Wednesday, June 13

Everybody's Different

This morning I got the book 'Shape Up by Jonny Bowden' which my friend Sara recommended. So far it seems pretty sane. It is less a love-fest of any given kind of food, than a focus on the individual and what might work, or not work, for them.

I loved his examples from the works of biochemist Dr. Roger Williams, who wrote Biochemical Individuality, and others in that field. Just the few examples Bowden gave were so impressive that I want to quote the little section of chapter 2 here for others to see and consider.

From the Atlas of Human Anatomy, he reproduces illustrations of nineteen different laboratory speciman human stomachs of dramatically different shape and size and does the same for seventeen different livers. He reports on differences--dramatic differences--among normal healthy infants in leukocytes, neutrophils, eosinophils, basophils, lymphocytes and monocytes. He reports on huge differences in the musculature of the pectoralis minor muscle and on the variations in the amount of islet tissue in the pancrease. He suggests that the potential rate of production for insulin alone probably varies throughout a ten-fold or greater range, and that the number of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas varies from 200,000 to 2.5 million. This, by the way, in normal people. The thyroid gland in normal people varies from a weight of 8 grams to 50 grams. Pepsin, a digestive enzyme produced by the stomach and one of the two most important functional constituents of gastric juice, varies in the normal stomach by a thousand-fold. [...]

"The particular insertion of a muscle in the back of a hand can make the difference between a concert pianist and a person who's all thumbs," stated Dr. Alexander Ballin, in a lecture about biochemical individuality and vitamin needs. Twenty-two percent of people have differences in the structure of this muscle; 13 percent don't have the muscle at all; 1 percent have two muscles.

...I'll ... sum it all up for you in two words: Everybody's different.

He took on early another topic I consider in need of a voodoo doll and pins:

In 1980, when Consumers Guide published "Rating the Diets," there were well over 100 diet books for their consideration. With few exceptions, the underlying concept was always this: Eat less. Whatever gimmick the authors sold, they were all buying the same underlying theory: Excess calories make you fat.

[...] During the 1980s and 90s, all manner of low-fat diets prevailed. Fat was the new demon ... Pasta and bagels, solely on the basis of their having virtually no fat content, became touted as health foods, which is a little like promoting the Godfather as a role model because he liked to play with his grandkids. [...]

If you're reading this book, chances are very good that that very diet made you fat or is preventing you from losing weight. And it's almost certainly not making you any healthier.

[...] [Chemists] now had an objective measure of energy input from food, plus an objective measure of energy output from exercise and activity.

And the tyranny of the calorie equation was born.

He doesn't discount calories at all, but he points out the (in my opinion vastly) more important issue on the "energy in vs. out" question, with an example and an analogy:

When I taught personal training at New York's Equinox Fitness Clubs, we had an exercise physiology lab that contained an apparatus called a metabolic cart. You would get on a treadmill and put on a mask attached to a computer that would measure your oxygen intake and your carbon dioxide output at different levels of exercise intensity. Then the computer would calculate your caloric expenditure as you exercised. The individual variations were absolutely astonishing, and they would often vary enormously from what the standard equations would predict.

Suppose I rented a car in Los Angeles and wanted to buy just enough gas to get to San Diego. The distance is 120 miles. If I fill the tank and only use 1/3 of it, there's no refund and I will have wasted money, so I want to get an idea of how much gas to buy. Think about it for a minute and see if you can guess the answer to this question: How many gallons should I purchase?

...There's no correct answer unless you have one missing critical piece of information, which I didn't give you. Before you can answer the question of how many gallons of gas I need, you have to answer another question: What kind of car did I rent?

If I rented a jeep I met get only ten miles to the gallon, but if I rented a Volkswagon I might get thirty. And it's the same thing with calories. ... we are all metabolically unique.

It's about damn time someone pointed this out. I understand that science has already demonstrated sufficient research to support the point, but even many scientists just don't seem to get it. If someone who weighs around 400 lbs can eat fewer calories than someone who weighs 130 lbs should, and not lose weight (or at any rate remotely resembling the math), then obviously anybody who thinks that the whole weight gain/maintenance/loss equation is a matter of those numbers is misinformed.

As the saying goes, it only takes one white crow to disprove the theory that all crows are black. There are plenty of people with metabolisms like mine who put the lie to the 'calorie theory'. There isn't any doubt what a calorie is going in; but how that food is processed inside the body, and how many calories the body needs to use for its own maintenance, obviously varies so radically, that the calories-in numbers become almost "not applicable" to the answer: because we don't know enough about the individual body's processing to even know the real question.

Anyway that's about as far as I got in the book. I recommend it so far.



TESS said...

I thought it was an excellant book as well. No 2 people ever lose the same way, that is what makes us unique.Enjoy your blog!

Sara a.k.a "Citruskiss" said...

Excellent point PJ - this business of all of us being unique. I wonder what kind of 'car' I am? The more I read on forums, blogs and so on - the more I realize that we really are all different when it comes to this business of losing weight. For one person, it's dropping the dairy, for another person it's upping the fat...there are people who have great success eating whipped cream, and others who have to stay far, far away from that stuff. Upping the veggies results in bloating and water weight gain in some people, and the same technique results in speedier weight loss in another person.'s like we all have to become our own personal scientists - doing the research and conducting the experiments until we finally (and hopefully) learn what works for us in this whole losing weight deal.

And it gets even more complicated - because you have to factor in the type of 'gas' you're providing that mystery car. Sure seems to take awhile to figure out what kind of gas, never mind how often you'll need to refill the tank.

Like I said, it's some kind of major research project it seems.

Thanks for a great blog post - I think it's important for us to realize that it's going to take some tinkering and some experiments to figure out what makes our particular body/car perform best, and drop some weight.

Sparky's Girl said...

I couldn't agree more PJ! We have to figure out our individual needs are. We weed out what works for us, then dump the rest in the trash. Too many people believe if it worked for them, it HAS to work for you too. Blech...

Tracy said...

This sounds like a book worth reading. Good for Bowden!

Tracy said...

I linked to this post from my blog! Hope you don't mind :)