Filling the Tank

The human body is a collection of many interdependent systems. Each one can be very intricate on its own, and the complexity is multiplied by their interaction. Analogies to other well known and simpler systems can be helpful in analyzing and predicting the reaction to a given input. Care must always be taken to not carry an analogy to detail beyond that which is appropriate, and the details must be logical and simple enough to insure that sensationalism is avoided and that applications are reasonable. With that out of the way, here’s a little satirical story that I think makes a point.

 

Years ago I had a job that required me to drive 50 miles per day round trip. I drove a pickup truck that could travel 20 miles on a gallon of gas. All of the numbers here will be rounded to make the math less complicated.  It’s not about the numbers, it’s about reasoning. With other trips included, I routinely drove 400 miles per week. Since the truck had a tank that held 20 gallons, I filled up once a week with 20 gallons and my world was in perfect harmony.

I bought a sedan for commuting to work because I rarely needed to haul a load with the pickup. The car uses gas more efficiently; it can travel 30 miles on a gallon, but it has a smaller tank; only 15 gallons. After one week with the new car, driving my usual 400 miles, when I pumped the normal 20 gallons, some gas, more than 6 gallons, spilled onto the ground. Yes, that is ridiculous; this is where the satire begins.

The next week I was prepared with a couple of 5 gallon portable tanks to hold the spillage. It wasn’t long before space in the car was becoming limited due to the number of gas containers I was carrying around. A few months later, my job location changed and I was routinely driving only 300 miles per week. Now at fill up time there was only space for 10 gallons in the tank, and my 20 gallon weekly fill up was requiring more and more containers. Why not simply put less in since more is being stored than is being used? That’s a good question, but old habits die hard.

Finally, I decided to mount a trailer hitch to the car and buy a trailer to haul all of the containers. This helped to ease my storage problem since I hadn’t considered that overconsumption might be my real problem. After all, I wasn’t pumping that much gas, at least not any more than the amount to which I had become accustomed. The best part was that now with all the added weight, my gas mileage was down to 25 miles per gallon. The more I accumulate the more it takes to haul it all around. I know it sounds wasteful, but it does seem to work out doesn’t it?

I solved the issue completely by driving a good little bit out of my way on every trip. Just an extra 200 miles per week and I’ve got my world back in harmony. About half way through each week I top of the tank from the storage containers and by the end of the week my 20 gallon fill up is just enough for the tank and containers.

 

This ludicrous tale is intentionally frustrating to read in order to illustrate how silly some very common thinking is in regards to fueling the human body for our intended activity. To suggest that the body is fueled as simply and directly as an automobile is way off the mark. How many times have you heard someone refer to planning some activity to burn off excess calories being consumed? Usually this idea involves a gross exaggeration of the number of additional calories used during any activity, and the body’s storage and energy systems are far more complex than a tank, pump and injectors.

The majority of energy used by the body is not evident in physical activity. The cellular activities that go on beyond our consciousness are very expensive metabolically and their levels vary throughout the stages of life. The notion that we can control our fat storage significantly by adding activity is misguided. No amount of exercise can make up for the overeating that can be done in just a few minutes.

One simple strategy remains effective. Exercise to stimulate muscle growth. Improve the strength of the mechanism. Eat to fuel the mechanism according to need. This requires balance of quality and quantity. If the storage tank is becoming more full than desired, then consider whether more fuel is being put in than required or is the balance of fuel improper so that energy production is hindered. Continually reassess and adjust as needed.

To attempt to calculate energy expenditure in activity and balance it to overconsumption is a blatant fallacy. It makes no more sense than to waste time driving extra mileage in order to use up a predetermined amount of fuel.

5 Ways to Lose Weight

Indiscriminate weight loss is not a healthy concept. Listed below are five categories of weight loss in order of speediness and consequently in reverse order of healthiness. I believe every method of weight reduction that has ever been contrived will fit in one of these categories.

