The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fat, Sugar, and Control

BC Monkey pointed me toward both of these articles, which are basically commentaries on how various taste combinations motivate us to eat. Very nice. But they don't doom us to obesity. The problem lies in the way obesity has accelerated in the last decades (and I'm sorry, I don't care how you gin up the stats: I'm old enough to remember when you simply didn't see as many overweight people on the streets. Period.) And that means it isn't genetic, it is lifestyle related, and probably really took off post-WW2.

Think about it. In a pre-industrial world, people had a far greater tendency to work physically for their survival. I can think of very few work contexts in which extra fat is an advantage. In other words, if you work as hard as the next hunter, farmer, laborer, and you are carrying extra flab, you literally have to work harder, and the additional caloric expenditure helped to keep weight under control. If you didn't work as hard, you probably didn't earn as much, or catch as much, and your caloric input dropped.

One of the things I noticed in Africa was that animals in the wild didn't vary a lot in terms of their degree of fat. All the zebras were about the same. All the baboons. All the lions. In a civilized society, there is great variation in the size of human beings...and even their pets. Why? I suspect because there is no longer a link between input and output. If there was, body composition would be a matter of survival, and not emotion. There would be none of this "I don't wanna" or "my genes" or whatever. If you were less efficient, you didn't eat as much, and nature takes care of itself. This tells me that the situation is temporary (hopefully) and we're currently making the adaptations necessary to remain healthy in a world of plenty.


Suzanne, you're right, of course, that Testosterone isn't the only factor. And that all penises start out as clitorises. We're talking about both the biological origins of sexual dimorphism, and the sociological extrapolations from that biological reality. In other words: I won't go AGAINST biology, but we've got other fish to fry.

If I'm trying to help young men, I have to work WITHIN their drives, and not push against them, or they will simply tune me out. And they want to know what makes them attractive to sexy women, and how to survive the aggressive actions of alpha males. How to deal with fear, how to implement ambition. Certainly as they get older they want to know how to control their drives, create stable relationships, find self-love and ultimately, to be both strong and gentle. But males in general are rewarded more for their strength than their gentleness, so this has to be addressed first, or they will get negative feedback from both men and women.

The term "testosterone" then means both the raw hormonal cascade leading to male secondary sexual characteristics, but "masculine/male" things like fathering children, aggression, and so forth. The fact that boys started out as girls is an undeniable fact biologically, but is of no use in helping dangerous, fearful young men find their masculine identity. The basic chakras of survival, sex and power have to be grounded before you can reasonably expect the heart and throat to open...especially if those young men are growing up in a hazardous context.

And this is where I would love to have a positive input on young men growing in the inner cities, especially young black men. Telling them that they are women inside just isn't a winner, even if it is biological truth.

What CAN win is helping them feel safe, and that they have ways of ethically meeting their physical and emotional needs. Then, and only then, can you begin to guide them toward that balanced combination of honest, lethally dangerous, intellectually acute and warm-hearted that is, in my mind, an idealized "knighthood" state of masculinity. Not all males want that, of course. But not one single one of them wants to feel afraid. No heterosexual male wants to feel unable to connect with females sexually. And the pattern of men feeling disconnected from their own emotions, unable to love themselves, unable to express their true needs and more should be addressed at least partially from the social and psychological needs, and a big chunk of these things can be boiled down to:

1) What do other men respect? What keeps the alphas at bay?

2) What actually attracts women? What attracts those who are the most visually desirable?

Unless you can deal with these two arenas, I suspect that the average man just won't think you are dealing with the issues closest to his heart AS A MAN. You may be dealing with his humanity, but not his masculinity. And this will fail.

I see lotsa stuff aimed specifically at women, and have never heard anyone suggesting that the material should be modified so that it appeals to men as well. Males deserve no less respect and consideration. As I've said, I would be very, very nervous having a daughter who paid too much attention to what young men said they wanted. I would want her to actually observe what they DID, and watch the relationships that actually lasted long enough to raise a family. Look at those men and women. Learn.

