Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Heathrow Injection is so common that it even has its own name. Yet nobody has bothered to do any research into the subject. Isn't that surprising? Or is it just a case of closed minds jumping to predefined conclusions?

This peculiar syndrome affects mainly South Africans and Australians moving to England. I'm sure it must be valid for other parts of Europe too, but as England, and especially London, is the siren call, we'll leave it at that for the moment.

Within a couple of months, all of these people put on a surprising amount of weight. The joke is that when you land at Heathrow, you are given a secret injection of fat, which takes a bit of time to work its way through the system and manifest, but manifest it will.

When you read the blogs of the afflicted, they all take personal responsibility. Or seem to think they should be doing so. The food in England is so awful they're putting on weight, and as soon as they fix their diets they will be fine. Or as soon as they start exercising again, they will be fine.


Let's think about this. South Africans have no public transport to speak of. To get anywhere, you need your own car. In London particularly, public transport is the way things go. You have to walk and walk and walk, and catch buses and trains, and walk some more. I'm not sure how true it is, but Americans apparently lose weight coming to London. It was certainly true in the case of visitors stopping by for a couple of weeks.

So why do South Africans leave their cars behind and gain weight, while Americans do the same and lose?

In my case, I moved to London and gained a kilogram a month while looking for a house. This was on a a low fat diet, around 1200-1500 calories a day, and walking solidly for at least four hours a day. Once we moved into our house, I joined a gym and did weight training, and managed to slow the weight gain down to 1/2 kilogram a month. I was dreadfully tired all the time, though, and slept most of the day as well as through the night.

At first I thought I needed to detoxify. My liver must be sluggish. But reading up that, it was clear that my symptoms matched those of thyroxin deficiency. I managed to find an OTC supplement, which would have hardly more than traces of thyroxin, and hey presto, the weight gain stopped. I didn't lose, but I stopped gaining so rapidly. I still slept all day, though.

So I consulted a doctor. He sent me for blood tests and pronounced me entirely normal. It was not thyroid function slowing down. Next I consulted a diet expert, who moved me from low fat to high protein. Still no weight gain, no weight loss, but my energy levels surged up.

What a mystery.

The Heathrow injection should, in the normal course of events, start reversing after about three years. That's around when I moved to the Netherlands, and the weight gain started again. Slower, just under half a kilogram a month, but certainly steady.

So what is the problem? What is the difference between South Africa and Australia, and England and The Netherlands.

My first answer was that it's colder. Average temperatures are lower all round. Is the extra fat an attempt by nature to protect the body from the cold? My diet expert says you need to eat more protein in cold weather.

I went to Turkey for two weeks at the beginning of summer. I ate three rectangular meals a day, including the occasional dessert, drank lots of beer and wine, did some exercise but mainly lying on the beach in the sun. I lost two kilograms. So cold could be an option.

Getting back to the temperate zones, the weight creeps back, even though it's summer, and warmer. Am I not eating enough? Is my body going into starvation mode, conserving fat to cope with the famine? Does one need more calories in colder weather?

I tried a search on the Internet. That's when I found nobody has done any research at all. Just blogs and comments by people in similar situations, putting it down to self-indulgence of some kind. Only one person mentioned something about being told it was the lack of light, and the body not making enough serotonin.

Lack of light. I did some more research and discovered my weight gain stopped during one of the brightest summers in English history. This coincided with the OTC thyroxin supplement and the change to a higher protein diet. Which was it? Was it the light in Turkey, which was very bright, or the warmth?

This is cause for investigation to be sure. And as nobody else is interested in it, perhaps it is up to me to solve the mystery of the Heathrow Injection. I wonder if I can get a Ph.D. out of it.