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weight loss - a rant

Disclaimer. This is a rant. It's written like one. That includes direct, potentially offensive language. If you know me well, you know I have more sympathy for individual people than this, and what I am attacking is the meme, the pattern I see in culture as reflected by the people on my friends list. Given that, if you choose to be offended, go for it.

But.

If you are trying to lose weight, then fine, that's your goal, whatever. But freaking recognize that weight changes slowly, with a large standard deviation (meaning fluctuations, and long periods of stagnation, are NORMAL), and will be a fucking frustrating, if not impossible, process. Not because of any personal failure on your part, not because you're doing something wrong, but because our bodies are evolutionarily designed to NOT STARVE.

Who'd'a thunk it?

Let me suggest an alternative strategy.

Rather than obsessing over every bite, every calorie, every grain of salt, how about paying attention to how different food makes you feel, both then and afterwards, and eat in a way that helps your body work well?

Seriously. Throw away the fucking scale. It contributes more to the collective blood pressure of America than sociopathic managers, psycho exes, and the latest contrived 'reality' show put together.

Instead, try exercising because it is useful to be able to run up a flight of stairs without getting winded. Eat vegetables instead of potato chips because it's nice to have the energy to get up off the couch once in a while. Allow it to be a slow value shift. Pay attention to the inside, not the outside, and one day you'll find your pants are too big for you, without any stress at all. And that, my friend, will feel far better than celebrating over every measly pound, only to be plunged into the depths of despair when it comes back the next week.

One part of the phsyiological stress reaction in the human body is to be ready to drop into starvation mode on a hairtrigger. After all, if something in your life is precarious enough to make you worried and anxious all the time, can an interruption in the food supply be far behind? In short, if you're stressing about calories, that, itself, makes your body hang on to them! Can we say 'counterproductive', boys and girls? I knew you could!

And lest I sound completely heartless, I do sympathize with how difficult it can be to shape your body into anything even vaguely approaching the modern ideal. I have about 40 pounds that has resisted anything and everything I've thrown at it for 15 years. My lowest weight ever was 131 when I was 16 and figure skating 20 hours a week, and even that is 10-15 pounds over what I "should" be for my frame and height.

But you know what? I don't care. I find out my weight when I go to the doctor, and even that's because turning away when they slide the numbers around gives the scale too much power - it's allowing that a few numbers to fuck with my head, and that is something I will not do. It hasn't been easy to get to the point of not caring, either, but the alternative is a miserable, calorie-obsessed life of learned helplessness.

For me, of course. Your mileage may vary. But for at least half a dozen of you and hundreds more I've known in my life, you are doing yourself nothing but a disservice by giving a fucking number so much power. Be yourself. Exercise and eat well because you like having a fully functioning, efficient body and you like pushing your limits; but to relegate a complex biological system, evolutionarily streamlined to keep you alive against far simpler pressures than that of modern America, to a single number, is to condemn your life to being defined by that number.

You're more than that. Prove it.

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( 40 comments — Leave a comment )
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firebirdgrrl
Jul. 29th, 2005 05:32 pm (UTC)
Well said.
labelleizzy
Jul. 29th, 2005 05:38 pm (UTC)
i like this.

my problem atm is not "I must lose weight, I must count calories"
but rather, "my body hurts and I feel unfit and I can't motivate myself to move enough to make that better."

trying to figure this out.
jnanacandra
Jul. 29th, 2005 05:51 pm (UTC)
I fight that one all the time too. The best way I've found past it (which is certainly a task in and of itself) is to not be hard on myself about how much I can't do, but just do as much as I can. I feel better for having tried, and, eventually, I can do more.

Best of luck.
maeghanne
Jul. 29th, 2005 05:39 pm (UTC)
Thanks sweetheart. Don't know who it's directed at but I needed to hear it! :)
m0usegrrl
Jul. 29th, 2005 05:44 pm (UTC)
brava! very well said.
cortneyofeden
Jul. 29th, 2005 05:47 pm (UTC)
Since this may be somewhat directed at my recent bout of "I'm getting fit and it feels fabulous"...

I am on a serious effort to lose weight right now. Partially because I don't feel at all comfortable in my body, but mostly because I am very much in risk of developing gestational diabetes when I get pregnant (hopefully in about 2 years). This is not a safe risk, and I'm doing what I can to feel better, stronger, and be healthier.

I've only been weighing myself on occasion, and not fretting over the numbers. I've been rejoicing in the strength I feel returning to my body. Yes, I celebrated the sheer numbers yesterday after checking in with my doctor, but I think it's healthy in this context (especially if you read the comments).

The goal I've made for myself, in numbers (not my only goal), still leaves me quite firmly within the range of "obese" for the BMI charts. I don't give a flying damn about that. I just want to get back to where I was when ef2p met me and I felt incredibly cute and good.
jnanacandra
Jul. 29th, 2005 05:49 pm (UTC)
LIke I said in my disclaimer, it's not directed at anyone personally. It sounds like you're doing it for the right reasons and making a real difference, which I applaud wholeheartedly :)
(no subject) - cortneyofeden - Aug. 17th, 2005 11:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - blk - Jul. 29th, 2005 05:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cortneyofeden - Aug. 17th, 2005 11:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
azaz_al
Jul. 29th, 2005 05:47 pm (UTC)
Absolutely.
silverhawk
Jul. 29th, 2005 05:51 pm (UTC)
Hmm... I know I'm looking at the number to measure weight loss, but I'm expecting it to go down slowly.

