Cris LaBossiere

Cris LaBossiere
Strength training and mountain biking. My two favorites

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Mealy-mouthed placations about obesity don't help

Let's get a few things straight right off the top

Fat gain happens when we eat too much.  Nothing else can cause fat gain.

We love overeating. Eating too much is a central theme in our culture.

Eating healthy is seen as a crushing blow to our enjoyment of eating too much.

Fat loss only occurs when we eat fewer calories than we burn off, but eating too much is hard to stop for many reasons, which is why fat loss can be challenging, even if we exercise (which we should).

Being overweight does not mean we're stupid, lazy, or whatever unfair, mean, denigrating prejudice is applied to being overweight.

Statistics Canada has released another report on childhood obesity.

The report sates that nearly 1/3 of 5 to 17 year old's are overweight or obese, with nearly two to three times more boys than girls being overweight. This problem can be solved and I believe will be solved some day, hopefully sooner than later.

While the study concludes that eating and exercise habits contribute to weight gain, the authors noted that the study did not investigate the complexity of variables that influence eating and exercise behavior.

The singular cause of obesity is overeating. Nothing else can cause fat gain. You can quote me on that.

Fat in fat cells can't come from nowhere.  We have to eat more than we need in order for the body to store the extra unused food as fat in our fat cells.  The excess fat will stay there until we burn it off by consuming fewer calories than we expend which places the energy demand on our stored energy (stored fat).  Little by little we can reduce our fat stores through decreasing energy intake and increasing energy expenditure.

The paths to overeating are numerous and complex. We know that poor sleep can drive up appetite and drive down satiety.  We know that large meals can alter hormone regulation that governs hunger and satiety.  It's a diabolical cyclical trap; the more we overeat the more we adapt to overeating and reward seeking through overeating.

We know that food composition, specifically high concentrations of sugar, fat, and salt, excite reward centers in the brain making eating feel more rewarding than normal, causing us to seek out repeating this rewarding feeling from eating more food.

We know that some medications are appetite stimulants causing people on these meds to feel more hungry than usual and to eat more in response.

Overeating is socialized; when we celebrate we often include eating a lot of food while we celebrate.

Overeating is situational; we'll eat food at a movie even though the physical act of watching a movie doesn't require extra food energy to get through the movie.

Food can be mood altering.  If we're feeling down we can temporarily feel good by eating.

When reports like this recent Stats Canada news release come out, one of the more popular topics discussed is the influence of screen time on our health, specifically our fitness level and our weight.

There is nothing about being in the proximity of a screen of any kind that directly affects our fat cells causing them to be filled with fat.

You cannot gain fat watching video games or watching TV.

Video screens don't deposit fat into our fat cells.

If a 15 year old played video games for 5 to 10 hours everyday but didn't overeat, that is, they did not consume more food energy than they expended during a day with lot's of video game playing, there would be no excess food energy to store.  No fat gain would occur.

For sure any person who spends so much time on their butt and not being physically active is not going to be very fit or healthy, but they wont gain fat if calories in/ out are balanced. I'm not advocating balanced calories and mega screen time, in case you were wondering.

Personally my favorite way to watch movies at home is while I'm on my bike trainer in front of the big screen TV.  No, I don't just sit idol on the bike, I ride it for the length of the movie.  My movie choices are governed mostly by time; I want more screen time because for me, more screen time means more training time.  I typically look for movies that are around two hours. If I can't fill two hours with a movie, I'll watch TV or listen to music to make up the extra time.

It's true that energy expenditure is less when seated in front of a screen, unless you make the adjustments that I mentioned above.  If a person decreases their physical activity through more screen time, but does not also decrease their food intake to compensate, they would be eating too much for how active (or inactive) they are, causing a food energy surplus, which is stored as fat.

