Resolve not to diet this year – it’s probably the healthy choice

The Thinker by Rodin

Since it’s the New Year, many of us have resolved to lose a few pounds, or more than a few pounds. Given the propensity of obesity in the country, many of us have probably resolved not just to take off dozens of pounds or more, but to permanently take them off too. Somehow this year, unlike all those other years, we’re finally going to summon the energy and commitment that ultimately we lacked in all those other years when we made similar pledges but ultimately failed.

Perhaps you’ve had the same conversation with your doctor that I’ve had. You go for a checkup, you are overweight and they suggest you lose weight for your health. I told my doctor lots of times that I’m great at losing weight. During my last big attempt in 2013 I lost more than thirty pounds in a little over two months. It was amazing how incredibly fast I lost that weight and without feeling particularly hungry. But that was more than three years ago. I’ve put it all back on and some extra.

This of course is the story of all my dieting over the years and probably yours as well. I might add that through all this dieting and not, I’ve never shirked staying physically fit. Most days I get my 10,000 steps in and I’m at the health club regularly. My latest blood test shows no issues with pre-diabetes, cholesterol or the usual things that alarm doctors. I’m basically a healthy overweight late middle age adult.

So I’ve been arguing with my doctors. They concede that with a few exceptions most of their patients who have taken off weight have put it back on and then some too. They really don’t have any solution to this problem other than to eat less and exercise more, something proven not to work for most people. If you are diabetic or have high cholesterol of course there are things you can do to address those issues. Obsessing about your weight is probably not one of them, but eating better and exercising regularly may be.

The evidence is clear for those of us that choose to see it: dieting almost always causes subsequent weight gain in excess of what you took off. In short, dieting works for a little while then it will recoil, exacerbating the problem. And you will doubtlessly feel guilty about the weight you’ve put back on, figuring it is due to some fault or lack of character on your part. Dieting then becomes not just a physical problem but a mental one too.

But here’s what the diet industry won’t tell you: it’s not your fault. Every time you diet your body sensibly thinks it is being starved and keeping it alive is its primary mission. It learns lessons by lowering your metabolism, so every calorie packs more punch. And because the body says, “I am not at the weight I should be” it will cause you to crave more food. The diet industry depends on diets to fail so you will start the cycle of concern and shame again and they can collect more money by building false hope.

In truth you don’t need to be a Skinny Minnie. And you don’t have to spend the rest of your life fighting cravings for food. The yo-yo dieting cycle will probably do more to kill you prematurely than being overweight and controlling your weight.

So resolve to stop dieting in this New Year. It’s counterproductive. Barring some new drugs that can reset your metabolism permanently (now there’s an area for some medical research!) you probably aren’t going to be a Skinny Minnie for the rest of your life. You may achieve it for a time, but the odds are you will yo-yo back.

Of course if you are overweight or obese and you continue eating the way you are now, you will probably gain more weight. But the reason you are eating more is that you have lost the ability to eat intuitively. That’s the premise behind Intuitive Eating, a book by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, two registered dieticians, a program with more than twenty years of success. Dieting has caused our signals to get crossed. Among other things we have lost the ability to feel satiated.

Learning to eat intuitively again introduces natural control over diet without feeling like you are giving up anything. This should give you a feeling of empowerment, feeling you can enjoy food again and reduce the pointless guilt trips that come with diets that rarely succeed in the long run. After months of pondering where to go from here in my journey, it is the next logical step. I’ve enrolled in a local Intuitive Eating course and the book is our foundational text. I’ll let you know how it goes.

It’s worth discussing what causes this destructive cycle in the first place. Part of it is clearly models, both literally and figuratively. Models are typically very slim and many have chronic eating problems of their own. We also tend to model actors, who are disproportionately slim and attractive as well. We project onto ourselves that they are examples of who we should be.

In fact, models and actors are the exceptions to the rules, freaks really compared to the rest of us. Those who are not dealing with their own eating disorders though are at a normal weight mainly because they are intuitive eaters. I have an older brother who is an intuitive eater. He always ate slowly and has been skinny his whole life. The rest of us: not so much. What they are doing is not all that special. It’s something they’ve had their whole life and no events have come along to set it out of kilter. Moreover, because they have not yo-yo dieted, their metabolism is relatively inefficient, meaning they can eat more of the same foods the rest of us do and by processing it differently they will convert less of it into calories.

The second part comes from body shaming. Parents seeing their children getting overweight will often start them on a rigorous exercise regime, often with calorie restrictions. This is the beginning of a destructive, often lifelong yo-yo dieting cycle, one that will likely cause a lot of mental distress, and drive overeating and insecurity. One of the worse things parents can do is restrict food choices for their children. Instead they should make food plentiful and available when desired and children will eat intuitively.

For those of us for which all this is too late, learning how to eat intuitively again makes a lot of sense. While we are unlikely to be Skinny Minnies again, we will regain weight control, stop the chronic craving that cause us to overeat, bring our metabolism into balance, lose the guilt, enjoy food again and feel we have control over our lives again.

