Monday, February 1, 2010

The Virtuous

Lately, I've been reading other people's weight loss blogs and various forums about weight loss and one thing I've noticed is that two types of people tend to dominate. There are those who are struggling and failing and those who are virtuous and succeeding. Occasionally, there will be someone who, like me, is hardly a paragon of virtue, but loses weight successfully.

One of the things about the virtuous that I'd like to say before I dive any deeper into my well of thoughts is that I know where they are coming from since I used to be one of them back when I first lost weight in college. I exercised for an hour and half 4-5 days a week. I never ate sugar, fat, red meat, fast food, or drank milk, juice, etc. My only vice at that time was Diet Coke. Mind you, back when I first lost a ton of weight, low fat was in vogue and low carb was a remnant of the 50's. People also didn't fret as much about salt intake when considering weight loss back then so I merrily consumed whatever I wanted barring the aforementioned evils.

While I do understand where the virtuous are coming from and I applaud their success, sometimes I feel that their attitude is utterly unhelpful when it comes to dealing with the desperate and hopeless out there who simply cannot live the life of the virtuous. If you are struggling to get through the day without binging, have health issues that prevent you from regular exercise, or simply can't cram all the food planning and gym visits into your life, hearing that people succeed by eschewing all of the food you enjoy and exercising more than you can imagine doesn't help you. In fact, all it does is feed your sense of despair that you will never lose weight.

To be fair, many people do adopt the "my body, my science experiment" approach and are open-minded about different approaches, but a lot simply start shouting slogans at those who are struggling like a demented lifestyle drill sergeant. "You just have to make up your mind and DO IT!" "You have to take care of YOU first!" And there's always a variation on Yoda's well-known referain, 'there is no try, just do!' If you're one of those who has managed to become one of the virtuous, you probably managed to bully yourself into abandoning all of your vices and whipping yourself into a routine that works for you. Good for you. But, and that's a big, fat "but", be warned that the train smoothly gliding you down the path of virtue can quickly be derailed back to vice with one critical health problem (knee problems, back problems, chronic fatigue from various illnesses) or a change in life circumstances. Trust me, I know this as this was how I regained all of my lost weight and more after treading the path of virtuous exercise and eating for about 4 years.

I think it's important to understand and realize that most ordinary people of normal weight are not living spectacularly virtuous lives on the food and exercise front. I personally know a boatload of thin people who do no formal exercise whatsoever and drink beer almost everyday as well as snack on chips and chocolate. They aren't metabolically lucky. They simply have good portion control and consume in moderation as well as walk around every day for between 30 minutes and several hours. They also adjust their diet when they gain weight if they overdo it. Note that none of them have cars. Living like a thin person doesn't mean you never eat stuff that is bad for you or that you exercise like a well-regimented demon.

The reason I'm writing about this is not that I want to criticize the virtuous, as I think that it is great if you can manage it. My purpose is to give hope to those, like me, who can't live the sort of life that those folks have lived for one reason or another. There are other ways to lose weight, but it is essentially a zero sum game. What I mean by that is that you can't have large quantities of bad food if you go the route that I am currently going (portion control, calorie counting, small amounts of daily treats, and only walking 30 min. to an hour 5 times a week for exercise). The virtuous probably eat much greater amounts of food by volume than I do (though fewer or the same calories). They are also likely fitter and in better overall health. They also probably lose weight faster than me on average, though I have to say that I know you can only lose so much fat per week (two pounds is what I've read). After that, you're losing water and muscle. (Do you really want to be pushing so hard that your body is consuming it's muscle tissue?)

You can lose weight with a balance, and that balance doesn't have to be achieved through "perfect" behavior. In fact, my behavior is painfully imperfect, yet I manage anyway. I am curious about whether or not I can continue to lose weight successfully once I reach the 150 lb. range (so far away now). Perhaps my plan will have to become more virtuous once I am further away from morbidly obese. Frankly though, I'm not too worried about it. When my weight gets down that low, I think I'll be in a better position to worry about different choices.

At any rate, I don't want others to read about the virtuous habits and think that that is the only road to success. You don't have to be a paragon of control or lifestyle choices to succeed, but you do have to make some changes. The nice thing is that you can make those changes slowly and the hard part passes after the first month or so. The effects also start to snowball as you become accustomed to the changes and practicing delayed gratification. It's not easy, but it doesn't have to be that hard either.


Anonymous said...

A lot of this idea of needed perfection makes me uncomfortable too. I'm so NOT a clean eater, and I'm often embarrassed to mention in my blog what and how I really eat. I'm not very into diet food, not into low fat, enjoy sugar, even white bread occasionally. I'm like the French, I often eat heavy and rich, but still don't overeat. I don't even think clean eating is necessary for good health, but each to their own. I exercise a lot, but not sure how much that's tied to weight loss, and how much is tied to depression and mood control. Everybody in my immediate family exercises a lot, and most in extended family. Maybe it's just how we function best. I don't think it's unhealthy, though it's impractical.

screaming fatgirl said...

I don't think you should be embarrassed to reveal your less than perfect eating on your blog. I think that it's inspiring for others to know that there are other options out there. The only option that doesn't exist is a free-for-all.

I don't eat diet foods (processed, pre-packaged whatever) either, but I do eat a little chocolate everyday (and I mean about 100 calories worth). Sometimes I don't, but more often than not, I do. It's not an issue really. I'm not hungering for it and I don't binge on it because I get to have it when I really want it. It's actually easier not to binge because I have it so often.

I'm torn about the exercise issue. I almost feel grateful that I'm too decrepit to exercise like I used to because it has forced me to deal with food rather than continue to over-fuel my body and try and work to burn it off. It's a bit of a "gift" I've gotten from my pain. On the other hand, I enjoy exercising and would like to do it more. So, I can definitely see where you are coming from.

I think the issue for weight loss when it comes to exercise is whether or not you can eat in such a way as to maintain if you have to stop exercising. And I mean the "big you", not "you in particular". If you can curtail your eating when you can't exercise, you're in a good place and it doesn't matter if you're an exercise fiend.