Posted by: leebase | November 30, 2012

Chemistry or Character

Everybody knows why we are fat.  We eat too much and we move too little.  Simple right?  Well, Gary Taubes turns this notion on it’s head in the book “Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It”.   He talks about how our over eating of sugar has damaged our metabolism such that our fat stores soak up (he uses more science-y words) our food leaving our muscles and tissues starving.  So we have to eat more, and we have pidgeonInFlightless energy to move.  And in eating more we end up just feeding the greedy fat cells more and so it goes.  Resulting in this odd notion – we eat too much and move too little BECAUSE we are getting fat.  It’s an issue of metabolism (chemistry), not an issue of character.

You have the Weight Watchers folks telling you “a calorie is a calorie”, just eat less and move more.   You have the low carb folks saying “calories don’t matter, just cut out the sugars and the grains”.  People lose weight following both plans.  People fail to lose weight, or lose weight but fail to stick with either program for long and regain the wait.  Same with low fat, vegetarianism — you name it.   In all the long term diet studies, there is always the vast majority of folks who don’t stick with the diet.

It reminds me of the debate over “nature vs. nurture”.  Are kids born bad, “bad seed” — or are kids screwed up by bad parenting or bad neighborhoods?  There are examples to support any side you might choose.  And yet folks will have an affinity for one of these world views or the other…and then pay attention to only those aspects that support and reinforce their view

I think there is truth in both sides of the calorie question.  To lose weight one must be in an energy deficit (take in fewer calories than you burn).  But, “a calorie isn’t a calorie”.  What you eat matters.  Metabolism matters.  Your body is a very complicated biochemical machine.  It has all kinds of redundancy and backup systems, and it will fight your efforts to lose weight.  Cut calories and increase exercise, and your body will increase your appetite — and slow your metabolism.

Clearly, though, people can lose weight and get fit.   It takes character…choices…commitment…sacrifice…self denial.  We are not just animals, helpless in the face of our base needs and instincts.

And so it goes, the never ending battle to have a clear mind to understand all the truth.  To not just pick a side and turn a blind eye to all other evidence.

Listen to the podcast on this topic:  Chemistry or Character

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