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My Big Fat Environment
January 12, 2012 9:15 PM   Subscribe

As discussion rages over what to do about rising obesity rates, scientists study environmental toxins called obesogens. Last night, Canadian program The Nature of Things aired Programmed to Be Fat? The documentary admits the fatty pitfalls of Western living, but asks that if this is the only factor, why has infant obesity risen 73% in the past 20 years? Babies aren't terrific Big Mac consumers.

Chemicals can make you fat for all sorts of reasons, but the documentary focuses on endocrine disruptors -- chemicals that are all around us. Some, such as BPA, are well-known, but what about the flame-retardant coating on your TV? And of course, even if you don't get fat, there's always the magic of epigenetics, putting the pounds on your kids.

By all means, stick to your workouts and watch what you eat, but consider that there may be more to it than calories in, calories burnt, and that fat shaming might not be the one-stop solution to the problem.

But let's not end on a down note. If you need inspiration for lifelong fitness regardless of the numerous obstacles before us, look no further than Nature of Things host David Suzuki himself, a senior citizen trim and resplendent in a maple leaf and nothing else.
posted by mobunited (102 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
What's considered obese for a baby? I ask because it seems like everyone I know who has babies pride themselves on how fat they can make them (they like to brag that their baby is in the 98% percentile for weight or whatever), and I'm just wondering if the increase in infant obesity has anything to do with an increasing trend to assume a the more weight you can put on your kid, the healthier it is and the better you are as a parent?
Could be totally off-base here, I just find it odd that all these parents are posting photos of their kids on facebook bragging that they're 9 months old but fit into clothing made for 18 month olds. I'm not saying that makes their kids obese, I just don't really get it.
posted by butterteeth at 9:26 PM on January 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


oh, and fat shaming is totally unhelpful and needs to stop.
posted by butterteeth at 9:28 PM on January 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


And the laws of physics still remain unbroken.
posted by Decani at 9:39 PM on January 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Well, low birth weight is linked to a number of lifelong health problems including (ouch) obesity later in life, so there are plenty of good reasons to want big babies . . . but a certain kind of big.
posted by mobunited at 9:44 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, Decani, but knowing which ones are in play is the trick.

I'm not a huge fan of people making excuses either, but it's trivially easy to imagine a situation where some other factor changes how much your body absorbs from the food that you eat.

Your body contains somewhat more than one concurrent chemical reaction.
posted by flaterik at 9:44 PM on January 12, 2012 [15 favorites]


Obesogens? This sounds like a job for...the Obesmotron!
posted by tumid dahlia at 9:44 PM on January 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


The cause of obesity is no mystery, it's common sense.
posted by stbalbach at 9:46 PM on January 12, 2012


The cause of obesity is no mystery, it's common sense.

Those fat babies are fucking pigs, I agree.
posted by mobunited at 9:47 PM on January 12, 2012 [21 favorites]


Babies aren't terrific Big Mac consumers

But their mothers probably are.
posted by astapasta24 at 9:53 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Heavyweight people need a hero to look up to. I propose Obesiman!
posted by BlueHorse at 9:53 PM on January 12, 2012


Obesogens is my new favorite pretend science word!
posted by damehex at 9:55 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


But their mothers probably are.

How are they getting them into breast milk and formula exactly, hoss?
posted by mobunited at 9:56 PM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Obesogens is my new favorite pretend science word!

They sure fooled Pubmed.
posted by mobunited at 9:58 PM on January 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


THEY'LL FOOL ALL OF YOU IF YOU LET THEM. My favorite obesogen is the pathocarb.
posted by damehex at 10:01 PM on January 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


The fat shaming thing, or the supposed moral component of obesity, really is kind of strange when I think about it. This idea that losing weight is straightforward and the fatties just need to buckle down and do it.

I'm in my early 30s, and my BMI hovers around 20-21. Do I work hard to keep it there? Not really. I try to pick health choices from the cafeteria and power through the mid afternoon candy craving and maybe go to bed instead of getting a burger, but giving in to all of that would put me in the 22-23 range (from past experience).

I just have no idea, honestly, what obese people experience. If I wanted to eat my way up to 300lbs, I don't know where I'd start. It's not that I'm some great moral paragon of consumption--I just more or less do what comes naturally, nudging myself in a healthy direction now and then.

Do other people struggle mightily to avoid becoming obese, with every hour of their waking life spent resisting the urge to eat? Is this where self-righteousness comes from?

It kind of reminds me of people who condemn homosexuals as sinners--for giving into temptation. What temptation!

Do I live in a world filled with skinny heterosexuals who spend all their time thinking about eating and cock and eating cock and I'm just Jesus so all this comes naturally to me? Or are people shitheads?
posted by planet at 10:05 PM on January 12, 2012 [65 favorites]


The cause of obesity is no mystery, it's common sense.

Those fat babies are fucking pigs, I agree.


Those poor pigs. Well, maybe the problem is the mothers eating habits? Evidence what the mother eats during pregnancy sets the stage. There's also epigenics, though that's not common sense, but it is very interesting. Saying it's an environmental factor runs up against the problem that a big portion of babies are not obese. I just can't believe there is an epidemic of obese babies who are eating healthy diets, and families eat healthy diets, but maybe I'm wrong.
posted by stbalbach at 10:08 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hey why not add this to the obesity thread already in progress?
posted by Afroblanco at 10:13 PM on January 12, 2012


Or are people shitheads?

Ding ding ding ding ding...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:14 PM on January 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I just have no idea, honestly, what obese people experience.

I can only speak to my own experience (BMI 47, low cholesterol, low blood pressure), but here is how it goes:

Dieting is like quitting smoking, except that my mood, abilities and cravings only get worse over time, instead of better. In other words seriously limiting my choleric intake would leave me a skinny, divorced asshole.

I'm not particularly ashamed of being fat. My anecdotal research indicates that weight loss makes you a jerk.
posted by poe at 10:14 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do other people struggle mightily to avoid becoming obese, with every hour of their waking life spent resisting the urge to eat?

I have never been skinny, and generally have eaten about as much as other kids my age. It's not like I ordered seven big macs (or even two) when we grabbed burgers as teens. I wasn't supremely fat, but chubby. I'm still the same (though I've been fatter). I'm probably 27 BMI now.

If I ate what I wanted when I wanted, I'd be 300, easy. I'm 200 now. BMI says I should be 170. I haven't weighed that since ninth grade, four inches shorter...
posted by maxwelton at 10:15 PM on January 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


The fat shaming thing, or the supposed moral component of obesity, really is kind of strange when I think about it. This idea that losing weight is straightforward and the fatties just need to buckle down and do it.

It is the same reason people get pissed off at addicts and people with mental health issues who refuse to treat them. Yes, at some point, in order to become well you need to commit yourself to the usually tremendous effort that it takes to become well, and becoming well often involves a complete upheaval of one's lifestyle and approach to the world as well as fighting against various genetic factors that work against you.

