CBM Blog

An inspiring evening with Girls in the Game

Celebrate yourself and others will follow.

Girls in the Game

Last night we attended Girls in the Game’s annual Field of Dreams Gala. We are so grateful to have been among so many influential role models, giving girls the opportunity to follow their dreams. Girls in the Game is a nonprofit organization, which provides and strongly promotes sports, leadership, fitness, health, and nutrition for girls in the Chicago area. There is so much attrition in graduation rates in Chicago as well as an increase in childhood obesity and inactivity in the country as a whole. Girls are continuously placed in the back seat due to funding, stereotypes, and lack of positive attention. Girls in the Game is devoted to making a positive impact for the developing generation of girls who don’t have access to the resources to help them strive in a system that seems to be working against our countries youth.

We were reminded about the importance of sport and health in a girls life as we listened to the graduating girls (among the small 55% of Chicago Public School graduation rate) tell their stories of teamwork, leadership, commitment, discipline, and growth, which they learned in their experience with Girls in the Game. We were star struck by Brandi Chastain, the keynote speaker, and emotionally moved by her stories about celebration. Brandi told a story about sharing the emotional drive of celebrating yourself and the impact believing in girls has on their future growth in the world. Her story about teaching a soccer camp of girls the power of celebration moved the room. “Thank you for believing in me”, a girl influenced by Brandi’s passion for soccer and celebration told her.

The other Girls in the Game  2013 Champion’s included, Alison Felix, USA Track All-star and Health Champion, Swin Cash, WNBA Sky All-star and Teamwork champion, Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Board President and Leadership Champion, and Sarah Spain, ESPN Anchor and Life Champion. It was a night filled with compassion and energy towards making a difference in girls’ lives. We hope to pay it forward as we continue to spread lessons of sport, fitness and health as they apply to life’s challenges, commitments, and achievements.




Human Instincts – Possible Causes of Obesity and Other Problems

According to Deirdre Barrett, a clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, our primal urges have contributed to creating the obesity epidemic, social isolation, poor risk-assessment tendencies and sex addiction. She discusses the link between our impulses and how it relates to living in the modern world.


APRIL 4, 2010 12:02 PM

The evolutionary impulses that allowed our ancestors to survive on the Savannah are sabotaging us in the modern world, finds groundbreaking new research.

According to Deirdre Barrett, a clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, our lingering primal urges have helped give rise to the obesity epidemic, social isolation, poor risk-assessment tendencies and sex addiction, among countless other things. All because our biology hasn’t caught up to the way we live.

“We still have Stone-Age brains inside contemporarily clothed bodies,” says Barrett, author of the new book Supernormal Stimuli. “So we can’t really trust our instincts; we need to trust our intellects.”

The problem, of course, is that most of us don’t. And according to Barrett’s studies, it’s because we’re governed by the same knee-jerk behaviour as so-called “dumb animals.”

Just as a songbird has been shown to prefer fake eggs over its own real ones, simply because the phonies offer an exaggerated version of reality — brighter colours, embellished markings, larger in size — so, too, are humans duped by their own instincts.

“When we see animals trying to mate with a little cardboard cylinder just because it has the right stripes on the side, it looks really silly to us,” says Barrett. “But magazine pornography isn’t any less unrealistic a depiction of a real woman.”

Because most big genetic changes take 10,000 years or more to pass, she says humans are still coded to respond to their environment in very primitive ways. Once-scarce fat, salt and sugar, for instance, is still pursued today, to the point of excess, despite the fact it’s become widely available.

“Our genes haven’t had time to stop craving those things and start craving green, leafy vegetables, which were around us all the time on the Savannah and didn’t need to be prioritized,” says Barrett.

Our social instincts are as easily fooled — and again, to our detriment — by TV’s exaggerated versions of things we naturally seek out.

“We have very attractive actors smiling at us, and laugh tracks playing, and funny quips coming faster than they ever could in real life,” says Barrett. “All the things that are meant to pull us into a social interaction but, in fact, are pulling us toward a television set.”

