December 13th, 2007



I'm reading an interesting book about fat. It's Rethinking Thin, by Gina Kolata. I am about halfway through.

What Kolata tells us about is the research studies that have led to what many of us believe or know about weight. I have known the results of many of these studies but did not know what that knowledge was based on, so this is useful. One particularly interesting study involved healthy, normal-weight, psychologically "fit" young men. These men were placed on a calorie-reduction diet over several months. After they had lost a significant amount of weight they were put on a gradual increase diet to regain their former weight. Their behavior was studied throughout.

While these men were on this diet they became obsessed with food. They talked about cooking and bought cooking equipment. They felt deprived. When they started to regain the weight they lost they ate incredible amounts, 10,000 calories a day for some, and yet were not satisfied. They developed binge-eating habits.

In other words, they experienced what every dieter goes through, every person trying to lose weight.

Another study involved normal-weight persons, who had never had weight problems, who were put on diets to gain weight. They had a very difficult time of it. Even when they consumed extraordinary amounts of food.

Some of these studies found what I've known for many years - probably since the research was done and reported, actually - that people with weight problems have more fat cells than those who do not struggle with weight. When we lose weight our fat cells get thin and we feel starved. When normal people gain weight they do not develop additional fat cells, they just make their existing cells very fat. So when they lose again they do not feel starved.

Another finding: fat actually does have a genetic basis. Based on adoption and twin studies the conclusions were overwhelmingly clear. In spite of differences in environment people from the same genetic background tend to have the same body mass index.

I am expecting to read of later studies about exercise and its relationship to fat cells. The reason exercise is about the only way a person can hope to keep weight off.

On staying with the program

Over the years I have met others who are vegetarians or who used to be vegetarians. Early on, because my own vegetarianism was more ethical- than diet-oriented, I posited that those who turned vegetarian for health reasons were less likely to stay vegetarian than those who went that way for ethical, moral reasons. For the animals. Vegetarianism for those of us in this camp resembles, in this sense, a religion.

One more interesting tidbit from Rethinking Thin is what one of the dieters in the book says. He is Jewish and he made a decision to eat Kosher, based on his religion. He immediately removed all foods from his diet that were not Kosher and knew that he would not eat them again. When he attends parties or other food events and he isn't certain that the food is Kosher he simply does not eat it. He said that he has absolutely no problem avoiding foods that don't fit into this diet. He knows he will simply not eat them.

But he does not have the same will, if that's what it is, when it comes to foods that his weight-loss diet says are bad for him. He slips. He has trouble not eating his favorites, or satisfying his sweet tooth when it beats down his defenses. He wonders if getting thin is less important to him than his religion.

So it appears that my hypothesis is probably correct. Following a diet for health reasons, whatever the diet, is damnably difficult. Yet choosing not to eat foods because we are morally opposed to eating them is an entirely different ball game.

Oh, and an aside about this man wondering if he just "doesn't care enough" about getting thin. There is no statistical difference in the psychological makeup of fat and thin persons. In fact, both fat and thin persons have similar cravings. And resolving childhood issues does not make the fat go away.

That "charming" grace

Paul is watching Amazing Grace right now. The show that someone - on, I think - recently referred to as "charming". It's funny that an intelligent person would miss the reason I can't stand that show. It's the implication that we all must be saved, even those nice atheists. There is an atheist in this episode and she sure makes a deal out of it. Makes me want to take someone's name in vain.