I recently joined this forum and wanted to start a dialogue about "naturally thin" people who can supposedly eat everything in sight without gaining weight. My personal observations have led me to believe otherwise. All the skinny-no-matter-what-they-eat people I've known... don't actually eat that much.
An illuminating case in point: every year I go out for a joint birthday dinner with a friend I'll call Tamara. The ever-slender Tamara loves talking about fine dining, knows the names of our city's top chefs, and always orders an appetizer, main course and dessert. Ostensibly she's one of "those people" who can eat everything that's not nailed down without gaining.
But our annual dinners tell a different story. She announces she's starving, but only eats about an eighth of her appetizer, a third of her main course, and two bites (no exaggeration) of the velvety chocolate Ganache cake she always orders. This happens year after year, and at our most recent dinner I teased her about it. I asked her how she could be starving one minute and full the next, and whether she had to restrain herself to avoid eating more of the delicious foods on her plate.
She told me she really is starving when she says so, but quickly fills up and loses interest in the food. (We can only wish, right?) She also told me that this propensity of hers drives her husband (who claims there's a fat man inside him dying to come out) nuts. They're always going out to eat at five-star restaurants and she always pushes her unfinished plates away. She'll have a hankering for a certain type of cookie, buy a bag at the grocery store, eat one cookie, then leave the package on the shelf for her husband to struggle with.
I've known several other "naturally thin" people over the course of my life -- people who claim they just don't gain weight no matter what they eat. The better I've known them, the clearer it became to me that they don't actually eat as much as they claim. One of them (a university roommate) had large suppers, but routinely forgot to eat breakfast AND lunch. Another would virtually stop eating whenever she was under stress. And so on.
I've come to the conclusion that people vary much more in their appetites than in their metabolic rates, and that variations in appetite/fullness signals have the greatest bearing on the tendency to gain weight. What does everyone else think?
Last edited by freelancemomma : 01-23-2012 at 08:27 PM.
Unfortunately I haven't had the same experience with my friends. Or at least that I've noticed. It always seems like they can eat whatever they want in numerous amounts and not gain anything. I had a size 2 friend who used to drink a ton of wine whenever she was out and would eat everything in site and never exercised. Even after she had her baby it's as if she was never pregnant. I was sooooo jealous. I'm still a bit bitter and jealous. But for some people it will never be an issue.
But it's a good point. I wonder if for other friends it seems like they're eating a lot but they're not. Maybe it's that they're eating what they want to, but they don't eat all of it or have smaller portions. I could see me only paying attention to them eating things that I can't. <sigh> Regardless I wish I had whatever magical gene or behavior that they have. But I need to get over that and accept me and my body for the way that it is.
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Freelancemomma, by and large my experience is similar to yours. I don't have a natural off-switch for eating, and consume a great deal more of the same foods than naturally slender friends of mine. They simply don't eat as much, even if what they do it is much lower quality than what I eat, their weight is controlled by their genetics and satiety, as is mine. But the difference is in the details - I have a body that wants to put on weight and a feedback system that is very easy to override, they generally have bodies that resist fat storage and a feedback system that is strong enough to disincentivized overriding their system to indulge in more of what tastes good, despite a lack of hunger.
There are ways either system can be changed for better or worse, but I have learned not to underestimate that people differ wildly in what is ideal or normal for their bodies.
I'm sure this holds true for a lot of people but I wouldn't go so far as to say it is true for everyone. I seem to remember a girl I went to school with who could eat pizza, chips, cake, etc. and not gain an ounce. She wasn't particularly athletic but never once worried about what she was putting in her mouth. She's still stick thin today and that's after having given birth to a son. Maybe she skipped other meals, who knows...
My older brother ate a lot growing up, too. He'd literally eat a stack of buttered bread with his meals (white, not wheat). He was thin up until, I'd say, he hit his 30's. Maybe he was active enough to burn all of that off back then...I'd say not but I can't obviously say for sure.
