Your Personal Vitamin Profile
Your Personal Vitamin Profile
by Dr. Michael Colgan
We live on a FATPOINT.
An unfortunate tiny few of us grow fat from glandular dysfunction or rare diseases. But the majority gain weight from overeating. Despite repeated dieting, they gradually lose the battle. To understand why, we need to remember the principles of biochemical individuality and physiological dynamics.
Because of biochemical individuality, people differ widely in their inherited capacity to accumulate fat through overeating. But the amount of fat gained is not preordained by the genes. This assumption is a common error of many old theories of fatness, 16 and even some variants of the recent “setpoint” theory.17 Such theories assume individuals are destined to be comfortable only at certain levels of fat fixed by inheritance, and that their bodies will drive them mercilessly to that level (the “setpoint”). Now, we know that neither the number of fat cells nor their size is fixed.18 What we inherit is different levels of tendencies to store fat. Whether we do or not depends on our lifestyle, not on any inborn urge to stuff.
From the principle of physiological dynamics, the body has no reference system for a fixed level of fat, only for a usual level. Form follows function for fat as well as muscle. When you get to adult weight and remain there for more than a year, the body develops all the enzyme systems, the new capillaries, the new peripheral nerves, the extra blood supply, the hormone levels, the muscles and the skeletal changes to accommodate that weight. These mechanisms constitute the body’s reference system, the checks and balances by which it maintains itself within narrow limits. Whatever amount of fat you maintain for a period of a year or more becomes the reference amount for the body’s defenses. The body constantly monitors these fat stores with hormonal messengers, such as glycerol, which flow in the bloodstream to the brain-monitoring system. The bloodstream level is exactly in proportion to the fat store. We call this the fatpoint.
The fatpoint is an implacable foe of dieters. The body defends its fat cells against invasion and deprivation just as it defends all its other cells. Whenever there is a sudden change, a crash diet, for example, as fat stores begin to be depleted, the body sets in motion all sorts of powerful mechanisms to return to its fatpoint.19 It reduces metabolism, burning calories more slowly, making you slow and drowsy. It restricts available glycogen use, making you weak and irritable. It increases digestive efficiency, grabbing every calorie that passes, making more calories bioavailable than normally. (Consequently, eating less food does not necessarily mean fewer bioavailable calories.) Finally, it sensitizes all the powerful mechanisms of eyes, nose, mouth and stomach to respond to the sight, smell, taste and bulk of food. Inevitably, the usual forms of dieting simply set you up for binging.
If you have been overweight for a year or more, your body demands to be kept at that fatpoint. So ordinary dieting just can’t work. Dr. Jeffrey Flier at Harvard, for example, found that twenty-three obese people lost a whopping average of 18 percent of body weight while on a supervised diet. But their enzyme levels correlated with their fatpoints. During the diet, enzyme levels remained almost unchanged, just waiting to put the fat back on again.20 So you can wire up your mouth, empty the fridge, and run a treadmill to exhaustion. Temporarily, you may lose twenty pounds a week. But all the body machinery is just waiting for your first good meal after the diet. All the enzymes are ready to convert every calorie to fat. All the capillaries, built over years to nourish fat stores, are waiting to grab every molecule. You can’t win. Crash diets have been found a total failure for long-term weight control.21 In fact, 95 percent of all diets bring nothing but a very temporary and uncomfortable dip in the bathroom scale.22 Even then, the short-term success of many fad diets probably relies on the recommended food being so disgusting that you can’t bear to eat it.
Dieting Usually Makes You Fatter
Reliable studies show that it takes years to get fat.23 Once you are fat, however, and have been for some time, the body slowly adjusts all its defense mechanisms to the new weight, and you have a new fatpoint. The body resists any attempts to change this new fatpoint. If you eat little, as many fat people do in an attempt to lose weight, all the defenses are continually activated. The body conserves its fat like gold.
Many diet books, both professional and popular, insist that fat people differ fundamentally from slim people. Some claim fatties don’t have to eat much to stay fat. Others claim they can lose fat more easily because they have more of it. The error is in measuring the dynamics of people who are already overweight, instead of how they got to that state. Metabolic derangements found in the obese are mostly a consequence of the fat, not a cause of it.24
It’s no mystery how a fat body maintains all that flesh on the same food that sustains a thin body. The answer lies mainly in the nature of fat cells. They are much less active metabolically than other cells.25 Fat stores burn little energy. A man who is half composed of fat at 300 pounds total weight doesn’t need any more food than someone of 180 pounds who is all muscle. As the amount of fat increases relative to muscle, the overall metabolic rate of the body declines. Fatties burn far fewer calories per pound than people of normal weight. So the fat body is much less affected by dieting. But not because of an inborn defect, only because of the fat it has accumulated.
With multiple bodily controls holding weight at the fatpoint, why do we get fat at all? There are two main reasons. The first is continual overeating of rubbish. As we have seen, much American food is nutritionally valueless. So we are constantly triggering the body defenses to demand more nutrients. So it constantly programs the appetite to overeat. The fatpoint is edged very gradually upward, because the overeating, in a vain bid for nutrition, puts the usual weight on the high side of fatpoint most of the time. Until the body is adequately nourished, you are fighting a losing battle with fat.
