April 18, 2012

"Once our babymaking days are over, fat is stored in larger quantities and also stored more centrally, where it is easiest to carry about."

"That way, if times get tough we can use it for our own survival, thus freeing up food for our younger relatives."

Should we not honor fat, including — precisely — the very thing we've been hating: the way we get fat in middle age?
These changes strongly suggest that middle age is a controlled and preprogrammed process not of decline but of development....

[Middle age is] a resilient, healthy, energy-efficient and productive phase of life that has laid the foundations for our species’s success. Indeed, the multiple roles of middle-aged people in human societies are so complex and intertwined, it could be argued that they are the most impressive living things yet produced by natural selection.
The fat middle of middle age is an advantage evolution built into the human animal.

By the way energy-efficient is the right term. People who complain about their "slow metabolism" as if it's dysfunctional are not thinking straight. They're just sad they can't without consequences be the fuel-guzzlers they'd love to be. (If we personalized our cars more, we might see our gas-guzzler cars as lovable gourmands, taking lusty pleasure in scarfing down lots of extra food. And — lucky them! — they never put on a pound!)

48 comments:

Scott M said...

Should we not honor fat, including — precisely — the very thing we've been hating: the way we get fat in middle age?

The fat itself is not really the issue is it? Fat is a necessary part of our overall physiology. Being overweight, on the other hand, should not be honored in any way, shape, or form. It is a gateway to an entire slew of health problems that only get harder to treat the more weight you pack on.

Trying to "honor fat" is essentially throwing in the towel. There's a middle ground between psychotically trying to be in your 20's until you die and a land whale in Hawaiian-print moo moo.

Pogo said...

"a middle ground between psychotically trying to be in your 20's until you die and a land whale in Hawaiian-print moo moo"

Perfect!

bagoh20 said...

Imagine the alternative: Huge bagel shaped fat deposits around your ankles and wrists and big bulbous fingers and toes, but a svelte hot little middle.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

If we personalized our cars more, we might see our gas-guzzler cars as lovable gourmands, taking lusty pleasure in scarfing down lots of extra food.

Wow. No one ever thought of that.....well except for millions of hot rodder's across the country and hundreds of thousands who attend auto shows annually.

:-)

ricpic said...

So if the primary purpose of middle aged fat is "freeing up food for our younger relatives," what does that tell us? It tells us that relative to the young the middle aged are expendable. Which makes sense, since the primary purpose of each critter is to reproduce, not to drag life out into middle age. Which is not what we want, we want middle age and then old age. But nature wants spawn and die.

Scott M said...

So if the primary purpose of middle aged fat is "freeing up food for our younger relatives," what does that tell us?

That if you're a middle-aged soccer coach trapped on a Andes mountainside with a bunch of young players, you're the entree?

Freeman Hunt said...

As the years pass, less fat is stored in depots ready to meet the demands of reproduction — the breasts, hips and thighs — or under the skin, where it gives a smooth, youthful appearance. Once our babymaking days are over, fat is stored in larger quantities and also stored more centrally, where it is easiest to carry about.

Ha! This explains so much.

LarryK said...

Agree 100% with Scott M. If you want to stay as energy-efficient and productive as possible as you move into middle age (and beyond), it becomes even more important to exercise and maintain muscle tone. It not only helps to compensate for slowing metabolism by making you feel more energetic, but also helps with circulation, breathing, digestion, posture etc., all of which can only enhance cognitive and related abilities (although it's debatable by how much). There's no need to honor your spare tire (men) or muffin top (women) - it only slows you down and limits the sort of things you can do.

Lawyer Mom said...

So menopause is the new green?

Contrarian Catalogue said...

The "fat middle of middle age is an advantage evolution," but so is sickle-cell anemia. If it did indeed evolve, then it did so in a totally different environment with scarce food resources and no McDonalds.

Contrarian Catalogue said...

The "fat middle of middle age is an advantage evolution," but so is sickle-cell anemia. If it did indeed evolve, then it did so in a totally different environment with scarce food resources and no McDonalds.

SGT Ted said...

What bullshit.

Freeman Hunt said...

Each time a woman has a baby, she has to take off a few pounds afterwards. (At least that's usually how it works.) I've had three and have noticed that the location of what needs taking off has changed each time.

MarkW said...

But nature wants spawn and die.

But it doesn't -- at least not simple-mindedly. The most successful human 'spawning' involves living long enough to pass on accumulated skills, wealth, social status, etc to children and grand-children in order to make sure the descendants will successful spawners also (No surviving grandchildren or great-grand children is just as much an evolutionary dead-end as no children).

