In­side The Fat Lab

(Or 7 New Ways To Lose 5kg)


Weight loss is not

a fair fight. While some shed ki­los with ap­par­ent ease, oth­ers strug­gle to shift the nee­dle at all. To find out why, Men’s Health checked into the world’s fore­most obe­sity re­search lab to re­port from the front lines of the war on fat

Ev­ery week over the past sev­eral months, a new vol­un­teer has checked into the meta­bolic ward of the Pen­ning­ton Biomed­i­cal Re­search Cen­ter in Louisiana. Each stays for 24 days; he or she is fed meals that are metic­u­lously mea­sured so their calo­rie in­take is less than what their body burns, guar­an­tee­ing weight loss.

Par­tic­i­pants be­gin the study by spend­ing three days locked in­side one of Pen­ning­ton’s four “meta­bolic cham­bers”. Dr Eric Ravussin, the white-coated concierge of these suites, com­pares them to “ho­tel rooms, but with a glass wall and pre­cise sen­sors”. Here, ev­ery in­hala­tion and ex­ha­la­tion is mea­sured to as­sess each vol­un­teer’s meta­bolic rate. The par­tic­i­pants then spend 17 days on a “cam­pus” – dur­ing which time their meals and ex­er­cise are logged – be­fore re­turn­ing to the cham­ber for a fi­nal eval­u­a­tion. The aim is to record not only how much weight the sub­jects lose, but how their meta­bolic rates are af­fected by the process of cut­ting calo­ries.

If los­ing weight is hard, keep­ing it off is even harder. Ravussin made head­lines re­cently with a study re­veal­ing that ex­treme di­ets can cause a sig­nif­i­cant meta­bolic slow­down: in other words, to stay the same weight, a man who has dropped from 110kg to 90kg would have to eat far less than a man who has al­ways weighed 90kg. “It’s as though peo­ple who lose weight are al­most doomed to re­gain it,” says Ravussin.

There’s an old In­dian para­ble in which blind men at­tempt­ing to de­scribe an ele­phant ar­rive at dif­fer­ent con­clu­sions, de­pend­ing on whether they’re hold­ing the trunk, tusk or tail. Obe­sity is sim­i­larly dif­fi­cult to con­cep­tu­alise in full. It re­sults from a mul­ti­tude of dis­parate, yet co­ex­ist­ing, fac­tors – from meta­bolic is­sues and emo­tional prob­lems to a lack of ex­er­cise and poor nu­tri­tion. Too of­ten, these causes are stud­ied in iso­la­tion. At Pen­ning­ton, how­ever, the re­searchers are at­tempt­ing to gauge the whole ele­phant.

In its Inges­tive Be­hav­ior, Weight Man­age­ment and Health Pro­mo­tion Lab­o­ra­tory, Dr Corby Martin analy­ses feed­ing stud­ies in­ves­ti­gat­ing ev­ery­thing from how the pace of eat­ing af­fects sati­ety to how group dy­nam­ics – the in­flu­ence of your friends – im­pact upon your food choices. In an­other lab, Dr Owen Carmichael uses func­tional mag­netic res­o­nance imag­ing (FMRI) to bet­ter grasp crav­ings at a neu­ro­log­i­cal level.

But how does all this ap­ply to you? Draw­ing on Pen­ning­ton’s col­lec­tive ex­per­tise, MH has iden­ti­fied seven “fat types” – seven dif­fer­ent ways in which your body and brain con­spire to pack on the ki­los. You may be pre­dom­i­nantly one type; more likely, you may be a com­bi­na­tion of sev­eral. Even leaner men will see some­thing of them­selves in these find­ings. This is truly the cut­ting edge.

A vol­un­teer stands on a 3D body scan­ner, which uses the lat­est in­frared imag­ing tech to cal­cu­late body fat

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