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The luxury of obesity

Ever thought about the fact that some people always assume that other people who are overweight are worse off than someone who isn’t? Have you ever thought that yourself?

I hear from patients all day long about how they feel okay about their health even when they have an awful diet and no exercise habit. Most of the time they feel this way because they aren’t overweight or at least aren’t as overweight as someone else in their life.

Society judges health based primarily on weight. It’s just not that simple.

I’ve come to believe that obesity is a luxury. It’s one extra (and very powerful) mechanism the body has to protect us from the outcomes of a less than perfect nutrition plan. Sometimes those choices are voluntary and sometimes they aren’t.

Think about it this way. A simple 7 inch banana has enough sugar (ie, glucose) stored within it in various carbohydrate forms to raise my fasting blood sugar from 85 mg/dL all they way up to 351 mg/dL. If my body didn’t protect me, then a simple banana would make me instantly diabetic.

Thankfully my body is better at protecting me than sometimes I am at choosing my food. All that sugar is moved from my blood stream into my cells. My brain uses some to do math and write a sentence. My heart and lungs use some to beat and breathe. My muscles use some to walk down the sidewalk or ride a bike. In the end, almost after all other cells have used as much of that sugar as they can, the body must still get rid of the rest of it. If it doesn’t, bad things like blindness, Alzheimer’s, and kidney failure can occur. So where does that sugar go?

That’s were adipose (the five dollar word for fat or storage cells) comes into play. Adipose takes up the extra sugar and stores it. As that happens these cells grow larger. So they really are a protective mechanism for keeping too much damaging sugar out of the blood stream. But not everyone has adipose cells that are good at taking up the extra sugar. Some people lack virtually any ability to grow their adipose cells in response to a bad diet. Nearly 20% of diabetics have a normal weight.

So why is obesity a luxury? When you need protection from less than ideal food choices it’s nice to have that extra place to store your bad decisions. The alternative is to let loose all those extra sugars into the blood stream and allow them to cause havoc on your system.

We tend to consider cars with more airbags and safety features as better vehicles. We should be thankful we get our own safety features for our bodies. Better yet though, let’s not live a life dependent on our safety features protecting us from the consequences of our choices. Let’s eat and exercise in such a way as to not stress, strain, and overwhelm our body’s plan to be healthy and strong.

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