I Wouldn’t Want to Live Like That

There’s a very long article in the New York Times about fat. I just want to say up front that the idea of exercising two hours a day and constantly thinking about and monitoring my food intake seems like my own personal hell. No judgment against you if that’s your thing. But holy shit. I would not want to live like the people who were obese and are now not have to live in order to stay non-obese. I believe they may feel better. I just can’t imagine devoting that much time to food. Honestly, it’s like you make being non-obese your second job.

There are many interesting things in the article.

Dieting alters your hormones in ways that then makes it very hard to not gain the weight back:

While researchers have known for decades that the body undergoes various metabolic and hormonal changes while it’s losing weight, the Australian team detected something new. A full year after significant weight loss, these men and women remained in what could be described as a biologically altered state. Their still-plump bodies were acting as if they were starving and were working overtime to regain the pounds they lost. For instance, a gastric hormone called ghrelin, often dubbed the “hunger hormone,” was about 20 percent higher than at the start of the study. Another hormone associated with suppressing hunger, peptide YY, was also abnormally low. Levels of leptin, a hormone that suppresses hunger and increases metabolism, also remained lower than expected. A cocktail of other hormones associated with hunger and metabolism all remained significantly changed compared to pre-dieting levels. It was almost as if weight loss had put their bodies into a unique metabolic state, a sort of post-dieting syndrome that set them apart from people who hadn’t tried to lose weight in the first place.

You can eat the same amount and exercise the same amount and gain or lose different amounts of weight:

In a seminal series of experiments published in the 1990s, the Canadian researchers Claude Bouchard and Angelo Tremblay studied 31 pairs of male twins ranging in age from 17 to 29, who were sometimes overfed and sometimes put on diets. (None of the twin pairs were at risk for obesity based on their body mass or their family history.) In one study, 12 sets of the twins were put under 24-hour supervision in a college dormitory. Six days a week they ate 1,000 extra calories a day, and one day they were allowed to eat normally. They could read, play video games, play cards and watch television, but exercise was limited to one 30-minute daily walk. Over the course of the 120-day study, the twins consumed 84,000 extra calories beyond their basic needs.

That experimental binge should have translated into a weight gain of roughly 24 pounds (based on 3,500 calories to a pound). But some gained less than 10 pounds, while others gained as much as 29 pounds. The amount of weight gained and how the fat was distributed around the body closely matched among brothers, but varied considerably among the different sets of twins. Some brothers gained three times as much fat around their abdomens as others, for instance. When the researchers conducted similar exercise studies with the twins, they saw the patterns in reverse, with some twin sets losing more pounds than others on the same exercise regimen. The findings, the researchers wrote, suggest a form of “biological determinism” that can make a person susceptible to weight gain or loss.

People who’ve lost weight are metabolically different than their same size peers (so if you lost weight to get to 150, it’s not the same as being a person who just weighs 150) and must eat less and exercise more to stay at that weight:

The research shows that the changes that occur after weight loss translate to a huge caloric disadvantage of about 250 to 400 calories. For instance, one woman who entered the Columbia studies at 230 pounds was eating about 3,000 calories to maintain that weight. Once she dropped to 190 pounds, losing 17 percent of her body weight, metabolic studies determined that she needed about 2,300 daily calories to maintain the new lower weight. That may sound like plenty, but the typical 30-year-old 190-pound woman can consume about 2,600 calories to maintain her weight — 300 more calories than the woman who dieted to get there.

Scientists are still learning why a weight-reduced body behaves so differently from a similar-size body that has not dieted. Muscle biopsies taken before, during and after weight loss show that once a person drops weight, their muscle fibers undergo a transformation, making them more like highly efficient “slow twitch” muscle fibers. A result is that after losing weight, your muscles burn 20 to 25 percent fewer calories during everyday activity and moderate aerobic exercise than those of a person who is naturally at the same weight. That means a dieter who thinks she is burning 200 calories during a brisk half-hour walk is probably using closer to 150 to 160 calories.

