FIT OR FAT?
Which are you?
How do you measure up? Are pounds (or kilograms) the measure of success? Do you weigh-in every day, once a week or once in a while? What is a “good” workout? Is it measured by how many calories you burned? How long on the treadmill? Or is it captured via fitbit or Apple Health? How do you gauge the effectiveness of your workout? Could it be as simple as how “good” you feel?
What records do you keep of eating and workout? What do you do with them? Are the records like receipts shoved in a drawer, an indecipherable scatter of discrete points? Who or what program determines the relevant feedback for how you are doing? What does it tell you?
What results do you get? Are you Fit or Fat?
To the World Health Organization (WHO), overweight is a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 25% or greater; obesity is 30% or greater. According to WHO as of 2014, 39% of the world adult population is overweight and 13% are obese. That’s about 2 billion fat people. In the United States 34.9% of adults are obese and almost 70% are overweight. That is double the rate that alarmed President Kennedy to write Sports Illustrated, cautioning against the “soft American” persona. The potential consequences aren’t just about looking good naked in the mirror. Heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and stroke increase with Body Mass Index (BMI), as do depression, infertility and musculoskeletal disorders. Obese Americans spend about 42% more than those that have a healthy-weight.
Childhood obesity is another layer. The WHO reported 42 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese in 2013. The Journal of American Medicine Association reports that 17% of US children ages 2-19, 12.7 million, are obese. For all the social, economic, and hereditary factors that developed overweight or obese children, the result is compounded as they are also now more likely to remain so into adulthood. This burdens them with a lifetime of health issues and financial challenges.
It’s not just genetics either.
Statistics bear out CDC chairman Thomas Friedman’s remarks on how just being an American makes you more susceptible to obesity. Even what state you live in makes a difference. Mississippi and West Virginia tip the scales with greater than 35% of the population as obese, and it’s probably no surprise the South is the heaviest region. The company you keep matters too. University of Colorado and Colorado State research concluded that having obese friends made you more likely to be obese. 
Research has also established the group most recently susceptible to obesity: low and middle income populations. Historically, the poor cannot afford to be fat, but now a variety of factors contribute to create this new vulnerability. Fast food costs less, supports a fast-paced/low resourced lifestyle, and has far greater availability. This socio-economic cluster also faces the challenges of affordable health care, and overall they are less likely to have available means of time, money and access to effective weight loss programs.
It’s a numbers game.
These statistics are collected from a variety of sources. The WHO data is the most current, but some sourcing goes back to 2008 or earlier. A challenge itself is reporting. It’s a classic conundrum of using statistics to spin the desired story.
In 2014, the Center for Disease Control released an “encouraging development in obesity rates among 2 to 5 year olds.” The CDC reported a 43% decline in obesity for that age group, quoting JAMA data. Yay! Right? Although the CDC’s presented this fact as a light in the gloom of increasing obesity landscape, the JAMA article conclusion was not so positive: “Overall, there have been no significant changes in obesity prevalence in youth or adults between 2003-2004 and 2011-2012. Obesity prevalence remains high and thus it is important to continue surveillance” Perhaps the most significant element of this point-counterpoint is the sample size driving the dramatic 43% decline reported for the age group was based upon the observation of about 70 children.
Does all this research have an effect? Do we really need to be told that we are getting fat?
Another growing movement is self-monitoring. Instead of listening to the statistics about everyone else, what can an individual do about him or herself? The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing a network of sensors that provide a robust recording stream. The amount of information available to individuals, corporations and governments from these sensors is unprecedented. In the world of apps, measuring food and workouts and sleeping and how many steps you take is elementary. The next level is using wearables fitness trackers such as FitBit and Apple Health, which provide excellent visual presentation of a given sets of variables. Quantified Self has further acclimatized these tools and more with a suite of monitoring techniques to achieve another level of self-observation. Quantified Self groups have local meetings and international conferences to explore the many methods of self-tracking.
“Our aim is to help people get meaning out of their personal data.” – http://quantifiedself.com
Even without Quantified Self implements, we amass data about ourselves daily, by the minute, by the second. This variety, velocity and volume of information is most definitely and significantly a Big Data venue. So how can the capability of Big Data tip the scale in favor of Fit over Fat?
