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Why are some people fit? The individual variety hypothesis.

February 9, 2011

One of the things that led me to my understanding of how to get fit was the reasoning below.  I realized I had heard so many theories of people being overweight, from eating like a pig to having a glandular condition that at some point you believe everything and nothing.  I remember when I had to clear my mind of some of these beliefs and get down to basics.

Rene Descartes proposed that to gain knowledge you first had to get down to the foundation of what you know. The very basics. That for him was, ‘I think therefore I am’ (Cogito ergo sum). I have always liked this method of reasoning, so I started focusing on basics myself.  I let go of everything I believed and found first principles:

The Normal Curve is the key to everything

The first thing that I knew was that clearly some people were made to use food more efficiently than others.

This is obvious to me. Not just some glandular condition like my parents had said was the cause of some of the very obese people. Something I didn’t believe then and still don’t think is very common-it just doesn’t explain the sheer variety of overweight people, the whole spectrum of slim to huge.

Also, I couldn’t believe that all fat people were lazy and all thin people hard working, it just didn’t hold up (I knew that I was fat and I wasn’t lazy, so I knew it probably wasn’t true for all of the other people out there).

Believing that energy use, weight gain, etc is individual is much more likely and it explains everyone, not just the very obese. This is one of those qualities that we take as a given in so many variables in life. In general it is called the normal curve and it explains the distribution of just about every trait that humans have and almost every activity that we get up to.  When multiple genes combine with experiences there are nearly an infinite number of possible outcomes, and this is true with just about any human trait.  Each of the traits tend to average to a normal, but what is normal depends on the environment.

Individual Variety Hypothesis

The individual variety hypothesis has recently become obvious to many, and is touted by the evolutionary biologists:

The reason some of us are fat and some thin lies in our genes, scientists say. “When we were hunter-gatherers, evolution favored people who could take in lots of food when times were good and store it in case of famine—people who could get fat,” says Eric Ravussin, a scientist at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. These people were considered to have “thrifty” genes. As some populations began farming, which allowed them to produce enough food to store for the winter, having such genes was no longer critical, but they stayed with most of us. People without thrifty genes, who remain thin in today’s land of plenty, are evolutionary oddities, says Ravussin.A majority of us are thought to possess some mix of thrifty genes—and their urgings are so powerful that even the most stubborn willpower won’t keep many of us from getting pudgy if food is cheap and plentiful. -The Evolution of Fat By Peter Jaret, EatingWell.com

This explains the large numbers of overweight and obese people given the overwhelming desire for thinness in our society. This also explains the variety of overweight people and the amazing variety of fitness levels. But this explained something else to me. Because we weren’t seeing the problem of weight gain as an individual problem, we have relied on a one size fits all solution, and who better to offer that solution than the fit people. But there isn’t one solution to this problem and further, the the thin people don’t have the solutions, just the lucky genes.

So I knew the solution for me to get fit was going to be different than it was for someone who had a fitness background, yet it was these fitness people who were giving the advice. This just didn’t sit well with me. After all, how likely do you think a recovering alcoholic would be to stay at an AA meeting with people who had never suffered from the addiction to alcohol. Think about it. Can you imagine a recovering drug addict taking advice from someone who says, ‘Just say no’. Someone who had never walked the walk. Of course not. Sure, the scientists create the hypothesis, and develop and measure the studies to determine what does work, but then, the people who have used those methods help others recover.

Shouldn’t it be the same for weight loss? I think that to me has been the biggest failing of the fitness and weight-loss industry to date. Everyone needs mentors, everyone needs success stories-real success stories, not fabricated before and after pictures. Yet, all we have gotten is charlatans, pseudo-scientists and motivational speakers. Ironically, the number one reason people choose a weight loss program is the before and after pictures. The problem with before and after pictures is that there is a million ways to make them lie. These are the simplest things to stage.

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