Wellness: Fat Has a Mind of Its Own

Those of us who are constantly fighting the battle of the bulge know the real truth. However much society may tell us that being fat is a personality flaw, the 61% of Canadians whose weight is unhealthily high (overweight or obese) know that fat is a loudmouth schnook constantly urging us to eat, even if we have just consumed a four-course meal and topped it off with a box of chocolates. Fat wants us to stay fat & get fatter.

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Everyone will tell you that being fat is bad for you. It is associated with Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, dementia and other dreaded disease processes. Even worse, it affects how we feel about ourselves and the assumptions society makes about us. While it’s not okay in advertising to make fun of ethnic or disability groups, it is perfectly okay for Hyundai to portray disgust on the faces of normal weight people when viewing an obese individual….a powerful, Catch-22 visual slapped right across the psyche of vulnerable souls that has nothing to do with hybrid engines and everything to do with subliminal societal messages concerning winners and losers.

People who have never experienced the relentless promptings of fat cells to eat until you explode, simply cannot understand why obese people don’t just stop eating. The truth is that belief in self-starvation as a viable solution reveals a simplistic and uninformed approach to a complicated problem. A dear friend once said to me, ‘For every complicated problem there is a simple answer – and it’s usually wrong’. So far, I have not had occasion to contradict him. The physiology of overeating in the presence of unlimited food is not simple and neither is it a phenomenon unique to our civilization. Place settings for the infamous Roman orgies included the ubiquitous ‘vomitoriums’ – handy receptacles thoughtfully positioned by the chair of each dinner guest where they could neatly empty their overloaded stomachs and continue eating until they finally passed out.

Until recently, physiologists believed that fat cells function only as energy storage containers to ensure survival during periodic famines. This is now known to be an oversimplified view of what is currently acknowledged to be one of the adult body’s largest endocrine glands. Endocrine glands are ‘take charge’ types of tissue, the senior leadership team in charge of metabolism that must be obeyed. Other powerful endocrine glands include the thyroid, ovaries, testes and pancreas. We routinely excuse obesity as ‘not their fault’ in individuals whose thyroids have stopped functioning. We certainly would not expect an infertile woman to ‘get a grip’ on her under-functioning ovaries by means of her ‘willpower’ nor a person with Type 1 diabetes to lower his blood sugar by starving himself. Yet what happens when the biggest endocrine gland of all is out of control? The ruling class of our society smugly insists that overweight and obese individuals accept the burden of blame for their ‘lack of willpower.’

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Inexorably scientists are compiling data suggesting that fat cells are dangerous bullies when their population increases beyond normal physiological controls and for most of us, our conscious brains are powerless against them. Studies suggest that healthy skeletal muscle fiber may be the only tissue capable of standing up to them. Muscle is now known to secrete its own powerful hormones, known as myokines that appear to keep the over-expression of fat hormones in check. Healthy muscle mass has also been shown to decrease appetite and people with well-toned bodies report fewer food cravings. In addition, accumulating evidence supports the belief that ‘fat, active and fit’ is a better indicator of longevity than ‘thin, sedentary and unfit’.

In plainer language, what we eat may be less critical to our health status than how often and how thoroughly we exercise.

Part of the key to unraveling the obesity conundrum may be the acknowledgement that it is ‘normal’ human behaviour to enjoy eating to excess when food supplies are plentiful. Routine overindulgence of Christmas and Thanksgiving feasts are cases in point. It is also possible that the rising incidence of anorexia nervosa is a phobic response programmed by virulent societal prejudice against what is essentially a ‘normal’ human behaviour. The fact that there can be ten or more fast food outlets in a typical city block may be less contributory to the current obesity ‘epidemic’ than the restricted opportunities for people to engage daily in strenuous physical endeavours.

The simple and profoundly complicated truth may actually be that we were made to regularly evade the hungry saber tooth tiger, shiver in the cold and dark, gorge ourselves into a stupor after a fresh kill and starve until the next one. We were meant to expend enormous amounts of energy in feeding, clothing and sustaining our existence. Sitting 8-10 hours a day in front of a computer and walking a city block in a feeding frenzy is a whole new game plan for mankind.

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