BRRRRRrrrpupupup puhp puhp. . . The Wheel is Spinning

In Weight-Loss Maintenance on November 16, 2010 at 12:16 pm

So many wonderful and daring gamblers, along with a few cowards.  Thank you all for playing my game!

As I analyze it, Red bets have trumped black ten-to-five, with three totally confused people and/or shameless fence-straddlers, or six if you count all of NewMe’s multiple (charming) personalities. 

Today I point out the lines that struck me as funniest (without revealing anything about the contest winner) and I hand out special kudos to those who came up with new boxes for our ever expanding Big Fat Roulette table.  Let’s start with those:

  • Demographics.  Mulberry points out that an aging population is an ever fatter population.  Good call.  Add it to the black side.
  • Proffered by DeeLeigh:  Dieting during pregnancy makes for fat offspring.  While this is an interesting addition to the board, right beside it we would need to place a box for excessive weight gain during pregnancy.  Both, apparently, can cause the offspring to be fat adults.  In other words, always blame mothers regardless of what they do, unless it’s absolutely perfectly in the middle.  Sigh.  Oh, heck, blame mothers anyway, even if they do nothing but get pregnant while fat.  That’s three additions to the black side.  While it is personal choice, it is Mom’s personal choice that makes an offspring fat.
  • Attack-Laurel pointed out that prescription drugs frequently have weight gain as a side effect.  And as we use more prescription drugs we risk more of that side effect. Put that on the Red side.
  • Mo brought up genetics.  Now, we’ve always had genetics, and that’s probably why there’s always been a bell curve with some people small, some big and the majority in the middle.  However, the bell curve could be moving by way of changes in our genetics.  Thanks, Mo.  I’d call that a black entry.
  • Hope brought up our societal obsession with weight/food.  Why didn’t I think of that?  Paul Campos is one of my heroes!

Now to recognize our funny people.   For clever abuse of the English language, Pubsgal used “Weight Watchers” as a verb.  I have never seen that before:  “I Weight Watchered it back down about 30 pounds . . .”

For an always welcome jab at a spouse, I commend Jen for her observation:

“I attribute that to the fact that if he (spouse) sees an open bag of Doritos, he can literally say, “Meh, not hungry. Maybe later” (Seriously. I mean, is that even a human response?!?) I will topple small children (even my own) to get my hands on that bag of Doritos and I’ll inhale more than half of it before I notice the orange gunk all over my hands and start to wonder how the heck it got there.”

Given that there is no logic in the scientifically recognized “Dorito” response, is it proof that something hormonal is at play?  Hmmmm.

Viajera swept in to get the “grovels best” award with her post that began on this note:

“Can I choose “all of the above”? Pretty please with sugar on top (or maybe not, seeing as it’s a white carb and all). But seriously, I think most-all of these factors are at play, and have a hard time identifying one grand, unified theory of obesity.”

Of course, she’s right (if cowardly).  It IS all of the above and there is no “unified theory of obesity,” but later this week, I’m gonna put my chip down on a single box.   Foolishness or bravery?  You will be the judge.

LNJ gets points for this bizarro mental image, where she links our ancient past to the here and now, while placing her chip on red, and our personal choice to eat highly palatable foods:  “. . .if I found 3,000 calories worth of TGI Fridays appetizers lying around in nature, I could eat the whole thing with gusto – not a bad thing, if one’s food source is scarce and uncertain.”

Hmmmm.  Let’s all agree to keep LNJ away from dumpsters, okay?

  1. I’ll confidently place my bet on the black square marked:
    Genetics + Environment.

    For the genetics link, I offer you the work of Dr. Barbara Hansen at the University of South Florida:
    We haven’t evolved all that far from our primate cousins. And for a species, having some genetic diversity in body shapes/fat retention is as advantageous as it is for other traits: it allows at least some individuals to survive/thrive if the environment abruptly changes. Which leads us to environment.
    For most humans, their largest problem has been and is obtaining ENOUGH food. In times of temporary surplus, the ability to store energy as fat is a big survival advantage, especially for women. So it’s probably a common gene(s). Few societies had enough of a permanent surplus that its disadvantages would eliminate many individuals with it from the gene pool, especially since obesity related problems tend to appear after the age of child-bearing.
    We are getting fatter because the gene(s) has/have more opportunity to be expressed, i.e. food calories are now readily available in calorie-dense forms. And so we will eat to the point where we are at the weight our genes have programmed us to be.
    What we will eat varies, but only those who are willing to accept being at least a little bit hungry all the time and maintaining a higher activity level will be able to keep their weight lower than what they are genetically predisposed to. And it requires constant vigilance because your body wants that weight back.