Even our ability to detect threats is affected, with Barrett noting people are likelier to gasp at a horror movie or picture of a giant gorilla than news of global warming, which wasn’t an obvious danger to our ancestors.

Because evolution won’t ever catch up to our changing times, she says the best we can do is to recognize what’s happening and try to behave logically.

“We have the tools to handle this, with our superior intellect and brain power,” says Barrett. “The problem is that we act reflexively most of the time.”

Fighting the ‘Fatso Gene’ by Exercising for an Hour a Day

It is not news that exercise and eating healthy can help to combat obesity. Additonally, according to lead author Jonatan Ruiz of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, in a new European Study, one hour of moderate to vigorous exercise a day can help teenagers beat the effects of a common obesity related gene. The study appears in the April edition of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. According to another study’s lead author, Evadnie Rampersaud of the University of Miami, and co-author, Dr. Alan Shuldiner of the University of Maryland, who studied Amish adults said the new findings are “very interesting” because they suggest one hour daily spent exercising can be enough for teenagers at risk. University of Miami researchers now are studying adults in an employee wellness program to see what it takes for them to overcome the fatso gene, Rampersaud said.

The Associated Press
Monday, April 5, 2010; 4:33 PM

CHICAGO — One hour of moderate to vigorous exercise a day can help teens beat the effects of a common obesity-related gene with the nickname “fatso,” according to a new European study.

The message for adolescents is to get moving, said lead author Jonatan Ruiz of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.

“Be active in your way,” Ruiz said. “Activities such as playing sports are just fine and enough.”

The study, released Monday, appears in the April edition of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

The research supports U.S. guidelines that tell children and teenagers to get an hour or more of physical activity daily, most of it aerobic activity such as running, jumping rope, swimming, dancing and bicycling.

Scientists are finding evidence that both lifestyle and genes cause obesity and they’re just learning how much diet and exercise can offset the inherited risk.

One gene involved with obesity, the FTO gene, packs on the pounds when it shows up in a variant form. Adults who carry two copies of the gene variant – about 1 in 6 people – weigh on average 7 pounds more than people who don’t.

In the new study, 752 teenagers, who had their blood tested for the gene variant, wore monitoring devices for a week during waking hours to measure their physical activity.

Exercising an hour or more daily made a big difference for the teens who were genetically predisposed to obesity. Their waist measurements, body mass index scores and body fat were the same, on average, as the other teenagers with regular genes.

But the teens with the gene variant had more body fat, bigger waists and higher BMI if they got less than an hour of exercise daily. The results were similar for boys and girls.

The teens lived in Greece, Germany, Belgium, France, Hungary, Italy, Sweden, Austria and Spain. The study was funded by the Spanish and Swedish governments and the European Union.

The new study found that most of the teenagers had at least one copy of the variant gene. Only 37 percent had regular genes. The rest had either one of two copies of the pesky fatso gene.

An earlier study in Amish adults in Lancaster County, Pa., found they needed three to four hours of moderate activity daily to beat the gene. The adults in that study did things like brisk walking, housecleaning and gardening.

The teens in the new study may have exercised more vigorously than the Amish adults, Ruiz said. The new analysis was designed to see whether the current U.S. guidelines – which specify a moderate to vigorous level of exercise for an hour a day – made a difference for kids.

The lead author of the Amish study, Evadnie Rampersaud of the University of Miami, said the new findings are “very interesting” because they suggest one hour daily spent exercising can be enough for teenagers at risk.

University of Miami researchers now are studying adults in an employee wellness program to see what it takes for them to overcome the fatso gene, Rampersaud said.

“The message is clear: genes are not destiny,” said Dr. Alan Shuldiner of the University of Maryland, a co-author of the Amish study. “Those with obesity susceptibility genes should be especially motivated to engage in a physically active lifestyle.”

