7. Cookies Really Are Addictive
While food is not addictive the way cocaine or alcohol is, scientists in recent years have found some uncanny similarities. When subjects at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia were shown the names of foods they liked, the parts of the brain that got excited were the same parts activated in drug addicts. It may have to do with dopamine, the hormone linked to motivation and pleasure, say researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York. If obese people have fewer dopamine receptors, they may need more food to get that pleasurable reaction.
8. Ear Infections Can Taint Your Taste Buds
For years, the team at Linda Bartoshuk’s taste lab at the University of Florida wondered why people who tasted food less intensely than others seemed more likely to be fat. Researcher Derek Snyder had a theory: Could an ear infection, which can damage a taste nerve running through the middle ear, be the missing link? After tabulating 6,584 questionnaires, the team discovered that those over 35 who had suffered several ear infections had almost double the chance of being obese.
Responses to additional questions provided clues as to why. Former ear-infection patients were a little more likely to love sweets and fatty foods-perhaps because the damaged nerve causes them to have a higher threshold for sensing sweetness and fattiness. Even a small increase in calories from bad food choices adds up over time.
Childhood ear infections are as hard to avoid as the colds that tend to bring them on, but limiting passive smoke seems to drive down incidents of ear infection. If you’re an overweight adult who suffered a severe ear infection as a child, it may be worth paying attention to the taste and texture of your food. Simply finding healthier substitutes, such as fruit instead of candy, or olive oil instead of butter, may help drive you toward eating better and weighing less.
9. Antioxidants Are Also Anti-Fat
Free radicals are now blamed not only for making you look old but also for making you fat. Zane Andrews, PhD, a neuroendocrinologist at Monash University in Australia, says these oxidizing molecules damage the cells that tell us we’re full. Free radicals emerge when we eat (something even the keenest dieter must do to survive), but they’re especially prevalent when we gorge on candy bars, chips, and other carbohydrates. With every passing year, these fullness signifiers suffer wear and tear-causing the “stop eating!” signal to get weaker and appetites (and possibly our stomachs) to get bigger. The best way to fight back? Avoid the junk and load up on colorful, antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables.
10. You Can Be Fat and Fit
A growing body of literature suggests that size doesn’t matter when it comes to your health. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine surveyed 5,440 American adults and found that 51 percent of the overweight and almost 32 percent of the obese had mostly normal cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure, and other measures of good health.
Further defying conventional wisdom, the article also reported that 23.5 percent of trim adults were, in fact, metabolically abnormal-making them more vulnerable to heart disease than their heavier counterparts.
The latest U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report corroborates what our doctors have said all along: You need about 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity five days a week for health. And you don’t even have to do your exercise in one fell swoop-ten-minute stints of walking are just as effective. That means if you forgo the elevators for the stairs, get off one train or bus stop earlier, and park your car a few blocks away, chances are you’ll be good for the day.
Remember Steven Blair, the self-described short, fat, bald guy? At age 69, his blood pressure is in check, his cholesterol levels are normal, and his heart is strong. What’s more, he may have even more positive vital signs, according to his recent study in the journal Obesity: Men who are fit (determined by their performance on a treadmill) have a lower risk of dying of cancer than out-of-shape guys, regardless of their body mass index, waist size, or percentage of body fat.
The news is heartening, says Blair: “We don’t have great tools to change people’s weight, but we know we can change their fitness levels.