As a side note, but a pertinent side note, if I burned off 2000 calories riding my bike watching a screen but at the end of the day consumed more calories than I expended I would gain fat (I've done this so it's not just a dumb science theory).  In such a scenario, which I have managed to reproduce more times than I care to admit, I will have eaten too much.  Only overeating can cause fat gain, and this can occur no matter how much exercise you do or don't do.

Only overeating can cause fat gain, but there are many ways that we upset our food energy balance. Sort of.. there are many ways that we increase our reward seeking association with food and decrease reward association with physical activity.

Although there is a tonne of public information on how to lose fat and not gain fat, surprisingly there is not a lot of straight talk.  There is a lot of mealy-mouthed misdirection trying apparently to unravel the complex apparatus that causes obesity.

It must be a lack of government programs

It must be some special genetic variable that isn't understood yet

It must be changing times where we behave differently than generations before, but we don't understand this behavior yet

No, no, and no.  Only overeating causes fat gain. And we love overeating.

That's the elephant in the room.  We'll talk about screen time, we'll talk about hormones, complex behavior patterns, food composition, etc, etc, which is important I believe, but don't touch the golden cow, don't bring down the holy grail of personal and social reward.. do not talk about eating too much.

We're not eating too much!  Nooo, seriously, we don't make giant calorie bomb meals to sell at restaurants, we don't overeat at tailgate parties, we don't overeat at family dinners..

It wasn't eating too much that caused my fat gain!  No, no.. uh.. it was an earthquake.. a terrible flood.. locus!!  It wasn't my fault, I swear to God!

Yes, I like the movie The Blues Brothers, for those who got that. Here's the clip..

The direction I'd like to see addressing the obesity epidemic go is this; a greater consistency of recognizing that only overeating causes fat gain, and that we place far too much importance on overeating being the reward anchor in our society.

Cut the crap with prejudice towards people due to body composition.  Stop calling people names if they're overweight or underweight.  It's hard enough trying to overcome the challenges that cause us to eat too much or too little.  People don't need the extra stress caused by judgmental chumps.

 If you gained fat it's because you ate too much.  Stop eating too much and you'll stop gaining fat.  Tried that but can't stop eating too much?  That's understandable.  Eating too much is very difficult to stop doing, but don't be wondering where the fat came from, it came from eating too much. Now work on discovering what drives you to overeat, and changing the behavior by understanding the motivation and practicing new behaviors with new reward associations.

It ain't easy to stop overeating.  I know this personally.  I used to overeat like a fiend. The only reason I didn't become obese is because I had two addictions.. eating too much and exercising too much.  Those two like each-other a lot. I kicked both habits though. I eat way less, and exercise far less, but I do eat healthy and exercise healthy.  I race mountain bikes and I do manage to win the odd race so I'm doing ok fitness wise.

Cris LaBossiere gold medal 2012 Manitoba Mountain Bike Provincial Championships men's 40+ sport

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Don't tell the truth about weight loss

I like to think that I can learn from my mistakes, but there is one mistake I that I am way too thick to learn from.

I tell the truth about healthy living, about weight loss, and how to get fit.  I keep up with coaching workshops and reading the most recent research.  I've been doing this since 1987.  I'm confident I have a good grip on what is currently understood, and make an effort to pass on what I know staying true to what's published rather than relying on my own theories.

At the risk of sounding trite I want to tell you about an experience I found personally disturbing.

I received an email from a small group of people working for a company that was having a weight loss contest to raise money for cancer research.  The group needed a coach or trainer who could do a legitimate weigh-in or body fat test and sign off on the measurement, providing third party proof of weight loss for the contest.

After a brief phone call a meeting was arranged.  I told the group of 5 or 6 people that my mother is a breast cancer survivor and so I am personally motivated to donate my time to the group for any help they need with losing weight.

That was my first mistake.  They didn't say they were looking for help in losing weight, they said they were looking for a certified coach or trainer to measure their weight loss progress and sign off on it. I wanted to offer more.

I started talking about the usual points; eat less, exercise, calories in, calories out.  The group told me that they were educated and had experience losing weight; they'd lost weight several times before.. they knew what they were doing.

