Friday, May 30, 2014

Falling Into the Fat Trap

This week we saw some startling figures concerning obesity rates around the world.

Researchers found more than 2 billion people worldwide are now overweight or obese. The highest rates were in the Middle East and North Africa, where nearly 60 per cent of men and 65 per cent of women are heavy. The U.S. has about 13 per cent of the world's fat population, a greater percentage than any other country. China and India combined have about 15 per cent.

So, in other words, if you are feeling like a fatso, you are not alone; you are a member of the 2billion person club.

Given the incredible advances in science, how come we aren't able to help people maintain a healthy weight?

In a nutshell, for most of the last century, our understanding of the cause of obesity has been based on immutable physical law. Specifically, it’s the first law of thermodynamics, which dictates that energy can neither be created nor destroyed.

When it comes to body weight, this means that calorie intake minus calorie expenditure equals calories stored. Surrounded by tempting foods, we overeat, consuming more calories than we can burn off, and the excess is deposited as fat. The simple solution is to exert willpower and eat less.
The problem is that this advice doesn’t work, at least not for most people over the long term.
According to Dr. Mark Hyman, the average person gains five pounds for every diet that they go on.  Even worse, when the lose weight, they lose muscle and fat.  When they regain the weight, they gain back all fat.  And since muscle burns seven times as many calories as fat, their metabolism is slower than when they started the diet.  The cruel fact is that they need even less calories to maintain their weight.
But what, as was pointed out in a recent NY Times article, we’ve confused cause and effect? What if it’s not overeating that causes us to get fat, but the process of getting fatter that causes us to overeat?
This is what I call the fat trap, a percentage of body fat that alters significantly a person's metabolism, rendering the person metabolically inefficient, a downward spiral in which the person gets fatter and fatter.
According to this alternative view, factors in the environment have triggered fat cells in our bodies to take in and store excessive amounts of glucose and other calorie-rich compounds.
Since fewer calories are available to fuel metabolism, the brain tells the body to increase calorie intake (we feel hungry) and save energy (our metabolism slows down).
Eating more solves this problem temporarily but also accelerates weight gain. Cutting calories reverses the weight gain for a short while, making us think we have control over our body weight, but predictably increases hunger and slows metabolism even more.
In other words, once you have fallen into the fat trap, it is extremely difficult to get out.  Quick fix solutions like diets only make things worse.  It's as if once your fat cells reach a critical mass, they take over, forcing you to feed them so they can multiply over and over again until you can no longer see your nether regions.
Alas, all hope is not lost, but if you are going to climb out of the fat trap, it is going to take a major transformation of your lifestyle.  Counting calories is not going to work.

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