“See food. Go get food.”
If your brain could talk, that's what it would say, like, all the time, Jim Keller said. At least when it's focused on food, which, thanks to sophisticated fast food marketing, it is, like, all the time.
“To tell the brain, ‘Don't eat it,' is hard,” Keller said. “The brain is designed to eat. The body is designed to eat.”
As a psychologist in Oklahoma City whose specialty is helping obese people lose weight, particularly through weight-loss surgery, Keller confronts that human tendency every day. Even in himself.
At 6 feet, 230 pounds, Keller's a “big guy,” although as a former college baseball player and a current weightlifter, much of his bulk is muscle. Still, Keller said, he's an “eater” who has “always kind of struggled to keep it in check.”
The perspective comes in handy when he counsels obese people at his Weight Wise clinic, he said. “I think it gives me empathy (and) credibility in some ways.”
So has doing 14,000 psychological evaluations of patients considering bariatric surgery. That experience, plus keeping up with research on obesity, has convinced Keller that America's fat problem is complicated. It's not just because we're lazy, weak-willed, bored or have emotional problems, he said. It's not just because evolution designed a body that craves fat as a survival technique over the millions of years before the bottomless pasta plate was invented. It's not just because tasty, fattening foods are everywhere and they're cheap.
It can be some or all of these things, he said.
Still, misconceptions about obesity persist. For instance, the one that says any obese person must have psychological problems. ”That's the myth,” he said.
General psychiatric disorders aren't much higher among the obese, he said. The exception is that morbidly obese people, those with a body mass index over 40, tend to have higher occurrence of depressive and anxiety disorders, he said.
“They can't do the things they want to do,” he said. “That's where the depressive disorders are most likely to creep in.” Those include social anxiety and claustrophobia that make people uncomfortable in confined spaces or large groups of people. “Tons of people (say), ‘I just cannot stand the crowd at Walmart,'” he said.
Another misconception, even among physicians, Keller said, is that obesity is a purely psychological or behavioral
“Lazy, undisciplined, uncontrolled eating, lack of willpower,” he said. “But the biology of obesity is enormous.”
There definitely is a “personal responsibility” factor to losing weight, he said. However, some people can be hungrier than others because the “biology of the machine” that is the human body actively resists dieting, he said. “Fat cells don't like to be shrunk.”
Ironically, some of the same research that guides the weight-loss industry also is used by the food industry to design advertising and marketing strategies, said Keller, who used to work in the food
The industry takes advantage of psychological, biological and social factors that trigger hunger and eating, along with human instincts and weaknesses, he said. For instance, it creates commercials with tantalizing images and runs them at times of the day when people are relaxed and possibly bored, thus more susceptible, he said.
Combined with high fat, salt and sugar contents, he said, it's “just irresistible to the human animal.”
Still, Keller said, there are effective ways to lose weight and keep it off. Begin with an understanding of how the human machine works, he said, then “make this machine feel safe ... well-fed, well-
“That makes the psychology of decision-
HOW TO HELP
A Walk from Obesity will be Saturday in Oklahoma City to raise money for research, education, prevention and treatment of obesity. The event will begin at 10 a.m. at the 1.5-mile paved track at Earlywine Park, 3033 SW 119. Similar walks are scheduled in other cities during the spring. “The walk creates awareness for the obesity epidemic,” said Barry Keith, owner of Journey Clinic, a bariatric surgery weight loss clinic in Moore that is organizing this year's walk. Cost to participate is $25 for adults and free for children 12 and younger. Proceeds go to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Foundation and the Obesity Action Coalition.
To learn more
For information or to register, go to