This is the fifth in a series on losing weight from our expert, Harry Lodge, co-author of Younger Next Year. You can check out his first post here.
The concept of never dieting is a little strange at first, but you'll come to understand the biology pretty quickly, and it will start to make all the sense in the world. So let's take a look at setpoints and calories in nature, which is what our bodies are designed for.
All animals have to deal with wide swings in the natural world around them. The most fundamental example is in the seasonal changes that have ruled life on Earth since the very beginning. In terms of weight management, which is really calorie management, animals have had to balance short-term fluctuations, (dictated by whether the grazing was good, or whether you were successful in hunting today) with longer-term fluctuations induced by extra calories in the spring, and famine in winter, or the dry season.
The short-term fluctuations explain the narrow range of setpoints for short-term weight management. All animals, ourselves included, can go up and down a few pounds without any significant change in biology. But larger swings in weight trigger the biology of long-term caloric uncertainty.
Paradoxically, it seems not to matter so much whether you gain or lose. Any rapid movement in your weight puts your body into a form of biological panic related to the ancient onset of winter, drought or famine. Different animals are wired to respond to this differently, but all animals reduce their metabolism in response to the onset of caloric uncertainty.
Snakes, for instance, can reduce their metabolic rate by 70% to survive the winter. Bears go into hibernation, (though interestingly enough, they don't lose any significant muscle mass over the course of the winter. A grizzly bear can emerge in hibernation and charge at the hunter nearly as quickly as he could have in the fall).
Fawns are born in the spring, and put on lean muscle mass throughout the spring and summer months. Come fall, however, they stop growing, no matter how much food is available, and begin putting the extra calories away as fat to survive the winter. It's unclear how their bodies know to do this, and it's likely that there are a variety of different clues, which each species uses to its own best advantage.
The point is, that nature's equation still rules our bodies with an iron hand, even though we have moved indoors, and traded episodic famine for fast food and 24-hour calories.
Last week: Never Gain Another Pound
Next week: Weight Gain is Starvation
Published On: November 19, 2007