Archive for the “Random Musings” Category

I didn’t post yesterday because I had my every-five-year colonoscopy, which means undergoing general anesthesia, which means feeling a bit dopey and tired for the rest of the day.  I elected to spend the evening relaxing and watching some Netflix series I’ve been meaning to check out.

I don’t consider myself a cancer candidate, but since my dad had colon cancer, I get the peek-inside procedure done every five years.  No use being stupid about it.

The peek inside showed no cancer or warning signs of cancer, by the way.  That might be a disappointment to the vegan evangelists who occasionally show up in comments to warn me that red meat causes cancer.  They’ve seen some studies, by gosh, and they just know my meaty diet is going to kill me at a young age.

I once pointed out to a vegan troll who was making that argument that Linda McCartney died of cancer after more than 20 years of being a vegetarian.  He replied that she didn’t become a vegetarian until she was in her 30s, so the damage had already been done.  So I replied that I’m in my 50s, which means according to his theory, the damage has already been done.  So there’s really no point in me giving up meat at this point.  May as well enjoy my diet and my life until the cancer set in motion decades ago by eating meat finally flares up and kills me.

That actually shut up him, which was a bit of surprise.

Now I’m off to enjoy a skirt steak for dinner.

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We’re only two weeks into the New Year, which means millions of people are on a diet, hoping to fulfill a resolution to lose weight. Last week I wrote about how U.S. News ranked the popular diets. The low-fat, low-sat, low-flavor DASH diet was ranked #1, the Slim-Fast diet was ranked #13, and the paleo diet was ranked last. I finished that post with this comment:

So here’s what we’ve got with the U.S. News diet rankings: the same group of idiots who’ve been pushing low-fat, low-salt, low-meat diets for decades were asked to rank diets and – surprise! – they chose the low-fat, low-salt, low-meat diets as the best …

And that’s why the same people will be making the same weight-loss resolution next year. And the year after that. And the year after that.

Now and then some internet cowboy will pop up in a forum and make the (ahem) profound observation that all the popular weight-loss diets work equally well if people stick to the diet. Uh-huh. That’s roughly as enlightening as saying all alcoholism-treatment programs work equally well as long as the alcoholic doesn’t drink. Or that knee surgery is equally successful under no anesthesia, vodka anesthesia or general anesthesia, as long as the patient remains perfectly still for the procedure. That may be true, but I’m pretty sure the type of anesthesia influences the patient’s tendency to run screaming from the room.

You can lose weight drinking Slim-Fast shakes instead of eating, but you’ll probably be miserable the whole time. If your diet puts you at war with your own body, your body is going to eventually win. I wrote about that phenomenon early last year in a series I called Character vs. Chemistry.

Later in the year, I read a thoroughly enjoyable book about the psychology of happiness titled The Happiness Hypothesis. The author, a psychologist named Jonathan Haidt, presents an explanation of human behavior that I like so much, I’m borrowing it (with attribution) for the book I’m writing for kids.

As Haidt explains it, your body and your unconscious mind are like an elephant. Your conscious mind – the part of you that thinks and makes plans and vows – is like a rider on top of the elephant. We like to think the rider is in control. But he isn’t, at least not if he tries to guide the elephant somewhere the elephant doesn’t want to go – like, say, into a fire. Here are some selections from that chapter that I edited down:

The image that I came up with for myself, as I marveled at my weakness, was that I was a rider on the back of an elephant. I’m holding the reins in my hands, and by pulling one way or the other I can tell the elephant to turn, to stop, or to go. I can direct things, but only when the elephant doesn’t have desires of his own. When the elephant really wants to do something, I’m no match for him.

It will help to go back in time and look at why we have these two processes, why we have a small rider and a large elephant. When the first clumps of neurons were forming the first brains more than 600 million years ago, these clumps must have conferred some advantage on the organisms that had them, because brains have proliferated ever since. Brains are adaptive because they integrate information from various parts of the animal’s body to respond quickly and automatically to threats and opportunities in the environment. The automatic system was shaped by natural selection to trigger quick and reliable action, and it includes parts of the brain that make us feel pleasure and pain and that trigger survival-related motivations.

