Obese Adaptations: Chasing the (Marshmallow) Dragon
A very emphatic YES!
I’m not talking about being on the receiving end of a few disapproving glances after one too many eggnogs harm here, but life altering, dimly lit back alley, pay phone only shenanigans that may result in a 5-10 year sentence harm. Obscure metaphors aside, the holiday crusade towards dietary disaster has the potential to accelerate the collective decline of our physical and mental health.
A recent study published in the International Journal of Obesity has found that short-term eating behaviors can dramatically alter our taste perceptions and directly influence our food choices. Specifically, maintaining a high-fat diet for as few as four weeks impairs our ability to generate the oral and gastrointestinal satiety signals that regulate our consumption and desensitizes the body to the biological stimulation fatty foods provide. In turn, consumption of such foods must increase to generate the same level of perceived satisfaction and the hedonic cycle that directly contributes to the desire for calorically dense, hyper palatable, nutrient deficient foods is perpetuated. Oh, and it may be worth mentioning that the study’s authors specifically note that this adaptation may or may not directly contribute to the obesity epidemic running rampant around the world.
What does this mean to the average citizen? Eating high-fat foods can interfere with our ability to stay happy, healthy and active.
However, all is not lost, as this dietary adaptation seems to work in the other direction. Switching to and maintaining a low-fat diet after a period of indiscriminate consumption re-sensitizes the body to fatty foods and it receives the appropriate amount of satisfaction from increasingly smaller portions. This is definitely very good news, but be prepared for withdrawal symptoms akin to those experienced after a particularly intense drug bender.
The discovery that eating fatty food can negatively alter our taste perception necessitates clarification of the term ‘low-fat diet’. The study in question defined low-fat as the elimination of all discretionary fats (oils, butter, mayonnaise, sauces, lard), full-fat dairy, take out meals, nuts and nut butters, eggs, processed and high fat meat, and snack foods (chips, cookies, chocolates, sweets): pretty much everything that has become breakfast, lunch and dinner from Thanksgiving through the New Year.
So, before we become fully vested in the month long dietary sabbatical that takes place during the holiday season, we must remember that short term eating behaviors can have a very real effect on the body with a few very unsavory consequences.