16 August 2011

Some thoughts on weight loss

I was talking to a friend at work the other day about weight loss. She was quite happy with herself because she'd lost almost 50 lbs and her husband a bit more. For Canada Day they allowed themselves to go off their diet a bit and have hot dogs and hamburgers for dinner with family. Since then the pounds have been slowly creeping back on and she is now less pleased with herself. Another woman had lost around 40 lbs on Weight Watchers and I've watched her very slowly return to the more rounded version of herself...plus a bit more.

I remember when my mom and my older sister went on Weight Watchers way back in the 80's. I don't remember what year, but I do remember the look of longing for butter as they tried to spread a single teaspoon of deliciousness on a skinny piece of bread. Their plea of "that's not enough food" resonated with me and I started to associate dieting with deprivation. The idea that if you want to be skinny you will never eat chocolate again. Or any yummy food. Just baked, skinless chicken breasts from now to eternity. I did not find this idea appetizing.

Newer diets of today offer tasty desserts (made mostly with processed ingredients, not real food but chemicals designed to taste like food) to help the dieter feel less deprived. And the concept of maintenance is more common now. The thought that once you've reached your goal weight you can be taught how to maintain it. So that's an improvement...but I still hear people say things like "I can't wait to eat cheese again" or "when I reach my goal weight I'll go to Marble Slab for ice cream". So it seems people still think of diets as temporary measures.

And this whole 'plus some' that happens to dieters that fall off the wagon. Very few people indeed keep the weight off and most gain what they lost, plus some. I was doing some thinking about this lately and came up with the idea that it is almost impossible to get skinny and stay there because our bodies are designed against this.

Our bodies are designed to store fat for when food is not available. This way we can live through the more lean times. However our bodies haven't caught up to the idea that food is in that big white box in the kitchen, always near. So when someone eats more than she is hungry for it stretches her stomach a little bit. Her body doesn't need the energy so her body stores the calories as fat for later. This keeps happening until she is overweight. Now, she wants to get rid of the weight and goes on a diet. What happens? She's hungry, of course. My younger sister even pointed out that in order to lose weight you must accept being hungry some of the time. I felt a mental slap on the forehead over that idea. I hadn't ever really thought about it but yes, if you want to lose weight you must get used to feeling hunger. When your body is hungry it slows the metabolism down in order to conserve calories until more are presented.

Now your body is conserving calories so it doesn't have to use up the precious storage of fat. Then as soon as food is eaten it will burn what it needs to live...on the modified metabolism. Any extra will be stored as fat. My question is: does the metabolism ever recover? I don't think it does. Now the body feels like it's been on the verge of starvation and is trying to protect itself and will accumulate fat to do so. Could this be the reason for the 'plus some' in post-diet weight gain? And then the yo-yo begins. More dieting to lose weight, more hunger, more genetic coding protecting the body, more fat accumulated as soon as possible.

There are normally thin people out there, but I wonder if one reason they don't ever get really fat is because they don't use food to soothe themselves, or have not ever stretched their stomachs beyond capacity. Therefore never alerting whatever gene causes us to think food won't be available. These people never set off their body's survival instinct in terms of food. They don't engage in the cycle of overeat/undereat and awaken the fat cell storage system.

Now the question is: can someone ever take off weight and keep it off forever? I doubt it. Not without changing their thinking patterns in regards to food. Food can no longer be a treat, reward, soother or friend. It is merely fuel for the body. And the person will forever have to assess hunger levels to prevent overeating. If they slip, even once, the body will continue the cycle to retain fat as it has practiced so many times by this point. I still believe it is possible to lose weight over the long haul but not without significant difficulty.

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