If you have been reading ShortWoman for some years, you have already read some of what follows. Yesterday, I explained why I probably know more about successful dieting than many people. That being said, I am neither a doctor nor a nutritionist nor any sort of personal trainer.
Most diets fail because we have unrealistic expectations. We think that if only we lost x pounds our lives would change; it’s not so. We think that we can deprive ourselves for a period of weeks or months and then go back to the way we’ve always eaten (or worse yet, reward ourselves with a big pig-out); the truth is that not only will our body hoard calories, we will go back to our old weight if we eat the old way — that is why most people who lose weight gain it back. We think our workout entitles us to a little treat; a little treat completely negates the average workout. We think a brisk walk around the mall is a workout; but what we actually do is a slow amble around the mall while sucking down a 600 calorie mocha. We think that we will magically lose weight by purchasing and eating chemistry experiments with labels that proclaim “low fat” or “low carb” or “lite”; the only thing that gets skinnier is our wallets. We think this weight loss plan will be the one that is different, the one that works; we ignore the small type about “results not typical” or “when combined with a reduced calorie diet and exercise.” We don’t stop to wonder how long Jared had to eat Subway Sandwiches 3 meals a day to lose all that weight; any doctor will tell you that 1-3 pounds lost a week is healthy — so losing 100 pounds should take 8-24 months. In short, we think there is such a thing as a magic pill.
Another major reason diets fail is that they are unsustainable. This needless to say overlaps with our unrealistic expectations. Do you really want to drink your lunch for the rest of your life? Because if you listen carefully to the ads on the TV, you will see that is their plan for you! Can you live on 1200 calories a day? Sure, for a while, but sooner or later hunger will catch up with you unless you have some sort of metabolic ace-in-the-hole. Since we have already established that losing a lot of weight takes time, sustainability is a huge factor. A diet that you can’t stand to keep doing for months — whether because of hunger or boredom — just won’t work. A sign of a good diet is that there is actual discussion of various stages of diet and a transition into a way of eating that will help us maintain a healthy weight.
The third major reason diets fail is lack of support. We have friends who say “Oh come on, just one cookie won’t hurt you!” (and we wonder if they say “Oh come on, just one drink won’t hurt you!” to recovering alcoholics). Or maybe we have friends who think they are being helpful by telling us what we can and cannot eat. Maybe we have husbands who tell the kids “Mom’s not having any pizza, she’s on one of her crazy diets again.” Even if our families, friends, and coworkers are supportive, we frequently find ourselves in a position where it is clear that we are eating diet food while everyone else is eating “normal” food. When we find that we have no supply of food that conforms to our diet, we do not engender the sympathy of those around us. At least Jared’s sandwich looked like a normal meal to everyone else. Even professional support groups like Weight Watchers have practices that are somewhat less than motivational.
The truth about fitness is that it isn’t easy. The human body was not designed to sit behind a desk all day. It is built to walk, to run, to carry things, to throw things, to swim, to climb, to move. And it is designed to do that all day, every day. Well guess what, most of us don’t have that ancient lifestyle. No, we sit at desks or on sofas, we ride in cars and buses and airplanes, we spend a lot of time on our butts. Even those of us who work on our feet generally walk no more than a few yards at one time. So we have to actually work out. And no, it isn’t fun. It isn’t supposed to be fun. Our ancestors didn’t hunt game and gather fruit because it was fun; they did it because it was food. Our ancestors didn’t run from predators because it was fun; they did it so they could live another day. Our ancestors didn’t haul wood back to the campsite because it was fun; they did it so there would be fire for heat and light and cooking. I do not work out because it is fun; I work out because I like the way my body looks when I do it regularly.
I am a freak of nature. I lost over 20% of my body weight almost a decade ago. I am my college weight, and in much better shape than I was then. There’s plenty in the archives, of course, but more of what I think about sustainable weight loss can be found in these 5 posts: one, two, three, four, five.
In closing: the market for liberty; lots of plastic bins are a symptom of a clutter problem, not a cure for it; USA Today reports on legal voters purged from voter registration lists; FedEx and the IRS are arguing about whether the delivery guy is an employee or a contractor (FedEx is going to lose); I like Hello Kitty and I think this is a bad idea; planes to nowhere; and remember the Massachusetts health plan? It turns out the fines for not having health insurance “could total as much as $912 for individuals and $1,824 for couples by the end of 2008….” Friendly reminder, the fine for a business not providing health insurance is $295. So much for Massachusetts being nigh unto socialists.