Chip Ahoy said...

No, a ring of fat on top of your head like a camel that grows bigger and bigger the more you pack on and the most gigantic headed among us will be the most admired. And you can forget about being president unless you have a big fat head.

Pogo said...

I tell patients that we are exquisitely designed to avoid starvation.

Hence the ease of gaining weight, and the difficulty losing it.

All of our appetites must be tamed by discipline and effort, lest they become our masters.

A dirty little secret of geriatrics is that being slightly overweight after age 50-60 extends life. Largely because you have a reserve during times of illness.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

So if the primary purpose of middle aged fat is "freeing up food for our younger relatives," what does that tell us? It tells us that relative to the young the middle aged are expendable

Ok to get serious and get all anthropological on you.

Each segment of human society from the very young to the very old have their purpose. We didn't start out in urban areas with Ipads and autos. Life was brutal and short.

Young (babies and children) were treasured and protected as best they could be and when times got tough they were given the most because even a Caveman knows without the young there is no future.

The breeders (teenagers mostly) were next in the chain of life because without them to replace the lost young and use their energy and strength to bring in the food, there is no future.

The middle aged (over 30yrs) in tribal society were not considered expendable and were not starved or kicked to the curb. They didn't need as much food and were able to concentrate on other things to benefit the society as a whole like taking care of the young while the breeders were busy. They were valued not only for their abilities and skills but mostly for their being THE repositories of knowledge. Without knowledge there is no future.

The truly elderly (those over the amazing age of 50) were treasured as miraculous. They not only have knowledge and longevity. They saw the past. Were the source of the generations and gave hope for the future.

The ability to have a future as a concept is what makes humans different from other animals.

So treasure your belly fat. It is the future.... whether we like it or not :-)

EDH said...

Middle Age Man

AllieOop said...

If anyone suspects that they have a sluggish metabolism, ask your doc for a TSH, a simple blood test. It's been shown that most obese people have normal metabolisms.

Scott M said...

The ability to have a future as a concept is what makes humans different from other animals.

I thought it was our ability to accessorize.

So treasure your belly fat. It is the future.... whether we like it or not :-)

You said upcomment that we didn't start out in urban areas with Ipads and autos. True enough. Life was indeed brutal. There was also very little in the way of overweight middle-agers.

edutcher said...

Most middle-aged women look better with some flesh on their bones (there is a point of diminishing returns, of course) than hyper-thin, in the manner of Demi Moore and others, so it's the finding of the happy medium.

Ann seems to have mastered the strategy and tactics of the battle.

PS Spelled muumuu.

If you've ever been to Hawaii, you know they love weird vowel combinations.

Pogo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pogo said...

"There was also very little in the way of overweight middle-agers."

There was also very little in the way of middle-agers.

Few people made it into middle age until the last 200 years.

In 1900, the global average lifespan was 31 years, and under 50 in even the wealthiest nations.

Not until the 1950s did global average lifespan hit 48.

Carol said...

FWIW Gary Taubes says people can have a lot of fat on their body and still starve, if their pancreas isn't working right.

Scott M said...

Not until the 1950s did global average lifespan hit 48.

Yeah, but those damned pigmies screw the curve for everyone.

SgtPete said...

I love fat, even though my doctor’s says I need to lose weight. I face diabetes and cholesterol, causing cardiovascular issues, followed by an early death. Well, I still love to eat. But fat people are lucky people for if we turned the time machine back; say 200 years, those fat people would survive that time of no food, remember this word called famine. Famine came about and it killed many, but fat people were able to survive because they had those extra reserves. Your body is genetically program for famine, after all, the DNA program says; eat more for winter is coming, make fat, store that energy away for sure you will need it during the cold winter. One nuclear winter or one massive word wide agriculture plague, (remember those potatoes in Ireland) and these thin and fit people will die. Those fat people will not be too happy either, but they have a much better chance of survival. Remember DNA programing changes must occur over thousands of year, yet refrigerators, modern agriculture and farming methods were developed over two hundred years. That Darwinism is alive and well, some call it Social Darwinism. Yep it’s all about the survival of the fittest, but for this narrative, it survival of the fattest. Love ya SgtPete

pm317 said...

Obesity by nature's design to the rescue. We don't need death panels to get rid of the old, nature will take care of it.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

You said upcomment that we didn't start out in urban areas with Ipads and autos. True enough. Life was indeed brutal. There was also very little in the way of overweight middle-agers.