You need gain only one ounce a week to be 3.25 pounds heavier in a year. We know the fatpoint will shift that much. In the twenty years from age twenty to age forty, you can quietly gain sixty-five pounds, and skeleton, muscles, glands and enzymes will all have adjusted to suit. Your fatpoint has then shifted up sixty-five pounds, and the body will resist vigorously any attempts to lower it. So runs the course of middle-aged spread. There is no natural spread with aging, only the middle-aged result of years of overeating.
The second way we gain weight is by repeated dieting. Whenever you abandon a diet, rebound overeating carries your weight beyond the fatpoint, while body defenses arc still mobilized from the dieting to protect the fat store. You might think that alternative mechanisms should come into play as soon as the body detects more fat than the accustomed level. But unfortunately, there are competing body mechanisms that prevent this from happening just long enough for you to gain a few pounds. These mechanisms are stronger than the fatpoint controls because they protect against life-threatening situations. They are the body’s defenders of its overall nutritional state.
Complete vitamin and mineral supplements are especially important for dieters. Their bodies arc frequently badly malnourished, not only by the junk foods that put on their fat, but also by the fad diets with which they try to take it off. We cannot find a single popular diet that offers optimum nutrition. So most people who abandon diets are already malnourished. Then, the first thing they do is dig into processed carbohydrates to get the quick satisfaction of sugar. As we have seen, all these edibles contain very few nutrients. So, even when weight rises above the fatpoint, nutrition controls override the fatpoint controls and keep the appetite primed for continued eating. The net effect of the diet is to shift the usual weight up. When it has been held up for a while, the fatpoint edges up also. So dieting can easily make you fatter than if you never did it.
Four attempts at dieting a year, the average number for overweight people who come to our clinics, may shift the fatpoint upwards by eight to sixteen pounds. So the net result of all that dieting effort can be a considerable gain in weight. Against this knowledge, to severely restrict the food of obese people is absurd. It sets the body’s defenses going full steam ahead. All it accomplishes is to make them miserable. The short-term weight loss is inevitably followed by immediate weight gain to a higher level than before. With the methods of control of overweight now in common use, even in hospitals, correction of obesity is virtually hopeless.26 If you are seriously overweight, give this chapter to your physician. It will be another ten years before the information is disseminated through medical journals.
You CAN Fight Fat and Win
The more fiercely you diet, the more fiercely the body protects its fatpoint. You can’t beat it with willpower for long. But you can win, and win permanently, by cooperating with your body. The only long-term effective method of weight loss is to change the body’s reference system so that the fatpoint is lowered. This requires careful programming. Unless the body is adequately nourished, you will not be able to stop overeating. So, first you have to obtain a complete vitamin and mineral supplement to shut down the body’s malnourishment defenses. Then you can begin to reduce calories. But you must not reduce them so much that they trigger the fatpoint defenses. If you do, the whole cycle of metabolic shutdown and appetite explosion begins anew. We have found that two hundred to five hundred calories a day is the maximum you can reduce below your usual amount of food without triggering the defenses. Particular caloric levels given by diets are useless. The reduction must be in relation to your eating pattern.
Such a reduction yields a maximum weight loss of between one-half pound and one pound a week. Gradually, over the course of a year, the fatpoint edges down as the body remodels itself around the new usual weight, always a little on the low side of the existing fatpoint. The minor change in calories slips by the fatpoint defenses, and the supplements keep the nutrition defenses quiet. Within a year you lose between twenty-five and fifty pounds. But the great difference between this loss and most other losses by dieting is that ravenous hunger, binging, sickness, nausea and all the other hazards of dieting do not occur. With normal cell turnover the body slowly adapts its enzyme levels, its muscles, its skeleton, its glands, to the new, lower weight. The fatpoint drops to suit.
In one study at the University of Auckland we followed the progress of two women about fifteen to twenty pounds overweight who decided to crash-diet, buddy-style, to fashionable slender. We compared these two women with two others, about thirty pounds overweight, who started our optimum-nutrition weight-loss program. Over twelve months the weights of the two crash dieters oscillated like the proverbial yo-yo. At the end, one was five pounds lighter, the other two pounds heavier than when they began, after a lot of fruitless hunger, irritability and self-denial. Does it sound familiar? In contrast, one of the women following our program lost seventeen pounds, the other twenty-three pounds. Neither reported any undesirable effects. So don’t count calories, count optimum nutrition.
One or two tricks can help you along. The taste, smell and sight of food are appetitive stimuli which naturally trigger eating responses. In our evolutionary past they formed part of nutritive foods and ensured that we ate the right ones. Now, technology has enabled us to remove appetitive stimuli, such as sweetness, from nutritive contexts in fruits and vegetables, and put them into edibles that don’t deserve the name of food. Our inherited appetites still react to the old stimuli, but today they tempt us continually to eat rubbish. It’s fair to say that eighty million fat Americans are waddling testimony to the power of food technology to turn them into carbohydrate-processing plants to line food manufacturers’ pockets. So it’s a good idea to keep the rubbish as far away from you as possible.