A Different Obesity Timeline

It would appear that everyone is aware of the obesity epidemic by this point. It is portrayed as a recent occurrence, but this is not the case. John Komlos and Marek Brabec find that obesity rates began rising a long time ago and explain factors that may have contributed to this precursor to today’s obesity epidemic.


New York Times

The obesity epidemic is generally portrayed as a relatively recent phenomenon, but new research paints a different picture.  John Komlos and Marek Brabec find that obesity rates actually began rising in the early 20th century, with significant upsurges after the two World Wars.  The authors point out that “the ‘creeping’ nature of the epidemic, as well as its persistence, does suggest that its roots have been embedded deep in the social fabric and are nourished by a network of disparate sources…”  Komlos and Brabec point to factors like the industrialization of food production, the spread of automobiles, the spread of the media, the IT revolution, and the growing culture of consumption in America to explain the trend.

HERE is the source from the National Bureau of Economic Research:

The Trend of Mean BMI Values of US Adults, Birth Cohorts 1882-1986 Indicates that the Obesity Epidemic Began Earlier than Hitherto

John KomlosMarek Brabec

NBER Working Paper No. 15862*
Issued in April 2010 NBER Program(s):   HE

The trend in the BMI values of the US population has not been estimated accurately because time series data are unavailable and because the focus has been on calculating period effects. In contrast to the prevailing strategies, we estimate the trend and rate of change of BMI values by birth cohorts stratified by gender and ethnicity born 1882-1986. We use loess additive regression models to estimate age and trend effects of BMI values of US-born black and white adults measured between 1959 and 2006. We use all the NHES and NHANES survey data and find that the increase in BMI was already underway among the birth cohorts of the early 20th century. The rate of increase was fastest among black females; for the three other groups under consideration, the rates of increase were similar. The generally persistent upward trend was punctuated by upsurges, particularly after each of the two World Wars. That the estimated rate of change of BMI values increased by 71% among black females between the birth cohorts 1955 and those of 1965 is indicative of the rapid increases in their weight. We infer that transition to post-industrial weights was a gradual process and began considerably earlier than hitherto supposed.

Obesity in Infants Can Be Diagnosed at 6 Months

Should we take this leap? Should we make this diagnosis? Well this is the same question people have been asking for quite some time about a relevant and concerning issue. Some groundbreaking new research indicates that obesity can be diagnosed earlier than we have ever imagined.  This study was published by researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston in Pediatrics.  Dr. David McCormick, UTMB clinical professor of pediatrics and senior author of the study, stated that clinicians have not really been focusing on obesity in infants and the longstanding effects of it. This finding brings attention to the possibility of preventing obesity via earlier identification of the problem.

ScienceDaily (Apr. 7, 2010) — Obesity can be detected in infants as young as 6 months, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

By analyzing the electronic medical records of babies seen for routine “well-child” visits to the UTMB pediatric clinic, the investigators found that about 16 percent of 6-month-olds fit the study’s criterion for obesity — a weight-for-length ratio that put them in the top 5 percent of all babies in their age group. (Weight for length was used instead of the conventional body mass index because BMI is based on weight and height as measured while standing, which neither 6-month-olds nor 24-month-olds can do well enough to measure.) Further analysis of the records indicated that obese 2-year-olds were much more likely to have been obese at 6 months than 2-year-olds who were not obese.

The obese babies’ medical records rarely showed that clinicians had addressed the issue at either 6-month or 24-month visits, despite a well-established connection between obesity at a young age and obesity later in life, which is linked to such serious health problems as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.

“Until very recently, pediatricians really haven’t been focusing on obesity in babies,” said Dr. David McCormick, UTMB clinical professor of pediatrics and senior author of the study, “Infant Obesity: Are We Ready to Make this Diagnosis?” which is now online in the Journal of Pediatrics. “We’re just getting a handle on it descriptively right now. What we’re hoping to do is alert our colleagues and our parents. If we address weight management through nutrition and exercise as early in life as possible, it’s going to work a lot better.”

