Can Fat Make You Thinner?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The first time my dad came to visit us in Peace River, he commented on the number of "oversized" people he noticed. It wasn't his imagination--Peace River has the highest obesity rate in Alberta. I am not sure why, exactly, because there are plenty of opportunities to be active. I have a few theories, such as how long and cold our winters are--it does not encourage getting outside much in the winter. When I lived in town, I remember being quite frustrated with the fact that we lived in a small neighbourhood on top of a hill and the snow was not usually cleared from most people's sidewalks, making a winter walk with the stroller nearly impossible. (I tried once, and ran into a snow-hidden pipe sticking up out of the sidewalk with the front wheel of the stroller. I had had the wheel locked so it would be pushed more easily, and this broke the lock. Grr.)

Interestingly, the first time Mike came up and visited us in Peace River from Arkansas, he couldn't believe how skinny we Canadians were! I was a little amazed, considering that there were way more people here that looked a little "fluffier" in my eyes than where I had come from. However, after moving to Arkansas, I understood why he thought that. It truly seemed that people down there that were fit and thin were in the minority. Teenage girls would walk around in low-rise jeans and cropped shirts and rolls of fat hanging over the waistband. To me, it looked awful--but if all your friends are in the same shape, and doing the same thing, I guess you wouldn't realize it, would you?

Jason and I were probably both at the heaviest weight of our lives last winter--Jason, thanks to the desk job he had had for the past few years, and me, thanks to several years of lowered activity and a summer of Tim Horton's bagels. We went to karate to try and change that. When I made comments about how out-of-shape I was, people in the class would laugh. I honestly started keeping those things to myself, because I really didn't have as far to go as many of the others there.

It seemed that many teenagers (especially girls, for some reason) were well on their way to a double chin by the age of twenty. Wal-Mart was especially bad. (It is here, too, for some reason.) I think it's the motorized carts--it always made me think that if they would get off the cart and actually walk around to buy their groceries, they might find they don't need it!

I am not relating this to gawk in incredulity. I actually found it rather sad. I started asking why?

There were a few answers that I guessed at. For instance, the one (and ONLY!) time I tried to buy a roast from an actual grocery store, I went to the only two in town and could not find any fresh-cut and butchered meat. They had all been pre-packed and injected with a solution--in other words, this is inferior meat, raised on inferior feed in an inferior environment, and they were trying to mask that by adding some juice into it. There are a lot of chicken barns in that area, and I tell you, being raised in one of those is no way to make a happy chicken. If you've ever driven by a commercial feedlot, you may not ever want to buy a pre-packaged roast again. But most people do not even think about where their food comes from--and if your only option is to buy garbage (or you don't know that you could find good food from your neighbour down the road if you only asked), then you eat the garbage and don't even realize that it IS garbage.

In fact, less people there seemed to be aware of how what they ate could affect their health. Or, if they knew, they didn't care. Some people seemed to be afraid to know. Or offended that anyone would figure that what they were doing might be the reason they were slated for cancer or diabetes or obesity in only a few years (if it wasn't already too late).

But, on the other hand, I also knew many Albertans that maintained similar lifestyles to the Arkansans I knew, yet were not as overweight. Why not, I wondered? Could it actually have something to do with being cold for so much of the year?

Not long ago, I came across this little blurb that may support that idea:

(Wise Traditions, Summer 2009): Brown fat is a type of adipose tissue which has the sole purpose of expending energy. Biologists once thought that brown fat disappeared after infancy, but new studies show that most adults have unexpectedly large and active deposits of this calorie-burning fat. According to scientists, the only safe way to activate brown fat is to stay chilly, right on the verge of shivering, for prolonged periods. This causes the fat to use up calories to keep us warm. As expected, leaner people have more detectable brown fat than overweight people. Studies show that stimulating the production of brown fat in mice--which can be done by injecting them with a growth factor called BMP7--makes them resistant to gaining weight or to developing diabetes when fed a high-calorie diet (Washington Post, April 9, 2009). Naturally, scientists are looking for ways to increase brown fat in humans--by injection or pill--the typical reductionist mentality. What would be really interesting to know is what kind of nutritional support allows us to carry large amounts of brown fat from infancy into maturity, so that we know how to ensure that lucky condition of being able to eat lots of food but not gain weight."

Well, to answer that last question, I could look at my paternal family. My dad has seven brothers and one sister. Not one of them are obese. Some of them have a few extra pounds around the middle, now that they are getting older, and that's it. Judging from the diets they were raised on, it involves plenty of farm-fresh meat, raw milk and butter and cream, fresh vegetables, and plenty of work involved to grow and produce your own food.

After my cleanse this spring, I managed to drop 8 pounds, but then gained a few of them back on the trip up here and in the summer months. However, I am now back to a trim, healthy weight that I am quite happy with. I like how my body looks. And I like the full-fat food I eat. Yes, I am much more active than I have been in several years--which I love! But this article got me to thinking...

Apparently, there ARE perks to winter! Maybe I shouldn't be in such a hurry to build an airtight house--apparently the draughts are keeping me thin! :-)

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  1. Interesting post! Though if you look at cultures in general, genetics being taken into consideration, but for the sake of argument, the people who live in the coldest part of the world(the freezing cold north...even north of you guys!) are not exactly what I'd call slim. However, those who live in the warmer climates generally tend to be the slimmer ones. One could also argue the point of physical activity and how that is indeed affected by weather, so your bit addressing that would be proved correct. Seems that all of us sort of in between, neither hot nor cold climate dwellers, are the ones with the weight issue more so. That being said, we're also the ones with the most income and least amount of activity. It is sad.

  2. Yup, there's a silver lining to every!!


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