    Individuals who carry extra fat stores are not necessarily unhealthy, however. They can be quite active. Until quite recently in our society, exercise wasn’t a decision, it was a necessity. They had to walk more to get places, work was more physical, and most everyday activities and pastimes involved more physical exertion. Only a very privileged few had the luxury of doing nothing and even they probably had to exert themselves more as a matter of course, walking, riding, and climbing stairs – no elevators. They didn’t have to set aside time to exercise, it happened as part of their daily routine. Now for most people, you have to decide to exercise, committing already scare time to do so. Add in the virulent size-prejudice faced and internalized by those varying from our unhealthily tiny societal ideal and you wind up with a lot who simply find it easier to be sedentary. Plus as one commenter has pointed out, since those who aren’t sick avoid doctors for very good reasons – I can tell you at least three horror stories of blatant anti-fat prejudice encountered by friends of mine – the stereotype of the unhealthy fat person continues to be propagated.

    Oh yes,- don’t forget the contribution of shoes. Western rigid soled shoes don’t allow the bones & muscles of the feet and toes to move in their natural spring action, distorting the way our body weight is distributed over our hips, knees, and ankles, stressing them in ways they aren’t designed/evolved for. When they have to carry larger amounts of body weight, these joints are more easily stressed and so malfunction sooner. In other words, moving starts to hurt, making exercising even less inviting.

    Let me throw another chip on the black square of Gut Bacteria. It may be that at least some of the unhealthy fat people in the doctors’ offices may be fat because they are sick, not sick because they are fat:

    It seems that mice infected with the gut bacteria from humans with metabolic syndrome (obesity/heart disease/insulin resistence) were got fatter than those who got bacteria from healthy humans. And even when the fat mice lost weight, they were still insulin resistant. They also immediately ate themselves back up to their prior weight when given access to sufficient food.So perhaps some people are getting the wrong signals from their gut. Who knows? Mice aren’t humans and it’s probably a lot more complicated than the above stories make this out to be. But I think it shows that by focusing on individual effort we are likely barking up the wrong tree.

    My gut (heh) feeling is that all the red chips combined might contribute at most to about 5% of weight gain and most of that would sort itself out when we stopped obsessing about the other 95% of our poundage that is out of our control.

    And for those who don’t care for the body size they inherited, that’s personal decision between them and their bodies and I wouldn’t presume to judge it. It’s certainly possible to learn to live with being a little bit hungry all the time. A good chunk of the earth’s population as well as most humans since pre-history have. It’s actually a much more normal condition for us as a species.

    Whirrrrrrr! Let’s see where the chips fall…

  2. It’s posts like Jocetta’s that make me want to stop blogging myself. This is a compliment of the highest order.

    Jocetta has said it all in a cogent, intelligent, succinct (given the complexity of the subject) manner.

    Thank you, Debra, for creating this blog. In a world that swings wildly between obsessive dieting and a mind-boggling array of really crappy food, there for the taking, I have found a little oasis of sanity and just plain common sense. The voices I read on this blog are outstanding.

  3. Wow, Jocetta, thanks for bringing Barbara Hansen to the table. I like her. I actually got to meet her in 2006 when the AAAS conference met in my sister’s hometown and I got the opportunity to go hear the panel on Obesity and Public Policy. I was impressed with her and Katherine Flegal. Not so impressed by Frank Hu of the Harvard crew (a sacred cow to barbecue some other day). There were a couple of others who didn’t make as much of an impression on me, but Barbara’s sleeping monkey pictures – wowsa!

    Your entry is, indeed, a good one. NewMe is right. My answer will be a bit different from yours, however, but I’m glad you set the bar high for me.

    Ya know, NewMe, I’m shocked at the turnout at this blog and how wonderful everyone is, and thoughtful, and smart. I was so scared to start blogging. I’d been encouraged by some. (“Your responses on my blog are posts in themselves — Go start your own, Sweetie.”) I’d been discouraged by others. (“It’s like throwing a party where few people show up, or the ones who do are not the ones you want.”) Well, this is one lively party, and I’m enjoying the partygoers.

    In the back of my head I most feared a response of “Get off the Web you Grumpy Gus! We’re happy in Lifestyleland, and you have your head in your butt.” This is not how it’s playing out at all. I am sooooooo grateful.

  4. Late to the party, and what a fabulous feast, er, fest, it is, I put my money on epigenetics, specifically the expression of genes at different stages in life dependent on diet. The best overall article I’ve seen about this construct, with supporting research, is here:

    The part that interests me as a new grandmother is the section on lactation (breastfeeding), and the ways in which breastfeeding may offer some lifelong protection to infants through epigenetic suppression of some obesity-related traits, assuredly not all, which means that the risk of becoming obese is reduced. Thus, diet during infancy may influence which obesity related traits get expressed in old age, for instance.

    Furthermore, and MOST fascinating, is the contention that “…diet induced epigenetic changes are not limited to one generation but can ripple down to descendents…” Thus, dietary changes that took place at a cultural level during and since the time of our grandparent’s generation may now be manifesting as new traits (such as increased weight) in our current populations.

    The plot thickens. I lean far to the black side because I don’t see much personal choice when cultural, social, genetic, and epigenic factors control so much of the outcome, and individual choices can at best only provide a bit of compensation for SOME people.

    • Ah, RNegade, you’re always welcome at the table. Late or otherwise.

