The Secret to Losing Weight
A number of years ago I learned about weight loss by losing a substantial amount of weight. I found out that much of what we think about weight loss and health is inaccurate, over complicated, and panders to rationalizations justifying bad eating. There is a lot of information on weight loss -- it seems that every week there is a new study that contradicts an older one.
The problem seems to be that academia and medicine concentrate on very narrow questions that lend themselves to scientific approach. That only makes things more complicated when the answer to the basic challenge of weight loss is quite simple. (An exception to this is much of the work of Myles Faith. Check out the web site at http://www.nyorc.org/MFCVframe.html. Look to Faith, Johnson & Allison (1997) for a sample.)
The most important thing to keep in mind about healthy eating and weight loss is that our bodies are not designed to live the life most of us are living. For one thing, we sit around a lot. I started this essay sitting in an office chair at work, and I am finishing it sitting in an easy chair at home. About all I am obligated to do these days is sit in a chair and type or make phone calls. If this were the early 20th century instead of the early 21st, I would be plowing the south forty during the day and chopping firewood in the evening.
Another aspect of modern life for which our bodies are unprepared is the lack of real food. At work, I can buy an overpriced salad at the cafeteria, but in order to do so I have to walk past the candy machine, the pastry racks, and the soda coolers, to see if any packaged salads are available. Pickings are not any better at fast food places or convenience stores. With the exception of Subway and the occasional fruit basket at Circle K, nothing but garbage food is readily available.
So we sit in front of our computer screens, eat garbage food and get fat. We do not do this because we are lazy and want to poison ourselves. We do it because it is very hard to do anything different.
I lost forty pounds and have kept it off for ten years. In concept, it is a simple thing, but in practice it becomes much more challenging. One has to understand eating and exercise, schedule one’s time, plan ahead, and maintain a discipline about eating and exercise.
There is a secret to losing weight. It is simple, straightforward, and easily understood. Diet companies suppress this information, the medical community over complicates it, and the rest of us try to avoid its reality. It is a very simple concept. The secret to losing weight is to burn more calories with exercise than one gains with eating.
Less food, more exercise.
Of course, we all have our unique body chemistry. Some of us are more efficient at converting peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to belly fat. So what? This does not present an insurmountable problem, and complicates things only a little. All it means is that those of us with this tendency have to work a little harder.
Less food, more exercise.
The Subversion of Convenience
We have things so much better than our grandparents. Preparing food for a family used to be a full time job. Now all we have to do is pull into a convenience store or fast food place and grab a bit of something to take the edge off budding hunger pangs. We do this because the food is packed with exactly what our body craves – calories. One hundred years ago, people would live and work for a week on the amount of calories contained in one Burger King bag.
Candy bars are tempting snacks, but they are packed with calories. Cut one up into pea size pieces and throw them into a fire. It is almost as impressive as gunpowder – I have tried it with both. Now we have supersized candy bars. Snickers bars, (my former favorite), comes in a size packing more than 500 calories. That is a meal!
Convenience stores and fast food are symbols of the relationship between cars and eating. It used to be that families established their group identity and cohesion every day at the dinner table, but now we do it in the minivan in the drive through on the way to school and sports events.
The Reality of Serving Size
When I was fat, I found that I had to relearn how to eat. For a week I recorded everything I ate or drank on a data sheet in the kitchen, then entered that information into a computer program that calculated nutritional information. I was shocked to find out that I was eating about five thousand calories a day. A normal intake might be around two thousand.
How could I be eating so much? It was not as if I was being a gluttonous pig – at least it did not look that way. It is really quite insidious. Take bread, for instance. Once slice of bread has about 80 calories, 160 for your average sandwich. Three sandwiches total 480 calories for the bread alone. That is not much, but it is about 20% of what daily intake should be, and we have not put anything between those slices of bread yet. I like my peanut butter and jelly, and found out that my generous helpings totaled about 600 calories per sandwich. Three sandwiches a day does not sound like much – and it is not very much, really – but mine totaled between 1800 and 2000 calories.
Snacking on cereal was something else that surprised me. The box says there is about 100 calories in a serving of cereal. A serving is about an ounce. Do you have any idea what an ounce of cereal looks like? I mean, can you look at a pile of cereal and accurately estimate if it is an ounce? Probably not.
When I started weighing cereal, several things surprised me. For one thing, an ounce of cereal is not very much. It is just a dab in the bottom of the bowl. That is because most cereal bowls are really soup bowls and hold at least five ounces of cereal. I was also surprised to find out that an ounce of Wheaties looks a lot different from an ounce of Shredded Wheat. Just because you figured out what an ounce of one kind of cereal looks like does not mean that the same volume of another kind of cereal will look the same.
I was consuming about 300 calories in each bowl of cereal, but because it seemed healthy, I was eating several bowls per day.
The Burden of Exercise
There is no way around it. There is only one-way to get rid of fat, and that is to burn it off with exercise. It takes much less time and effort to amass fat than it does to lose it.
Here is the math:
A pound of fat stores about 3500 calories. Walking briskly, (say, three miles an hour), burns about 150 calories an hour. At that rate, it would take about 15 hours of walking at three miles an hour to burn one pound of fat. If you actually walked at three miles an hour for 14 hours, you would lose a pound. Think of a city about 45 miles away. Walking there is what it would take to get rid of a pound of fat. Depressing, isn’t it?
We live an amazing world when our lifestyles allow us to sit around all day in front of a computer, and then demands we pay money to a gym and a trainer in order to get the exercise our bodies need to stay healthy. But there are other ways. I got a dog. A big dog who demanded a lot of exercise. We walked three to five miles every night, no matter how cold, wet, hot, stormy, snowy, rainy, humid, or otherwise miserable the weather was.
We walked in the snow when I was on crutches after a skydiving mishap. Was walking on crutches in the snow dangerous? Yes, but that is the cost of losing weight. We walked at three in the morning because that was the time I finished my MBA thesis. Is walking at three in the morning dangerous? Yes, but that too is the cost of losing weight. I wanted to lose weight so much that I did whatever was required, no matter what the cost in time and effort. Anyway, a heart attack was going to kill me if I did not lose weight, and I would rather take my chances with hoodlums and snow.
Spending Money on Weight Loss
I read somewhere that the diet industry has a 98% failure rate and a steadily expanding market. This tells me that there are an awful lot of fat people who have a fetish for food. They don't want to actually lose weight; they want to talk about food with their friends, read articles about food, and look at pictures of food. They say they want to lose weight, but all they actually do is revel in a preoccupation with food. If you want to lose weight remember that food is the enemy and exercise is the ally.
That does not mean that all diet plans are bad. Structure is a good thing. Having a plan is the first step towards a routine and there are good sources for developing structure that works. I did not spend any money on diet or exercise services, but the forty bucks for Diet Organizer was an investment that paid for itself many times over. (Yes, I'm a stats geek.) Buy things that might help, but remember, the secret to weight loss is to eat less and exercise more.
Vic’s Weight Loss Plan