Does Obesity Research Offer New Excuses to Keep Us Fat?

As the general manager of a science-based commercial weight management service ( as opposed to a gimmicky marketing-based diet company) I am kept up-to-date on the latest scientific research that helps to solve the puzzle that is how to achieve sustainable weight management.dreamstime_s_27516699

 I shared some of that research in my blogs, 5 Things That Might Cause Obesity That Aren’t Your Fault, and Can Sleep Deprivation Be a Factor in Obesity? 
In a comment to the blog about sleep deprivation, a reader opined with the following:
     “Its interesting to me that so much effort is put in by scientists to figure out what can potentially cause obesity in some individuals, yet the end result, or cure is about as un-scientific as you can get–proper diet and exercise. Why is so much effort put in to find the cause or blame when the solution is so simple? Sleep habits, snacking late, or whatever little chemical is found in the depths of our bowels may play a part in our ability to lose weight at a faster/slower rate than someone else doing the same thing, but the ‘cure’ will always be the same thing–diet and exercise.Many of your blogs are about being in a good state of mind when losing weight and dieting. How are scientists (and blogs on this topic) helping this cause by finding more things to blame? Some people struggling with weight loss or even the thought of it will play the blame game. So this just adds more fuel to the fire. Oh my job only lets me get 5 hours of sleep a night, that’s why I am fat. Or, well I guess my ghrelin and leptin levels are off, so what’s the point of dieting when I have a hormone imbalance with no cure in sight?Scientists are figuring out that chemical imbalances may play a part in obesity for some people. Of course that makes sense as we all have different bodies and its quite obvious that everybody has a different metabolism. Some people can sleep 5 hours, eat right up until they go to bed, and never gain a pound. Others seem to just eat a sliver of cake and immediately put on a few pounds. But what does it matter if we can pinpoint these specific little chemicals or hormones as the reason why some people have a hard time losing weight? So maybe we get a pill in a few years that will boost our metabolism or balance the hormones in our bodies that tell us we are hungry and full, the true cure to being overweight still remains to be the same thing and the most basic cause for being overweight is still the same–the person is consuming too many calories in comparison to what they burn off for their body and that person needs to find the right balance for themselves.”
     In response to my blog, Why Are So Many Nurses So Fat? the same reader has this to say:
     “This is where I have a hard time agreeing with you on some points. I understand, shift work is intense and demanding and lack of sleep goes hand in hand with it, but blaming that on weight gain is just an excuse. No, I’ve never worked shifts, but for the last 3 months, my newborn daughter has ensured that I never get more than 4 straight hours of sleep, and I am lucky to get 6 hours in total. Yet, in these last 3 months, I have not gained a single pound, in fact I’ve lost a little. How? I make the time to exercise. It means rather than sitting on the couch for an hour after the little one has gone down at night, my wife and I get everything ready for the next morning so I can get up at 5:30 and go for a run and still have time to do the daily routine of getting ready for work. I prepare breakfast for me and my wife so we aren’t enticed to swing into Dunkin’ to grab a sugar filled coffee and fat infused breakfast sandwich. We both pack our own lunches where we can balance our intake of carbs, fruits, and vegetables so we don’t end up going to some fast food spot for lunch. And I usually have a baby in my arms while I prepare a healthy, homemade meal so my wife can take 30 minutes and do her exercise routine before dinner. Using your job as an excuse is just that, an excuse. We could just as easily give up and not care about or health and blame the baby and our lack of sleep for gaining weight, but we don’t give up. A job its not the reason that a person is overweight, its a very easy thing to pass the blame onto over the reality that its a combination of some bad habits and poor choices they are making about their own health and well-being. Lack of sleep might play a small part, but the bigger issue is more than likely their eating habits and lack of exercise.”
On one level we agree with each other. Weight management does take attention to diet and exercise.
There is absolutely no getting around that. Even if weight loss efforts are aided by prescription weight loss medications or weight loss surgery, if attention is not paid to diet and exercise the results will be fleeting, if any real progress is made at all.
On a different level, it appears that he thinks finding factors that contribute to obesity won’t aid in the management. It seems as though he thinks it will only discourage and provide a handy excuse. I disagree.
Our environment has evolved into what some obesity experts describe as “obesogenic.”
Today we live in an obesogenic environment. We are surrounded by cues to eat highly palatable foods processed with added fats and sugars, and go through our days mostly sedentary.

Today we live in an obesogenic environment. We are surrounded by cues to eat highly palatable foods processed with added fats and sugars, and go through our days mostly sedentary.

That means that we are surrounded by highly palatable food and messages to eat constantly.

All of the food/eating cues combined with all of the labor-saving devices and sedentary forms of entertainment available to us today make it easy to take in more calories than our bodies need for fuel.

The environment affects different people in different ways.

Some people are influenced to make poor eating and exercising choices and others make better choices regardless of their environment. It’s not unlike how some people can handle alcohol and others cannot.dreamstime_s_40432505

I have worked with people who are deeply committed to losing weight.
They know their health would improve. They know their weight makes it hard for them to enjoy simple pleasures in life. They have difficulty breathing, sleeping and movement is painful. They are strong-willed, smart, people who are highly successful in most aspects of their lives, but they can’t stick to their weight loss plan.
When they stray from their weight loss plan they beat themselves up.
They make it even harder on themselves rather than give themselves supportive messages that would pick them up and get them going again. I’m not talking about excuses; I’m talking about a genuine loss of faith in their ability to be in charge of their weight. They aren’t saying, “I don’t really want to lose weight and I need an excuse to allow me to stay fat.” They’re saying, “I’ve given my best effort to weight loss and I am physically unable to do it.”
They aren’t looking for excuses.
They are searching for answers. Understanding what drives their eating patterns could provide the solution. Imagine how frustrating it must be to know that you have eaten a healthful, balanced, satisfying meal less than an hour ago but you are feeling deep, physical hunger signals. On a rational level you know you shouldn’t be hungry, but on a physical level your body insists that you are. Sheer willpower may not be enough to ignore the urge to eat.dreamstime_s_40253651
Imagine if you knew that hunger and satiety hormones are affected by lack of sleep.
What if you got to bed late and were up early because you “have so much to do and so many people counting on you,” and you lived by the motto, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”? Knowing that too little sleep is the root of your inability to manage your eating could make you understand the need to manage – not your eating better – but your sleeping patterns.
This knowledge may give you the motivation to say, “no,” to some of the demands on your time.
You could make sleep a priority around which your other activities must fit, rather than the other way around.  Getting the sleep your body needs could help you control the cravings to eat. In addition to normalizing your hunger hormones by getting more sleep you could also use Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) to promote your weight loss behaviors by changing your self-talk habits.dreamstime_s_27515464
Not everybody who fails to make progress with weight management is lacking willpower and moral character.
Those who are, already have plenty of excuses available for their failure to lose weight. Yes, I suppose obesity research can give them some fresh excuses, but for those who are committed to making progress, obesity research gives them answers.

Losing weight doesn't make one "good" any more than being fat makes one "bad."

Losing weight doesn’t make one “good” any more than being fat makes one “bad.”

I’m all for whatever can help somebody make healthful changes in their eating and exercising habits, even and especially including obesity research!
Jackie Conn

About Jackie Conn

Jackie Conn is the general manager of Weight Watchers of Maine. She is married and has four grown daughters and four grandchildren. Her experience with her own weight management journey and raising girls has given her insight into the struggles families face with weight, healthy body image, food and physical activity. She has been a regular guest on Channel 5 WABI news for more than ten years and appears monthly as a guest on FOX network morning program Good Day Maine.