Why we diet
November 7, 2011
OPINION By ROGER FREBERG
“Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know, because I’ve done it thousands of times,” Mark Twain wrote.
I could say the same thing about dieting. Those of us who have ridden the dieting roller coaster know what it is like to be thrilled by our thinness and then horrified when we can’t fit into favorite clothes of that skinny friend we used to be. Why is it that we continue the process over and over?
My personal belief is that the yo-yo experience of losing and gaining is very consistent with the development of human society. A steady food supply has not always been a given and it seems to be in our collective subconscious to eat what is before us to prevent future hunger. Maintaining a healthier lower body weight takes effort.
The history of dieting
There is a lot of misinformation regarding the cultural preferences around the world towards thinness. The measure of the “beauty” of a woman in the eyes of men has more to do with the ratio between a woman’s waist and her hips. A certain ratio (0.7) has to do with increased fertility; whereas, the pontoon shape around the middle sends a different message. For both men and women, the sight of a protective airbag at one’s middle is not a sign of arousal.
There have been many types of diets: Atkins, Stillman, Macrobiotic, liquid, Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig. I have tried them all. My personal favorite is the beer and steak diet, but oddly enough it has never worked for me. The truth is that every diet will get you where you want to go; but staying there is the challenge. Most diets in and of themselves end when you get to where you want to go, and then the weight loss isn’t sustainable. Besides sustainability, another concern I have about many diets is whether or not they are nutritional and complete? Some diets leave people looking strangely unhealthy, much like those who undergo intestinal bypass.
As young people, Laura and I would lose weight to better enjoy the outdoors, sports and achieve a higher energy level. I remember buying Laura her first sweat clothes to jog (they came in one color at the time, gray) and she felt strangely out of place in a world where only athletes trained, but she enjoyed the experience.
As our lives became more entangled with children and work, we found that budgeting time to exercise was challenging and our weight would sneak up, we then would diet and then it would sneak up again. The cycle seemed endless. When I was young, losing a few pounds overnight meant not having a second dessert. Today, if I see a twig I gain weight.
Someone once asked me what my ideal daily menu would be. I responded with an answer reflecting my days as a collegiate athlete. Breakfast: Stuffed omelet, sausage, French toast, milk and fruit; Lunch: a pound of beef hamburger with everything including bacon and cheese, French fries and a chocolate malt to wash it all down; Dinner: steak, potatoes, peas, corn and dinner rolls. My ideal dessert would be a bowl of my bread pudding covered with a warm rum sauce and topped with homemade vanilla ice cream. If I was traveling with an old business friend Jean Montdidier, lunch would include a couple of bottles of wine and a bottle of Armagnac. Well, at least I have my memories.
The problem is that this is not a reasonable diet for almost anyone outside of a rather large professional athlete.
Nowadays, I have to stay attuned to issues of blood sugar, blood pressure, pulse and cholesterol. All of my numbers stay in line when I keep my weight under control, but things start to look ugly when the weight creeps up. I have a healthy skepticism of doctors in general; like insurance salesmen, stock brokers and used car salesmen, I often wonder what their motivation really is? Are they pushing medications because they believe this is the right thing to do? Do they feel a need to over prescribe to prevent potential future blame and litigation? Hopefully, they don’t look at us like some sort of annuity? In any event, the important thing for all of us is to understand what is normal for us and what is not. With the internet and sites like Medline, it’s easy to learn more about our own physical situation, take preventive action, and ask appropriate questions prior to invasive procedures or strong medications.
103-year-old man, cute waitresses and walking
When I was a boy with a paper route, I had a 103-year-old customer on my route who tended a garden in his front yard. I would hand him his newspaper each day and he would ask me about my life and I would listen to a story or two of his. Every day, he told me, he would walk down to the local coffee shop, enjoy a cup of coffee and wink at the waitresses. He said that there was a natural and sad progression that would happen if he stopped walking. In the past, a number of his friends would walk with him for coffee, but one by one they found reasons not to walk, they retired to their couches, then their beds where they would pass on. He said, “when you stop walking, boy, it’s all down hill from there.”
