Tuesday, August 12, 2008

skinny jeans and all

This morning I saw my favourite pair of jeans, my second skinniest, peeking at me from the top of the closet. I was in a brave mood, so I pulled them on. And they fit! When I say fit, I mean I can get them on, and I don't look too much like a sausage poured into its casing. Instead of elegantly skimming my hipbones, they push against the mummy muffin top I seem to have grown. And I am realizing that the snap fastening allows them to pop open when I bend over too quickly. But, with a loose flowing top on, they look pretty damn hot, if I do say so myself. I did have a baby less than 6 months ago, after all. My hipbones are still in hiding.

Driving to work, while holding my breath to keep the snap from snapping, I began to think about why fitting into an old pair of jeans should make me so happy. What is it with our obsession with weight?

In my line of work I get the opportunity to read and discuss the latest research on 'energy homeostasis', the broad term used to define the regulation of appetite and metabolism. It is a fascinating topic, and it really is amazing that our bodies work so well. Without us even thinking about it we consume and burn calories day in and day out, and we remain pretty much the same size. Most people do not forget to replace calories burned and accidentally starve to death. Evolution weeded those ancestors out a long time ago. For good reason, most of us err naturally towards the other side of the energy balance. We eat just a little more than we need, and store it for when times are hard. At the moment I'm producing pints of calorie rich milk, but I don't have to conciously decide to eat more to produce it. Through some poorly understood biological mechanism, my appetite increases to meet my calorific needs.

It is my belief that we actually have very little control over our body size. Gina Kolata's fabulous book 'rethinking thin' takes on this controversial subject. She points out that there are hundreds upon hundreds of scientific studies of diets; different types of food, with and without excercise, or psychotherapy, and every single study shows the same thing: most people can lose only modest amounts of weight, and most people end up regaining it. And yet we keep on repeating the experiment over and over, against solid evidence that it doesn't work. She also points out that the media are constantly telling us about the 'obesity epidemic', and it is true that all over the world, people are getting fatter. However all over the world, people are also getting taller, but we don't hear about there being a 'tallness epidemic' now do we?

Perhaps our perception that being overweight is unhealthy and being skinny is good is based less on scientific evidence than on predjudice. This news article popped up today, just as I was pondering these issues.

All I can say, is that although I'm delighted to be in my skinny jeans once more, I'm not giving myself any credit for this acheivement. I just lucked out in the energy homeostasis gene lottery.