The title of this two part blog is inextricably bound with the notion of losing weight. However, to be concerned with losing weight, you first must have excess weight to lose. Whilst many seem to share this concern, it is not universal. For instance, our younger son has the opposite challenge, he actively labours to gain weight. Personally, I do not have his challenge.
My whole life I’ve been a ‘chunky’ individual. At no point in my 64 years have I been athletic, svelte, lean, muscular or trim. Oh, there have been occasions, when I’ve lost weight, but then, I often looked more ‘sickly’ than ‘lean and mean’.
In my beginning, I was born prematurely and, except for the extraordinary efforts of an extremely dedicated nurse, I would not have survived. You could say that my physical preparation for this world was not fully completed on my entrance. I was, if you will, somewhat ‘half-baked’.
Additionally, I was born in a time when it was not only acceptable but it was the ‘norm’ that people would smoke whilst pregnant and there was no impediment to imbibing of alcohol; all of which my dear mother did, as virtually all mothers at that time did.
These combined together, did not give my physical body the best start in life.
What else can I say? By temperament, I am a sloth. I can sit, remarkably still, for extended times. Additionally, I, by nature, am profoundly lazy. Exercise, sports, anything requiring ‘effort’ held and, truth be told, continues to hold, no appeal to me.
Ah, but fatty foods, deep fried foods, these have held and continue to hold a prodigious, immense appeal to me.
Thus, as I grew, and left to my natural inclinations, I progressed from being a ‘chunky’ child to an overweight teenager and then to a fat young adult. As time rolled by and the years mounted up, I proceeded to very fat until I arrived in the territory of being ‘obese’.
This progression took over forty years to achieve.
Obese is not a word that we like to use, nor even acknowledge in polite society.
Nevertheless, when you look at the medical charts and after you hit a certain weight, size, waist measurement, BMI or whatever scale or measure you choose, you qualify as ‘obese’.
I was obese. There is no pride in admitting that – but it was true.
At that time people would never have described me as being ‘obese’. As a society, we do not do that. They would have said that I was big, fat, portly, big boned, full-figured or overweight or some euphemism to avoid the socially unacceptable term ‘obese’. We simply do not call anyone ‘obese’, not even behind their back – it isn’t done.
But I was obese.
Even thought I was obese, I fit right in in society. There were many as large as I was, some larger, others less than myself, but, clearly on the same road. I looked ‘normal’ – big, portly, etc…
Unfortunately obesity does not travel alone and has its own entourage, its own travelling companions. Number one, a person’s self-esteem takes a violent knock, for you know exactly how ‘big’ you are, and all joking aside, you don’t find pleasure in it.
As a man, I tried to obscure or camouflage my girth. “Can’t be done,” I hear you muttering to yourself, and you are correct. Nevertheless, I attempted it. Why do you think I wore neck ties? Does it work? Of course not… nevertheless…
Now it is interesting that I never felt ‘bad’ when I was obese. As one who did not engage in physical exertion, I never felt that I couldn’t do something or was winded when attempting something. I simply never did, nor tried to do, those things.
Truth be told, I simply felt ‘normal’.
For me it was all very ‘natural’ and ‘normal’. As my obesity had developed slowly, over time, my sense of ‘normal’ modified with time.
I did not exercise.
I loved eating.
There was a lot of food that was extremely appealing to me, and often, when so confronted I would only semi-seriously ponder “why have a wee bit, when it tastes soooooo good?” I rarely even tried to give a good answer to that query. Moderation wasn’t a primary consideration or concern.
Therefore, in the place of one portion, a portion and a half would be ordered. Or if I settled for a single portion (which would be enough all by itself) I would follow it up with additional items (which, individually were sufficient in themselves to make a fulsome meal). Often, the resultant combination together formed an over-indulgent feast.
And so I lived and as the days, weeks, months, years, nay, decades, flowed by, I continued in this manner… slowly growing in my girth and weight…
But, there was a price to pay.
Silently, sleeping in my body, buried in my DNA, was a genetic predilection for diabetes and its’ travelling companions, hypertriglyceridemia with an added propensity towards hypertension.
In the fullness of time, after an extended period, and a lifetime of fleeing exercise and indulging my culinary passions and, significantly, before even reaching my 50th birthday, I was diagnosed with diabetes and hypertriglyceridemia. My doctor informed me that on the test for my triglycerides, the machine was unable to measure it because it so high it was beyond the machine’s ability to quantify.
Now, before my diagnosis, there were times when I was feeling bad about the unflattering state of my weight and consequently, through great effort and determination, I had lost tens of kilos. However, after the time of ‘losing the weight’ was over, and I went back to eating without the harsh encumbrances of restricted eating, I observed that slowly, and sometimes not so slowly, the weight came inexorably back. In fact, I noted that in the fullness of time my weight would reach and often surpass the former high point.