But where addiction and mental health issues have mostly been acknowledged to be a lot more complicated than "put down the crack pipe, you hedonist" or "just get happy for fuck's sake" the complexity of social, environmental, psychological, and physiological factors driving obesity has yet to be acknowledged in popular culture. The sad thing is this not only leads to more fat-shaming, but it also leads to the belief among the overweight that fat loss is impossible. The only program options popularly presented are variations of "Starve yourself, fatty" (or the opposing "You can totally be 55% body fat and healthy") rather than more effective solutions that address all of the driving factors in a holistic manner.
posted by schroedinger at 10:17 PM on January 12, 2012 [21 favorites]


Golly it'd sure be nice if: I don't mean this as snark or a pitiful attempt at cleverness. Just a wish for more tolerance and personal motivation, and less finger pointing and moralizing.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 10:19 PM on January 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


Man, we can all agree that slur shaking is bad, but Dammit...those fatties really need those of us who aren't doctors, and probably didn't read the post to be ashamed of themselves. How dare they have genetics different than the chosen thin? Who do these scientists think they are with their research and science. We know better. Fatties are fatty fat fat. It's their own damned fault. And their fat babies are their fault too. Stupid fatties.

Good god, y'all, can we not do this again? Not every thread that touches on obesity has to become a shaming thread.
posted by dejah420 at 10:19 PM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


dejah420, who is shaming? I don't seen any shaming comments.
posted by schroedinger at 10:26 PM on January 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


The problem is that thin people aren't doing their part. They know I am going to eat up all these ho-hos yet they do nothing. Dig in you thin fucks, these things aren't going to eat themselves. You keep saying is is a national issue yet I keep seeing you on the sideline looking fabulous. We all have to pitch in to end this national nightmare.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:31 PM on January 12, 2012 [14 favorites]


So if I'm reading these recently threads correctly, the gist of it is that once babies put fat on, it becomes very hard for them to return to their original weight and stay there?
posted by bicyclefish at 10:32 PM on January 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


Where are all these hidden fat shaming posts? Do they get deleted before I see them?
posted by Threeway Handshake at 10:34 PM on January 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


As discussion rages over what to do about rising obesity rates, scientists study environmental toxins called obesogens.

Sounds like prelude text from a Final Fantasy game.
posted by ignignokt at 10:35 PM on January 12, 2012 [11 favorites]


Being fat as an infant is not really a good indicator of future weight, is it? I was over nine pounds at birth and a chunky infant but have been slender since toddlerhood.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:38 PM on January 12, 2012


How are they getting them into breast milk and formula exactly, hoss?

Have you missed all the people who will cheerfully argue that if you eat a cow that's been fed corn or even consider drinking a glass of whole milk, you are doomed to non-health for the rest of your sad, miserable existence? I personally think they're over the top, but I'm reasonably certain that if mom is eating a diet of pure lard and sawdust that's going to have some tiny effect on the quality of milk being produced.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:39 PM on January 12, 2012


Threeway Handshake, some might say you already found one.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:47 PM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty tired of the whole X-shaming nomenclature. It's a fairly transparent attempt to frame a conversation, and isn't even effective anymore.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:52 PM on January 12, 2012 [15 favorites]


In many large-scale studies, the strongest modifiable predictor of high-weight births is maternal prepregnancy weight, along with a bunch of other, less important factors (eg, nonsmoking, advanced age, married, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, previous macrosomic infant or pregnancy loss or BMI, weight gain, plasma glucose, gestational age or first trimester body mass index (BMI), gestational weight gain and placental weight). It would be nice if there were invisible agents sitting out there in the environment causing this, but our environment is obesogenic enough thanks to our cheap food to account for lots more fat babies. Many of the factors we know account for fat baby syndrome ("macrosomia") have been increasing for a couple of generations so it's not a great mystery. NOT SHAME-IST!!!.
posted by meehawl at 10:52 PM on January 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


Weight-related threads are hilarious in an awful way. It's like standing in an burning airplane going down over the ocean and seeing people ignore the parachutes while they argue with the pilot about headwinds.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:53 PM on January 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


A statistic like "infant obesity has risen 73% in the past 20 years", but looking at the original article I couldn't find what that means in real terms. Quite different if it means 4 in 100 babies were obese and now it's roughly 7 in 100, or if it's 40 in 100 and 70 in 100. You need to know where that rise started and ended to be alarmed by it, as it's obviously easier for smaller numbers to show dramatic increases than it is for larger ones.

If more babies are getting fatter earlier, I would also be interested to know whether babies fed on milk are more or less "vulnerable" than babies fed on formula.

Otherwise: more data is required.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:54 PM on January 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Shame on the Shamer shamers, then?
posted by Burhanistan at 10:56 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


@stbalbach: from the article, there seems to be decent evidence that environmental factors can be and likely are a cause of current levels of obesity. Not _the_ cause, mind, _a_ cause.
posted by lastobelus at 11:00 PM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


If more babies are getting fatter earlier, I would also be interested to know whether babies fed on milk are more or less "vulnerable" than babies fed on formula.

Breast milk research features heavily in the documentary, actually.

As for "more data," my friends who work in biology and environmental science take endocrine disruptors seriously and matter-of-fact enough (and have shown me lots of disgusting looking animals) that, well, we're rotating out of a lot of nonstick coated and plastic cookware. Even if it's one inch in a mile of influence, I'd rather get rid of that inch.

At some point, you need to figure out whether taking precautionary measures is worth the hit on convenience and comfort. For me, the evidence has pushed things toward the tipping point of taking these precautions. But I believe thinking does need to change to the precautionary, instead of the wait-and-see approach which has obviously taken a toll on the larger environment.
posted by mobunited at 11:15 PM on January 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Shame on the shaming shamers who shame the shamers.
posted by P.o.B. at 11:38 PM on January 12, 2012


Abstract

Oo's a roly-poly widdle diddums? Oo's a fatty-fat diddums? Sevenky percent more bubby-bubs than twenky years ago! A-sevenky-sevenky-pbbll! (Blows raspberry on tummy) Dat's what our widdle researchies determined! Isn't it? Yes it is! A-yes it is!
posted by No-sword at 11:46 PM on January 12, 2012 [17 favorites]


Planet, you're one of the rare lucky ones. Most people are not blessed with demonic metabolisms or spend all of their waking lives at the gym. You may find the concept of obesity alien but in this it is your experience that is the outlier. For most of us, weight control is a struggle, going to the gym is a struggle, suppressing eating binges is a struggle. Weight management becomes a way of life, which in itself is part of the problem, because sometimes watching what you eat reinforces whatever unhealthy relationships you may have with food to begin with.

I have an open mind as to the causes of obesity and will follow the science, but I worry that searches such as this one for external factors are, at best, a distraction from more serious issues. Whether environmental factors are at play, it seems obvious that diet and lifestyle are the things we need to address first as a culture. But that's not to say this is just about what people eat and how much exercise they do. There is something fundamentally sick about a society that demands 12-hour working days from people while frowning on lunch breaks, that forces millions of people into cars and onto public transport for hours at a time just to earn a living, that teaches our children to idolise perfection and be ashamed of their bodies, that makes it more affordable to eat high-calorie, low-nutrient fast foods than fresh produce, that doesn't even teach us any more how to prepare fresh produce, that profits far more from cure than prevention. If we want healthier people, we need a healthier society. Sure, we all have a responsibility for our health but if you don't tackle the underlying causes you're just swimming against a very, very strong current.
posted by londonmark at 11:49 PM on January 12, 2012 [11 favorites]


So...is there a universally acknowledged, scientifically rigorous, method for determining when a person is underweight, the right weight, obese, or morbidly obese? I ask because it seems to me that statements like "infant obesity has risen 73% in the past 20 years" are pretty meaningless otherwise.
posted by Doleful Creature at 11:50 PM on January 12, 2012


Body Mass Index.
posted by londonmark at 12:00 AM on January 13, 2012


Body Mass Index.

