Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Fat People & Athletes--More In Common Than You Thought

You don't need to know these people or these books to get something out of this discussion. But for the record, this is a continuation of discussion about 2 interesting books I've been reading: Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon, Ph.D. and The Healthy Obsession Program by Dr. Daniel Kirschenbaum.
Fat People Have Distinctive Biologies
It seems Dr. Bacon would agree with Dr. Kirschenbaum's concept that "the overweight body powerfully resists weight loss."
They both seem to believe that the overweight body is different and has a different biology. I find that very freeing. Not because I'm off the hook of having to work--we all know biology is destiny, but because it helps me to remember that how i got to this weight is not all my fault.

Here's a run down of the fat person's biology Dr. K raises--if you don't like reading about this stuff skip down to the next colored subhead, starting with "Reframing."

Our genes. Genes have a huge influence on our metabolic power and tendency to develop excess fat. (Kids born to obese parents are 4 times more likely to be obese than kids born to lean parents.)

Our number of fat cells. We fat folk have up to 4 times as many as people who have never been overweight. You can keep developing them throughout life, and once you have them, they don't go away. Studies show that overweight people and formerly overweight people have bodies that deliver fat into the cells more efficiently than the bodies of people who have never been fat. In fact, people who have never been fat seem to have more fat transported into muscles to be used as immediate fuel. (Lucky us.)

Our insulin response. Insulin allows our cells to use sugars, called glucose, for energy in our body. Some overweight people have too much insulin and their body becomes insensitive to it so that sugar can't get into the cells as easily. You've probably heard about this--it's called insulin resistance and it can make you prone to developing type 2 diabetes.
Here's the rub, losing weight makes your bodies fat cells more sensitive to insulin but your muscle cells less sensitive to insulin. And that means you may store that sugar as fat and gain weight more easily after losing it. 

And there's more to the insulin story: overweight people increase their insulin responses just by SMELLING and SEEING food--even just THINKING about food. 

Our "I'm Hungry" enzyme. LPL is an enzyme that moves fat in the body. When you lose weight, more LPL is released and sends messages to the brain: "Eat now!"  

Our appetite hormones. Leptin is the hormone that directs the among of fat that gets stored in fat cells by affecting appetite. When weight loss causes fat cells to shrink, less leptin is released, which increases appetite. Ghrelin is another appetite hormone. 

Our fat-grabbing ability. Adiponectin is a protein secreted by fat cells that helps sugar in our blood get into our cells to be used for energy. The more fat cells you have, and the bigger they are, the less adiponectin your fat cells secrete. And that means that overweight people have a greater propensity to direct blood sugar into fat cells--not use it for energy.

Reframing Your Ideas About Your Fat Biology
So what's the path to overcoming this resistant biology?  Dr. K says. . . (just a reminder to what I said yesterday--I pulled these quotes from an interview with Dr. K and reordered to display my point but I don't think I've corrupted his messages.)

Overweight people . . . have to become super-normal in their way of handling everything that affects their eating and exercising. So, it's much more like an athlete in training than it is like somebody with a neurotic problem.
How overweight people should think of their biologies is similar to the way athletes have to think about their performances. Research on skilled performance - everything from chess to piano to athletic performance shows that the difference between better performance and worse performance, more than anything else, is the amount of time, practice, and quality of instruction. 
So, it's the same deal with weight loss. If you want to put the time into this, if you want it to get better, you can do it! Just because your biology says "Here's the way I'd like to go," doesn't mean you give into it. We have biological urges every single day that we resist from sexual things, to overeating, to grabbing things out of a storefront. We always have to manage urges in which our biology is directing us in one place and we have to go somewhere else. That's the way it is with weight control - the biology is moving you in a certain direction but you gotta say, "Well, I'm not going there, biology.


  1. I agree with this. It just seems logical to me that there are different body types and you come into this world in basically one of them. Not that you can't change it to some extent, but the predisposition to be one type or another is there. Nice to have you back, by the way!


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