Not necessarily.... Ice Age Venus type figurines were very common. Not that that particular body type was actually common, but common enough that it was memorialized.

The belly fat that we have today is certainly over the top and unhealthy because we do not have the active, hard lifestyle of ages past and we have a huge abundance of food. We can't keep eating a **plowman's breakfast if we aren't actually plowing.

Even just a few generations ago you rarely saw 'overly fat' people. The exception was those who were wealthy, had access to abundant food and didn't need to work.

Our belly fat quota is based on lifestyles thousands of years in the past.

** My grandfather was a bricklayer in the depression. His breakfast, according to my mother who was the eldest of 9 children and had to cook for everyone in the morning and pack all their lunches....before she went to school.

2 pork chops and sometimes sausages also, gravy, fried potatoes, biscuits and jam or pancakes, eggs, coffee and milk. If we all ate like that today....yikes.

Original Mike said...

"Indeed, the multiple roles of middle-aged people in human societies are so complex and intertwined, it could be argued that they are the most impressive living things yet produced by natural selection."

I've always rebelled against the reverance accorded children in our society. IMO, children are people who haven't proven themselves yet.

AllieOop said...

Belly fat in women and the inherent risks, Mayo Clinic

Granted, minor belly fat of an average post menopausal woman would probably pose lesser risks than in an obese woman.

Astro said...

[How to ask this delicately...?]
This post wasn't self-serving, was it Ann?

MikeR said...

Pretty good example of a bad metaphor. If only cars got cardiac problems...

Bruce Hayden said...

But it doesn't -- at least not simple-mindedly. The most successful human 'spawning' involves living long enough to pass on accumulated skills, wealth, social status, etc to children and grand-children in order to make sure the descendants will successful spawners also (No surviving grandchildren or great-grand children is just as much an evolutionary dead-end as no children).

We are optimized to live a decade or so beyond the birth of our youngest children, and that is probably some time in your thirties. So, anything beyond maybe 45 or so is a bonus, esp. for us males. Apparently, it has been suggested that grandmothers have more evolutionary benefit than grandfathers, which is why, absent pregnancy related deaths, women tend to live longer than men.

The evolutionary imperative or pressure is to have the most grandchildren, great grandchildren, etc. survive to the age in which they can have their own children. If the next generation can survive without the present one, once it has its children, then there is little reason for the older generation to live beyond that. Which is why salmon die after spawning, etc.

Mammals can breed multiple times, but there is still a dynamic there. Breeding resources are traded off for longevity and repair resources. Some species benefit from extended parenting, and no species benefits as much as humans do. Which is to say that resources have to be allocated to our longevity to make sure that parents will be around to take care of their children until the latter can somewhat take care of themselves. (I have long wondered whether the 7 year itch was tied into this - evolutionary pressure to keep couples to together long enough to get a child or two out of direct dependence).

But, after breeding and some time after that for the younger children to mature a bit, the advantages of longevity start to wear off, and our mortality increases. And, continues to increase significantly until maybe 85 or so when it flattens out.

That all said, it does make some sense that our bodies might handle fat differently in a breeding phase, and in a post-breeding phase. And, esp. females, whose breeding phase is more sharply delineated.

Bruce Hayden said...

Carrying excess weight, esp. around the abdomen, has not always been looked down upon.

My grandmother, born in the 1890s, had what they called a "boyish" figure, until middle age. Finally, she was able to put on some weight, and proudly carried it for the next 40-50 years. And, yes, she carried it around her middle. Didn't hurt her too much - she lived to 90 or 91 (we think that she fudged her age a bit, because she was older than my grandfather), but did have a younger brother who lasted until 97 or so, without the belly fat.

chickenlittle said...

Middle-aged people also sequester more carbon the heavier they are: link.

Before anybody gets all contrarian, I should point out that food is grown using nitrogen fertilizers which derive in part from hydrocarbons via the hydrogen in the Haber-Bosch process.

Richard Dolan said...

"The fat middle of middle age is an advantage evolution built into the human animal."

What an odd string of words but one that we've all gotten used to.

"[A]n advantage evolution built ..." sounds so wonderfully scientific, until you pay attention to what's being said --"evolution" as the non-person doing the designing and intending the end result, all in the nature of the preferred stand-in for the God of Genesis. People say (Obama, for instance) that simple folk cling to their religious myths from a need for comfort, as a way to understand their place in the world.

