Thursday, November 29, 2007

Diet Screts

(News-Herald, November 29)We are told, with increasing frequency, that we are a nation of fatties.

Like many folks, I see plenty of anecdotal evidence to support that. And this is a time of year that increases our awareness. Holiday shopping allows us to see the many examples of folks carrying a heavy helping of heft, and holiday eating gives us plenty of chance to join them.

So what are we to do? To read the articles, watch the tv shows, or listen to people talk, one would think that weight loss requires some sort of scientific breakthrough more elusive than brain transplantation, curing cancer, or the unified field theory. It’s a deep and difficult secret.

Of course, before you can hear the secret, you have to be mentally prepared for it.

You can’t hear the secret if you are still in denial. If you’re still claiming that you are merely big-boned, fluffy, glandular, or a victim of a peculiar optical illusion created by poor clothing choices, you aren’t ready. If you think having your child carry an extra fifty pounds to match the extra two hundred you’ve got is a personal matter with no consequences for the people who love you, you’re not ready.

Nor do you get off the hook by acting as if the only other option is to become a walking q-tip. Being seriously underweight is not a desirable option.

You can get off the hook by being honest about your size and being okay with it. The media ideal for build is bizarrely wispy. Women seem to seriously over-estimate the sexiness of visible bone structure. Go pop in a Marilyn Monroe movie. There’s fairly widespread agreement that she was a fairly attractive woman, and she was no waif-like frail flower. Plenty of us are carrying what current health charts would call a few extra pounds. And not just a few as in “a few people ran for county commissioner” but “a few people went deer hunting.” Some of us are fine with that.

But perhaps you have found your physique more aggressively ample than you care for, and you’re ready to shed a few ounces. What’s the secret to weight loss, the mystery that millions pursue through infomercials and the Enquirer?

Burn more calories than you take in.

Too simple? Move around more, and eat less.

There’s a reason that so many diet supplements have fine print about following an eating plan—it’s the eating plan that makes the difference.

Not that it makes the difference they show you. Those nifty before and after pictures? Here’s how that works, according to some of my internet sources.

Find an athlete who’s about to have some serious surgery that will lay him up for a few months. After he’s been stuck in bed a while, take a “before” picture of his newly pudgy self. Then, once he’s up and around, he can resume his usual athletic level of activity. After his body bounces back to its original trim and muscular shape, take your “after” shot. Oh, and don’t forget to sign him to a contract that requires his secrecy on the matter.

So the bad news is that your physical awesomeness will always be limited by your genes and history. No amount of exercise can turn Wally Cox into Arnold Schwarzenegger. Your body makes the rules about what it will and won’t put up with.

But most diet plans will work, for a while, because they make you think about (and therefore limit) the food you eat. I could go on the Vowel Diet: Mondays I only eat three foods with the letter A, then on Tuesday only three with letter E, and so on. I would lose weight, because I would stop throwing any sort of food within reach in the general direction of my big, open mouth.

The real trick is to pick something you can live with. I once jump-started weight loss with the clinical depression diet—I do not recommend it as a long term approach. But I have picked up a few healthier tricks.

When choosing diet versions of food, pick versions that you don’t usually eat. If you don’t love Thousand Island dressing, the diet version’s taste won’t be a let-down.

I also discovered that I can do nothing while sweating on exercise machinery as easily as I can do nothing while sitting on a couch.

And dieting is the perfect time for positive procrastination. There are foods that I can’t give up forever, but I can put off just about anything for the next twenty-four hours.

Eat less, exercise more. There are worse problems than not liking your weight, but not many that are easier to fix. Love yourself. Take care of yourself.

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