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Why obese people are going to save the world and the fitness industry

Dr Cam McDonald is the Australian representative for ph360 – “a personal health platform providing health, fitness and lifestyle insights based on scientific calculations of gene expression.” The ph360 program is fast becoming a preferred tool among fitness professionals. It’s a pleasure to have this timely guest post from Dr Cam following the recent World Obesity Day.

What would you say if I told you that some people are designed to be obese, and it actually is very healthy for them to register as obese?

Have you ever thought that there might be an incredible and useful reason why some people store and conserve body weight more easily? And are you aware that the reason some people hold weight is the same reason that many of us are actually walking around on the planet and didn’t die in the last famine. Understanding why people store weight will give you an insight into exactly how to help them get to the healthiest body for them.

By labeling obesity as ‘bad’, we are missing the problem altogether and focusing on a person’s weakness, not their strength.

Different bodies are DESIGNED to be a different size, some skinny and lean, others lean and muscular, some tall, some broad, and some are actually designed to be a certain height and weight that registers a higher BMI!

The key to understanding the body in front of you, and how to help it reach it’s personal potential is to know that

  1. Every body is different.
  2. There is a very good reason why some people store weight and others don’t.
  3. Understanding this will allow you to have a greater insight into every area of your clients’ lives and create positive change that is lasting.

Let’s take the typical obese body – the type of body that has been protecting our community as long as we have evolved! They have thick joints, wrists, neck, ankles, they have significant muscle mass covered by a significant layer of fat tissue as well. Generally, they are a stout body and have always been that way. Genetically, they were born with a predisposition to have a stronger and thicker skeleton, more muscle tissue AND a greater capacity to store fat tissue; throughout their life, they have been fighting a losing battle with the fat tissue (or so the skinny culture would make them feel).

In order to develop a bigger body, compared to a skinny body you need a very different physiology to create bigger structures and a different metabolism. Higher levels of prolactin, more sensitivity to insulin and more IGF-1 (both growth factors) are needed. Prolactin helps you gain weight, and produce breast milk when appropriate (pro-lactation), but it’s also found in both healthy guys and non-breastfeeding women. In higher amounts, it not only adds weight but naturally makes you focus on everyone else’s goals and not focus on yourself – i.e. you put others’ needs first.

Essentially, prolactin makes you more nurturing.

Now, we all need a nurturer in our lives. Nature went about creating a body that generally releases more prolactin, this body wants to constantly care for others, and this will mean that they would constantly give all of their effort to others because prolactin makes them more worried about others than themselves.

So how can a body survive if it’s constantly wanting to give away it’s energy, and in old caveman times they would have given away their food to the skinny ones as well? It needs to be very good at growing and conserving.

So get this, the body that is hormonally driven to be most nurturing, caring and selfless is also the body that is best at growing. In times of famine/stress, these hormones are going to make this person give away all their food to the community. To compensate, their metabolism will help them conserve energy at all costs. This is all in preparation for the famine…because when the famine comes, they will be giving all their food away. So we have a brain that is wanting to nurture and put other people first, and their metabolism compensates for this by reacting more to carbs and protein, i.e. for a given amount of carbs, they will grow more from it – all in aid of conservation for the community.

Interesting points to note are that their body is the most resilient to chronic stress, and they have a capacity to just keep going with their incredible stamina…not to mention they are also the strongest when it comes to shifting metal around the gym.

But if their community is stressed, their brain interprets this as… ’if stressed, it must mean we’re about to go through a famine, or there is a lack of safety with our housing, or something bad is going to happen. If that’s the case, then I better prepare for the famine’.

So they start conserving energy.

They eat more (cravings increase), then exercise less (they become less motivated), because the more fat tissue they have, the longer they will be able to go without eating when they are busy looking after all the skinny people who are starving.

So the lack of exercise and increased cravings are actually a result of their worry about others. These humans are designed to protect the community, therefore when the community is stressed, they protect them through selfless nurturing…to do this successfully you need to have a body that conserves energy. The downside though, is that when this body is trying to protect the community, it gravitates towards higher calorie foods which over time will wear the pancreas out, will start depositing fat in places it shouldn’t, like the liver and arteries, and so metabolic disease, diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver all start rearing their ugly head. All this body is trying to do though is store as much as possible for everyone else…but in a world of abundance (we live in a world with unlimited food 24/7) the famine never comes, and so weight gain continues, which in turn causes stress, and makes them crave more and do less…it’s a tricky cycle.

So how do help this client get the motivation to do the right thing?

You help them understand their strengths. They often know that they are never going to be traditionally skinny, so why would we focus on the thing that they are naturally not good at?

If people are working in their strengths, their motivation is higher, their focus greater and they will be more committed

The 2 things to remind them of are:

They are the strongest individuals around – mentally and physically.

Physically: We have middle-aged female clients who come in not having weight trained before and quickly progress to 115kg back-squats and 130kg deadlifts. This is because they have a physiology that is designed for 2 things, huge power and slow endurance. You tell them that the only weight to watch is the weight on the bar. Ditch the scales, and start tallying lifts. You get them doing big heavy (functionally safe 5 x 5 strength training, particularly in the afternoon, as bodies like this have a more night owl fitness chronotype), and you will start to see the shift in their body and their mind. They are built to be strong, they are built to be powerful, start focusing on this and what it make a difference to their life.

Mentally: Give them this blog, and then remind them that they have a natural tendency to care for everyone they come across. They have a mind and resilience that allows them to shoulder other people’s burden and still keep trucking on. They carry families, friendship circles, they are unstoppable – remind them of this strength, because they have it in spades. They need to be reminded of this because the poor way we judge around body weight is so common that they forget about their incredible strengths and how their body supports them in this way.

When you are thinking about your client who is more stout, thicker and holding more fat, rather than thinking you need to reduce their size, remind yourself to fill them with the belief that they are strong, resilient and more tolerant than anyone else on the planet – lean into their strengths, and watch them turn a corner in their health journey they never have before and then, watch them become your biggest advocate!

If you’d like to learn more about ph360 for health professionals, start here

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