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Two thinky thoughts for you to think about

February 2, 2010

1) In order to increase your physical fitness, you must work outside of your comfort zone when it comes to exercise.

2) There is a giant chasm between ‘outside of your comfort zone’ and ‘please, won’t somebody do me a favor and kill me.’

Formspring round 1

January 31, 2010

My first two questions! Keep ’em coming.

Okay. What the heck is formspring? Why not just open your blog to questioners? (Not trying to sound cranky, just confused.) Signed, Merry the Luddite

Um because hello? NEW AND SHINY. It may turn out that this goes the way of my twitter account (abandoned.) I do think that this lets people feel more anonymous than asking questions on blogs because there’s always the fear that the blogger in questions has ways of knowing exactly who is asking what.

Hey Attrice! Longtime reader, first time formspring interrogator. My question is: What experience and/or research study changed your mind about the idea of a fixed setpoint? Danke!

Oh wow, good question. Now I could post something super duper long and rambly or I could give a pithy anecdote and then link to and quote others liberally. My natural inclination is to do the first, but I’ll spare you.

First I should start off by saying that my mind wasn’t changed about set point so much as tweaked. Hopefully, I’ll be able to give you a better idea of what I mean with my little anecdote below.

So, some of the first strong evidence for a weight set point was in research done on rats. Basically, you allow rats access to rat food and they tend to maintain their weight in a pretty tight range. You take away the rat food (poor rats!) and they lose weight, their metabolisms slow down, they move less and, once food is reintroduced, quickly eat back up to their previous weight. Simple.

However when researchers expose rats to what is actually called a ‘cafeteria diet’ (lots of options, many of which are particular scrumptious to our rodent friends) the rats quickly gain weight above their ratty set point. Put them back on rat chow and they lose this weight and once again maintain at their original weight. So being surrounded by highly palatable food enables the rats to overcome their normal set point.

Now don’t read too much into this. I’m not saying that people would be better off with our own version of rat chow. More that the homeostatic control of weight definitely exists, but which weight it maintains has a lot to do with environment – what kind of food options we have, how much movement is necessary in our daily lives. This is why I’ve said before that more than even a ‘lifestyle change’ I envision my personal weight loss as an environmental change. I can’t actually change my environment, of course, but I find it a better fit mentally in terms of what I’m doing.

Now here’s the point where I have to acknowledge that whether or not people can lower their set point once it has been raised is far from decided in terms of research. The generally accepted opinion, afaik, is that it’s much easier to gain weight and raise one’s set point than the reverse. Linda Bacon even says this is her HAES book. The just-so story for this is that until recently humans didn’t really ever worry about getting too much food on a regular basis so the weight control system is asymmetrical in that it defends weight loss more than weight gain.

However, research is all over the place on this one. We know that metabolism slows during dieting – which would support the above view. We also have research which shows this effect disappearing once people have lost weight and are put on maintenance calories for their new weight. That would suggest that it’s this deficit that affects metabolism and not the weight one ends up at.* So if this is true (and it may not be) then that argues against overall metabolism being behind weight regain, but that doesn’t mean other systems might not be behind it.

Ok, last thing, some researchers are now using the term settling point or settling zone to talk about this tendency of the body to maintain weight in a particular range. This differs from set point though in that it’s the zone the body settles in while in a particular environment and not a pre-programmed weight that the body ‘wants’ to reach. Basically the view is the body will settle at a particular weight when the large variety of factors that influence weight reach equilibirum. Which sounds circular I know, but when I post this on my blog, I’ll post some links that are a little more eloquent than I am.

Ok, just a few links:
Article on study done on RMR in women post weight loss (unfortunately I can’t access the actual study.)
Pdf of a lecture where some of the set point v settling point stuff is discussed

Lyle Mcdonald’s articles on bodyweight regulation. Very good reads.

A page that explains settling point theory better than I do.

Ok I’m trying to avoid doing a lot of ‘here’s a study that “proves” my point’ type links because I’ve decided that the literature is too vast and that’s not the way science works anyway. So I’ve purposely tried to keep the links more general than that. But for anyone interested I believe googling “Pinel” and some version of set point will give you hours of fun time reading. Also the researcher referenced in the first link has done a lot of work on obesity and metabolism. Have fun.

* I should also add that if this is true, then it’s probably only true when we’re not talking about unhealthily low levels of body fat. Bringing someone down to the lowest possible levels of body fat will cause some crazy ass stuff to go down (scientifically speaking.)

All six of my regular readers…

January 28, 2010

will be thrilled to know that I’ve started a formspring page. If you don’t know how it works, just click the link and then ask me anything. I’ll promise to answer all the questions that I want to answer. I figure at the very least, it might help inspire my blogging muse.

Yay, muscles!

January 26, 2010

Go read this post by amanda at pandagon. It makes a great point that the fear of becoming bulky or looking ‘unfeminine’ is part of what keeps women out of the weight room and keeps them going back to crash diets.

This part especially

By measuring success and failure in this department strictly from the scale, we continue to encourage this ineffective strategy. It’s not that Americans don’t think exercise is a good idea—we do—but let’s face it. It’s not really treated as important as dieting by a long shot, even though it’s way more effective at reaching the health goals that this is all supposed to be about.

had me nodding emphatically.

