Thursday, March 6, 2014

Searcher: The Pitfalls of Dieting

Hello everyone! I stumbled across this really awesome Ted Talk the other day and thought it fit in well with what we have been discussing this week.  Sandra Aamodt, a neuroscientist, talks about the physiological reasons why dieting doesn’t actually work.

She begins with the ever popular thermostat analogy to describe the homeostatic regulation of body weight, controlled by the hypothalamus.  For most people, normal body weight is within a 10-15 pound range.  If body weight wanders out of that range, the brain releases numerous chemicals to stimulate activities that will bring body weight back to what it deems normal.  Now, it is unlikely that anyone’s normal range is so high that they would be considered obese, but these ranges do differ from person to person.  This means that there certainly is not one “ideal” or “most healthy” weight/body type for people of the same age and height.

Unfortunately, our culture still promotes this idea, causing some people to go to extreme lengths to achieve unrealistic standards.  According to Aamodt, normal weight ranges can increase if someone gains weight and keeps it on for a number of years, making it even harder for that person (if they decide to diet) to get back within their former weight range.  However, normal weight ranges never decrease.  When someone diets and loses so many pounds that their body weight is below its normal range, the brain reacts as if the body is starving.  As you could guess, this makes dieting extremely difficult for some people and makes them all the more likely to gain that weight back.

One of the most striking parts of this talk was the graph Aamodt shared from a study that looked at healthy habits and risk of death in people who were normal weight, overweight, and obese.  With zero healthy habits, the obese group had a significantly higher risk of death than people in the overweight and normal weight groups.  However, the risk of death was nearly the same in all of the groups for people who practiced all four of the healthy habits the study looked at.  

I am in no way saying that obesity is healthy (and I don’t think Aamodt was saying that either), but this study does support the idea that there is not a single healthy body type.  People of all shapes and sizes can be healthy, and hopefully popular media will catch on to that fact soon.  Many people could then avoid eating disorders and debilitating self esteem issues, something that is experienced by women and men far too often.

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