Language, reasoning, and conscious planning arrived in the most recent eye-blink of evolution. They are like new software, Rider version 1.0. Automatic processes, on the other hand, have been through thousands of product cycles and are nearly perfect. When language evolved, the human brain was not reengineered to hand over the reins of power to the rider (conscious verbal thinking). The rider can see farther into the future, and the rider can learn valuable information by talking to other riders or by reading maps. But the rider cannot order the elephant around against its will.

Because we can see only one little corner of the mind’s vast operation, we are surprised when urges, wishes, and temptations emerge, seemingly from nowhere. We make pronouncements, vows, and resolutions, and then are surprised by our own powerlessness to carry them out.

Love it. That last sentence described me pretty much every January through April before I found a diet that doesn’t leave me feeling deprived. I’d resolve to lose weight, adopt some variation of a calorie-restricted, low-fat diet, and lose a few pounds … then give up after stalling, or finding myself unable to take the gnawing hunger anymore, or both. And then, of course, I blamed myself for being weak-willed.

I wasn’t weak-willed. I was human. I had put myself into a battle with my own body chemistry, and chemistry won. Or to use Haidt’s wonderful analogy, I was trying to drag the elephant to a place the elephant refused to go – because the elephant believed he was in danger. To repeat a quote from Haidt:

The automatic system was shaped by natural selection to trigger quick and reliable action, and it includes parts of the brain that make us feel pleasure and pain and that trigger survival-related motivations … When language evolved, the human brain was not reengineered to hand over the reins of power to the rider (conscious verbal thinking).

The automatic system – the elephant – is far older than the conscious mind and was shaped by the need to survive. If evolution has hard-wired one survival instinct into every living creature on earth, it’s got to be this: don’t starve. Starvation means death. In our conscious minds, we may believe going hungry for weeks on end is a fine idea if we’ll look good in a swimsuit by summer. But the elephant disagrees. And as Haidt puts it, the rider cannot order the elephant around against its will. So the elephant decides to run away and escape the danger.

Haidt doesn’t claim that the elephant makes it impossible to change our behaviors or reach new goals. (After all, the title is The Happiness Hypothesis, not The Hopeless Hypothesis.) His point is that the rider has to learn to work with the elephant, not simply try to order the elephant around. Then the rider and the elephant are both happy.

For people trying to lose weight, working with the elephant means adopting a diet the elephant doesn’t consider a threat. If you simply starve yourself, you’re dragging the elephant somewhere he doesn’t want to go. If you deprive yourself of what your body knows it needs – fat, protein, salt, vitamins, micronutrients, and yes, perhaps even some “safe starch” depending on your metabolism – the elephant will run away. If you drink a sugary shake that jacks up your blood sugar, then leaves with you low blood sugar after the insulin spike, the elephant isn’t going to be happy. Low blood sugar is one of those triggers for a survival-motivated behavior – the behavior in this case being run out and eat something, now!

So to quote again from my post about how U.S. News ranked the diets:

On one plate, you’ve got a slice of grass-fed beef, some eggplant and green vegetables drizzled in olive oil, and perhaps a small sweet potato. On the other plate — wait, make that in the other glass – you’ve got a brew of FAT FREE MILK, WATER, SUGAR, COCOA (PROCESSED WITH ALKALI), CANOLA OIL, MILK PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, FRUCTOSE, GUM ARABIC, CELLULOSE GEL, MONO AND DIGLYCERIDES, HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN OIL, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, POTASSIUM PHOSPHATE, MALTODEXTRIN, SOY LECITHIN, CELLULOSE GUM, CARRAGEENAN, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, SODIUM BICARBONATE, SUCRALOSE AND ACESULFAME POTASSIUM (NONNUTRITIVE SWEETENERS), SODIUM CITRATE, CITRIC ACID.

Paleo vs. Slim-Fast … or as the U.S. News panel of (ahem) experts would label them, the worst diet vs. one of the better diets.

Hmmm, I wonder which of those meals would satisfy the elephant and which would leave it feeling deprived and threatened?

