Someday, I’ll get sick of that joke. Probably not any time soon, though.
Hirsch answered his original question – the subjects’ fat cells had shrunk and were now normal in size. And everyone, including Hirsch, assumed that the subjects would leave the hospital permanently thinner.
That did not happen. Instead, Hirsch says, “they all regained.” He was horrified. The study subjects certainly wanted to be thin, so what went wrong? Maybe, he thought, they had some deep-seated psychological need to be fat.
So Hirsch and his colleagues, including Rudolph Leibel, who is now at Columbia University, repeated the experiment and repeated it again. Every time the result was the same. The weight, so painstakingly lost, came right back. But since this was a research study, the investigators were also measuring metabolic changes, psychiatric conditions, body temperature and pulse. And that led them to a surprising conclusion: fat people who lost large amounts of weight might look like someone who was never fat, but they were very different. In fact, by every metabolic measurement, they seemed like people who were starving.
The Rockefeller researchers explained their observations in one of their papers: “It is entirely possible that weight reduction, instead of resulting in a normal state for obese patients, results in an abnormal state resembling that of starved nonobese individuals.”
Kolata goes on to discuss a later study that demonstrated it was just as hard to gain a significant amount of weight and keep it on. Male prisoners agreed to do this weight-gain experiment, and it turned out they had to eat a ridiculous amount of food–literally up to 10,000 calories a day–to increase their weight by 20-25 percent. Once they did that, their metabolisms went apeshit trying to get them back down to their normal weights. As soon as the study was over, the weight fell off.
It’s almost like everybody’s got a weight range their body will do damn near anything to stay within.
And it’s almost like that weight range is determined by genes or something.
Huh. Weird. Who could have seen that coming?