According to McCormick, pediatricians confronting infant obesity can recommend a number of measures that other research has shown are linked to healthy weight, measures that should be particularly effective because babies’ mothers have much more control over their diets than mothers of older children do.

“Studies have shown that exclusive breastfeeding — breastfeeding alone, not breastfeeding combined with bottle-feeding — prevents obesity,” McCormick said. “Getting enough fiber — eating apples instead of drinking apple juice, for example — also helps keep babies on track to a healthy weight. By contrast, improper early introduction of cereal by adding it to an infant’s bottle promotes obesity.”

McCormick observed that maternal data collected in his group’s investigation matched well with other studies of children and adolescents that showed higher odds of obesity among boys and girls whose mothers were already obese before becoming pregnant or who gained an excessive amount of weight during pregnancy. Such results, he said, added even more urgency to the need to deal with childhood weight issues effectively and address what could be a multigenerational cycle of obesity.

“We need to do a lot better as clinicians and educators at getting our community educated and working through the entire age spectrum, because babies who are overweight are more likely to be overweight children and adolescents, and then later, when obese women are ready to have a family, their babies are more likely to become obese,” McCormick said. “We need to deal with this through all ages and through pregnancy, because if a woman is already overweight when she becomes pregnant, it’s extremely difficult for her to do anything about her weight at that point.”

Attitude Toward Everyday Activity Important for Healthy Lifestyle

We all know that physical activity is important to good health and well-being. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ recommends 150 minutes of aerobic activity throughout the week. David Conroy, associate professor of kinesiology and human development and family studies, along with Shawna Doerksen, assistant professor of recreation, park and tourism management, Amanda Hyde, graduate student in kinesiology, and Nuno Ribeiro, graduate in recreation, park and tourism management, studied 200 college students to determine the relationship between physical activity and level of unintentional activity. Their results were published in the April issue of Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

ScienceDaily (Apr. 3, 2010) — Unintentional physical activity may be influenced by non-conscious attitudes, noted David Conroy, associate professor of kinesiology and human development and family studies. The challenge of encouraging more activity can be met by understanding the motivation behind both deliberate exercise and inherent behaviors.

“If you aren’t in the habit of being physically active, you can run out of energy trying to force yourself to do it everyday,” said Conroy. “But if you can make physical activity habitual, being active becomes a lot easier.”

Efforts to increase physical activity are at the forefront of public health research because the benefits of a healthy lifestyle go far beyond physical and mental well-being. However, the majority of these efforts focus on explicit motivation — external factors that lead to a change in behavior. Explicit motivation can include following the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ recommendation for 150 minutes of aerobic activity throughout the week, or making plans with a friend to start a weight-loss program.

But explicit motivational processes are often unsuccessful in causing changes that people can easily maintain long-term.

Conroy, along with Shawna Doerksen, assistant professor of recreation, park and tourism management; Amanda Hyde, graduate student in kinesiology; and Nuno Ribeiro, graduate in recreation, park and tourism management, examined 200 college students for a connection between physical activity and level of unintentional activity.

“It wasn’t the overall level of activity we focused on, it was specifically the unintentional activity — those little things that you don’t even think about that help you burn those extra few calories,” said Conroy.

Their results, published in the April issue of Annals of Behavioral Medicine, show a positive correlation between individuals who have a positive attitude about physical activity and those who performed more unintentional physical activity, such as climbing stairs instead of waiting for the elevator, or walking further to the store because of parking in the first available spot rather than searching for a closer space.

The researchers measured the students’ unexpressed attitudes towards exercise with a common psychological test that uses words or pictures to trigger a person’s automatic response. The computer-based test requires categorization of a stimulus, in this case a type of physical activity, with words that are either “good” or “bad.” The faster a person associates a pairing as either good or bad, the more strongly they connect those two things in their memory.

Conroy and Doerksen also used questionnaires to determine the amount of physical activity the students predicted they would get during the week. The amount varied, depending on how active students were in their social group or the outcomes they expected from physical activity.