But BMI doesn't work because of babies that are bodybuilders!
posted by -harlequin- at 12:14 AM on January 13, 2012 [11 favorites]


Obesogens?

Don't talk Boswelox ...
posted by GallonOfAlan at 12:21 AM on January 13, 2012


BMI limitations and shortcomings, from the same link you posted, londonmark.

Is there a better alternative to BMI that would make these types of conversations a little more meaningful?
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:35 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is no mystery why people believe that eating and exercise determine weight. They see the effects on their own bodies and figure everyone else is like them.

There are also people with high metabolisms that can't get fat very easy and some with a low metabolism, and environmental factors may play a role in that. Some people's bodies are healthy at a higher or lower weight as well.-the BMI is flawed. I can accept that.

I can also accept that fat shaming doesn't work on others. It works pretty well when I do it to myself.

But diet and exercise are physics, the psychological and cultural issues are hard, but after you beat those, it still comes down to physics.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 12:37 AM on January 13, 2012


Oh no what about all the babies who will get heart disease and hypertension!?
What's considered obese for a baby? I ask because it seems like everyone I know who has babies pride themselves on how fat they can make them
Yeah, chubbyness in babies has alwasy been considered a sign of good health. Is there any evidence that chubby babies are more likely develop health problems, or even grow up to be overweight kids?
posted by delmoi at 12:50 AM on January 13, 2012


The cause of obesity is no mystery, it's common sense.

Oh damn, I just knew I had too much common sense!
posted by ODiV at 12:56 AM on January 13, 2012 [13 favorites]


Doleful Creature: Is there a better alternative to BMI that would make these types of conversations a little more meaningful?

It sure feels like body fat percentage would be a more accurate measure. I've never understood why it's not more heavily used in obesity studies - maybe it's too expensive to accurately measure it for enough people. You can get a scale that will do an impedance test pretty cheaply, but I have my doubts about the accuracy.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:12 AM on January 13, 2012


Also, I wonder if it could have something to do with epigenetics. I do think it's way overhyped these days, where people jump to ascribe just about everything epigenetics. However, something like weight actually does seem like the kind of thing that could be caused by epigenetics.

In fact, just googling for "epigenetics weight" turns up this press release
Baby’s Weight: Is Epigenetics To Blame?

No one is surprised when the child of an overweight mother becomes overweight or even obese. But scientists at two ARS-funded nutrition research centers are taking a new and closer look at how influences occurring in the womb and perhaps during the first few months of life might affect development of the child’s ability to regulate his or her weight. The child’s body-weight-regulating mechanisms might in fact be harmed during those times by the mother’s own overweight.

...

Kartik Shankar, an investigator with the ARS Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center in Little Rock and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, looked at weight gains among rat pups whose mothers, called “dams,” were either lean or overweight (from overfeeding) at the time of conception and during pregnancy.

...

“Our study strongly suggests that exposure to the mother’s obesity—while in the womb—results in programming of the offspring’s body-weight-control mechanisms,” he says. “The dams’ obesity alone was sufficient to significantly increase the pups’ susceptibility to obesity.”
It could also be something like Leptin levels in the mother's blood causing the baby to have lower leptin sensitivity. This wouldn't really be "true" epigenetics in the sense of passing down traits due to stuff like DNA methylation and other DNA structure changes.
posted by delmoi at 1:24 AM on January 13, 2012


I only decided to get serious about losing weight after I saw a photo of myself.

50lbs gone for the last two years

Shame does have some value.
posted by srboisvert at 1:31 AM on January 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Is there any evidence that chubby babies are more likely develop health problems, or even grow up to be overweight kids?

Here's one study connecting fast baby weight gain with childhood obesity. I had personally heard that a child's weight didn't matter until they were 2 (i.e. "the chubbier the better"), but it looks like that'll change as more studies come in.
posted by Maxson at 2:11 AM on January 13, 2012


It definitely seems that certain types of food consumed in certain ways act very much like an addictive drug for many people. IMHO, it seems harder to refrain from overheating than it is to kick a cocaine habit. I mean, at least with cocaine it constantly isn't in your face. I mean, say you needed a little snort of it every day to survive...but no kore than that...how many of us could control ourselves?

I don't know why the addictive aspect of food isn't more frequently discussed.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 2:13 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


More not kore. Oops.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 2:18 AM on January 13, 2012


Fat is dangerous to me. I am highly attracted to it's taste and mouth feel. Butter is the most supreme fat of them all, followed by the fat of beef. Slightly browned butter is nearly impossible to stop eating, for myself. I can eat stuff with that in it until I'm sick, literally.

Yes, I'm fat. Except my waist/height ratio is JUST below the danger level (Thanks whoever posted that! Best news all year!). But I've been overweight basically since I was about 10.

But for all my weight issues, once I actually tried to diet AND exercise at the same time, OMG, my weight dropped fast enough to be frightening. And it wasn't even especially difficult. Only I find myself unable/unwilling to keep it up in winter, so I stopped loosing. (Did NOT gain it back!). Come spring, I'll be back out on my bike. I'm only half way to my goal. The goal is only a notion, and may be absurd. I have far more muscle that was hidden under the fat than I realized.
posted by Goofyy at 4:09 AM on January 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I only decided to get serious about losing weight after I saw a photo of myself.

50lbs gone for the last two years

Shame does have some value.
I do think it can be a good motivator, for sure. The other thread though was just ridiculous though. It was more like, moral panic over junk food itself and the people who ate it. The reality is, you can be skinny and eat junk food, so long as you keep your calorie counts down. The problem, I would imagine, is that it's probably easier to eat a lot of junk food compared to healthy food, for given level of fullness.
Fat is dangerous to me. I am highly attracted to it's taste and mouth feel. Butter is the most supreme fat of them all, followed by the fat of beef. Slightly browned butter is nearly impossible to stop eating, for myself. I can eat stuff with that in it until I'm sick, literally.
Geez man, I was defending junk food in the other thread but that's a bit much even for me :P. Obviously a little of the fat 'flavor' can make things more enjoyable to eat. (My understanding is that is an actual 'flavor' along with salty/sweet/bitter/sour and 'umami', which is actually the taste of MSG)

They've even figured out how to make fat that tastes like fat, but doesn't make you fat. The problem is that is that it gives you the runs instead, supposedly.
posted by delmoi at 4:16 AM on January 13, 2012


The problem is that is that it gives you the runs instead, supposedly.

Olestra.

Produces anal leakage. Anal oil leakage. Another crisp, Vicar?
posted by Wolof at 4:37 AM on January 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Here's another new study to put a nail into the coffin of the "It's just simple physics!" trope. Darn those organic chemists and endocrinology experts, don't they know the human body works exactly like a bomb calorimeter? The guy who wrote the Nerd diet says so, and he's an expert, because he lost weight once.

