It makes sense when you first think about it. People are overweight because they eat too much, right? We’ve all seen a small red seat at McDonald’s, straining under the weight of an immense person as they inhale their 3rd quarter-pounder. There is a good chance that person is overweight because they eat too much and never exercise.
But, what about the person sitting at the next table? The person also on their 3rd burger but who you didn’t notice because they were skinny. Are they just thin because they under eat and over exercise? They must have just come to McDonald’s as a once off, yes, that must be it.
The Media Hype
The Media does its best to sensationalise things to get our attention. TV and print headlines are always claiming some study or expert has found a way of eating that would save our lives. The latest newspaper headlines have been warning us against the health dangers of eating meat or telling us about which healthy carbs we need for our bodies and brains to function properly.
I used to assume that most people knew this to be nonsense, but the data show people are lapping up this codswallop like a yuppie slurps up an organic-low-fat-vegan-gluten-free-fructose-laden-frozen desert outside a Planet Organic. Thinking that you are overweight because you eat too much (or having other people think that about you) can be devastating and cause sleepless nights, severe stress and depression. Trying to find a partner when you feel terrible about yourself is near impossible, especially when you assume that a potential partner thinks you overeat.
These headlines are assembled in such a way as to achieve maximum shock value and increase audiences. As these audiences grow, so do audience ratings, which sell more advertising at greater rates (and I should know, I’ve worked in advertising for over a decade). The problem is, these attention-grabbing headlines and subsequent articles don’t merely sell more advertising, they become part of the zeitgeist of our society.
People honestly begin to think that this rubbish is true, and companies pander to these beliefs, opening up weird stores selling strange products to ignorant or arrogant people. Pretty soon you have people stampeding every lunch hour into ‘Whole Foods’ and ‘Planet Organic’ to buy the latest overpriced concoction or organic swill because people think this stuff is actually better for you.
“But what’s the harm?” I hear some of you say. “Why not leave them alone to pay too much for stuff that doesn’t matter?” Well, because it does matter. It matters because this is a way of thinking that isn’t just confined to organic plant eaters, this mindset is pervasive. It matters because the tabloids would have us believe that problems like obesity are simply due to overeating and that skinny people got that way because they eat “properly”.
Everyone wants to know:
What makes you fat?
Do carbs or calories make you fat?
What food makes you fat / gain weight?
What foods makes you thin?
What foods make you gain weight?
Do I need a calorie counter?
Why we get fat?
And the list goes on..
What we see very little of are questions like:
Am I genetically predisposed to being overweight?
Am I naturally overweight? Is it healthy to be thin?
These are the types of questions I would want the answers for.
Too often I hear ignorant people sniggering, “Jesus, it’s no wonder they’re fat, look at them gobbling those burgers, eat a salad for God’s sake”. In reality, the person making the comment might be consuming more calories a day than the overweight person. So, what makes them believe they can openly criticise others? Well, the headlines do. The headlines which suggest that obesity is simply caused by a person eating too much.
If eating too much does cause a person to become overweight then why is it that some of us have been able to eat truckloads of food of almost any kind for our entire lives without ever gaining any weight. Why do others of us starve ourselves on and off for years, eat far less than people around us, but remain obese?
You can visit some of the most poverty-stricken areas in the world, where children lie dying on the floor, while some of their mothers remain obese? Are their mothers stealing all the food and eating while holding their starving babies? (I doubt it) And if so, where is enough food coming from to cause them to become obese?
And if exercise makes you thin, then why do some marathon runners remain overweight despite a rigorous diet and exercise regime?
Is it possible that there is more too gaining and losing weight than mere diet and exercise? Isn’t it likely that the overweight person you see eating a hamburger has tried dozens of diets their whole lives before finally giving up and thinking, “f**k it, everyone things I’m fat because I eat hamburgers, I might as well just eat them and enjoy myself”? Which is more likely, that everyone in your gym is lean because they train so hard or that overweight people are too embarrassed to go to the gym or have tried the gym but just couldn’t shed the weight?
It is certainly true that, if any of us gorged ourselves 24 hours a day on sweets, chocolates and crisps, we would almost certainly gain weight but, some people get fat and eat none of these things.
So, why does fat get trapped in some people and why do we find this fat trapping problem irrespective of how much some people eat?
Back in the 1920’s the science of endocrinology (the branch of physiology and medicine concerned with endocrine glands and hormones) began to show that obesity was likely a hormonal defect and that calories did not necessarily make you fat. Obese men tended to fatten above the waist and women below which showed that sex hormones must be involved. When boys and girls go through puberty, boy’s bodies lose fat and gain muscle and girls gain fat in very specific places which indicates hormonal influenced fat accumulation.