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The end of a typical year for me is a sprint … finishing up work projects, shopping for gifts, preparing to leave town for the holidays, etc.  It’s a high-energy month.

The end of this year has been more of a limp.  My dad died two weeks ago and was cremated soon after, but his memorial service isn’t until Sunday.  My mom was understandably drained at the end of that experience and didn’t want to deal with the arrangements for awhile.  The Older Brother had to undergo knee surgery for a torn meniscus (same procedure I had two years ago) the next day and was out of commission for a spell.  So two weeks after the fact, there’s no real sense of closure.  Maybe Sunday will fix that.

(By the way, my dad told me years ago that when he died, he wanted us to dump his ashes in the water hazard on the 17th hole of the Lincoln Greens golf course — that way he could spend eternity with all this golf balls.  I doubt my mom was able to honor that request.)

I took a few days off from work after my dad died, then worked from home for a few days, then went back to the office.  Two days after that, I got socked with a head cold/sinus infection/ear infection or whatever the @#$% it is.  Haven’t had anything like this one in years.  The megadoses of vitamins C and D didn’t work their usual knockout magic.  Maybe I was overdue, maybe it was bad luck, or maybe emotional stress weakened my immune system just enough.

I still have the infection, and it’s been seriously zapping my energy.  I sleep 10 or so hours per night, then need a nap in the late afternoon.  Back in the day, I would have gone to a doctor, who would have prescribed an antibiotic, just in case the infection was bacterial instead of viral.  Now that I’ve learned quite a bit about the importance of the gut microbiome, I’m choosing to just wait it out.  I don’t want to decimate my gut flora unless absolutely necessary, which means I’ll only take an antibiotic when I’ve got a dangerous bacterial infection.

I’ve tried sit down and write a post or work on the book a few times, but my brain refuses to cooperate – probably because it doesn’t like residing in a head jammed full of gooey stuff.  So I’ve been going to work and then coming home and vegetating in front of the TV – after a nap, if need be.  I managed to get to the gym once for a workout, then came home and slept for two hours.

So like I said, I’m limping towards New Year’s this year.  We’ll attend the memorial service on Sunday (driving to Illinois and back all in one day, since we have dogs, hogs and chickens who need tending), then Chareva’s relatives start arriving on Monday for the holiday.  I apologize for the long absence, but I don’t expect to take up active blogging again until after New Year’s.

So to the Christians out there, Merry Christmas.  To the Jews, Happy Hanukah.  To followers of the Master of Sinanju, Merry Feast of the Pig.  And to everyone, Happy New Year.

See you in 2015.

p.s. – Thanks to all of you who posted kind comments about my dad.

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My dad passed away early this morning after a years-long fade from Alzheimer’s.  We knew this was coming, but I’m nonetheless not exactly in a blogging mood.  There will be a memorial service in Illinois at some point, but arrangements haven’t been made yet.

I posted the following letter/essay on my other blog some years ago.  Since that blog is currently dormant, I’m posting it again here while I take some time off.  I don’t plan to deal with comments other than to click the Approve button, so I’ll thank you all ahead of time for your kind thoughts and good wishes. 

Dear Dad:

It’s impossible to explain a father’s influence on his son in something as measly as a letter.  I could write volumes and still have more to say.  So let me just talk about your shoes.

Although more than forty years have passed since I was a little boy, I still remember waiting for you to walk through the front door at night after work.  You were HUGE.  You wore dark suits and serious business shoes, usually black or brown wingtips, polished to a high shine.  You always struck me as being in a bit of a hurry, and when you strode across our wooden floors, those shoes went BOOM-BOOM-BOOM.

I wanted to grow up as soon as I could and wear shoes like yours.  Sometimes I would pull a pair of wingtips out of your closet and remove the wooden stretchers – which took some effort for a skinny kid like me – and slip those big shoes over my feet.  I’d try walking in them, stepping carefully to avoid tripping.  I wasn’t big enough to make them BOOM, but I liked the way they looked.

I knew the wingtips were your working shoes.  I didn’t really understand what kind of work you did, but I knew working was how you took care of us.  I knew the dark suits and the booming shoes and the daily trips to your office were the reason we lived in a nice house, and also the reason we didn’t look like the shabbily-dressed kids we saw when Mom took us along for her charity work.

