The weight loss conundrum
A few weeks ago, the non-profit Institute of Medicine released a report that predicted a 42 percent adult obesity rate by the year 2030. It also issued a list of recommendations to avoid this grim prediction.
Among those suggestions: Make physical activity an integral and routine part of life, increase the availability of healthy foods and beverages and transform the message about physical activity and nutrition.
No surprises there.
Most reports about the obesity epidemic bemoan how much and how poorly modern society eats and how little it moves, then recommend that we all eat less and move more. But no matter how many times these diagnoses and recommendations are repeated, the obesity rate continues to rise with alarming speed.
So, what makes weight loss so hard?
We’re wired to eat
The basic laws of thermodynamics are simple: to lose weight, one must burn more calories than they consume on a daily basis for an extended period of time. Most people who are clinically overweight and obese became that way after an extended period of eating too much and moving too little.
Dr. Arthur Frank, a weight loss specialist at the National Center for Weight and Wellness in Washington DC, explained that obesity is a complex problem with a more complicated solution than simply telling someone to eat less and move more.
“It comes down to signals and brain wiring,’ said Frank.
The human brain sends thousands upon thousands of signals to start eating, but not nearly as many to stop eating, according to Frank. This is due, in part, because we are a species who until very recently lived in a world of relative food insecurity.
A brief history of eating
Throughout most of human history, there has not been enough food to go around. Consequently, in order to survive, humans needed to eat as much food as possible for as long as that food was available because there was no telling when the next meal was going to come.
This started to change just after World War II, notes Frank, when “suddenly America became a bread basket.” The same species that was wired to consume as much food as possible as a survival mechanism was now in a world where food was in abundance and available on demand.
In keeping with thousands of years of learned behavior and habit, humans continued to consume food at the usual rate, but it didn’t run out as it did for our ancestors.
Given these circumstances: “I can explain an obese person, but I can’t explain thin people,” joked Frank.
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Fighting brain signals
Some studies have hinted at the deeper causes and implications of the obesity epidemic. One published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people with a specific “obesity gene” tend to eat more meals and snacks and consume more calories per day than people without this gene.