Let’s Talk about the Myth of the Skinny Vegan Bitch #tbt

Here’s a #tbt for you from four years ago. Though I would venture that veganism is more popular now than it was then, and is gaining followers all the time, myths still abound. And one of them is that you’ll get skinny real fast if you opt to eat a thoroughly plant-based diet. You won’t necessarily lose weight at all. But that’s not a reason not to try it. Another myth is that you can’t possibly retain muscle if you’re vegan. You can! I’ll write about that sometime next month. Meanwhile, enjoy this old post. I’m vegan, but I’m neither skinny nor a bitch (or so I like to think anyway)!
Tracy

Fit Is a Feminist Issue

vegan-food-cc-300x400Here’s how the first installment in the Skinny Bitch series (authors Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin) starts:

Are you sick and tired of being fat?  Good. If you can’t take one more day of self-loathing, you’re ready to get skinny...

This is not a diet. This is a way of life. A way to enjoy food. A way to feel healthy, clean, energized and pure. It’s time to reclaim your mind and body. It’s time to strut your skinny ass down the street liek you’re in an episode of Charlie’s Angels with some really cool song playing in the background. It’s time to prance around in a thong like you rule the world. It’s time to get skinny.

It sounds almost empowering.  Almost.

The first red flag?  If you’re full of self-loathing then…wait for it…getting skinny is the answer!  If that’s not clear from the introduction, it is made…

View original post 656 more words

My new scale doesn’t tell me what I weigh, and I like it that way

A bathroom scale that says "you are not a number"

I really hate scales.  I think I’m not alone here.  There are loads of comic strips with scale jokes, but I will spare you because they all seem to presuppose that the scale is an authoritative judge and we are the irrational defendants whose weight is a crime.

And with respect to this scale hatred narrative, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.  If you weigh yourself, then you’re generally appalled or ashamed or enraged or depressed.  If you don’t weigh yourself, then you’re avoiding your responsibility, which is to confront the reality which is the numerical judgment of your total worth.

Okay, maybe that sounds a bit dramatic, but this is the story that whispers in our ears from time to time.

I went to a conference in the Netherlands in June, and the keynote speaker was a behavioral economist named Dan Ariely.  He works on lots of ways to better understand why we behave in various ways, and to figure out some ways to help us achieve some of our goals that we have trouble with (e.g. saving money, losing weight, etc.) .

In this talk, Ariely mentioned a study his group did in which they tested out a hypothesis:  that weighing yourself every day helps you focus on health goals, and may help with weight loss.  This is something lots of medical experts also believe, but it hasn’t been tested.  The problem is:  people hate weighing themselves.  Why?  Well, if you weigh yourself, says Ariely, one of three things will happen:

  1. You’ve gained weight, in which case you’re depressed.
  2. You’re the same, in which case you’re not happy (because you haven’t lost weight).
  3. You’ve lost weight, in which case you become anxious about the next time you have to weigh yourself, worrying that you might regain some of what you lost.

When you put it that way, it sounds unpleasant all around.

Part of the problem with scales is that they register changes all the time because our bodies are changing in weight all the time.    Body weight has very high variance– we can fluctuate up or down 2kg or more in any given day, and it doesn’t mean anything.  There are scales on the market now that register one-tenth of a pound change.  This is really irritating to me, as there’s nothing good about this information– it’s just part of the noise of the variance, but it has the power to make me feel really bad.

Of course there’s a really simple solution to this problem:  don’t weigh yourself.  That’s a perfectly fine option.  Lots of folks who write for this blog and who read this blog do (or rather, don’t do) exactly that.  I say huzzah to that.

But for me, I can’t seem to leave this scale thing alone.  This is because I do want to track my weight changes over time and because I do have health goals that involve weight loss if possible (yeah, these things are complicated; you all know this as well as I do).

Enter the scale that doesn’t tell me what I weigh.  Here it is:

The Shapa scale, a bright orange disc on my bathroom floor with a white S in the middle.

