Remember what I was saying about chemicals impacting your endocrine system, thus influencing your weight? BPA and other such plastics?
Obesity, it would seem, is one big “My bad,” a painfully visible failure in personal responsibility. If you regularly chow down a pizza and a pint of ice cream for dinner, and your idea of a vigorous workout is twisting off caps on two-liter bottles of Coke, well, it’s pretty hard to give yourself a pass for packing on pounds.
Certainly, most doctors and dieticians still believe that being overweight is a matter of too many calories in, and not enough calories out, or put more bluntly, way too much food and way too little exercise. It’s all about overconsumption, right? End of story.
Except the plot appears to be thickening.
Recent research is beginning to suggest that other factors are at work, specifically chemicals used to treat crops and to process and package food. Scientists call them obesogens and in one study at the University of California, Irvine, they caused animals to have more and larger fat cells. ”The animals we treat with these chemicals don’t eat a different diet than the ones who don’t get fat,” explained lead researcher Bruce Blumberg. “They eat the same diet–we’re not challenging them with a high-fat or a high-carbohydrate diet. They’re eating normal foods and they’re getting fatter.”
The theory is that the chemicals disrupt hormonal systems and that can cause stem cells to turn into fat cells. In other words, the thinking goes, obesogens may help flip your fat switch.
But before you cleanse yourself of all responsibility for your tight-fitting clothes, keep in mind that plenty of researchers bristle at the suggestion that anything other than excess calories is to blame. In fact, a much-cited, recent study led by George Bray of Louisiana State University found that any diet can work so long as calories consumed are consistently reduced. Said Bray: “Calories count. If you can show me that it (the calories in, calories out model) doesn’t work, I’d love to see it.”
And yet, Kristin Wartman, writing on The Atlantic website, raises a provocative notion: “If the obesogen theory comes to be accepted… the food industry will be in trouble. It would be harder to keep promoting diet and “health” foods that may be low in calories but that also contain an array of substances that may actually prove to contribute to weight gain.”
Now that could get ugly.
More is less
Another new study on obesity does its own number on conventional thinking. Most of us likely think that we overeat because we love every bite. Not so, say Kyle Burger and Eric Stice at the Oregon Research Institute. They found that when we eat too much, it’s because we’re actually getting less pleasure from the food, so we have to consume more to feel rewarded.
The pair reached this conclusion through the use of a classic combo: teenagers and milkshakes. Based on brain scans done on the slurping adolescents, they determined that the ones who ate the most had the least activation of dopamine neurons, which generate pleasurable feelings. To compensate, they had to eat more.
But help may be on the way for eaters who can’t get no satisfaction. Later this spring the FDA is expected to approve a new drug called Qnexa. It both increases the pleasure of food and reduces the desire to keep eating.