succumbing to peer pressure

Saturday, May 12, 2007

So I'm driving home tonight, thinking it's been way, way too long since I had a night like this. And also, it's been far too long since I sang myself hoarse. And it's kismet - Pete's song comes on. And I sing and scream and turn up the radio so loud I can feel the vibrations throughout the car and suddenly I'm 17 again and lying spread eagle on my hard wood floor with the stereo turned up so I can feel the vibrations through the floor. And then the song ends and my ears are ringing and I go stand out on the balcony to contrast the loud with the silent and it's a good night. The kind of night I need right about now.

Friday, May 11, 2007

New obesity study

Or rather, new article about old-ish obesity studies. Dr.s Hirsh and Leibel conducted some very interesting (and probably unethical) studies, starting in the 1950s. Many of these results were confirmed in the 1980s using adoption and twin studies. The bottom line? There is a significantly stronger genetic link to weight (and weight gain) than environmental (or psychological) influences. Most interestingly, the 1950 experiments, during which obese patients lived in a hospital for 8 months, agreed to a rigorous diet, and lost on average 100 pounds, revealed that these now 'normal' weighing individuals showed physical and mental signs of starvation! Regardless of the fact that they were consuming what should have been a reasonable nutritional diet.

The findings also provided evidence for a phenomenon that scientists like Dr. Hirsch and Dr. Leibel were certain was true — each person has a comfortable weight range to which the body gravitates. The range might span 10 or 20 pounds: someone might be able to weigh 120 to 140 pounds without too much effort. Going much above or much below the natural weight range is difficult, however; the body resists by increasing or decreasing the appetite and changing the metabolism to push the weight back to the range it seeks.

The message is so at odds with the popular conception of weight loss — the mantra that all a person has to do is eat less and exercise more — that Dr. Jeffrey Friedman, an obesity researcher at the Rockefeller University, tried to come up with an analogy that would convey what science has found about the powerful biological controls over body weight.

He published it in the journal Science in 2000 and still cites it:

“Those who doubt the power of basic drives, however, might note that although one can hold one’s breath, this conscious act is soon overcome by the compulsion to breathe,” Dr. Friedman wrote. “The feeling of hunger is intense and, if not as potent as the drive to breathe, is probably no less powerful than the drive to drink when one is thirsty. This is the feeling the obese must resist after they have lost a significant amount of weight.”

The entire article is worth clicking through and reading, and provides specific examples of how and why it's so hard for some people to put on weight and for others to lose weight. But it all still leaves me wondering - empirical evidence (which, sorry, I am too busy to look up at the moment) indicates that we (at least, Americans) weigh more on average today as compared to just a few decades ago and prevalence rates of diabetes keep increasing. I agree that the 'obesity epidemic' has been poorly handled on nearly all fronts, and that there are more important measurements than simply the numbers on a scale. But I am convinced that there is something significantly different about our current population in terms of weight and weight-related health than even one generation ago. So if weight really is so strongly linked to genetics, and if our bodies really do regulate us to a comfortable weight range, have we been self-selecting our population to increase in size? Can evolution even happen that fast? And if either answer is no, what underlying thing is happening?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

In between snoozes this morning I dreamed that my advisor was prioritizing my dissertation to do list, and I kept hitting the snooze to go back to the dream as if this was really critical information that I needed to eek out of my subconscious. What's weird is that as a stress dream it doesn't really make sense. My advisor is pretty great about regularly organizing what we/I have left to do and helping me to figure out in what order things need to happen and setting reasonable deadlines and whatnot. She's pretty much everything an advisor is supposed to be, and I don't have a lot of negative emotion of stressed tied up in her.

The best I can figure is that this roommate thing (a topic for a whole 'nother post, since I can't seem to make up my mind) got me to thinking about next summer's schedule, and now I'm preemptively stressing out about that. You see, the grand plan is to graduate next year. Which right now is quite doable. Somewhat less doable for a spring graduation date, but quite reasonable for an August goal. But the whole thing is squishy, given the nature of a dissertation and endless possible last minute delays. So I realized that I currently have a 12 month lease that ends in July. Ok, so extending that to a 13 month lease shouldn't be too much of a problem, but that sort of screws my landlady since that means this place couldn't go on the market until probably october at the earliest, and who's looking to rent an apt in october? Plus, what if it turns out that I need another month, but I don't figure that out until mid-summer? And, what if my roommate wants to move out, or wants someone new to move in, and I'm stuck in housing limbo over the summer while I'm simultaneously trying to defend my dissertation and find a job? Blah.