Feast or famine?


By Clive Lindley-Jones | January 9, 2010 2:14 pm

It often happens that after the feasting of Christmas comes the fasting of January. This is no bad thing if it is done naturally and as part of the rhythms of life.

In traditional cultures, this was ordained by the landmarks laid down by tradition through the year. In many Catholic countries of Europe, for example, there were saint’s days and festivals that, with their licence and pageantry, naturally broke up the, often hard, dull, brutal regularity of life for so many.

With industrialisation came the pressure to keep factories working round the clock and a new, more pressured time consciousness. Gone were the slower patterns of the seasons, replaced by harsh, impersonal and unforgiving clock time.

Now this, in turn, is being replaced by a timeless, 24/7, global culture that never sleeps and must always be available for work, e-mails, tweets, and of course…shopping, fuelled by our addiction to sugar, alcohol and caffeine!

With this has come an extraordinary change, most noticeable in the last few decades, in our use of our physical bodies and the nature of what we eat. Perhaps we are at a strange high (or should it be called low) point where, while still billions go to bed hungry, many of us have, often superficially attractive, but ultimately, damaging, food available, at almost every turn.

As the pressures of climate change and population expansion push down on our ability to grow and distribute enough food for all, we meet another tsunami coming the other way – that of global type 2 malnutrition and obesity threatening to undo so many of the benefits we have been heirs to. This is no longer confined just to Europe and America but is spreading to the newly affluent in India and China and across the globe, often hitting the newly affluent countries even harder than the older industrialised countries, which have had longer to make the journey.

But how come so many of us get so confused and upset by our inability to find a good balance in the area of food and exercise? This will be my topic over the next few months into the spring.

With the snow melting and the grey British winter laid bare, it is often a time when many people rededicate themselves to getting a little fitter and wondering how to remove that winter flab. But how can one eat and move on a more permanent basis so that these choices will keep ones energy and waistline optimal over the decades?

We live in a society where 99% of the 5.5 billion children’s school packed lunches eaten annually, were recently judged as nutritionally inadequate? Sadly, while it is hugely damaging to the health of the next generation, this just reflects the, often deadly, food choices many of us make every day, both for our children and ourselves.

What is wrong with a good meal then? Absolutely nothing, however, with sophisticated marketing and ‘sleight of mouth’ tactics the modern food industry has found it is far more profitable, generally, to pretend to sell healthy, life giving food, than to really do so, and we have been willing to be fooled as we make our daily choices.

Apples and Pears
What shape are you in? It seems a simple enough question but in recent years the full impact of that question has started to sink in to the scientific community. In the 1980s, in an effort to understand quite why being overweight was so damaging to health, Professor Admed Kissebah, of the Medical College of Wisconsin, led ground breaking research on the health risks of body shape.

It appears, while it is not great to have lots of fat anywhere, to have it round the middle, above the waist, in and around the internal organs like the liver, in an ‘apple shaped’ body seems to be most damaging of all, compared to having fat below the waist in a ‘pear shaped’ body. The apple shape, which is more common in men, is most damaging to our health probably due to the fat that accumulates in the liver. This weight gain pattern is most strongly associated with metabolic syndrome.

So exactly what is metabolic syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is not a disease but is a precursor to stroke, diabetes, heart disease, and kidney disease. It is extremely serious and unfortunately, is dramatically on the increase – especially among people who lead sedentary lifestyles and are overweight. Metabolic syndrome, whilst not specifically a disease in itself, is a cluster of interrelated conditions that can severely damage a person’s health.

So it turns out that your body shape was actually telling you more about your health than just that you are perhaps a little overweight?

The two most common body shapes, which are easily identifiable, are the classic ‘apple’ and ‘pear’ body shapes.

Which one are you, apple or pear?

An ‘apple-shaped’ body tend to have fat above the waist, whereas a ‘pear-shaped’ body carries fat below the waist.

As a rough guide, men whose waist circumference is more than 40 inches, and women, more than 35 inches would fall into the ‘apple’ body shape category. While there are all sorts of expensive tests one can use, a simple measurement of your waist is a surprisingly accurate first step to seeing how you are doing, not just in getting into your jeans, but in that journey towards ill health or vibrant sustainable wellness.

Whilst an apple is commonly regarded as an extremely nutritious food to eat, unfortunately, having an ‘apple’ body shape is a completely different story. Those people that do have an ‘apple’ body shape are at much higher risk of developing serious chronic health conditions if they do not make lifestyle changes to improve their shape. As Dr. Kissebah says;

“Thirty years ago, we didn’t know why obesity was so dangerous and we didn’t know that certain forms of obesity were worse than others. Apple shaped bodies have the worst impact on health. Pear-shaped people, who carry most of their weight below the waist, have lower risks of negative health effects.”

This is a revelation to most people, who often realise that being overweight is bad for their health but don’t understand the relevance of actual body shape.

Characteristic symptoms of metabolic syndrome:

· Insulin resistance – a decreased ability for the body to process glucose effectively
· An overweight, apple-shaped body
· High blood fats
· High cholesterol
· High blood pressure

For more on apples and pears, go here.

Coming soon…

Next time, I will expand on strategies to tackle the ‘apple problem’ once and for all and tell you how I lost 6.5kg (15lb) last autumn by changing my focus and how you can do the same or more and how it is not really about losing anything but about gaining something, for life. Interested? Watch this space.

If you need good, do-able advice and real world, scientific and sensible strategies on how to change your life style and make this the year that you can really be proud of, get in touch with us at Helix House. We love to help others make the changes that make the difference…and then see them enjoy the results!


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  2. […] 2010 I wrote in these blogs about Apple and Pear shape bodies and how the distribution of fat Feast or famine? | Health & Wellness from Helix House. has a bearing on issues of inflammation etc. and so impacts upon your health. So perhaps all you […]

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