The researchers fit each student with a pedometer to calculate the total activity he or she experienced during one week. The amount of unintentional activity is estimated by adjusting total activity scores to account for people’s intentions to be active.

“We’re trying to follow this up now by looking at a broader range of populations,” said Conroy. There are major differences in what motivates young adults, mid-life adults or parents, and older adults who may have physical limitations, he noted.

The researchers are now exploring whether there are ways to promote or encourage physical activity without a person knowing it.

Coming to the Menu: Calorie Counts

Making better decisions about eating may increase because of the new health bill President Barack Obama signed into law recently. It requires that restaurant chains post calorie counts for all the food items they sell. “Dining out no longer has to be a nutritional guessing game,” said Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit health-advocacy group based in Washington. Will this change actually affect consumers’ choices of foods? Well, the hope is that it will. Cathy Nonas, director of physical activity and nutrition for the health department in New York City, a pioneer in adopting menu labeling and Ron Shaich, co-founder and chief executive of Panera Bread Co. , believe that this type of action against obesity that can make a difference. Researchers from Tufts University looked at the validity and truth behind the number of calories that restaurants were reporting. Deborah Dowdell, president of the New Jersey Restaurant Association is against this posting of nutritional information and believes there are better ways to reduce the obesity epidemic. On the other hand, others have embraced and welcomed the new information, such as Andy Hayler, a U.K.-based food critic who writes about restaurants world-wide.


Wall Street Journal


Chowing down on calorie-laden food at chain restaurants is going to become more of a guilt trip.

The health bill President Barack Obama signed into law Tuesday requires that restaurant chains post calorie counts for all the food items they sell. The law covers any chain with at least 20 outlets, amounting to more than 200,000 restaurants nationwide.

“Dining out no longer has to be a nutritional guessing game,” said Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit health-advocacy group based in Washington. “People could cut hundreds, thousands, of calories from their diet.”

Calorie counts must be listed on menus, menu boards, drive-through displays and vending machines under the law. Additional information—such as sodium levels, carbohydrates and saturated fats—must be available on request. Temporary specials and custom orders are exempted.

A growing number of state, county and local regulations already require similar disclosures, and those rules will be superceded by the federal law.

There has been debate about whether such menu labeling actually affects consumers’ behavior. Some recent studies have found that such labeling leads to healthier eating: The New York City health department examined the behavior of 12,000 customers of 13 chain restaurants in 275 locations in the city before and after menu labeling was implemented in the city in 2008.

Preliminary results show that one in six fast-food customers report using the calorie-count information. Consumers who said they used the information bought items with 106 fewer calories compared with those who didn’t see or use the information.

Separate studies have shown weak or inconsistent effects of menu labeling on consumer behavior, according to a 2008 review of the literature published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

“Calorie posting in and of itself is not going to change obesity per se, but it’s all of these kinds of layering opportunities that we’re doing for public health all across the country that are going to make the difference,” said Cathy Nonas, director of physical activity and nutrition for the health department in New York City, a pioneer in adopting menu labeling.

The National Center for Health Statistics reported in January that 34% of Americans age 20 and older were obese in 2007-08.

The restaurant industry is required to come up with a labeling proposal in one year, but the bill leaves it to Food and Drug Administration officials to determine specific regulations, including the printing fonts and their sizes to be used in calorie displays. Ms. Wootan said it could take three to four years before diners see the new information in restaurants.

One concern about the rules is accuracy. Researchers from Tufts University who looked into caloric disclosure from 29 quick-serve and sit-down restaurants found that restaurants under-reported calories by an average of 18%.

Some restaurant owners and groups have supported labeling regulations, in part because they don’t think such disclosures deter patrons from ordering what they want.

“This isn’t telling them what to eat or playing nutritional police—it’s about making nutritional information available,” said Ron Shaich, co-founder and chief executive of Panera Bread Co., said in an interview. The company said two weeks ago it would voluntarily add calorie information on menu boards at each of its 1,380 bakery-cafes nationwide by the end of 2010.