It can be frustrating to see the rate of change. I'm actually more frustrated that my number is going down but I'm not sure that my clothes are fitting looser or anything like that. I am feeling healthier, and I am doing this for health reasons.

The number is my way of measuring progress. It's a more reactive number than dress size, which is the only other way to measure the progress. There are other factors, yes, but this is the easiest one to use. Especially since my blood pressure hasn't changed, and that is a measure of health.

Of course, I don't think the rant was directed at me because I don't even post my number every week, and you don't see me agonizing over gaining it back. I am honestly expecting at least a year to get to where I want to be, and we'll see what happens.
plymouth
Jul. 29th, 2005 06:07 pm (UTC)
A lot of this is what I was gonna say. Numbers are motivation to me. I walk more now that I have a pedometer and I lose more weight when I can see numerical progress. I also eat less when I count calories but I do know where to cut my losses - that in particular increases my stress level more than the amount I gain from it so I my current game plan is to count for a week at a time to get a baseline of how much food I need and then stop counting unless I feel like I'm getting off-track again and then do it again for a week to re-baseline.
blk
Jul. 29th, 2005 06:01 pm (UTC)
The challenging part for me (well, one of them) is to balance between "what tastes really really good and makes me happy RIGHT NOW" and "what tastes pretty good, but makes me feel better LATER." Example, I LOVE ice cream for a late night dessert, but it makes my tummy feel odd the next morning.

I measure how well I'm doing by how well my clothes fit, and how pleased the image in the mirror makes me. I notice the small changes (5 lbs?) and while I've never gone on a "diet," per se, noticing that it takes extra effort to button my jeans is enough to make me pay extra attention to what energy source I'm putting in my body for another month or so.
cali_nic
Jul. 29th, 2005 06:39 pm (UTC)
See now my problem isn't an obsessive desire to LOSE weight so much as a need to keep off what I already lost. And that's quite difficult when finding time to exercise is so problematic. The only solution I can think of is to make sure to have really vigorous sex several times a week... that ought to help some, right? =)
princekermit
Jul. 29th, 2005 06:41 pm (UTC)
Amen.
And Amen of Amen.
(etc)
00goddess
Jul. 29th, 2005 06:48 pm (UTC)
You know, I was going along asgreeing with you and all that, until I got to this:

Pay attention to the inside, not the outside, and one day you'll find your pants are too big for you, without any stress at all.

That's an unrealistic piece of bullshit if I ever heard one. And since ypu are directing this entry to people who are trying to lose weight, it's a mean, shitty thing to say to them.
tisana
Jul. 29th, 2005 07:40 pm (UTC)
Not really.
Losing weight is hard, of course, but I think what's being advocated is to not pay attention to the technicalities of calorie counting and such, but rather to listen to what the body is saying--if you exercise regularly and eat well, you will have more energy--pay attention to that, rather than trying to make yourself miserable with deprivation.

Too many people focus on weight loss for the wrong reasons. Health, not looks, not pressures from society, should be the reason for losing or maintaining weight. And if you focus on what's inside, how you feel, then you've got a good handle on that.
(no subject) - 00goddess - Jul. 30th, 2005 12:08 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - leora - Aug. 5th, 2005 10:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
ert
Jul. 29th, 2005 07:07 pm (UTC)
Instead, try exercising because it is useful to be able to run up a flight of stairs without getting winded. Eat vegetables instead of potato chips because it's nice to have the energy to get up off the couch once in a while

Yes, but...

North American society as a whole doesn't want you to fit exercising into your life, it wants you to drive to work and work 50-60+ hour weeks 50 weeks per year and feel exhausted when you get home. And crappy food is addictive and far more heavily advertised than the joys of a reasonable diet, let alone a virtuous one.

I agree it would be better if the average person treated themselves better, but there are tremendous pressures to not do so.

Of course, if every blog contained a post like this one, perhaps a few people would pay some attention.
lapig93
Jul. 29th, 2005 07:50 pm (UTC)
Great rant! And so fucking true.

M
shaska
Jul. 29th, 2005 08:29 pm (UTC)
This is like telling an alcoholic to just stop drinking and everything will be fine.

What makes you think that people who are honestly trying to lose weight and need to, haven't read all the books and seen their doctor, and got all the advice possible?
jnanacandra
Jul. 29th, 2005 08:33 pm (UTC)
I'd liken it more to telling an alcoholic to stop focusing on "no more drinks" and start looking at *why* they drink, and how their lives will be improved by stopping.
(no subject) - shaska - Jul. 29th, 2005 08:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ladytabitha - Jul. 29th, 2005 09:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - shaska - Jul. 29th, 2005 09:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bayareajenn - Jul. 30th, 2005 12:21 am (UTC) - Expand
docscarabus
Jul. 29th, 2005 09:56 pm (UTC)
Rants like this are kind of useless for one reason: they are produced for general consumption, and each case is different.

Its a little like telling a depressed person to go take a walk in the sunshine.

Or telling a person with a major sleep disorder to drink some warm milk.

Or telling a person with OCD to "make peace with imperfection."

The principles sound good: Think about what food is doing for you, instead of what it will do for your weight. But it deletes the entire complex relationship that people (especially AMERICAN people) have with food and body image. Rants like this don't work.
bayareajenn
Jul. 30th, 2005 12:24 am (UTC)
Yes! Exatly.
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