My younger brother has, thus far, been the same way. He spends at least 80% of his time sitting. He doesn't go anywhere, doesn't do anything, and eats terribly. We're talking 1000+ calories in one meal, eating only twice a day, avoiding vegetables and fruit entirely, and eating in the middle of the night. He's slowly gaining but he's gaining it a whole **** of a lot slower than I did despite the fact that I am a student who, at the very least, walks between classes while he's, quite literally, sitting almost the entire duration of the day. =/
My experience has been similar to yours. I have noticed that the few people I consider "naturally" thin are that way for a reason. My husband is a prime example: He has never had a weight problem, but it's because he'll eat breakfast, doesn't "feel like" eating lunch, and then he'll eat dinner. So, essentially, he eats two meals a day. Breakfast isn't huge either: He'll either have a kaiser roll and butter or sometimes he'll make an egg & bacon sandwich. He does eat quite a bit at dinner, but I notice that when he's full, he will not eat another bite---no matter how great the food is. I, on the other hand, will keep eating if it tastes good (or at least I would have in my "fat" days).
So, to me, the biggest difference between me and "naturally thin" people like my husband is that I simply want food more than they do. It's a mental difference more than a physical one.
My husband is a naturaul thin person and he eats pretty much whatever he wants and whenever he wants, but it's never as much as I could and would eat if I ate as much as I want. Or, other times, he'll eat so little because he says he's saturated and needs a break from food.
Some other thin people I know eat a lot, but they are nonstop motion. They don't just watch their kids play, they are jumping around with them. Sitting on the floor, etc. they pick things up all the time, constantly tidying and so on, they are burning a ton of calories just by their lifestyle of needing to be on the move. Yet they will say, " I'd not excise and eat what I want". Well, if I moved like they did, I wouldn't need to jump around the gym either.
Then some other thin people I know are also avid exercisers. They can eat a lot because they excise a lot.
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My experience has also been very different. I've been watching people for about 40 years now trying to find patterns that would help me, and I've concluded that "everyone is different." I've met thin, inactive, folks who eat massive amounts of crappy, high-calorie food 24/7 and I've met fat, active folks who eat very little (of healthy foods). I've met people whose weight problems are mostly food quantity (they eat healthfully, but too much - this used to be me - at least until I realized that grains weren't so healthy for me). I've met people whose weight problems are mostly activity related (they eat normal portions of healthy food, but they don't move). I've met people whose weight problems who don't eat more or move less than thin folks, and still have weight problems. I think the differences are so important, that it doesn't matter how common or rare the differences are. After all, it doesn't matter whether you're like or unlike anyone else - it matters what works best for you.
I also think we spend too much time and effort trying to identify the cause of weight gain, and not enough time and effort finding solutions that works best (and not best "overall" but best for which people). It doesn't really matter if appetite is the more common problem, if appetite isn't YOUR problem. It also doesn't matter if appetite is the more common problem, if it's not being addressed. I didn't think it was important to control or address appetite (if I had to "suffer" to lose weight, that was ok and even good - but I didn't realize how difficult it is to sustain willpower through suffering). Appetite was my biggest problem most of my life, but I didn't learn to address the problem. I just tried to work around (and more often - thorugh) it.
When I was younger, appetite was my biggest problem (now, it's less of a problem but I have other problems now). I was active, and ate healthfully, but I was hungry all of the time, and insanely, torturously, uncontrollably hungry around TOM. Even at 11 or 12 (I started menstruating at 9 or 10) I was telling doctors that I had to spend the whole month trying to compensate for the weight I gained during TOM. At 12 or 13 (8th grade), my parents and I were desperate (I weighed 225 lbs). My pediatitian suggested we could try birth control or prescription diet pills. My mother and I chose diet pills (because my doctor warned that birth control could and statistically was more likely to cause weight gain). I wasn't really willing to take the chance of weight gain (and my mother felt the same way).
In fact, I avoided birth control for many years just to avoid the possibility of weight gain, only to learn that the right BC was incredibly helpful in controlling appetite.
I've managed to find ways to cut my appetite by 80% and my calorie intake by almost as much, and it didn't solve my weight issues. Now, I eat much differently, and I still have weight problems. The calorie level it takes to maintain my weight, is one at which I lost weight rapidly in the past. It's beyond frustrating to eat 1800 - 2000 calories and lose no weight, when I once lost 5 to 7 lbs per week consistently (not just the first week) on 2500 calories.
