December 17, 2014
December 17, 2014
Cartoons by: Isabella Bannerman, Lynda Barry, Clay Bennett, Bizarro, Harry Bliss, Matt Bors, Martin Bucella, Jon Carter, Tom Cheney, Dave Coverly, J.C. Duffy, Bob Eckstein, Samuel Ferri, Randy Glasbergen, Martha Gradisher, Jeff Hobbs, Nicole Hollander, David Horsey, George Jartos, Ham Khan, Keith Knight, L.J. Kopf, Mary Lawton, Carol Lay, Heather McAdams, Chris Monroe, Carlos Montage, Steve Moore, P.S. Mueller, Mark Parisi, Joel Pett, Hilary Price, Ted Rall, Flash Rosenberg, Maria Scrivan, Andy Singer, David Sipress, Jen Sorensen, Mick Stevens, Mark Stivers, Tom Swick, Tom Toles, Tom Tomorrow, P.C. Vey, Kim Warp, Shannon Wheeler, Matt Wuerker, Zippy … and lots more!
I can hardly keep up with all the new and important research about what makes me so fat, and why it’s not my fault. Scientists have been hard at work in their little gourmet laboratories, cooking up new recipes for ridding the world of plump middle age men, such as myself, and replacing us with lean, mean, calorie processing machines.
Why does gravity seem to increasingly want to have its way with us? No less a scientist than Albert Einstein spent much of his free time pondering this question. Sitting at his post in the Bern patent office one day in 1907, Einstein imagined how an overweight housepainter would experience gravity if he fell off a roof. Records indicate that this housepainter was probably his brother-in-law Frederick, who Einstein had lost a substantial amount to in a card game the previous evening. The physicist’s daydream ended with what he later called his “happiest moment.” He surmised that the unlucky painter would feel momentarily weightless before accelerating to the ground. This clue led Einstein to perhaps his greatest discovery, which he called “The Special Theory of Weight Loss.” This theory laid the foundation for high calorie particle physics as well as modern crash diets.
Recently, Dr. Zane Andrews discovered that the reason most people overeat is that their brains no longer tell them when to stop. Key appetite control cells in the human brain degenerate over time, causing increased hunger and the potential for weight gain as we get older. “People in the age group 25 to 50 are most at risk,” says Dr. Andrews. “The neurons that tell people in this crucial age range not to overeat are being killed off.” So the reason you keep eating until your giant plate is licked clean is not because of the good habits Mom instilled in you as a child (“Finish your potatoes. Don’t you know there are starving children in China?”). It’s the same reason you can’t remember where you parked your car, or what your next door neighbor’s name is. You’re losing your mind.
The obvious solution to this problem is The Alarm Clock Diet. Simply bring your alarm clock to the kitchen table and set it for five minutes less time than you normally take to eat. Keep shaving a minute or two from your allotted dining time until you reach your desired weight, or you throw the alarm clock off the roof. As Einstein discovered: Time flies when you’re losing weight.
Meanwhile, researchers at the Harvard Medical School have been studying brown fat, the good fat that helps fight obesity. Many people believe that no fat is good fat, but it turns out that the evil enemy of the dieter is the white fat cell. This is your basic jiggly, tub of lard type fat that seems to plague us every time we look in the mirror. Brown fat, on the other hand, is the superhero of fat. It is chock full of energy generating mitochondria. Just two pounds of brown fat can burn up 20 percent of a person’s daily calorie intake. “It’s basically a fire that’s just burning,” says researcher Bruce Spiegelman. Scientists have discovered a protein that could trigger cells in the body that usually produce white fat to make brown fat instead. Several mice injected with this protein have already gone on to careers as models for the Minnie Mouse Glamour Agency. The difficulty researchers are facing is that the protein also stimulates bone formation. The lab is trying to work out conditions that could encourage the development of brown fat without forming bone tissue in undesired locations. “Otherwise,” says a researcher, “you could have rock hard abs, but not in the way you’d expected.”
Another exciting study is going on at the Salk Institute of Biological Studies, where mice are living the couch potato’s dream. “We have exercise in a pill,” said Ron Evans, an author of the study. That’s right, pop a pill called AICAR and get all the benefits of exercise without a second at the gym. Mice who took this pill for four weeks burned more calories and had less fat than untreated mice. They could also run 44 percent farther on a treadmill. Why the pill would turn a couch mouse into a distance runner is still a mystery. “Honestly,” said Evans, “I think that it’s a small miracle it happened at all.” But does this pill have the potential to change the way we view diet and exercise? Would people really opt for a daily pill instead of a rigorous daily workout and diet routine? Is the Pope chubby?
Finally, and most importantly, Harvard medical scientists have discovered that cocoa flavanols, the unique compounds found naturally in cocoa, increase blood flow to the brain. Study participants who regularly drank a cocoa rich beverage had a 10 percent brain blood flow increase after two weeks. Scientists believe that maintaining an increased blood flow to the brain could slow the effects of dementia and other age-related blood vessel dysfunction.
