Once upon a time, staying a healthy weight was easy. It could be summed up by the phrase “calories in equal calories out”. To lose weight you simply had to practise the reverse of home economics-spend more than you earned. Unfortunately for many, but perhaps not surprisingly, it turns out that people are rather more complicated than bank accounts.
A lot of research has gone into unravelling the intricacies of our personal fat accounts-driven by the dream of winning the billion-dollar prize of an effective fat pill. Some of the findings have been, to put it mildly, counter-intuitive. They also suggest whole new ways of dieting.
To stay a healthy weight, you need a hormone called leptin to work properly. It sends “I’m full” messages from the fat cells up to the brain, where they go, among other places, to the same pleasure centres that respond to sex and drugs like cocaine. Obese people produce plenty of leptin, but the brain doesn’t seem to respond to it properly. Last year, researchers at the Oregon Research Institute scanned the brains of overweight people and found their reward circuits were underactive. They were eating more to try to get the enjoyment they were missing. In other words, the study showed that fat people are actually the opposite of greedy-because they get less pleasure from eating than others do.
There’s a lot of evidence for the fact that most, if not all, of us have a set point around which our weight can vary by about 15 to 20 pounds, but anything beyond that is a real struggle. This goes for naturally thin people trying to gain weight as well. Making changes is hard, particularly if your body is working against you, because-as the leptin example shows-the whole weight control system is intimately interconnected with our pleasure centres.
So if your body is sabotaging your efforts to lose weight, why not ditch the traditional approaches and try some new methods, based on the latest research, that work with your body rather than against it…