Secrets of the Eating Lab: Chapter 4
Monday, December 30, 2019
Well, here is my notes from chapter 4. I must say that this book about some of the studies done has me thinking about my thought process and my struggles to when I attempt to follow a particular restrictive eating plan. One thing I can relate to the most is the obsession one gets about food when "dieting" -- at least that has been my experience.
Chapter 4: Why Diets Are Bad
True or False: It sucks to be on a Diet
Diets Mess Up Your Thinking
In Ancel Keyes’ semi-starvation study, which conscientious objectors to fighting WWII participated, the plan was to starve those men for 6 months to help research the best way to help the troops when they returned home. (Keep in mind that they allowed the men to have 1,600 calories a day.) At the time, little was known of biological effects of starvation.
Starving people can include victims of famine or war; however they often is not documents of these. Others can include explorers who often will keep a journal of their ordeals. It is from these journals one learned that the explorers became preoccupied with food and apathetic about pretty much everything else. When one is starving, one will often think of food, such as meals they had and meals they hope to have once they return to civilization. It was also noted that they became very irritable. (my note: I guess this is where we get the term “HANGRY”.)
It should be noted that the explorers had more things to worry about than lack of food (starvation), such as the physical changes that they might encounter. So it is hard to say that their anxiety they wrote about was just about food.
It is impossible to separate the effects of starvation from the effects of whatever traumatic situation caused the starvation in the first place. (p.54)
Keyes studied the effects of starvation in safety and comfort. There were more than 400 conscientious objectors responded to Keyes’ plea for help with the study. He chose 36 that he deemed fit and healthy enough participate in his study.
About the Study
For the first 3 months, the men ate 3,500 calories a day. Keyes and his staff measured everything about them: size of each body part, respiration and circulation to endocrine function and metabolism, condition of their skin and bones, posture, muscular abilities, sensory abilities, mental abilities and psychological state. These 3 months created the baseline. Then they spent 6 months on a semi-starvation diet (1,500 calories) consisting of mainly bread, potatoes, cabbage and rutabagas.
Since they were eating 1,500 calories, their experience can also make an interesting case for dieting, Back then, that was less than 1/2 calories than they were used to. The men lost 25% of their bodyweight during those 6 months. However, within 1 year of ending the study, they regained all plus more of their weight.
During the study, they became preoccupied with food. The author states that while the men were eating the announcement was made that Japan surrendered and the men just kept on eating their meal.
For the explorers having a preoccupation with food was important for their survival, they needed to dedicate time and resources to finding their next meal . This was not the case for the men in the study, yet all they thought about was food. It was stated, “It’s remarkable how quickly thoughts of food takes over when you feel deprived.” (p.55)
It was found that dieting causes cognitive impairment; dieters often have trouble forming thoughts, comprehension declined, and they were unable to stay alert. This means that most dieters cannot remember as many words and have trouble staying focused. NOTE: this impairment is not linked to malnutrition or of being underweight, but rather because of the preoccupation of food thoughts.
Another thinking deficit that occurs when people diet is distorted time perception. Time seems to move more slowly when dieting. Hence the saying, “Being on a diet won’t make your life longer, it just makes it feel longer.”
Dieting is Stressful
Dieting causes the stress response of the release of the hormone cortisol, which not only makes it hard to keep weight off but it also causes chemical changes throughout the body.
Cortisol’s job is to get energy from its stored places and to do that energy is diverted from the functions your body does not need for the fight-or-flight response. Cortisol release will shut off immune function, reproduction, growth and energy stage. Once in awhile, you can get away with this extra cortisol release, but to have it constant can cause some serious problems: susceptibility to infections, bone density decreases, blood pressure rises, damage to blood vessels, body stores belly fat, body becomes more insulin resistant, and the heart works harder. Also, it was found that it may damage the telemore, the part of the cell that is responsible for aging. It will cause them to get shorter faster and therefore increase the aging process. This is one reason why as we age our muscles weaken, skin wrinkles, eyesight and hearing fail, and your thinking ability diminish.
Diets Make You Feel Bad
There are many emotional consequences of dieting include: depression, low self-esteem, or even anger. Other behavioral changes can include mood swings, compulsive gum chewing, shoplifting, and cheating on diet by eating.
People often start diets when life isn’t going as planned. About 6 months later, they will have lost weight and things start to look up for them. Studies are often concluded at this point and the declaration is made at how wonderful and successful the diet is for people. But, studies often do not look at what happens after that point in time, which can be where health and emotional issues will begin to show.
When people go on a diet, there is often guilt, especially in women, if they break the diet. This guilt is often associated with certain foods such as potato chips, ice cream, or candy.
However, it is important to recognize that eating is not a moral act and there is no need to feel guilty about having something that is not on your diet plan. But on the other hand, there are some circumstances around eating where it can be immoral. For instance,1.) cannibalism, 2.) taking candy from a small child, 3.) eating your spouse’s treat he was saving (i.e. you steal it).
Guilt is defined as a negative response to a real or perceived feeling that may motivate people to fix what they think is wrong. The problem is when guilt becomes shame. Shame is when you feel more than just bad, but think that you are a bad person. Shame is much more painful than guilt and leads to the release of cortisol and another kind of cell in the immune system (called a proinflammatory cytokine) which can promote the growth of disease,
Even without the link to shame, dieting has also been implicated in the development of eating disorders. The volunteers in Keyes’ study were prone to binge eating after the “starvation” ended and many reported feeling an insatiable hunger, no matter how much they ate. This lasted for more than a year.
Although, the results from Traci Mann’s lab (author of book) did not find this to be true with all diets, but only certain types of diets will lead to this behavior. The diets that lead to this behavior involved full-on fasting or else extreme calorie restriction, or meal replacement plans. It was found that reducing your calorie intake by 50% seems to lead to binge eating. While reducing it by 25% does not.
Perhaps there is a neurological response to having to restrict the amount of food you eat and the longer you continue to go without, the stronger your brain will respond to images of food and actual food. The increased brain activity is observed in the areas responsible for reward and attention, as well as cravings. At the same time, the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for controlling impulses is decreased.
So whenever you restrict your calorie intake and are always hungry and your brain is giving you a strong response to food and cravings for it, and you combine that with reduced self-control, it could very well lead to binge eating.
One Last Problem
Like a drug addict, getting rid of the addiction is hard because one often keeps going back to whatever is causing the problem. So it is with dieters, many lose and regain what seems like those same pounds over and over, which is called yo-yo dieting. But, did you know the official term is “weight cycling”.
The medical community has not agrees whether weight cycling is unhealthy. There is no agreement on how to define weight cycling, that is how much weight you have to lose and then gain back and what is the time from for it to be considered weight cycling.
Some studies show that intentional weight loss and then weight gained back has no health consequences, but the majority of studies show it can be associated with the increased risk of illness and death. These studies show it may be better to stay at a stable weight than to lose and regain, lose and regain, etc.
Is Dieting Really Worth the Trouble?
At worst, dieting can be hazardous for your mental and physical well-being. At best, it is ineffective and unpleasant.
My note: My conclusion about this chapter is that dieting does not cure obesity. If we are going to lose weight, there has to be a better way than going on a diet for a period of time. And going on a diet will only make you miserable, irritable and obsessed about food.