In the same way, what women say they want in men, and what they are actually attracted to can be two very different things. I've lost count of the number of men who have tried to do what they heard women wanted, and ended up treated as friends instead of sexual/romantic partners. Lethal. Instead, observe what women are actually attracted to, who they actually date, who they actually have sex with. Then, note the relationships that last long enough to raise a family. Draw a line between the successful behaviors of youthful men, and how they relate to fathers and grandfathers who actually pass their genes AND memes on to the next generations.

There is enormous wisdom to be gained there. But you have to remember that both men, and women, will try to manipulate the situation so that they get more of what they want. Never forget that, get the joke, and you are ahead of the game. We love each other, but we love control even more.


Marty S said...

I found the second article on weight very interesting because it seems to match my experience. There are two thin people in the article and there type matches the thin people in my life. Jacob, just my wife's best friend Doreen doesn't like to eat and only eats to keep the body going. Rosalita likes to eat but has "techniques to manage her weight". Notice that he mentions techniques to her weight twice in the article, but never says what they. An exercise program? Fasting days? I suspect that if she really had "techniques" she would have mentioned them and he would have cite them rather than use the anonymous "techniques". I suspect she is like my sister who loves and doesn't stint on sweets and like Rosalita never fails to empty her plate, but who has always varied between underweight and normal. Her exercises consist of lifting the spoon to eat or using a knife and fork to cut her steak. That is about the exercise she needs to burn the calories she takes in.

suzanne said...

I think self love has to come
before deep love of others is possible
and self control long before "control"

what attracts a woman
well I can't speak for all of them
only myself:
the physical package
dimple in the chin)
engaging lover
a few quirks

Shady_Grady said...

"I've lost count of the number of men who have tried to do what they heard women wanted, and ended up treated as friends instead of sexual/romantic partners. Lethal. "

This is TRUTH. I used to do this as a younger man and after not getting where I wanted to be, learned to stop it. The results were much better.

Also I don't know that all of us started out as female. Rare exceptions aside, "everyone" is either XX or XY , which is a difference from the start. I don't think that doctors can easily tell sex until around at least 10-12 weeks, right?

I think it would be more accurate to say that humans at that age are relatively undifferentiated.

Anyway, biology aside, if someone is trying to reach young men, a focus on and understanding of masculinity is required.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

Rosalita likes to eat but has "techniques to manage her weight". Notice that he mentions techniques to her weight twice in the article, but never says what they.

Actually, I think a lot of us relatively thin people are in this category, by the time we reach middle age, and if we're working sedentary jobs; I know I am (though when I was in my teens and twenties I was more like your wife's best friend Doreen). My "techniques" are: 1) Drink water, because it's easier for me to overdo without noticing when drinking calories than when eating them, 2) When picking foods, always go for the low calorie alternative for those things where I've learned I don't care really get any pleasure from the extra calories, and save the calories for things where I get more pleasure out of eating the high calorie version (so, for instance, I'll take a low fat salad dressing on the side at a restaurant, or I'll pick no fat or low fat yoghurt over other dairy alternatives because I actually like yoghurt), 3) Walk every day, and sometimes swim as well, 4) Know roughly how many carbs I'm supposed to be eating per meal, according to the American Diabetes Association recommendations (which I'm using because my husband has diabetes) for the weight I'd prefer to be, and try to roughly keep to that many carbs (but with some cheating), and 5) Particularly try to limit my servings of desserts. Not saying these "techniques" would work or be comfortable for everyone, or equally easy, but they do keep me personally somewhat thinner than I'd be without them, and, for me personally, it's enough to keep me in the normal weight range.

Marty S said...

Lynn: I don't dispute that one can maintain an appropriate weight if one cares enough. I just claim that its harder for some people than others and so it takes more motivation for some people to do what it takes. Tonight we went out to eat for my son's birthday. I ordered the beef fajitas. I ate the fajitas in three small taco shells and drank water with it. They served a side plate with rice, bean something and guacamole. I didn't touch the side plate. Everybody ordered dessert, and so I shared a scoop of plain vanilla ice cream with my wife. To me this does not seem to me like overeating. Yes I could have skipped dessert altogether and beef and taco shell are probably not highly recommended foods, but a lot of people could eat this way and be a lot slimmer than I am. I know people, apparently like yourself, who care enough to go the extra mile and do what takes to maintain a normal weight, but I just don't have the motivation to live that way.

Mike Ralls said...

