News Stories

Fat is All in the Mind

New research shows that our brains help make us fat, because they think of our obese bodies as normal, so they don't stop craving food. And there?s a country in the world where fat is considered beautiful, and women go to special camps to be "fattened up" before marriage.

Pat Hagan writes in bbcnews.com that when we try to eat less, our brains see this as a threat to our survival so they set off body mechanisms, like lower metabolism, that keep the weight from being lost. "Back in man's hunter-gatherer days, or even in Britain in the Middle Ages, starvation was common," says researcher Jonathan Seckl. "So the body learned to turn off its metabolism and go into survival mode so it could live through the famine. Now when somebody is obese and they try to lose weight, they immediately feel hungry and the body reacts as if they were a five stone weakling. It tells the brain 'I am being starved' and starts to retain calories like crazy."

Our brains need to reprogram themselves so they realize we're no longer close to starvation, but that could take hundreds or even thousands more years of evolution. "We are facing the pressure of millions of years of mammalian evolution," Seckl says. "Yet the phenomenon of a McDonalds on every street corner is only something seen in the last 20 years."

Pascale Harter writes in bbcnews.com that obesity is considered beautiful in Mauritania, so young girls are sometimes taken to special camps and force-fed so they?ll be able to attract a husband. A generation ago, this happened to one-third of the Arab population, but now the number has declined to about one in ten, mainly in rural families.

Fatematou, who runs one of the fat farms and takes in girls as young as seven years old, says, "I make them eat and eat and eat. And then drink lots and lots of water. I make them do this all morning. Then they have a rest. In the afternoon we start again. We do this three times a day?the morning, the afternoon and the evening." If the girls don't eat voluntarily, "we grab them and we force them to eat. If they cry a lot we leave them sometimes for a day or two and then we come back to start again. They get used to it in the end." That's when their brains change and begin to think of their fat bodies as normal.

Sometimes we need some extra help with our diet!

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