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What do you make of the “obesity epidemic”?
The obesity epidemic has changed the way people think about these things. We’re in an environment where there is so much high-sugar, high-fat food available, it has disrupted our ability to regulate our weight. The environment is inducing obesity, because our bodies can’t withstand the temptation of having so much rich food available.
Do you think about your own leptin levels when you step on the scale?
I think about how my body has its own autonomous systems that take care of these things without any deliberate effort on my part. The power of these unconscious systems amazes me. Some people are biologically programmed to never feel full. It’s really hard to overcome that. How do you get conscious control of an autonomous and very powerful system?
Good question. Any advice for losing weight?
I’m not really involved in thinking about practical applications of this research—I’m more concerned with the intrinsic problem-solving aspects. But I can tell you a couple of things: Exercise reduces your appetite as well as burning calories, and feeds into longevity pathways too. Low-carb diets seem to make sense from a biochemical point of view—more so than low-fat diets. Your body is better at regulating fat than carbohydrates. Finally, stay away from fast food!
What do you do when you’re not thinking about leptin?
I garden. I grow a lot of flowers—some vegetables, but mostly the flowers tend to take over.
Do you look at your garden with a scientist’s eye?
The part I like best is in the early spring when the perennials come up, watching the way they unfold. The whole program for the plant’s life is right there. It’s mechanistic, but still very beautiful. I have an aesthetic appreciation of the process—just as I do for the processes of life, growth, and aging in the body.