The National Restaurant Association said it supported the move to help health-conscious consumers track nutritional facts, and the law also solved the problem of restaurants having to deal with differing menu regulations around the country.

“This legislation will replace a growing patchwork of varying state and local regulations with one consistent national standard that helps consumers make choices that are best for themselves and their families,” the restaurant industry group said in a statement.

Darden Restaurants, which operates 1,800 Olive Garden, Red Lobster and Longhorn Steakhouse and other outlets, said the nationwide requirements will simplify its menu labeling. Only 130 of its restaurants currently are required to label menus, a spokesman said. Some fast food chains, including Burger King, also support the federal law.

But some restaurant owners aren’t so sanguine. Deborah Dowdell, president of the New Jersey Restaurant Association, which represents 23,000 food and beverage shops, said labeling increases menu costs for restaurants is inaccurate and doesn’t solve the nation’s obesity trend.

“If our goal is to curtail the trend of obesity, there are much more effective ways that can be implemented to accomplish that goal,” Ms. Dowdell said, suggesting exercise education as one example.

Some restaurant patrons welcomed the news.Andy Hayler, a U.K.-based food critic who writes about restaurants world-wide, said keeping track of calories was more difficult away from home. “It may not be obvious that something like blue cheese has twice as many calories as other cheeses,” said Mr. Hayler, who often eats out five times per week.

Dr. Kirschenbaum Argues Against the Food Addiction Hypothesis

Here is a commentary by yours truly, Dr. Kirschenbaum, discussing the food addiction hypothesis that so many people believe.

On a Potential Challenge to My Perspective about the Food Addiction Hypothesis (Food Addiction Causes Obesity and Prevents Weight Loss)

New findings from science can change what we do and how we think about the concept of food addiction.  After all, we changed our policy about self-weighing when the data came in that this practice seems quite helpful for LTWCs.  In my clinical work with obese people in the 1970s, I did not focus on a low fat or a very low fat diet.  Science taught me and most others in the 1990s, that this was the way to go.  Does this study with rats and cheesecake suggest considering an alternative way of thinking about obesity?  That’s a very reasonable question.

The results of this study seem to suggest that foods have drug-like properties.  Therefore, perhaps people can become addicted to certain foods just like people become addicted to drugs – and that addiction can cause obesity/prevent successful weight loss.  Many findings and factors argue against this hypothesis.  On the other hand, Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz and Dr. Oprah (oops…) believe in this notion whole heartedly.  It becomes difficult in this culture, especially when reading a study like this, to believe otherwise.  To see why this hypothesis does not work, I’ll describe more about the food addiction model, present an example of a true addiction in contrast (smoking), and argue, once again, in favor of the healthy obsession model (with the athletic metaphor prominently featured).

Food Addiction Model of Obesity

Science has proven repeatedly that under some conditions various foods have drug-like properties in animals.  Almost all of the studies on sugar and fat, like this one, seriously overdose animals and show some drug-like effects occasionally (including distraction, analgesic and even opiate-like effects).  Did you know that a high enough dose of carrots has a drug-like effect: death? Vitamin A toxicity can indeed kill you – as it killed dozens of people in Australia who went on a carrot-based diet. (Their skin even turned orange before they died.) High doses of sugar can reduce perception of pain in animals (e.g., tail pinching experiments with rats).  Have you ever met an obese person who seemed addicted to carrots?

The So-What Question.  What do these drug-like properties that occur in animals tell us about human obesity?  Not much.  Consider what happens to campers and students in our programs when they switch to a Wellspring Plan diet.  Has anyone seen symptoms of withdrawal (high fever, night sweats, hallucinations, reports of monstrously powerful cravings for cheesecake or doughnuts)?  Nope – not a bit.  Homesickness, yes, but withdrawal due to reduction in their “addiction to food?” Nope.  In fact, usually they start feeling better right away – more energetic and happier – and in some cases fewer GI symptoms, also right away.

