Monday, January 2, 2012

Diet and Exercise for the New Year

Since it's the new year, time for some quick diet links:

Our preoccupation with dieting has become a national neurosis (The Guardian):
The ancient Greeks knew that slimming down was a question of time and moderation – and of wrestling, avoiding sex, walking around naked, and vomiting after lunch. For early Christians, gluttony, written on the body in flesh, acquired the status of a deadly sin – and we have been feeling guilty ever since. If we look back over the centuries, it's obvious that much of the dieting industry has ruthlessly exploited our shame. It has promoted fraudulent ideas and useless, sometimes dangerous, products.

As well as the ever-present diet books – dating back to the 16th century – all written with a sense of urgency that mimics the anticipation of satisfaction, it has sold us some mad and faddish anti-fat "cures". The Edwardian craze of Fletcherism had everyone, including Kafka, endlessly masticating (700 chews for a shallot). Both men and women began wearing skin-macerating rubber knickers and bought diet drugs that contained anything from arsenic to thyroid extract, or a cocktail of carcinogens. In the 1920s there were Bile Beans, laxatives with an extra bite that prevented your body absorbing fat – just like today's Alli with its colourful, oily side-effects that stop you straying too far from the lav. By the 1950s, cigarettes were laced with appetite suppressants.

Over the last century, our preoccupation with dieting has grown into a national neurosis, according to some psychiatrists. We have a common aversion to fat – an aesthetic distaste, not to be confused with concerns about health, though the two are often conflated so that all and any fat is seen as a bad thing – and a multimillion-pound slimming industry to go with it.

Yet fast fad diets are little better than useless. They do the biggest business and arguably the greatest harm. Initially, you might lose 5% to 10% of your weight if you try one, but it almost always piles back on. And yo-yo dieting is a Faustian bargain: the whole enterprise gets more and more difficult, so that repeat dieters find they have to eat less and for longer to lose the same number of pounds. All Big Diet Ideas come with a pricey built-in failure rate, paving the way for the Next Big Diet Idea.

When science tells us that our body's basic instinct to store fat is stronger than our sexual instinct, you appreciate that dieting is a much more complex process than it might seem. And with up to one third of all men and women in the western world thought to be overweight and, unsurprisingly, twice as many believe themselves to be so, the diet industry is sitting pretty.
Does Running Make You Fat? (The Independent):
The idea that exercise, and running in particular, will lead to weight loss, is a common misconception. I have been running for years. Net weight loss: zero. When I ran a marathon, under the extremely naive apprehension I would cross the finish line looking like Paula Radcliffe, I put on weight. At the time, this seemed astonishing. In fact, it is quite common. This is partly because muscle is denser than fat. But there is also a more subtle connection. Getting up at 6am for long runs demands an increase in calorie intake. My response? Two breakfasts, minimum, and then protein-based snacks before and after runs. Ah yes, and the cake.

"It is possible to lose weight with dietary changes alone," explains Laura Clark, a registered dietician with the British Dietetic Association, "but to lose weight just through exercising is very difficult. You would have to exercise at high intensity for three to four hours or more a week, and not many people can fit that in."
The Fat Trap (New York Times):
While researchers have known for decades that the body undergoes various metabolic and hormonal changes while it’s losing weight, the Australian team detected something new. A full year after significant weight loss, these men and women remained in what could be described as a biologically altered state. Their still-plump bodies were acting as if they were starving and were working overtime to regain the pounds they lost. For instance, a gastric hormone called ghrelin, often dubbed the “hunger hormone,” was about 20 percent higher than at the start of the study. Another hormone associated with suppressing hunger, peptide YY, was also abnormally low. Levels of leptin, a hormone that suppresses hunger and increases metabolism, also remained lower than expected. A cocktail of other hormones associated with hunger and metabolism all remained significantly changed compared to pre-dieting levels. It was almost as if weight loss had put their bodies into a unique metabolic state, a sort of post-dieting syndrome that set them apart from people who hadn’t tried to lose weight in the first place.

“What we see here is a coordinated defense mechanism with multiple components all directed toward making us put on weight,” Proietto says. “This, I think, explains the high failure rate in obesity treatment.”

While the findings from Proietto and colleagues, published this fall in The New England Journal of Medicine, are not conclusive — the study was small and the findings need to be replicated — the research has nonetheless caused a stir in the weight-loss community, adding to a growing body of evidence that challenges conventional thinking about obesity, weight loss and willpower. For years, the advice to the overweight and obese has been that we simply need to eat less and exercise more. While there is truth to this guidance, it fails to take into account that the human body continues to fight against weight loss long after dieting has stopped. This translates into a sobering reality: once we become fat, most of us, despite our best efforts, will probably stay fat.
Was Lord Byron the first celebrity dieter? (BBC)
The "mad, bad, and dangerous to know" Lord Byron was thought of as the embodiment of the ethereal poet, but he actually had a "morbid propensity to fatten". Like today's celebrities, he worked hard to maintain his figure.

At Cambridge University, his horror of being fat led to a shockingly strict diet, partly to get thin and partly to keep his mind sharp. Existing on biscuits and soda water or potatoes drenched in vinegar, he wore woolly layers to sweat off the pounds and measured himself obsessively. Then he binged on huge meals, finishing off with a necessarily large dose of magnesia.

In 1806 Byron weighed 13st 12lbs (88kg), but he was under 9st by 1811 (57kg) - a huge weight loss of nearly 5st (32kg). We know all this from records at Berry Bros & Rudd, a wine merchants of St James's, London.

Here, stylish men-about-town weighed themselves on hanging scales, as personal bathroom scales were an early 20th Century phenomenon. The Regency dandy, Beau Brummell, weighed himself there over 40 times between 1815 and 1822. He went down from 12st 10lbs (81kg) to 10st 13lbs (69kg).

At the infamous Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva, in 1816, Byron was living on just a thin slice of bread and a cup of tea for breakfast and a light vegetable dinner with a bottle or two of seltzer water tinged with Vin de Grave. In the evening he stretched to a cup of green tea, but certainly took no milk or sugar.

To suppress the inevitable hunger pangs, he smoked cigars. By 1822, he had starved himself into a very poor state of health, even though he knew that obsessive dieting was "the cause of more than half our maladies".

Because of Byron's huge cultural influence, there was a great deal of worry about the effect his dieting was having on the youth of the day. Dr George Beard attacked the popular Victorian association between scanty eating and delicacy of mind because impressionable Romantics were restricting themselves to vinegar and rice to get the fashionably thin and pale look.

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