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?