What about tolerance?  Addictions, by definition, require withdrawal symptoms and tolerance.  Tolerance means that more of the substance is required to produce the same effect with continued use.  Addicts take higher and higher doses to produce the same effects over time: alcohol, heroine, cocaine, vicodin, etc.  The study described below seemed to show some type of dose related effect, but do obese people or those becoming obese show this?  If they did, then almost all obese people would be binge eaters.  They’d eat more and more of that cheesecake over time to feel OK, just like those crazed rats – totally preoccupied with their food.  So, do 95% of obese people binge eat or have a strong history of binge eating?  Nope.  80%? Nope.  50%? Nope.  About 10% of obese people binge eat consistently; a higher % of obese people who seek treatment binge eat – maybe 30% or so, but that’s about it.  So, what caused the obesity in the case of the 90% of obese people who do not binge eat?  Certainly not an addiction to cheesecake or any other type of food.


Consider what we know about true addictions.  Smoking, for example, clearly comes closer to meeting the classic definition of an addiction.  Most smokers gradually increase the numbers of cigarettes per day (despite the inherent toxicity of smoking) until certain levels (e.g., at least a pack a day) are craved and smoked regularly.  Reduction of numbers of cigarettes per day or even time between cigarettes produces strong and immediate cravings – which have obvious biological bases.  When smokers switch to lower nicotine cigarettes, they smoke more of them and inhale more deeply; they regulate their nicotine levels that way.  Nicotine patches help smokers lower the number of cigarettes they require, although that will only happen if the smoker really makes a commitment to quit.  Studies in which smokers took pills that raised the acid level of their urine (Vitamin C or Acidulin), resulted in smokers increasing their smoking.  Acidic urine will result in excreting nicotine.  When nicotine gets excreted at a higher than usual level, we’d expect smokers to increase smoking to get that nicotine level back to what they’re addicted to consuming.  That’s exactly what happens.  Behavioral and environmental factors also influence smoking tremendously, but obviously this addiction has powerful and immediate physiological elements that affect it.

In what way does smoking resemble obesity?  Smoking involves one substance.  Obesity involves both eating (and eating thousands of different types of foods potentially) and activity levels + biological predispositions to gain weight + knowledge and skills to manage it.  People do not have biological predispositions to smoke (based on genetic studies).  Quitting smoking involves minimizing the physiological cravings and making changes in one’s environment (e.g., not hanging out with smokers) and learning alternative ways of doing things to avoid triggers, etc.  After many months of this, sometimes a year or more, smoking can become especially aversive to many smokers.  They find they can live full and happy lives without smoking and have relatively few cravings – sometimes absolutely no cravings, just revulsion, after years of abstinence.  Formerly obese people continue to eat food every single day.  Yet, thousands remain slim and do not become crazed or stay crazed.  They often feel much better as they modify their habits and attitudes and environments.

Healthy Obsession Model

Powerful biological forces combine with an obesogenic culture, lack of knowledge, and perhaps some personal tendencies to produce obesity.  Overcoming these consistently antagonistic forces, requires the development of an athlete’s mindset about goals, plans, focusing and commitment.  The athlete develops super-normal self-regulatory skills to overcome his/her body’s resistance to high levels of consistent performance.  The LTWC does the same thing.  They do not have to go cold turkey or wear patches to minimize consumption of doughnuts and cheesecake or cotton candy or white bread. They do not suffer withdrawal symptoms because they can no longer rely on food to make them feel good.  They use principles of science to minimize their appetites (very low fat diet; low calorie density diet, etc.) and to avoid metabolic reductions while maximize fat metabolism (i.e., by getting a good dose of activity every day).  They can still use food to make themselves feel good – just not the high fat kind and not without considering quantity altogether – at least most of the time.  They develop healthy obsessions via CBT (or in some other way) to help them stay focused consistently, manage themselves effectively, and stay committed when the inevitable lapses occur.

The food addiction model just does not work.  It does not explain what we know about the causes of obesity or the approach that seems best to lose weight and keep it off.


