Tag Archives: weight loss

Time to Chuck The Scale

Our world grants us total access to other people’s lives. Not only can we see into strangers’ homes on television, but we can see them date, marry, give birth and lose weight. People do this to become famous, and some do it for free, for reasons I won’t try to ascertain.

Putting yourself out there invites scrutiny, and you can tell by the very thin people that populate TV and movies that the alleged obesity “epidemic” (as if being overweight were a communicable disease, pfft), we’re going through in this country isn’t being represented on screen. There are exceptions, but the rule is to keep it small.

No wonder people – who don’t look like celebritites because they’re not paid to do it and don’t have stylists or airbrushing – judge each other and their flaws harshly. We cannot live up to impossible standards. Would you really compare your home cooked meal to Anthony Bourdain’s? So why compare your body to Jessica Biel’s?

It is also in line with human nature to judge. Let’s face it, most people will not give you a hard time if you make a disparaging remark about someone’s eating habits or body weight. People say, well, they have no self-control. Lots of unpleasant stereotypes can be made, but frankly, most of them aren’t true.

There are all sorts of reasons people gain weight, especially large quantities of it, and then keep it on, but those reasons shouldn’t include lack of self-control or laziness. And now there’s this: A study shows that even if someone works hard to take weight off, their body changes. Some hormones drop, slowing their metabolism and others increase, upping their hunger. These changes don’t go away until they gain back the weight.

In plain English: Their bodies don’t want them to lose weight.

The study was limited to fifty people, so more rigorous research has to be done, but the findings themselves are remarkable. It says pretty clearly that weight loss can be nearly impossible for most people, particularly if those individuals prefer not to feel hungry all day long.

I do have a few qualms about the results of this research. The participants ran on less than 600 calories a day for 10 weeks. I’m fairly certain that that type of extreme diet would mess anyone’s hormones up. Most nutritionists don’t recommend anything lower than 1,200 calories a day if you are trying to be healthy about weight loss. I’d like to see a study of moderate dieters, not crash dieting, as I would categorize this particular approach.

However, if it’s true that weight loss isn’t sustainable for certain overweight individuals, or perhaps all overweight individuals, does that mean the weight itself causes the issue in the first place, or are people whose bodies prefer to be larger just following their genetic code? Is there a different path to weight loss that would eliminate these hormone fluctuations if someone was determined to lose weight and keep it off? These are the types of questions we need answered.

Either way, it seems unfair to judge people for a state of being that their body finds natural, whatever that state may be. The push should be on the quality of food consumed – you know, fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meats, blah blah blah – rather than weight loss. Encourage physical activity for it’s benefits to the brain, the circulatory system, and energy levels. Teach people that with a healthy lifestyle, your body will find its own balance – and that’s where you should be. Extreme dieting and extreme workouts equal extreme stress on your body, and will eventually wear thin until old habits return.

The goal is to be healthy for health’s sake, not to fit into society’s relentless and idiotic fetish for alleged perfection. Because even though we are all quick to judge, we treat ourselves the most harshly. We see our own lives unedited and unvarnished. We need to see entertainment for what it is – a diversion. It is not a guide, or an aspiration, but something to calm us after a long day of living real life.

We could all look amazing if looking amazing was our job. The trick is to recognize how amazing we already are, and pursue our own health and happiness, instead of measuring ourselves on a scale that doesn’t really exist.

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You are who you are, Until you Aren’t

There are people out there who cannot change and there are people who can.

The difference between them is their mindset.

Those who “can’t” actually can change, but they believe that they are who they are and that’s it. It’s about proving who you are. Over and over again. “I am smart. I am talented. I am funny. Watch me be smart, talented, funny.” You know those people, and they do have something to prove. Sometimes it is a bit painful to watch.

Then there are the folks who see life as a work in progress. If you don’t do well on something, you try harder until you can do it. “I could do better. I can work harder. What if I try it this way instead?” Failure is a signal that the approach they tried has not worked, and so they try a different approach. They are the people who just keep going, no matter what.

In fact, this comes down to a difference between people who think they can’t change and those that know they can. Essentially, people either hold the fixed mindset – I am who I am and that’s it – or the growth mindset – With work and effort, I can learn and develop the skills I need. Mindset, by Carol Dweck, discusses these two ways of looking at the world.

