Thursday, December 24, 2009

Pigs in Pokes

Lately, there has been a great deal of advertising done by someone using a drawing of a blond woman going from fat to thin and promising you can lose weight by following “one weird old tip” (or something to that effect). I don’t know what the tip is, but the ads look, feel and sound like the same old pig in a poke type of thing that has been sold to those looking to lose weight for decades. These are plans that promise you that you can easily and simply lose weight by making simple and desirable choices in your life.

It’s easy to understand why people want to sell you easy answers. They want your money. The slightly more difficult part is understanding why “we” (and I actually don’t mean “me”, but humans in general) actually buy simple answers to complex problems. My guess is part of it is desperation. We can’t make the lifestyle alterations necessary to achieve a lasting healthy weight, so we keep looking for some trick or option that we’ve missed. Someone has to have the answer because there are still more thin people in the world than fat ones, and the thin ones don’t seem to be any less neurotic or any more intelligent than us.

The thing about these deals, and this applies to all of them, even the most absurd ones, is that they work for some people. Sometimes they work for a little while, and there may be at least a handful of others for whom they work for the duration of their lives. The main problem with the wackier plans is that they rely on substituting real food for fake “balanced” concoctions that offer all of the nutrients you need at fewer calories and with no satisfaction (no matter how hard they try to fake good taste). In the short term, people can manage this. The problem is that, in the long run, you grow tired of a stomach that rumbles because it didn’t get real food and taste buds that want to experience something more.

Many plans actually make sense from a certain viewpoint or seem logical, balanced and healthy. The problem with many of the most sensible plans is that they depend on a certain level of discipline which can be maintained under ideal conditions, but may rapidly fall apart in difficult life situations or when your options are limited. This is something that I faced rather seriously when I found that I was too injured to exercise my way to weight loss as I once did. It is also an issue for people who accomplish weight loss based on restricted food lists. The more you “can’t eat”, the harder it is to take part in normal life, particularly social functions.

I have always been dubious of the diet “pigs in pokes” – the cookie diet, candy diets, cabbage diets, soup diets, etc. It’s not just the fact that all of these plans are so obviously about selling specialty products to people desperate to lose weight, it’s also that I’ve always seen them as very short-term solutions. What happens when you lose all of the weight you want and stop eating the cookies or medically-formulated bars or soups? They do nothing for you in terms of teaching you how to deal with food in day-to-day life and seem to set you up for a cycle of regaining when the "diet" is done.

I think that most people have a terrible time altering their relationship with food, myself included. It's so much easier to radically alter your habits than to moderate them. This is especially true when you have tried and failed so many times to make the changes that are necessary to lose weight. I think that people buying those dietary pigs in pokes are simply tossing out their entire unhealthy way of dealing with food and hoping to replace it with a new and healthy way. Perhaps that is why fad diets have appeal. If the change isn't radical enough, people don't have the sense of abandoning their "bad" way of life entirely, and they really want to get as far away from their "fat habits" as possible in the hopes of building thin ones.


dlamb said...

Absolutely true! It is the reason it was always so easy for me to lose weight fast, even very large amounts. I could simply starve myself. The problem was, as soon as I reached my goal I binged all the way back, as I have mentioned before.
I never learned anything new. When that no longer worked for me, it seemed impossible that I would lose the extra weight again. Once I decided that I would have to lose the same way that I would need to maintain, I realized that, for the first time in my life, I'd stay at my normal weight because everything about my eating changed.
As you said when you addressed the issue of patience, until I could wait to achieve the changes, I could not incorporate anything new into my life and I was bound to fail at maintenance.

screaming fatgirl said...

I think it is hard to learn something which I wholeheartedly believe is against human nature. At some point, when you read through the archives, you'll see a post about how we need an artificial food culture to match our artificial food availability.

I'm certainly no great learner in this regard. It took me until I was 45 years old to start analyzing from a different perspective and a bit more than that to get to where I am now. Who knows? I may yet have found I haven't learned anything of value. It's a possibility I'm open to. I have answers, ones that work for me, but I don't have all of them or anyone else's. Such is life, I guess. ;-)

dlamb said...

How cute are YOU?! "took you until you were 45" :). I have 10 years on you and I have to say that reading through this much of your blog, I believe that what you have learned, the methods you used to get where you are today and your reluctance to return to your original condition will make the difference. I am not saying that you will not fluctuate occasionally and possibly even struggle when you hit menopause and you feel like your body is betraying you to the max, but the experience and the lessons learned will help you adjust in whatever way you need to, in order to maintain the results you have achieved.
Frankly, I am extremely relieved and grateful to have arrived at this point, EVEN at the age of almost 55. Last Sept. I could not have dreamed that I could make any permanent changes. I don't want to be arrogant in my belief that I will never go back, but I am relatively certain that it will not happen. The difference? In the past, all I could focus on was reaching my goal SO I COULD EAT AGAIN, the way I wanted to. This time around, it feels more like I am living my life and eating normally and I happen to be losing weight because the calories I am consuming are slightly lower than what I need to maintain. I do not plan to change anything at all when I reach my goal, IF I reach my goal. If I don't reach my goal or I feel that it is too difficult to maintain at the calories I am consuming now, I will simply stay where I am. I just want to get off my cholesterol medication and maintain my BP where it is. Vanity plays absolutely no part in any of this because it was not my motivating factor when I started.

I re-read one of your early posts in which you discussed the issue of "being ready". You are absolutely correct in saying that 1. It is an individual thing and 2. You know it when you know it. I am, of course, paraphrasing but that is how I interpreted the message re. individual recognition of that key moment.
You may remember that I created some discomfort by, not so much defending a floundering blogger but by objecting to her being humiliated and ridiculed in public. Well, I continue to follow this person's struggle and recognize that she is simply not ready. I will not say so. It is not my business and I don't think she would appreciate it but I SO recognized and related to that post of yours when you indicated that only such a turning point can motivate one to transition from the "wishing" to the "doing".

screaming fatgirl said...

It may take longer for me to really be where I'd like to be. Who knows? I don't think so much of myself that I think I'm free from regaining, these days, now more than ever. I have to write a post, but I've felt really fragile with all of the changes in my life since returning the U.S. The irony is that my fatalistic attitude appears to be accompanied by far better behaviors prior to the sense that I'm being "re-broken" by the psychological hardships.

Of course, I hope you are right and that all the work I have done will help me not return to the life I had at nearly 400 lbs. I think that I'm perhaps too "modest" to believe that I've turned any corner forever. I've seen far too many people who think they're immune and have everything neatly tied up in a bow and will never, ever be fat again who got fat again.