Tanya Wyatt, Happy Valley pond

Following on with the Gary Taubes theme (and his fascinating book, Why we get fat and what to do about it), I wanted to talk about obesity/ being overweight – in particular, about the misconception so many have about how it’s caused.

You may remember from my recent past articles, that the amount of body fat you store in your fat cells has a great deal to do with how much LPL (lipoprotein lipase) sits on these fat cells – the more there is, the more fat you’ll store. So, let’s just say you’re a person who was born to one, or both, obese or significantly overweight parents. Alas for you – you’re already at a disadvantage because you can bet your bottom dollar you’ll have a high (inherited) level of LPL activity on your fat cells. Even if you’re not born to overweight parents, you may have grandparents who could have passed on this trait…

Never having enough fuel

If this is the case, it means that your body isn’t going to be receiving much fuel to either the liver or muscle cells – it’s all being diverted to the fat cells because the LPL activity is so pronounced. The result is that you’ll feel as though you never have enough fuel and will need to eat again and again and again and again (you get the idea) throughout the day (perhaps the night too). It also means you’ll feel lethargic and tired and the LAST thing you’ll want to do is go out and exercise, because you’ll have no energy – literally. If your fuel is being diverted by the LPL activity on your fat cells, you’ll have none available for anything outside of basic, day-to-day actions. Besides – your body is a finely-tuned system and if it recognises that you’re lacking calories, it’ll act to conserve them … thus your lack of inspiration to head down to the gym.

And my point is….

What’s the point of telling you all this? It’s in understanding how our fat storage or fat burning systems work that we can build tolerance and empathy for those who are obese, or significantly overweight. Their issue is a physiological one (based on function and biochemistry), not a behavioural one. In other words, obese individuals are not obese simply because they don’t have will -power and self-discipline, or because they don’t exercise and overeat – they overeat and don’t exercise BECAUSE they’re obese (and they have as much self-discipline and will-power as a thin person)!

Of course it would hugely benefit anyone overweight or obese to cut down on their carb intake (particularly processed and sugary carbs) as this macronutrient leads to the production (or side-effect) of glycerol, which – when combined with fatty acids in the body – causes more fat to be stored. Substituting carbs with high quality fats will provide better and longer-lasting energy, without the side-effect of fat storage.

Should you give up, then?

Does this lead to the suggestion the obese/overweight should give up on losing weight altogether? Absolutely not: just the dietary changes suggested above will assist with both health improvement (this is the major concern in the seriously overweight) and weight loss, although the weight loss may be less significant than hoped for. It seems that not everyone can be lean and it would serve us all better to start by focussing on health and seeing where weight goes, as a side-effect to this goal.

So next time you find yourself judging someone seriously overweight (that goes for judging yourself, if you are obese) have a heart, and remember that the cause is a system ‘malfunction’, not a lack-of-effort one!