Obesity is the leading preventable cause of death worldwide -- and it's an epidemic. But it's much more complicated than a matter of eating less and exercising more.
Dr. Emily Cooper of Seattle Performance Medicine joined KING 5 to talk about obesity and answer questions about her new book, The Metabolic Storm.
What made you want to write this book?
For the past 25 years, I've been treating patients with weight problems. Many years ago, I would give them a diet and exercise program to follow and I noticed that months or years later, the weight they lost would come back. It made me realize that dieting couldn't be the big answer and I started to do research.
I uncovered a vast universe of amazing scientific information that I just couldn't believe wasn't in the mainstream. I talked to a lot of scientists over the years to explore this topic in so many directions in order to help my patients. I thought it would be wonderful to share this information with more than just the people who come to my office, especially since we know that by 2020 approximately two-thirds of America will be overweight and suffering from pre-diabetes or diabetes. I thought I could help people.
What do you want people to get out of the book?
If I could only pick three things, I'd say first I want people to know that if they have a stubborn weight problem, it's not their fault. They probably have one of a group of diseases such as metabolic syndrome, and the weight is actually a symptom of a bigger medical issue. It's not explained by what they eat or their exercise and it never has been. It's not their fault. They sort of could gain weight smelling a donut.
Second, I'd like people to know that deprivation diets and over-exercising are really not going to help them lose weight in the long term. Of course, in the immediate short term, they'll lose weight, but in the long run, 40 years of science have shown that it will come back. Remember when Nike said just do it? This is just DON'T do it!
Third, I would love it if the book generates discussions between people and their friends, loved ones and doctors about the WHYs of weight gain and loss. I'd like people to be exposed to the 100 years of science that I've put together in one place and see that this is a medical problem and not a potato chip problem.
For so many years, we've seen public service announcements about changing behavior when it comes to diet and exercise, but you're saying that this is a medical problem?
Yes. The American Medical Association has designated obesity as a medical disease. It's not just me! All the PSAs you've seen over the years were treating obesity as if it were due to a lack of control or bad habits that someone could fix if they tried and that by doing so the problem would go away. This is a disease that's different from person to person. Obesity is the overall name of a category, like cancer is a category. There's breast cancer, liver cancer, etc. And though weight is the visible symptom, there are many causes of obesity and just as many methods of treatment. That's why it's so complex and why I find the science so fascinating. It's like solving the most complicated puzzle ever.
What exactly does "the metabolic storm" mean?
I'll try to sum it up really quickly. When a person is seriously overweight or obese, their metabolism is usually suffering from hormonal imbalances and a communication breakdown. The brain is the CEO of the metabolism and the hormones (from their fat and in their gut, not estrogen and testosterone) are the messengers to the brain. They work in a feedback loop that regulates the metabolism's ability to gain and lose fat. Glitches along these pathways cause weight gain and irregular appetite, a condition I refer to as "the metabolic storm" because it churns at times like a category 5 hurricane!
Diets don't cure the underlying problem and they eventually trigger what I call "diet fog," which are the hormone settings that leave a lasting fingerprint saying, "Store more fat! We're starving!" But as we talked about during our Get Fit segments, there's good news because we can diagnose and treat the underlying cause of a weight problem with the science that's available today.
If the American Medical Association says obesity is a disease, treatments will be more available soon, right? There are some new drugs that have come out recently, aren't there?
There are some new as well as old medications that have been somewhat successful, and there are many more on the horizon. This is a field of study that is exploding with new information daily, but to create a new medication takes about 10 years and $50 million, so the drug companies aren't going to develop and market something until they know it's REALLY ready and that doctors will prescribe it. And even though the AMA and many other medical groups have designated obesity as a disease, metabolic problems don't always have a code for insurance reimbursement, and weight loss treatment is excluded from coverage on many plans. And there's still not more than a few pages written in the most used medical textbooks about how to treat obesity. So we have a long way to go.
But there's hope and that's why I wrote this book -- to get people talking about obesity without talking about diet and exercise in the same sentence. To feel safe enough to understand that it's not their fault!