I had been thinking about dieting for quite a while – well, since January 1st as it happens. But dieting requires exercising as well and I’m not that keen on exercising. But over the last year and a half, I put on weight after two operations to restore my hip and then my knee to a state of perfection. Now, fully equipped with state-of-the-art joints, there can be no more prevaricating or excuses not to repay the hours of intricate repair by my friendly surgeon, and use them to their fullest capacity and, of course, this means putting my money where my mouth is.
One of my daughters introduced me to something called MyFitnessPal which is an app for my phone. This clever little app will let me write up everything I’ve eaten, it will even scan in barcodes for my convenience, it will calculate the amount of calories I’ve consumed and, should I exercise the new joints, it will subtract the calories expended so I can “buy” my next meal with added extras if I so choose.
I’m intrigued by this patient and understanding little helper that doesn’t nag me or say ‘no, you can’t have…’ but relies on my conscience to sort things out. At the end of the day when theoretically I should have stopped eating, it will give me a pat on the back for completing my day’s work and tells me in 5 weeks time, if I continue in such style, I will weigh a sight less than when I started. So far, I’ve managed nearly 6 weeks and, yes, I have lost a few kilos. The first week was difficult, and this is where my best learning happened. I learned what it felt like to be constantly hungry; I learned that being grumpy was pretty much ongoing; I learned that I actually felt better after I’d had a walk for 30 minutes and while walking, I wasn’t feeling hungry. I learned to love cottage cheese and look forward to wafer-thin biscuits that taste like cardboard. I learned that when I couldn’t sleep at night, it was often because I was hungry, so I learned how to sneak into the kitchen and raid the cupboards. I learned very quickly not to have peanut-butter in the house.
In effect, I learned what it felt like to be my daughter – the one with PWS. When she says, “I could eat 100 of those,” I can say, “me too, I wish we could, but do you know how long we’d be walking into next week?!” I crave a piece of chocolate last thing at night; and, if MyFitnessPal says I can have one, it tastes like heaven. The other night we went down to friends for a “fish and chip” evening. I told my husband he’d just have to take one for the team while I took, in a plastic container, a meal of lettuce, smoked fish and couscous. I explained to our hosts that I was trying to lose weight and they were very understanding. But, just like my daughter (the one with.. etc) I just wanted a little taste – it smelled so inviting, so yummy, surely I could just have one chip? And yes, I could have sneaked one off someone’s plate and they would have been polite enough to ignore me, but I didn’t. I ate my lettuce, smoked fish and couscous and, actually, it tasted really nice and didn’t give me that heavy feeling that a huge plate of fish'n'chips can do.
This brings me round to the argument of fat vs sugar. Have you noticed recently there is a lot in the newspapers and magazines about the ‘deadliness’ of sugar? No longer is fat the No.1 Evil that it was purported to be; sugar has taken over. We’re told that when we were still living in caves, the amount of fat we ate then didn't kill us, it, in fact, protected us and enabled us to get through the hardship of famines. We've realised that diseases like diabetes, various cancers, and weight-related illnesses didn't exist back then; they've come along since the invention of sugar.
A huge amount of research is being done into obesity – something we all already know – and it is interesting to learn that hunger, the most basic survival instinct of all, is controlled not by the gut, but by the brain. Research is being undertaken to find ways to trick the gut hormones into convincing the brain we’re full on less food. Similarities between the brain-signalling of obese people and alcoholics, and the difference between them and their thinner counterparts, is being investigated. We are learning that our genetics are linked to both our food preferences and our ‘varying natural ability to activate our satiety switch – the signal that tells us we’re full’ (North & South March 2014: The Food + Science Issue).
Of course, my daughter (the one with ...etc) has a dysfunctional brain, so her satiety switch mostly doesn't work.
There are several conditions that affect both brain and gut which could be caused by a poorly functioning immune system, “People who have autism have increased rates of leaky gut and IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), and it turns out that these individuals who are obese, particularly kids who are the offspring of obese parents, also have a higher incidence of gut problems, such as leaky gut, colitis, and inflammatory bowel disease” (Christine Jasoni, Neuroscientist, ibid). This piece of information made me very aware of the number of times my daughter (the one with.. etc) has admitted herself to hospital because of bowel and gut problems; it also reminded me of our own PW researchers who have observed this in Prader-Willi syndrome.
There is so much that is against our having a healthy dietary regime with its full complement of exercise that it is no wonder the world is experiencing a huge rise in obesity. There are the food manufacturers who want us to buy more of their processed foods – so lace them with sugar, or, when saying they are sugar-free, with fat, so that we become addicted to the taste. There are our own genetics which play a part in whether we are “sweet” or “savoury” eaters; there is our brain fighting our gut; there is our own hard-wired selves who desire food practically more than anything else and the good old dopamine feel-good hormone that says to our brain, “have more!!”