Frankly, the fixed mindset seems to not benefit anyone who possesses it. At least not in the long run.

Fixed folks believe that one test can tell you a lot about a person. They see humans as being either inherently smart or not smart, and that nothing can change that. However, some of our most brilliant minds – inventors, business leaders and artists – were mediocre students. And that is because they possess the growth mindset. They knew with enough tie and trial, they would get where they wanted to be. Those who don’t believe in change often end up losing steam – instead of taking challenges head on, they bow out when the going gets tough. After all, they don’t want to appear stupid.

However, this goes beyond just learning and careers, it affects personal relationships and personal setbacks. For instance, fixed mindset people think that if you have to work at a relationship, than it’s obviously not worth having. It should just magically happen. Growth mindset people realize that everyone comes with their own issues, and that in order to have a happy union, lots of effort will be expended. Most people are not innately compatible, and so for a relationship to work, to last and to be happy, both partners will have to sacrifice, change and adapt.

But the thing that struck me the other day was this article in the Huffington Post. It talks about how overweight people don’t lose weight not because they’re lazy or unmotivated, but because they’re perfectionists. They set lofty goals, and get discouraged when they are not met. That seems like a fixed mindset to me. They want the process to be easy and quick, because they came up with a great plan. But the reality of it is that they didn’t gain the weight in a short time, so why would they lose it in a short time?

Instead of setting more realistic goals, like the article suggests, it would benefit them to change their mindset. They can change, and that change will take time and effort. The goals can still be ambitious, the person just has to see the challenge as a hurdle they will overcome if they are dedicated to it.

On the same wave length, Mindset discusses parenting. Parents want to have smart, happy children. And they are often quick with praise for their child’s intelligence for any good result. However, Dweck points out that these children often internalize that they are smart, and eventually become afraid of disappointing their parents by failing at tasks. So they stop trying. They “play dumb” because it’s easier than being proven to be dumb. In one classroom lecture series where the researchers in the book taught children about the growth mindset and the brains plasticity, a little boy who was consistently falling behind looked up with tears in his eyes and asked, “So I don’t have to be dumb anymore?”

Dweck advises parents to praise their children on process and effort, not on results. Telling a child who gets an A that you noticed they studied hard, or effectively, shows them it is the work they put in that got the result, not their “innate” intelligence. Because as Dweck points out time and time again, growth minded children love a challenge. They consistently ask for harder puzzles, tougher math problems, and they don’t mind not being good at them. They see it as an opportunity to learn. The fixed mindset children not only eschew harder challenges, many will lie about their scores if given a chance.

All of this is logical when explained, and it makes even more sense when you teach children. There are some who will try and try and try without a complaint, because they are determined to succeed. While others will throw a fit the moment an answer is incorrect.

We have all heard, and perhaps even said, “people don’t change” or “people can’t change”. That is not true, not even a little. Not only do people change, they do it all day every day, they may just not realize it. Those who don’t change do it on purpose. They stick to their desire to stay the same. Maybe they’re perfect, who knows. But most likely, it’s just easier than facing the things about themselves they don’t like. If they smell even a hint of failure, they’d rather just do nothing.

Now think about the people in your life that consistently shoot themselves in the foot, the ones that don’t live up to their potential, the ones that complain copiously but never DO anything about their grievances. I wonder what they would do if they learned that it has been proven, without a shadow of a doubt, that people can change. It takes time, and effort and patience, but it is possible. Would they actually change? Or would they pretend they never heard this news so they could continue as they were?

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Work it Out

A woman at a local Weight Watchers here in Los Angeles lost 90 pounds this past year. As a way of celebrating her accomplishment and to inspire the other members, she was asked to speak at a large WW meeting about how she reached her goal. She stood up front, knowing full well that exercise was the theme of the week, and preempted her speech with an apology: She hadn’t exercised once in the full year she had lost all the weight. Her goal had been to simply transform her diet, to make it a thorough lifestyle change, and she didn’t want to lose focus by working out as well. Now that she’s got her diet down, 2010 is all about exercise.