I have to say that it's taken me 40 years to be as open-minded as I am now. Because I was fat because I was hungry all of the time, no matter how much I ate - I believed that EVERYONE was fat because they were like me. Even when I had evidence to the contrary from a very early age (a grandmother who ate very little, but couldn't lose weight - and a brother who ate constantly but couldn't gain weight).
We see what we expect to see, and ignore evidence to the contrary, or dismiss such evidence as "the exception" rather than the rule.
But even if it were true that appetite was the bigger problem, so what? I think we dismiss appetite as something that is easy to control, when it isn't.
I wish I had "respected" the power of appetite much earlier in life. For most of my life, I thought the secret to weight loss was "white-knucked willpower," and for most of my life I failed at weight loss as a result.
When I started respecting and understanding the influences on appetite, I was able to finally lose 100 lbs.
I learned perhaps the most powerful lesson only about 3 years ago after adopting an old, very fat cat. I assumed that it was going to be easy to get weight off a cat - after all we as the kitty-parents would have complete control over her diet. We fed her half of what we fed our previous, thin kitties - and she lost nothing. So we reduced her food even more, and the less we fed her, the less she moved, and the less time she spent conscious. She also became food obsessed. She would beg constantly (making us feel like ogres for ignoring her). When we did feed her, she would bolt her food so fast, that she would often vomit (and wouldn't let us near her to clean it up - she'd eat the vomit so fast we didn't have a chance to clean it up). She started chewing and eating non-food objects, including dangerous objects that could have injured or even killed her - like fabric, plastic, thread/yarn, wiring.
We had to feed her in very small amounts, frequently. She became an incredibly high-maintenance pet, and in the end, we were only able to get about 30% of the extra weight off her (and it's a constant struggle - she still is incredibly food-obsessed, and her food is in the bathroom - so every time anyone goes to the bathroom - even strangers she runs in with you to beg while you're on the potty).
We've had more success with a higher-protein diet (hey true for me too - what do you know).
I think we have to stop trying to make obesity a "simple" problem with a "simple" solution. "Just eat less and move more" sounds like such simple advice, but it's extremely difficult in the implementing.
Even if appetite is the more common issue, so what? What does that really tell us? Appetite can be incredibly powerful. The only way I've been able to lose weight successfully (and it's still been damned difficult) is to reduce appetite - by using the right birth control and eating a reduced-carb, paleo diet.
Unfortunately my insurance no longer covers the birth control that is most effective in my hunger control. What is covered works better than nothing, but not nearly as well as my previous medication. I'm also dealing with hormonal issues that are probably peri-menopause, so I have to work harder, but without paleo-eating, I would be feeling starved all of the time.
Most of my life, I've felt starved 24/7 - and much like the cat - the less I ate, the less I moved, and the less time I spent conscious. I had to learn to diet differently. "Eat less, and move more" wasn't really possible (I could do one or the other, but rarely both).
Ironically, I also found an appetite and metabolic miracle in low-carb/low-GI, paleo eating. I found that I lost more on 1800 calories of low-carb eating, than 1800 calories of high-carb eating. In fact, I felt better and more able to exercise too and my body temperature is about a full degree higher (pretty good evidence that there's actually is a metabolic difference going on).
Through trial and error and an open-mind, I had to learn to find what works for me - and it's not what works for everyone. I've joined many weight loss groups over the years, and I'm amazed at how different everyone is - not only in their weight problems and issues, but in the solutions that work best.
It would be great if weight loss were as simple as we want to make it, but it just isn't. And I don't think much progress will ever be made in the field of weight loss unless and until we start acknowledging and identifying the differences.
What's sad is that it took me decades to realize that my problem wasn't simple, and didn't have a simple solution. When I thought the answer was simple, I failed. When I found, acknowledged and addressed the many complex factors, I succeeded (and those were only the complex factors FOR ME).
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This summer, I had one of those "light bulb" moments about "naturally thin" people, and "normal" eating.
There are very few "naturally" thin/fit/healthy people.
Some, work very hard at keeping a fit, healthy weight body. And do it the right way.
On the flip side, many do it in an unhealthy manner. We don't see what they are doing, when we're not looking.
It took me about a week to process all of this stuff in my head, and to observe and think about all the "skinny" people I know, and to get a handle on what is really normal.