The Shapa scale, a bright orange disc on my bathroom floor with a white S in the middle.

Ariely and his team had an idea:  we don’t really need to know how much we weigh.  What we need to know over time is whether our weight is the same, up a little, down a little, up a little more, or down a little more.  So they developed this scale, called Shapa, that does just that.  It comes bluetooth enabled, with an app on your phone.  Part of the screen looks like this:

A screenshot from the Shapa app, with daily weigh in info (when you weighed yourself) and an optional mission for some activity or cooking.

A screenshot from the Shapa app, with daily weigh in info (when you weighed yourself) and an optional mission for some activity or cooking.

You bring your phone with you to where the scale is, and weigh yourself.  It takes a few weeks for Shapa to calibrate what your average weight is, and what your weight variance is over time.  Once it does that (and it won’t tell you those weights even if you ask nicely!), then when you weigh yourself, it will give you a message and a color.  Mine today looked like this:

A screenshot of the results of my weighing myself- I'm blue, which means "good", which means my weight is the same.

A screenshot of the results of my weighing myself- I’m blue, which means “good”, which means my weight is the same.

The scale keeps the weight variance to itself, and just tells you whether you’re the same, up (one or two standard deviations from the mean) or down (one or two standard deviations from the mean).  Though it says this in a more encouraging and colorful way.

I love this.  What I want to know is how my weight is responding to any changes in my activity or eating, and this scale tells me that without the burden of all those fluctuations which just vex me.  Of course, our clothes and mirrors and partners and selves and other cues can tell us about our bodies.  But I really do like this.  I like the daily attention to myself, and it’s offering me an occasion to think more about what sorts of changes I can or want to make to see if I can effect weight change over time.  And it is also telling me that weight isn’t the only thing that matters.  My weight has stayed the same over the past 6 weeks since I got the Shapa scale, but I feel like my clothes are a little looser.  This is probably because I’m in better physical shape (thank you Bike Rally for motivating me!).

That’s interesting information for me, too– that I can feel better, do more of what I ask of my body, and feel better in my clothes in the face of silence on the part of my scale.  Maybe I like that best of all.

What about y’all, dear readers?  Do you have a relationship with scales?  What is it?  What do you think about this crazy idea of a scale that refuses to tell you what you weigh?  I’d love to hear from you.

Cutting off our noses in service of our waistlines

Graphic of a nose and a strawberry, and text saying "do you have a great nose?"

As long as there is a wave of fat phobia and moral panic over body weight out there in the science journalism world, we will never be at a loss for something to write about here at Fit is a Feminist Issue.

Here’s the latest headline:

News headline: Just smelling food can make you fat, UC Berkeley study says

News headline: Just smelling food can make you fat, UC Berkeley study says

Is this true?

Graphic saying NO, of course not!

So what’s the deal here?  Well…

Graphic saying "It's complicated".

The news article (found here) summarizes the study below:

…a sense of smell can influence the brain’s decision to burn fat or store it in the body — or a least the bodies of mice.

Researchers Andrew Dillin and Celine Riera studied three groups of mice — normal mice, “super-smellers” and ones without a sense of smell — and saw a direct correlation between their ability to smell and how much weight they gained from a high-fat, “Burger King diet,” Dillin said.

Each mouse ate the same amount of food, but those with a super sense of smell gained the most weight. 

The normal mice ballooned, too — up to 100 percent from the weight they were when the research started.

But the mice who couldn’t smell anything gained only 10 percent of their weight. Obese mice who had their sense of smell wiped out slimmed down to the size of normal counterparts without a change in diet.

Riera said the study, which was published this month in the journal Cell Metabolism, reveals that outside influences such as smell can affect the brain’s functions related to appetite and metabolism.

Okay, that’s fairly interesting.  Looking at the actual article, we see that what it is really about is:

[discovery of] a new bidirectional function for the olfactory system in controlling energy homeostasis in response to sensory and hormonal signals.

