Toward a 'Knowledge of Causes...and All Things Possible'

Determining the cause of an acute bacterial infection is often fairly straightforward. But when we are dealing with chronic pathology such as overweight or obesity establishing causation becomes much more challenging. What are some guidelines to consider when going from observing associations to establishing a verdict of causation?

Some Philosophical Musings on Food

Over many centuries, there has never been a coherent philosophy of food and eating. Several books explore the complexities of food and the relationship of some of our greatest philosophers to their culinary choices. Have you ever thought about your own philosophy about food? There is a simple one that we might all agree upon for the 21st century.

The Quicksand of Self-deception: The Nocebo Effect

The placebo effect is a well-known phenomenon. Less well-known is the nocebo effect, placebo’s “evil twin.” Can physicians cause more harm than good when they give their patients too much information about a potential medication or therapeutic treatment, including those for weight-related disorders? What are the ethical considerations involved in withholding information?

A Point of Reference: Weight and the Concept of Set Point

Considering all the food our bodies process throughout our lifetime, our weight remains, for the most part, within a fairly constant range. In other words, our bodies tend to “defend” that weight, especially after weight loss, and that is why it is so difficult for us to maintain our weight at a lower level. Is there a set point for weight?

The Melancholy of Anatomy: Excessive Weight and Depression

Does a depressive disorder lead to weight gain or does weight gain lead to a depressive disorder? Studies in the past few years seem to indicate a “bidirectional relationship” between excessive weight and depression, with major public health implications.

The Self "Loathsome Gluttony" of Binge-eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder (BED) is a new diagnostic category in psychiatry's DSM-5 although it was first described in 1959. Already pharmaceutical companies are heavily marketing their medications to this new population.

Cancer Risk and Weight: Our Body and "Pathologies of Space"

Being overweight or obese has been associated with metabolic abnormalities such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and abnormal triglyceride and cholesterol levels, as well as cardiac disease, osteoarthritis, and even sleep apnea. Researchers also have found strong associations between excessive body weight and many forms of cancer. Women are even more at risk than men.

Smoking and Weight: Those "Burnt-out Ends of Smoky Days"

The dangers of cigarette smoking are well-known, but many people continue to smoke because of the fear that they will gain weight after they stop. What do we know about the effects of smoking and smoking cessation on weight?

Food Cravings: Those "Torments of Expectation"

Food cravings are generally considered benign and extremely common among people in many, though not all, regions of the world. Cravings, however, may be associated with so-called “food addiction,” as well as disordered patterns of eating, and even less dietary restraint and ability to control one’s weight.

"Sufficient Unto the Day:" The Complexities of Satiety

The process of eating is necessary to maintain the body’s homeostasis but it is also ironically a threat to homeostasis. Over the course of a lifetime, we may consume about 70 million calories or 14 tons of food. How does the body “know” when to stop eating?

Of Epidemic Proportions: The Primary Colors of Obesity

In recent weeks, our newspapers fill their pages with dire warnings about the possibility of an epidemic of Ebola literally infiltrating vast areas of the U.S. and the world. For many years now, researchers have used the same word “epidemic” to describe the expanding waistlines of our nation. Can we separate the hype from the reality?

Why Out of Sight Really Is Out of Mind

Why does our willpower fail so frequently when we are in a supermarket or restaurant or even our own kitchen? Maybe it’s not our fault but rather how our environment conspires against us and sabotages our best efforts. Brian Wansink’s new book "Slim By Design" offers some delicious strategies to work with our human nature rather than against it.

When Healthy Eating Turns Unhealthy: Orthorexia Nervosa

In this era in which overweight and obesity have reached epidemic proportions globally, is it possible to be too preoccupied with healthy eating? Are you a judgmental "righteous eater"?

Holding a Mirror Up to "White Hat Bias" in Research

A recently identified bias, so-called “White Hat Bias” originally found in research studies on obesity, may be seen in the extraordinary hype given to mirror neurons, those cells, originally discovered in macaque monkeys, that fire when a monkey performs an action as well as when the monkey sees an action performed by the examiner.

A Bone of Contention: Osteoporosis and Weight

Traditionally, excess weight was once considered to be protective of bone health. Make no bones about it, researchers are finding the situation far more complicated. Ironically, both lowered weight subsequent to weight loss and increased weight seen in obesity may be risk factors that lead to osteoporosis.

