Hey…Weight a Second
Lately I’ve been talking with a lot of people who want to lose weight. So many, in fact, I dreamed last night that my husband kept weighing me on a giant doctor’s scale and I kept coming up about 20 pounds heavier than I actually am. We’re obsessed with weight, numbers, and the ever-cursed scale– even though these measures don’t really tell us very much at all about health, well-being, or even body make-up (constitution). I not only try to distract my clients from weight, numbers, and the scale with magic tricks and smoke screens; I try (and try) to re-program them with other (incredibly complex) measures such as how one feels in her own skin, how much energy she has, how one looks to herself, and how one’s clothing fits and feels. These aren’t even always great measures, as my jeans are the tightest after a long ski day, when I’m at my most fit, happy, and energized. Any measure can break down.
I’m here today to (hopefully) throw the brakes on some awful misdeeds, misdirections, neigh, lies we as a culture have been fed for several decades. Somewhere between the food industry, cheap crops, even cheaper sweeteners, fast-growing animals, processed foods, stellar marketing schemes by food companies, prevalence of fast food chains, we Americans have been told things about “health” and “healthy eating” that simply aren’t true. The proof is in the proverbial pudding– and we are that pudding. If what was being told to us about how to be healthy, thin, and well over the past, say, 35ish years were true, then most of us would be healthy, thin, and well. As it stands, most of us are anything but. In fact, most of us are quite the opposite and have the bodies and medical bills to prove it. It’s a sad story, but our the lies, plus incalculable elements of our lifestyles have duped us into a tight corner. It seems like there’s no real, good way out. There is, but it’s surely not as easy to get out of this corner as it was to get into it. You can’t get out with Nutter Butters, Lipton Noodle packs, and two-all-beef-patties-special sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickles-onions-on-a-sesame-seed-bun. No way.
The way out takes the truth and the truth takes time. The truth is the real stuff. Real food, real information, real health, really long walks on the beach, real conversations about what went wrong in the first place, real decisions (hard ones) about what needs to change in a person’s life if he or she decides that health is more important than x, y, or z. That shit ain’t easy, as I like to say. It’s not a pill, a program, or a diet plan. But it does work.
Here’s a few observations about weight and what it really takes to change it. Most people have a “natural weight,” a natural body type that their body will gravitate towards under optimal conditions (no stress, optimal sleep, the best food on the planet, perfect relationships, great health). I like to see that body type when I look at a person, imagine him or her there, and work from that place. Here are more solid principles to which I adhere *when trying to help a person.
- Fad diets don’t work. I’m not kidding. You can hope for this and search for it endlessly, like looking for the end of a rainbow, and you can waste your entire life in the process. It’s your choice. OR, you could spend that time facing the truth that there is no magic bean to take that is going to melt away your fat and turn you into Angelina Jolie forever. Even when something does melt away fat, it won’t last. Yesterday I had someone tell me, “I don’t want to do anything that I can’t sustain for the rest of my life. I can’t drink shakes for the rest of my life.” What a %$#@! relief.
- Eating real fat doesn’t make us fat. Now “real fat” does not include Dairy Queen Blizzards, “natural” potato chips twice a day, or frozen fish sticks from your grocer’s freezer. Those are really fattening, but they’re not real, whole foods. We get very confused when thinking about this. The real fats I’m talking about that don’t turn into blubber on your belly or chunks on your ass are fish (mmmm, Norwegian salmon…), eggs, almonds, walnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds/oil, pumpkin seeds, coconut/coconut oil (my favorite!), clean meats– even red– gasp (as organic and antibiotic/hormone free as you can afford!), olives/oil, hemp seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, fish oil, and, of course, avocados. Guess what? Even full-fat (that’s 4%) dairy goes here. No more low-fat, no-fat nonsense. These foods, being closer to nature, are full of fat, but great for your health and your body.
- Calories-in-calories-out is not the whole story. In fact, it’s only one small chapter, and not a very good one. “Diet and exercise, diet and exercise, diet and exercise!” This is the battle cry of the calories-in-calories-out camp and has been for decades. Doctors have spouted it off right before we leave their offices, still feeling slightly crappy and weird. It seems logical. It seems like it should work. For a few, stable, healthy people, it probably does. But for the masses, especially the overweight masses, not so much. If the blood sugar is out of balance (which is probably is); if inflammation is present (which is probably is); if the endocrine system is out-of-whack (which is almost certainly is); if there are emotional and psychological elements at play (which there are)– then the calories-in-calories-out prescription is simply not going to cut it. You can work your chubby little bootie off on that hamster machine at the gym till the cows come home and you can eat Yoplait Light and Special K to hack those calories in half. Hell, you can really forfeit all that is sacred and drink Diet Coke. But you’re not going to lose any weight worth writing home about.
- Therefore, you have to look at your whole health, not just losing weight. Bummer, right? No pill popping, no diet plan, no Jenny Craig or whatever else. You can’t just remove unsightly fat; you have to fix the entire mothership. I’m not kidding. It’s really not going to work if your entire system is utterly out of sorts (and it is). I’ve been told by reliable sources, sources who have struggled with their weight and their bodies their entire lives, sources who have “tried everything,” that none of it works. None of the plans, programs, or pills. So what’s the problem? The problem (I know) is that the truth takes time, focus, and time, and focus. And then there’s the next thing…
- And, therefore, you must, you must, you must face your closet full of nasty little skeletons. Without the emotional/psychological piece in place, you probably won’t get anywhere, sorry. I can’t get any step closer to understanding or healing my seizure disorder without facing the scary stuff that got me there in the first place. Why or how should it be any different with being overweight? Or with having heart disease? Or cancer? It’s not necessarily that emotions caused the issue, but it’s a hard fact that they are interwoven with it, and that facing what it has to offer sheds light on how a person got to where he or she is. Unwillingness to go to those dark places keeps you, well, stuck. So…noticing the events that happened around the time of bodily change, declining health, or greatest weight gain can be incredibly insightful in the entire process.
- Healthy skepticism about the food industry and your grocery store can light a fire for healthy living. No more “what I don’t know won’t hurt me,” because it’s just not true. No more fingers in the ears. No more covering your eyes. Let’s bring it all out in the light. The more you know about your food, your body, and your health, the better off you are. Me not looking at my bank statements does nothing to make my finances better; it only makes me ignorant and irresponsible. You not looking at your food and health…well, you get the idea.
- Oh, and eat your greens. Lots of ‘em, all kinds, all day, every day. I had to say it.
“How is this a prescription for weight loss?” you might be asking. How is it not? These are the long, hard steps that must be taken if you could ever hope to arrive at that natural, optimal body type I was talking about. If you don’t face the truth about the deeper, darker bits, then the bigger, fluffier, more obvious bits aren’t going anywhere. Who knows? You might even just find health and peace of mind along the way and get happy in your own skin. Who knows? You might never look at a scale or count a calorie ever again.
*Clinicians Note: All I can do is be a nutrition consultant and “try to help a person” achieve their goals, using the tools, information, and knowledge I possess. I can’t make anyone do anything or be someone they are not. In this, I like to be a support, a cheerleader (yes, you got it), and a structure for moving down a path toward health.