Enzo the Insulin and How He Makes you Fat

I might have tried too hard to simplify this, thus making it way too complicated. That happens sometimes, right?

Enzo the Insulin is an insulin molecule. He works for Paul the Pancreas. Paul's job is to dispatch his insulin workers into the city whenever there are glucose packages present on the streets and make sure that the packages get to where they're supposed to go. These glucose packages contain energy that can either be used immediately or stored for future use -- they have no expiration date. 

In healthy bodies, Paul's job is relaxing and fun. Paul loves his job. In unhealthy bodies, Paul is Bobby Knight in the 70s.

Enzo knows his job well. He's good at it. Paul gives him the signal and, like a firefighter or EMT, he puts on his special uniform and sets out. Enzo finds the package of energy and takes it to the customer that has ordered it. Ideally, Enzo's day is pretty relaxing. A few easy drop-offs, a leisurely bite to eat, picks up his kid from day care...home by 5.

When he arrives at a drop-off, he knocks on the door. The first customers on the list are those that use the glucose packages immediately for energy like gas stations and battery outlet stores. But when those customers have filled their inventories, Enzo has to do something with the packages because too many packages in the city streets is no good. People will start dying or being sliced open from neck to ankle...it gets ugly.

Enzo knows that when the energy customers have met their needs for inventory, he is supposed to take any remaining packages to the city storage facility to deposit for future use. Then Enzo goes back to the pancreas to rest for a while, or he goes back into the streets to deal with more glucose packages.

Stefan is a customer and also has a job. He is supposed to open the door of his shop and sign for the package. Enzo and Stefan give each other a nod and Enzo goes on about his business. 

In healthy cities, Enzo comes around every so often. He knocks, and Stefan answers happily since he hasn't seen Enzo in a while. He is sensitive to Enzo's call. It's like when a package comes in the mail that you've been expecting -- not a whole lot better than that in life. In fact, it happened to me this morning (got my new BlueTooth HR monitor!).

However, when Enzo is CONSTANTLY in the streets and knocking on the door, Stefan becomes used to his constant knocking. Kind of like how a native New Yorker doesn't ever hear the subway train rattling by his house...or when a husband becomes deaf to his wife's nagging because it never stops. Stefan has become resistant to Enzo. He's like, "Enzo again? uuuhhh!! Go away, you were JUST HERE!!"

So when Stefan becomes resistant  to Enzo the Insulin, Enzo knocks on Stefan's door and this is what happens... Stefan owns Winkler Brothers Gas Station by the way.

ENZO: Special delivery! [silence]

[Enzo clears his throat] ahem.....SPECIAL DELIVERY!! [nothing....Enzo knocks....still nothing] HEY! OPEN UP!!!! I GOT PLACES TO BE!!!! I know you're in there Stefan!! This thing is HEAVY! [still nothing...Enzo is angry]

STEFAN: [internal monologue] -- I'm not answering the door right now. I'm tired and I JUST signed for a package 2 hours ago. I don't NEED any more glucose packages!


PAUL: What?! How DARE he not answer....HEY! Martin! Jones! Smith! Get your buns over to Winkler's and get that door open!!

[Martin, Jones and Smith were watching Real Housewives of Atlanta, they're not happy about being disturbed]

So now four insulin workers start pounding on Stefan's door and he is forced to come answer to sign for the glucose package because his 2 year old has just fallen asleep and he wants to get rid of the nuisance. The other scenario is that Stefan continues to refuse so, despite the gang of knockers' vigorous attempts, they are forced to take the package down the street to be stored for later.

All is good, but wait, now there are four insulin molecules instead of just one. And when Enzo, Martin, Jones and Smith are out and about, that means that Hector Simon Landry (HSL or hormone sensitive lipase) has to stay inside his office. He's scared of the insulin molecules. There's really nothing to be scared of, he's just been taught his whole life that insulin molecules will eat him...regardless of the reason, Hector stays inside when the insulin are working. 

The problem with Hector staying inside the office is that Hector's job is to dismantle packages stored in the city's storage facility that have grouped together in threes and release them back out into the street where they can be delivered to the gas stations and battery stores instead of taking up space inside the storage facility.  The grouped-together packages are bigger than the storage unit doors so without Hector's wrench and scissors, they have to stay put.

It's a vicious cycle for all involved.

Stefan doesn't want to hear any more from Enzo because he's ALWAYS out there -- Enzo has to call some buddies to get Stefan's attention -- when there are lots of insulin workers in the streets, they efficiently do their jobs of putting glucose where it needs to go and if there are lots of glucose packages this means that the storage facility is staying very busy (you see, the energy shops have a limit to how much glucose they need but the storage facility can take a TON of packages, its capacity is nearly unlimited --- literally). 

To fix this problem, all that would need to happen would be for Hector (HSL) to go into the storage units and start dismantling the grouped-together packages and, thereby, shrinking the inventory which would allow Hector to sell off some storage buildings and reduce his overall square footage -- but he can't as long as the insulin workers are out doing their duty. Remember, he thinks they will eat him like cannibals or something. Totally baseless, but that's what he thinks. He's so gullible.

