This article by Vox media got me thinking about obesity and all the baggage it carries (no pun intended) in western culture. Dr Jason Fung is a doctor in Toronto who’s treatment of obesity goes against traditional methods. He took a tremendous amount of heat for a tweet which appeared to "fat shame" two speakers at an obesity conference. Some of the blowback came directly from Yoni Freedhoff - an obesity doctor who I greatly respect.
There is little debate about the current state of obesity in the world. A recent article in the Guardian even suggested that China is now experiencing an obesity crisis. Not only is it on the rise, it seems to be accelerating, especially among youth. As a result of this epidemic an explosion of profit seeking endeavours have appeared. From the Atikin’s diet to the Wheat Belly movement, there is a plethora of information - most of it not so good - on how to lose weight and prevent diabetes. My favourite is The Glueten Lie where a religious history professor just tells everyone to chill out about the foods we eat because nothing is going to kill us. Just eat in moderation he suggests.
The reality is that we really don’t have any solid evidence pointing out why we’re getting fatter and fatter. When science can’t help us, pseudoscience usually takes its place. We’re not sure why life arose on this planet so religion fills the void. We can’t really grasp the reasons why people commit terrorist acts so the conspiracy theorists give us the answers we need. The same is happening with obesity. We just don’t have any solid evidence to suggest a weight loss plan - and more importantly - keep fat off. Nobody argues against the idea that we’re moving less and eating more, but the obesity crisis seems to have a very loose correlation with physical activity. There’s a portion of the population who can move less, eat more and have a healthy weight which inevitably puts a kibosh to any theory suggesting we need more exercise.
Fung contends that it’s insulin that’s the culprit. More specifically it’s insulin resistance that causes us to have difficulty maintaining a low weight. This is a result of constant eating during the day which sends our insulin levels on a roller coaster ride. By fasting and simply not eating, we’ll lower our insulin levels making us more sensitive and therefore improving our body's ability to burn fat. On top of that, well we’re not eating so we can’t overeat!
Freedhoff and company take a more traditional view towards the causes of obesity. He feels that calorie intake should be lower than calorie expenditure in order to lose weight. One can increase their calorie burning rate by exercise. Move more, eat less. This is by far the most popular means to treat weight loss.
Here’s the paradox - both ideas work. It seems silly to me to flame each other when there is no credible evidence suggesting that one theory is better than the other. I get where Fung is coming from when he points out the irony of obesity doctors being overweight. Freedhoff counters with more of a cultural rebuttal believing that obesity is increasing because we don’t empower the obese to help themselves.
If you’re looking for advice on losing weight, be careful what you read. The human body is extremely complex and treating it with a simple black and white diet program is risky. Throw in the fact that we’re living busy and complex lives and you have a recipe for failure. It’s important to find a program that fits with your lifestyle and commit to it. Check out my blog on commitment if you’re not sure how important that aspect is.