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January 2, 2012

The Fat Trap?

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.

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

Hannah Siegle

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