So, in summary, you’re getting so old you can’t stop yourself from eating, but pretty soon you’ll be able to get (brown) fat so you won’t have to. You’ll also be able to take your exercise in pill form, and spend more time on the couch drinking cocoa so that your brain stays sharp and you’ll remember not to overeat in the first place. So stop worrying about dieting, because science is taking care of all your problems for you. Now, can I have my chocolate cake and eat yours too?
A study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine confirmed what I’d already suspected; my friends are making me fat. Researchers reported that obesity can spread from person to person, much like a virus. When a person gains weight, friends also tend to gain weight. Close friends are especially contagious and what’s worse, you don’t even have to live near them for their obesity to affect you. Even if your friend lives hundreds of miles away, if they get fat, your chances of popping the buttons on your trousers is tripled.
According to The New York Times, “The investigators say their findings can help explain why Americans have become fatter in recent years — each person who became obese was likely to drag some friends with them.”
Now look, friends, it was one thing when we were teenagers and you dragged me off to some muddy field to see an out-of-tune rock band with blown speakers massacring Bo Diddley songs. Sure, we all got sick from the communal free food, or maybe it was the communal pipe, but at least we met those nurses from Kalamazoo.
Then, when we were much older, you dragged me to that cigar and single-malt scotch bar, where we proceeded to spend ridiculous amounts of money to come home smelling so much like a guerrilla army that our wives made us sleep with the dogs. Not to mention that I woke up with a hangover so bad that I threatened to kill the next door neighbor’s 12-year-old kid for mowing his lawn.
Fortunately, no permanent damage was ever done (unless you count what happened in 11th grade to Mr. Fesselworth’s car). But this obesity thing you’ve dragged me into is changing everything I do and think. You invite me to your parties, and instead of having a case of beer and a bag of chips that gets eaten before I get there, like when we were younger, you’ve got a spread with six different kinds of French cheese, appetizers, dips, nuts, smoked fish, casseroles, soups, fresh baked breads and butters and then a whole other dessert buffet with pies, cakes, candy, ice-cream, whipped cream, coffee and cream. We talk and eat, and laugh and eat, and make music and eat, and drink and eat. Just when I think I’m finally finished eating, someone arrives with another steaming dish of au-gratin potatoes, or homemade brownies that we have to taste. Have you noticed that each friend who arrives late weighs a little more than the friend who came before them? In the parade of fat, fatter, fattest, the latecomers are taking longer and longer just to waddle out the door, and cram themselves into their increasingly bigger cars, vans, SUVs and super-sized SUVs.
And don’t try to tell me that my fat is my responsibility. It’s obviously your fault, because you got fat before I did. Or maybe it was Fred, or possibly Kevin, but I’m sure it couldn’t have been me. In fact, if we would all get together (my house, Saturday night pot-luck, the theme is Hawaiian Luau) we could decide who was originally responsible for getting us all fat, and nip and tuck this thing in the bud. Because the obesity researchers found out something else – if your friends lose weight, you tend to lose weight, as well. If Fred was the original fatty, we could grab him and ship him off to a fat farm until he works off all of our beer-bellies. If that doesn’t work we’ll make him try something more radical – pills, liposuction, stomach staples – whatever it takes to make us all skinny again.
Maybe we could talk this over at lunch tomorrow. There’s a place near where I work that serves the best onion rings I’ve ever tasted. There’s got to be something we can do, other than dieting, which we know never works. We’ve tried diets, and no matter how good they sound, or how high they go on the best seller list, they never work for us. The problem with dieting is that, instead of thinking about food less, you begin to think about it more. You become obsessed with food. You start counting and measuring every single calorie and morsel of delight. Meals last even longer because it takes time to prepare delicious low-fat, healthy food. You chew each bite 20 or 30 or 40 times to get every iota of taste out of it. You spend hours more ambling up and down the aisles of the grocery store, or the farmer’s market, or Benny’s all-you-can-eat salad bar, looking for every succulent delicacy that won’t make you fat. Even after all that, you’re still hungry. In fact, you’re always hungry, because you don’t wait until you feel stuffed to stop eating. So you’re incredibly starved before a meal, and still hungry when the food on the plate has disappeared.
Exercising never works, either. Exercising just makes you hungrier. After you exercise you can eat twice as much. Pretty soon, you’re exercising more, just so you can eat more. Gradually, slowly, unbearably, you finally lose one or two, or maybe even three pounds. Then you twist your ankle, or wrench you knee, and you can’t work out for a week. But you can still eat twice as much, because your stomach has gotten all stretched out from the exercising, and in two days you’ve gained back everything you’ve lost, and in a week you’ve gained 10 pounds. That’s what exercise does for you.
I know there’s got to be an answer somewhere. If we can’t get our fat friends to lose weight for us, maybe we just need to make new skinny friends. I wonder how many skinny friends it would take to counteract all the fat friends we already have? Help me figure this out first thing tomorrow at the coffee shop on Lee Road. They’ve got the most amazing sticky buns.