A Weighty Issue

Wearing the radio
I was, for some reason, lying in bed with the radio on at 4am recently (“Had you got no pyjamas?” laughed a wag at the back of the hall). I overheard an interview with an English lady going on about some book she’d written about losing weight and the more I heard the more it reminded me of my own experiences. I figured a friend would find the book usefulbut I was also interested in dipping in to it myself.

The lady, Marisa Peer, quite simply argues that diets don’t work. I had heard that before back in 2001 when attending a weight loss class at my gym. The owner Dave Quinn told me that losing weight was about changing your lifestyle, not going on a diet. It was something you had to do forever. You can’t argue with that. There are more diets than ever but there are more overweight people too.

Back to Marisa. The main drive of her book is that everyone has the power to program themselves to reject food that makes you fat. She explains how you need to associate feelings of pain with food that is bad for you and feelings of pleasure with food that is good for them. For overweight people the opposite is true of course. When you feel a bit low you comfort eat. When you comfort eat you don’t do so on brocolli and sprouts – you eat chocolate, cakes, nachos and take-outs.

Marisa promotes a positive attitude using language. For example she tells you not to associate yourself with a cake by saying ‘my cake’: you say ‘the cake’. You tell yourself that you don’t need the food to fill any emotional void that you have. She encourages you to repeat the mantra “I am enough” to yourself. She doesn’t want you to say “I am starving”. She wants you to say “I could eat now”. The reason? The brain interprets and processes information, it doesn’t reason. So if you tell your brain that you are starving then it will believe you and before you know it you’re eating more food than you need.

Pleasure and pain
She uses very logical explanations of why she believes her approach works and explains that very young children don’t eat excessively, usually picking at food, leaving half-eaten sandwiches lying around. There is nothing natural about overeating. Nor is there anything natural about comfort-eating: babies don’t eat when they are irritable or upset so why should we as adults?

Marisa explains how our brain associates “pain” with certain foods. For example if you find a piece of cheese with mould on it, you won’t eat it because to us it’s disgusting. If you got food poisoning on shellfish, you will be reluctant to eat it again because you’ll remember what happened last time you had it.

But how about eating “unthinkable” things like insects and animal organs – who would do that? Well the celebrities who go on these reality shows would. They change their behaviour within a few days and do so because they associate “pain” with failing a task in front of their peers and television audience and associate “pleasure” with achieving and winning food for their camp or whatever.

You Can Be Thin
I’ve only read a few chapters of “You Can Be Thin” (look the graphic designers underlined it on the cover too) but it reminded me of how I shed (Marisa says we’re not use negative words like “loss”) weight and have maintained it since. In June 2000 at the age of 26 I was 196 lbs. I was struggling to fit in to a 36″ waist and was desperately unhappy.

Now I had tried gyms before but I was not fond of the process and was never that overweight that it realy mattered too much if I lost weight or not. But now I was feeling rock bottom. I sat in the manager’s ofice and he asked me why I wanted to join (I didn’t realise I had to pass a test to get in). “I”m sick of looking like this,” I replied, grabbing a handful of fat from my stomach just incase he hadn’t noticed it.

Have you seen my six inches?
Over the next nine months I lost over 40 lbs to settle at 154 lbs (and indeed the following year I dropped to 147 lbs for a short while) and could comfortably wear 30″ waist jeans (cue “six inch” joke). Everyone who saw the change in me was complimentary and excited. The more positive people were, the more motivated I became. But how did I do it? People in work had tried to lose weight and I had observed them over a period, unimpressed by their efforts to be frank. Eating bagles is healthy: eating bagles packed with bacon and cream cheese is not. Exercising at a medium intensity for 30 minutes a day is beneficial: ambling along on a treadmill at 5km an hour and reading a newspaper is not.

This is where the link with Marisa’s book comes in and inspired me to write about my own experiences. Reducing (euphamisms, eh?) weight was never about dieting for me even though that’s probably what I called it at the time. It was a lifestyle change, accepting that I couldn’t do the things I used to do. There were no more sweets, chocolates or crisps, no more big meals. For me this food was associated with the old me and it affected me in a way that I didn’t like – it made me fat.

I made the choice to work out religiously, even when it hurt. I used to go to the gym after work, three to four days a week. I remember going there on the bus, sleeping on the way and arriving at the gym absolutely exhausted. But adrenalin took over and once I got on that treadmill the challenge for me was to do my 10km in 45 minutes and then beat that time the next day until I reached a point I knew was more or less my physical peak.

I did my floor exercises knowing that each stomach crunch was toning my body. I did my weights knowing that my metabolism was speeding up the more muscle I had.

Eating healthy
During the day I was eating helathily, eating smaller meals and rejecting sugary drinks or sweets. I worked a policy of having one day a week put aside for “treats”, whether that be drinking or perhaps having a Chinese or something. But having said that there were numerous nights when I was out drinking with friends and I made a concious decision to forego the fast food joint on the way home. The next day I would be up, hangover or not, and I’d be running again.