It was actually the Germans at the forefront of these discoveries until 1941, but their research was halted by the war and most of their findings and records were destroyed. After the war, in the West, the energy balance hypothesis (what the Europeans called the energy conception) took over and dominated (likely causing, and still causing millions of deaths each year). This hypothesis stated that people who consumed more calories than they burnt off would become fat, a simple energy balance problem, but they were wrong, dead wrong.
Nevertheless, this hypothesis caused people to go on diets where they eat less or exercise more. Some diets encourage you to do some combination of diet and exercise which puts your body into negative energy balance. This was supposedly how one loses weight (it’s still how far too many people think).
Crash diets then became widespread. Basically, starve yourself while exercising, lose some weight and then somehow, you’re supposed to maintain this loss by eating what others around you eat, but of course, the weight comes back very quickly.
Disturbingly, in America in the 1960’s instead of obesity being recognised as a potential genetic predisposition (a hormonal regulatory imbalance that folks may be genetically predisposed to) the medical community considered it an eating disorder and it was studied primarily by psychologists and psychiatrists.
In the past 30 years countless studies have been done, and largely ignored, showing proof that consuming more than you expend isn’t the only cause of obesity.
The fact of the matter is, for many people, weight problems are caused either by genetics or by people eating the wrong food and not by just how much they eat. A person who is unlucky enough to be born with a certain genetic make-up might put on weight in either case.
Even the average person could eat around 3000 calories a day of one food and never gain an ounce but 1000 calories a day of another food and become overweight very quickly.
So, what the hell is going on?
What the body does with food
When a person consumes foods that are easily digestible (such as carbohydrates like refined grains and sugars), these foods work to elevate your insulin levels. Once your insulin levels are elevated you store fat. If you’re losing calories into your fat cells because some of what you’re eating is being trapped as fat (rather than used for energy) then that in turn makes you hungrier and you eat more. A person may even feel like exercising less because of this process.
The primary effect of these types of foods is to make your fat tissue expand and accumulate. This is how some people with even slight builds tend to become obese. Eating too much of these types of foods stands alongside people with hormonal problems as the root causes of the obesity epidemic in countries like the United States and, to an ever-increasing degree, the United Kingdom.
The twins experiment
Claude Bouchard ran an amazing experiment in 1990, where he got 15 monozygotic (identical) twins and kept them all together in a controlled environment. He fed them an extra 1000 calories a day on top of a controlled diet. He did this for 80 days while ensuring the twins ate exactly the same meals at the same time of day.
Regardless of what size the twins were when they started, that much excess caloric intake should have resulted in around 8kgs of additional weight. As expected, the results showed notable differences between groups of twins.
The most interesting results however were between the identically related twins where the differences were smaller but still significant. In 2 sets of identical twins in particular, 1 twin gained 4kgs and the other 8kgs. In another set, one twin gained 6kgs and one gained 12kgs.
Within the entire group of 30, one gained 4kgs and one gained 13kgs (with the exact same diet and fluid intake). This study was enough to prove that there are clearly some genetics at play, but also that the differences were not entirely genetic.
The attitude towards overweight people
Historically (and tragically), public health authorities have taken a physiological defect and allowed it to be shown as a moral failing. Because of this way of thinking, society has become judgemental of obese people in a way that one couldn’t be of a person with something like a brain tumour. In a lot of cases though, the person is as genetically responsible for being obese as they would be for their brain tumour.
Obese children who are guilted and pushed into eating less and exercising more are being tortured. Being an obese child is anything but fun, but then having your obesity treated by something that would be torture for anyone else to endure, is unacceptable.
Imagine being ridiculed daily and made to feel that the way you looked was your fault. It’s heart-breaking.
Too many people are taken in by attention seeking headlines or diet fads. It’s now a multi-billion dollar industry. If they can cause you to believe in something, then they can sell you something to support that belief. Conspiracy theories aren’t limited to 9/11 or the moon landing, they come in all shapes and forms. Typically when the body or food is concerned, there is huge money to be made off the ignorant.
We all know someone who has struggled with their weight for years, it’s no fun. We could all be more mindful and try arm ourselves against assuming people look a certain way because of their lifestyles. Besides other people’s weight being none of our business, a large number of people suffer with weight problems do so because of a difficult hand they were dealt genetically.
So, the next time you or I are tucking into a fat bacon and cheese burger, with more calories than we have opinions, and we see an overweight person doing the same, let’s just smile, give them a thumbs up and enjoy our fucking burger.