most professionals fail to understand that unless they are preterminal, people with anorexia always have excessive body fat relative to their other body components. I know this to be true because I always measure their body composition. They are “thin but obese” with a brain that doesn’t work so well.
Patient, Heal Thyself
So, what does all this mean for those folks who genuinely are food insecure? Instead of focusing on the quantity of food available, we should ensure that everyone has access to healthy, whole foods. Because most of those who are food insecure and also have obesity likely have CARB syndrome, they will need medical management of this complex illness. Because most healthcare professionals are not yet aware of the CARB syndrome concept (I’m working on it), at present, these individuals need to grab the bull by the horn and arrange to be self-diagnosed and self-treated. I have written a book “Brain Drain” that guides people with CARB syndrome to do precisely that. This unusual situation is made possible because all the CARB syndrome treatments are inexpensive, readily available, and safe with minimal or no side effects.
If you or those you care about are suffering from food insecurity and obesity, I have shown you the pathway to optimal metabolic and brain health. The ball is in your court, and I suggest you head down the court and take it in for a dunk!