By Carly Keyes, Daily Health and Fitness Columnist
Published February 14, 2013
Every day, I’m plagued by the temptation to take shortcuts. When I head to the library to study in my usual spot, the elevator trumps hoofing it up four flights of stairs, and when I leave my apartment to head to class, the bus beats trudging in the cold (in my defense, I do live more than a mile off campus).
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Why? It requires less time and effort. It sounds crazy that humans once feared starvation, spending hours on the hunt for meat and walking miles to gather berries considering that today, with a few clicks of a mouse, food arrives at our doors minutes later.
Despite the endless benefits of technological evolution, there’s a downside: The “easy way out” has become the “only way out.” So last week, when a little bird sent me an article that features a drug with potential to reverse the effects of obesity, before I’d even finished reading the headline, my bullshit detector went berserk.
I roll my eyes at the copious flamboyant features that pepper readers with tall tales of losing 12 pounds in five days — or a fast fix for obesity. But there’s a stark difference between a US Weekly cover story about Kourtney Kardashian’s secrets to shedding baby weight and a published study by the University of Michigan’s Life Science Institute. So I pried my mind open, for once, and gave it a chance.
Here’s the gist: This drug, Amlexanox, when tested on mice with “excessive calorie storage,” reduced body mass and improved metabolism; according to the article, it seeks to “burn more, and store less energy.”
I commend the efforts to do “damage control,” but what about that whole “excessive calorie storage” thing in the first place? Giving someone who overeats a drug that burns calories fails to address the true dilemma. It’s like surface-snipping weeds; they always grow back unless you yank ‘em at the root.
Let’s say your metabolism is like a fireplace, and calories are the logs. Load too many logs on the fire — more than it can efficiently burn — and a big, fat pile of wood accumulates. Quit smothering the fire with more logs than it can incinerate, and there’s no need to douse it with lighter fluid.
I’m not a scientist nor a master of the field, and I applaud those combating our country’s heath crisis but — as a former Division I athlete, an avid runner and someone relatively knowledgeable on the subject of health and fitness — the root of the problem here isn’t the human body; it knows how to burn calories. The underlying issue is human behavior and the choices we make about food and exercise — and that’s a matter of psychology, not biology.
So while a “weight-loss drug” sounds like an ideal solution to reversing obesity, could it be, in reality, more of a hindrance? Here’s my mindset: I’d jump for joy if a licensed professional told me I could pop a pill and lose weight, because it’s yet another “easy way out.” Why work off the pounds when something can work them off for me? Hell, I’d even be tempted to consume a little more grub than usual to “test it out.”
I don’t assert that scientists ignore the necessity for behavioral modification — of course they don’t. Without a doubt, when doctors prescribe any type of “health-enhancing” drug, they additionally “prescribe” their patient to “eat well and exercise.” But we learn this in kindergarten, and it’s no big secret they only teach you in medical school.
I argue that a scientifically-proven helping hand and intrinsically-motivated behavioral improvement might not coexist symbiotically when the well-crafted human tendency to seek instant gratification is firing on all cylinders.
If I have the answer sheet to a test, why would I learn the material? Maybe if it’s 2:30 a.m. and I haven’t studied I can get away with it once. But long term, I’m screwed because, more often than not, life hands you obstacles, not answer sheets.
It’s tough, but we don’t have to cheat, or cut corners, or succumb to our “easy way out” environment.