Online edition of India's National Newspaper
Sunday, Feb 03, 2002

About Us
Contact Us
Magazine Published on Sundays

Features: Magazine | Literary Review | Metro Plus | Open Page | Education | Book Review | Business | SciTech | Entertainment | Young World | Folio |


The body's hunger `switch'

If losing weight is a goal, there is now a clue to understanding why there are different types of diet books, says noted fitness expert PEG JORDAN.

Putting on weight may be due to the body's inability to turn off its hunger switch in the brain.

BY far, the only new diet book that stands apart in the crowd is an interesting slant by bariatric physician Paul Rivas, MD, who wrote Turn Off the Hunger Switch. Rivas confesses that after his standard medical training, he began his practice as a weight-loss specialist, and quickly became exasperated with his patients for not counting their calories, cutting down their fat intake, and doing more exercise. He figured their repeat failures to keep the weight off was simply a matter of poor self-control. His prejudice grew; his patience grew short. Finally after several years, he admitted that the problems was not with the patients, but with his advice.

Rivas is now convinced that being overweight is due the body's inability to turn off a hunger switch in the brain. His noteworthy conclusion was that it's not the degree to which you consume food, but the degree to which you crave and desire food that controls your weight. It's not so much the steaks, chocolate, and fries, but rather the obsessions that ultimately add fat to your frame.

This is because it's the insatiable hunger in the brain that tells your body to go into its fat-storing mode. Rivas says your systems feels the symptoms of starvation, so it stops {ldquo}wasting{rdquo} precious calories by burning them and stockpiles them instead. This is the basic difference between skinny and fat people.

Rivas has concluded that human fatness is more under genetic control than the diet and lifestyle clinics such as Duke University's famous programme would have you believe. It's not that you don't or can't lose weight at those programmes. People do all the time.

But 95 per cent continue to gain it all back, and even the directors of those programmes, know and recognise the fact that a revolving-door policy of open and repeat access is necessary to keep this strong inherited tendency for being overfat from killing people prematurely.

Rivas identifies four types of hunger that overweight people suffer from. Look over the following descriptions and see if you can identify your type. N-Profile

* Do you have a large appetite and always feel hungry?
* Do you have a hard time getting full?
* Do you often feel tired and blame it on your extra weight?
* Do you think you have a slow metabolism?
* Do you have trouble with motivation?
* Do you have problems focussing and seem scattered?
Does your weight seem to climb for no apparent reason? If you answered yes to most of these questions, then you have a norephinephrine-deficient brain chemistry, that Rivas calls an N-Profile. S-Profile

* Are sweet cravings such as chocolate your weakness?
* Are you a compulsive eater, responding to stress or boredom?
* Do you binge?
* Are you obsessed by food and food thoughts?
* Do you get depressed, moody and irritable or suffer from PMS?
* Do you have a family history of these kinds of symptoms? Yes to most of these questions puts you in a serotonin-deficient brain chemistry type. D-Profile

* Do you continue to have cravings for salt or sweets even after certain supplements or drugs have been tried?
* Do you not enjoy life? Are you usually down?
* Do you have an addictive personality and need drugs to forget your problems?
* Are you easily distracted?
* Do you experience sexual dysfunction? Yes to most of these questions may put you in a dopamine-deficient brain chemistry type. C-Profile

* Are you unable to lose weight despite excellent appetite and craving control?
* Are low-calorie diets completely ineffective for you?
* Does exercise cause no weight loss at all?
* Do drugs fail to help you?
* Do you tend to eat mainly carbs such as breads and pasta? Yes to most of these says you are carbohydrate-sensitive. Now for the recommendations from Rivas:

The N-Profiles are the most common types and the easiest to treat. It's important to raise the norepinephrine levels to allow the brain to sense fullness, turn off hunger, control cravings and get energy. When norepinephrine levels are low you can also feel mentally and physically blah or have attention difficulties. Rivas' recommendation follows two tacks: a heavier pharmaceutical intervention, with all sorts of drugs I don't recommend, but fortunately, he also recommends a natural alternative: ma huang, (ephedra) a Chinese herb, with guarana, a natural plant caffiene.