The three most central facts about how much fat you have on your body are;

1. It's what you eat.

2. It's what you eat.

3. It's what you eat.

I'm not aware of any scientific study that say's that the rate that people burn calories actually varies if they are doing the same physical activity by all that much. Thinking otherwise just doesn't make much evolutionary sense to me. Burning calories in the most efficient way possible has such a huge survival advantage, that I don't see how any species could have members who both do work X, but that it takes one member Y calories and the other Y calories times 2 to do that same work. Or even Y calories times .2

If anyone has seen such a study that shows that various humans require more calories to do the same amount of work (note: a 110lb woman walking 1 mile is not doing the same _work_ as a 300lb man walking 1 mile), I'd love to see it. Don't talk to me about your brother who eats m&m's all day and weighs less than you. That's anecdotal and worthless to me. I want a scientific study before I believe that people burn calories at significantly different rates doing the same work.

Mike Ralls said...

To put things in perspective;

Researchers from Loyola University Health System and other centers compared African American women in metropolitan Chicago with women in rural Nigeria. On average, the Chicago women weighed 184 pounds and the Nigerian women weighed 127 pounds.

Researchers had expected to find that the slimmer Nigerian women would be more physically active. To their surprise, they found no significant difference between the two groups in the amount of calories burned during physical activity.

"Decreased physical activity may not be the primary driver of the obesity epidemic," said Loyola nutritionist Amy Luke, Ph.D., corresponding author of the study in the September 2008 issue of the journal Obesity. Luke is an associate professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine and Epidemiology at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

Physical activity is defined as anything that gets your body moving. U.S. government guidelines say that each week, adults need at least 2 ½ hours of moderate aerobic activity (such as brisk walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (such as jogging). Adults also should do muscle-strengthening activities, such as weight-lifting or sit-ups, at least twice a week.

Physical activity has many proven benefits. It strengthens bones and muscles, improves mental health and mood, lowers blood pressure, improves cholesterol levels and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, breast cancer and colon cancer.

But Loyola research suggests that weight control might not be among the main benefits. People burn more calories when they exercise. But they compensate by eating more, said Richard Cooper, Ph.D., co-author of the study and chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine and Epidemiology.

"We would love to say that physical activity has a positive effect on weight control, but that does not appear to be the case," Cooper said.

The recent study included 149 women from two rural Nigerian villages and 172 African American women from the west side of Chicago and suburban Maywood.

Adjusted for body size, the Chicago women burned an average of 760 calories per day in physical activity, while the Nigerian women burned 800 calories. This difference was not statistically significant.

Diet is a more likely explanation than physical activity expenditure for why Chicago women weigh more than Nigerian women, Luke said. She noted the Nigerian diet is high in fiber and carbohydrates and low in fat and animal protein. By contrast, the Chicago diet is 40 percent to 45 percent fat and high in processed foods.

Results of the new study are similar to those of a 2007 study of men and women in Jamaica. Researchers from Loyola and other centers found there was no association between weight gain and calories burned during physical activity.

"Evidence is beginning to accumulate that dietary intake may be more important than energy expenditure level," Luke said. "Weight loss is not likely to happen without dietary restraint."

Mike Ralls said...

>1) What do other men respect?
>What keeps the alphas at bay?
>2) What actually attracts women?
> What attracts those who are the most visually desirable?

There is actually one answer that fulfills all of those questions. The answer is; power.

A valid title for your project would be: How to Increase Your Inner Power (And then Increase Your Outer Power)

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

I just claim that its harder for some people than others and so it takes more motivation for some people to do what it takes.

I do believe this. Part of it may be metabolism, but I think another part if that people probably have different levels of appetite and desire for physical activity, and, sure, some of that may be people dealing with emotional issues by overeating or whatever, but some of it's probably also physical. Certainly, I've noticed that for those people I know on medications where one of the side effects is weight gain, usually the people actually are eating more when they gain the weight, but then, it's harder not to eat more when you're on a medication that makes you want to eat a lot. And a lot of skinny people, if put on the same medication, would find it just as hard.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

"I've lost count of the number of men who have tried to do what they heard women wanted, and ended up treated as friends instead of sexual/romantic partners. Lethal. "

Sure, because, when women are saying what they want, they often tend to say half of what they want - the half that they feel men are missing, the half about respect, and listening, and all of that. Which we actually do want, but which doesn't, in itself, mean that you turn us on.