( — Scientists have finally confirmed what the rest of us have suspected for years: Bacon, cheesecake, and other delicious yet fattening foods may be addictive.

A new study in rats suggests that high-fat, high-calorie foods affect the brain in much the same way as cocaine and heroin. When rats consume these foods in great enough quantities, it leads to compulsive eating habits that resemble drug addiction, the study found.

Doing drugs such as cocaine and eating too much junk food both gradually overload the so-called pleasure centers in the brain, according to Paul J. Kenny, Ph.D., an associate professor of molecular therapeutics at the Scripps Research Institute, in Jupiter, Florida. Eventually the pleasure centers “crash,” and achieving the same pleasure–or even just feeling normal–requires increasing amounts of the drug or food, says Kenny, the lead author of the study.

“People know intuitively that there’s more to [overeating] than just willpower,” he says. “There’s a system in the brain that’s been turned on or over-activated, and that’s driving [overeating] at some subconscious level.”

In the study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, Kenny and his co-author studied three groups of lab rats for 40 days. One of the groups was fed regular rat food. A second was fed bacon, sausage, cheesecake, frosting, and other fattening, high-calorie foods–but only for one hour each day. The third group was allowed to pig out on the unhealthy foods for up to 23 hours a day.

Not surprisingly, the rats that gorged themselves on the human food quickly became obese. But their brains also changed. By monitoring implanted brain electrodes, the researchers found that the rats in the third group gradually developed a tolerance to the pleasure the food gave them and had to eat more to experience a high.

They began to eat compulsively, to the point where they continued to do so in the face of pain. When the researchers applied an electric shock to the rats’ feet in the presence of the food, the rats in the first two groups were frightened away from eating. But the obese rats were not. “Their attention was solely focused on consuming food,” says Kenny.

In previous studies, rats have exhibited similar brain changes when given unlimited access to cocaine or heroin. And rats have similarly ignored punishment to continue consuming cocaine, the researchers note.

The fact that junk food could provoke this response isn’t entirely surprising, says Dr.Gene-Jack Wang, M.D., the chair of the medical department at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, in Upton, New York.

“We make our food very similar to cocaine now,” he says.

Coca leaves have been used since ancient times, he points out, but people learned to purify or alter cocaine to deliver it more efficiently to their brains (by injecting or smoking it, for instance). This made the drug more addictive.

According to Wang, food has evolved in a similar way. “We purify our food,” he says. “Our ancestors ate whole grains, but we’re eating white bread. American Indians ate corn; we eat corn syrup.”

The ingredients in purified modern food cause people to “eat unconsciously and unnecessarily,” and will also prompt an animal to “eat like a drug abuser [uses drugs],” says Wang.

The neurotransmitter dopamine appears to be responsible for the behavior of the overeating rats, according to the study. Dopamine is involved in the brain’s pleasure (or reward) centers, and it also plays a role in reinforcing behavior. “It tells the brain something has happened and you should learn from what just happened,” says Kenny.

Overeating caused the levels of a certain dopamine receptor in the brains of the obese rats to drop, the study found. In humans, low levels of the same receptors have been associated with drug addiction and obesity, and may be genetic, Kenny says.

However, that doesn’t mean that everyone born with lower dopamine receptor levels is destined to become an addict or to overeat. As Wang points out, environmental factors, and not just genes, are involved in both behaviors.

Wang also cautions that applying the results of animal studies to humans can be tricky. For instance, he says, in studies of weight-loss drugs, rats have lost as much as 30 percent of their weight, but humans on the same drug have lost less than 5 percent of their weight. “You can’t mimic completely human behavior, but [animal studies] can give you a clue about what can happen in humans,” Wang says.

Although he acknowledges that his research may not directly translate to humans, Kenny says the findings shed light on the brain mechanisms that drive overeating and could even lead to new treatments for obesity.

“If we could develop therapeutics for drug addiction, those same drugs may be good for obesity as well,” he says.