    • I completely agree on the high likelihood that epigenetics plays a role in the regulation of body-weight. Our genes are the final determinant but exactly how they are expressed can be strongly influenced by environmental factors. I would note, however, that the presence of these epigenetic mechanisms in our genome is a genetically heritable trait, whether expressed or not. Their continued existence in the human gene pool is a result of their usefulness as a survival trait. I had subsumed them under the umbrella of “Genetics” as they interacted with “Environment” in the interest of not typing forever and actually posting my comment. 🙂 So I think we have our chips on the same square, essentially.

      Your example of the breastfeeding of infants reducing the “risk”* of obesity is a good example of the usefulness of these flexible epigenetic traits for survival. In general a mother with adequate calorie and nutrient intake will produce sufficient good quality milk to easily feed her children all they need to survive & thrive. When food is scarce or nutritionally deficient, however, this will likely not be the case and children must either be weaned earlier, have supplemental food provided, or die. Under these conditions, the ones likely to survive and have children of their own would be those had a.) a means of detecting conditions of food scarcity/deficiency and b.)were able to compensate by increasing their efficient use of any and all calories lowering their metabolic demands and c.) could store whatever available excess calories they could get as fat. However when food again became plentiful their offspring might have a bit of an edge over those with a permanent genetic adaptation due to their ability to then correspondingly increase their metabolism, and gain extra energy by “burning” the calories faster and additional mobility/agility by carrying fewer of those calories in bulky reserve storage as fat.

      As to its rippling generational effects, note that females with very low body fat levels reach puberty later and will often lose fertility/cease menstruating due to low sex hormone levels, consequently reducing the risk of pregnancy during periods of scarcity, while the opposite effect is seen in those with high body fat percentage since adipose tissue is used for the synthesis and storage of the requisite sex hormones. Lots of fat = lots of food = ability to feed and successfully bear/feed/raise children. Shortage of food = natural birth control (Although I do NOT recommend using starvation as a substitute for modern methods of contraception. The side effects are really nasty.)

      Pretty direct survival selection there, huh? It’s a very neat feedback situation. Daughters born to ill-fed mothers but who themselves don’t experience it will find it easier to stash some extra pounds in reserves if at all possible making them able to bear children sooner and more often. This would help compensate for the drop in population from the loss of the children their mothers couldn’t feed or didn’t conceive due to hunger. The daughters of that generation, being able to nurse adequately, would, on the whole, fail to express the “extra weight” gene and it would go dormant until another period of scarcity occurred. OTOH, should the conditions of scarcity persist, the gene would continue to be expressed and populations would remain small, with fewer (helpless) mouths to feed from insufficient resources.

      I realized I am discussing only the effect on females. There may well be a similar or equivalent mechanism at work that affects the male reproductive system but I am less familiar with the details of its functioning. Also, please remember that I am talking about _populations_ and effects over _many_ generations here. There is a huge amount of variation within populations over time. It doesn’t have much to do with anecdotal reports about what happened to anybody’s mom, or sister, or friend at the gym, this all refers to wide trends and sweeping generalities **
      *Given its usefulness under conditions of scarcity, it’s really not accurate to refer to this mechanism simply as a protection against the “risk” of obesity. It is equally or probably more correct to refer to it as an “enhanced caloric use and storage” ability for protection against the (considerably higher) risk of starvation. Size-ism is so incredibly pervasive and so often unconscious.

      **The above is why statistics can be so useful in making amazingly accurate predictions about whether an effect will be seen in a certain percentage of a population but are quite useless is predicting _which one_ of the individuals in the population will display the effect. It’s also why the accuracy rate of it’s predictions drops in conjunction with the sample size. In big groups, the variations tend to cancel each other out but a really big variation can badly skew a small sample and render it completely unrepresentative, i.e. useless.]

      PS Sorry about all the pompous language. When I’m trying to be very careful and precise in explaining things I tend to slip into Academese, aka Shovelitdeeperan. I don’t talk like this in person, honestly!

  5. Not to be a Johnny-come-lately, but I shall anyways. No one has yet mentioned the mindset about food we have directly inherited from our grandparents as a factor.

    My grandparents were all children during the Great Depression/Dust Bowl. As a result of that, they had (all four of them) a compulsive need to consume all food put before them. They told their children to act in kind. I can remember hearing all of them, including my parents, say “You can’t get up until you finish what’s on your plate.” My immediate response being “I don’t like (some such foodstuff)” the retort always being “You don’t have to like it, you have to eat it.” Or, if I protested I was full, “Well, then you’re just going to have to sit there until your not full and finish your food! Some children aren’t having supper, I’m certain they’d love to have as much food as you get.”

    Now, that wasn’t to cast my whole family in a ghoulish light, but to point out that we might have been given a mindset about food from a time that is no longer relevant; in fact, could be somewhat harmful in coupling with our culture of “me-ism” and “happi-ism” and instant gratification. (Quoted words from Psychology magazine, I am not that much of a self-gratifying windbag.)

    • Interesting thoughts, Molly. In my family the response to the depression era thinking was rebellion. Ultimately, it had more of a reverse-psychology effect, as in, “My mother made me clean my plate, so I’ll never do that to you! Er, how many calories have you had today?”

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