BATTLE OF THE BULGE

It is possible to be overweight and malnourished at the same time. It is our battle with the bulge. Food creates a lot of fun in the mouth, and at the same time creates a lot of problems for our body. Many action plans have been suggested, and that include: imposing a “fat tax” on caloric snacks; improving health education; regulating food and beverage advertising, etc.

What should we do to deal with the problems of obesity? Our brains seem hungrier than our stomach. We know we should eat less and exercise more. Still, we don’t do it. Why do our plans and resolutions fail? The fault lies with our heads. The urge to eat too much is wired into our brains. Since obesity is related to brain function (for example, smell, taste and appearance of food influences hunger), one suggestion is to treat obesity as a psychological/psychiatric disorder. This habit of overeating evolved in us, because we were not sure of our next meal. Our brain’s prime directive thus has been to equip the body to meet this challenge. A consequence of this is that we developed the obese prone ‘default eat’ system. We now need remedial measures to counter the effects of our default eat system. Taming obesity probably lies in taming a hungry brain. Dieting in the tempting environment is the most difficult form of self-control.

Quick-fix weight loss solutions are unreliable. Dieting is stressful. Dieters have to overcome several hurdles. There are hurdles of breakfast, lunch, in-between snacks. Each hurdle means one additional resistance to overcome, and as the day progresses there is a corresponding increase in resistance. Each act of overcoming the resistance lowers the dieter’s willpower. It makes the dieter irritable. We are trapped in a nutritional ‘Catch-22’ situation. “In order not to eat, a dieter needs willpower, and in order to have willpower, a dieter needs to eat”. As one ‘Fat Girl’ puts it in her memoir: “Some people daydream heroic deeds or sex scenes or tropical vacations. I daydream crab legs dipped in hot butter.”