First, let’s revisit the problem.
Not So Simple Math
Stay fit and don’t get fat. Most people would say preventing fat means eating less and working out more. Really … isn’t it just a simple equation?
CALORIES IN (Ci) < CALORIES OUT (Co) = FIT
COLORIES IN (Ci) > CALORIES OUT (Co) = FAT
This inequality simply says shut your pie hole and hit the gym, so let’s examine the simple problem a little closer.
To stay fit via the Ci<Co model, you take in fewer calories through diet restrictions or burn more calories through workout. Better yet – both. Fitness is typically perceived in eating a good diet of conscious nutrition and incorporating a workout regimen of some given rigor. JAMA, the CDC, the WHO and a lot of research universally agree that humans are eating more calories and burning fewer than previous generations. But what does that actually look like?
Diets rarely work, or they work for a period but then don’t. Workout or don’t work out. What results if you do or do not? How much do you need to get any results? You can even over-work out. That not only has been proven to be counterintuitive but also risks your health. Fit or fat.
Doughnuts are simple sugars and fat – not a sensible or significant healthy ounce. What we don’t know is how much fat does that doughnut become. If I eat one this morning, I know how many calories I consume (for the most part), but does it mean 5 extra minutes on the treadmill or a far greater penance? Should I run before or after eating the doughnut? How soon before or after? Five minutes, an hour? Will the routine evening run cure the doughnut and all grievances, or just some of the ills assailed upon my body during the day?
The basis of the Ci<Co simple equation is the calorie. Technically a calorie is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius. It measures energy. It makes total sense as a quantitative standardization, but the logic doesn’t really mimic your body’s digestive and nutrition processes. Doctors have studied the process with great rigor, but still little relative understanding. The body isn’t a vending machine where sticking a couple of quarters in returns the chosen product.
Does a calorie burn the same in your body as it does in mine? Research (again) apparently says not.
The Plot Thickens – Us vs Them
Body types are shapes and categorizations of the different ways humans process food and burn energy. One of the original concepts is fat distribution: apple (called male or android ironically) versus pear (female or hydroid). Apples gain their weight in the waist while pears add on fat around the hips. These body types have been used as well to predict a suite of health maladies. Android portends metabolic syndrome: diabetes, heart disease, & other horsemen; whereas, hydroid are considered at less risk for the same disease. Whether you are an apple or a pear though, that concept has recently been challenged by further research. Like picking the right diet, listening to the variety of research can go either way: being an apple or pear may or may not have an effect.
The body type premise has been further developed in new directions with more classifications: rectangle, hourglass, inverted triangle. There’s also groups of ectomorph, endomorph and mesomorph. Ancient diets have been revisited. Ayurvedic theory, which predates written history, breaks the groups in three doshas – vata, pitta, kapha – according to physical, mental and social characteristics. All these categorizations and more each outline the tendencies for weight gain or loss through each type. This includes diet and workout suggestions, and in the case of aryurvedic, lifestyle choices as well.
In whatever form, these varying interpretations of the body’s functions demonstrate that people integrate food into their body in different ways and their workout results will differ as well.
Back to the doughnuts as example. Some can eat the doughnut no matter what. We all know that guy with a “higher metabolism”. We don’t know where he lands between apple and pear because he never gains weight; he’s the ectomorph. Although I’m sure doughnuts have been around for a long, long time in some form or another, ayurvedic living has been around for thousands of years. Ayurvedic diet is also far more comprehensive, addressing the many choices we have at our disposal. A doughnut can symbolize far more than fat and sugar molecules and divulge a far more deep understanding of desire and its affects on our health.
So we are not created equally.
Your Waist Thickens – Me vs Myself
Time, the Avenger. The me in my 20s definitely isn’t the same as in the 40s. At some point, hitting the gym more has stopped seeing the return on investment. Restricting my diet doesn’t get the same results on the scale either. I had removed all sugar – natural and refined – and shuddered to even dream of a carb. I was living off protein and vegetables. An avid P90X-er and gym rat, I still crashed. (I still love P90x and I’d do it if I could – modify, modify, modify.)
