Fixing the fat police
March 1st 2011, 09:42
We are fat and getting fatter by the day.Several years ago, Johns Hopkins University did a study showing that, if obesity trends continue, in four years, an astonishing three-quarters of all Americans will be overweight. In Britain, according to an Oxford University epidemiologist, who wrote a government report on the subject, in less than 15 years, 86 per cent of UK men will be overweight and, in 20 years, 70 per centof UK women will reach the same level of obesity.
As fatness becomes the norm, increasing thinness becomes the ideal. Two decades ago, the average model weighed 8-per-cent less than the average woman; today's models weigh 23-per-cent less than today's average woman. With such a dysmorphic body ideal, it's small wonder that we're addicted to dieting.
Nevertheless, as a corrective measure, dieting is, by any standard, an absolute disaster: 90-95 per cent of dieters regain the weight they lost, and continue on a yo-yo cycle of dieting and weight gain that wreaks havoc with their hormones, setting up a hormonal imbalance with parallels to type 2 diabetes.
In our special report this month, we examine new evidence showing that, far from a failure of willpower, failed dieting often results from a broken fat thermostat. Two recently discovered hormones, leptin and ghrelin, carefully police current fuel and fuel supply, or stored fat, and constantly signal the brain when more food is required. When levels of leptin are high, and levels of ghrelin low, the brain knows you've had enough food and creates a feeling of satiety. The reverse hormonal situation tells the brain that you need more food and it gets to work, making you feel hungry.
In the overweight, this complex signaling system is often scrambled. The brain is deaf to any messages about energy supplies and consequently creates a situation in which the individual is literally hungry all the time. Likewise, when people undergo a crash diet and leptin levels fall, your brain thinks you're starving and stimulates great hunger to restore your leptin levels to normal.
Bad lifestyle habits-from eating too much sugar and processed food to living under constant stress-cause the brain to stop responding to this hormonal signalling. As our cover story notes, one highly overlooked factor in obesity is chronic sleep deprivation.
The complex interrelationship between the two 'fat hormones' and the rest of the body, what you eat, and how well you rest, exercise and cope with the challenges all around you suggests that dieting is far too narrow a solution for obesity.
As with other aspects of health, your weight is a holistic issue, a snapshot of how well you live your life, and correcting weight, like correcting much disease, can never be viewed in isolation.