Monday, February 21, 2011

Dr. Sharma's Article

I consider myself a thoughtful person and one who doesn't take everything at face value. However, one of my serious shortcomings is a lack of patience. It's probably in part due to the ferociously fast-paced nature of my work, where time to mull over an issue is measured in milliseconds.

I am therefore in awe of bloggers like Debra (and a number of her readers) who have both the intelligence and patience to take apart complicated concepts and analyze them for both their strengths and weaknesses. In the field of weight loss/gain/management/maintenance, nothing is as it seems.

As time goes by, I realize that there is no one single way to manage one's weight. Most people never succeed because there is no single method that works successfully for everyone on a long-term basis. The weight-loss success stories I have read belong to people who have made weight-loss at very least a part-time, if not full-time job, filled with strict rules, limits and requirements. That's OK, if that's your choice, but let's not kid ourselves. If all the "normal" weight people we know had to manage their weight the way these success stories do, our society would fall apart: between counting calories, weighing food and exercising obsessively, we simply wouldn't have the time to keep the wheels of the economy moving. People who have never had a weight problem do NOT measure every morsel they put in their mouthes; nor do they count every calorie in and every calorie spent on exercise.

Which leads me to this article, by Dr. Arya Sharma of the Obesity Network. Entitled "Eating More Calories Increases Weight (In Some People - Sometimes - Maybe)", the gist of the article is that while the physics of "calories in - calories out" is unassailable, the biology governing how specific bodies react to the principle varies greatly from one person to another.

According to the laws of physics when [calories in] exceed [calories out] people gain weight.

Unfortunately, when you actually deal with people (read: biological systems), this simple law is anything but simple. This is because, thanks to complex biological feedback mechanisms, designed by nature to keep us alive and thriving, changing caloric intake in turn affects caloric expenditure and vice-versa.

In keeping with my impatient nature, I will simply ask you to read the article (as well as the very interesting comments, ranging from stupid--"duh! fatso: eat less, move more" to thought-provoking--"what about gut flora? what about whether different bodies metabolize fats, proteins and carbohydrates differently and more or less successfully?").

Why do I like articles like this one by Dr. Sharma (and the writings of Dr.Linda Bacon, and Debra's blog, and...the list goes on)? Because they recognize the fantastically extreme complexity of the weight conundrum, rather than reducing it (pardon the pun) to a question of "willpower" and calories in-calories out.


  1. I left a comment on Dr. Sharma's blog about his post "Eating more calories...".

    It lead to a great discussion with my husband. We totalled his food intake for the past week, a typical week for him, and he eats an average of 3,243 calories a day. He asked: "Is that a lot?"

    "Why do you ask?" I say.

    "Because it looks like I eat more than almost all the men I work with. Some of them just have a sandwich and a piece of fruit for lunch, and several don't even eat at break times."

    Dear, sweet man. He feels bad because he eats more than many of the men who are obese. I remind him, "You used to eat even more. Remember when the guys laughed at you because you brought a bread bag stacked full with sandwiches for the day?"

    He grins. That was 20 years ago. Most of the guys who were thin then are now fat, or at least fatter. Some have weight-cycled up and down and up again. These are gentlemen who work hard.

    My husband says he wants to understand.

    I tell him to be grateful and let it go...

    "Trust me," I say. "It's still a mystery."

  2. Oh, I forgot to add my name to the above comment and the fact that my husband has lost a few pounds in the past couple months-- although he hasn't been trying, isn't overweight--yet has recently started swimming a couple times a week to improve his range of motion. I guess he belongs in the group that can add in a bit more exercise and have it result in weight loss.

    Yep. A mystery.


  3. Sometimes the comments are so entertaining (and equally frustrating) that I have to ignore them completely, depending on my mood. Very good article, and shows that everyone is indeed different. What works for one will probably not work for another. This is why it's so hard to succeed for so many because we are constantly bombarded with 'the correct way' and then we get frustrated and eventually feel defeated when it doesn't work for us - like we are somehow broken. Good post.

  4. I couldn't agree more, what frustrates me the most in many conversations is that people think that there is one simple solution.
    We know that there are things that improve health for many, but don't lead to long-term weight loss, so I'm stuck hitting my palm against my head wondering why we don't focus on those -- and see how sustainable they are, long-term.
    You are adorable, by the way.

  5. Thanks for the nod! Now, as to this comment:

    "If all the "normal" weight people we know had to manage their weight the way these success stories do, our society would fall apart: between counting calories, weighing food and exercising obsessively, we simply wouldn't have the time to keep the wheels of the economy moving."

    However, neither would we have the time to keep the wheels of war turning. So, our answer is to selectively put dictators, war-mongering presidents and such on weight-loss maintenance diets. "Hey, Muammar, don't you think you're lookin' a bit thick in the middle? Why don't you go put in another half hour on the treadmill."

  6. I know I'm in the beginning of all of this, because all I could do was drool as I read the list of authors (i.e. Dr. Bacon). Sigh.