Expect the moralizing to reach a fever pitch over the next few years as medical treatments become available. Exercise (starving the fat cells and changing their metabolic nature) and willpower (appetite control) in a pill... the fat-shamers are going to have a shit-fit. Then they'll be medicine-shamers, I guess. Gotta do something to keep motivated to count calories and hit the gym!

"Don't you know its wrong to take a pill to be thin? It shows you're lazy and unmotivated and you're in the pocket of big pharma!"
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:05 AM on January 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yes, pretty much.
posted by Burhanistan at 5:15 AM on January 13, 2012


They've even figured out how to make fat that tastes like fat, but doesn't make you fat. The problem is that is that it gives you the runs instead, supposedly.

Olestra tastes like fat the same way that sucralose tastes like sugar, which is to say it tastes like you're eating fat by licking it off some random unwashed equipment from a high school chemistry lab.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:37 AM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


If I eat what seems normal to me -- not a lot of fast food, junk food, and not particularly excessive amounts of food -- quite often less than my skinny coworkers -- I maintain my just-borderline-obese weight. A weight that is very slowly decreasing over time.

If I count calories and watch what I eat very, very carefully, I am a miserable bastard and I may lose about 10 pounds off my "normal" before plateauing and bouncing back.

If I give in over the holidays or let my wife talk me into desserts and stuff (she's a bad influence sometimes) I gain about 10 pounds from my "normal" and also feel both guilty and miserable, and then it comes off without too much trouble.

But I seem to be essentially locked in to a groove at a level higher than what I, my doctor, or society would prefer.

I do get moderate amounts of exercise; I play taiko several hours a week (which is physically quite intense) and I occasionally go for walks with some jogging thrown in (in better weather than this). While it helps, it doesn't break me through the lower barrier. Intentionally increasing my exercise amounts beyond my own normal usually has a very temporary positive effect followed by a rebound.

I'm diabetic, and what I eat and how much I exercise definitely does affect blood sugar. But it takes a concentrated effort combined with both Metformin and injected insulin to get my blood sugar temporarily into the desired range.

My blood pressure is great, my cholesterol is okay and I don't have any other major health issues. But I'm basically fucked.
posted by Foosnark at 5:43 AM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is there a better alternative to BMI that would make these types of conversations a little more meaningful?

This is a tremendously frustrating argument that people in these conversations like to trot out and it simply isn't true. It is true, bodyfat percentage is the best indicator of obesity or excess fat. But it is expensive to do with great accuracy (the scales you buy for home or gym use aren't anywhere close). If you read these "Limitations and shortcomings" section of Wikipedia, BMI and bodyfat percentage, you'll find there actually is quite a strong correlation between bodyfat and BMI, simply because the percentage of people with high BMI and low enough body fat to eliminate an "overweight" designation is actually quite small.

You have to add on quite a bit of muscle and lose quite a bit of fat to enter that mythical "BMI does not apply to me" region, and 95% of the population does not fit the bill. A good rule of thumb is that if you have not been pursuing a serious weight training program or power-based sport (i.e. not marathon running) for 3+ years, BMI applies to you, and if you have not been doing it for 5-6+ years BMI still loosely applies to you. I compete in strongman competitions and most people would likely consider me to be pretty muscular and strong for a woman, but I am still overweight at an overweight BMI, though admittedly a healthy weight for me is on the high end of normal.

As for the "frame size" argument in that Wikipedia article, notice that it is not backed up by any studies whatsoever. If you boil people of the same height and gender down to their skeletons, the difference in weight between skeletons is miniscule--certainly not the tens of pounds it would take to invalidate BMI based on their "frame" alone.

Until America is populated by a bunch of serious weight-training fanatics, BMI remains good measure of obesity in the population.

(It is also worth noting that in that Wikipedia discussion of BMI, studies have demonstrated when body fat is used compared to BMI a HIGHER percentage of people are classified as overfat--further proof BMI is not somehow classifying a bunch of large-framed secretly muscle-bound subjects as too fat. Doleful Creature, did you read that section?)
posted by schroedinger at 6:11 AM on January 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


The cause of obesity is no mystery, it's common sense.

I fail to see how common sense causes obesity.

I have some granola-ish tendencies, and opt for low-VOC and more "natural" options when I can. But glancing around my house, I'm surrounded by things that are made from or treated with all sorts of chemicals. I am sure that the couch on which I am sitting was treated with stain preventers and fire suppressants, and then there's whatever off-gassing the foam cushions do, for example.

So you don't have to make some huge mental leap from that observation to the idea that although most are probably totally benign, some of those chemicals probably have health impacts that could show up in, say, infant or childhood obesity levels. No amount of handwaving about "it's all physics!" contradicts this; for fun, try to lose weight while taking steroids or any of several other prescription drugs that can cause weight gain. You'll be eating the same food, doing the same activities, and getting a very different result.
posted by Forktine at 6:26 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Planet, you're one of the rare lucky ones. Most people are not blessed with demonic metabolisms or spend all of their waking lives at the gym. You may find the concept of obesity alien but in this it is your experience that is the outlier. For most of us, weight control is a struggle, going to the gym is a struggle, suppressing eating binges is a struggle.
I think this is what makes these discussions interesting to me.

I had my metabolism tested by an endocrinologist once, and it was normal. I spend a normal amount of time at the gym. (I ride my bike five or so miles a day and do pilates twice a week. Totally moderate. My doctor would probably say I should exercise more.) And weight is totally not a struggle for me. I eat when I'm hungry, stop when I'm full, and never consciously exercise any willpower.

What I want to know is why it's so easy for me to stop eating when I'm sated, while other people seem to struggle with it so much. (And to be fair, I used to struggle with it, too, but that's because I was alternating binging and starving.) I don't at all buy the idea that it's a question of morality, because it's not something that takes any effort or self-control for me.
posted by craichead at 6:27 AM on January 13, 2012


Foosnark, I assume you have type II? If so, and I hope/assume your doctors have told you this, but the most important changes for lowering blood sugar are eliminating simple carbs (no soda, no juice, no "whites" -- white bread, white pasta, etc. -- and decrease the amount of flour-based products you consume, even those made with whole grains. Up your fruits and veg to increase healthy carbs and increase satiety, not to mention vitamins and minerals.

Exercise is also important because your body stores excess blood sugar in your muscles, but if you haven't moved your muscles lately there essentially won't be enough room, and your blood levels will rise. You don't have to train for a marathon, but it does help immensely to cut your sedentary time by getting up from your desk periodically throughout the day to walk up one flight of stairs, take a fake smoke break, whatever gets you moving, always park at the back of the parking lot, take a walk before or after your lunch and dinner, etc. Think about making your muscles burn off a little more energy so they can store a little more sugar.

Switching to exclusively whole grains and adding exercise are challenging, but high blood sugar will lead to things that will make you absolutely miserable in the future. Sugar destroys blood vessels and nerves leading to -- depending what you're most susceptible to -- kidney damage, liver damage, blindness, carpal tunnel and foot problems. The number one cause of impotence in men is diabetes, and the number one cause of death in diabetics is heart disease (from sugar-damaged blood vessels). Cancer cells are metabolically different from normal cells in a way that makes them use sugar less efficiently, so anything that raises insulin levels will support tumor growth as insulin drives sugar into cells, which may explain why cancer rates are higher among the obese.

