Weight loss? Just saying the word sounds a little depressing. Who wants to invest so much energy and attention to lose something? Most of us spend our lives avoiding loss: we frantically search for misplaced keys, we are overjoyed when we find lost change in the crumby corners of the couch and we have James Bond passwords to protect our information from the Cyber-Grinch’s. Loss is something we try to avoid in every area of life, but when it comes to our health – we suddenly feel okay with losing? (I’m confused!) I think it may be this discrepancy that makes it so damned hard to lose weight and become more fit. From now on, I refuse to call it weight loss because it seems to create an internal battle. I have created my own concept, LifeGain… because I like being alive and gaining more knowledge that will help me to live better.
Last week, I read this article from Kelly Crowe of the CBC that claimed that “Obesity research confirms long-term weight loss almost impossible.” The subtitle of the piece says it all: “No known “cure” for obesity except surgically shrinking the stomach.”
If you haven’t looked at the article, you should. Why not waste a few minutes of your life? When I read the article my gut reaction was strong and personal. I felt fear about whether anyone can really keep the weight off… am I doomed to regain my lost weight again? Will it find me like a fat seeking missile that hones onto the target? Then I became annoyed that the article framed weight loss in purely medical terms with the only cure being medical intervention (medicalized).
What does it cost you and I when something like weight loss becomes a medical problem needing a cure?
I’d like to use an example from the addiction treatment field that may help the discussion. One view of the nature and treatment of addiction is the Disease model. This model defines addiction as a medical problem and proposes a medical cure. In the Disease model (which I think is flawed, I will write about that in a future post) the belief is that self-change is impossible and a person will never be free from drug or alcohol use. Researchers have looked into factors that predict relapse back into substance use. One study was of 122 adults who attended addiction counselling once per week. The researchers evaluated relapse triggers that included life stress, personality and a number of other factors. The consistent predictors of relapse were found to be:
- A lack of coping skills (avoiding problems rather than working through them or coping in healthy ways) along with
- A belief in the disease model of addiction (the belief that a person has no ability to control their own behavior) (see reference section).
I am not a medical professional, but I think it is a huge mistake to define weight loss for every person as a medical problem. Seems like a reductionist argument to me, just like saying a heart attack is a medical problem. No, a heart attack is a stress-eating-lifestyle-environmental-genetic-coping-choice-medical problem! Some individuals absolutely have an illness. But for most of us, being overweight is about other factors that include bad habits, not exercising and moving around enough, using food to cope, feeling unable to change and not knowing where to begin (you get the idea). I have great empathy for anyone dealing with significant obesity. It is a serious health issue and I cannot begin to understand what it is like for someone who has to live with it. What I do know is what has worked for me and I will share it in the next few posts.
LifeGain: What really works?
I cannot say what will work for someone else. I am not a doctor or fitness trainer. I have read more than my share of fitness books and listened to around 36,500 hours of health podcasts (It’s probably true). I am discussing what worked for me but it is incredibly important that you realize what works for me may not work for you. However, if you are trying to become healthier and gain more life, you have to start somewhere and learning from someone else is a good place to start.
Start by not making any change. I used to be really good sitting on the couch eating chips. I got better and better, which led to putting on a lot of weight. I felt tired and the more junk I ate, the more I craved it every night. Sometimes I even stopped after work and secretly ate junk food before getting home. I was stressed, unhealthy and I hated feeling like this. I decided to change not because I set goals, signed up for a gym, saw an infomercial or bought some equipment. I changed when I was willing to be honest with myself. I did not like what I was doing to myself. It took me months of staring into the mirror until I was willing to try something. Becoming aware is change. For me, eating too much kept me away from reflection. It is not about the abs, it is about the brain (the prefrontal cortex to be technical).
If a change is going to last, it has to matter to you.
Be a small change Ninja. When I began, I decided that I would just walk 30 minutes at lunch, three days a week on the treadmill at work. Didn’t cost me any money and I could start whenever I was ready. At first it felt easy (that is important when making a change). I like reading, so to get myself onto the treadmill I actually read a book while walking! And I highlighted it. (I still have the books and it looks like they were read by a 3 year old. Nice.) Needless to say, I walked slow. And I lost a couple of pounds. After a few months, I became more comfortable on the treadmill. I dropped the book and increased the speed a little. And I lost a few more pounds. After a few months of that, I added 3 and 5 pound weights and did curls and presses while walking on the treadmill. Then I cut back on eating chips and Coke mid week. And I lost a few more pounds. Little changes stacked on top of each other. No one change made a massive difference and each was small and felt possible to me. I think that this is one of the keys. [Disclaimer: I do not advise reading or doing weights while on the treadmill! Just don’t]
“If you hate exercise, it’s a multiyear process to become someone who loves it instead. If you love fast food, you need to gradually shift your attitudes (and even your work schedule) toward being someone who loves cooking healthy meals. It’s the process that creates the outcome. When you eschew quick fixes and become the process so that regular exercise and healthy eating defines you as a person, then weight eventually comes (and stays) off as a happy byproduct.” James Fell
I do not subscribe to any diet. Diets seem like a temporary thing, where the goal is to lose weight and then get back to ‘normal’ eating. (That normal eating helped me to put on some extra pant sizes… normal needs a little adjustment). This week I had a work function that where lunch was pizza and pie. The deadly trinity of sugar, fat and salt were all there. What did I do? I ate two pieces of pizza and left the pie on the table. I had my nerdy Wal-Mart lunch bag with vegetables, yogurt, fruit, beef jerky and salted almonds. I ate what I enjoyed, did not feel deprived and I kept the portions reasonable. I know that if I restrict myself too much, I will get into ‘eat and destroy’ mode. When I began to make some changes over five years ago, one of my personal guidelines was to eat the same thing my family eats… just less than I was used to eating. And that, my friends is damned hard to change.
James Fell whom I quoted earlier provided me with the link to an article by Dr. Yoni Freedhoff (obesity specialist). Freedhoff gives some excellent advice which I will end with:
• Avoid extreme, restrictive diets. They are all or nothing and will end up failing. When we choose extreme dieting, we have chosen suffering as a weight management modality. Suffering is not fun and we can’t suffer ourselves thin for very long.
• If a diet and exercise feels miserable for you, that also won’t work.
• Choose a nutritional and exercise approach that you feel is more simple and that you can keep doing for a long time.
• Keep it simple: good exercise, good nutrition and good education. Maybe even set yourself up to succeed by hiring a trainer? (Don’t rush that because it may feel like too much. Just one change at a time until it fits).
Next week I will continue with some tips that will have your six pack showing in 30 days. (Nope, that was a blatant lie… won’t show in 30 days. But 30 days can change your life!)
Keep it real.
Bell, S., Carter, A., Mathews, R., Gartner, C., Lucke, J., & Hall, N.W. (2014). Views of
addiction neuroscientists and clinicians on the clinical impacts of a ‘brain disease model of addiction,’ Neuroethics, 7, 19-27.
Fell, J. (2012). Insights from keeping up to keep weight off. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-07-11/site/sc-health-0711-obesity-20120711_1_extra-calories-caloric-deficits-weight-loss
Freedhoff, Y. (2014, Thursday June 05). Is it really “Scientifically Impossible” to keep your weight off? http://www.weightymatters.ca/2014/06/is-it-really-scientifically-impossible.html
Miller, W.R., Westerberg, V.S, Harris, R.J. & Tonigan, J.S. (1996). What predicts relapse?
Prospective testing of antecedent models. Addiction, 91, S155-177.