Fat, Health at Every Size, Media

Yes, I Like Gina Kolata

Someday, I’ll get sick of that joke. Probably not any time soon, though.

Check this out, from the International Herald Tribune:

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.”

Emphasis mine.

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?

Go read the whole thing, and then go buy Kolata’s book.

19 thoughts on “Yes, I Like Gina Kolata”

  1. It’s, like, it’s like fat really DOESN’T have anything to do with morality at all!

    Hey, now. I didn’t say that. Let’s not get carried away! ;)

  2. “Huh. Weird. Who could have seen that coming?”
    It rubs the lotion on its skin and holds its head.

    She’s gonna hate the joke, but I’ll bet she’ll be reconciled to it by the fact that you’re encouraging people to read her (well-researched) book.

    I like it here. I think I’m going to get a cup of coffee and hang out.

  3. Pingback: Fat Is Contagious!
  4. That’s true about the weight gain stuff. Every winter I eat a whole mess of junk food to try and get an extra layer against the freezing cold temperatures (I think, unless I’m mistaken, that I live in the region closest in the world to Antarctica) but I always stay the same weight. All it does is make me feel kind of crappy.

  5. The first study sounds pretty bizarre to me — it seems more like a study on the physical and psychological effects of famine than a study on genetics and fat cell size. Did they try the same liquid 600 calorie a day diet/after-diet maintenance period on a group of naturally “thin” people? I’d imagine their bodies would respond similarly, regardless of their fat cell sizes. I’d imagine that dropping to 600 calories a day would be a shock to most of us, back in 1959 and present day. …here in the U.S., anyway.

    I’d be interested to read the full study.

  6. I’m really not sure where you got the idea that “fat cell size” has anything to do with it. You’re right, it’s a study on the physical and psychological effects of famine — brought on by what would generally be considered typical dieting. Notice the bolded part: “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.”

    I’d be interested to read the full study.

    Isn’t it great that you’re allowed to, then?

  7. There is no mystery here, but i don’t think the results imply anything other than the fact that our bodies become more efficient and burn less calories the more we subject them to extreme dieting. These people’s bodies simply became more efficient. They weren’t starving, they no longer needed what average people needed and their bodies were even better at converting calories!

  8. I’m torn on this one. If weight range is entirely gene-related, then what’s up with the recent rise in obesity? I can accept the idea that modern living/dieting + genetics = fat, but it’s hard to make the connection without that.

    Personally, I know how I got fat, and it doesn’t seem to be gene-based, since the rest of my family and most of my extended family are thin. I stressed about my weight when I was a teenager (5’6 and 160 lbs), dieted, went into starvation mode, then my body packed on more pounds to keep me “safe.” I’ve been through this cycle several times over the last 15 years, and my weight is now over 250. Dieting/society may have made me fat, and perhaps my genes were susceptible to the process, but I doubt I’d weigh as much now if I’d never dieted to begin with. My true set point that my body tried to return to for years was always 155-160, not 250.

  9. Did you seriously just comment on a three-year-old post to talk about things we have dealt with 92035802938028246908 times in the ensuing three years? Because… wow.

  10. Ha! Yes, looks like I did. I didn’t even notice the date; it was linked from another post I’d been reading. Thanks for the warm welcome. :)

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