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The Epidemics of Obesity and the Helpless Science

One billion people worldwide weigh more than what they should be which includes 300 million people who are obese. Paul Zimmet, the chairman of the recently held obesity conference warns “This insidious, creeping pandemic of obesity is now engulfing the entire world.  While obesity may not be fetal by itself yet it increases the risk factors that would create conditions for diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, stroke and some form of cancer[1].

 Obesity is surely one the major concern for the man of modern era, particularly the people of the developed nations. As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Department of Health and Human Services [2] report the obesity among adults has risen significantly in the United States during the past 20 years. The latest data show that 30 percent of U.S. adults (20 years of age and older) i.e. over 60 million people are obese. The percentage of young people who are overweight has more than tripled since 1980. Among children and teens aged 6–19 years, 16 percent (over 9 million young people) are considered overweight. CDC warns that being overweight or obese increases the risk of many diseases and health conditions, including the following:

·         Hypertension

·         Dyslipidemia (for example, high total cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides)

·         Type 2 diabetes

·         Coronary heart disease

·         Stroke

·         Gallbladder disease

·         Osteoarthritis

·         Sleep apnea and respiratory problems

·         Some cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon)

The obese people are desperately looking for the solutions to reduce their weight. They are willing to do anything to reduce weight. This challenge has given rise to new opportunities for the dieticians and experts who have invented many methods to reduce and maintain weight.

 

The Scientific Explanations of Body Weight

The most popular scientific theory of body weight is the calories theory which means that you gain weight because you consume more calories than you spend. So the formula for reduction of weight is apparently just to reverse the process. If you consume less calories and burn more calories, you could loose weight due to calorie deficit. This in the common parlance is called dieting and workout. The scientists estimate that 8000 calories are equal to 1 Kg of body weight. Thus if you reduce only one cup of coffee or tea in a day (which have around 50 calories per cup), you should be able to loose 2.5 Kgs in year by the calorie theory.  Yet we know from our experience that reducing the weight is not that simple.

 The sad truth is that dieting or workout does not work for most of us.  The scientists have, however, cleverly invented a ready explanation even for those who fail to reduce weight despite of dieting and workout. This theory can be called the theory of metabolism. It states that if you reduce the food intake, your metabolism rate (i.e. the rate of burning of calories by the body) also reduces. Hence the weight does not reduce. Similarly if you increase the workout or exercise, you burn more calories but you also feel hungrier so your food consumption (calorie consumption) increases. Again you fail to reduce your weight.

Yet no sooner you stop dieting and return to your normal food regime, the calorie intake become normal but the reduced metabolism of body is not restored immediately. Similarly once you give up exercising, your food intake does not reduce automatically as your stomach size has increased. However due to lack of physical activity the outgo of calories reduces. Hence in both cases, you end up gaining weight after you have tortured your body with dieting and workout. The Scientists call this a “yo-yo effect”.

Most experts advise that dieting should always be accompanied by workout. This is surely a devils recipe as the combination of dieting and workout is nothing but disastrous for the body and soul. As you are working harder, you actually need more calories intake, yet you are asked to reduce calories intake. The result is starvation and weakening of the strength of the body. This lead to the weakening of the immune system of the body, which makes you susceptible to all sorts of illness. You start falling ill quite often (Well at least you loose weight during the illness).

You starve your body and soul during the regime of dieting and workout. . All the time you are thinking about food and can’t focus on any thing else. How long can you torture yourself? All those who have ever gone to the rigors of dieting and workout either together or independently, would agree that even after this torture, the weight reduces only in the beginning and it stabilizes very soon. Thereafter, all your torture fails to produce any tangible result. Naturally you losses all incentive for torturing yourself if you can’t get any result despite of the self-turture. However, even when you stop dieting and workout, you not only get back to your original weight and strength but in all likelihood you will gain weight (mostly by deposit of more fat in your body) even on the normal diet. Thus you may become even more overweight after dieting and workout besides causing irreversible damage to your immune system.

Diet Pyramids: The Lifestyle You Hate to Follow

Over the years, the scientists and dieting experts have devised many diet pyramids which are recommended by them for attaining the “right” weight and shape of the body. I am sure most of you would agree (after reading about the diet pyramids) that all food pyramids restrict precisely those foods which we love to eat and recommends those foods which we hate to eat. Thus these diet pyramids in a way ask you to love your enemies while avoid your friends. Isn’t it strange? Does it mean that our body always desire foods which are harmful to it? Since these diet pyramids are unnatural, you can’t really follow them unless you are too desperate to reduce weight.

Some of the most popular diets are discussed below.

USDA Diet Pyramid: The diet pyramid prepared by the United Sates Department of Agriculture (USDA) supported by Center for Nutritional Policy[3] and Promotion divides the food into four basic categories  as shown in the Figure 1.

