In another forum recently a wide-ranging debate took place about the obesity epidemic and how best to tackle it. Two sides seemed to naturally form:
- Those who thought that there was some magical, apparently misunderstood element to the current obesity rates in western countries like the US, UK and Australia, and;
- Those who thought that it was a simple matter of too much food and too little movement and exercise -- the basic energy in, energy out argument.
I must admit to being in the second camp. I've no doubt that at body mass indexes beyond BMI 30, normal hormonal control of appetite and satiety tends to break down; there is plenty of evidence for this. But ultimately, it still comes down to the first law of thermodynamics, which says that energy is neither created nor destroyed, but can change from one form to another. This means there is no magic in weight loss when it comes down to basic physics. Eat less, move more, lose weight. That's the mantra.
Some weight loss 'experts' like the idea of set-point theory, which says that the body, over time, develops autonomous self-regulation of existing weight and that it adjusts metabolism to maintain that mass even though you try to adjust the energy in and out parameters. My feeling is that even if this is so, a determined approach, probably over months and perhaps even years, can reset this point. Exercise, with weight training an essential part, is going to be a fundamental tool in achieving this -- for several reasons.
In the morbidly obese with BMIs trending over 30, losing weight gets to be a real problem, because sufficient movement becomes difficult and the dysregulation of hormones like insulin, glucagon, leptin, ghrelin, and adiponectin destroy appetite control. Many of these people should be diagnosed with serious illness and be under medical supervision and treatment. For the under 30 BMIs, there should be more optimism.
The catabolic dilemma. When you cut calories seriously, as a general rule, you lose not only fat but muscle and bone as well -- and your metabolism tends to slow. Contrary to expectation, obese people tend to have higher metabolisms. The trick is to maintain those high rates while you lose weight. This is why weight training needs to be an essential part of a weight-loss program. You should avoid very-low calorie diets without exercise because they cause the yoyo phenomenon of weight loss and weight gain. And there are scientific studies to show that a more rational approach with calorie restriction plus exercise and weight training can help maintain muscle, metabolism and bone while you lose fat.
Some people don't like gyms. Fair enough, but you can set up a great weight training workout at home with a set of dumbbells and little more than a chair or specialist bench.
It's all been said many times before in other forums, but the type of diet or diets in general -- low-carb, low-fat or anything else -- should not be a dominant feature of weight loss programs. Lifestyle change is the key, but the underlying approach is to eat less and exercise and move more -- and do some weight training. Check out Beginners Fat Loss.