So Enzo and his buddies fill the storage facility to the brim, Hector never does what he's supposed to do and, before too long, the storage facility gets way too big, it starts gobbling up electricity from the rest of the city, it sends out poisonous toxins and pollutants and residents start asphyxiating, it's out of control and failing and eventually explodes and everyone dies in a fiery blaze of screaming and insanity. 

It's much more complicated than that, but that's the nutshell.  

Now let's leave Analogy Land for a bit and explain what all that means.

When insulin levels are low in the blood stream, your body uses energy for fuel because the enzyme HSL is allowed to do its job and breakdown triglycerides (three fat cells and a glycerol -- the "grouped-together packages").

When insulin levels are high in the blood stream, your body stores energy as fat, because A) the energy has to go somewhere and B) HSL is inactivated so the triglycerides are too big to get out of the fat cells (the "storage facility"). In our analogy, the packages come directly from things we put in our mouths.

And don't think that insulin levels are only affected by how much you eat. It's more of what you eat. For instance, one bite of a chocolate chip cookie or eating 3 whole cookies may cause a commensurate spike in insulin in some people...everybody's different.

So when insulin is spiked (regardless of how it gets spiked because it's all the same once it's spiked), everything you eat until it goes back down is put into the storage facility as fat. This is also why some have trouble losing weight on a calorie deficit -- because even if 1,000 calories a day are ingested, if they are calorie sources that cause an insulin spike, that energy just gets stored as fat. That goes for ALL forms of calorie restriction, including the kind created by lots and lots and lots of exercise.

Many obese people are quite literally starving themselves but staying fat because fat cells are robbing all the energy because of insulin's presence.   

On one extreme, cells are super sensitive to insulin. These are the people you all hate that can eat anything they want and never gain a pound.

On the other extreme, cells are super resistant to insulin. For the most part, these are the people with pre-diabetes, Type II diabetes, and who are suffering from obesity, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, auto-immune disorders, etc... 

Here are some things that cause Enzo and his buddies to be dispatched by Paul the Pancreas in MOST people (in some lucky, insulin-sensitive individuals out there, Enzo can carry 100 packages all by himself, thus eliminating the need for any of his buddies to assist so insulin levels stay constantly low no matter what):

  • eating grains (any grains including corn, soy, quinoa, oats, and we'll include legumes in here as well since they do much of the same things to your system that grains do)
  • eatings sugars (artificial and "natural" sweeteners fall into this category, too) 
  • eating right before you go to bed
  • eating really sweet fruits* (like bananas and apples)
  • eating starchy veggies* (potatoes or rice -- which is actually an aquatic grass) 
  • eating too much protein (because in excess, amino acids are turned into glucose by the liver) 
  • not sleeping well (i.e. disrupting circacdian rhythms via artificial light, irresponsible caffeine use, or sometimes unavoidable "graveyard shifts")
  • not moving around a lot (exercise helps reduce insulin spikes) 
  • high stress levels

 *One quick caveat -- if you are a highly active person and use up a lot of glucose in your "energy" cells, then some fruit or starchy veggies are perfectly fine and won't cause a big increase in serum insulin levels. Also, the affect of some starchy vegetables can be mitigated if consumed with good fat and protein.

However, if insulin is absent or only present in small amounts, HSL goes to work, we use fat for fuel, we don't get cravings, we don't get hungry 10 times a day, and we maintain our ideal body mass.

This can be done by eating the way humans are SUPPOSED to eat, sleeping well, keeping stress levels low, getting adequate sunlight exposure, and a forest of other things --- keep in mind, it's not just one tree that's the culprit OR the fix. It's a lifestyle.

Not a single trick or supplement is your answer (i.e. "Take supplement X for fat loss and watch the pounds melt away!" or "Sprinkle X on your food and don't change anything else and you'll be skinny!" or "Do X amount of cardio exercise per day and eat whatever you want!")

Stress, sunlight and sleep are all pretty much agreed upon by everybody. No one out there believes that you don't need to sleep or that you can stay in an adrenaline & cortisol heavy state for a lifetime (it would be a very short lifetime). But the nutrition thing is a Hodge-podge of passionate beliefs and not unlike a religious crusade.

I believe humans were designed to eat lots of high quality mono-unsaturated and saturated fats, a moderate amount of protein in the form of grass-fed, humanely-raised, "organic" meats (fish, beef, fowl, eggs, bison, goat), and enough carbohydrates to fuel those "energy" cells to meet their quota for the day and have a full inventory, which is different for every body type and activity level. And the carbohydrates that have the smallest affect on insulin levels are most veggies and all berries...and the trace amounts found in protein sources and nut & seeds.

To recap -- Enzo is not a bad guy, he just has a job to do. The key is keeping his job to a normal, 8-hour work day and letting Hector get in there when he goes to bed and start taking apart fat to be used as fuel.  

Let me know if that makes sense....