I asked them since they were wanting to lose weight again, what was it that had them re-gain weight from previous weight loss..  They didn't have a succinct answer so I took that moment of ambivalence to talk about what causes people to regain weight, and how this occurs in nearly 95% of those who initially lose weight.

One fellow interjected that he knew where his weight gain came from; he was prescribed prednisone from his doctor, which caused 40 pounds of weight gain.  I asked him where the weight gain came from and he re-stated, "from the prednisone! My doctor told me I would gain weight from prednisone, that's why I gained weight."

When I told him that prednisone does not cause extra fat to appear in the body, but rather the weight gain he experienced was caused by increased appetite (a side effect of prednisone) and thus over eating to satisfy the increased appetite, he didn't believe it.

The man was very confident he had not over-eaten.. ever.  I mentioned that we can't gain weight without overeating.  We can't materialize fat from nothing, we have to introduce the extra mass into our bodies. When we eat more food than we need, the extra is stored as fat.

The prednisone increased his appetite, he overate, and gained weight.

Again he insisted that he was entirely certain he had never overeaten.  A co-worker vouched for him and said, "I know he hasn't overeaten."  I said that's impossible, 40 extra pounds can't come from nowhere, he must have overeaten but was not aware because he's not keeping track of what he's eating.

The group reacted quite negatively to me saying that it was impossible the man had not overeaten. I get where they're coming from. I'm saying something that is the exact opposite of what they believe.  From their perspective I'm attacking their intelligence and most likely their sense of self worth.  From my perspective I see a man who is completely oblivious to the fact he overate enough to gain 40 pounds.

Actually he may have gained about 35 pounds of fat. Prednisone also causes water retention so he will have gained some water mass as well.  I had no opportunity to get into that detail though.

So here's what I'm thinking.. This group of well meaning people told me they are educated about weight loss and know what to do, yet they were convinced that fat gain can occur without overeating.

The group was becoming upset and agitated with me.

The man on prednisone, in an irritated tone said, "ok so I overate.  Now what?"  I'm not sure if he said that to get off the topic and move me along, or if he suddenly realized his weight gain came from overeating.  I took it as the latter.

I started talking about how we're inundated with environmental stimulants that provoke us to overeat and that in general the population is in love with overeating, which makes it hard to feel rewarded by eating less.

One of the reasons why weight loss isn't successful in the long term is because most feel comfortable and rewarded with overeating, and feel restricted and unrewarded with healthy eating.  Most will constantly battle the feeling of being deprived from the absence of overeating and eventually willpower dwindles and they return to overeating and weight gain.

The group felt strongly that their chronic weight cycling was evidence that they were very experienced at successful weight loss and knew exactly what to do.

Before I had a chance to talk about how lack of sleep drives appetite and all the other stuff I usually talk about, I was given the boot.

I was cut off. "We know how to do this.  We're educated.  We have doctors and dietitians. We don't need any help in losing weight, we just need a certified trainer to weigh us and sign off on it".

I said I was concerned that they might be repeating previous mistakes and ultimately may not lose weight in a healthy way, or they will fall back into old habits and regain weight after the contest, and that this concern would bother me and I would be uncomfortable only doing a weigh-in.

I said I couldn't get behind doing weigh-ins only, they said that's fine, thanks for coming out.

Felt like someone punched me in the chest.

From my perspective I just had a conversation with people who had a chronic struggle with weight loss and weight gain cycling, who also believed that fat gain can occur without overeating, but who wholeheartedly believed they knew everything about healthy weight loss.  How their judgment of their predicament could be so clouded had me baffled.  The denial required to ignore their multiple failed attempts at maintaining a healthy weight is profound.

Weight gain, overeating, and weight loss are very sensitive issues and difficult to speak openly about.  The act of overeating is seen as an individual irresponsibility.  There is a negative judgment attached to overeating.  No one likes to hear or acknowledge that they eat too much. Yet most people love overeating. Most will talk about the act of overeating as something to be revered.  Looking forward to that extra big juicy burger with fries, a big steak dinner, or pizza after the game or other special occasion.