Now and then you took Jerry and me to the office on a Saturday when you needed to catch up on some paperwork.  We enjoyed those office trips, partly because of the old-fashioned soda dispenser, the kind with rows of metal rails that held the bottles upright by the necks. For a dime – you always seemed to have dimes in your pocket – we could slide a bottle along those rails and out the side to release it. The lid was heavy and you had to hold it up for us.  But that was easy for you because you were HUGE.

I liked the way your office smelled … like paper and ink.  I liked the starkness of the fluorescent lights.  I liked looking at the photo on your wall of someone handing you a plaque and shaking your hand.  I knew that whatever you did, you were good at it, good enough that people wanted to shake your hand.  When I sat and did math exercises at my desk in school, I pretended I was in my own office, doing important work that would make someone want to shake my hand.

I don’t know exactly when I decided I didn’t want to grow up and be just like you. Certainly by the time I enrolled in college, I knew I’d never be happy wearing dark suits and working in an office.  I rejected your advice about majoring in accounting.  I explained, somewhat hesitantly, that accounting might appeal to you, but I’d be bored out of my mind.

That’s when I began to realize you didn’t want me to grow up and be just like you, either.  When I chose pre-med for my major, you said that’s great, go for it, I’ll support you.  When I switched to psychology, you said that’s great, go for it, I’ll support you.  When I switched again to journalism as a junior, you said that’s great, go for it, I’ll support you.

I’d like to say you were simply doing what any father would do, but I already knew that wasn’t true.  I had a girlfriend whose father disowned her when she switched her major from business to art; without any support from him, she graduated swimming in student-loan debt.  In high school I had a classmate who’d been told from birth he was going to be a doctor like his father, period, end of discussion.  He flunked organic chemistry in college and committed suicide.

When I had some humorous essays published after college, your golfing buddies told me how much they enjoyed reading them.  I was proud to be published, but more proud to know you’d been bragging about me to your friends.  When I announced I was going to quit my magazine job and go freelance, you said that’s great, go for it, I’ll support you – after all, you had quit a comfortable corporate job to run your own business and understood the drive to be independent.

And so, in a fit of optimism, I struck out on my own … and fell flat on my face.  That’s when I found out what “support” truly means.

It was embarrassing to spend part of my adult life living off loans from you, loans I knew you would never let me repay.  It’s still embarrassing when I think about it.  But I believe things happen for a reason; and even if they don’t, we can find our own reasons in them.

Unlike Mom, you were never comfortable being affectionate. Until you became a grandpa, it took a couple of tall drinks to pry the words “I love you” from your lips.  I knew you loved me, but I didn’t fully understand that you love me, period, no matter what, just like Mom.

I kept expecting one of those loans to come with a lecture attached, firm instructions to wise up, let go of my childish dreams, go get a real job as a sales rep.  But that never happened.   When you said anything at all, it was along the lines of, “Don’t worry.  Do something you love, and be the best at it. Things will get better.”  Those years, painful as they were, finally made it clear to me that you didn’t just support me.  You supported me.

I’m happy with my life, Dad.  It’s been a thrill to play in a band, act in plays, publish humor in magazines, travel the country as a standup comedian, and produce a film.  But without you behind me, encouraging me to pursue my dreams, I wouldn’t have done half of those things.  At some point, I would’ve given up.

I once asked another comedian what his parents thought of his act.  He said they’d never seen him perform.  They didn’t think standup comedy was a respectable career, and they weren’t going to encourage him by showing up.  He asked if you and Mom had seen my act.  I just said yes — I didn’t think it would be polite to say, “Yes, many times, and they bring their friends.”

You didn’t choose my path, and I didn’t follow in your footsteps.  But when I look back, I realize I’ve worn your shoes many times.

When I left a secure job to pursue my own goals, I was wearing your shoes. When I wrote clearly and powerfully, I was wearing your shoes.  When I made people laugh out loud with a witty observation, I was wearing your shoes.  When I worked and re-worked a programming project to get it exactly right, believing that “good enough” isn’t good enough, I was wearing your shoes.  Every time I returned money to someone who accidentally overpaid me, or gave to a charity, or helped someone in distress without expecting anything in return, I was wearing your shoes.