Men, on the other hand, tend to give the "we're all shallow dogs" version of what they want, which, as with what women say, only partly tracks how men actually behave.

But there are multiple ways to fail the "what women want" question. One's to think you can actually attract a woman by doing everything she says she finds nice, and, naturally, no, sexual attraction's a different thing. A second is the bitter response, where you decide that, because treating women the way they said they wanted to be treated didn't get you in bed with them, they really want the opposite, and that's not true either. A woman may want "alpha" in the sense of being more attracted to men that are richer, or that are leaders among men, or any other measure of accomplishment (different for different women), but one thing a woman doesn't want is "alpha" in the sense of being just as beta as you always were relative to other men, but trying to succeed with women by bossing them and ignoring what they say; we're just as selfish and eager to have our own way as you are. (Of course, women also have their own version of shooting themselves in the foot by getting bitter.)

Marty S said...

One more comment on the whole calorie burning thing. Put the same gallon of gasoline in a family car and Porsche and you will get both different miles per gallon and different acceleration, yet that gallon of gasoline has the same energy content. Why can different car engines have different efficiencies and not different people. Not everybody can run as fast or jump as high as everybody else. I have worn glasses since I'm four because my eyes work more poorly than normal. Bodies differ in so many ways why is is it impossible to conceive that some bodies make more efficient use of food than others.

BC Monkey said...

"Your brain on sugar"

(3rd part of the series (concludes tomorrow)

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

Metabolism variation studied with urine samples:


Frank said...

To me, what it means to be a man has nothing to do with sexuality.

To me, a man must live by a code of honor; a code of honor which includes but is not limited to being true to your word no matter what it costs; standing up for, protecting and providing for your family, community and country; not accepting any honor or money that is not your due; being honest; defending the weak.

These are the things I associate with manhood.

Shady_Grady said...

Diet and exercise more effective than drugs for diabetes prevention.

Diet and Exercise

Steven Barnes said...

I think you are actually talking about a higher level of personal evolution. I totally salute such a standard, really. I personally would consider what you are describing as a warrior.

Steven Barnes said...

Marty S.--
I suspect that two bodies of equal weight require the same calories to cover, say the same mile, walking or running. But I suspect that if your body is set to keep the weight at a particular level, you move less, or even move more efficiently in an attempt to conserve calories.
The trick is that as a physical machine that CAN be modified by conscious action, your personality CAN be indicated by your physical state. You said it: "I don't have the motivation." That's fine, but it does reflect values, beliefs, and emotional charges. It is therefore reasonable for someone to believe that your physical presentation reveals things about your personality, right? And therefore it is not blind bigotry to select partners partially on the basis of their weight or size. We all have the right to a partner who matches our own values, and approves of the choices we make.

Steven Barnes said...

Almost all of these articles miss the point: you have to consider BOTH calories in and calories out. The best way to increase calories out is to jack up the metabolism: steady-state exercise burns calories while you work. MetCon style sprint training can, in 15 minutes, increase your metabolism all day, burning far more calories. Unless you look at both ends of the rope, you simply don't know how long it is, or what you can do with it.

Frank said...

I personally would consider what you are describing as a warrior.

Perhaps. But these are the things I learned from my Father by what he was, not by anything he told me directly. And what he was was just a regular guy as far as I could tell.

And it is how I judge others: Can I trust their word, will they stand up, do they treat people fairly, how do they treat their family and community, are they willing to die for something.

Most everything else, to me, is meaningless.

Dan Moran said...

Frank, I like your summary a lot.

I do think there's too much emphasis on "manliness" and I'm skeptical it's useful. But your list applies perfectly to any adult.

I never had to define what being a man was all about. My dad was one. He fought the good fight his whole life until he came up with advanced and terminal cancer, and then graciously got his affairs in order, told us all he loved us, and went to sleep, eight days after his diagnosis.

I've had various moments when I had to figure out how to be a good husband, or a good father; my dad had his failings in those areas and I'd like to do better, and hope I am.