 Figure1: The Food Guide Pyramid of USDA

 On the top of the pyramid are the food like fats, oils & sweets (which we love), which should be used sparingly. In the second level is the animal products (milk, yogurt & cheese group; meat poultry, fish, eggs) and high fat-high protein diets (dry beans &nuts) which should be used in the limited quantity (2-3 servings). At third level are the vegetable and fruits group which would be more used (2-4 servings). In the bottom are the most desirable food, which includes bread, cereal, rice & pasta group, which should be, used 6-7 servings (who wants them?). Thus the diet preference appears to be inversely proportional to the calorie content of the food. The higher is the calorie content; the lower is the desirability and serving. Thus the essence of USDA diet is to reduce the calorie intake. USDA recommends balanced diet and moderate workout as the key for maintaining weight and achieving good health.

 

Mediterranean Diet Pyramid:  This diet is followed in Grease and Italy in 1960s, which provided the people lowest level of chronic diseases and highest level of adult life expectancy[4].  The recommendations of the diet are given in Figure 2. (My sympathies to the meat, egg, fish and sweet lovers!)

Figure 2: The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid

Harvey Diamond Diet: This diet pattern is suggested by Harvey Diamond in his International best seller health and diet book “Fit for Life”[5]. This diet consists of high consumption of fruits and vegetables without the restriction of calorie and the quantity. He also suggests avoiding all animal products including dairy products, meats, and fish. He also asks to reduce the intake of intoxicants including alcohol, coffee, tea, aerated drink (which have caffeine), tobacco and cigarette.  (What is then left to live?). The diet further suggest that between 4 AM to 12 AM, one should eat nothing but fruits and raw vegetables and all food must be eaten between the 12AM to 8PM. Nothing should be eaten between 8PM to 4AM. (Is it really possible?)

Atkins Diet: Atkins diet advises the people to eat low carbohydrate-high protein-high fat food. The animal products are the best food for Atkins diet since they have high fat and high protein. The vegetarian foods and cereals are the worst food since these have high carb-low fat-low protein. The basic theory is that carbohydrate burns fast hence the person starts feeling hungry soon. Hence if you consume high protein-high fat diet which burns slow you will not feel hungry since your stomach will continue to have undigested fat or protein. (Where would the vegetarians go?)

South Beach Diet: This diet makes an interesting preposition by balancing the fat and carbohydrate. In first phase which is for two weeks, you restrict carbohydrate and eat high protein-high fat food like chicken, meat, fat cheese, fish etc These are mostly animal products which have virtually no carbohydrates. In phase-2, some of the banned food (carbohydrates) is slowly introduced. The introduction of carbohydrate is slow so that the person continues to reduce weight. Now when you get the optimum balance of carb and fat-protein diet which establishes your weight than you must follow that diet for life (phase 3). When you again start gaining weight, then return to phase-1. (Please never forget to carry weight machine and calorie chart to measure your weight and the weight of food!)

The Conclusions of the Experts ?

I hope by now, you must be sufficiently enlightened by the scientific theories of the dieting experts. You can find thousands of research papers which supports each diet. Each study also proposes a new theory of weight control. So what are you waiting for? Just go ahead and follow any of the diet patterns and get your desired figure. Yet some of you (like me) are perhaps still confused as we still don’t know which diet to follow and which theory is correct. The reasons for confusion are not very difficult to discover. Let us summarize the recommendations of different diets in Table 1.

Table 1: The comparison of different diets

Diet Type

Main Recommendations

Calorie (No of serving)

Restriction

Can it be followed daily

Reco. for Animal Product

Reco. for Fruits and vegetable

Reco. For Physical Exercise

Protein

Fat

Carb

 

USDA

Medium

Low

Low

Yes

Yes

Average

Restricted

Yes

Mediterranean

Medium

Low

Low

No

No

Average

Restricted

Yes

Harvey Diamond

Low

Low

High

No

Yes

High

Prohibited

Yes

Atkins

High

High

Low

No

Yes

Low

High

No

South Beach

High

High

Low

No

No

Low

High

No

 

It is evident from the Table 1 that there is no consensus amongst the experts what the ideal diet to reduce weight is. In fact even the recommendations regarding the benefits of fat, protein and carb are different for each diet. Each expert has his own reason for recommending the diet. If fruits are the ideal diet in Harvey Diamond diet, it is prohibited in Atkins and South Beach diet. Similarly Harvey diamond diet prohibits animal products which are highly recommended in Atkins and South Beach diet. If USDA diet recommends balanced food to be taken daily, Mediterranean diet divides the foods to daily, weekly and monthly.  Even the most commonly held formula to reduce weight viz. reduce calorie intake and increase calorie burnout (by exercise) is not agreeable to all the experts as Harvey Diamond diet poses no restriction on calories.

