It's crazy-making. It's absolutely crazy making. People are bombarded with
messages - Eat this, eat this, eat this, eat, eat, eat, eat! Whether it's good
or bad, eat! Then on the other hand, they are told - Be healthy, don't eat.
Unlike any time in history, we are exposed to an environment where food is
widely available, heavily promoted, available at low cost and it tastes
We live in a food toxic environment. We don't live in a normal environment like
people lived in a century or two centuries ago, where you had to go out and
really labor for your food and continue laboring and burning those calories and
get precious little food in return, in most times. Today it's all over.
The transition of food to being an industrial product really has been a
fundamental problem. First, the actual processing has stripped away the
nutritional value of the food. Most of the grains have been converted to
starches. We have sugar in concentrated form and many of the fats have been
concentrated, and then worse of all, hydrogenated which creates trans fatty
acids with very adverse effects on health.
The ideal has come to a point that hardly anyone can achieve it, no matter what
they do, and I think particularly it is worse for women than it is for men,
that the ideals of feminine beauty that we see in the movies and in the
magazines and that sort of thing are just impossible for most women to
I feel it is totally unfair that we are raising generation after generation of
young people, especially women, to be at war with their own bodies. I am very
concerned about my own daughter, Christie, who is 9 years old. She is to the
point now where she likes her body. She's athletic and she climbs trees and
runs and plays games and really enjoys herself, and her body is her friend.
But it's beginning to change, because she is now comparing herself to models
that she sees in magazines and she is comparing herself to Barbie dolls and
things like that and doing so unfavorably. I start to see hints of it right
now. If she is the typical young female, the war with her body will begin at
I don't like the term ideal weight. I don't think we know what any person's
ideal weight is. Human beings come in different sizes and shapes. On any
characteristic you care to name, there's tremendous variations from eye color
to hair color -- for those who have hair and those who don't have hair -- and
we vary. Some of us are short and stocky. Some are tall and skinny. So to
claim that some formula can produce a so-called ideal weight that we can then
apply to an individual I think is faulty logic.
Surprisingly, we found that the men who were fat but who were also fit,
actually had no increased mortality rate. In fact the fat, fit men had far
lower death rates than the normal weight men who were unfit. So the bottom line
in this research, at least in this set of observations, is that lack of fitness
seems to be much more important than fatness, as a predicator of which men were
going to die during this eighth year follow up.
Fat is a very precious commodity in the world that we emerged from in the
African jungle, where people lived on fruit and berries and wild game, and
where there was almost no fat. The choicest foods were the fatty flavorsome
foods. And I think that the human brain - many animals as well - have been
built to recognize fat, sugar and salt as part of the primeval survival
mechanisms. Now we're handicapped, because we have fat everywhere, but we still
have those brain mechanisms charging away.
One of the things we've already discovered is that a high fat, high
energy-dense diet, which is very prevalent these days has a very powerful
effect on misleading our metabolic control processes, and we are trying to find
out what it is that goes wrong, why some people simply go haywire when put into
conditions of a high fat diet and low physical activity.
Our obesity is in our stars. We are genetically determined, our size. We know
that us guys, we have a bigger belly, that's a genetic thing, part of the Y
chromosome. Woman, they have a bigger butt, bigger thighs. Haunch and paunch,
if you like. These are endowments which we all agree are genetic, even to the
relative distribution of fat. There's only one thing left out, that people
somehow do not accept as genetic, and that's the amount of the obesity.
There really is increasing evidence of genetic susceptibility to obesity with
staggering evidence of individuals having a single dominant gene that's a major
problem. We can no longer just say genes are unimportant.
From mice and rats, we have learned that there are single genes that can cause
very profound obesity, and we have found in every instance that there is a
corresponding gene in humans.
If we went out on the street right now, and I showed you a group of adults with
heights ranging from 4 1/2 feet to 6 1/2 feet or 7 feet, you would make no
comment about this. It's expected. We all expect to see wide variations in
height. We accept that this is due to very strong genetic influences.
My perception of this is that there are equally potent genetic influences on
body weight as there are on height. But the population, because of our lack of
understanding of all the mechanisms, simply has not come to accept this yet.
I think I'm probably very well-suited to a life as a serf on the Russian
steppes. I am strong. I can work hard. I conserve body mass. I could probably
make it through the famine. I'm not quite so well suited to be a scientist,
leading an essentially sedentary life, onto which I graft this kind of
artificial dose of exercise every day.
Whether we offer a message of hope or despair depends on a person's goal. If a
person's goal is to have the ideal perfect weight, despair is the only
outcome, because very few people can attain that. If people's goal is - 'Can I
lead a healthier life, can I feel better about myself, have more energy, be
healthier, live longer?' - the answer is unquestionably yes. And I think the
healthiest, most psychologically adaptive way to approach this is to do the
right things in order to control weight. That is, eat a good sensible diet,
follow the nutritional guidelines, don't be crazy about it, don't overdo it,
don't restrict yourself too severely, but eat a reasonable diet, follow a
reasonable exercise program. That doesn't mean you have to become a marathon
runner but just follow a reasonable exercise program and just see what happens
to your weight.
And for most overweight people those changes alone can lead to dramatic
changes in weight. And if people approach this from a healthy point of view,
that is they want to be healthier, they want to feel better about themselves
and get their mind away from the number on the scale, then they can achieve
significant benefit and feel a lot better about themselves, improve their
health, improve their self-esteem and improve their health.