Thank you, Albert!
Einstein, that is.
After all, he’s the one who so infamously gave use “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
And, just on time for the Fourth of July obesity researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine calling for a new national battle plan to fight obesity – one that replaces the emphasis on food restriction and weight loss with achieving “energy balance” at a healthy body weight.
In the journal Circulation, published July 3, James O. Hill, PhD and colleagues at the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center moved the debate in a new direction, using the idea of “energy balance” – which combines food intake, energy expended through physical activity and energy (fat) storage – to promote the concept of a “regulated zone,” where the mechanisms by which the body establishes energy balance are managed to overcome the body’s natural tendency to preserve existing body weight.
The researchers’ goal is accomplished by strategies that match food and beverage intake to a higher level of energy expenditure than is typical for many Americans, allowing the biological system that regulates body weight to work more effectively.
And the new study is supported by other research that shows that higher levels of physical activity are associated with low weight gain, while comparatively low levels of activity are linked to high weight gain over time.
Hill, professor of pediatrics and medicine and executive director of the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center at the UC Anschutz Medical Campus, is the lead author of the paper. He argues that “A healthy body weight is best maintained with a higher level of physical activity than is typical today and with an energy intake that matches.” “We are not going to reduce obesity by focusing only on reducing food intake. Without increasing physical activity in the population we are simply promoting unsustainable levels of food restriction. This strategy hasn’t worked so far and it is not likely to work in the future.”
As Dr. Hill explains, “What we are really talking about is changing the message from ‘Eat Less, Move More’ to ‘Move More, Eat Smarter.’”
In a burst of common sense that contradicts fast food chains’ preoccupation with jumbo and extra-jumbo sized portions, the authors argue that preventing excessive weight gain is a more achievable goal than treating obesity once it has developed. They stress that reducing calorie intake by 100 calories a day would prevent weight gain in 90 percent of American adults – and that goal is achievable through small increases in physical activity and small changes in food intake.
In part, the Colorado researchers’ results reflect basic math: People who have a low level of physical activity have trouble achieving energy balance because they must constantly use food restriction to match energy intake to a low level of energy expenditure. As perpetual dieters already know, constant food restriction is difficult to maintain over time and when it cannot be maintained, the result is positive energy balance – the calories consumed are greater than the calories expended through daily living and exercise, there is an increase in body mass, which elevates the energy expenditure and helps reestablish energy balance.
It’s somewhat different than the proverbial “see-saw” phenomenon that so many perpetual dieters complain about. It’s more like perpetually digging an ever deeper hole and not being able to understand why you can’t get out. And that’s because 60 to 80 percent of the weight gains that follow diet failures is usually body fat. In fact, the researchers speculate that people become obese because that may be the only way to achieve energy balance in a sedentary lifestyle and a food-abundant environment.
After reviewing the scientific energy balance literature, the researchers calculated that it is not realistic to attribute the current obesity crisis solely to caloric intake or physical activity levels. They noted that energy expenditure has dropped dramatically over the past century as American lives now require significantly less daily physical activity. However, they argue that this drop in energy expenditure was a necessary prerequisite for the obesity epidemic. Part of the response to that epidemic must be reinserting more physical activity into American lives.
“Addressing obesity requires attention to both food intake and physical activity, said co-author John Peters, PhD., assistant director of the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center. “Strategies that focus on either alone will not likely work.”
The authors also explained part of the failure of food restriction in reducing obesity. Although caloric restriction produces weight loss, it also triggers hunger and the body’s natural defense to preserving existing body weight, which leads to a lower resting metabolic rate and changes in how the body burns calories.
A 10 percent weight loss can produce a 170 to 250 decrease in energy requirements; a loss of 20 percent of body weight can result in a decrease in energy requirements of 325 to 480 calories. These figures provide some insight into weight loss plateaus and the common see-saw (weight gain) effect following a weight loss regimen.
Francis J. (Skip) Flynn, Psy. D.
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