Appetitive mechanisms are not turned off by junk food, because it lacks the nutrients to satisfy them. So we constantly tend to overeat, as the body drives us on in a vain bid for nourishment. Individually designed vitamin and mineral supplements correct this tendency by providing the missing nutrition. What they don’t correct is our habits. Professor Stanley Schachter and his colleagues have shown repeatedly that overweight people have learned to react almost automatically to sights, sounds, smells, even pictures and descriptions of food.27 To counteract this conditioning, it makes sense not to keep stacks of ice cream, candy, cookies and soft drinks in the house. It makes sense to have the picture of TV health guru Richard Simmons saying “Naughty, naughty” taped on the fridge door. It makes sense to keep a supply of fresh crudités and bowls of fruit on hand. And it also makes sense to reward your weight loss with presents and trips.
But the negative cues beloved of some psychologists are nonsense. Weighing yourself daily, standing naked in front of the mirror, your full-length photo on the wall to gag over, time-locks on the fridge, filling the house with grapefruit—these just set you up for frustration and failure. So do caloric charts and lists of low-cal foods. They only increase external cues for eating. Every time you consult one, you are exposing yourself to food cues and increasing your desire to eat. Remember, as we discussed in Chapter 3, one binge a week will not hurt, especially if you binge on a set day, such as every Saturday. It will do wonders to keep the psychological wolves at bay. Of course, when you have lost twenty-five pounds, the full-length mirror and scales start to become rewards too.
Another trick which works in our clinics and for other scientists is to put patients on a high-fiber diet. High-fiber foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, brown rice and nuts, subdue appetitive responses. The mechanisms of mouth and throat are tamed by the extra chewing and swallowing required. The stomach is tamed by the extra bulk.28 High-fiber foods confer two other benefits especially for the overweight. First, they do wonders for regularity. Second, controlled trials show they reduce the incidence of hemorrhoids.
The final trick is exercise. But throw away any books that show you how many calories are used by this or that type of activity. Weight lost through exercise has nothing to do with the calories used up by doing it. The trick is that brisk, aerobic exercise for thirty minutes or more raises the body’s metabolic rate for up to fifteen hours afterward.29 You don’t have to huff your heart out either. A brisk walk is every bit as good as jogging or sweating at a gym class. Better, because there is little risk of injury, it is far more comfortable to do and it fits more easily into a normal working day. So you are more likely to keep it up. “Dropout” describes 95 percent of people who take on strenuous exercise programs.
One study with mildly overweight middle-aged men showed that a program of light jogging and nothing else reduced weight by an average of 10.1 pounds. All the weight lost was fat, measured accurately. The calories used by the exercise itself counted for only about three pounds of the decrease.30
Because each bout of exercise speeds metabolism, the frequency of exercising is also important. Well-known authority Dr. Leonard Epstein has shown that people who exercise five days a week lose twice as much weight as those who exercise three days a week. Once-a-week exercising has no effect on weight loss, no matter how long the session.31 Below a certain frequency, the metabolism-speeding effect seems to be overcome by other bodily mechanisms.
There is even more value in frequent exercise if it is done in conjunction with a modest reduction in calorics. Reducing food intake, no matter how carefully done, always carries the risk of a defensive metabolic slowdown and appetite explosion, triggered by the body’s fatpoint monitors. Exercising daily counteracts this tendency by keeping you on a metabolic high.
Because of your past experiences with exercise, you may be reading this with disbelief. The main reason exercise fails in many weight-loss schemes is poor nutrition. Every step you jog increases your body’s needs for nutrients. Without them, exercise simply puts an additional load on a system already likely to be malnourished before the dieting, and by the diet itself. Under such circumstances exercise can and does result in serious illness. So do not try it without a complete, individual vitamin and mineral supplement.
Finally, when you exercise, please cooperate with nature. The human body evolved to run on the soft, yielding surfaces of forests and plains. That is what the skeleton is designed to withstand. Only in the last few hundred years has it faced a lifetime of absorbing the shocks to feet, ankles, knees and backs caused by constant pounding on hard surfaces like wood, tarmac and concrete. No wonder it buckles under the strain. The average urban dweller can’t avoid hard surfaces. So, whenever you exercise, especially if you arc heavy, you must carry the soft surface around with you, in the form of properly padded sports shoes designed for shocks, like the New Balance 720 and 900 series running shoes. Tennis shoes will not do at all. And bare feet are worse. Don’t even dance on gym floors in bare feet. It may look wonderful, but it’s hell on your skeleton. The woodland nymphs danced on the leaves. If you can’t afford the supershoes, at least insert effective shock-absorbing insoles like Spenco or Sorboth-ane in your gym shoes. Without them, your exercise, even brisk walking, can turn into a skeletal disaster.
Over the last nine years we have applied the principles described in this chapter to many stubborn cases of overweight. Our success rate is 80 percent. Not the short-term weight loss falsely claimed as success by most weight-loss programs. We have followed our clients for up to eight years now. Eight out of every ten who have remained on the supplements continue to control their weight without difficulty. Now they can enjoy a Knickerbocker Sundae without anxiety—and not gain an ounce.