Interesting stuff. I encourage you to read the whole thing.

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17 thoughts on “I Wouldn’t Want to Live Like That

  1. Wow. I have been battling this all my life, done Optifast and gained it all right back. If I have to spend every waking moment thinking about my intake, it is just not worth it to be miserable.

  2. I know. I have to say that, while I could tell that the writer was kind of concerned that people would just throw up their hands and be like “I guess it doesn’t matter what I eat!” reading all this made me even more convinced that I should try to eat as well as I can and move around as much as I can–not with some basically unachievable goal in mind, but to feel good and be as healthy as I can be apart from how I look.

  3. Pingback: Just as I thought, my body is fighting me | I Live In A Place Called Normal

  4. I’m rereading Gary Taubes’ book ‘Good Calories, Bad Calories’ and I’m dissapointed that they didn’t track if the calories-in the twin study- came from refined carbohydrates or fat. Different types of energy input trigger different storage/uses of it depending on what hormones are triggered.

    As for having to constantly monitor what I was eating-that would just make me eat more from having to think about it so much. Kudos to anyone who can do that.

  5. Thanks for linking to this article. It’s a really useful summary of research that I haven’t seen mentioned much.

    I really wish I could post it on facebook, or send it to some of my friends and family. But I’ve learned that too many of them are bulletproof when it comes to research challenging their beliefs about fat. It just won’t get through to them, and we’ll have a stupid, frustrating fight.

    It helps a lot to read comments here from people who “get it”.

  6. So where are the usual ELMM voices on this? I guess “eat less move more” sounds catchier than SETYD–“Starve; exercise til you drop”.

  7. Did you notice how GRIM the now-thinner couple looks in the slide show? They look happy in their fat/”before” picture, and now they’re all thinly pursed lips and tension. Not to say that you can judge health by appearances, but they do NOT look happy, at. all.

  8. O.C. I did think that was a weird editorial choice. I mean, you have a photographer from the NYTimes there. She or he must shoot hundreds of pictures of you. It’s not like she or he just leaps out of the car, shoots a candid, and leaps back in.

    So, either there were no pictures in which they were smiling–which is a fucking scary possibility considering that we’re supposed to believe their lives are the “good” outcome–or it’s a strange editorial choice on the part of the NYTimes and maybe someone there didn’t believe that their “good” outcome was all that great.

  9. Have any of y’all read Passing For Thin? It’s a memoir that really gets into body issues in a good way, I thought. The author successfully loses three digits of weight and describes what she has to go through after that to remain thin. It involves a kitchen scale, meticulous counting of every calorie expended and ingested, and force-feeding herself salads by the (weighed and measured) cupful. I think for her, the outcome of this study would be old news.

  10. Shit! I meant “she lost over a hundred pounds, I think, can’t remember how much and don’t want to look it up,” not “she went from weighing a thousand pounds to weighing less than ten.”

  11. I’ve heard lots of folks recommend _Passing For Thin_ and I waver on it because I imagine it’ll say things I know.

    I follow a few people (2) on Facebook who are less weighty versions of themselves and I have to be honest. Their status updates make me tired. I’m sure they enjoy leaving work every evening to run 10 miles or swim 10 miles or whatever. I just don’t think it’s any more easy or realistic than gay men who are in long term marriages with women. In other words, it can be done but at great physical, psychological and emotional cost. If that’s the price you want to pay for your version of happy–go for it.

  12. Coble, I liked the book mostly because of her genuinely snarky, nasty personality. She pulled no punches and wasn’t “nice.” I wanted her perspective on weight issues and their impact on people’s perceptions of her, and I was not disappointed by that.

    I just glanced over to Amazon and it seems llke her snark (and her vocabulary….sheesh, people) were off-putting to many people. Reviews are mixed. But, I read it five, six years ago, so I may be embellishing its goodness in memory. Take w large grain of salt.

