Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Weight-loss Mind-f***

Perhaps I should choose a more polite title, such as "Weight-loss Myths," but I think that Mind-f*** is more of an accurate description of the web of myths, rumours, deception (including self-deception), and outright lies—as well as truths—that we all fall into at some point over the years in dealing with the weight issue. And I doubt that there is a person alive, fat, thin or somewhere in between, that has not wanted to lose a few pounds at one time or another.

For myself, the weight-loss mind-f*** goes back almost 45 years, pretty much to when I started eating solid food. It's a slippery slope for babies. On the one hand they are supposed to be chubby and healthy, and being at the high end of the height-weight charts is a good thing. But sometime in there those chubby arms and legs are supposed to thin out and the fat baby become a wiry child. If not? It's the Sears' Pretty Plus and Husky departments for you!

Back in the seventies when I was young my whole family was on and off the diet bandwagon. Scarsdale, Cabbage Soup, Weight Watchers (my grandmother did this one), and various self-designed or magazine-article low calorie diets. I owned my own little calorie count book so I could look up the calories of anything I ate (I only did this sometimes).

Of course, we alternated "dieting" with eating the good food that my grandmother cooked, so while everyone lost weight sporadically, we soon gained it back as well.

The crazy-headedness of this all was our (or at least my) inability to distinguish between "fat" and "not thin." It is a hard thing being a size 11 (in 1970's sizes) among a classfull of size 7's. (Does anyone remember the 5.7.9 store? I was never able to shop there. Apparently they still exist—check out their website! Those are some skinny girls! Maybe they have other sizes—in fact, their models look more like 0's.)

As an adult, I know about healthy eating. Even when I was heavy, I knew how to eat healthy, and mostly did (I just ate too much of some stuff and enjoyed my sweets way too much). I know so much about healthy eating and exercise that I was able to lose lots (some call it "tons") of weight and keep it off for years.

But still, I am continually sucked into the weight-loss mind-f***. Starting with (still) the difference between "fat" and "not thin." Or really, the difference between "thin enough" and "skinny." I laugh, but ruefully, when I see ads or hear about people (women) bemoaning how fat they were at 150 or 140 pounds (but successfully took, or did, such and such and now are happy at 115).

I cheered Valerie Bertinelli in her 40-pound weight loss (even though her starting weight was by no means huge). But I felt a little betrayed when she felt compelled to do the bikini thing, thereby validating that idea that a bikini body is the ultimate goal, and being "thin" is not really "enough." (But I do love Valerie, and had to laugh, or smile sympathetically that is, in reading in her blog that she gained a few pounds leading up the the Boston Marathon. Doesn't everyone?)

Of course, the person who has most screwed with our minds in the weight-loss arena is dear, beloved Oprah. Yes, we have watched her weight loss woes and ups and downs with sympathy and admiration, and she is a fine example that you don't have to be model-thin to be hugely successful! But she has taken us along on her train wreck of a weight-loss-and-gain journey, and sometimes, she was probably just wrong. (I mean, look what happened!)

Memorably, there was her huge crash and burn with a liquid diet back in 1988. I'm pretty sure everyone was doing Optifast and such after that (though I never did). It worked great! Until she started gaining weight back immediately.

A few years later Oprah started working out with Bob Greene and she ran a marathon! Oprah's marathon is legendary. It is the benchmark time (4:29:20) that every middle-of-the-pack marathoner wants to beat. But she never did run another one. Although she continued to promote running in some of her future weight-loss endeavors, she didn't seem devoted to distance running.

Oprah gained weight again during the beef trial, and lost weight working with Bob Greene in 2003. Then she gained weight during some other tribulations in her life, lost when she created Oprah's Boot Camp in 2005, started gaining again, and has never since really got back to where she was in 2005 or so. There have been a few other ventures with Bob Greene, a vegan detox, and currently she is promoting intuitive eating and spirituality.

But along the way Oprah has promoted a number of "truths" which I personally suspect to be false, but I am not really really sure (all part of the mind-f***).

For example...

  • Don't eat after 7:00 p.m. This is one of Oprah's biggies. In fact, back in 2005 she said if she missed the dinner deadline, she just didn't eat.
  • Hunger is your body burning off fat.
  • Exercise must be intense, constantly increasing in difficulty or duration, to be any continuing benefit. (This one really plagues me. Oprah is not the only authority to state this premise, and I totally get the idea that your body becomes accustomed to certain levels of stress, and needs to be challenged. But really, if I tried to exercise at maximum intensity all the time I would completely burn out and probably give up! )

After Oprah backed off the weight-loss bandwagon, in stepped the next cavalry of weight-loss gurus, in the shape of The Biggest Loser and its high priest and priestess, Bob and Jillian. These folks promote the concept that weight loss can, and must, be fast and huge, that exercise should be excessive and brutal, and that chewing gum is a solution to hunger. (Okay, I threw that in to mock the constant product promotion, including the ubiquitous Extra sugar-free gum.)