So many factors influence your body’s functions, making it hard to determine the culprit. Your diet could be wrong because your hormones are off. Your workout might not work because your lifestyle interrupts it or it exhausts instead of enhances your muscles. Finding a good combination or the right combination of nutrition and exercise is hard to know with so many moving parts. Your metabolism, stomach, liver, hormones, thyroid are all players in your active or sedentary life. Is it something you can really change? Is it something instead you adapt?
What can you do?
There’s no shortage of suggestions for things you can do. A trip to the bookstore or a television infomercial later, you will have 20+ options easily enough. $9.99 buys a lot of advice or a program or a group to share the journey. Mentioning weight loss on any social network is likely to get you targeted marketing for another 20+ diet and workout programs. They know you are out there, and they have their solution. But what is YOURS?
DIET – CALORIES IN
Paleo, Grapefruit, South Beach, High Protein/Low Carb, Cabbage Soup, Cookie, Atkins, etc. There’s no shortage of diets that tout the ability to turn fat to fit. But is there really a recipe for what goes in less fattening? Dr Tarnower (Scarsdale Diet) and Dr. Atkins are medical doctors with “proven” weight loss eating programs. Yes, they have successes, but they also have tragic failures. Diets are eventually lambasted for lack of results or worse – detrimental health effects.
The Hidden Equation
The calories in don’t go to a uniform source to burn calories out. It is a black box. The body’s digestion functions are vastly guessed about but still relatively unknown. Food intake processes as water or fat or muscle or excretion.
A 1980s Mayo Clinic study of 21 people reported food digestion from intake through just the stomach and small intestines takes 6-8 hours. After that, travel time through the large intestines and colon differed for men and women. Men make the distance in 33 hours and the women slide behind at 47 hours. (Did you realize you were carrying “the kids” around that long?) People without a colon (post colectomy) have a remarkable sensitivity to foods. Without being slowed down or buffered by the large intestine process, they know immediately if a food doesn’t work out, both with internal pain and as external “feedback.” They are dangerously susceptible to dehydration as well – a process colon-healthy people take for granted.
This medical condition’s effect on diet, exercise and health is readily “visible” because of the quick feedback loop of their intestines. Good or bad – people who had a colectomy know how food effects them soon (minutes to a couple of hours) after ingestion. What major and minor events in your medical history shape your personal health ability that aren’t so obvious? Maybe not as blatant as a missing colon, perhaps the slightly (but not significantly) off thyroid or the sprained ankle from five years ago may effect your diet and workout profile.
Your body’s ability is entirely your personal experience. Dr Atkins, your workout buddy, nor the you of 10 years ago are not going to predict that accurately.
Back to YOU. What works? With all the research and options and potholes, what should you cut out or cut back? Fat and sugar are the first plucked from the lineup but a suite of culprits awaits: carbs, starches, MSG, gluten. And alcohol, the Mad Men vice of choice (with cigarettes) doesn’t look so bad around the waistline. Of course, lung cancer and high cholesterol aren’t quite so sexy.
Going back all the way to Roman times, ale and wine used to be a “healthy” choice; the alternative -water – was often dubious. The “evil spirits” of water, better known now as bacteria, could kill. The critters can be filtered out now, so water should be healthy – as long as it’s not from lead pipes or crossed over some superfund site. Today even over-consuming alcohol, “heavy drinking,” has been disputed as to the harmful effects on liver and internal organs. Somewhere between none at all and a glass or two a day has become a “healthy” option. Or is it?
No diet is bullet proof. No single commercial diet is the “answer” for weight loss. No diet program has been a proven sustainable “answer” for a healthy lifestyle.
WORKOUT – CALORIES OUT
Cardio and resistance are the basics of workout routines. Cardio burns calories and improves the cardio-vascular system. Resistance training increases muscle – either mass or efficiency. Both are intended to improve your health capability.
Again, there is no shortage of options: Jane Fonda (really? Did people really think Jane Fonda was a fitness expert?), Jazzercise, Aerobics, Pilates, P90X, Insanity, cross fit, barre. Workout programs have less science about them and more practice. Less “proof” is required, so less to disprove of efficacy. Thus even Jane’s instruction is more effective than doing nothing. But a good workout is influenced by many other factors in life, too.
“Calories out” actually doesn’t start and stop at the gym. Many other factors impact the body at any given point, and that can’t help but impact your ability to do the workout as well as receive its benefits.
