The Fat Trap?

Via on Jan 2, 2012

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A few days ago I came across an online article from the New York Times Magazine called The Fat Trap, written by Tara Parker-Pope.

It was run yesterday in print as the lead story of this widely read weekly magazine so I suspect that word about it has gotten out.  This story hit a sensitive nerve with me amid the New Year’s weight loss hoopla as it discusses the science behind dieting and why it is so hard for many to keep weight off, focusing on the genetic play that may be at work as each human has their own weight set point which their body will vehemently defend.

The article does offers a good reality check for many as to how hard it can be to go where our bodies don’t necessary want to, both up or down. While I often focus on weight loss in a negative way I am very aware of the problems with obesity that much of our country struggles with. The story chronicles a women, Janice Bridge, who is extremely vigilant about the structure of her life in order to keep the weight off. She measures and weighs each morsel of food that goes into her mouth and works out six times per week, about 100-120 minutes each day. Depending on what she is doing during this time this may qualify as actually being too, much maybe even slowing the metabolism.  She even travels with a scale to weigh herself daily in order to keep the weight off. This sounds pretty extreme to me and while physically she may be overweight there are many mental issues with disordered eating and body maintenance going on here.  Why is this ok and even lauded in this situation and not more clearly recognized as eating disorder behavior.NewImage

It is thought that after dieting the type of muscle fibers present actually shifts, moving from more fast twitch fibers (high burning) to slow twitch fibers, that are highly efficient, thus burning about 20-25% fewer calories. These are the muscle fibers that are present in endurance type activities such as running or walking. While initial weight changes migrate towards these muscle fiber alterations couldn’t they also be changed back through other means that strengthen the body?

Losing weight, even if necessary is a stress on the body and the faster it is accomplished the stronger the backlash will be and the more the body will try to preserve itself. This shows up in the many faceted physiological effects of starvation. If everyone wasn’t in such a hurry to change would the body still react this way? Shows like The Biggest Loser definitely don’t help out with this mentality. And now even if you aren’t cast on this show you can pay $1,995 for a week of 3-hour workouts on 1,200 calories a day (the lowest allows without medical supervision…um, Special K anyone?!?!?!?!?!). An observation by the author of that article was that most of the women there only needed to shed perhaps 20-pounds. One body rebellion rebound coming up! Scary.

Coming from my own “eating disorder history” metabolism I know that if I was to induce such extreme working out and low calories diets onto my body I would actually gain weight for a period of time. Pure evidence that my body is not happy and has entered starvation mode.

I’m also sure that all the fad diets out there: meal replacement shakes, supplements that speed up the body, and the total exclusion of food groups add fuel to the fire. While weight loss may occur via these methods, they are not natural and thus will also trigger a physiological backlash. However as long as companies are making money on these methodologies these things will be here, good or bad. Take a look at all the ads that are out there, especially this month. Lipozene and HCG are only a couple of the offenders. These ads even try to make the after effects of having a baby scary! Yes, when you bring life into this world you body does change. Why do we need to run from that?

These types of articles have the potential to be triggering, as while this type of information about loosing weight doesn’t apply to I do have a tendency to superimpose these issues onto my own. As soon as I read about years of dieting ruining a metabolism I go into panic mode thinking that my own metabolism is wrecked for all eternity. While I know this isn’t true and hasn’t been in the past it still gets to me and I wonder how this type of information also affects others with eating disorders. In fact many who have had eating disorders actually have to eat more than others of similar size due to a hyper-metabolic state that happens when the body starts to get re-fed.

It takes a strong recovery mind to be able to step aside and remind ourselves that not everything we read applies to us, especially in this case.

Perhaps this article can in a positive way help people to come to a place of peace with their bodies and realize that no matter how hard they push they are going to end up where their body wants. Short of a magic pill we can’t change our genetics and to spend so much time fighting against them is a waste of this precious time we are given on this earth. Rejoice in our bodies and our breath. If we can only start to look inside and see that light then our bodies will end up where they are meant to be. RedLin, who so graciously offered her belly last week, offered this quote in response to some comments:

“So if you are self-conscious because you also have some scars or some cellulite or some fat rolls or some dimorphism or whatever, I would encourage you to rethink it… If you can change the thing that bothers you, change it. And if you can’t, make peace with it and own it.”