The problem with the Biggest Loser mindset is that it continues to promote excess, just switching out eating cheeseburgers and chocolate cake for diet, exercise and weight loss. Although I like the challenges because they're more entertaining that people just getting on a scale, I hate the challenges where the contestants basically have to choose between binging and complete deprivation to win the contest. There is no reward for moderation.

I heard Bob in a radio interview on a local show where the host asked if it was okay to have a Dick's Drive-in burger if he goes on a long hike beforehand. Now, I know as well or better than anyone that it is way too easy to more than eat back your calories by treating yourself after some kind of athletic feat. But come on...occasionally (after a marathon or something) it's okay to have a burger. Or fish and chips (only after a marathon though!). What Bob said was that it was "okay" (and his "okay" had all kinds of tones of doubt) if you just wanted to stay where you were at (weight-wise). But he (Bob) preferred to keep moving forward.

Really, Bob? As far as I can tell, he is quite thin and fit, and if you are, isn't it okay to "just" maintain? Which, I hope, can include the occasional treat in among the long runs and vegetable plate dinners.

So, here's my last little mind-f*** moment (and perhaps the point of this whole dissertation—because really, it's all about me). I am one month along in my 145 by 45 quest and it is quite obvious that it is not going to happen by August 19th. I am going to have to be happy with "145 while 45" at some point, and perhaps if I am lucky I can make it by the SOWL completion date of September 22. Maybe.

For the last month I have been totally "good." I have balanced my consumption with exercise at a level which should have given me 1-2 pounds a week weight loss. I have cut the treats to a minimum, almost non-existent. I have given up Diet Coke. And yet, my weight has not changed except by a couple of pounds, and even that's questionable depending on what day I step on the scale. I still have hope that my body will do one of those crazy things (as it's done before) like hold on to the weight through a plateau (can you have a plateau if you haven't lost any weight?) and then drop several pounds all at once. We shall see.

For month two I am trying the somewhat drastic step of being even more restrictive for a few days, then returning to moderation for a few days, and trying to repeat this pattern and see if I can bump my body into some reaction. Of course, this raises another element of the weight-loss mind game, which is whether eating too few calories can slow down your metabolism and retard weight loss in itself. (Really, you just can't win!)

Oh wait, one last mind-f***, brought to you by the world of running (which apparently goes hand in hand with the people who sell you Dexatrim and such). Even when I do get to my prospective racing weight of 145 pounds, I could still qualify to be an Athena—a large-sized runner. Nice. Very nice.


Anonymous said...

I really don't buy the don't eat after 7pm thing. Weight loss is simple - calories in vs. calories out. It's math. As long as you are burning more than you are consuming and there are no health problems (thyroid, etc), I think eating after 7 is fine.

Marie said...

I shopped at the 5.7.9 store when I was a teen--believe it or not, I was a size 0 once upon a time! Those were long-ago days!!

One week into Phase 1 of the South Beach diet, I seem to have not lost much weight either. I'm hoping I'm on one of your plateaus followed by steep weight loss.

You make a good point about how to define "thin enough." Have you read the book "Rethinking Thin"? It's on my bookshelf but I haven't read it yet.

Kristin, you will always be my inspiration, and you look FABULOUS! Keep asking yourself the question "what is thin enough"? Maybe you are already there!

The important thing is that you are incredibly healthy with your wise eating habits and constant exercising. Why not enjoy a little comfort food every now and then?

To everyone else's eyes you look great--they don't care if you are 145 or not!

Kristin said...

Michelle - I totally agree, I think the 7 p.m. thing is B.S.! :)

Marie - I think I might have that book, I pulled it up on Amazon and the cover looked familiar. I may have started reading it a few years ago and drifted to something less scientific! :) I do realize that my body may not want to be 145 lbs (though it's ridiculous if I can't lose 10 silly pounds). My main reason to lose a few pounds is to be a little faster running. So we'll see how it goes! Good luck with South Beach, I think it's a really good program (although men seem to lose a lot faster with it, don't know if you've experienced that ;).

Marie said...

Too soon to say (if men lose faster), although men typically have more to lose given their higher body weight, right? :) If that happens with us, I'll have to calculate percentage lost to make myself feel better!

I've started the book at last. It's interesting!

Kristin said...

Tee hee. I think % is definitely the way to go. I'll have to dig out the book again sometime! Of course I already have a huge bag of "to read" books.... :)