But being a man? All I've ever had to do was live up to his example, and if I've sometime failed, well, can't lay that on him.

Frank said...


I do think there's too much emphasis on "manliness" and I'm skeptical it's useful. But your list applies perfectly to any adult.

I agree. But for some reason, and it's probably a personal failure, I do not expect women to live by a code of honor. Don't know why, but I just don't.

Women just seem to me to be more mutable; too willing to not have hard personal rules to live by. It's probably not true, and it's certainly true that many males do not have a code of honor that guides their behavior.

But being a man? All I've ever had to do was live up to his example, and if I've sometime failed, well, can't lay that on him.

Amen to that, brother.

Marty S said...

Steve: Its picking a nit, but is it the number of strides you take during a walk that counts or the distance. I suspect that a 6'4" guy walking a mile at the same pace as 5'4" woman burns less calories on average although I suspect other aspects of the individual also affect the calories burnt in a given length walk. The truth is nothing is simple about the human body and how it functions.

BC Monkey said...

Almost all of these articles miss the point: you have to consider BOTH calories in and calories out.[...] MetCon style sprint training can, in 15 minutes, increase your metabolism all day, burning far more calories.

Thanks for the confirmation on sprints. I've recently moved to interval training on my elliptical which is supposed to be the equivalent of sprinting. I'll Google the Metcon to see what is specific to it.

The articles are not focused on losing weight, but instead of why we find it so easy to overeat and gain weight- even though we know the consequences. If they aren't covering techniques or such, I write that up to the editor keeping the article focused.

You do have to look at both sides of the equation. I've had period where I've dieted and periods of exercise alone and those never produced any significant or lasting results in terms of fat loss. Only when I have used the two in concert has any significant loss occured. (which I am doing now after thinking through exactly what had stopped me before. I've been going 4 months in concert and doing well with it. 30% body fat down to 20, and goal of 10%)

I do think a third element is that whatever you do, you have to be able to live with it. It has to work within your constraints or you won't stick with it. I'm using the same breakfast and lunch 5 days a week, and I can live with that.

The articles aren't discussing the how to control or get away from the behavioral reactions/habits, and those are what fascinates me (and challenges me) at the moment. The woman in the second article describing her pattern of anticipation with guild, indulgence with momentary pleasure and then guilt is a pattern I know.
I've been working with NLP for a while and its given me tools to work with and made me very aware of how how I encounter temptation and what I do in my head before either giving in or successfully resisting or defusing it.

BC Monkey said...

As for what women say vs what they go for, oh yeah, Been There, Done That. And when did things change for me? When I got power.

Marty S said...

BC Monkey: You have hit the nail on the head. Anybody can lose weight with the right combination of diet and exercise, but if its not something you can live with its futile. I have watched friends and family take off forty of more pounds repeatedly only to put it back on again. About twenty years ago I was really obese. I went on a diet very strict diet my doctor gave me and dropped 46lbs. I was still about 30-35lbs overweight. At that point even though I was eating only about 1500 calories a day I stopped losing(This was all dieting, exercise was not in the program). At this point I had spent 3 months being hungry all the time and skipping foods that I really liked. I gave up on the diet and chose a middle road between eating whatever I wanted when ever I wanted and eating being careful, but eating enough of what I liked to be able to stick with it. I regained about 20 of the 46 pounds within a year, but have maintained the rest of the loss since then.

Scott said...

Only way I've ever lost weight was with distance running; 5-6 miles twice during the week and a long run - 3 hours - on the weekend.

The interesting thing was, my tastes changed. I'm a chocoholic with a horrible sweet tooth, but it got to where I didn't like ice cream, or even whole chocolate milk, and solid chocolate tasted *bad*; waxy and too-sweet.

Other forms of heavy exercise change my body composition - waist gets smaller - but neither the scale nor my appetite notice; long runs are the only thing that made me crave water and fruit instead of chocolate milk, candy, ice cream, et cetera.

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Prolonged and excessive sugar intake conditions the body to utilize mainly carbohydrate related compounds for energy, reserving fatty tissues. This condition, Gluconeogenesis, interferes with natural metabolism where coupled with a low calorie diet, lean body mass (e.g. muscle, bone, organ tissues) gets broken down for energy. It leaves the person looking frail with various health issues.

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