The Brain Rules ~ But Which Part?
The fact that the brain, or centralized neural complexes, even exists in multicellular higher organisms is indicative of it's over-arching governing function. Sure, we have feedback loops in our bodies that seem to have little if any mediation by centrally produced signals, but ultimately our organs, including our fat tissue, ultimately relay information to our brains. Our brains then send out signals back to the organ, and to other organs. Renowned endocrinologist Julius Bauer -- heralded originally by Gary Taubes in GCBC, and now in a recent blog post -- said as much.
I've been reading a lot of truly nasty commentary about the web ever since Stephan began rolling out the food reward series. Apparently a lot of people have hurt feelings and think that Stephan is now yet just another young skinny male just looking to blame fat chicks for their obesity, by -- gasp! -- discussing how leptin alters appetite and food intake in the brain. Ya know, I do share the sentiment regarding the seeming dominance of the field of all nature of obesity experts tending to be lean males, trying to figure it all out in a population dominated more by females. But that impacts my views on advice given and such ... I cannot let it cloud my judgment as regards what the science actually says. This is the crux of this matter of obesity research and such. Anyone can fashion a hypothesis that makes sense to them. But if it is not consistent with the actual results observed in carefully controlled experiments, it's just wrong! Conversely, I don't care if Stephan were actually Homer Simpson if the science he's conveying to his audience is sound. And yet, sadly, I think most obese are beyond "repair" in terms of ever experiencing that nirvana of subconscious homeostasis of a lean body weight. That doesn't mean it's not attainable, just that it will take some conscious effort. Before I discuss that a bit, I just can't help but highlight a comment Taubes made recently on his blog:
GT says:November 11, 2011 at 7:24 amThis is a point I’ve always wanted to make to Kurt Harris and some of the young paleo types as well — understanding obesity and weight regulation without having a weight problem yourself is like trying to understand parenting without having children. You might think you get it, but when the children arrive, you will learn differently.
Amazingly, only Kurt and myself called him on this. Meanwhile these same folks have no problem absorbing the wisdom of thin guys like Mark Sisson and Peter/Hyperlipid. Taubes' arrogance is just astounding. But I think GT just gave me some additional credibility here, thanks buddy! I have been there/done that, therefore I understand that which none of these guys can ever relate to.
Therein lies the problem with the "brain rules" part. Most obese have not just tilted at the bounds of homeostasis, they have blown right on by them. And the epidemic simply CANNOT be explained by an increase in underlying genetic causes. This is unfortunate for the genetically obese, nothing I can say or do will alter their reality. But the obesity epidemic is one of overeating and/or underactivity -- as Taubes acknowledged in 2007 at Berkley, there's an environmental agent or agents at work here. Where I think feelings get hurt is that folks equate this with being seen as a "greedy glutton" and "lazy sloth" which is not always the case. But neither, based on studies, is this notion of peckish folks lingering on treadmills as they become fatter and fatter. Perhaps a serenity prayer is in order with regards to the perceptions you can and cannot control.
I think this "brain rules" part disconnects for so many of us because we are disconnected from the subconscious ruling. Humans eat when they're not hungry all the time. Humans eat past the point of feeling full all the time too. I could list a thousand things humans do that override our innate hormonal signalling. Some moreso than others. I don't get the legions of "carboholics" who cannot get the "foodaholic" aspect of food reward. I also don't get those who think that consciously cutting your carbohydrates is really any different than consciously cutting your fat or just total calories, or consciously upping your activity or whatever else.
So I see a slight disconnect here. Stephan's presentation of food reward is part of the indisputable fact that the brain ultimately rules energy homeostasis -- subconsciously -- in animals with normal genetic and anatomical makeup. FRH seeks to explain how our food environment disrupts this homeostasis. If you really think about it, Stephan is shifting the blame -- if any is to be had -- to the food (and by inference to the manufacturers of said food who engineer its effects), and away from the obese person. But we humans, can consciously override that portion of our brains. The affluent -- who had access to the food and means to have skilled people prepare it for them -- have historically tended towards obesity.
So what to make of all of this? I don't know really. I just had to vent a little today about the insanity of it all. I don't know why it is that folks are so wedded to this notion that they are at the behest of their pancreas and insulin receptors and whatnot -- this does not "blame the victim" -- but find offensive that they are at the behest of their hypothalamus instead. How does that "blame the victim" any more? The "cures" I see being bantied about -- whether they be low reward food or low carbohydrate food choices both involve deliberate effort in most cases. Not at all unlike that old tired conventional wisdom of some conscious control over energy content by consciously lowering fat intake or practicing portion control.
At this point were I to be one of these frustrated obese, I would do everything in my power to find out if there were some underlying genetic problem. Perhaps demonizing the very researchers who are looking into these sorts of things aren't the best targets for your animosity.