I live in a very small community, so it's very easy to observe.
Most of the so called "naturally" thin people are not. They have eating and or exercise issues, and are OCD.
There is one woman in particular, who is very thin. Probably 5'5" ish, guessing about 105-110. Since we only have one gym in town, she's always there, no matter what time of day. Rides the elliptical like it was her job. She looks like crap. If she's not at the gym, you can see her out walking and or running. Her hair is dry, she has big circles under her eyes, and looks like the pics you see of anorexics or bulimics.
I've never seen her in the grocery store or out to eat anywhere, EVER!
Normal, is what we make of it. For me, normal means, most of the time, I have to be vigilant and watch my food, and exercise on a regular basis. But now and then, I can splurge.
This was a tough concept to realize, but once I did, it's been smooth sailing. I decided to embrace "normal" for me and live with it.
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I realized that my "naturally" skinny friends may eat whatever they want in social gatherings. However, privately they are not eating like that all the time. I had a "naturally" thin cousin who ate fried foods and fries almost every evening. However, the same cousin LOVED to dance (and did often) and also hardly ate breakfast or lunch. I didn't realize she was only eating one big meal a day.
I have another "naturally" thin friend who is 6'1" and looks like a model. She is rail thin. However, she also doesn't like eating too heavy. She may eat cake but she prefers to eat fresh whole fruits and veggies most of the day. I actually watched her eat and noticed that she will sometimes have multiple veggies on her dinner plate (instead of a meat, starch, veggie and desert).
People call my husband "naturally" thin all the time. What they don't know is that he runs and does these crazy sit ups in groups of 100. He also eats a very low-cal breakfast (less than 100 calories) and eats a salad for at least 1 meal most of the week. When they see him, he is eating 3 pieces of cake. What they don't know is that he always detoxes after by eating fruits and veggies until he feels better.
If these people really do exist, I have learned I am not one of them. It's sort of like school...I was the kid who could pass and barely study. Others had to study their butts off to get my grades. It came natural. A "naturally" skinny frame...if there is one....does not. So, exercising I will go
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I was just thinking about this today regarding my skinny roommate!!!!!
I'm always so bitter, like SHE DOESN'T WORK OUT LIKE I DO, SHE DOESN'T TRY, SO WHY AM I STILL NOT AS SKINNY AS HER??
But then I took a step back and realized that she also doesn't eat an entire box of Cheezits in a day. She doesn't eat 5 slices of pizza after a night out and she doesn't constantly snack throughout the day like I do.
One thing I've noticed is people who are "naturally" thin respond to stress by not eating. Me and every other person I've ever met who had a weight problem eats when they are stressed.
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My sister is one of this naturally thin people (gross like thin) she is 5'7 and maybe 100 pounds. She either is eating like a horse or will eat a few candy bars and call it a meal. She is a vegetarian since about age 15 (she is 20 now) granted I'm much older than she is and was having babies and married when she was learning to write her name. I lived briefly with her when she was 12 and again she lived with us about 6 mts when she graduated high school. She never exercised (or got off her rump for that matter) ate lost of junk and fastfood. Never gaining an ounce. She is just one of those naturally thin alway going to be thin people. But I think there are few that don't work or starve for it.
Oh and as to the stress eating comment, I'm overweight, and I do NOT stress eat per say. I will go a Long time with eating nothingm then eat something terrible like 1/2 a pizza and go back to not eating till the stress passes.
Just wanted to add: I actually intended my original post in this thread as encouragement. Many people complain that it's not fair that they're stuck with a sluggish metabolism, while their friends are calorie-burning furnaces. If it's true that proneness to obesity reflects appetite more than basal metabolic rate, it means we have SOME measure of control over our weight destinies.
I agree that appetite is very difficult to change, but we can experiment with the types of foods and eating patterns that are most likely to leave us satisfied. If metabolism is the culprit, we're stuck.
I agree that it's important to have an open mind about how and why different people gain weight. At the same time, my research supports the view that basal metabolic rates do not differ widely in people of the same age, gender, height, weight, and lean body mass -- perhaps by 5 to 10 percent at the most.
I'm open to be proven wrong, but for the time being I continue to suspect appetite, underestimation of food intake, and overestimation of physical activity as the key drivers of weight gain.