Monday, March 5, 2012

Body Weight Self-Regulation in the Real World

The human body does not like to be over (or under) weight. When you don't eat the correct amount of calories, your body will try to defend its genetically- and environmentally-determined body weight. This means that if you over- or under-eat, your body will react defensively to maintain this established body weight.

Not convinced? Living in a world of calorie-counting, portion control, and starvation diets, it's hard for many to imagine a world where gaining fat weight is extraordinarily difficult. But this world exists and it used to be the world that all humans lived in.

A Real World Example of Body Weight Self-Regulation
In the West African country of Mauritania, extreme amounts of body fat is seen as beautiful. To attract the attention of a man for marriage, women in this country will try to gain hundreds of pounds before their teenage years. 

Not having Western foods to break their hunger and appetite feedback systems (only whole foods like "raw goat's milk, meat, millet, couscous, dates, and peanuts"), these women have to force-feed themselves to the point of nausea and vomiting for many years to gain extra fat weight. Some of these women will eat upwards of 16,000 calories a day to try and pack on the pounds in a couple of months. (1)

Apparently, when you are healthy and eating whole foods, gaining fat weight isn't easy. This has led some successful women in this country to become professional fatteners. These older women will restrict the physical activity of their "students," beating girls who refuse to eat the required amount of food every day. (1) One girl reported that she was forced to drink 5 liters of raw milk per day (which contains about 3,000 calories). But all of this hard work eventually pays off: Another women who went through this process said that she was able to gain 176 pounds in just ten years (or about 1.5 pounds per month). (2)

Zeinebou Mint Mohamed, 26, showing the results of being forced-fed for years. She is now 5'4" and 200 pounds.

It Really is Hard to gain fat Weight
While 176 pounds is a lot of weight, you would think that these girls would gain even more weight after eating thousands of extra calories every day for up to ten years.

Hypothetically, given that a pound of fat can hold 3500 calories, if a person was eating 3,000 calories per day for five years, and only storing about half of these calories, then they should gain more than 700 pounds of body fat*. But the girls in this country who overeat don't gain anywhere near this much weight. For instance, the woman who gained 176 pounds in ten years was only storing an average of about 170 calories every day.

I can't help but ask the question: Where did the rest of the extra calories go? Since consumed calories controls body weight, (3) these girls were likely not consuming as many calories as they thought they were.

Another possibility might be that maintaining this extra weight is next to impossible on a diet filled with healthy whole foods. This might explain the need for the fatteners: When you consistently overeat nutritious foods, and you start gaining extra weight, your appetite and hunger can drop so low that you need someone to force you to continue to overeat.

So what can we take away from this? If you are healthy and eating natural, unprocessed whole foods, it will take a lot of work to force your body to become overweight.

The Brain will Eventually Correct Its Body Weight
As I said earlier in this post, your brain will establish a genetically- and environmentally-determined body weight. Once this ideal body weight is set (and your feedback systems are functioning correctly), your brain will then aggressively defend this body weight by adjusting appetite, hunger, and metabolism.

But what happens to these girls after they labored for years to gain a couple hundred pounds? Are their body weight set points redefined to a heavier weight? No. Although they try to maintain their heavier weights to please their husbands, these girls normally can't sustain the constant overeating and will start to lose weight. Often, these women are so desperate to keep from losing all the weight they worked so hard to gain that they will take potentially dangerous drugs that increase hunger.

However, many women will be unsuccessful in their efforts to remain heavy and will usually return to their normal weights. (1)

Married women in a country in the West African country of  Mauritania eventually stop overeating and return to a normal weight. 

Your brain wants to maintain a body weight that it has identified as ideal. When excess calories are eaten, feedback systems allow the brain to accurately control appetite, hunger, and metabolism to minimize the number of extra calories someone can consume. However, if you continue to overeat you will store most of these extra calories as fat weight.

Once these extra calories are no longer eaten, the brain will start the process of burning through all this extra stored fat by decreasing hunger and appetite, as well as increasing metabolism. Hunger, appetite, and metabolism will only normalize when your body weight drops back to its established set point.

But, if you eat the 7 Deadly Foods and/or become extremely inactive, then your brain may lose the ability to accurately gauge how many calories it is consuming, leading to the opposite problem: Constant and unstoppable fat weight gain.

* Assuming that this person is purposely sedentary, storing 1,500 extra calories every day for 5 years (or 1825 days). 1500 x 1825 = 2,737,500 extra stored calories. Divide these additional stored calories by 3500 (the number of calories in a pound of fat) and you get 782 extra fat pounds.

1. Koch, Ryan. Tribal Fattening Practices. [Online] October 28, 2009. [Cited: February 19, 2012.]
2. Wedoud, Mohamed Yahya Ould Abdel. Young Mauritanians reject "forced-fattening" practice of Leblouh. [Online] February 20, 2009. [Cited: February 19, 2012.]
3. Colpo, Anthony. Fatloss Bible. s.l. : Self Published, 2010.

No comments:

Post a Comment