Photo Credits: nytimes.com, kitchensocial.com

About Hannah Siegle

Hannah Siegle began to do yoga four years ago initially for the physical practice, however she quickly discovered that the yoga began to do her in ways she never anticipated. The mind, body and spiritual connection that yoga cultivates has helped Hannah through the ups and downs of life, both large and small. She regularly blogs at Balancing on Two Feet on topics such as yoga, mindfulness, eating disorder recovery and all those things people don't like to talk about. She was trained at the RYT 200 through Laurel Hodory and is currently working towards becoming a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapist. She teaches yoga throughout Central Ohio with GoYoga ,yogaServe, and also works as an Assistant Editor for the elephant journal!

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14 Responses to “The Fat Trap?”

  1. melissa says:

    I appreciate your view on the article. "It takes a strong recovery mind to be able to step aside and remind ourselves that not everything we read applies to us, especially in this case."
    However, I have a dear friend (we've been in the trenches of life together for over 20 years) who said for years, there's no point in changing because her weight, her body make up is genetic. Until about 10 years ago, she discovered a martial art that she loves and suddenly, her body began to transform… muscles came and even she realized the effect the excersie was having on her mood and tendency toward depression. I"m glad she didn't just "make peace" with her genetics.
    I've always felt that it's not just diet but the whole lifestyle. My stance is, do what you love to do (to move your body) and you'll always do it. It will become a part of your life. Doesn't matter if it's yoga or whatever – just move…. eat just enough… and have friends who love and support your life choices.

    Thanks for the insight,
    Melissa Smith
    EJ contributor, http://www.elephantjournal.com/author/melissa-smi

    • Melissa, I think it comes down to really learning to listen to ourselves and what our bodies want, at your friend discovered and as you say at the end of your comment.

      I don't think that people should use genetics as an excuse, but I do think that they can help to come to peace with our bodies and our minds. If I used genetics as an excuse for my eating disorder that would be an ugly picture!

  2. SOFLY_Anna says:

    Hi Hannah,

    I enjoy your writing. I like your point of view on this article: " Rejoice in our bodies and our breath. If we can only start to look inside and see that light then our bodies will end up where they are meant to be…" I also agree with Melissa.

    I was overweight , but content with myself until I realize how unhealthy I was. I wrote about my story with pictures: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/09/weight-los….
    If I wouldn't change my weight, I would not be where I am today mentally, spiritually, physically and emotionally. I have a family history of diabetes and high blood pressure, so I would ended up with the same problems.

    I think there are few issues we encounter trying to loose weight. We are looking for a quick fix and stimulated by external messages (i.e.: I want to look like the yoga journal model) vs. looking within.
    I try to focus on why do I want to say fit and healthy vs being obsessing about my weight and my belly fat – middle path…sounds so easy, hard to implement…

    Anna. http://www.streamoflifeyoga.com

  3. Lorin says:

    Nice post. The big catch, for me, is that we so rarely know how to listen to our bodies any more. The voice of socialization is so very strong…

    Posted to Elephant Family on Facebook

    Lorin Arnold
    Blogger at The VeganAsana
    Associate Editor for Elephant Food
    Co-Editor for Elephant Family

  4. Lorin says:

    Nice post. The big catch, for me, is that we so rarely know how to listen to our bodies any more. The voice of socialization is so very strong…

    Posted to Elephant Family on Facebook

    Lorin Arnold
    Blogger at The VeganAsana
    Associate Editor for Elephant Food
    Co-Editor for Elephant Family

  5. I agree Lorin…now we just need to be louder!

  6. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Join us! Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook.

  7. Anoop says:

    Hi Hannah,

    I wrote an article about the genetics of obesity here: http://www.exercisebiology.com/index.php/site/art

  8. chad says:

    Losing, not loosing. Losing rhymes with boozing, loosing rhymes with goosing.

  9. Maureen Gilman says:

    Forget about weight. Imagine being a person with dwarfism, or some skin disorders, some "ugly" thing that you have had to deal with on a daily basis from the time you were "aware," regardless of the culture of beauty you exist in?

  10. Maureen Gilman says:

    I'm commenting on my comment! I forgot to mention that I appreciate the viewpoint of Hannah Siegle and think it's a good piece of journalism. I got carried away, thinking about how difficult it is for people to carry on, day to day, with other types of issues about their appearance.

  11. Jennifer Millette says:

    Thanks very much for this piece, Hannah, I really enjoyed your insights. I agree that we need to approach ourselves with peace, kindness and compassion, for only then can we truly become the person we were meant to be, rather than resign ourselves to the person we think we have to settle for. Thanks again!

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