That is, Riera et al. found an intriguing new piece of the puzzle of how olfactory (sense of smell) functions interact with the hypothalamus in metabolism regulation.

But it ends with a bang:

the potential of modulating olfactory signals in the context of the metabolic syndrome or diabetes is attractive. The data presented here show that even relatively short-term loss of smell improves metabolic health and weight loss, despite the negative consequences of being on a [high-fat] diet.

Whoa. Hold on a minute.  It sounds like they are suggesting that a plausible treatment for humans (that is, us) in service of weight loss would be to wipe out our sense of smell.  Is that what they’re saying? Well, yeah.

And the news article gleefully reports this:

Using the study’s methods in humans could be possible.

After eating, a person’s sense of smell decreases. So, if a person was eating with a lessened sense of smell, the brain could be tricked into thinking it’s already been fed and choose to burn the calories instead of store them, Riera said.

People struggling with obesity could have their sense of smell wiped out or temporarily reduced to help them control cravings and burn calories and fat faster.

But the article and researchers acknowledge that this “treatment” comes with risks.

Ya think?

Loss of sense of smell is common in chemotherapy, and occurs in a number of diseases and in the course of aging.  This results not only in weight loss but also nutritional deficiencies and other health problems.  In short, it’s not good.

And, it turns out, this is also true:

The mice in the study who lost their sense of smell also saw a significant increase in the hormone noradrenaline — a stress response from the nervous system that can lead to a heart attack if levels are too high.

So let me get this straight:  loss (even temporary) of someone’s sense of smell is associated with adverse health outcomes, including increased risk of heart attack.  And yet this is being considered for humans?

Yes, apparently:

“Maybe once a year you block your sense of smell for a while and then you lose the weight from the year and do it all over again,” Dillin said. “We don’t know yet. There’s a lot we still need to do.”

Yes, there’s a lot you need to do.  Like read up on the literature on the adverse health and other effects of yo-yo weight changes.  And while you’re at it, maybe read a medical ethics book too. And medical history.

My apologies for the snark, but this extreme approach to medical treatments for body weight change and maintenance is not new.  Some of you may recall that in the 70s and 80s, jaw wiring was an approved medical treatment for weight loss.

A picture of a person's mouth, open and showing upper and lower teeth on the side wired together with orthodontia

A picture of a person’s mouth, open and showing upper and lower teeth on the side wired together with orthodontia.

This was not a fringe thing.  Here’s an article in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet from 1977, studying the effects of jaw wiring in patients.  They note that patients lost weight, although

Two-thirds of the patients, however, regained some weight after the wires were removed.

Of course they did–  they were physically unable to eat solid food by the mechanical devices that clamped their jaws together.  They were literally starved.

This form of treatment has fallen out of favor (thank goodness), but hasn’t disappeared completely.  Here’s a current orthodontist website advertising this treatment, and encouraging other dental professionals to get on the jaw wiring bandwagon.

So, wrapping up:  while it is interesting to learn new features of the complicated interactive metabolic processes of mice, and see to what extent those processes are also present in humans, we need to take a big long pause before considering any treatment applications, for a host of reasons, both medical and ethical.

The nose knows a lot; let’s keep smelling.

A picture of a person's nose, smelling a slice of pink grapefruit.

A picture of a person’s nose, smelling a slice of pink grapefruit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every gram is dangerous, or the newest scary BMI news

A paper clip, which weighs one gram

Sorry to interrupt your holiday weekend (if you’re in Canada or the US) or just your placid Sunday/busy Monday (if you’re somewhere else), but I have to let y’all know that, according to the latest childhood obesity research from the journal Pediatrics, we have to watch out for risks of gaining even a few grams of potential weight gain (much less pounds or kilos).

What am I talking about here?  This headline:

Headline from CNN news story: WIll 100% fruit juice make your child gain weight?

Spoiler:  the answer is no, or at most hardly at all.