These past few years have not been kind to you, Dad.  Cancer, Alzheimer’s and age have diminished your body and your mind.  Your quick steps have slowed to a shuffle.  I’ve had to hold your arm and help you navigate the single step from the garage into the house so you don’t trip over it.  On some days, you don’t recognize Mom and have to ask who she is.  I know the next time I visit, you may not know who I am.

But I know who I am.  I’m your son.  And in my mind, you’ll always be huge … and you’ll always BOOM when you walk.

I love you, Dad.  Thanks for the shoes.

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You ever go to a big party, go to the bathroom, flush the toilet, and the water starts coming … up? This is the most frightening moment in the life of a human being. You’ll do anything to stop this. You’ll lose your mind and start talking to the toilet: “No, please, don’t do this to me. No, come on, you know this is not my responsibility! I didn’t make this happen!” – Jerry Seinfeld

Of course you caused it to happen, Jerry. You flushed the toilet, which filled the bowl with water. More water went into the bowl than went out, and so it overflowed. Call any reputable plumber and ask why a toilet overflows, and that’s the answer you’ll get: more water going in than going out.

Heh-heh-heh … just kidding. A reputable plumber would explain that something has clogged up the system, then charge you a hefty hourly fee to fix the clog.

Back in my standup days, I opened a few times for a comedian I really liked named Tom Parks. He had a good bit about his toilet backing up into his bathtub. (I don’t remember it word for word, and paraphrasing won’t be as funny. Sorry about that.) Parks called a plumber, who fixed the problem and then apologized for the bill, explaining that house calls on a Sunday are billed at two-and-a-half times the usual rate … to which Parks replied, “Buddy, here’s all I want to know: is the @#$% gone from my tub? Yeah? Then you can charge me whatever you want.”

Fortunately, the plumber didn’t attribute the problem to more @#$% entering the tub than exiting.

I bring up the toilet humor because of yet another raging debate about the relevance of calories-in/calories-out (CICO) on the Fat Head Facebook group. I don’t have time to read all the posts in the Facebook group, much less comment on them, but I did chime in on that one. Here’s what I wrote:

Arguing about whether weight gain/loss is caused by the hormonal effects of diet or CICO is like arguing whether your toilet overflowed because of a clog in the pipe or because more water went into the toilet than went out. CICO always applies, but that’s the HOW of the result, not the WHY.

I’m not sure why this is such a difficult concept for some people to wrap their brains around, but apparently it is. So I’ll try to explain one more time:

Those of us who believe losing weight isn’t as simple as restricting calories aren’t denying the laws of physics. People have accused Gary Taubes of ignoring the laws of thermodynamics, but frankly, that’s beyond ridiculous. The man has a degree in physics from Harvard, for pete’s sake. His first award-winning book was about physics. It seems rather unlikely that when he wrote Good Calories, Bad Calories, he just up and decided the laws of physics don’t apply to obesity or weight loss.

What he’s tried to explain in at least a couple of speeches I watched online is that yes, of course, if you increase your body mass, you consumed more calories than you expended. If you decrease your body mass, then yes, of course, you expended more calories than you consumed. But that’s all the calories-in/calories-out equation can tell us. It doesn’t tell us the actual reason weight gain or weight loss occurred.

As I was trying to get across in my Facebook comment, we’re talking about the difference between HOW vs. WHY. If my toilet overflows, then yes, more water entered the bowl than exited. That’s HOW it overflowed. But that’s not WHY it overflowed. The WHY would have something to do with a clog in the pipes.

People who insist that gaining weight is caused by consuming too many calories and that losing weight is therefore as simple as consuming fewer calories are confusing HOW with WHY. The HOW of gaining or losing weight is always the same: a calorie surplus or a calorie deficit. But that doesn’t mean eating more will make you fat or eating less will make you thin.  Your body is rather opinionated about how much fat mass it wants to maintain and will adjust your metabolism accordingly.  That’s where the WHY comes into play.