If we have only one serving at a family dinner we might be asked if we're feeling ok. That's right, we actually think there is something wrong with people when they don't overeat.

You can't tell a person they overeat, and a person who just over-ate is likely to say they don't overeat or at least that they do it rarely.  Someone who eats too much is (wrongly) seen as someone who can't get a grip on their behavior and we don't want to be identified as such.

Whenever I've really overdone it with overeating I've always felt lethargic, had indigestion, and had lousy sleep.  Because of the lousy sleep I feel like crap the next day as well.  For me, that makes it not worthwhile to pig out.  So yes, overeating is a mistake. And we all make mistakes.

I used to overeat a lot.  I used to weight cycle up and down 15 pounds.  I don't anymore.  Had I kept up that behavior I would surly be quite overweight by now, 25 years later.

The prednisone man was taken aback when I said he gained weight from overeating. He frowned, rolled his eyes and said, "I don't overeat", with a dismissive and firm tone. He definitely did not want to qualify as an over-eater.  And yet he overate. 

Studies have shown that most people underestimate the amount of food they eat, and overestimate the amount of physical activity they do.  Studies also show that people believe their weight gain is caused by some factor other than overeating, such as a 'slow metabolism'.  When investigated it has always been found that people overeat to gain weight and there is no such thing as a slow metabolism that causes fat gain.  Only overeating causes fat gain, and only a negative food energy balance, eating fewer calories than expended, causes fat loss.

Study: people underestimate food intake by 47% and overestimate physical activity by 51%

I was very troubled by the experience I had with the group. I left with the concern that most of the people I just spoke with will most likely continue to be in the 90-95% failure group.  Their lives and health will be negatively affected by weight gain and they will feel frustration and angst with yo-yo dieting and cyclic weight gain, while at the same time looking forward to the next high calorie meal.

Is it wrong for me feel my own angst knowing that people are going through these experiences?  Do I need to learn more professional detachment?  I think I could benefit from learning to cope with my own feelings more effectively, but it may be just as hard for me to not feel for people as it is for people to overcome overeating.  It's hard for anyone to overcome their natural tendencies.

I've always felt pretty awful after experiences like this and have lost sleep many a time after being told where to go when having a conversation about healthy choices.  It isn't that I feel personal rejection that much.  What I feel is despair for those who refute that which will surly improve their lives.  No, I don't believe that people have to live the way I say, for me it's more matter of fact.  Being overweight increases risk of disease.  It's harder to breath.  More difficult to get a good nights sleep.  Poor nutrition and lack of exercise reduce quality of life.. whatever a person likes doing they will be able to do it better, and do more of it for more of their lives if they are healthy and fit.

Even though most don't like to hear the truth about overeating and weight gain, and even though I would stand make a lot more money by selling fad diets and exercise plans, not telling the truth about weight loss in my mind is worse.  I'm not going to commit demagoguery and tell people what they want to hear. I can't live with that either.

So to hell with my headline.  I'm going to tell the truth about weight loss.

Eating too much is the only way to gain fat, but there are many things that drive appetite leading a person to overeat including social habituation, poor sleep, peer pressure, hormonal changes, some medications, eating large meals, yo-yo dieting.. All paths lead to overeating.

The only way to lose weight is to eat less.  Consuming fewer calories than expended.  Exercise helps expend energy and can prevent bone, muscle, and water loss that can occur when cutting calories without exercise.

And above all, the most important things to work on are how we think and feel about ourselves, food choices, and healthy VS unhealthy choices. It's making these difficult but rewarding internal changes that allow for permanent changes in our habits and behaviours.  It really isn't a bad thing to gain a realistic non-judgmental perspective of why overeating is done.  It's a good thing.  It's liberating. It's healthy.