 Translocation

A change of location is the fastest way to lose the most weight possible. If you could travel to the moon, you could decrease your weight by 83% in just a few days. This is, of course absurd, but it illustrates the fundamental need to use terms accurately. Weight is the force of attraction between two bodies of matter. When we measure our weight, we are measuring the force of gravity between the mass of the earth and the mass of our body. Gravity varies with altitude and even with latitude so that we can lose weight (or gain weight) simply by moving to a different location. On the earth’s surface the changes are extremely small, but by traveling into space we can lose a tremendous amount of weight in very little time.

The problem is that this kind of weight loss has no effect on our physical condition. The issue then is not weight loss, but body composition. The focus must be achieving and maintaining an appropriate quantity of stored fat. I’m sorry if the “F” word offends you, but its use is necessary in order to make sense of the issue unless one prefers adipose which is a less recognizable term for the same thing. The word fat is not intended to be insulting; it is tissue; matter; a noun. It is not meant as an adjective. It has absolutely nothing to do with the value or the character of a person. To fuel routine activity, the body must store some fat for later use.

Weight is only one indicator used in evaluating our physical condition, but it does not deserve the amount of significance that is given to it. The trend of weight should be considered over a span of several weeks. There are far too many variables and fluctuations for one reading to be considered meaningful. Even a body mass index can be deceptive. It is possible to be over-fatted and under-muscled thus within a normal range on a chart, yet unhealthy.

 Amputation

A lame joke from years ago stated that if you want to lose 15lbs. of ugly fat fast, you should cut off your head. This is another good illustration that weight loss is not necessarily an improvement in condition and in fact can be very unhealthy. The sad truth is that some surgical procedures that are routinely performed fit in this category. A normal human body functions logically, and if it continually receives more energy resource than it expends, then it will store the excess as fat.

The body does a marvelous balancing act regulating demands and resources, but its ability to function may be limited by an imbalance of important nutrients. Losing weight indiscriminately should not be the focus. Maintaining a healthy balance of fuel intake is the important issue. We can invent excuses but the simple fact is that if a body stores more fat than is necessary, then the diet needs to be adjusted regardless of what the scale says. The scale can be one useful tool in making sure that adjustments are in a healthy amount and direction.

 Dehydration

Athletes competing in a sport with weight classifications have, for decades, used this method of reducing their weight to be just under a specified limit only long enough to weigh in. They ultimately compromise their performance by attempting to gain an advantage this way. It is important to understand that the body is mostly water, and that water is critical to the proper balance.

We consume and expel a considerable amount of water in various ways each day. As a result, our weight fluctuates continuously as the body balances its use of water with its availability. A perceived weight gain may be a healthy change, if it’s caused by a return to proper hydration, while a weight loss can be unhealthy. The body will quickly counteract any temporary gain or loss that is a result of water intake.

 Malnutrition

Each new fad diet plan makes shallow promises as they reveal the secret of easy weight loss by fanatically avoiding a few evil foods or adding a few magic foods. The claim of fast results is a sure sign of a gimmick that will be at best a disappointment or worse, very harmful. Since the body continuously regulates itself, the lack of proper fuel results in biological functions being curtailed. It seems that the first function to be cut is coherent thought which exacerbates the tendency to follow inane “weight” loss methods. A diet should never be thought of as a short term endeavor, but rather a constantly adjusted process of finding balance. All foods contain healthful nutrients. The proportion of each is the deciding factor of an unhealthy diet. Overconsumption of anything, even essential nutrients becomes malnutrition the same way that under consumption of important nutrients does.

 Calibration

Our diet is the means by which we replenish the fuel used in activities of life. The word diet has been misused to suggest denial and restriction. Our society enjoys more leisure than any other in history and that leads to an unhealthy view that food is a form of entertainment. We have become so accustomed to pampering that we believe we deserve immediate remedy; a diet plan that will quickly put me back to the starting point, and will allow me to continue with the unhealthy lifestyle that resulted in a poor condition. This seems to fit a popular satirical definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different outcome.

Biochemistry is a very complex science, but at a very elementary level balanced nutrition includes enough protein to support cell regeneration, enough unsaturated fats to support endocrine function and the balance of carbohydrates to fuel muscular contraction for activity. It’s easy to be satisfied with the amount of effort put toward health care and at the same time be unsatisfied with the resulting condition. The truth is; health care is a cause and effect relationship. If we are to enjoy the desired effect, then we must exert control over the cause.