Thrifty Genes and Fat Loss

A recent article in Diabetes demonstrates that humans taking on similar amounts of calorie restriction wind up with different amounts of fat loss. I’m sure it’s no surprise to most of you that women tended to be at the thrifty end of the spectrum and men were at the spendthrift (not thrifty) end, with some overlap in the middle. Note: the commonly used dietary “Calorie” is equal to 1 kcal, so 3500 kcal = 3500 Calories.

One of the more interesting aspects of the study was the change in energy expenditure measured in response to fasting, which reduced energy expenditure from 5 to 12 percent. Overfeeding increased energy expenditure from zero to about 7.5 percent.

The researchers found that contrary to the widely accepted guide of a 3,500 kcal deficit being required to lose one pound, the calorie deficit required for these 12 obese test subjects to lose a pound with a fairly austere 50% calorie restriction diet was substantially less, from 1558 to 2993 kcal.

The study also pointed to previous research that confirmed another point the general public might find obvious: that people differ in how much fat they gain when they overeat. When a group of nonobese adults was overfed by 1,000 kcal per day for eight weeks, the individuals gained from 0.36 kg to 4.23 kg — more than a tenfold difference between the lowest weight gainer and the highest. The overfeeding increased basal metabolic rate (BMR) by about five percent, which was only enough to burn off about eight percent of the excess calorie intake. The rest of the difference came from different levels of non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), which means that those who avoided the largest fat gains burned off some of the excess fuel by increased non-exercise activity: walking, standing, fidgeting—instinctively moving more, not as a conscious effort. The researchers pointed out that once again, the women involved in the study were the leading gainers.

The studies help confirm the widely held impression that women tend to be more efficient at storing fuel and are less likely to burn off excess intake easily. I think for many women, this can be reassuring—it’s biology, not just you. Anyone wanting to increase non-exercise activity can do so by increasing awareness. If you find yourself sitting still or leaning back on a sofa or recliner, sit up and move something—anything—so that you’re only truly still when you’re asleep. Try for movements that are more substantial than moving your computer’s mouse, but if that’s all you have, you can adjust your settings so it takes more movement to move your mouse across the screen. These studies highlight the fact that people are quite different in their response to an excess of food, and with all the screen time people get at work and home, it’s essential to keep moving.

When you get that urge to get up from your desk and do something, it may not be your ADD acting up after all—it may be your body trying to burn off the excess calories you ate. Take the urge seriously. Maybe you can get up and do something standing, or have a walking meeting.

What else can you do (or do you do) to add NEAT to your day?

Did I Enrich Today?

Here’s a pop-press Huffington Post article about the effects of social and economic stress on health. It’s a reminder that a healthy diet goes far beyond food. See more about that at Did I Enrich Today?

Propellantless Drives Really Work?

This article from NASA Spaceflight looks like an April Fool’s article, but apparently it’s serious. The consequences of a nuclear reactor or solar array being able to provide thrust using an EM (electromagnetic) thruster, even in the minute amounts described, without ejecting any propellant will be nothing short of world-changing.

One of the most remarkable aspects of this research is that the mechanism is not clearly understood. To me, that means there is likely to be tremendous improvement of efficiency. The EM thrusters develop at most a newton per kilowatt, but even that is a game changer for missions to the Moon, Mars or beyond, because the thrust is constant and does not have to ac2015-04-19-005958-350x236celerate the mass of propellant ordinarily required to make such trips.

Some tests of Roger Shawyer’s EM drive design were done by Juan Yang in China in 2010, and the thrust she measured was largely written off by critics as being the effects of heating and convection, since the test was not done in a vacuum. While this is a sci-fi dream come true (if it is, in fact true), it’s not one I saw coming this decade, much less this year, since when I first read of Juan Yang’s test, I thought the possibility of such a breakthrough was just too good to be true.

Want to read more? Here’s io9’s take on the subject.

Jury Duty

This past week, I was tagged to serve as a juror in a six-person jury with two alternates. The surprises started on Monday when I was selected and continued when I saw the rest of the selected jurors—another six gray-haired men and one woman.

The trial concerned an event that happened more than two years ago, so it doesn’t qualify in my book as “speedy.” The inefficiency of the process was staggering, and left me wondering how many work-hours had been consumed in getting to this point. Spanning almost two days after the day-long jury selection, the trial continued to consume hour after hour of the lives of at least 20 people including the defendant, judge, eight members of the jury, four attorneys, a clerk, court reporter, a couple of bailiffs and about a dozen witnesses, some of whom probably had to wait all day for their call to the witness stand.

When it came time for us (the jury) to deliberate, we delivered another surprise to ourselves: a unanimous vote our first vote, taken within five minutes of sitting down in the jury room. The quickness of the deliberation suggested that a lot of time had been wasted getting there—after all, if the decision was that easy, did it really need 20 people spending two days to get there? It did not.

In the American legal system, the jury is passive and says nothing until they deliver a verdict. They’re fed information that’s filtered by the trial process, but they have no say in what questions are asked of the witnesses. The judge seeks to make sure the jury is not biased or exposed to unreliable information, and the attorneys attempt to spin this information in one way or the other. Still, the question struck me: In what other situation does the deciding body accept only the information presented to it with no ability to ask for clarification or unmentioned details? Could an innovative approach be more accurate, cost less and deliver a truly speedy outcome? Of that, I feel certain beyond a reasonable doubt. Could it do so and remain compliant with two hundred years of federal and state constitutional law? Of that, I’m not so sure.

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