In common use within traditional Chinese medicine for a few thousand years, ma huang is an herbal remedy for respiratory ailments such as bronchitis or asthma, and only recently, has also been used as a metabolic booster, aiding weight loss. Rivas appreciates the effectiveness of ephedra so much that he sees it as a safe weight loss programme for many types of chronically hungry people. No more than 25 mg per day should be used, and only for six to 12 weeks as tolerated. If you have any history of high blood pressure, thyroid or heart disease, ephedra is not recommended. Nor is it recommended for pregnant or lactating women.

As for the other chronically hungry types, Rivas likes the nutritional supplement, tryptophanm to enhance serotonin levels for the S-Profile and recommends food sources such as wheat germ, cottage cheese, eggs, avocado and lean meats. He also likes 5-HTP for people with S-Profiles although admits that nausea is a common complaint and prefers a sublingual spray, which are difficult to obtain.

The D-Profiles are identified by first treating with norepinephrine or serotonin enhancers, then if that fails to make a difference, he moves on to declaring them dopamine deficient. Dopamine is another neurotransmitter. To treat a D-Profile, Rivas once again relies on pharmaceutical drugs such as Wellbutrin.

The natural treatment alternative is the amino acid SAMe (s-adenosyl L-methionine), found in sunflower seeds, with vitamin B5. Another amino acid, phenylalanine, a precursor to tyrosine is recommended. Both of these are concentrated in meats and cottage cheese, but can't by tolerated in people with PKU, a rare illness.

What about the poor folks with C-Profiles? These people are highly sensitive to carbohydrates and can't seem to lose any weight unless they severely reduce their carb intake. That means avoiding rice, beans, bread, pretzels, corn, potatoes, white sugar, brown sugar, honey and pasta. It's a tough diet to suddenly restrict carbs for people who crave them alone.

Breads, crackers, and carbs in general are a way the C-Profiles medicate their brains, according to Rivas.

Here's the big hitch with C-Profiles, as determined by a leading researcher in energy metabolism, Jean-Pierre Flatt, PhD, at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. We know that the body transfers carbs into fat, which can be stored as fuel. Flatt showed that excess carbs are not easily converted to fat, but instead are stored as glycogen, which the body burns in preference to fat.

Carbs are important to weight control because they determine the amount of fat that is burned. Great news for people who have a hunger control switch that is functioning well in the brain. However, in a small percentage of the population, only a very small amount of glycogen suddenly triggers the hunger switch in the brain to turn off, and puts a damper on the amount of fat you burn. This was the realisation that Dr. Flatt revealed in the newsletter Obesity Research Update, which brings us full circle.

We now have a clue to understanding why there are so many different types of diet books, advocating completely opposing philosophies and regimens. And why there is a possibility that each one works for a certain segment of the population.

Some will lose weight on diets that include much more protein and restricts carbs because they happen to be {ldquo}carbohydrate addicts{rdquo}. Others can simply restrict all calories, and have a diet that is primarily carbs. Bio-chemical individuality once again accounts for the differences among people, and perhaps for the various glitches in our ability to turn off the hunger switch.

One thing every book agreed on is that being overweight exacts a high price on your health, and that daily exercise is a fundamental part of maintaining any weight loss and good health.

They were also open to nutritional supplements as a dieting and more so than weight loss books have recommended in the past decade. Hopefully, if losing weight is your new goal, there is something here to lend support.



The first part appeared in the Sunday Magazine, issue dated January 27,2002 as Burn that fat ... but how?

Send this article to Friends by E-Mail


Features: Magazine | Literary Review | Metro Plus | Open Page | Education | Book Review | Business | SciTech | Entertainment | Young World | Folio |

The Hindu Group: Home | About Us | Copyright | Archives | Contacts | Subscription
Group Sites: The Hindu | Business Line | The Sportstar | Frontline | Home |

Comments to :   Copyright 2002, The Hindu
Republication or redissemination of the contents of this screen are expressly prohibited without the written consent of The Hindu