We humans are really good at measuring and calculating things. We can measure height and weight, blood pressure, pulse, and cholesterol, blood sugar and hormone levels. But they’re only just numbers. And those numbers are just tools. And those tools merely indicators.
Our society loves numbers though, and it’s often hard for most people to separate the number from the meaning. I think doctors, too, sometimes rely too heavily on the number. “Your BMI is too high, you must be overweight”– when the patient is under 10% body fat, all muscle. We’re all stuck in that number culture, and we all pick our favorite one.
The real question we should be focusing on is “Does It Work?” When your doctor tells you to lose weight, s/he is actually saying “improve functionality”. Weight is simply the indicator of your current functionality. Is your blood sugar measurement abnormally high? That is an indicator of either insulin resistance, or not enough insulin is being produced. It can also indicate damage to other organ systems and the potential for severe diseases. Put simply, something isn’t working right. The fix is eating low-glycemic foods at appropriate portions and increasing sugar utilization through physical activity. Guess what? Do those things, you’ll improve function, and you’ll automatically improve the weight indicator.
What other indicators are there?
Now I bring this up because, in my profession, we are asked daily about how to lose weight. And very frequently, as people begin working out, they realize that they are not losing weight as fast as they like. The amusing part to a personal trainer is that our clients are losing inches off their waist, and gaining definition and toning throughout their body. Not to mention increased energy, improved immune function (getting sick less), better focus, improved cardiovascular function (lower pulse and blood pressure), and many other improvements. Their body is working better! And yet our clients just aren’t happy that they haven’t lost some predetermined amount of weight. Every time, we trainers say “but you’re gaining muscle!”, and every time we’re met with “I know, but I just want to lose the pounds.” Needless to say, this is frustrating. So let me spell it out for you again. I explained in the “Stand up to your Chair” posts (see here, here, here, and here) about all these chronic, preventable diseases that can be solved by just standing up every now and then. I tried, through those posts, to point out that it wasn’t the high cholesterol that was killing you, it was the chronic inflammation and reduced cardiovascular efficiency that was both increasing your cholesterol AND causing the damage. The number (cholesterol number) was the indicator that something was wrong. High blood sugar isn’t the disease, high blood sugar is the indicator that your body is not processing sugars properly. The high sugar does cause the damage, but having a high sugar level is not the cause of a high sugar level, it is the result of inefficient sugar metabolism. Eating fat is not necessarily the cause of gaining body fat. In fact, people who eat lots of fat and reduced amounts of processed sugars find that their fat metabolism is way better than those people who eat low fat diets.
The other issue that bothers me is treating the indicator and not the cause. Liposuction is a frequent procedure in our population. It is also one of the most harmful to you (that is my personal opinion). Why do I say that? Because we’re simply hiding the indicator, not treating the cause. Great, so you removed excess fat from your body surgically. But the fat wasn’t causing your disease. The fat indicates that your body is not processing fuels properly. Fat cells are also living cells, which a lot of people don’t know. Fat cells have many tools to communicate to your body that there is something wrong. One of the more common signals that your fat cells communicate is that the fat cells are simply too full, and inflammatory markers are sent throughout the body to tell you something is wrong. Well if you simply surgically remove fat cells, the hidden fat cells remaining have to do all of the storage work. So if you don’t change an unhealthy habit, the few fat cells remaining have to do all the work that many fat cells used to do. So then you end up with TONS of inflammation, and a similar, if not increased risk of disease. The smart way to fix the problem is to make your body work better. Get your blood flowing, increase your fat and sugar metabolism, get your body better at doing the things is needs to survive. Don’t simply hide the problem – go straight to the source. Also fun fact, if you get rid of abdominal fat cells, you’ll end up storing fat in the arms, and legs, which is probably going to look worse than simply putting in the hard work in the first place. What about blood pressure medications reducing blood pressure? Sure, it works, and it can help protect the body when there are things that we can’t fix with exercise. Yes, some things are just broken. But what about the people who don’t have a real cardiac issue. What about reducing stress, eating better, and improving cardiovascular function? If we don’t change the causes, we’re just giving our heart more work to do.
So the question I put to you, friends, is does it work? Is your body working properly? And if not, are you doing what you need to do to help your body work more efficiently and effectively, or are you covering up the symptoms with surgeries and medications?
It just so happens that as I was writing this post, TEDmed posted a new video exactly on this topic, and I couldn’t be more excited to share it. Dr. Peter Attia talks about his past as a doctor, making assumptions about obesity and diabetes. He explains how we’re blaming the symptom, and blaming the victim, but missing the actual cause of the disease. Are we treating the bruise, and not preventing people from crashing into coffee tables?