Let us now look into the other aspect of loosing weight i.e. physical exercise. Here also there is no unanimity amongst experts. Some experts advise aerobics as the best method to loose weight as it increases your heart beat thus burns more calories. Other experts’ advice you against aerobics since it causes jerk in the body and may damage tissues. Another theory says that aerobics increases the breathing rate hence burns the calorie faster which results to high pangs of hunger. Thus another set of experts advice for anaerobic exercises (like Body building, lifting weights) which builds muscles. They argue that muscle increases the metabolism rate thereby burning more calories naturally without any workout. Some people advise games like Badminton, tennis, swimming, jogging, and running which burns more calories in less time. (OK, at least all experts agree that we must burn more calories to reduce weight).

However, many experts totally disapprove any type of physical workout and believe that stretching exercises and yoga are the best method to maintain weight and make the body flexible and proportionate (Who are they?). In India, pranayam or breathing exercises are also very popular to reduce weight. Here the person controls and regulates his breaths in different cycles. Some expert’s advice for meditation, i.e. just sitting in the same posture for long period focusing one’s attention on an object or thought. (Sorry no consensus on workout either).

Discussion and Conclusion

Which is the best method for reducing the weight? If you ask this question to different people (or different experts), all of them would perhaps give different answers. Any expert worth his salt shall be able to prove through research papers and statistics that his recommendation of diet is the best and other diets are ineffective, less effective, fake or bogus.  The questions we need to ask ourselves is whether we are bothered about the theory of loosing weight or interested in loosing weight?

We are thus caught in the crossfire of the experts and do not know what the truth is. What should we do to maintain weight and live a healthy life? A small story mentioned in an ancient text “Panchtantra” perhaps describe this situation at best.

Five blind men were asked to identify an object (elephant). One blind man touched the leg of the elephant and confidently replied that it is a pillar. Another person touched the body of the elephant and said that the object was a wall. The third man touched her tail and concluded that it is a broom. The fourth man could touch her ear and concluded that it is a hand fan. Finally the fifth man touched the trunk of the elephant and stated that it is the trunk of the banana tree.

All the five men were confident that their description of the object is right as they have felt the object by their own hand. However, they were all wrong since they could not see the whole truth due to limitation of their vision and experience. None of them were deliberately telling any lie since they all stated what they really experienced.

Therefore, if we come across a situation when, more than one truth or explanation exists for an event then we must conclude that either all except one explanation is wrong or the truth is something else which could not been conceived by any of them. 

While nobody knows for sure the best method to control weight yet we know that all these diets work, if enforced on men (or women). I am saying so because there are millions of people around the world who have reduced their weight by following one or more of these methods of weight control. However, none of the diets suits all people. The “one size fit all” solution does not work for all since each individual is different. You need a diet which suits you. Another problem with the scripted diet is that you have to work very hard to continue with the diet since no diet prescribes complete food.

All the diets without exception prescribe you the food which you hate to eat and prohibit the food which you love. You may however notice that the same (undesirable)  food is cherished by other people, but such people would not have been fat. The very fact that you are overweight indicate that you like the foods which are rich in calories and hate the food which are low in calories. This happens because your nature dictates your food habits. Unless you take steps to change your nature, there is no way you can ever like the good food and dislike the bad food. If you still force your body to eat the food you hate, eating would become a torture for you and you would feel starved all the time since the craving of the body are not satisfied (even if your stomach is full). Thus dieting drains all your energy and you give up dieting soon.

Scientists can never answer how all the contradictory diet recommendations can be right at the same time? It also can’t explain, how all the physical exercise methods, including those which does not burn calories (like yoga, pranayam and meditation) are helpful in reduction of the weight? Science has no answer for this question but the Aatmic Science has one single explanation for all the weight control programs. If only the blind men could see that the (entire) entity which they touched is not five but one they could have known that the entity is an elephant. Thus if analyze the body parts we miss the person. Similarly if we focus one aspect of the person (for example weight), independent to the other aspect of his personality, we miss the truth. We need to discover the single truth which can explain all the different facets of truth.

The advantage of discovering this single truth is that instead of following any scripted diet of the experts, you can decide your own diet and workout regime and maintain your weight naturally for the entire life.  Remember, if your fundamentals are right you can solve any problem. Therefore, if your fundamentals of weight control are clear you can device your own food plan and workout plan (including no workout) yet reduce your weight and maintain it throughout your life without any conscious effort.

 References

(1)                “Fighting Fat: Health experts warn of obesity pandemic”, The Times of India, New Delhi, India edition September 7, 2006

(2)                 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention URL: http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/obesity/

(3)                 Nutrition and Your Health: dietary guidelines for Americans  URL: http://www.health.gov/DIETARYGUIDELINES/dga2000/DIETGD.PDF

(4)                 The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid  URL: http://people.bu.edu/SALGE/pyramid/mediterranean/

(5)         Harvey and Marilyn Diamond, “Fit for Life”, Warner Books, Inc. New York (1985)

Author:Awdhesh K singh

Date:9/13/2006

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