We all associate overweight people with low energy, and there’s a good reason for this. But it’s not the reason you think. People don’t get fat because they don’t move much; they don’t move much because they are getting fat. The energy they could use to be active is being diverted to storage as fat. The culprit is insulin, which is released mostly in response to eating carbohydrate, much less so in response to eating protein or fat.
When you are a parent, this lethargic behavior is extremely frustrating. I remember vividly once when Juliana was about 9 and we were on vacation and she didn’t move from the couch all day. I actually remember wondering what was wrong with her. She wasn’t sick, but she didn’t look like she felt well. At 3 in the afternoon I insisted that she go outside and do something, anything. She didn’t want to. I had to really push her, and I was trying to hide my anger as I did it. Eventually she did so, reluctantly.
Now I know that going outside and moving was actually a huge effort for her, because she didn’t have much energy for motion. It was mostly being stored in fat cells.
Everything Taubes wrote made sense when I thought about Juliana’s history. Juliana’s ability, at the age of four, to eat enormous quantities of pasta and be hungry two hours later was explained. Her obvious preference for simple carbohydrate foods–bread, pasta, baked goods of all kinds–and her difficulty controlling her intake of such foods was not a lack of willpower but a normal response to the hormonal signals her body was sending. Her frequent lethargy, from a young age. Her constant hunger on the Packard program made sense.
Juliana was lethargic from a young age. I wasn’t sure why parents were always taking their kids to the park–even before she became obese, Juliana didn’t run around, she sat in the sand. I expanded my efforts to get her to move. She did gymnastics, swimming lessons, and soccer. She played basketball and indoor soccer in the winter. She joined a swim team in the summer. We tried softball because it was one of the few sports available in the spring, but it had a terrible driving to exercise ratio–lots of driving, very little exercise, so we stopped.
When she was in third grade, I started the first Girls on the Run program in our town. She ran her first 5k. Then she ran more races. Then she joined a kids triathlon team, and did triathlons too. When she was 12, she ran a 10k race by herself. We did kids’ weight training at home, since muscle mass is supposed to boost metabolism, and is also good for reducing sports related injuries.
Although exercise seemed to help her mood, a lot, it did not help her achieve a healthy weight. It did not even seem to slow her weight gain.