But that of course does not sell newspapers, or as they say now, result in lots of click-throughs (actually, I’m not sure what they say now.  Anyone know?  Please tell me).

This research article is about the potential weight gain risks for children of drinking 6–8 ounces (18–23 cl) of 100% fruit juice a day.  When I posted this article on Facebook, a friend commented that fruit juice is bad for kids because it’s bad for their teeth.  There’s evidence for that claim and it seems reasonable.  It’s also included in this research article on recommendations on fruit juice intake for children and adolescents.

So what does the BMI article say?

First, a few numbers, from the article:

1 daily 6- to 8-oz serving increment of 100% fruit juice was associated with a 0.003 (95% CI: 0.001 to 0.004) unit increase in BMI z score over 1 year in children of all ages (0% increase in BMI percentile). In children ages 1 to 6 years, 1 serving increment was associated with a 0.087 (95% confidence interval: 0.008 to 0.167) unit increase in BMI z score (4% increase in BMI percentile). 100% fruit juice consumption was not associated with BMI z score increase in children ages 7 to 18 years.

That is, for children 7–18 years, drinking fruit juice every day had no effect on weight gain.  None.  Zero.  Zilch. Nada.  Bupkes.

The word "zero" in white, surrounded by a numeric zero on a black background.

The word “zero” in white, surrounded by a numeric zero on a black background.

But:  for children ages 1–6, daily fruit juice intake was associated with a 4% increase in BMI percentile.  Please note, that’s not a four-point BMI increase, or 4 pounds, or 4 kilos.  What is it?  This (from the article, p.8):

As an example, consider a 5-year-old girl at the 50th percentile for weight (18.0 kg) and BMI (15.2 kg/m2). An increase of 0.046 to 0.087 BMI z–score U over 1 year translates into an increase in this child’s BMI percentile to the 52nd to 54th percentile: a weight gain of 0.08 kg to 0.15 kg over 1 year. A small amount of weight gain that is not clinically significant at the individual level may gain significance when considered at the population level.

 

Okay, let’s translate some of this.  This study would predict that for say, some 5-year-old girl in the 50th percentile for weight (for her age), could gain .08 to .15 kilos in one year (0r 2.28–5.29 ounces).  That’s the weight of about 2–2.5 Clif bars. The researchers also graciously add that this amount of weight gain is not clinically significant at the individual level.  You bet it’s not!

This amount of potential weight gain, even for small children, is tiny enough to be within the normal variance of weight over time.  That is, IT DOESN’T MATTER.  AT ALL.

Why am I bringing this up to y’all?  After all, this is a study about children, not adults.  I bring it up because it’s another example where we are directed to pay attention to minute changes in body metrics and imbue them with all sorts of alarmist meaning.  The changes that are documented here are admittedly irrelevant to the health and well-being of children.  They are statistically significant (for very small children only), but that doesn’t mean that they mean anything at all for how we should behave or act or respond or live.

Not that I’m advocating for rampant fruit juice drinking on the part of children and adults everywhere.  As I said earlier, there’s other evidence about the effects of fruit juice intake on cavities.  If you’re interested, check it out and do what you will.

Science is a big tent.  People do all kinds of research searching for connections among lots of features of our bodies, our behaviors, our environment, etc.  Sometimes they find big connections, sometimes small ones, sometimes they find nothing.  As consumers of science, especially body weight science, I think it’s important to notice when the results of scientific study are NOT alarming or NOT relevant, even when they feature dazzling metrics (and ominous headlines).

In short, sometimes we need to take our science with a grain of salt.  Which weighs 0.00067 grams (if it’s table salt).

A spoon inscribed with "take it with a grain of salt".

A spoon inscribed with “take it with a grain of salt”.

 

 

Followup on “Fit but Fat” research news

dictionary entry for the word "research"-- careful study or investigation...

