20 July 2010

Hormones and Hunger--Which is the chicken; which is the egg?

Recently, a person close to me revealed that he had been using anabolic steroids for almost a year in an attempt to increase his weightlifting. This caused quite an uproar in his family for a number of reasons (it was done surreptitiously, school studies doing poorly, misalignment in prioritization, etc.). That's not what I want to talk about though.

I want to talk about the calories in v calories out concept.

So first a little about steroids:

from Wikipedia:
Body composition and strength improvements
A review spanning more than three decades of experimental studies in men found that body weight may increase by 2–5 kg as a result of short term (10 weeks) [anabolic steroid] use, which may be attributed mainly to an increase of lean mass. Animal studies also found that fat mass was reduced, but most studies in humans failed to elucidate significant fat mass decrements. The effects on lean body mass have been shown to be dose dependent. Both muscle hypertrophy and the formation of new muscle fibers have been observed. The hydration of lean mass remains unaffected by AAS use, although small increments of blood volume cannot be ruled out.

During the year that he was on steroids, he gained about 50 pounds. There was a lot of muscle as well as fat. He was continually ravenously hungry. In that time, he ate "everything that didn't eat him first" according to his mother. Grocery bills in his home went up by about $500 per month.

So the question is did he gain weight because he was eating more, or did he eat more because he was gaining weight? I believe the main influence was the latter. I believe that he was forcing food in as well, so perhaps to some extent that forcing increased his fat mass, but his ravenous hunger was coming from someplace. It was the change in his hormonal environment caused by the steroids.

So obviously, this is not directly applicable to you or me, but the question I put to you is "how different is this really from the normal obese person?" Changes in hormones caused by stress, exercise, sleep, or lack thereof, the foods we eat, the bad stuff we eat that we call foods and the music we listen to, all change our mix of hormones. So what causes the obese to eat more than they consume? Are they eating because they're getting fat or getting fat because they are eating? Understanding the arrow of causality is fundamental to fixing obesity.

Our national assumption that overeating causes obesity has failed miserably (after all calories in minus calories out is the first law of thermodynamics). It's time to take an engineering approach and understand the real root cause, not just the simple-minded math/physics.

04 July 2010

Very Quick Post on Free Will

I have been looking for a way to describe a seeming contradiction in my thinking about free will or our lack thereof. That is the whole chicken and egg thing around if one has no free will, how can they possibly ever effect change in their own life. Ultimately, it comes down to rewriting our electro-chemical programs by changing the people we associate with, the food we eat, the exercise we do, the sleep we get, etc.

I think it comes down to something to nudge you in a different direction, then that nudge becomes a cascade of positive (or negative) results.

Nicholas Nassim Taleb who wrote The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness (the better of the two IMHO), tweeted something that I think says it well.

"Unless we manipulate our surroundings, we have as little control over what & whom we think about as we do over the muscles of our hearts."

So it's not simply deciding to do something differently, we have to change our environment, i.e. do something in order to set up the conditions to make a change.

I would add that external forces can change the surroundings as well. Think of the woman who tells her husband that his breathing is broken at night.

OK. That's it. Happy Independence Day weekend for those in the US, Belarus, Argentina, Algeria, Burundi, Malawi, São Tomé and Príncipe, Solomon Islands, and Venezuela.