Start with small changes, don't overwhelm yourself, and the correct medical professional to go to to help you with these sorts of things is a Registered Dietitian.

For everyone, a good source for what actually works for weight loss is the National Weight Control Registry, which tracks and surveys those who have sustained weight loss over the long term. According to them:

98% of Registry participants report that they modified their food intake in some way to lose weight.
94% increased their physical activity, with the most frequently reported form of activity being walking.
90% exercise, on average, about 1 hour per day.
78% eat breakfast every day.
75% weigh themselves at least once a week.
62% watch less than 10 hours of TV per week.
posted by antinomia at 6:27 AM on January 13, 2012 [9 favorites]


Craichead and Planet, I'm in the same boat. I've hovered between a BMI of 18 and 18.5 my entire life, and I'm 36 now. I've never dieted and I exercise about 30 min/day 3 times/week. Clearly it's not a matter of willpower because if it were I wouldn't be underweight because I have none. From everything I've studied (which is a lot since I'm working on a masters in nutrition) obesity seems to function more like an addiction. The hormones released as fat cells shrink during weight loss affect hunger and food-seeking behaviors producing an irresistible compulsion to consume. I think any of us that have been close to those with alcohol or drug addiction understand that it takes more than simple willpower to not consume the drug. It seems that obese patients are fighting the same level of brain chemistry-mediated urges. So, yeah, it's not an issue of morals or character.

The BBC did an excellent reality-style program Why are Thin People Not Fat (slyt) where they tried to make thin people fat by giving them a calorie quota to consume each day to understand why they don't tend to gain weight. My favoriet part is when the participants revealed the one particular food that helped all of them reach their kcal goals... I won't spoil it by giving away what it is.
posted by antinomia at 6:43 AM on January 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


"The reality is, you can be skinny and eat junk food, so long as you keep your calorie counts down."

But can you be HEALTHY and dine on doritos, dr. pepper, sandwiches and tv dinners every day? No fresh vegetables? No fresh meats or quality proteins?

The reality is, maybe you can tolerate it ok, but what if it affects the genes you hand on to your offspring, and what if it affects the maternal environment that the infant grows in? What all the additives and nasty crap and trans fats and all that gunk can actually affect the bodies health for a long period of time after eating it?

So what I mean to say here is this:
If we want to shame people for eating and lifestyle behavior--- shame everyone who takes care of themselves poorly.

It should not be based on BMI but on what people are actually doing. And if you're really into monitering what other people are eating and doing on a daily basis, you might want to get a new hobby and acknowledge that it's probably not any of our business how hard someone else is trying or not trying to be healthy. Or what may be going on in thier lives of psyche making it hard to try as much as we feel like we can.

My cousin just died of drug related illness and he never stopped doing drugs. He went in and out of rehad all the time. Just never could maintain it. I can claim he wasn't trying hard enough, but how do I know? How do I know he wasn't doing everything he could to make it through the days and drugs felt like the only hope?

How do I know whether one person recovered from cancer because they power willed through it and ate right and loved themselves good enough another died because they weren't trying enough?

How do I get to judge how hard people are trying and what is in their way? Opening doors for people is a good thing. Finding ways to help people have health is a good thing. Shaming people who struggle along the journey is probably not as helpful as you think, especially if it assumes a capacity to do more than the person is actually capable of. If you like shaming, just focus on shaming yourself and the better person it will make you if that's what you believe in.

So no, it's never hopeless to eat good quality vegetables and get some exercise--- but these things can feel really really hard and some people need help managing them. And unless you're willing to offer that help yourself, perhaps you could back off of pretending you know whether they are trying or not.
posted by xarnop at 7:35 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The fattest and thinnest countries in the world.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:36 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was (barely) obese for 20 years of my life, starting when I was ~20. I ate junk food a few times a week, ate all kinds of candy, at least a gallon of soda a week... and then, when I turned 40, I literally woke up one morning after dreaming about being thin and had no desire to eat sugar at all. In fact, the thought of it turned my stomach. That was two years ago, and I haven't had anything made mostly of sugar (like hard candy or fruit juice) since. I tried some soda last year and it just tasted bizarre to me.

I do still eat 70+% chocolate sometimes, and occasionally somewhat sweet baked goods. I've had fast food a couple of times in the past two years, but I don't think I'll ever go again... I've started cooking and I can make a far better hamburger. I also started eating a lot less at restaurants (not intentionally, it just happened)... I can barely finish half of what I'm given most of the time, and I'm 6'2". I've lost ~50 lbs with basically no effort. I walk our dog every day, and I stand up at work for most of the day, but other than that, I don't really exercise.

I wish I knew why I lost my taste for sugar and junk... there was a time when I had basically given up on losing any weight at all. People who are saying that it's as simple as watching calories... it just isn't. I've been there, and I tried for years, and it just didn't work, for various reasons. Feel good about yourself for being thin if you like, but you should also consider yourself lucky. It's not all due to your superior willpower.
posted by Huck500 at 7:56 AM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I had my metabolism tested by an endocrinologist once, and it was normal. I spend a normal amount of time at the gym. (I ride my bike five or so miles a day and do pilates twice a week. Totally moderate. My doctor would probably say I should exercise more.) And weight is totally not a struggle for me. I eat when I'm hungry, stop when I'm full, and never consciously exercise any willpower.

What I want to know is why it's so easy for me to stop eating when I'm sated, while other people seem to struggle with it so much. (And to be fair, I used to struggle with it, too, but that's because I was alternating binging and starving.) I don't at all buy the idea that it's a question of morality, because it's not something that takes any effort or self-control for me.


Well, here's my story. I've always been huge and what finally worked for me was rigorously tracking everything I eat and monitoring my weight, whereupon I found out the point where I can maintain a weight is about 1500 calories a day. Which clarified a few things, because I'd never been the stereotypical fattie pounding down cheeseburgers (in fact, people often think I'm hiding something because I eat so little in front of them), but I'd always been huge.

If I want to actually lose weight, I have to drop my calorie consumption down to 1000-1200 calories a day and work out a lot, about 1-2 hours a day 5-6 days a week, and even then, each pound peels off reluctantly and slowly. People like to scream "thermodynamics!" at me or accuse me of cheating or bro science me, but I have the weight graph and calorie intake graph over several years and the various test results, so I'm pretty sure I know what I'm talking about. I've been tested and all my stuff is normal, my metabolism is just incredibly slow. The "no you have to eat more when you're working out then burn it off slowly" didn't work, it just spiked my weight dangerously high.

So my food experience is the opposite of yours. I eat at regular times, I have to carefully measure the amounts of everything, and I haven't been full in a while. My downfall comes when I'm doing something like moving or I get sick or have to go out of town and I can't monitor my calories and work out as much, because I pack weight back on very easily. I was about 50 pounds lighter last year at this time, but lost my job and had to move and packed it all back on.

It's always enjoyable when people smugly lecture me about willpower when I'm eating a few cups of food a day and going to the gym more than they'd ever dream of.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:02 AM on January 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


Do other people struggle mightily to avoid becoming obese, with every hour of their waking life spent resisting the urge to eat? Is this where self-righteousness comes from?