This week the mainstream news media rushed to publicize a conference paper given at the European Congress on Obesity that argued that there’s no such thing as “fit but fat”. I posted Wednesday night with some immediate reactions and questions– you can see them here. Many of my questions were about the details of the study, for which we must wait until an article is published.

However, since then, I’ve been thinking more generally:  What does this mean, the idea that there’s no such thing as fit if you’re fat?  Is this right?  And how does all this affect people with a BMI >30 (like me)?  So let me address each of these questions, and you can tell me what you think about my answers.

First, questions about meaning (sorry, it’s the first place philosophers tend to go, but I’ll keep it short):  What does “fit but fat” mean?

When medical professionals say this, they’re generally talking about people with BMIs over 30 (or even over 25), who don’t have any problems like high blood pressure, cholesterol or blood sugar readings, or various markers of potential future heart disease or potential future diabetes.  That is, fit but fat people are healthy people who weigh more than the BMI scale says they should.

Just for fun, when I looked up google images for “fit but fat”, I got this gorgeous picture of two sumo wrestlers locked in a lovely balletic grapple.  Wow.  Don’t they look great?

Two sumo wrestlers locked upside down, grappling, with legs in arabesque position.

Two sumo wrestlers locked upside down, grappling, with legs in arabesque position.

But there’s the “but” to deal with in the “fit but fat” message.  Why the “but”?  Why not “and”?  “But” is signalling that someone is fit, BUT all is not well– that person is also fat (which is not normal or good or healthy or… fill in the blank here).  Even we we say it about ourselves, we are putting ourselves down, as “fat” is often associated with being unhealthy or defective or sub-optimal in some way.  So being fit but fat is not exactly a position of great positivity to begin with.  And now it’s being challenged by this study (to be fair, there are other studies with similar results– BUT there’s not medical consensus on the issue).

And it gets worse.  Saying that it’s not possible to be both fit and fat seems to mean that BMI trumps ALL other factors (genetic, environmental, psychological, etc.) when it comes to determining health and risk for (weight-related) disease.  Is this right?  No– not as stated there.

What medical researchers say holds for a population or group overall does not necessarily hold for particular individuals.  As we say, your mileage may vary.  A lot.  Here’s what the researchers said (this is from Pub Med Health, which doesn’t make money from splashy headlines; for a clear and undramatic account, check it out):

Of the 3.5 million people in the study, 766,900 (21.9%) were obese – of whom 518,000 (14.8%) were obese with no additional risk factors (metabolically healthy).

The researchers found that, compared to people of recommended weight, metabolically-healthy obese people were:

  • 50% more likely to get heart disease
  • 7% more likely to get cerebrovascular disease
  • twice as likely to get heart failure

Metabolic risk factors raised the chances of getting any of these conditions, in addition to obesity.

Compared to recommended weight, metabolically-healthy people, those who were obese and had all three risk factors (diabetes, high blood pressure or abnormal blood fats) were:

  • 2.6 times more likely to get heart disease
  • 58% more likely to get cerebrovascular disease
  • 3.8 times more likely to get heart failure
  • 2.2 times more likely to get peripheral vascular disease

The researchers say their figures were statistically significant; however they were unable to supply the full data with confidence intervals, so we can’t check this.

We don’t know if this research is largely correct.  I have a whole bunch of technical questions about the study (all of which have to wait for the data and the article to be published).  Their work coheres with some studies and conflicts with others.  As always, we will have to wait to see how things go.  Science is complicated.

Now to my last question:  how does this result affect people with BMI > 25 and > 30?

In my view, there may be good news and bad news in answer to this question.  Shall I go with the bad news first?  Okay.

Uptake of the message that you can’t be fit if you’re fat could lead to more weight stigmatization, more fat shaming of people who seem larger than some idealized notion of a person.  This could lead to eroded relationships with healthcare providers and more money spent on useless diets and weight loss programs.  But most importantly:  it could mean less physical activity in the population, which translates into generally lower levels of standard health markers and lower levels of all sorts of features of well-being.

