A General Theory of Obesity

Inside every one us there exists a tension between comfort and discontent. When we assuage the discontent, we find comfort. When we resist comfort, the discontent builds stronger. This eternal struggle is an aspect of the human condition that creates a vicious and unforgiving circle. Within it lies a significant key to human nature, and to the nature of all sentient beings, the ‘Yin and Yang’ of life…it helps to explain the human struggle with overweight, obesity and the addictions.

Once the causes of obesity are fully understood, the obesity epidemic can be stopped. My book on obesity takes a step towards that goal. I propose an explanatory theory of an objective issue of undeniable importance to human beings – the obesity epidemic. The ideas are drawn from a range of disciplines including economics, endocrinology, epidemiology, neurobiology, nutrition, physiology, policy studies and psychology. The theory focuses on a universal feature of living beings, homeostasis, and the potential for its disruption, dyshomeostasis.

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The evidence points to ‘Obesity Dyshomeostasis’ as a problematic human response to contemporary conditions of living. Similar to racism, sexism and ageism, the current trend towards ‘blaming and shaming’ individual sufferers of obesity and overweight contributes to the problem. Only by reversing this form of prejudice, and the associated environmental conditions, will the obesity epidemic have any chance of being resolved (Marks, 2015a, 2016).

Summary of argument:

Health is regulated by homeostasis, a property of all living things. Homeostasis maintains equilibrium using feedback loops for optimum functioning of the organism. Dyshomeostasis, a disturbance of homeostasis, causes overweight and obesity, is estimated to be present today in more than two billion people world-wide.

Obesity Dyshomeostasis is associated with a ‘Circle of Discontent’, a system of feedback loops connecting weight gain, body dissatisfaction, negative affect and over-consumption. The Circle of Discontent is consistent with an extensive evidence-base.

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Obesity Dyshomeostasis occurs when homeostatic control of eating is overridden by hedonic reward. Appetitive hedonic reward is a natural response to an obesogenic environment containing endemic stress and easily accessible, high-energy foods and beverages. In a time of plentiful and cheap food, people eat more to comfort their discontents than purely for hunger. The comfort foods and beverages that are snacked on almost limitlessly are nutritionally deleterious to the health.

The objectives are: (i) To define, describe and discuss the concepts of psychological homeostasis and dyshomeostasis and their relevance to overweight, obesity, the addictions and chronic stress; (ii) To propose a General Theory of Well-Being founded on the construct of psychological homeostasis; (iii) Within the general theory, to specify the Obesity Dyshomeostasis Theory (ODT) of overweight and obesity; (iv) To summarize the body of evidence that is supportive of the general theory and the ODT; (v) To describe interventions for preventing overweight and obesity based on the ODT.

Obesity dyshomeostasis is mediated by the prefrontal cortex, amygdala and HPA axis with ghrelin providing the signalling for feeding dyshomeostasis, affect control and hedonic reward. Dyshomeostasis plays a causal role in obesity, the addictions and chronic conditions and is fueled by negative affect and chronic stress. Prevention and treatment efforts that target dyshomeostasis provide strategies for reducing adiposity, ameliorating the health impacts of addiction, and raising the quality of life in people suffering from chronic conditions and stress.

A four-armed strategy to halt the obesity epidemic consists of eliminating the causes of overweight and obesity: (1) Resisting and putting a stop to a culture of victim-blaming, stigma and discrimination; (2) Resisting and devalorizing the thin-ideal; (3) Resisting and reducing consumption of energy-dense, low nutrient foods and drinks; (4) Improving access to plant-based diets. If fully implemented, these interventions should be competent to restore the conditions for homeostasis in billions of people and the obesity epidemic could be halted.

Extracted from Obesity. Comfort vs Discontent

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