Extreme Weight Loss: the show exposed something seldom talked about
I just happened to turn on the TV and the ABC “Extreme Weight Loss” show was on, I just kept watching because something grabbed my attention. There was this juicy drama there, a struggle and a obesity issue that I find so important. So many people suffer from obesity and the worst part is that there is little understanding of this condition. It usually all boils down to “you eat too much and are too lazy” but there is a lot more to this story, read on.
This episode is about Cassie’s story, who was physically fit throughout her childhood and adolescence, became pregnant at age 21, ultimately making the heart wrenching decision to give her son up for adoption. The decision have caused her tremendous stress for the past 18 years causing her to lose control over her life and becoming 200 pounds overweight in the process. She wants to see her son but is ashamed and embarrassed to do so because she is now 347 Pounds. The show has value and there are many positive points it brings: from self motivation, to achieving a goal but when it comes to understanding obesity; there’s something amiss.
The hour long show is about the life transformation she will endure to achieve normal weight in a year’s time. The challenge is to lose about 40% of her present 347 pounds, a whopping 170 pounds. The show is also about the story of how she has dealt with her struggles and fears, marriage problems and regrets about giving her son up for adoption. The story weaves these emotional problems with the causes of her obesity and her success dependent on how she faces fights them. To a point stress and emotions has links to her obesity and stress can cause all kinds of illnesses including obesity; the elimination of stress can only help here but there might be more to this problem.
What made Cassie obese was much more then just stress. She did achieve her goal of 170 pounds with hard work, exercise and dietary changes (and also the whole ABC team behind her trying to finish the show, that’s no small fries) but did she get rid of the problem? Will she be able to maintain her 170 pounds without gaining all back? Did we address the heart of the question which is: why was Cassie became obese in the first place? I think too often and too quickly we focus on the guilt process when it comes to obesity but neglect the science. This is so unfair. I believe there is a lot more to obesity than just being lazy. My fear is that Cassie could relapse if the core of the problem is not understood.
Stories of people who lost a lot of weight by insanely rigorous workout just to gain all back a few months later are just too common. Why is so easy to just gain it all back? Something is telling us that there is more to this story then just being lazy. There is a metabolic issue or a biochemical drive which is part of this equation that is not being addressed. Most people will gain all the weight back not matter how hard they work out. Maybe we don’t understand how to change this but we first need to understand the hormonal pathways which create this insane drive for us to eat more until they become obese. For thousands of years we had hormonal regulation which controlled how much we ate and how we felt about food but this is beginning to change. Enter Leptin.
The hormonal connection: Leptin
Leptin is relatively new discovered hormone which plays a major role on how we perceive hunger or sentience. Leptin originate in the fat and its job is to tell the brain that we are full and happy, or hungry and lousy. When we are full and happy we don’t feel hungry and we are ready to spend energy and we fell energetic and good; when we’re hungry we feel lousy and the brain sends a signal for you to not spend any energy (the lazy state). However when you have a lot of fat you also have a lot of leptin and the problem with that is that it creates a condition called “leptin resistance” and leptin no longer do its work. No one knows the causes of leptin resistance but there are clues. How come leptin used to work 30 years ago and doesn’t work today? No one knows exactly. The most significant findings however points out to another hormone: Insulin. The probable cause is that excess insulin blocks the action of leptin in the brain making you feel hungry and lousy. Excess insulin also produces more fat; more fat produces more leptin; more leptin leads to leptin resistance which leads to more eating, we have now a perfect vicious circle. But why all of a sudden we have all this extra insulin?
Too much insulin
So too much insulin not only causes insulin resistance (which is the precursor of diabetes) but it also may block leptin’s action to the brain. How we end up with so much insulin? First of all Insulin does not know your energy needs necessarily; insulin is produced by a response to how much glucose is sensed by the pancreas. If more insulin is released it just goes to work, first off it shunts a portion of extra glucose to fat. So ounce you consume foods with a high glycemic index an insulin spike occurs. This is the beginning of the cycle. The sequestration of glucose to fat send signals to the brain that you starving and didn’t eat enough and that’s why the feeling of tiredness and nonstop hunger. To add more insult to injury: enter our new industrialized food production and fast food.
Fast food and the insulin spikes
The problem is that we are consuming simple carbohydrates and sugars at an unprecedented rate. Food is available 24/7 in just about every place you go and people are consuming it nonstop. Fast food is not an American privilege anymore and now the whole world is adopting this lifestyle instead of their traditional ways and “slow foods”. To make matters worse 80% of all industrialized and packaged foods contain sugar. Not only we consume sugar in ice cream, candies, chocolate and deserts but we also consume sugar which is already added in every imaginable food item; without even knowing. There are several names given to sugar so it is harder to detect which foods contain added sugars. Then there is fructose corn syrup and soda, I’m not even going there. So what’s the problem with that? Insulin. Sugar is what create the insulin flood. The insulin levels are increasing in the general population in the last two decades. Sugar is what we crave because is like energy but because of our sedentary life we don’t burn it or need it and it just produces excess insulin initiating the cascade reaction I just mentioned. Now add stress and addiction to this and the plot just thickens.
Stress and addiction
Stress fuels our sugar consumption because we seek comfort by eating something pleasurable, something that releases dopamine in our brain; that in turn becomes an addictive process like any other. Addiction happens because your dopamine release in the brain is increased by the pleasure-reward pathway, with the flood of dopamin produced by this pathway, within a few weeks the receptors become also resistant reducing the pleasure thus requiring us to add more stimulants to increase dopamine, being that nicotine, alcohol or food, which now we eat more to keep the same dopamine release. With stress levels increasing, food consumption increasing, leptin resistance, insulin spikes and fat accumulation the body becomes overwhelmed and we no longer in control of a biological urge that is demanding from us around the clock. We think we can control it with our will power but it is not possible. We are changing our genetics and passing this biological changes to our offspring’s and babies are being born obese and they are not gluttons and sloughs.
There is no easy solution to this problem and anyone who is trying to lose weight knows that. They also might not be aware that it is not their fault. What is causing the problem is a much larger biological process that is happening to us due to changes in our food and living environments, how we eat and what we eat in the amounts we eat. This is a slow process which involves so many variables. This problem should be addressed in parts with small and incremental changes or at least a better understanding that is not our faults but our participation is very important.
For a complete education on obesity and its causes watch this video series from UCSF Robert H. Lustig an American pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco
The Skinny on Obesity
(Visit: http://www.uctv.tv) Millions have watched Dr. Robert Lustig’s YouTube videos on the role sugar plays in obesity. In this compilation of the popular YouTube series “The Skinny on Obesity,” Dr. Lustig and his UCSF colleagues dig deeper into the root causes of the obesity epidemic. Discover why what we eat is as important as how much we eat. Understand the effects of stress on obesity rates, and why some predict that the next generation will die younger than the current one due to obesity and the many health problems it causes.
- Leptin Signaling and Obesity: Cardiovascular Consequences
- Leptin and the Control of Body Weight: A Review of Its Diverse Central Targets, Signaling Mechanisms, and Role in the Pathogenesis of Obesity
- Evolution of Leptin Structure and Function
- The Function of Leptin in Nutrition, Weight, and Physiology
- Leptin, Gut, and Food Intake
- Leptin: The Satiety Hormone and its Influence on Obesity
- Relationship Between Insulin Sensitivity and Plasma Leptin Concentration in Lean and Obese Men
Image credit: flickr.com