I'm not at all sure what you mean by "self-righteousness," unless you're being disingenuous, but the answer to your question is clearly yes, and the science around obesity is not self-righteous:

Long-Term Persistence of Hormonal Adaptations to Weight Loss (NEJM, 27 October 2011):

".... in obese persons who have lost weight, multiple compensatory mechanisms encouraging weight gain, which persist for at least 1 year, must be overcome in order to maintain weight loss. These mechanisms would be advantageous for a lean person in an environment where food was scarce, but in an environment in which energy-dense food is abundant and physical activity is largely unnecessary, the high rate of relapse after weight loss is not surprising. Furthermore, the activation of this coordinated response in people who remain obese after weight loss supports the view that there is an elevated body-weight set point in obese persons and that efforts to reduce weight below this point are vigorously resisted. In keeping with this theory, studies have shown that after adjustment for body composition, people whose weight is normal and those who are obese have similar energy requirements for weight maintenance and equivalent reductions in energy expenditure after weight loss. If this is the case, successful management of obesity will require the development of safe, effective, long-term treatments to counteract these compensatory mechanisms and reduce appetite." (Emphasis mine.)

As the Tara-Parker Pope article in the New York Times that discusses this study puts it: "For years, the advice to the overweight and obese has been that we simply need to eat less and exercise more. While there is truth to this guidance, it fails to take into account that the human body continues to fight against weight loss long after dieting has stopped. This translates into a sobering reality: once we become fat, most of us, despite our best efforts, will probably stay fat." (Again, emphasis mine.)
posted by blucevalo at 8:04 AM on January 13, 2012


I was (barely) obese for 20 years of my life, starting when I was ~20. I ate junk food a few times a week, ate all kinds of candy, at least a gallon of soda a week...

So, your comment caused me to calculate how much soda I drank per week when I was in high school. It was basically a two liter a day, which is just over 3 and half gallons a week or something like 6000 calories per week. In retrospect, a good choice might have been to have my health classes give me more information on calories, what they are, and how your body processes them, rather than making me memorize facts about a bunch of drugs they were telling me not to take.

I'm honestly kind of shocked that I am only moderately overweight ten years later.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:06 AM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's an area of active research, but it seems that things like maternal weight, and possibly more importantly, maternal weight gain during pregnancy, influence the size and metabolic health of infants and children.

There are also some interesting findings on the dynamics of weight gain in breast-fed vs. bottle-fed babies, but the best data I've seen tend to suggest it's more or less a push by adulthood.

I'm open to the idea of obesogens contributing to the obesity problem, but it's fair to say the jury's still out on the subject. Regardless of the role of obesogens in childhood obesity, parents wishing to raise healthy children should give them healthy fresh foods, limit their exposure to sugar and fast food, and keep them active.
posted by Mister_A at 8:08 AM on January 13, 2012


According to WebMD, "You gain weight when you take in more calories than you burn off."

Sounds simple enough. I guess that applies to babies too.

In response to an insightful question above (4 to 7 in 100 or 40 to 70 in 100), this J Ped article says "The prevalence of infant obesity was 16%.... Risk factors included excessive intrapartum weight gain or being born large for gestational age."

Links to a couple of objective sources at the outset really help these discussions.
posted by Twang at 8:11 AM on January 13, 2012


Do other people struggle mightily to avoid becoming obese, with every hour of their waking life spent resisting the urge to eat?

Yep. The fat ones. And all of us eventually fail, regardless.
posted by flabdablet at 8:45 AM on January 13, 2012


Not sure if this has been brought up yet:

http://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/obesity-epigenetics-and-gene-regulation-927

But basically, as people get fatter they are more likely to produce obese offspring and there may be clues in the way individual genes behave in response to individual environments and behaviors.

But to say that the overwhelming number of obese individuals are not that way due to cumulative years of imbalances in diet and exercise is disingenuous. If you want to conquer lung cancer get rid of tobacco. There will still be cancers but most of them will disappear.
The great majority of obese people did so by simply eating when they were hungry and eating until they were full. That is not gluttony, but simply a lack of awareness that such a natural habit inevitably ends up with several hundred calories a day, or thousands a year, of excess, which easily translates to 5-10 pounds a year and then very quickly a healthy weight 18 year old is an obese 35 year old. It isn't complex math.

One can of soda a day can add 20-40 pounds of weight in a year.
posted by docpops at 8:58 AM on January 13, 2012


And I heartily agree with the study Blucevalo quotes above; it is tough to keep weight off because we are well adapted to pack it on and run efficiently in times of scarcity.
posted by Mister_A at 9:21 AM on January 13, 2012


docpops-- I agree with you in that there are environmental factors which include lifestyle and food choices that are at the root of this.

Here's where it gets more tricky-- I think, like alcoholism and tabocco addiction-- we see poor food choices higher among people who are coping with other difficult life circumstances such as poverty, dangerous neighborhoods, abuse, psychological issues, disabilities and other health issues etc.

Some percentage of developing obesity is as you say-- and for others it's intergenerational meaning that it's not as simple to alter the course. And what's more when we are using a coping mechanism such as food/alcohol/tobacco/drugs--- there is a percentage of people who may be worse off losing their coping mechanism.

I guess as I have a bias in having a very broken family who can barely cope with life at all, and have lived with and worked with a lot of people from broken family systems and with severe physical and mental disabilities--- or mild undiagnosed obstacles to functioning that I see in many of my minimum wage earning parent friends who struggle to cope with life-- I am seeing a lot of people who have a whole lot on their plates, like being able to be in a good mood when the kids get out of school and not collapse in a mess of tears and bad moodiness trying to change diet or quit smoking.

There are situations where focusing on the kinds of lifestyle changes that I personally would love to see everyone do-- is just not feasable at that point in a persons life and shaming them for just trying to make it through the days with whatever coping mechanism is not going to improve the situation.

I would like to change that. I would like to see more forms of support that ADDRESS how massively difficult it is for many people to cook vegetables on a regular basis, to make sure everyone is getting exercise and that make it feel more possible to do these things or get help doing these things... in a compassionate way.

The reason I point out how severe the obstacles are for many people is not that I want to point out it's impossible for us to change the common societal lifestyle patterns that lead to so many diseases--- but that I think external forces are at the root of their occurance--- and can be at the root of resolving the issues as well. I want to see supports that work WITH human capacity for change instead of against it. Which means less talking AT people dealing with these issues and more asking what the actual obstacles to eating well and exercising are and seeing what can be done to make the journey to health more possible and successful. What's more, for many people the goal of achieving a "normal BMI" is not going to be a reasonable life health goal. The goal should simply be to eat a healthy diet, get healthy activities and whatever needed supports and social interaction for emotional wellness-- and enjoy whatever those benefits are whether they get you to "normal" BMI or not.
posted by xarnop at 9:28 AM on January 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


it is tough to keep weight off because we are well adapted to pack it on and run efficiently in times of scarcity.
Tough, yes, but far from impossible and much more feasible than people think. The fact seems to be that if you can gut it out for 6-12 months through spartan discipline then your body, at some point, will transform into a new state of metabolism. This is seen over and over in people who successfully lose weight.

