November 1, 2007

Stupid Ideas for Getting Thin

I was planning on a blog post entitled something like "stupid ideas for losing weight" but the title was meant to be ironic. They were going to be my suggestions for things you can do that help you lose weight, but actually don't sound very effective, or dramatic. (i.e. "that's a stupid idea") An article I read made me decide to post about this sooner rather than later. And then this post turned out to be more about thinking about your happiness, rather than your thinness. They are related, but not as in "being thin will make you happy."
Of course, there are truly stupid things people do to try to get thin, but this post isn't about that.
My first suggestion? "Eat really good food slowly. Let your dinner companions eat more while you talk more. Save half of your food for later." It sounds stupid, but there are a few gems in there.

First, implicit in this idea is not being completely starving at meal time. If you let yourself starve, you are more likely to pig out at meals. At least, this is what happens to me. To remedy, I keep really low calorie snacks within reach. These are things that are appealing, but not too appealing. If they're too appealing, they can turn into a feeding frenzy, so it's got to be something that will just take the edge off. In the past I've used baby carrots and popcorn-flavored rice cakes. Figure out a serving that's under 50 calories. Eight baby carrots, or one rice cake are good choices. Two rice cakes if you have to (that's about 70 calories). When you get to meal time you want to be hungry, not starving. So the snack isn't supposed to fill you, nor even stop your hunger. Just keep you from being starving. Wash it down with some non-caloric drink like tea or water or a diet soda.

When you get to your meal, eat something worth eating. Eating good food helps you lose weight because it helps you look forward to meal time. If you're looking forward to meal time, it makes being hungry between meals a little easier. And, you feel less like you're depriving yourself.

Eat with other people, and talk. This way your eating is more relaxed and if you talk your head off, you'll fall behind in your caloric intake.

Pace yourself right and you can leave a good chunk of your meal for leftovers. This is especially true at restaurants. Portions are far too large for anyone trying to lose weight. Order something that you like and that you know will re-heat reasonably well. Look forward to finishing it later.

While I was considering this post, an article called "Eating French" showed up on my radar. The author describes his thoughts on why French women aren't as fat as we, as a people, are. I'll summarize what he says for you.

  1. They don't wolf down their meals while working or rushing around.
  2. Eating fresh, flavorful, carefully-prepared food means the French don't feel deprived by eating fewer calories.
  3. Focus on time with loved ones rather than material goals (people vs. chicken nuggets)

My main problem with this article is in point #1. Someone suggests that stress hormones change the way your fat is stored. That's not implausible, but I think that how you conduct your mealtime is only a small part of your stress equation. I think that slowing down your eating is a more significant factor, because it will lower the number of calories you eat, not change the way your body processes 800 calories.

And doesn't it just plain make sense that if your focus is on your dinner companions rather than on the food, you will eat less? This is true provided you don't eat on automatic pilot because you've been starving yourself.

The French still have their obese people, albeit at one third the percentage, so there is no magic solution. You can't point at someone and say "you must be wolfing down your food." It's still a complex issue.

Problems are harder to solve when they're part of your lifestyle. Being aware of patterns in eating is, at least, a step towards understanding how your particular body works. In the end, what we're hoping to gain by that knowledge is not thinness, but a balance that makes us happy and healthy. This is why diets don't work, because people aren't happy on them.

So, for any change you make in your diet, if you expect the effects to be long-term, you'd better have a plan for how you change your attitude and lifestyle to something sustainable and which brings you happiness.
Posted by James at November 1, 2007 12:17 PM
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I've yet to find a successful weight loss approach that did not boil down to "eat right and exercise". The sad truth is that our short attention span society wants a quick fix for everything, myself included. What's more, I think people know all of this. Looking at the psychological side is the key to cracking this nut. That or better liposuction.

Posted by: briwei at November 1, 2007 1:23 PM

It's true, Bri, you have to "eat right and exercise," but because that's so difficult, because our lives are fast-paced and fast food is unhealthy and it's hard to find the time to exercise, we need other strategies that make "eat right and exercise" easier. So if the "trick" is to eat less and talk more, as long as it has the effect of "eat right and exercise," then it's good.

For me, I cut out the junk and eat less at meals, and that seems to work... albeit slowly. My problem is when I start considering McDonalds et al to be edible.

Posted by: Maggie at November 1, 2007 5:12 PM

It's taken me years of consciously changing my eating patterns, weighing myself, charting the data (misleadingly ;) ), and counting calories to get an intimate understanding of what does and doesn't happen to my body based on what I put into it. And I'm pretty much an expert, at least where my own biology is concerned. Other people's mileage may vary.

The reason I say this is that one of my conclusions is that eating "right" and exercising is not easy to do without thinking about it a lot. Especially when you haven't established it as a habit over your entire life -- if you started out with bad habits.

There is a disconnect between what we know and what we do, and even perhaps what we're capable of over a long term.

I'm sure other people have come to the conclusion before, but it hit me pretty hard the other day: diets don't work because people are miserable on them. This is why people jump on fad diets. They hope this will be the one that does not make them miserable.

Nobody wants a miserable lifestyle that they have chosen for themselves. It's out of balance. There's always that force pushing you to drop the diet.

Eventually, everyone seems to give in. Diet burnout is one way to look at it, as if you're asking your body to work overtime for less pay week after week.

In any case, the best I think I can do to help people with my observations is to maybe find some tips that are small enough that they edge toward a healthy balance rather than rush to an eventual failure.

Posted by: James at November 1, 2007 5:30 PM

Good advice. Lately I'm trying to stick with the maxim "Every meal should be a bit smaller than usual, no exceptions." When I stick with that for a few days I start seeing results.

Posted by: Mike at November 2, 2007 10:05 AM

I totally concur with your analysis. One other thing to think on though, is even if you exercise off excess calories, the more calories you eat the faster you will age. I've read a number of articles that talk about aging and caloric intake. Basically, our biomechanics are set up to process a certain number of calories over the course of our lives before the machinery just starts to wear out. The more you eat, the quicker you age (even if you don't gain weight because you are burning off the calories by vigorous exercise). You can stave off the effects if you are eating more wholesome foods which are high in antioxidants. Still, the machinery only has so many cycles in it even when optimally maintained and not greased up with eroding substances.

And "knowing" is different from changing one's living habits. I "know" all sorts of stuff that would improve my physical lot in life. However, I am not religious about changing my behavior based on that knowledge. I do eat far less processed foods than I used to. However, I still consume more calories than I should. I make up for most of it by daily exercise. But, this doesn't negate the wear-and-tear on the machine that is my body.

Oh, BTW, I got amusingly distracted by "# Focus on time with loved ones rather than material goals (people vs. chicken nuggets)" ... HUMAN NUGGETS? I know that was not the intention, but my brain had fun with the concept.

Posted by: Kitten Herder at November 3, 2007 2:51 PM

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