That’s my biggest problem with the news so far.  We don’t know if these researchers got the details right, and we don’t know how to interpret them if they did.  But what we do know is this:  studies consistently show that physical activity is a great predictor of health and a great mechanism for achieving and maintaining lots of features of well-being (e.g. less depression, better sleep).  And unlike body weight, physical activity (which isn’t the same as fitness, but hear me out) is something that a lot of us have some modicum of control over.  Becoming fit (in the various ways we understand that word) has a lot of benefits.  It’s not the only useful life goal, and it’s not of interest to everyone; fair enough.  You do you.  But I don’t want to see its value drowned out amidst the shouts of studies trumpeting the importance of having a lower body weight.  Especially since medicine offers no remotely effective tools for lowering and maintaining body weight over time (except gastric bypass, which as I’ve said many times isn’t designed or an option for most people).

Now to the good news:  if it turns out that scientific consensus develops around this idea– that the main thing that matters to my health (at least some features of it) is my body weight, then this might put pressure on governments to do something about our obesogenic food systems and infrastructure.  They could, for instance:

stop subsidizing corn production;

fund and promote public transportation;

tax sugar-sweetened beverages;

restrict food advertising targeted at children (or anyone, for that matter);

to name a few.

Are any of the actions above going to happen because of one research article?  No.  But it’s worth noting that as we learn more about the science of body weight and its relation to our health, we may find that more players are involved, giving us more options for promoting health and wellness in many ways.  Hey, an aspiring to be fit feminist can dream, can’t she?

a girl in tones of blue and silver, sitting on a cloud, gazing at a blue-gray hazy mountain top and sky.

a girl in tones of blue and silver, sitting on a cloud, gazing at a blue-gray hazy mountain top and sky.

 

 

 

 

Late breaking FFI news: episode 658 of “Don’t believe the headlines”

Breaking News logo

We at the Fit is a Feminist Issue news desk are committed to bringing you up-to-the-minute news, commentary and perspective on a variety of topics– no matter the day, no matter the hour.

So when co-editor-in-chief Samantha FB messaged me to get on this story, I got straight to it (after eating my dinner, that is; you can’t do good investigative journalism on an empty stomach).

The story is– what are we to make of the mainstream news stories claiming that “Fat but fit is a big fat myth”?  This was the headline of a BBC article, out today.  What’s the deal?

Here’s the upshot: At this year’s European conference on obesity, researchers from the University of Birmingham gave a paper suggesting that the notion that people could be obese, metabolically healthy, and therefore not at increased risk of heart disease and diabetes is false.

This reporter will dig into more detail for Sunday’s blog post, but for now, I’ll tell you what the news article says, and then what questions I have (as an academic who researches and writes about this medical and scientific literature).

First, here’s what an article by the Guardian has to say about the new study (which is not even in article form, much less submitted, much less reviewed, much less accepted for publication, much less published):

Several studies in the past have suggested that the idea of “metabolically healthy” obese individuals is an illusion, but they have been smaller than this one. The new study, from the University of Birmingham, involved 3.5 million people, approximately 61,000 of whom developed coronary heart disease…

The scientists examined electronic health records from 1995 to 2015 in the Health Improvement Network – a large UK general practice database. They found records for 3.5 million people who were free of coronary heart disease at the starting point of the study and divided them into groups according to their BMI and whether they had diabetes, high blood pressure [hypertension], and abnormal blood fats [hyperlipidemia], which are all classed as metabolic abnormalities. Anyone who had none of those was classed as “metabolically healthy obese”.

The study found that those obese individuals who appeared healthy in fact had a 50% higher risk of coronary heart disease than people who were of normal weight. They had a 7% increased risk of cerebrovascular disease – problems affecting the blood supply to the brain – which can cause a stroke, and double the risk of heart failure.

