My mum always told me I had ‘big bones’, I’m not really fat, just ‘cuddly’ according to my wife and so I’ve always had a reasonably positive self image, but I was doing some research on Metabolic, a company involved in finding drugs to reduce obesity, in preparation for buying some for my portfolio, and I found out that there is much misinformation about obesity and what causes it. Following the advice of Hugh Niall I decided to look into the subject at a more detailed level than just how likely it is that a company will produce an ‘anti fat pill’.
Much consternation was caused by an article in the New York Times by Gary Taubes entitled “What if it’s all a Big Fat Lie?”
we have become weirdly polarised on the subject of weight. On the one hand, we’ve been told with almost religious certainty that obesity is caused by the excessive consumption of fat and that if we eat less fat we will lose weight and live longer. On the other, there is the ever-resilient message of Atkins and decades’ worth of best-selling diet books, including The Zone, Sugar Busters and Protein Power, to name a few. All push some variation of what scientists would call the alternative hypothesis: it’s not the fat that makes people fat but the carbohydrates, and if we eat fewer carbohydrates we will lose weight and live longer.
Of course proprietary diets that were vindicated rushed into print in an attempt to cash in but I’m not convinced.
I thought I’d get some objective information on my weight so I did the Body Mass Index calculation, which showed me (at 33) bordering on gross obesity. The tables are obviously wrong, no one I know comes even close to 25. There had to be a better reason and after some more looking I found a reference in research being done at the Garvan Institute;
the molecular mechanisms which control appetite and the subsequent development of obesity and it side effects are poorly understood. We do know that the regulation of appetite is controlled by chemical signals in the brain. One of the most important components mediating such signals is neuropeptide Y (NPY). NPY not only plays an important role in regulating appetite, but is also involved in the regulation of blood pressure, reproductive behaviour, hormone release and anxiety.
Y2 receptor deficient mice also show a two-fold increase in bone mass suggesting that alteration of autonomic function through hypothalamic Y2 receptors may play a key role in a major central regulatory circuit of bone formation.
That’s it then! I have obviously got underperforming Y2 receptors explaining my high blood pressure, tiny testosterone levels and lack of libido as well as a BMI exceeding 30.
Others have suggested that it’s less the content of the meals we eat but more the size of the portions on our plate. The Atkins website has some interesting stats on the increase in size of fast food meals.
But there can never be too much profit, and in the 1980s, a major change in strategy occurred when the fast-food chains started promoting bigger portions – what everyone now calls super-sizing. These restaurant chains latched on to the natural human tendency to love a bargain. They gave you twice as much and charged you only a little more. Sounded good. Especially for them. With the exception of the meat in the burger, all this stuff was so darn cheap that even a slight increase in price more than made up for giving you a lot more food.
USA Today pointed out in 1996 that 25 percent of the $97 billion that was being spent on fast-food came from items that were being sold on the basis of larger size or extra portions. Which also made for a phenomenal caloric transformation. A standard serving of french fries in 1960 contained 200 calories; today’s standard size weighs in at 610 calories. And let’s not even talk about the increase in carb count and the hydrogenated fats in which those fries sizzle.
Soda pop, the essence of empty calories, is a particularly juicy profit center. In the 1970s, Japanese scientists figured out how to make high-fructose corn syrup, which is six times as sweet as sugar and – given the United States’ vast cornfields – far cheaper to produce. It soon replaced cane sugar in soda. Unfortunately, corn syrup turns out to be an insulin-stimulating, health-depleting carbohydrate par excellence. There’s considerable new research showing that this is one of the deadliest foods the carbohydrate industry has ever devised. Its biochemical effects are diverse and dire. Let me merely mention here that there are characteristics of corn syrup – above and beyond its caloric content – that promote the formation of body fat. So it’s not surprising that the obesity curve for the past 20 years runs roughly parallel to the curve of ever increasing soda consumption.
Of course, we eat as well as drink, and the psychological pressure to eat more is now relentless. Americans even eat on larger plates. The standard size a decade ago was 10 inches across; now it’s 12 inches.
So the new buzzword is ‘portion control’ and, quick to smell an opportunity to plunder the pockets of the unwary, your friendly fatbuster has jumped on the bandwagon and started to harange fatsos about the amount they eat. For instance
Many people underestimate how much they really eat at a typical meal. Like many Americans, you have come to expect large portions at restaurants, but instead of eating half the meal and taking the other half home (or sharing it with your dining partner), you eat the whole, gigantic portion. The result: You feel stuffed, sluggish and probably consume too many calories than you need in a day.
When it comes to eating, most people are driven by what they see, not by how they feel. Your hunger is driven by instinct. By putting too much food in front of you, you will perceive this oversized meal as normal. If you change that habit, and start serving yourself smaller portions, you will perceive this smaller amount as a normal meal.
When you think about it they’re probably right. It may be the reason why the French and Spaniards seem to always be eating wonderful food swimming in cream sauces but exhibit proportionately fewer lardarses than the septics who rush through their whoppers with fries.
So I’m still uncertain whether to invest in Metabolic – can they come up with a ‘fat burner’ and if they do will it be successful; and does it matter whether it works so long as they can get Ray to promote it on A Current Affair.