From the Frying Pan into the Fire? Saturated Fat and Health

For the past fifty years, we have been told to avoid saturated fat in foods like whole milk, eggs, red meat, butter, and even lard. A new book by Nina Teicholz recommends we eat these foods and she revisits the science behind some of our deeply held beliefs about what constitutes a healthy diet.

Down the Rabbit Hole: When Medication Leads to Weight Gain

There are many theories that attempt to explain why the prevalence of overweight and obesity has risen so substantially in the United States and worldwide over the past thirty years. Among many environmental contributions, one theory holds that more and more people are taking medications that predispose to weight gain. Are your prescription medications making you fat?

"What Potions Have I Drunk?" Concerns about Diet Supplements

Each week Dr. Mehmet Oz, whose television show is seen by millions worldwide, convincingly expounds on the miracles of different dietary supplements that purport to lead to fat burning, appetite suppression, and even substantial weight loss. How much do we really know about the efficacy and safety of these compounds?

Fat Shaming and Stigmatization: How Far Is Too Far?

As rates of overweight and obesity continue to rise in most populations worldwide, should we, as a society, ever accept shaming people into healthier behavior? Does the end ever justify the means?

The Puzzling Condition of Pre-diabetes

With the rise of overweight and obesity, more and more people worldwide may have undiagnosed type 2 diabetes. The blood test, hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), which measures the level of glucose in the blood for the past 8 to 12 weeks, has been used as a general screening test. How accurate is it in predicting the development of type 2 diabetes?

"What Hath Night to Do with Sleep?" Night Eating Syndrome

The night eating syndrome was first described in the mid-1950s by researcher Albert J. Stunkard, M.D. Now almost 60 years later, clinicians and researchers still cannot agree on whether it is a viable diagnosis to include in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Diseases (DSM-5). Why not?

Healthy Obesity: An Oxymoron?

Most people with excessive weight are more likely to have metabolic abnormalities, such as hypertension and abnormal glucose levels. But is there such a thing as "healthy" obesity? There is controversy on whether such a condition exists, and a new study casts doubt on whether someone can be obese and yet healthy, especially if followed over time.

The Myth of "Nutritional Precision:" What Do We Really Know

Remember the recent public uproar when Twinkies were about to be taken off the market? How much do we really know about nutrients and the body? Not very much, according to a new book by Dr. Gyorgy Scrinis. We are functionally “food quality illiterate” when it comes to appreciating how much our food has become processed and reconstituted.

When the "Proof of the Pudding" is Not in the Eating

A new book by David L. Katz, M.D., MPH, "Disease Proof," explores how people can take control of their health in this age of obesity, type II diabetes, and cardiac disease.

College Weight Gain: Debunking the Myth of the 'Freshman 15'

For years, the mass media has perpetuated the notion that newly matriculating college students will inevitably gain 15 pounds—the dreaded "Freshman 15" in their first year away from home. This is another one of the myths about weight control.

It's Not Exactly Better Living Through Chemistry

We are living in a toxic soup of synthetic chemicals. Called “endocrine disruptors,” these compounds are found throughout our environment, from our water and food supply, our shampoos and plastic containers, to breast milk. Could they have any role in the worldwide increase in obesity rates?

'When the Bough Breaks': Excessive Weight Before Pregnancy

Many pregnant women begin their pregnancy at a disadvantage by being either overweight or obese initially. Excessive weight puts these women at "high risk" for complications during all three trimesters of their pregnancy, as well during labor and delivery, and may have long-term ramifications for themselves and their infants.

Great or Not Such Great Expectations: Weight Loss Goals

What factors determine who is successful at weight loss? For example, does it matter whether you set ambitious (and even unrealistic) goals for yourself or whether your goals are more realistic? A sense of self-efficacy and motivation may be more important for success than the actual goals you set.

Human Bondage: America's Not So Magnificent Food Obsession

Is there such a thing as "food addiction?" Read a discussion of four books, including Mika Brzezinski's just recently published "Obsessed," Frank Bruni's "Born Round," Michael Moss's "Salt Sugar, Fat," and David Kessler's "The End of Overeating," that address food addiction from a personal perspective as well as from that of our obesogenic environment.

Heavy: Uneasy Lies the Fat that Wears a Crown

Overweight and obese people have an excess accumulation of fat. What do we really know about fat and will our knowledge eventually lead to therapies for weight control?