The article then goes on to foment panic among health care providers and consumers.  Well, I think the tone is a little frantic.  See what you think:

Susannah Brown, senior scientist at World Cancer Research Fund, said the study’s finding, “emphasise the urgent need to take the obesity epidemic seriously.

“As well as increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease, being overweight or obese can increase your risk of 11 common cancers, including prostate and liver. If everyone were a healthy weight, around 25,000 cases of cancer could be prevented in the UK each year.”

Right.  Now, let’s all take a deep breath.  As some of you know, I’ve posted often about how real science is complicated, so we should not take sensationalist news headlines as telling the truth about new, or controversial, or counter-intuitive, or nuanced research results.  So here are some questions I have:

When the researchers talk about increased risk that people with BMIs over 30 have for various illnesses, are they showing statistically significant increases or clinically significant increases?   What I mean here is this:  a researcher can find a shift in risk that ends up being irrelevant to the real-life clinical likelihood of developing particular conditions (this is complicated but important).  We don’t know, as there is no paper yet.

What sorts of risk profiles did the researchers find for people with BMIs under 25? under 20?  When one peers at the fine print in the data tables in medical and epidemiology papers (as I am wont to do), one finds interesting and potentially reportable risks for folks who are co-called underweight–  BMI under 18.5.  Are there increased risks in those groups?  Are they comparable to the risks in the BMI> 25 and >30 groups? We don’t know.

What about the same BMI in different age groups?  How do those risks vary over the life trajectory?  It turns out that at various life stages, different BMI groups have very different risk profiles for medical conditions and death due to medical conditions.  For instance, men in their 50s with BMIs <18.5 have a pretty high all-cause mortality risk (generally from cancer).  We don’t know anything about this yet.

Then there’s how they defined their terms.  Sounds pedantic (and yeah, it is, but this is my job), but it’s important to know very precisely how the researchers defined metabolically healthy in terms of blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar (e.g. Hemoglobin A1c), and then what clinical end points (that is, records of diseases people in the study ended up having) or surrogate end points (e.g. blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar) they used.

And last (until Sunday; consider yourself warned): it seems to me (and lots of scientists agree) that the jury is out, sooooo out, on a clear understanding of the ways in which both genetic and environmental determinants of human metabolic processes contribute to body weight change and maintenance.  Topics currently being investigated include:

  • the role of body fat
  • the role of body shape
  • the role of abdominal fat
  • the role of visceral vs. subcutaneous fat
  • how visceral fat and trigliceride levels interact
  • the role of body weight variation over the life trajectory
  • what science and medicine can do about the body weight of the population (since so far medicine has come up with nothing effective other than gastric bypass, which has its own problem)
  • And much much more.

One last comment: the standard view in medicine and medical research is that having  a BMI over 25 is bad for people, and a BMI over 30 is much worse (and don’t even get me started on over 35, over 40, etc.) Studies and articles that have come out challenging that assumption have been pilloried by a lot of public health and medical experts.  But, like any scientific paradigm, there’s research on the edges, and sometimes that research gives rise to a new paradigm.  I don’t know if we’re on the way to a new paradigm, but I know that the current paradigm has left a lot of important and foundational questions unanswered.  Of course, that doesn’t make for good headlines.

Three women reading the newspaper with shocked looks.

Three women reading the newspaper with shocked looks.

 

On gaining eight pounds and hating it: A rant in two voices

TW: This is a rant in two voices. It began when Cate and I started commiserating at spin class about our unexpected winter weight gain. We don’t do much other than complain. There’s no weight loss tips here. But if complaining about weight gain makes you sad, frustrated, angry, then please look away. We’ll be back to our regular body positive programming when the sun comes out, it stops raining, and we can stop being so grumpy.



Cate and I have lots of things in common. We both have PhDs. We’re both 52 years old. We do things together, like the bike rally, canoe trips, and the Music for Lesbians concert. We have friends in common, some who blog here and others too. We share a fitness activity that’s central to both of our lives, cycling. We both ride with a sense of adventure, though Cate’s more independent and ridden in more countries. I’ve raced and ridden faster I think though I know she’s ridden further. Oh, and on the bike rally we joked about being the “old ladies.’ No parties on our camp site. We were in our tents lights out by 10.