"Evolution" is doing the same thing here, making it OK to have that extra donut or whatever, so tah we can arrive at this: "Should we not honor fat, including — precisely — the very thing we've been hating: the way we get fat in middle age?
These changes strongly suggest that middle age is a controlled and preprogrammed process not of decline but of development...." So cling away to all that wonderful middle aged fat and the preprogrammed process that makes it a wonder worth celebrating!

What an unintentionally hilarious way to frame our life and place in the world around us. All things considered, Genesis makes more sense (and that's not intended as a compliment).

chickenlittle said...

We wear the catenated carbon chains we forged in life....we made them link by link, and in cell by cell; we girded it on of our own free will, and of our own free will we wore it.

Carnifex said...

@ricpic

I'm gonna disagree with you on the evolutionary notion of fat to allow younger generation to survive.

Look at it this way, you have an adult and a youth in a end of the world scenario. There's not enough food for everyone till the next crop comes in. Who has a better chance of surviving a harsh reality? A youth, say a teenager, still vigorous but inexperienced, or an older wiser middle aged person? Obviously, in a strictly physical confrontation the teenager should persevere. But, the older generation should be smart enough to avoid that situation entirely.

We got where we are today because of brains not brawn. The teenager scenario is a best case for your argument, if the younger generation was relegated to children, then it mitigates for the older ones even more.

Besides, we can always make more children. :-)

MarkW said...

We are optimized to live a decade or so beyond the birth of our youngest children, and that is probably some time in your thirties. So, anything beyond maybe 45 or so is a bonus, esp. for us males. Apparently, it has been suggested that grandmothers have more evolutionary benefit than grandfathers, which is why, absent pregnancy related deaths, women tend to live longer than men.

No -- not true. The *average* life span used to be short, but not the maximum life span. There have always been oldsters.

And keep in mind that women outliving men is relatively recent (the last 100 years or so). Childbirth used to be a big killer.

For men and women, the strategies are a bit different. For women, it's too dangerous to keep trying to procreate and, so, menopause. That's not true for men, so men's bodies don't necessarily slow down in middle age the same way that women's do, and trying to keep up with the young guys apparently does them in a bit faster.

William said...

Perfection is an unstable state. I've been skinny, and later I packed on a few extra pounds. I must have passed through a fleeting moment of perfection in this metamorphosiis, but I can't remember it.....I ran a marathon one year. I must have been in shape, but all I can remember about that year is chronic back pain--so even when you're in shape, your body sucks.

Christoph said...

The thing is, great thigh-separation on a woman is really sexy and fat hinders that.

Similarly, from behind.

But that's OK. That's what affairs with younger women are for.

Freeman Hunt said...

A dirty little secret of geriatrics is that being slightly overweight after age 50-60 extends life. Largely because you have a reserve during times of illness.

Just highlighting this.

My own father would likely have lasted a while longer if he hadn't been 6'3" and 150 pounds when he got cancer. Watching someone else go through an illness like that will cure a person of any desire to be exquisitely thin in middle age.

dbp said...

Supposedly, fuel efficient cars do not result in less gasolene use. The reason is that the low usage cost acts as an inducement to drive a lot more.

Similarly, now that my metabolism has slowed down I've taken up distance running.

Carnifex said...

@Christopher

Why do you guys insist on a chocolate or vanilla world. You can't enjoy a BBW and Kate Moss type? Blond, or brunette, etc?

I enjoy looking at women. Beautiful women that know it, and that's half the battle, knowing it. Confidence is sexy.

The only type of woman I really don't enjoy looking at are the extreme body builder types. Toning up and definition is okay, but when you really can't tell the difference between sexes it's just too androgynous for me.

AllieOop said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AllieOop said...

Carnifex,
Confidence is also important to women, alpha males, even homely ones attract females. In reality the beta male would probably be the better choice, especially the handsome ones, biologically speaking.

Steve said...

A bear, however hard he tries,
Grows tubby without exercise.
Our Teddy Bear is short and fat,
Which is not to be wondered at;
He gets what exercise he can
By falling off the ottoman,
But generally seems to lack
The energy to clamber back....

--by A. A. Milne

Read the whole thing at
http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/teddy-bear/

Christoph said...

"My own father would likely have lasted a while longer if he hadn't been 6'3" and 150 pounds when he got cancer."

I'm glad he didn't suffer for a long time then.

You wanted you father to live longer ... with cancer?

Did he feel the same way? Because at first glance that sounds extremely selfish.

Of course, if he wanted to live longer then, that would be different and not selfish.