  13. Just read up on her–including the reviews where people admit they didn’t “get” her because she was too “literary” and made a lot of “relates” to Broadway and old movie stars. I’m amazed at how much out and out HATE there is for the poor woman–and reminded as to why I wouldn’t want to write a memoir.

    Interestingly she (of course) gained the weight back. And now has a sequel. I perhaps should read them together.

  14. Just now getting to read this. Fascinating. I wonder how this would be received in the pro ana circles? For that matter, I wonder if any similar studies HAVE been done like this on eating-disordered people?

    Coble has a couple of great points but I especially love the comparison to gay men married to women.

    This many years out, I believe that this kind of preoccupation with measurement and counting is a manifestation of the *ok* (to society?) kind of OCD. But it’s still kind of disordered thinking. Yes, B, it’s like a second job, assuming you spend lots of time and energy during the 24 hours you aren’t at your first job thinking, planning, and organizing your first job.

    I found that life is just too short to live that way. More importantly, anyone who’s that inwardly-focused is likely a bore to others (again, like Coble said) and our energy would be a lot better spent trying to help others. (But not to help others realize how much better their lives would be if they weren’t fat. Obviously.)

  15. Mere, I’ve read some anecdotes about obese anorectics who said they told their doctors what their eating habits (such as they were) were like and encountered nothing but encouragement, even though they had typical side symptoms of anorexia like hair loss and joint issues and such, because they were losing weight (though not enough to keep them from being obese).

    I always thought that would be an interesting group to study both because it goes to show that the link between how much we eat and what we weigh has got to be more complicated than simply “food in, no energy out, you get fat” since these people were (not) eating and were exercising in ways that cause other women to lose dangerous amounts of weight and they were not able to lose that much fat (Interestingly, my gynecologist told me that there’s some evidence that some women with PCOS simply can’t access part of their fat to burn. Once it’s there, it’s as if your body locks it away and loses the key–it never can get to it to burn it off, even when you’re starving. So I wonder if these anorexic obese women may also have had undiagnosed PCOS.), and because it illustrates how difficult it can be to treat disordered eating, because there are so many cases in which we encourage it.

    I agree that the kind of work required to lose that kind of weight does encourage disordered thinking and OCD-like focus, which may be another reason why most fat people can’t do it.

  16. , my gynecologist told me that there’s some evidence that some women with PCOS simply can’t access part of their fat to burn. Once it’s there, it’s as if your body locks it away and loses the key–it never can get to it to burn it off, even when you’re starving. So I wonder if these anorexic obese women may also have had undiagnosed PCOS.

    It may be that or it may also be the thing that those of us Big Girls have known for awhile but is now being called “Metabolic Syndrome” by the ever-slow-to-catch-up Medical Establishment. More and more studies are showing that many different things–including the act of dieting itself–cause the body to redirect its fat-burning processes. They don’t know all the causes, but they do know that things as vastly arrayed as dieting, the common cold, hormonal irregularities (like PCOS), various bacterial infections and _even certain foods in certain people_ can lead to “Metabolic Syndrome”.

    Coble has a couple of great points but I especially love the comparison to gay men married to women.
    This many years out, I believe that this kind of preoccupation with measurement and counting is a manifestation of the *ok* (to society?) kind of OCD.

    Thanks, Mere. I think you hit the nail on the head with the OCD thing. Much of the obsessive weightloss methods mimic ritualistic thinking from medieval forms of religion. Many dieters sound remarkably similar to 12th Century Roman Catholics with their focus on rituals, penance, indulgences, directives, etc.

  17. I know in the studies of genetically modified fat mice/rats, even when starved to death(what I hate about science) they still had much more body fat than regular ones. They just used tissue from muscles and organs.

    And they really already know some of what causes fat to be unreleased-excess insulin and some other growth factor that insulin can mimic. And refined carbs=insulin=fat storage.

    I’ve just finished reading Good Calories, Bad Calories and the author’s annoyance at the sucky pseudo-science of the whole ‘diet/nutrition industry’ has rubbed off on me. So I’m extra full of snark right now. Sorry.

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