2. Chapter 1: First Principles
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 standing there on my tile floor I started getting down to basics myself. 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.
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-see my blog for examples of how easy it is to fabricate a before and after picture.
Sidebar: Simple Carbohydrates and Addiction
More and more information is mounting to make our global obesity epidemic appear more and more akin to drug and alcohol addiction. In fact, in many ways that is how I look at my battle, both back then and even now. There are distinct differences between quitting smoking and losing weight, but there are strong parallels as well. For example, most people who smoke talk about the enjoyment that smoking brings them. They talk about their lifestyle and its relationship to smoking. They talk about the soothing, calming and happy-making effects of cigarettes. They also talk about how they are very concerned about the negative long term health effects of smoking and how they would like to quit so they can grow old and see the people in their lives grow old as well. Clearly there are some strong parallels.
Very current research is on its way to proving that there is a chemical addiction in the body for sugar. Until recently only two of the three elements of addiction had been shown:, increased intake, and signs of withdrawal. Professor Bart Hoebel, presented the research in December of 2008 that claims that his current research completes the recognised addiction model by showing the existence of craving and relapse associated with sugar, and its underlying mechanism. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/132530.php.
In any case, addiction or dependance, really isn’t the point. The point is you would have to be blind to not realize that foods high in sugars are foods that many of us eat too many of, even though we know they have too many calories (which we know are making us fat) and we know that they cause an imbalance in insulin in our bodies (which we know also makes us fat).
To me one of the most disturbing parellels of sugar and tobacco is the Sugar Association (www.sugar.org) in the US or the Sugar Bureau (http://www.sugar-bureau.co.uk/) out of the UK. The mission of The Sugar Association is to promote the consumption of sugar as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle through the use of sound science and research.
Compare this to the now shut down Tobacco Institute, that was founded, according to Wikipedia, “initially to supplement the work of the Tobacco Industry Research Committee (which later became the Council for Tobacco Research). The TIRC work had been limited to attacking scientific studies that put tobacco in a bad light, and the Tobacco Institute had a broader mission to put out good news about tobacco, especially economic news. It also attacked scientific studies, although more by casting doubt on them rather than by rebutting them directly. It also lobbied Congress, although initially at a low level
The Tobacco Institute was closed down as part of the Master Settlement Agreement of 1998. In chapter 3 I talk about how scientific studies work and what they show, but right here I would like to point out that although I am a huge fan of the scientific method, there is one massive failing to putting our complete trust in scientific research. This is the fact that we only find what we are looking for (or more correctly, you can imagine science as a flashlight, so we only find what we shine our light on). This is important when you realize that studies cost money and take a lot of time. Science works for people who pay the money, so when you think why there is or isn’t studies showing certain things, think of who would pay to discover that.
Who would pay to determine that sugar isn’t good for you? Who would pay to determine that sugar is good for you? This was the great battle between Tobacco and the Cancer Agencies back in the 1990’s. They each funded research that was intended to prove their point, and each time they extracted extravagant claims from what they found. We were left wondering what the truth was.
By the way, if you doubt the size of the sugar lobby, you might want to take a look at this article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A57782-2005Apr15.html
Regardless of the techniques used to compel us to believe that their fitness routine is right for us, none of these routines takes into account how different we are from the people who are ‘naturally’ fit.
Generally we all know what we need to do-eat better and exercise more-yet being individuals, we all have different triggers and motivators as well as things we can and can’t do. So, getting eating advice from experts does not work, mainly because they may know the physical pathways in the body for burning calories, but they haven’t had to discover the psychological pathways to make it work for themselves.