I think what we aren't saying to people is that meaningful weight loss requires such a commitment of will and discipline that never stops, and realistically most people won't do it or can't. It is a commitment on a par with raising a kid three times in succession in terms of the time and effort it takes to turn your mind away from temptation and to force yourself every waking hour to ignore impulses to eat and to overcome the discomfort of daily exercise. Unless you have a tangible reason for doing so,i.e. the fear of losing a limb to diabetes, a stroke, or just being glad to have a healthy body after a health scare, then why would someone go through that?
posted by docpops at 9:30 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


xarnop - I totally agree. Someone that can't be sure they will have electricity month to month is not likely to have the sort of mental reserves necessary to manage their health or weight. In my practice I try to counsel people in their teens and twenties to not allow the inevitable pounds to creep on for that very reason. Once the full force of life's stress hits you, any chance at meaningful weight loss is quite slim.
posted by docpops at 9:38 AM on January 13, 2012


For me, cutting sugar (especially corn syrup) makes me lose weight without question. A really good method that I learned from my uncle is to keep the weekends for comfort foods, and stick to a boring diet during the week. It's strange: I couldn't say no forever to Dr Pepper and ice cream, but I find it much easier to say "Not on a weekday."

So every weekday morning I have one packet of microwave oatmeal, a reasonable lunch (without a sweetened drink) and a reasonably sized dinner as early as possible (again, no juice or soda or diet soda). To save money/time, some days I'll eat half of my lunch and save the other for dinner, with snacks of raw vegetables and water in between. I'm finding soda and super sugary foods to be less appealing as time goes on; it's almost like my palette is readjusting how much sugar it expects, to the point where I can barely test the supposed flavor of sodas over the sweetness of them. The battle against cheese, however, continues...

I'm overweight right now, but it's slowly coming off, and when I did the same diet a few years ago plus exercise, I dropped about 50 pounds in a year. (YMMV: I'm 6'6 and running about 275 right now.) And I'm not saying that this is easy, it's just what works for me.

On another note, I share the same hunch as a lot of people that ingesting processed food ruins my body's ability to process food into energy instead of fat. Whenever I go out of the country, I always seem to lose weight, even if I'm still eating the same things, including soda, beers, burgers, whatever. Going out even further on a limb, I'll bet the symbiotic relationship we have with bacteria in our gut is being trashed by modern chemical processes. If it took an army of chemists to create your meal, you probably shouldn't eat it.
posted by deanklear at 10:08 AM on January 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


There is a notion that people who are overweight consume ridiculous quantities of food, or never raise their arms any higher than it takes to get some food into their gaping maw.

But a simple thought experiment shows just how narrow the range is between a normal weight and a severely obese weight.

All other things being equal, if person X's body internalized 100 calories more per day than person Y, person X will have 3000 calories more inside their system per month. That's just about 1 pound of fat.

Over the course of a decade, a consistent 100 calorie surplus above one's metabolic needs leads to 120 pounds of extra fat.

You can also apply that the other way -- a deficit of 100 calories per day results in the loss of 120 pounds in 10 years.

Because of this, it is clear that "consume less/exercise more" is certainly a valid means of losing weight, but a very, very small difference in how one's body deals with the calories that are consumed can have a HUGE impact over time.

So yes, it is ultimately "that simple." But because the margin is so incredibly thin, the real story is obviously far more complex. Or does each person who is of a reasonable weight consciously tune their diet well within the EXACT 100 calorie window each day to maintain their health?
posted by chimaera at 10:17 AM on January 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


chimaera, I think you've landed on a consensus position. Yes, it is a simple matter of physics. However, the margins are so thin that tiny differences in metabolism, exercise, endocrine function, and ingestion over time lead to huge differences in ways that we probably don't understand.
posted by deanklear at 10:31 AM on January 13, 2012


I think it's really something that after making a post that does not discount the role of diet and lifestyle but talks about environmental factors that are *also* there, one strong response seems to be a serious concern that fatties might think they're off the hook for pushups and celery.
posted by mobunited at 11:10 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


If it turns out to be a complex issue involving numerous factors to include genetics and environment rather than being as simple as "lol fatty needs to put down the big mac am i right??", my stars and garters, who will they judge?
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:23 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


chimaera, things aren't that simple, though. People's bodies will react in subtle ways to subtle changes in caloric intake. A study was done that I'm not finding right now that covered the effects of NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) movement, like fidgeting or getting up and walking around, and found that in response to slight caloric increases the body will increase the amount of NEAT someone does to burn those calories off and maintain homeostasis. Now, the really interesting thing is that the amount of this NEAT increase varies from person to person--some people's bodies will increase this "fidget amount" to account for even 1000kcal excesses, while others do not. So it is not really as easy as "If you eat an extra cookie every day, you will gain 10lbs in a year".
posted by schroedinger at 11:43 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's actually my point. It SEEMS that simple (and mathematically it is, if you reduce it to calories retained/calories expended), but when you consider how narrow the margins are, that apparent simplicity belies a huge amount of complexity that we have yet to make any significant progress in teasing apart. Hence my rhetorical question asking how, for people who have a healthier weight, do they manage to remain right in the narrowest +/- 50 calories per day window necessary to keep at that weight.

There are more mechanisms involved than eat less/exercise more -- and though there is no doubt that "eat less exercise more" works, that ignores a whole host of drivers that operate at finer levels.
posted by chimaera at 12:24 PM on January 13, 2012


Yes - things are not as simple as "an extra cookie a day, 10 lbs in a year"
But I do strongly believe that in a lot of cases, it boils down to the problem that people have no idea how much calories they're consuming.

I frequent a make-yourself-burrito place and I did some rough calorie calculation:
- rice, beans, and veggies: 300
- add tortilla: 600
- add sour cream: 700
- add guacamole: 800
- add cheese: 900
- add meat: 1100
- add salsa, tortilla cheaps, and drinks: 1600

It's a big lunch, sure, but conceivable. Adding little bit of this and little bit of that QUINTUPLES the calorie count.
One might make the argument that there is no way you can get full on 300 calories (or even 600 calories burrito). But try to consume 5 cups of rice and beans (that's about the size of a coconut) or ~ 3 burritos in a single sitting. I find it near impossible. But a single loaded burrito with side and drinks? Very doable and I see a lot of people frequenting the same place regularly practice that.

To be clear, I am not saying that simple calorie count is the answer to all weight loss problem. But for most people consuming average american diet, it won't hurt to find out how much they really are consuming (especially the hidden calories) and how it contributes to their waistlines.
posted by 7life at 12:24 PM on January 13, 2012


MetaFilter already has umpteen other threads about "calories in < calories out," so I'm wishing this thread had gone more heavily in the direction of endocrine disruptors, epigenetics, and gene expression, and their effects on obesity. Anyone reading know a lot about this stuff? I hadn't before read the article that mobunited linked in the post, which I thought was pretty good.
posted by hat at 12:42 PM on January 13, 2012


Or does each person who is of a reasonable weight consciously tune their diet well within the EXACT 100 calorie window each day to maintain their health?

Seven to ten calories per day, actually. So what if it's subtle and complicated and we don't know how it works? It's all unconscious anyway. If you want to lose weight, as opposed to get grant money to study arbitrarily complex biology (not that there's anything wrong with that), what you want to know is how to change the set point that all those mechanisms are so good at maintaining.