We’re both women menopause seems to have forgotten. But perimenopause, it’s here and making us grumpy.

This year we have one more thing in common. We both gained 8 lbs over the winter doing pretty much the same things we’ve always done. We both hate it. And we both hate that we hate it. We’re grumpy.

That about get it right, Cate?

I’m blaming Trump. You?

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Cate: LOL — I so want to blame Trump. And I did read that that is a thing. Even Barbra Streisand apparently blamed Trump for her weight gain.

And I think there is some truth to the sense that this winter has been kind of bruising and disorienting on a political front — and that does make me curl up on my couch and make my own blizzards with fancy ice cream and girl guide cookies, or invite people over for comfort food.

But I have had a tendency to comfort food for a long time, and I’m not eating that differently than I have been for the last 10 years. And people have been warning me forever — “your metabolism will change when you’re over 50” — and I didn’t want it to be true. And bam, almost overnight, true. I run way more slowly, and the scale has just crept up in sneaky ways to a number that I haven’t seen since before I quit smoking and took up fitness when I was 29. And it makes me feel like my body has betrayed me. And add a dose of the raging PMS I now get and I’m just ANGRY. You got an earful of that when we went spinning together on Tuesday.

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Sam: It’s not just the weight gain though that’s the visible thing you can see. For me it’s also needing more sleep, taking longer to get well after I’ve been sick, heartburn (that’s new and awful), not responding well to stress, and crying. It’s like everything has slowed down and gotten sad. And yes my metabolism is part of that.

Like you I haven’t been eating differently. I’ve been working out. Those things haven’t changed but my bodies response has. It kind of looks at the good food and the workouts and goes “meh.” I’m at a loss for what to change really. In a way, eight pounds, who cares? But a) it’s a trend I’m worried about and b) I’m already over the recommended weight for the race wheels for my bike.

I broke a spoke the other day and the bike mechanic helpfully suggested sturdier, heavier wheels. I didn’t swear in the shop but I did in the car. He’s right of course. I swapped wheels. But I’m not happy about it.

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Cate: It’s all tangled up for me with the invisibility thing we’ve been talking about.  I’m very short; even 5 lbs is a significant difference to me and I have a fear of looking like this high school teacher I had who was quite round and short and tottered around on high heels to try to offset it.  I don’t want to look like Mrs G!  I want to look strong and athletic and *vital*.  And even when I know I can Do Things, it all makes me feel Not Vital.  And that’s what I’m trying to make sense of.

We were talking about how the dominant advice is always “eat less, move more.”  We both move a LOT now, especially for people whose jobs are about conversations and sharing what’s in our heads.  It feels like I have to undertake a massive revolution in how I eat, and I don’t want to be that person — I want to be the person who can eat fries if I feel like it.  I RESENT IT!

What are we going to do?

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Sam: I agree with you. We can’t be people who never eat fries!

But the visibility thing is tough. For both of us, it’s being seen as who we are, athletic women. I had someone offer me their seat on the subway the other day and I thought, “Really! Do I look like I need your seat? I am the oldest person on this train? What?”

I realized he was likely just being polite in a gendered, chivalrous way (I was wearing a skirt) and so I thanked him and took his seat.

And some of the time I’m happy to be the person who blows other peoples’ stereotypes out of the water. I love passing people on my bike. Moving the weight up rather than down on the lat pull down machine at the Y.

But I also want people to see me, to recognize who I am.

I hate it when someone says I should get off the bus a stop early to you know, add more movement to my life. HAVE YOU LOOKED AT MY GARMIN FILES? Oh nevermind.

So what?

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Cate:  We keep riding.  And maybe think a bit more about the fries?

Sam: And we’re definitely not getting these for our bikes!