When I heard this, I already knew that exercise and weight loss are not necessarily friends. Yet to think that someone can lose 90 lbs by dieting alone seems to go against the “diet and exercise” mantra we’ve been getting for years. In fact, as a recent Time article pointed out, exercise often prevents weight loss because people “reward” themselves with treats after they work out, except the treat has more calories in it than the person just burned. Another article (which I can’t find for the life of me) studied four groups of women. The first only dieted, the second dieted and exercised, the third exercised, and the last changed nothing. The women who only exercised and did nothing lost the least amount of weight, whereas the women who dieted lost significantly more. Interestingly, the women who dieted and exercised only lost a few more pounds than the women on diets only. That study and the Weight Watchers hero point to a very clear sign – it’s about the calories that are consumed, not how much time you spend on the treadmill.

The other important thing the Time article, and other recent studies show, is that killing yourself at the gym and then lying around like a lump for the rest of the day is actually worse for you than moving consistently throughout the day. In fact, a study recently came out with findings that even if you do exercise, and then decide to sit on the couch for four hours not moving, your risk of death goes up. Now, the relationship is not direct, and thus subject to doubt. The scientists say it has to do with muscle contractions and glucose levels. The Time article also addresses the fact that other studies have documented that walking, going up stairs, and generally moving throughout the day is good enough. The joint thesis seems to be: keep moving!

Don’t get me wrong, exercise is good for your heart, your mind, and your mood, but hitting the gym everyday apparently isn’t making you any healthier. It might give you a six pack, though. Simple, low key activities that probably have to get done anyway are just as good. Now, I suspect that a six pack won’t come from doing laundry, but perhaps if you have a lot of it…

However, I did my own accidental research on this starting in August, when I went from working out – Pilates and hiking – 3 or 4 days a week to nada until the first week of January. I didn’t gain weight, I only got softer. Now, yes I have a fast metabolism, but normally, I end up gaining weight during my periods of not working out. This time was different. I kept the same healthy diet, but also, we had moved into a walking neighborhood. So most days I was walking at least 20-30 minutes, plus going up and down stairs to my third level apartment. I was losing muscle mass since I wasn’t using my arms to lift heavy things, and my legs and core were less strong, but you couldn’t tell by looking at me. Essentially, my daily motion and my food choices were enough to keep me at my current weight.

Basically, the whole exercise-till-you-fall-to-the-ground-exhausted phenomenon is young. And it doesn’t make most people happy. All you really have to do is move:  Walk, clean up, go see the person down the hall instead of calling them, explore your neighborhood, and just meander around your house. The important thing is for you body to be active, especially your muscles.

Here are my qualifiers: Building a solid muscle mass is something I strongly believe in. It gives you strength, energy, and the ability to regain that mass quickly if necessary. The other issue in obtaining that mass is – how? People tell me they hate the gym. I agree. There is nothing less appealing than industrial carpet and sweaty strangers. I decided to try Pilates, which was plenty to get me in good shape, and there are many options out there: Yoga, spin, hiking, gyrotonic, etc.  Also, there are always extenuating circumstances to people trying to lose weight, especially for women. Hormone imbalances are particularly evil in that respect. Those type of issues are best discussed with a physician, because treatment may include a special diet.

What I’m saying is, exercise if it makes you feel good. Or if it doesn’t, try to find a method that does. I’m now into spin/yoga classes, and it’s addicting. Also, any movement is good. There doesn’t have to be a serious effort, or sweat, or cramps. Just keep moving. Try not to sit longer than an hour at a time. That may be hard for those of you in cubicle land, or people like me, who write for a living, but you’ll be sharper and more alert if you take a stretch, or a stroll, or run an errand. The pressure to push ourselves harder, sweat more, and strive for perfection at the expense of time and sanity makes many people not want to do anything, when big results can be achieved through small means. Besides, if we were meant to lie around, we’d be invertebrate blobs.

In our culture of self-improvement, I find it heartening that what’s on your plate is more important than how many miles you run. So eat well, move, and exercise if it makes you feel good. But mostly, try to feel good, because life isn’t about being perfect, it’s about enjoying what you have and not driving yourself insane by chasing after something that you can’t.

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