A lot of people seem to assume that the set point is fixed, but I hear enough stories like Huck500's to think that it's either not fixed or else there are multiple set points that work together to determine the weight that you try to keep and at least some of them can be changed. Everyone gets so focused on the weight itself that these kind of stories seem weird and inexplicable, but maybe that's because the whole debate about calories and obesogens is just another way of avoiding the real issues. Depending on the person, a therapist might be a better first step towards weight loss than a gym membership. Maybe working honestly with a therapist would be harder than working out at the gym or eating less. But then you probably knew it wasn't going to be easy, right?
posted by the atomic kung fu panda bandit inquisition at 2:00 PM on January 13, 2012


f I want to actually lose weight, I have to drop my calorie consumption down to 1000-1200 calories a day and work out a lot, about 1-2 hours a day 5-6 days a week, and even then, each pound peels off reluctantly and slowly.

One thing to note is that to many, many people (myself included) that level of exercise is a minimum. I walk/ ski/ run/ bike/ hike every weekday for about 60-90 minutes and often get 5-9 hours of exercise per day on the weekends. If I'm doing a lot of backpacking or ski touring in the cold I probably burn tens of thousands of calories in 3-4 days. Thats a totally different ballpark than someone who goes to the gym for 30 minutes three times a week. I think a lot of "naturally thin" people get a lot more exercise than sedentary people realise. If you literally get no exercise at all beyond walking to the car 4 or 5 days a week you're going to have to starve yourself to lose weight. I cant even imagine how little food I could eat if I stopped exercising and wanted to stay the same size. I'm sure I'd gain weight immediately.

Obviously I don't regard exercise as a horrible chore the way a lot of people in this thread do but its not always appealing to put on running shoes and head out the door at 7 pm when its 15 degrees.
posted by fshgrl at 3:45 PM on January 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think a lot of "naturally thin" people get a lot more exercise than sedentary people realise.

I've wondered about this, too. I have a fairly physical job, with a lot of days of intense field work, and no one I work with is carrying a lot of extra weight. And I go to professional conferences in my field, and no one there is very big, either, except for people with purely office jobs. I mean, any number of us could lose 30 or 40 pounds without looking emaciated, but no one doing field work is 100 or 200 pounds overweight. As soon as they retire, though, they tend to gain a bunch, because that automatic level of exertion is no longer happening.

On the one hand, it simply burns a lot of calories to carry a heavy load on rough terrain in cold weather, which provides a pretty big buffer about how many fries you might have with your cheeseburger. And on the other hand, having a level of physical fitness as a job requirement is a huge incentive to keep things in check physically. (And on the third hand, there is a huge selection bias, in that people with zero interest in hard physical activity simply don't enter this field or quit.)

I hear people say things about "you naturally thin people, you can eat anything!" all the time, and that just doesn't describe my life. Conversely, I'd bet that many of my thoughts about how obesity works aren't all that realistic, either. And, if as seems to be the case, it's infant and childhood obesity that is the major issue for adults, then I think we are hugely missing the boat by keeping on talking about what we as adults are doing and how well it is working or not working for us individually.
posted by Forktine at 4:12 PM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Funny thing, even the animals have become lazy and undisciplined in the past few decades:

"Surprisingly, we find that over the past several decades, average mid-life body weights have risen among primates and rodents living in research colonies, as well as among feral rodents and domestic dogs and cats. The consistency of these findings among animals living in varying environments, suggests the intriguing possibility that the aetiology of increasing body weight may involve several as-of-yet unidentified and/or poorly understood factors (e.g. viral pathogens, epigenetic factors)."
posted by Corvid at 5:27 PM on January 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't know anything about research colonies beyond reading The Plague Dogs as a kid, but I know for a fact that the lifestyle of domestic dogs and cats has changed immensely just in my lifetime. When I was a kid, dogs were out the front door in the morning and allowed to wander the neighborhood, biting kids and treeing cats, until dinnertime. Cats were universally indoor/outdoor, or purely outdoor. Indoor-only cats, and dogs who only "exercise" by walking on a leash, were not something one saw much of a few decades ago.

So while my money is on the chemicals having a huge impact, I wouldn't trust domestic animals' weights as an indicator.
posted by Forktine at 5:46 PM on January 13, 2012


People grossly overfeed their dogs, that's why they're fat, not because of chemicals.
posted by fshgrl at 6:08 PM on January 13, 2012


And they're obviously overfeeding feral cats, and rats, and those fucking scientists are shoving the chow down research primates' throats 24/7!
posted by mobunited at 6:13 PM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I mean, any number of us could lose 30 or 40 pounds without looking emaciated, but no one doing field work is 100 or 200 pounds overweight. As soon as they retire, though, they tend to gain a bunch, because that automatic level of exertion is no longer happening.

1) Fat people don't tend to go in for things fat people aren't good at.

2) Old people, like the folks who retire from professions, tend to put on weight.

This is the kind of thinking I noticed in combat sports gyms, where folks really pat themselves on the back for having willpower, while ignoring the folks who drop out due to repeated injuries and minor, persistent physiological disadvantages such as poor vision or flexibility. Lots of these can be trained past or corrected, but there's a heavier burden. Similarly, it may be that "naturally thin" people are that way because they exercise more -- but it may be that naturally thin people select themselves for more activity, where chubby people don't.

This doesn't mean that diet and exercise are not the most powerful interventions here. It does not mean there are excuses not to. But it also means that it's worth exploring the source of additional burdens that make these interventions less successful, or make the need more pressing.

As a general principle, we probably shouldn't assume that over half the population are just some variety of lazy asshole, don't you think?
posted by mobunited at 6:38 PM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Did someone mention poor food choices? T

(Fuck the Trade Association that goes by the name of the Food and Drug Administration)
posted by Fupped Duck at 6:57 PM on January 13, 2012


2) Old people, like the folks who retire from professions, tend to put on weight.

Dude. People "retire" from fieldwork in their 30s usually, when they move to project management. And y'know, are too busy and important to be in the field. I'm not old.

I did put on a few pounds after taking a desk job which I had to work pretty damn hard to lose. I am impressed by people who lose 100 pounds because those 8 pounds were hard enough to shift. Gaining it all back seems like madness though, it's so much work to lose it! These days I put on my old field pants at least once a month and if I don't fit in them then I need to eat less and run more for a while.

One of my colleagues just gets rounder all winter then loses probably 30 pounds during the field season every year. Works well for him, but not so great for his wife, who does not do fieldwork...
posted by fshgrl at 7:57 PM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Similarly, it may be that "naturally thin" people are that way because they exercise more -- but it may be that naturally thin people select themselves for more activity, where chubby people don't.

Yes, of course, which is why my comment, the one you were responding to, mentioned:

(And on the third hand, there is a huge selection bias, in that people with zero interest in hard physical activity simply don't enter this field or quit.)

That said, I think it's pretty inescapable that one small- to medium-sized piece of the puzzle is how "work" is a much more sedentary activity now than even just a few decades ago. Factory jobs have been replaced by desk jobs, and there are consequences. (Not all of those consequences are bad, of course -- you might stay skinnier, but hard repetitive labor does nasty things to your joints, too.)
posted by Forktine at 8:39 PM on January 13, 2012


A parody of the problem:

Around the World in 80 Plates
posted by Huck500 at 8:50 PM on January 13, 2012


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