You know, I am also focusing on weight loss because I believe in some cases a reduction in body fat can improve a person’s health. But in my real life, I don’t talk about dieting much – and by that I mean I don’t point out the calorie content of foods or engage in endless angsting at restaurants about how I just can’t eat anything! I am however a bit of an exercise evangelical. I hope I’m not annoying about it, but yeah, building muscles, improving cardiovascular fitness – just finding out all the awesome shit I’m capable of gives me more of a rush than any number I’ve seen on my scale. I don’t know how it got flipped that I seem to talk more about dieting here than exercise, but I’d like that to change.

Anyway, you should read the post and the article that inspired it.

Hunger is weird

January 26, 2010

This semester so far is a killer. I’m taking a full class load, teaching several labs (which includes grading papers), and being an exam proctor/grader for a couple of classes. And my classes are getting harder. Many mornings I have time for a cup of coffee and maybe some instant oatmeal (rarely.) Lunch is often a quick snack if it’s anything at all. Of course, when I am finally home, I am often ravenous, but I’m not finding it hard to eat lots of food at night and stay within where I want to be calorie-wise.

Now, I don’t want to do this long-term. Eating this way makes me feel disordered and I don’t like being as hungry as I am when I finally get home. I’m trying to pack snacks and such to graze on throughout the day this week.

What I find odd though is how my hunger is just not there during the day. When I’m on a more relaxed schedule, I am hungry when I wake up and hungry at lunch and now even when I take a moment to think about it, I don’t feel hungry. That’s why I set reminders on my phone for me to snack. Otherwise, the food just sits in my bag, totally forgotten. I don’t know why, but I find that so fascinating. I hate the idea that hunger is mainly psychological and all we need is a nice bath or a few deep breaths to ‘get over it.’ But I can see how totally entwined psychology and physiology are when it comes to eating. Fascinating.

Intersections at soccer

January 14, 2010

Sometimes…ok a lot of times it gets confusing being a dieter who’s also pro-FA*. It can be confusing when I come across comments about how wanting to lose weight is anathema to self-acceptance (whether this means that self-acceptance is never possible while wishing to change certain things about oneself or that all weight loss must be the result of self-hate, I don’t know.) Likewise, it can be maddening to read books, blogs and articles that encourage the ‘life is absolutely terrible when you’re fat’ line of thinking. There are times when I think if I were a bit more honest or just more confrontational, this blog would be nothing but posts about people who say stupid crap that pisses me off.

Many people see the two world views (that of a fat activist and dieter) as being diametrically opposed. But you know, in my life they aren’t.

As I mentioned in this post, I’m taking soccer this semester at school. I was a little nervous as the first day approached. Would I be able to keep up? What if everyone else had played soccer before? What if people thought I looked gross when I ran? Walking in there the first day was hard, but I also knew that I had every right to be there no matter what kind of soccer skills I didn’t have. And I had the right to be in the class and enjoy myself even if I was the slowest. When, as part of our warm up, we had to run laps, I didn’t panic and I didn’t hold my breath or try to go faster than was comfortable in order to keep up with people. I jogged at a comfortable pace. When we learned basic dribbling skills, I had fun with everyone laughing at our incompetence. And when we played a game where we tried to kick other people’s ball out of bounds, I laughed and dodged and then didn’t beat myself up when I kicked my own ball out of bounds. I enjoyed what I was capable of doing and didn’t feel ashamed at what I couldn’t do.

And all of that? Totally a product of years of building myself a solid foundation of self-worth with ample help from the fat acceptance movement.

But I was also amazed that while I was in the back of the pack while doing laps, I was right at the back, not half a lap behind everyone else. And even after doing laps on the hard floor (indoor soccer), I didn’t even feel a twinge in my knees or any pain in my feet. I was breathing hard after laps, but it only took me a few moments to fully recover. And it turns out that I am capable of doing a full hour and fifteen minute class where I spend much of it running and hopping and chasing wayward soccer balls that I’ve accidentally kicked out of bounds.

These things were not possible for me at my highest weight even when I was exercising regularly. And those things are awesome and they are possible because of weight loss.

So for me it all fits together. It also comes together in the way I diet (listening to hunger cues, enjoying eating, not denying myself food that I like while still maintaining a deficit) and the fact that my goals aren’t a particular size or weight or even just ‘being thin.’ I may always be fat. And no matter my weight, I can celebrate my body – its beauty, its athleticism, its pure raw functionality. I can also love my body and say that my weight is still putting a strain on some parts and, if possible, I’d like that strain to ease a bit.

*I almost put FA in quotes. I am well aware that for some people weight loss is simply not something you can do while embracing fat acceptance principles. And I agree in that FA has historically highlighted the failure of most diets. However, the attitude of empowerment and kick assitude are absolutely something I got from FA (not to mention lots of agreement in terms of discrimination and not over-simplifying the relationship between fat and health) so it seems appropriate to use the term.

Is there a geneticist in the house?

January 10, 2010

I feel like I have a tenuous grasp on what heritability means and why it is *not* the same thing as saying a trait is genetic.

And yet, reading about this new study on the genetic causes of obesity, I’m confused again. I only have access to the abstract (booooo) but the conclusion, which Marion Nestle talks about in this post, is that the different gene variants associated with increased bmi only account for about 1% of differences in weight.

So how does it work that a trait can have very high heritability, but that same trait have a fairly low correlation with gene variants? Do I just need to take a class? Help.

ETA: This post dealing with the heritability of IQ is a great, though very very long, look at the concept of heritability. Well worth the read if you find these things as interesting as I do.