Obesity as a Metabolic Disorder, Part 2
(Back to Part One)
Well, this business of genetically-obese mice, that’s not so convincing, is it? I mean, they’re mice, not humans, and specially-fat mice, not normal humans, and they get fat on most any diet, not just on certain diets. Doesn’t seem too compelling.
No, that was irony, just now. I’ve got all kinds of evidence against the calorie theory of weight gain and loss.
For example, if you put people on a diet of 800 calories per day, split up as 400 calories of fat, and 400 calories of protein, they’ll be perfectly content, and lose tons of weight.
The number of calories isn’t even all that important. There have been studies on people feeding them 2,700-2,800 calories per day of fat and protein — their metabolism revved up, and they still lost weight. Needless to say, they were also perfectly well-satisfied.
But suppose, instead of an 800 calorie diet, as 400 calories protein, 400 calories fat, you served up a 1,570 calorie diet — almost twice as much as 800, or about half as much as 2,800 — arranged as 400 calories a day of protein, 270 calories a day of fat, and 900 calories a day of carbohydrates?
Well, we don’t have to imagine the results, because the experiment has been done, in 1944, by Ancel Keys, on 32 young male conscientious objectors:
More than fifty pages of the two-volume final report by Keys and his collegues, The Biology of Human Starvation, document the “behavior and complaints” included by the constant and ravenous hunger that obsessed the subjects. Food quickly became the subject of conversations and daydreams. The men compulsively collected recipes and studied cookbooks. They chewed gum and drank coffee and water to excess; they watered down their soups to make them last. The anticipation of being fed made the hunger worse. The subjects came to dread waiting in line for their meals and threw tantrums when the cafeteria staff seemed slow. Two months into the semi-starvation period, a buddy system was initiated, because the subjects could no longer be trusted to leave the laboratory without breaking their diets.
Eveantually five of the subjects succumbed to what Keys and his collegues called “character neuroses,” to be distinguished from the “semi-starvaiton neurosis” that all the subjects experienced; in two cases, it “bordered on a psychosis.” One subject failed to lose weight at the expected rate, and by week three was suspected of cheating on the diet. In week eight, he binged on sundaes, milk shakes, and penny candies, broke down “weeping, [with] talk of suicide and threats of violence,” and was committed to the psychiatric ward at the University Hospital. Another subject lasted until week seven, when “he suffered a sudden ‘complete loss of willpower’ and ate several cookies, a bag of popcorn, and two overripe bananas before he could ‘regain control’ of himself.” A third subject took to chewing forty packs of gum a day. Since his weight failed to drop significantly “in spite of drastic cuts in his diet,” he was dropped from the study. For months afterward, “his neurotic manifestations continued in full force.” A fifth subject also failed to lose weight, was suspected of cheating, and was dropped from the study.
…from Good Calories, Bad Calories (Knopf, 2007), by Gary Taubes
So, 800 calories per day, or even 2,800 calories per day, of fat and protein, happy campers, losing tons of weight. But 1,570 calories per day, (about half the calories the men were previously eating in their normal lives), where 57% is carbohydrates, and you’ve got insufficient weight loss and neurosis, even psychosis. Excellent!
More to the point: it doesn’t seem as if just doing the math of calories in and calories out is an adequate model for human weight gain and loss.
Continued in Part Three…