Fat, Antifat and Paradigm Shifts

I was reading an old entry in Chris Shugart’s blog and I came across this comment from “The Dmachine”:

The western attitude to fat people is disgusting. We seem to think we have to pamper the fatties and hide the truth, while the fat people lie to themselves.

Here in Asia some people think I’m fat seeing as I’m about twice the size of the average Japanese dude, and Asians truly have super low body fat. But the nice thing is here in China if someone thinks Im fat they will straight out say you’re a little fat, they don’t pussy foot around the issue. And then of course I will explain that my chest is infact muscle and not fat…

Pudgy Chinese people come straightforward and admit that they are fat. And I believe this is a good thing. They look at being fat as a choice, and fat people choose to eat alot and be lazy. As long as being fat is a choice then people can always choose to become thin.

In the west we look at being fat as some sort of a disease, or a curse from God, whatever it may be. We feel we have to tipy toe around the issue in order to protect those inflicted with the ailment. But infact what we are doing is dis-empowering those who are over weight!!!

Now, I have no idea if this is an accurate description of Chinese behavior in this regard, but if it is I have to agree. For some reason people have this idea that being fat, or lazy, or even having a mental illness is some sort of abstract moral failing or fate instead of what it truly is, a biological phenomena with naturalistic origins.

I blame this on the Puritanical origins of this country, but I’m no historian or sociologist, so I can only speculate. I do know, however, from observing people that they treat a myriad of problems as intangible bogeymen instead of the surmountable problems they are. After all, if the problem occurs in a biological system, it’s a biological phenomena and it must have a biological origin. (Hopefully I can take credit for this little axiom, namely that biological phenomena have biological origins.)

For example, we think about nature versus nurture, but it’s really just a problem of “nature”, because our biology dictates our response to environmental stimuli. For example, we know that enriched environments result in higher cognitive performance (I’m thinking of a rat study here, I believe), but why does this happen? Does the environment just have some magical, direct effect on behavior, emotions and cognitions? No, there is a biological mechanism, namely the development of horizontal connections between neurons in cortical areas, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is one of developing a rational, naturalistic, causal world view in order to solve problems rather than be subjected to them. I believe our students of the history of science would recognize these as competing Kuhnian (Kuhnesque?) paradigms.

What does this have to do with being fat? Well, by not recognizing human obesity as a distinct physiological phenomena with social and psychological correlates all stemming from evolutionary biology we can develop a fatalist culture of victimization. This is why you’ll hear “It’s not fair”, “I’ve tried everything”, “This is just how I’m meant to be” and “I’ve just got bad genetics” from obese people. These are all recognitions of predestination rather than looking for solutions.

Hold on! Wouldn’t my entire argument hinge on the validity of the last one, the argument of genetics? Yes and no. Just because your genotype causes you to balloon up on the same diet and behaviors that other people stay lean and mean on, doesn’t mean there’s no way for you to be lean and mean, just that that wasn’t the way for you.

For example, the classic “I’ve tried everything!” can be boiled down to only a few possible situations:

  1. You didn’t do any of the things you’ve tried correctly, which is why they didn’t work.
  2. The things you’ve tried simply weren’t the right things for you or were generally ineffective (Think fad diets here, or the fact that some people just don’t respond well to otherwise fine diets/programs.)
  3. You have a medical condition that is interfering with your progress.
  4. You really are an anomaly and simply cannot change your body composition through conventional means.

In the first case, you just need to buckle down and give an honest effort at a reasonable regimen. In the second, you just need some help finding what a reasonable plan is, or need to keep experimenting so you can find the one for you. in the third case you need medical intervention. This is part of the reason that everyone should get regular checkups and see a doctor when they’re starting a weight loss plan. These items are arranged from what I believe are the most common to least common causes, so the fourth point is by far the least likely. Even in this case, however, there are things you can do. It might take a great deal of personal research and cunning combined with an appropriately open minded medical professional, but surgery, drugs or other methods may be out there, untapped. I don’t really believe any problem is beyond a solution, some of the solutions just aren’t known to us right now. It’s largely moot anyway, as if I had to guess I would say the number of people to whom this actually applies is probably infinitesimally small, on the order of only hundreds or thousands of the billions of people on Earth.

Generalizing, I suggest we each use, as individuals, a more scientific method to attack! obesity. Here’s an algorithm to help:

  1. Acknowledge that obesity is a phenomena of our biology and that knowledge of our biology will give us tools to beat it.
  2. Collect honest data. This means keep a food log. Keep a training log. Keep a daily diary, dream diary, bowel movement log, whatever it takes. I would track the fewest variables that you can and still have a useful model. I would suggest starting with weight, waist, calories, carbs, protein and fat.
  3. Analyze the data. Are you fatter than holy hell? This should be apparent in your data. You probably already know this from having to live in your own body.
  4. Change something and continue to collect data.
  5. Analyze the data again. Data don’t lie. If you started out eating 4000kcals per day and not doing any exercise, track your variables for a few weeks and find you’re even fatter than before, you know something is wrong.
  6. Change something again and continue to collect data. In point 5, maybe you’re totally clueless, so you say “4000 kcals wasn’t enough so I must need more to lose fat.” You bump up to 4500kcals and keep everything else constant.
  7. Repeat steps 2-6 indefinitely. From point 6, if you find you get even fatter from increasing your energy intake you can probably figure out you should move it the other way.

Now, after that is where it gets tricky. What if you do this, honestly and correctly and can’t lose weight? Well, you need to add another variable then. This comes from statistics; if none of your predictor variables are modeling your result, there either is no correlation or the correlation exists with something you’re not tracking. Since, I’ve already suggested I believe a relationship must exist, this leaves the one option. Just add one at a time. Maybe you think you’re not drinking enough water, so you add more water. You track that for a while and if that doesn’t do anything, maybe you add another variable. You can just keep doing this over and over until you get it right. You will get it right eventually. You can take some shortcuts by taking good advice and listening to the experience of people that have done this before you, but it’s not necessary.

I sincerely hope we can all use this to interject a little more reason into our decision making. With any luck this blog entry will singlehandedly solve the entire world’s obesity epidemic. One can dream…

I wanted to finish with a quote I supposed was from Carolus Linnaeus, but I couldn’t find it. It was something to the effect of “Science has only begun when you begin measuring.” If anyone knows what I’m talking about, comment, until then enjoy this little gem:

The source of man’s unhappiness is his ignorance of Nature. – Paul-Henri Thiry, baron d’Holbach

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Fat, Antifat and Paradigm Shifts

2 thoughts on “Fat, Antifat and Paradigm Shifts

  1. Thanks for linking us!!!! http://www.unfatblog.com and http://www.myfatspouse.com are doing battle daily with the crazy PC myths about obesity.

    I’m was a late comer to the concept of bodybuilding. I was 32 before I picked up my first bar bell. Jeeze it made a big difference. I continue to promote T-nation and the idea of muscle building to members of both sites.

    I welcome you to the “Fat Acceptance” movement resistance. The FAT people have become a majority, the rest of us HAVE TO STICK TOGETHER!!!

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