Can overeating be a cause of obesity?

(versión en español: pinchar aquí)

What is the meaning of «overeating»?

I would say it is not called overeating, unless we think there is a negative consequence. If we say it is «overeating», we should be able to say it’s «too much» food, «beyond a desirable amount» of food, and you must do it frequently, because otherwise you are not supposed to get the negative output (e.g. getting fatter). There must be a negative consequence and we all could agree that the negative consequence is getting fatter (and maybe sicker). Therefore, as I see it, overeating means eating so much food that something detrimental happens to you.

Note: the term «overeating» assumes that food quantity causes fat accumulation. That is the reason why, IMO, talking about «overeating» is always an error.

Can «overeating» be a cause of obesity?

if we get fatter and heavier, more energy enters our body than leaves it. Overeating means we’re consuming more energy than we’re expending. It’s saying the same thing in a different way». Gary Taubes

Overeating is the same as getting fatter. It can’t be a cause of getting fatter because they are two ways of saying the same thing. Having problems paying attention and sitting still in a seat doesn’t cause ADHD.

But still, some people think eating «too much» could be a cause of obesity. The question here is «too much, compared with what?«. People use to say «more than our needs», but the reality is there is no such thing as «our needs», i.e. a level of caloric intake beyond which we get fat. We only know if we are overeating if we get fat. Even if eating a diet with 2500 kcal/day your weight is stable, you can’t say a 3000 kcal/day diet is going to make you fatter. It could even make you leaner.

Blaming obesity on «eating more than was expended» is  incorrect because whether more was eaten than expended can’t be known unless the patient is already obese. Bill Lagakos

  • Why are you obese?
  • Because I overate
  • How do you know you overate?
  • Because I am obese

Unrealistically extreme situations don’t give answers about normal conditions

If a eat 3000 kcal/day of real food and I don’t get fatter, am I overeating?

If I eat 3000 kcal/day of fast food and I get fatter, am I overeating?

What do you think?

is it impossible to gain weight if you eat let’s say 500 grams of fat a day, on a real food, low-carb, high-fat diet? (see)

That would be 4500 kcal/day only from fat. That would be unusual and probably unnatural: you have to force yourself to eat that much. Therefore we are prone to think it may be harmful and/or fattening, and for that reason we are prone to say that that is «overeating». Since we perceive that that is a forced situation, we probably could say that in that case overeating is probably causing obesity. But, is that a proof that «overeating» is a cause of obesity in normal people who don’t force themselves to eat for three? No, it isn’t. It just means that an unrealistically extreme amount of food is probably fattening. It doesn’t prove that a positive energy balance is a driver of obesity.

Even if driving you car in the city at 200 mph is a death sentence, that doesn’t prove that driving at a normal speed is dangerous. Talking about an unrealistically extreme case is moving the goalposts.

Whether you get fatter or not with a specific diet depends on the composition of the diet (see,see,see) and also on the physiological response of each person (see,see,see). Even if you are objectively eating «a lot», it is still about the physiological stimuli you create with that food and about the physiological response of the person eating that food.

For a healthy person, eating a real food diet is probably not going to lead him/her to obesity. That is what we know from what has happened for millions of years to the human species and to other animals. It is eating crap what has made us obese and sick, not «eating too much» because of «food-reward».

The right question isn’t why we eat so much, it is why are we getting fat. Talking about calories leads us to wrong causes and wrong solutions (see).

Reading further:

  1. Laura

    Buenas tardes. Me gustan mucho tus post, son de mucha utilidad. Me interesa éste, particularmente, pero mi inglés es algo limitado y no encuentro el enlace a español, me ayudás? Gracias!

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