The Wall Street Journal reports on a study to be published in the Journal of the American Medical Association today (Wed, January 4, 2012):

Whether you are just starting a New Year’s diet or struggling to maintain a healthy weight, a provocative new study offers some timely guidance. It isn’t so much what you eat, the study suggests, but how much you eat that counts when it comes to accumulating body fat.

Really?  It matters how much (in calories) is eaten?  In other words, the obesity equation for a human body works within the parameters of the law of conservation of energy, looking something like this:  Calories (i.e., energy) consumed must either be expended or expelled, or the system gains energy in the form of mass.  Or, as one of the doctors in the study put it:

“The body was confronted with excess calories, but it didn’t care where they came from,” said George Bray, a researcher at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Baton Rouge, La., and lead author of the report. “The only thing it can do is put them into fat.”

The study was meant to debunk the cockeyed notion that weight gain is a function of which type calories are consumed.  It doesn’t matter whether energy is derived from protein, fat or carbohydrates, if it is excess to the body’s needs, it will be stored as fat.  Calories in must equal calories out, or weight gain obtains.  Physicists could have saved medical science a lot of trouble by just explaining to the doctors and diet gurus the principle of energy conservation to which all closed systems are subject. 

It should, however, be pointed out that a calorie as regards a human body might not be the same as energy within an inanimate system.  A human calorie is a unit of mass/energy which a human body can capably employ.  A human that consumes some non-digestible energy would quickly enough expel, rather than expend, the “calories” thus consumed, so only calories of the digestible variety are the ones that are made into fat.

Thus the timeless formula for weight loss is yet again confirmed:  Eat less and exercise more.  Eat whatever you like, but make sure the total of the calories from whatever source is less than the body needs to maintain equilibrium.   Expending more energy, i.e., exercising more, will increase the amount that can be consumed while staying below equilibrium, but the key is to consistently keep caloric intake below what is required for equilibrium. 

The reason so many people seek refuge in cockeyed dietary schemes is their desire to find a way around the pain they know they must suffer if they are to lose weight.   Denying the body food is painful.  Sustained movement is painful.  Snacking on holiday treats all day, never even approaching the hunger threshold, is not.  Neither is sitting on a couch all day.  Pain avoidance is instinctively driven.  Intentional pain infliction is not. 

That survival now requires just the opposite of what historically obtained (the self-infliction of pain, rather than its avoidance) is a measure of the success mankind, particularly in the West, has enjoyed in bending Nature to its will.  Only about 3% of the American population works at producing food for the rest of the 300 million or so of us, and those 3% produce even more food than fat Americans can consume.  Agricultural products comprise far and away America’s biggest category of export goods.

A survey should be taken, asking Americans when it was they last felt a hunger pang.  Americans eat because food is cheap and available, and time is allotted for eating it.   Doubtless a great many of them aren’t at all hungry, but they don’t listen to their bodies; when their soul whispers in their ear that they don’t need the food, their mind returns a rationalization; “but it’s so good”, “I’ll just have a little bit”, etc.

Here’s an idea for anyone that wants to lose weight.  First, simply quit eating for a few hours.  Skip a meal and reacquaint yourself with hunger.  While the hunger builds, do what your ancestors would, and move about as if in search for food.  Take a long walk or run.  Once the regular time for the next meal arrives, slowly eat a regular-sized meal, savoring each bite.  Now take a week off this one-day “diet”.  Go back to your slothful, gluttonous ways, but steel yourself for the next round of dieting, which will be a repeat of the first day, only extended to two days.  Repeat the regimen, each week extending the diet days by one, until every day is a diet day, until every day skips a meal.  Then stay that way until the weight loss goal is reached, after which, repeat the process in reverse, but with smaller portions than before the diet, and never eating without feeling hunger pangs.  Keep exercising.  The pleasure of eating and leisure will become so much more enjoyable once you’ve learned to inflict a measure of pain from hunger and exercise, you’ll feel alive again, or for perhaps the first time. 

The ordinary cycle of life, driven by metabolic processes, is need-generated pain, action taken to meet the need in order to relieve the pain, and transitory pleasure following the cessation of pain.   Constantly feeding a non-existent hunger, effectively the only path to obesity, circumscribes the ordinary pain-action-pleasure cycle of life, at least as it concerns caloric needs, replacing it with a dull numbness, reminiscent of a narcotic haze.  Food has become the most abused drug in the country. 

The addiction is curable, but requires the will to endure pain, and must be effected in a world that panders to pain avoidance instincts.  Pain avoidance schemes–from vehicles that alleviate the need to walk to prepared foods that alleviate the need to cook to mortgage modifications that alleviate the need to keep promises–are the hallmark of the services provided by both private industry and government.  It’s no wonder obesity is rampant. 

At least now, with medical science confirming the law of energy conservation, we know what causes it.