Character vs. Chemistry, Part Five

By Tom Naughton

shared this story
from Fat Head.

Some years ago, Dr. Robert Lustig worked with a group of kids who had brain cancer. The cancer treatments were successful, but later the kids became obese. According to their parents, the kids had developed enormous appetites and become sedentary. They spent all day sleeping or sitting in front of the TV and eating.

Lustig didn’t inform that parents that those kids needed to just stop being so lazy and gluttonous. He didn’t urge the parents to tell their kids to just eat less and move more, for goodness sake. As an endocrinologist, Lustig knew the change in behavior was being driven by a change in biochemistry. He suspected that as a side-effect of the cancer treatments, the kids were over-producing insulin. Tests confirmed his suspicion.

So he gave the kids an insulin-suppressing drug. Here’s how he described the results:

“When we gave these kids this drug that blocked insulin secretion, they started losing weight. But more importantly, something that was even more amazing, these kids started exercising spontaneously. One kid became a competitive swimmer, two kids started lifting weights, one kid became the manager of his high school basketball team … Changing the kids’ insulin levels had an effect not just on their weight, not just on their appetites, but on their desire to engage in physical activity.”

These kids didn’t get fat because they sat around and ate more. They sat around and ate more because they were hormonally driven to get fat. Luckily for them, Lustig understood that and treated the root of the problem: chemistry, not character.

When I started writing this series of posts, I knew I’d receive (and did) a comment or two along the lines of “But telling people it’s about chemistry gives them an excuse to just give up.” Comments like that usually come, of course, from people who have never been fat and chalk it up to their superior character. I understand the appeal of that belief.

I also understand wanting to believe it’s all about character because darnit, that just feels like cosmic justice. Effort ought to yield results, period. Most of us would like the world to work like that. As kids, we were told that if you work hard and put your mind to it, you can do almost anything. So in our little pea-picking brains, the formula for success looks like this:

Effort = Success

But as we grow older, we …read more

Source: Donkeyrock_BlurBlog

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