So, for over 40 something years, Laura and I have taken – when possible – a walk or two each day. Walking to a ‘destination’ makes the walk pleasant, whether it be a coffee shop or a store, and if someone joins you, then the added conversation makes it perfect. Added exercise is nice, but walking should be relaxed and fun or you will quickly tire of the activity. The idea here is that activity should be “sustainable” over time. This argument should resonate with some of you.
Sustainable body weight
We’ve discussed that almost any diet will get you to where you want to go, but what happens when you take ‘the lid off?” A friend recently lost a great deal of weight on a rather questionable diet and has reached his goal weight. When asked about how he was going to sustain his weight, he smirked. You could almost see him diving into a 10,000 calorie meal topped off with a four layer chocolate cake. I hope this doesn’t happen but I have seen it all too often.
To sustain – or as the dieticians say—”maintain” your weight loss and your ideal weight, it is important to have a dietary plan for maintenance. If you go back to your prior eating habits, it will come back and maybe a little extra. Yahoo! Laura has maintained her weight loss for four years utilizing Jenny Craig’s “maintenance p Laura is also a participant on the National Weight Control Registry at Brown University that looks at folks who have lost weight and are maintaining their goal weights. Brian Wansink of mindlesseating.org has provided some helpful hints on how to reduce your intake and maintain your weight loss by studying how successful people do it:
1) People who maintain their loss weigh themselves every day. A couple pound surge is easier to deal with than an unexpected 10 or 20 pound leap.
2) Using luncheon plates rather than diner plates, smaller bowls and oddly enough larger forks makes a difference.
3) Alcohol puts it back on faster than anything. Gotta keep this one under control.
Take control of your future
Back at the turn of the 1900’s, diabetics (obviously type 2) were treated with starvation. Did it work? Yes, but was it humane–that’s another question. However, people are always looking for something easier and shortcuts in the tough process of regaining health. There are many drugs that will address your diabetes type 2, but the side effects are considerable and one wonders if this is really a better way. Many have come full circle on how to treat diabetes 2 with diet. However, not all doctors agree and this is strange to me.
Doctors are used to seeing patients as childlike people who need their direction, guidance, understanding and discipline. You don’t have to fight with your doctor, but you should be informed about your condition. Would you blindly accept someone’s recommendation to put all of your money in Heritage Financial or would you have gotten a second or third opinion or investigated the issue yourself?
Let me share a medical moment
Around ten years or so ago, I wrote an article for the Five Cities Time Press Recorder discussing how I was able to walk away from my diabetes medication by losing weight (I am a type 2). The paper published my email address for folks who wanted encouragement and such, but the reaction I received from the medical community was not what I expected. They were outraged. Some thought I was offering false hope and some accused me of practicing medicine, which only deepened my suspicions as to their motivations. Today, most doctors understand that type 2 diabetes can be treated by diet, mild exercise (walking) and weight loss for most people.
Although there is little like the rush from a shot of insulin to a diabetic like myself (I receive my first in an ER over ten years ago with a blood sugar level as high as it would go… 800), it’s best to take off the weight and avoid the entire process altogether and the long term degenerative effects.
Investing in your future
Over the last ten years, I’ve had my weight ups and downs (227 – 287), but I’ve never come close to where I started out (427). You learn what works for you and what doesn’t. The key is to understand that being overweight is not a given—people give up smoking, drinking, and drugs, and that’s a challenge, too, so there’s no reason why anyone should feel ‘helpless’ about losing weight.
But once it’s off, you need a liveable, sustainable plan for maintenance, too. I fix something very sinful, highly caloric and doctor disapproving once a week. You don’t have to give up your favorite foods—that never works—but you can’t have them all the time and you do have to keep an eye on that scale. If your weight is up—no excuses—fix ittoday.