Now these days I’m not quite so good at this and I think that’s why I thought the book would be interesting. Although my weight is still in the zone – usually between 154-160 lbs – nearly 8 years later I know I could do better and could be fitter. I’m 34 years age and the body doesn’t stand up to such rigorous training any more. It could aslo be medically argued that my metabolism is naturally slower than it was when I was 26.

All this means that I need to take stock of what I really want in life. Do I want to run another marathon? Yes. Do I want to maintain my 30″ waist? Yes. Do I want to be healthy and live longer? Yes. Do I want to feel good and sexy? Yes. Do I want to look in the mirror, lick my lips and go ‘looking good, tiger’? Um, maybe.

There’s no contest for me. Marisa says it in the book and I have to agree. People make excuses all the time for not being able to lose weight – no time to exercise, I’ve tried but diets don’t work for me, my metabolism is to blame, I eat junk food with my partner and he/she doesn’t put on weight. These are all excuses and if they sound familiar to you then they are holding you back. With the exception of one or two disorders such as having an underactive thyroid, there is a very simple formula to weight loss: you burn more calories than you take in.

Figures vary but they say men can have 2400 calories a day, women 2000 a day. The figures aren’t that important because they indicate that you are “dieting” and, as I said, they don’t work. Everyone knows what sort of food is good for them and what sort of food is bad for them.

Look, here’s a prime example from my life. Every cup of coffee or tea that I had was accompanied by two spoonfuls of sugar. Every sandwich (otherwise healthy) had butter in it. It was unthinkable that I could survive without both condiments. But when my weight loss slowed down in January 2001 and I was stalled at 168 lbs, I decided to be even stricter with my diet. So I quit the sugar and I quit the butter. Now if someone puts sugar in my coffee I could throw up. It’s hard to believe that I used to drink it like that: I simply changed my mindset.

The same with butter. When I tell people that I don’t take butter at all, they think I’m mad. But it turns my stomach. I used to put butter on my chips (“fries”) and now I can’t look at it.

You are in control
This is exactly the approach that Marisa refers to: you change the way you think about food. For me butter and sugar made me fat. So I stopped using them and I’ll never go back. Marisa expands on this: she claims she’ll get you to think that about all high-fat foods and that you’ll never want cake or chocolates again. Sounds ridiculous, right? Yeah well I thought that about sugar and butter.

You’re probably reading this thinking “Oh no, I like chocolate too much”. But that’s because you’re telling yourself that you do. You can like or dislike anything you want to. You control your cravings, it’s not the chocolate controlling you.

“Fat Pride”
When Marisa was on the radio this guy texted in and said “I’m 5′ 3″, I weigh 224 lbs, my girlfriend loves me the way I am and I’m proud of it!” Marisa’s answer was restrained in that she said being happy was important but you have to consider your health. I find it frustrating when people flaunt their “bigness” and declare how proud they are. I suppose it’s a sign of how downtrodden they must feel. It reminded me of gay and black pride marches – two groups marginalised in certain societies.

Being “proud” of obesity (which, unless he’s a rugby player and all muscle, is what a 5’3″, 224 lb man would have to be considered) is nothing but stubborness. It’s the sign of someone who is fed up with the criticism, the disparaging looks and the feelings of alienation and is using pig-headedness as a weapon. Accepting yourself is good but accepting yourself for the wrong reasons is not. Being obese is bad for you, it’s unhealthy and unattractive. Now you might raise your eyebrows at that last part but whether you like it or not – and Marisa says this too – this is a society where people are judged on appearance. If I got a kick out of dressing up like a medeival warrior I’d have to accept that society would reject that and I wouldn’t get a job.

What’s stopping you?
I sent around a MySpace survey perhaps 8-10 months ago and one of the questions on it was “What one thing would you like to change about yourself?”. A large percentage of people said “lose weight”. I was tempted to, but didn’t, ask each of those people what was holding them back? So perhaps I’ll ask you now: what is holding you back?

The answer (although invariably it’s not the one I’ll get back) is nothing. Nothing can stop you losing weight. You just need to eat the right food and eat smaller portions. You need to exercise at a medium intensity several times a week and you need to focus on how these changes will make you happier.

They made me happier and I know there are some of my friends out there who have had a similar experience. I had no confidence when I was overweight but I am quite self-confident now. I became more social, more friendly and stopped hiding from people in social situatons.

Cliche alert
Life truly is too short to not be happy in yourself. If you are one of the many people out there who want to lose weight then do it, it’s not easy to begin but once you start it will become habitual. It quite honestly can change your life.

Look at it this way. If you said on January 1st that you wanted to lose weight and by July 1st you have done absolutely nothing to achieve it, you have wasted six months. In that time you could realistically have lost 30-40 lbs by simply changing your eating habits and exercising. You can do it. I believe in ya.

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