In his book The Calorie Myth, Jonathan Bailor wrote about a group of research subjects who consumed an extra thousand calories per day for several weeks. According to the CICO equation, they should have all gained 16 pounds. Nobody gained that much (the most anyone gained was eight pounds), and some of the naturally-lean subjects gained a mere half-pound. So let’s look at HOW vs. WHY for those lucky people:

  • HOW they avoided getting fatter: the calories they expended matched the calories they consumed.
  • WHY they avoided getting fatter: their bodies are hormonally geared to stay lean and responded to the extra calories with a corresponding rise in metabolism.

Here’s a paragraph from Good Calories, Bad Calories:

When physiologists began studying animal hibernation in the 1960s, they again demonstrated this decoupling of food intake from weight gain. Hibernating ground squirrels will double their body weight in late summer, in preparation for the winter-long hibernation. But these squirrels will get just as fat when kept in the laboratory and not allowed to eat any more in August and September than they did in April. The seasonal fat accumulation is genetically programmed – the animals will accomplish this task whether food is abundant or not.

So simply limiting food intake didn’t prevent the calorie-restricted ground squirrels from getting just as fat as their free-eating brethren.

  • HOW they got just as fat: they consumed more calories than they expended.
  • WHY they got just as fat: hormones released before the hibernation season commanded their bodies to get fat, and their bodies heeded the command … even if doing so required a drastic reduction in metabolism to provide the surplus calories to store as fat.

Here’s another paragraph from Good Calories, Bad Calories:

In these experiments, researchers remove the ovaries from female rats. This procedure effectively serves to shut down production of the female sex hormone estrogen (technically estradiol). Without estrogen, the rats eat voraciously, dramatically decrease physical activity, and quickly grow obese. When estrogen is replaced by infusing the hormone back into these rats, they lose the excess weight and return to their normal patterns of eating and activity.

Oops. I guess getting fat is all about eating too much and exercising too little after all. Those rats ate voraciously and sat around being lazy. That must be why they got fat.

But wait …

When researchers remove the ovaries from the rats, but restrict their diets to only what they were eating before the surgery, the rats become just as obese, just as quickly; the number of calories consumed makes little difference …. “If you keep the animals’ food intake constant and manipulate the sex hormones, you still get substantial changes in body weight and fat content,” [researcher George] Wade said.

  • HOW the rats got fat: they consumed more calories than they expended.
  • WHY the rats got fat: removing their ovaries caused a hormonal imbalance that commanded their little rat bodies to accumulate fat – which they did, despite no increase in food intake, probably by drastically reducing metabolism.

Awhile back, I watched a TV documentary called The Science of Obesity. It wasn’t very good overall, so I didn’t write about it. But there was one intriguing section about a woman who was lean her entire life, then became morbidly obese within a year. She limited herself to 1500 calories per day, but didn’t lose any weight. Her doctor insisted she was lying about her food intake.

So she did the smart thing and found another doctor – who ran a slew of tests and found she had a tumor on her pituitary gland. Was she consuming more calories than she was expending while becoming obese? Yup. Gaining weight always requires a surplus of calories.  Does that mean she got fat and stayed fat because she was eating too much? Nope. She became obese because of the tumor, which caused all kinds of hormonal hell to break loose.

I recently had a good friend tell me he finally cut way back on his carb intake, especially his bread intake. (Interestingly, he wasn’t persuaded by Fat Head to change his diet; it was a personal trainer who finally got through to him.) He’d been eating less and less over the years in a failed attempt to drop some weight. I remember hanging out with him over a weekend, and he didn’t eat anything until dinner – but then bread was the first item on his dinner menu. Bread, a salad, and some salmon. That was it.

Anyway, after making the dietary change, he told me, “I swear, I didn’t do anything but ditch the bread and potatoes, and 15 pounds just dropped off like nothing. I was never hungry. I never felt deprived.”

  • HOW he lost weight: he expended more calories than he consumed.
  • WHY he lost weight: a change in diet triggered some kind of hormonal shift that moved him from fat-accumulation mode to fat-burning mode.

