Monday, April 18, 2011

Reductionism...But Not Weight Loss

Does a person who weighs X with a BMI in the so-called "normal range" have to eat a set number of calories (Z) to maintain his or her weight? Will you always gain (or conversely lose) exactly a pound of fat if you over/undereat to the tune of exactly 3,500 calories? Reductionism: it's not about losing or gaining weight. It's about oversimplification to the point of meaninglessness.

A few days ago, I read this article, entitled "Skinny genes: how DNA shapes weight loss success". It's a bit of a hodge-podge, mixing some interesting science with the usual "eat less move more and all will be fine" pap. There's also some discussion of how hormones can have an effect on hunger, satiety and even one's desire to exercise. As I said, it's quite the dog's breakfast. But an interesting one, nevertheless.

Essentially, here's the deal: some people get fat looking at doughnuts and some people stay skinny no matter how much they eat. OK, I won't fall into the trap of oversimplification, but here's what the article says, quoting Arya Sharma, one of the only doctors on the face of the planet who doesn't believe losing weight is all ELMM (he's the one who coined the term, "the nightmare on ELMM street"):

“Just go out on to the street and pick out 100 people at random – give them the same food to eat, the same amount of exercise, and some will gain weight and some will lose it. Even whether or not you like exercising is very strongly genetically determined.”

Of course, the author of the article has to keep up her "fat = automatically unhealthy" creds, so she immediately goes on to say:

But before anyone concludes that diet and exercise are futile weapons in the war on weight, researchers have also found that the simple eat-less, move-more strategy can overcome the known genetic susceptibilities for excess weight. Some people just have to move much, much more and eat far, far less to see results.

...move much, much more and eat far, far less. Sounds like a great plan! Or maybe not--we all know just how effectively that works for the majority of people.

I'm one of those people who must be perpetually in a state of low-level hunger to lose weight. I must never, ever eat until I'm feeling satisfied if I want to keep whatever I've lost off. And yet, I never enjoy overeating. It is very rare indeed that I eat to the point where I feel even vaguely uncomfortable, but if I eat slightly more than what I "should" eat over one or two meals, I will automatically gain a significant amount of weight. And getting it off is nigh impossible...without feeling constantly hungry for a long period of time, something which I am no longer willing to do.

I don't know what role exercise would play in my weight since I cannot engage in anything even vaguely strenuous. I do know that in the days before my knee didn't scream for several days after spending a minute on the bike, I once spent about a month biking 6 days a week on my exercise bike at a speed that caused sweat to fly off my body. The result: no weight lost or gained. Now, that may have been because I was also taking a medication that is known to cause weight gain (in retrospect, I shouldn't actually have been on this medication and will never allow any doctor to prescribe it to me again). So the jury's out on how my body responds to serious exercise.

But enough of me.

Let's stop being reductionists and believing that everyone's body will react exactly the same way to ingesting and burning the same number of calories. If that were the case, everyone would be a calorie counter and we'd all be able to predict with pinpoint accuracy what our weight would be from one week to the next.

People like Dr. Scherer (read the article!) would just not exist. He's a man who
can put away a cream soup and a platter of penne with Italian sausage and wash it all down with a large Coke. And even though he’s 47, and driving his son to hockey is the closest he comes to rigorous daily exercise, he’s still as trim as a teenager.

And there would be no dieters, starving to lose a pound a week and gaining it back and more within the space of one meal--a meal no doubt much more reasonable than what Dr. Scherer can eat regularly with no ill effects--at least to his waistline.


  1. AMEN! Everybody is different, the trick is to figure out what works best for you, to make sure it is sustainable and always remember that the ultimate goal should be making yourself more happy!

    Best Wishes,


  2. "...It's quite the dog's breakfast." LOL. Thanks. That line made my morning. :)

    To me, one of the saddest conditions of modernity is revealed by the lives of those whose focus on reality revolves around dieting, weight, and self-condemnation for not being able to achieve the supposedly-desired size, which, incidentally, is based on some pseudo-scientific calculations, and is socially constructed and reconstructed ad nauseam by profit-driven *health/life insurance* corporations and media conglomerates owned and controlled by individuals whose wealth in billions of dollars is incomprehensible to the point that it seems imagined and unreal and inconsequential, a social construct unfortunately or even tragically adopted worldwide, these decades, by such lofty organizations as the World Health Organization (WHO).

    Who said the days of colonization are a thing of the past?

    Effing MINDS and HUMAN LIVES are slowly colonized over decades and, indeed, enslaved by our capitalist consensus trance, which we learn to practice oh-so-early in first years of our lives. It is terrifying, at times, to break free of these mass illusions. But blogs like yours, NewMe, shake the status quo ever so slightly at the foundations and leave tiny cracks, nearly imperceptible fractures that gradually criss-cross and fan outward across the body politic like delicate breaks in a ceramic flower pot whose planting has become so root bound and cramped it is nearing the point of bursting open. Or collapse.

    It is quietly inspiring to watch, and one wishes it could all be speeded up like time-lapse photography. Alas. History (herstory?) spins its own webs.

    Someday I'll hold a competition with myself to see how many metaphors I can mix in one sentence. :)

    I love your blog, btw. But you already discerned that. I hope.

  3. "Some people just have to move much, much more and eat far, far less to see results"
    Amen - & some of us have decided that there's a lot more to life than that!
    Another great one - but gotta get back to work for now ;-)

  4. Hm, so true! All I have to do is look at my parents. My dad does the food shopping, complains about all the "shit that my mom eats, non-stop, that he hasn't eaten anything like that in 20 years". Yet, she gets thinner, and he gains just watching her. I still resent from time to time that I can't eat as much as my peers with no excess weight they want to lose, but I can still eat a lot more than most "dieters". Radical acceptance of an unfortunately reality that most refuse to acknowledge.

  5. "Time makes more converts than reason."

    Thomas Paine