Carving up the myths about fat
Nancy J. White (Toronto Living Reporter)
Toronto Star, section E
Tuesday August 7, 2007
Can't keep weight off? You just might not be wired for slimness. In Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss and The Myths and Realities of Dieting, Gina Kolata disputes supposed truths. The New York Times science writer spoke to the Star.
Q: Is it just lack of willpower that prevents people from losing weight?
A: No, decades of research all points in the same direction: each individual has a weight range of about 20 to 30 pounds dictated by our genes. It's almost impossible to go above or below. One researcher likened it to holding your breath. Eventually you can't, the urge is so strong.
Q: If it's genetic, why are people fatter these days?
A: Genes and the environment interact. Research shows that the genetic influence on weight is almost as strong as it is on height. Your genes give you your range. Whether you're at the top or bottom of it depends on your environment.
Q: So what in the environment is super-sizing us?
A: Nobody knows. People blame fast food. But McDonald's has been around since 1955. And look at old recipies - people ate a lot of fat and calories.
It's not clear it's our sedentary lifestyle, either. People used to laugh at runners. They didn't go to gyms.
Q: Kids today are more sedentary. Aren't they?
A: How do you know? What they do has changed. Instead of being on competitive sports teams, they played independently outside, but they weren't always moving. I sat for hours playing jacks or in the hammock. I watched television. Girls had no sports.
Q: How do you find your weight range?
A: Any dieter knows it. You get to a point where you can't sustain any more loss. Your metabolism shuts down not allowing it. Or at the other end, it speeds up, making gain difficult.
Q: Where does the push for thinness come from?
A: Dieters say they're worried about their health. They also say they have to look good. The fashion and beauty industry push a standard nobody can achieve.
Q: How unhealthy is it to be fat?
A: Scientists have found that very low weight and very high weight increase mortality risks. It's not dramatic until you get to those ends.
Q: You quote a researcher on the "moral panic of obesity". What does that mean?
A: It's the root of all evil. Everything's wrong in society because of those "fat slobs". You can't express overt prejustice about the poor or minorities but you can about fat people. It's the last allowed prejudice.
Q: Are you anti-diet?
A: I'm anti-hating yourself. There are lots of reasons to diet if you understand your goals and limits. There are biological limits to how much you can lose just as there are to how fast you can run. We seem to accept it in other areas of life.