That sounds like a resolution I can keep.

Competitive Eating: I Want to Throw Up

The Thinker by Rodin

In the perfect world, certain sports would be everywhere illegal. Humanity would have fully ascended out of the primordial muck from which we evolved. We would have reached some sort of dignified plateau. Bullfighting would be banned not just for being cruel and inhumane to the bull, but also because no decent human being would want to see it. By implication, the annual running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, to be held in a few days on July 7th, would also be outlawed. I personally find boxing very offensive. I hope in time that more of my fellow citizens will share my view and outlaw it within the United States. We should not encourage people to beat up on other people for money. From reading The Washington Post, I recently learned of this web site. On it, you can watch people inspired by the movie Fight Club beat up each other. It strikes me as odd that while we can get so upset by hardcore pornography, few of us have problems with the pervasive violence in our sports, movies and now online.

Alas, we are also a nation that believes in liberty. Although we have laws that put many things consenting adults do off limits, or make them at least heavily restricted (gambling comes to mind) we tolerate and even enthusiastically support sports like boxing that should have us feeling queasy in the stomach. I know I felt queasy in the stomach today watching a competitive eating event today on ESPN.

In competitive eating contests (incase you are unfamiliar with the “sport”) participants compete to try to ingest the largest amount of a particular type of food in a limited amount of time. Today Takeru Kobayashi of Japan, age 27, devoured 53 and 3/4 hot dogs in twelve minutes. In doing so, he won a competitive eating event on Coney Island sponsored by the hot dog manufacturer Nathan’s. Incidentally, this was a new record for him, but it was not the first time he won this event. He last won it two years ago, but this year he also managed to consume ¼ more of a hot dog for a new personal record. Woo hoo!

53 and 3/4 hot dogs consumed in 12 minutes. That is about four and a half hot dogs per minute, or one hot dog every 13-14 seconds. I would guess that you would need hyperactive salivary glands to compete “professionally” in this sport. I have to assume these competitive eaters do not do this every day, because Mr. Kobayashi is only 160 pounds. I do not know how long this “sport” has been in existence, but I fear for the health of those who engage in it. Do they put mustard and catsup on those hot dogs? I am not sure how many calories are in a Nathan’s hot dog, but a typical hot dog has 240 calories and 15 grams of fat. Many hot dogs are also loaded with salt and other nasty chemicals. A hot dog bun contains 80-110 calories. Each contestant has to consume the hot dog and the bun. Figure 100 calories per bun and we have 18,275 calories that were consumed by Mr. Kobayashi in 12 minutes. Along with those calories, add in about 806 grams of fat. To put it another way, in 12 minutes he consumed 1.8 pounds of fat alone.

I sure hope most of these calories are not absorbed and instead are passed out by the body. I do not think I would want to share a restroom with one of these competitive eaters for several days after the event, that is for sure. However, it is hard for me to imagine that anyone can put that much food into body in such a short time and not cause risk major complications. Assuming you do not throw much of it up after the event (which in itself sounds dangerous), how on earth is your digestive system supposed to digest that much food? How much bile and insulin can the body create to consume one meal? Maybe I don’t want to know the answer.

Ironically, I watched this event on television while at the health club today. Yes, the Gold’s Gym where I work out has many televisions to distract us. We burn off calories on the various elliptical, walking, running and stair climbing machines while staring at whatever is on the TV. Once on a machine though you are a bit loathe to move off an on to another machine because you don’t like the show on the television in front of you. So there I was watching ESPN, expecting to see some muscles vigorously exercised by athletes in top form. Instead, I watched a competitive eating event. Perhaps in this sport you develop amazing biceps from moving all that food into your mouth in such a short period.

All I know is that after a minute or so I had to look away. I just could not take it anymore. I was feeling sick. I am not one of these people who believe that pornography is obscene, but I witnessed obscenity today on ESPN. They call it entertainment and a sport, but in reality, it was just sickening and nauseating to watch. I realize Nathan’s is in the business to make money and events like this help their bottom line, but is it absolutely necessary for the company to sponsor an event like this? Suddenly I have new respect for Oscar Meyer unless, of course, they are engaged in sponsoring their own competitive eating events. I do not recall if I ever ate a Nathan’s Hot Dog. I do not care how terrific they may taste. I do know that from now on I will avoid them as long as they are sponsoring “sports” like this. I think they should be ashamed of themselves. In addition, ESPN should be ashamed to broadcast a sport like this. What is next, a competitive eating event where contestants try to down the largest number of Tim Horton doughnuts in twelve minutes? (Homer Simpson, I am sure, would want to participate.) Should we expect medals for competitive eating at future Olympics?

At the very least, these contests are exercises in bad taste. At their worst they promote a practice that is likely quite dangerous and should not be encouraged. If, in order to be the land of liberty, we have to allow competitive eating contests, can we at least do it somewhere away from the cameras?

Since it is the Fourth of July, hot dogs are what’s for dinner in our house tonight. They do not look quite so appetizing to me now. Fortunately, they are Hebrew National.