Timing. How soon before or after eating has an effect on the workout. The easiest example may be the “one hour rule” before swimming. Whether the adage is true or not, its legacy belies a history of cause and effect observations. The importance of nutrition is stressed in most workouts. The body needs fuel in order to perform and also to recover. But what is the right amount of time and on what research is that based?
Tim Ferris of The Four Hour Body did extensive personal experimentation work with biofeedback. His personal data reflected specific windows of opportunity and interesting results. Bodybuilding programs emphasize nutrition touch points to get results and an entire industry of supplements supports that premise. Again, trial and report.
Daily Routine. What daily activities expend your pre-workout energy? What do you do all day? Stay at home mom with screaming active toddlers or 8 hours sitting at a desk? The three-mile run after a day at the office is a much different experience than one spent solo on the trail away from the triplets. Surely the quantity of energy utilized during the “non-workout” state has an effect, too. If you workout when you’re burned out, will you expend muscle instead of fat? What is that tipping point? And again, is it the same from person to person? Doubtful.
Location. What if you live in San Diego? Californians are known for a more active lifestyle than say, Chicago. For one, better weather does make a difference in getting out to workout in the first place. In San Diego, it is easier to be motivated and more likely you’ll put the effort into the workout to make a difference with blue skies and dry temperatures in the 70s. California also has a greater visible population of strangers working out, so keeping up with the Joneses includes fitness. Recall the CDC and University of Colorado research. Fat friends and neighbors beget the same. That prevalence also increases the likelihood of active lifestyle social relationships and professional networks – a collective peer pressure to make the workout happen and to be “in shape.”
“In 2008, the five states with obesity rates of 30% or more were Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma South Carolina and Tennessee.”
What about SLEEP? Sleep is another facet, and there’s a lot of science behind how sleep affects every aspect of our health. Studies have indicated that too little (less than 5 hours) or too much (over 9) increases your potential for gaining weight. The suggested causation is that the right amount of sleep balances hormones ghrelin and leptin that regulate hunger appropriately. Alternately or additively, the onset of fatigue inhibits workout performance. Also, you are more likely to make poor decisions – including food and workout choices – when you are low on sleep.
And I haven’t even mentioned …. STRESS???!!! That’s the hormone cortisol, and yes, an increase in stress means more cortisol holding pounds onto your body and discounting any diet and workout efforts on your part.
So the basic Ci<Co starts as a simple equation that could be a expanded to an infinitely-dimensional matrix. In “reality”, sssooooooo many factors combine to create an individual health equation: fit or fat?
BEYOND CALORIES IN < CALORIES OUT
We have more food and workout options than ever in history and generations of diets and gym cultures. It’s time to move beyond the simple solution.
Why Fad Diets Don’t Work … For YOU
Diets are a traditional scientific method approach to weight maintenance. A theory or hypothesis (diet premise) is created and then tested to see whether it works. Using statistical methods, the test is performed with a control group. This sample size either proves or disproves the hypothesis. The successful result – a diet that “works” – means a statistically significant portion of a test group (sample set) saw desirable results given those specific parameters.
Is this sample set representative of YOU? Where do they live? What is their work and lifestyle? How old are they? How long have they been working out? What medical conditions do they have or have they had? The diet results “hold” a variable to test while the rest of the infinite array of variables run rampant. When you try a diet, you are basically seeing if you fit into the statistical average person who proved the hypothesis correct.
Until recently the many variables that effect how and when and where you consume food and water and anything else and then burn it were incomprehensible. Tracking the many factors mentioned were overwhelming, especially for the experimentation procedure environment required of a professional or academic research study. Duplicating the body’s miraculous survival mechanisms (eating and burning) is still quite far away. What is closer to possibility is the capability to effectively create your own diet.
What Works Out
Workouts make a difference – but is it the difference you want? Are you creating muscle and burning fat? Or burning out? Adding bulk or sculpting lean?
For diets and workouts, the answer should be what works … for YOU? Not the average person who’s tried the diet and/or the workout.
THAT, my friend, is where Big Data Body Sizing kicks in.
 CDC report
 Physical objects or “things” embedded with electronics, and software that enable objects to exchange data with other connected devices
 The Atlantic, “Beating Obesity”, Marc Ambinder, May 2010