Maybe he unconsciously ate less, even though he insists he didn’t. Maybe he started releasing fatty acids at a faster rate and didn’t feel hungry because he was eating his own fat. Maybe he started eating more protein, which requires more energy to digest. Maybe his metabolism perked up. Doesn’t matter. The point is, something about the change in diet fixed the WHY of his inability to lose weight. He absolutely, positively expended more calories than he consumed while losing … but he didn’t count calories or consciously restrict his portions in order to do so.

When we switch to a better diet and end up losing weight (and keeping it off) for the first time in our lives, it means we’ve finally addressed the WHY of excess fat accumulation. The HOW of weight gain (whether we gain fat or muscle) is always the same:  consuming more than calories than we expend. CICO and hormones are not mutually exclusive explanations, any more than a clogged pipe and water-in vs. water-out are mutually exclusive explanations for an overflowing toilet.

I don’t like the CICO explanation because 1) it doesn’t actually tell us why a person gains or loses weight, and 2) it encourages people who don’t know what the @#$% they’re talking about to be judgmental — like that idiot reality TV star from England who stuffed herself to get fat and then concluded that fat people just eat too much.

But in a recent email, a reader reminded me that people who attribute obesity to hormones can be judgmental too … or least too confident that they understand the WHY of weight gain and have the answer.

This woman has been overweight for years.  She’s tried everything under the sun, including severe calorie restriction.  When people told her “it’s the hormones, it’s the hormones, it’s the hormones!” she had everything checked and checked again, by endocrinologists, holistic practitioners, you name it.  The bottom line is that she can’t lose the excess weight, and nobody can tell her why.

I’m reminded of the “resistant obese” subjects some researchers described in a study I recounted in a previous post:

This phenomenon of people who do not lose weight is really the most tantalizing thing that confronts physicians.  There are these people who can live on 600 calories and not lose any weight. On what are they surviving?  If we measure their basal metabolism in terms of calories, we get figures in excess of 600 calories per twenty-four hours.  It would seem that on this diet they are in a caloric deficit all time, but still are not losing any weight.  I am still an admirer of the laws of thermodynamics, but these people seem to be thermodynamic paradoxes.

The researchers were describing people under supervision in a hospital.  They weren’t sneaking food or lying about their food intake in a diet journal.  They were locked down in a hospital, but failing to lose weight on 600 calories.  I don’t think they were thermodynamic paradoxes, however.  Somehow, some way, they managed to get by on that ridiculously low intake of food.  Some people just seem to be hard-wired to be very fat.

  • HOW they stayed obese on 600 calories:  The calories they expended matched the calories they consumed.
  • WHY they stayed obese on 600 calories:  Nobody knows.  And nobody should judge them for it.  Those unfortunate people are just proof that scientists still have a lot to learn about the WHY of obesity.

 

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People have asked us in the past how we deal with the sugar-fest known as Halloween.  For the sake of new readers, I’ll answer that question again:

We let the girls go trick-or-treating and eat the candy they collect.

Halloween is a big, fun event for kids, and we don’t want to ruin it by being food fascists.  Kids were enjoying Halloween long before the steep rise in childhood obesity and diabetes.  It’s not the occasional treat that screws up a kid’s health and metabolism; it’s the chronic overload of sugars and other refined carbohydrates.  Those aren’t part of our girls’ normal diets.

So our girls eat Halloween candy — but the deal is that they only get three days to indulge, including Halloween night.  After that, the candy goes away.

The first year we instituted that system, Sara tried to gobble up all her remaining candy on the third day.  She got sick as a result, and most of what she’d gobbled down ended up in the toilet.  Lesson learned … she and Alana have since concluded that there’s no point in filling their bags with a ton of candy they can’t eat without making themselves sick.  In fact, after they haunted a few streets in a nearby neighborhood last night, they announced they were ready to go home.

Sara then separated out the candy she likes — mostly chocolates — and dumped the stuff she doesn’t.  She explained that Pixie Stix, for example, are just a big mouthful of sugar and are way too sweet to taste good.

That’s my girl .. or my screaming banshee, at least during the evening’s festivities.

 

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