Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Fat as a Battery

Kerrrr-ching! Responding to a comment on my blog, out popped a single phrase that crystallises my views on the topic of fat - and which should be fundamental to your understanding of body fat; 'Fat is a battery'.

We can take this analogy further - I sit here working on a laptop. If I unplug the laptop from the mains, it seamlessly functions on its battery (fat). An indicator in the bottom corner shows the current power level. When the power level drops to a certain point, a dialogue box is displayed (hunger pang), with a relevant warning. The laptop will continue to function on its battery, but as the battery runs down, the warnings become increasingly frequent, and in extreme cases, the laptop will become inactive and shut down until a fresh power source is available.

If I hook the laptop back in to the mains, it will function again, and recharge its battery. Once charged, there is no further dialogue box warning of the the charge state (hunger has been sated). Whilst charging, the indicator in the bottom corner of the screen could be thought of as appetite. The more you run down your battery, the greater the required charging to reach 'full charge' (so the more you run your fat down, the bigger your appetite).

If the indicator (appetite) is faulty then the battery could overcharge or undercharge. Welcome to the world of the refined carb-eater.


Thirst is a complementary mechanism to appetite. News reports today carry the story of a woman who drank too much
water. As with the diet industry, there is a hydration industry that persuades us to drink ritualistically rather than in response to thirst. Hyponatraemia is a greater threat than obesity - but that is due to the immediacy of consequence. Obesity and degraded insulin sensitivity are both harmful - the ill effects just takes longer to manifest.

What is curious about this story is that the BBC felt the need to wheel out some Professor to state, "...people should drink when their body tells them to - when they get thirsty."

OMG! Do we REALLY need to be told to obey our thirst? Unfortunately few would extend this logic to the more revolutionary advice to obey your appetite. Oh how I would love to hear someone Professor-type come out and state "...people should eat when their body tells them to - when they get hungry."

But no, people are told to cut back on their food (eat less) and ignore their hunger or, conversely, to do more but maintain the same calorific intake....and ignore their appetite.

Back to the story; The British Dietetic Association (BDA) offer the advice that "the amount of water actually needed in a day varies from person to person, and depends on other factors such as climate, and exercise". Not rocket science is it? One of their members noted that "You shouldn't be drinking massively over and above what you feel comfortable with, when you're not thirsty, in a mechanical way."

Now I am not sure what thirst in a 'mechanical way' is, but the same could be said of food - "You shouldn't be eating massively over and above what you feel comfortable with, when you're not hungry."

A quick visit to the BDA site shows a complete disregard for the notion of appetite and hunger. Their PDF on weight loss does not mention the word 'appetite' and involves ritualistic eating (the usual 'start the day with a breakfast' and 'eat regular balanced meals' type advice).

The term 'balanced' means different things to different people. What is more concerning is the advice to watch your portion size. This implicitly ignores appetite and hunger. Their PDF on fad diets is similarly lacking in consistency with their view on thirst. How can people hope to regulate what they eat if they have no responsive mechanism to indicate they have had 'enough'? Well the fact is that we DO have a responsive mechanism to indicate enough. Appetite. All we need to do is to ensure that it is callibrated. This beats a food diary any day.


So there you have it. According to the BDA, trust your instincts when it comes to thirst, but not when it comes to hunger. Me? I say TRUST your evolutionary mechanisms. If these mechanisms tell you to drink, drink. If they tell you to eat, eat. If they tell you to rest, rest. If you become bored and restless, get out and seek novelty and activity. These instincts can be misled - and identifying the cause is not always easy. The negative results will however, become apparent over time.

The BDA may pick and choose which instincts they agree with, but as these instincts have evolved over millions of years, I trust all of them. After a lifetime of poor habits these instincts may need some form of re-callibration, but it CAN be done.

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