Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Weight Problem- Part 5

It's here: the last installment of the "Why am I so Fat? Series. That could only mean one thing, I am eventually going to tell you what it takes to start dropping pounds. But not today. I have to close the door on the problems before I get to the solutions.

Despite the fact that we want to lose weight, we know next to nothing about it. We don't know what our actual weight is, we don't know how many calories we are eating, we don't know how many calories we are burning, and we don't even know how many calories we actually need. When it comes to the Calories In: Calories Out, those problems are academic. The last big problem is the real reason we put on excess pounds more efficiently than take them off.

Your Body Actually Wants You to Put On Weight
The fourth big problem on the list to the BIL, but the 5th and final in the series, is that it is significantly easier to consume an excess number of calories to induce weight gain than it is to shed the equal number of calories for weight loss. One pound is roughly 3500 calories. If your daily calorie intake is 2000 calories (which you can't know anyway), it is much more comfortable to eat 2500 calories a day resulting in dietary satiety. However, put yourself at 1500 calories for an entire week and your body rebels. Your stomach growls. You get headaches. Your energy wanes. If you eat, you feel better. A 500 calorie reduction will inevitably result in binge eating.

Here's the thing: your DNA has evolved safety switches to protect itself against perils. Pain is your body's way of telling you that something on the inside isn't working. Hunger is your body's way of telling you that something on the inside is empty. Life for Homo sapiens hasn't always been kind as it is today. Food was hard to come by. Animals were reluctant to be eaten by weird looking bipeds who were slow runners and smelled funny. As you probably know from experience, most plants out there are not as delicious as the vegetarians would have you believe. Mind you, there are a lot of delicious plants. Its just that they are less plentiful than the non-delicious ones. So when people found themselves in a situation that allowed for gluttony, they took full advantage. Their bodies, just like yours, had a system to storing excess energy as fat because that food wasn't going to stay around forever. 

Then, about 10,000 years ago, people decided to stop chasing animals and developed agriculture. 10K in years isn't that long to a strand of DNA. Some hypothesize that our DNA hasn't changed much since then. The abundance of food has changed dramatically. We are surrounded by ample supplies of high energy morsels of goodness that has made us picky beyond belief. You and I have both done the look-into-a-fridge-full-of-food thing only to announce that we 'have nothing to eat'. The reality is that we are spoiled rotten little brats when it comes to nutrition.

However, the abundance of food hasn't changed how our body responds. You eat. You are sated. You wait for a couple of hours while your innards breakdown, rearrange, distribute and store the excess. Once space opens up in the warehouse, your stomach sends a signal to your brain that says, "Feed me" and it's off to the grazing lot known as your kitchen. Your brain isn't wired to recognize IF the entire system actually needs the calories. It only obeys the chemical messages sent and responds by reverting all attention to finding food. It still believes that there is an inevitable famine heading our way and wants to prepare. Bam, you and I get fat.

Here's where the Calories In: Calories Out formula comes back to haunt you. It is way easier to tip the scale to the left hand side of the formula. You can trump the CO side by thousands of calories on a regular basis without consequence (well, except for the rise in blood pressure, risk of diabetes, risk of pancreatic cancer, and the like, but those don't count right now). You body accepts an excess of additional calories with open, and sometimes pudgy, arms. The exact moment you try and decrease your CI, or even increase your CO, even by just a little bit, your body starts up the Emergency Preparedness Plan. 

Warning alarms sound. This is not a drill. Button down the hatches and damn the torpedoes. And, seriously, somebody get me a sandwich. And a donut. No, I do not want an apple nor a salad. I want pizza. Your body sends out different chemical signals when eating high energy 'comfort foods' than when eating intelligent 'nutritious foods'. High fat and high carb meals send signals of satiety. Mmm, crisis averted. Aside: I have always found it astonishing that our systems have no alerts for vitamin and mineral deficiencies yet the lack of calories sonar comes through loud and clear. End Aside.

The result is that we put on pounds much easier than we take them off. Your body does not have an upper limit as to how much fat it is willing to accept. Plus, the change is normally slow enough that we don't see it on a daily basis. We follow our survival instincts, which means that we eat when food is plentiful. But, when food is always plentiful, there's no off-switch for the hunger. Eating begets more eating. Our stomachs are willing to expand to match our growing waistline and most people don't even know it is happening. 

So there you have it. Taking off weight is seriously hard. The odds are stacked in favor of packing on the jiggle. All hope is not lost. In my next post, I'll start sharing how to bring yourself down (to a better weight, I mean).

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