Thursday, June 3, 2010

Scientific evidence that life isn't fair

There is a fascinating BBC documentary about weight and the ways in which we are not all treated equally when it comes to maintaining, losing and gaining weight. The full documentary can be viewed here and I strongly recommend watching it. It is in 10-minute segments. Each subsequent segment will automatically load at the end of the previous one.

The studies conducted and discussed in the documentary validate a lot of the notions that overweight people have about the difficulties they face and the fact that there are people who are "naturally thin" who do not face those difficulties and are either genetically gifted or lack genetic handicaps when it comes to weight. Here are some of the conclusions one can make based on the results of the studies:
  • Some people can eat a tremendous amount of food and not gain weight commensurate with the number of calories consumed.
  • It is physiologically impossible for some people to become obese regardless of how much they eat. 
  • Fat children will gain weight much more easily as adults than children who were thin. Regardless of their lifestyle habits as adults, they will always put on weight more readily than people who enter adulthood thin. 
  • The tendency to continue to eat attractive foods despite being full manifests in young childhood indicating that self-control is a matter of early disposition than an exercise of conscious will.
  • Some people can eat a tremendous amount of food and gain muscle instead of fat even though they are not exercising.
  • There is a genetic marker for people who are likely to gain weight because they are not signaled to stop eating when their stomachs are full.
  • Some people do not have to "exercise willpower" to stop them from eating appealing food. Their bodies signal them such that they have absolutely no inclination to eat once they are sated regardless of the food options.
  • It is difficult to escape your body's high "set point" for weight unless you are willing to live in a constant state of hunger.
  • Naturally thin people sometimes experience a metabolic boost even when sedentary which helps them maintain their weight without increased activity or later adjustments to diet.
  • There may be an actual viral component to the "obesity epidemic" that explains why more people are fatter than ever before.
I found this documentary immensely valuable because it lays to rest a lot of the questions about "blame" and weight. Essentially, the thin arguing that the fat need to exercise "willpower" looks a bit more absurd after seeing these studies. Essentially, people who are effortlessly thin are asserting that we should have to do something that they themselves rarely or never have to do. They may assume they have "willpower", but the truth is that their mettle in regards to food is not being tested. It is essentially someone in a sports car zooming up to the top of the hill and berating us for not being able to get to the top of that same hill on foot while pushing a huge boulder. It's easy for them, but they seem not to consider that it's far harder for us and neither their ease nor our difficulty is under conscious control.

Seeing this documentary did not do anything to dissuade me from the choices I'm currently making, nor does it inspire a sense of hopelessness in me. Indeed, it makes the challenges clearer and the path I have to pursue easier to visualize. The difficulties I have encountered are in line with the study results, and knowing the fact that my difficulties are unique to overweight people (rather than something that thin people overcome and fat people fail at) increases my patience and tolerance of any perceived "failure". In essence, I think that knowing the hurdles improves the chances of coming up with coping strategies to get over them rather than making the "race" appear impossible to complete.

I'm also mindful of the short-term nature of the studies and am still left pondering whether or not one can slowly curb natural biological tendencies in the long run. It is still my hope that I can "re-program" my body to adapt to a lower weight and reset it's weight set point in the very long term. That is not to say that I ever expect to be skinny or very thin, but I do hope to force my body to adapt to a comfortable, healthy, lower weight than it may naturally gravitate toward. I also have a reinforced desire to use psychological conditioning methods in order to cope with the challenges of being what I now conclude is the tendency to be naturally overweight.


Sarah said...

Interesting. I'll need to watch those. I agree with your last paragraph. I believe that is in essence what I have been able to do for myself. I will never be like my husband, who is one of the naturally thin. However as the years pass it has gotten easier for me.

It was not until recently that I have began to study science. Learning about the body, its variations and its delicateness has given me much to think about. There is so much that can right and even more so that can go wrong (that's not a value a judgement). It has allowed me to be far more accepting and also tolerant of people's inherent differences. It's also allowed me to make peace with the fundamental differences in how when and why my husband and I eat.

Anonymous said...

In an odd way the documentary is comforting because it validates what I've lived and observed for decades. Members of my family are able to eat larger portions, more calories, and more frequently than I--without gaining weight. Of course it is not fair. I suppose if there is a famine in the future it still won't be fair. (Yet I would be the beneficiary, if you could think of it that way during a famine!)

I don't expect life to be fair. Consider the billions on our planet suffering and scraping by on a pittance each day, many without basic needs met.

But I would like to discover that I can improve my health and well being, and improve my chances for employment (over the long haul) by lowering my weight through diet and increased activity. I may come to find that is too much to ask. I've never kept it off permanently before. I'm still hopeful.


screaming fatgirl said...

Sarah: I think that one can take away whatever one is inclined to from the information, but the thing I hope is taken away is that fat people shouldn't be "blamed" for their eating habits. They need to go above and beyond what some people do in order not to be fat and it is harder for them. Essentially, a specialized lifestyle is required to help them maintain a body weight in the "average" range.

Rebecca: I also found it comforting, or at least perhaps validating. I think we can consider that we have special health needs compared to some other people, and have to live a different, perhaps more restrictive food-wise and more active in other ways life. Essentially, we have to regard weight as something we can't take for granted as others do. Much as a diabetic can't eat just anything, we can't either.