Why Diets Don’t Work (2/18/14)
The Short Answer:
Because we don’t understand enough of how the body works. That includes why we weigh what we do.
Throwing more money at the problem (diets are a $66 billion dollar industry in the US; food vastly larger) has so far led to a bigger population. For every success, there are many many failures.
Having watched 400 pound people eat 600 calories and not lose a pound, I can assure you: it’s not just about what you eat.
So What Is Weight Loss About?
Lots of factors. So many that present models of weight can’t take them into account.
And that’s not including the huge amount of variables we don’t know we don’t know. Like how the brain and immune system allocate energy and materials.
Here are a few factors of which we do know a little something:
1. The Womb. Pregnant women who eat all kinds of fatty, processed foods appear to have bigger kids – who often stay big.
2. Childhood Eating Patterns – If a kid is big at age five, she’ll have a helluva time getting smaller later on.
The Jesuits used to say give us a child until he’s seven and we’ll have him for life. The food industry may not need so many years.
3. Biome. Change the gut bacterial population, change people’s weights. In obese people following gastric bypass, the thin ones have different bacterial populations.
What particular bugs affect weight? No one knows. Consider the numbers -100 trillion gut bacteria versus 10 trillion human cells. Twenty two thousand human protein genes versus 5-8 million bacterial ones. Five to ten thousand major varieties of bug per person.
Our biome has always had a place at our table. Except we don’t know what they do or what they want.
But one way or another, they’ll tell us.
4. Viruses. Infect people with adenoviruses (which cause colds.) Those infected will, on average, weigh more. Some, a lot more.
5. Transfer of genetic material. Eat some rice. Absorb.
Some transfer RNAs will be put into your bloodstream – an immediate genetic change. Follow those transfer RNAs in the test tube and they goose up cholesterol synthesis.
What you eat can directly change your genetic expression.
6. Body Clocks – Spaniards who eat lunch early gain less weight. Soldiers fed the same single meal a day lose weight when eating it at breakfast, gain when eating it at night. Shift workers gain weight big time.
7. Environment. Put people in a blue room. Next put them in a red room. Give them the same meal.
They will eat a third more in the red room. Now add in the effects of friends, family, sociality. What does all that do to weight?
8. Exercise – People who move more lose weight than people who sit. But by how much? At what times? How does moderate exercise compare with intense? Is intense short term exercise effective for weight control? (It sure changes insulin sensitivity.)
We don’t really know how exercise changes weight – or the timing and amount.
9. Sugar – Give people more sugar. They eat more. They continue eating. It sure looks like an appetite enhancer.
But does the type of sugar matter? When it’s given? With what? Before or after exercise?
10. Psychology – some people crave food like addicts crave drugs. The bigger they get, often the bigger the craving. Their brains react differently – if we can believe brain scans.
Others can take food and leave it on the table. How are these folks different?
We don’t know.
The food industry has some clues. They know lots about what makes people want to eat more of their products – their satiety points. Getting them so that they almost feel satisfied, but not quite. And want more.
How do they do it? They’re not telling.
What We Can Do
When it comes to diet and weight, ignorance reigns. A single point of attack will not solve a dense, integrated problem.
No more than eating this supplement or that, this food or that, will work.
Certain variables will need a lot more scrutiny: how the brain trades off energy versus information; how immunity impacts food and food impact immunity; what the biome does to our brains and desires.
But simple things do work:
1. People who move around a lot have better weight control. Humans are built to move, not sit.
2. Long lived – and less obese – populations use a dizzying array of foods. Humans can eat 10,000 types or more. When you don’t know enough about what foods affect health in what way, variety sures helps. The Japanese put five colors on the plate. They smoke like fiends and still live longer than almost everybody – and they move around.
3. Activity needs rest and rest needs activity. People who don’t sleep crave sugars. They gain weight.
The same actions that keep populations healthier also help control their weight – particularly how they eat, move and rest.
You can start by considering four categories – physical, mental, social and spiritual health. Think of health as well-being.
All four factors work synergistically with the others.
The body is a giant information field. But simple rules of thumb appear to work: eat whole foods, plants first; move around a lot; give the actions of the day a rhythm – like music; rest intelligently.
The end result is a much healthier population. A more satisfied population.
Plus a side effect – a smaller, thinner one.
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