Last night after my bedtime as I was standing barefoot in the kitchen eating kippered herring from the can, I was thinking about the complex nature of our relationship with food. I’d decided to eat a snack because I’d been lying in bed trying to sleep, with my stomach growling. I’d decided to eat the kippers because I like them, and they were a quick protein snack and I really did not want something sweet at that time. The timing of it was, on reflection, easy enough to explain: I’d eaten dinner early, and it had been four hours by the time I was standing there eating fish. Having eaten a light dinner, it was no wonder I was hungry.
I should note that I do not diet. I have been reducing the amount I eat, and knowing my schedule and body, eating more often (grazing) and/or fasting (skipping breakfast) are neither of them options for me. So I’m simply being more mindful of how much I eat, and avoiding excess sweets. Difficult, that last, as I’m a baker, but there are ways to keep baked goods less sweet, too. However, I’ve discovered that if I put something on social media about eating – not food, necessarily, but eating habits – I’m immediately flooded with advice on diets.
We live in a unique time in the history of mankind. We have so much food that we can pick and choose. We have so much food we can worry about the obesity epidemic. We have so much food that we never stop and think about where the next meal is coming from – unless it matters to us if that food is free-range, non-GMO, organic, or whathaveyou. This isn’t the case all the way around the world, nor do people obsess over food like Americans do even in other regions where food is plentiful.
I’ve blogged many times about the fallacies we’ve been fed by the media (and even the medical professionals) concerning organic food, sugar, and GMOs. Dieting definitely falls into the same category as those. At it’s most simplistic, the equation looks simple: calories=fat. Reduce calories, you’d think, and you’ll lose fat. Except that, being biochemistry, it’s not that easy. The food we eat fuels our bodies cells, and in theory, excess fuel gets stored in adipocytes, the cells that made up the pudge around my middle I dislike so very much. But the problem is that some people can eat and eat and eat and don’t get fat. Other people can constantly feel like they are starving, and still gain fat.
I’m going to digress here for a second to note that I’m trying really hard to get out of the habit of equating weight and fat. Being heavier does not necessarily mean you’re carrying around a lot more adipose tissue. Fat is less dense than muscle, so you can be fit and strong, while weighing more than your ‘ideal’ weight to height ratio (which is another pet peeve…). Loss of muscle and gain of fat, if you are judging your progress strictly by the scale, can feel like a win when it’s really a big loss.
So why are there people who can eat a horse, and buzz like a hummingbird, while the rest of us eat and feel like a bear ready to hibernate? The easy answer is ‘metabolism.’ Without getting into how that word’s meaning is a mystery to most who use it, it’s still not the whole answer. Current studies into the triggers that form fat cells are showing that the circadian rhythm – the day-night cycle of our lives on Planet Earth – regulates the differentiation of the cell as it develops, and that getting out of the rhythm can provoke the development of more adipocytes. Lack of sleep makes us fat? Well, sort of. The circadian rhythm’s also thrown off by stress, lack of light… actually, that hibernating bear feeling might be very accurate.
I’m not saying that if you cut stress from your life, and sleep like a husband (sleep like a baby? Have you ever slept with a baby? They’re up every two hours! And screaming! No, better to sleep like a man who has worked hard all day and knows that his wife has got the baby feeding under control), you’re going to lose weight. But it seems clear that if you work on those things, you will stop getting fatter. In conjunction with exercise to develop muscles, and reducing your caloric intake (in whatever fashion seems best to you. My motto is: everything in moderation) you should be able to start feeling better. Not necessarily to lose that fat, though. I’ll get into what’s going on there tomorrow…