Losing weight took great effort and much time, the reversal took no effort and little time.
But now, with my diagnosis, in plain terms, I had simply reaped the fruit of my life-style. With this diagnosis I now needed, not for my ‘self-esteem’ sake, but for health’s sake, to lose weight and keep it lost. I had proven in the past that I had the ability to lose weight, but herein was the true challenge, to lose it and keep it lost…
I have observed in life that some people, due to a combination of their metabolism, activity level and appetite, seem to always be slim, trim and ‘looking good’. As a result some people can look at these individuals who are ‘naturally slim’ by virtue of their build, inclination and natural predilection and can attribute ‘virtue’ to them because of this. By the same token, people can look at those of us who, by virtue of our build, inclination and natural predilection are over-weight, fat or obese as being somehow purposely indolent, slothful and, well, lacking in ‘virtue’. And yet, both can adhere to the same basic lifestyle.
Be that as it may, I, as one in the latter camp, was faced with a very real health condition. The equation was simplicity itself – if I believed the diagnosis, then, basically, I needed to lose weight, eat right, exercise, and, hence, live… otherwise… well, it was not a pretty picture (amputations, blindness, heart disease, kidney failure, an increased likelihood of an early, painful death).
Without labouring this account with all the details, weight was lost. But the challenge was two-fold, losing weight (track record of being able to do this) and the second, most important challenge, keep the weight off (I hadn’t managed that in the past).
Therefore, let’s leap forward fourteen years…
Without question, losing weight is difficult. But maintaining a healthy weight is the elusive, golden prize that has proven to be almost outside of our collective grasp.
In our world there is a vast marketplace that has come into being to sell the dream, ‘the way to lose weight’. There are a myriad of methods, programmes, plans, books, diets galore, self-help, support groups and it seems the list continues to grow and expand by the day.
All these diets, books, methods and groups declare that losing weight is a problem, and, by and large and for most people, it is a surmountable problem.
Whist it is true that losing weight is ‘a’ very real problem, it is not ‘THE’ problem. The real challenge is in maintaining a healthy weight, over time.
It seems that my body is designed to thrive in times of famine. When I eat something, whether a ‘healthy’ something or an ‘unhealthy’ something, my body extracts all the energy hidden within the food and, anything surplus to the momentary requirements is immediately stored away against that ‘rainy day’, against the future ‘famine’ that my body is perennially preparing for.
I have friends whose bodies seem to be rather cavalier with regards to saving for the future. These are individuals with a combination of a naturally more active life-style, a natural inclination for better foods and seemingly with no compulsion towards the worst of foods. These friends of mine are able to eat without regard to what or when or how much. I’ve seen individuals tuck into a large plate of macaroni at 10:30 at night, as they are peckish, and polish it off and still be the slim and trim individual that they are.
If I did likewise, my diligent, hard working, frugal, forward-planning body would tuck every excess calorie away for future consumption.
Alas, we are not all alike. Some can say it is not ‘fair’ but whoever considers life to be fair?
To be balanced in my evaluation, let me declare that in a famine, I would be living off the fat of my own body whilst my slim and trim friends would be wasting away…
So, how can I, prone as I am to be a porky, tubby, big, ‘full figured’ individual, lose weight and keep it off?
My body has one goal, and I another.
I feel emboldened to write this as I have, by the Grace of God, lost weight and kept it off, with highs and lows, for 14 years and counting.
We all know the theory on how to lose weight – eat less.
Exercise is good, beneficial and helpful, but the key is what and how much we put in our mouths on a daily basis.
It is oh-so-simple to say “eat less” – and, for a limited time, it can be relatively ‘easy’ to achieve. There are all sorts of diets and special regimes that work in the short term but they are all fundamentally unsustainable over the long haul… the ‘cabbage diet’ comes immediately to mind.
Throughout my sojourn on this terrestrial ball, I’ve never subscribed to any of the various ‘diets’, pills’, ‘potions’, ‘fads’ or ‘plans’. Because of my predilection for fat, greasy and fatty foods, I did gaze longingly at the Aiken’s diet – but I was fundamentally unconvinced that my body-type would lose weight on such an attractive and desirable regime.
Rather, it has always seemed that the most reasonable, and the most sustainable path was to take the age-old dietary advice given to everyone, the same advice which I have heard throughout my life, which is to eat a sensible, healthy, balanced diet and to get regular exercise.
Now, diagnosed with diabetes, a sensible, balanced diet and avoiding the foods which spike blood sugar levels seemed the most practical and sustainable way forward.
Oh, and also adding to my routine regular daily exercise (the very thing I have consistently avoided all my life). Because of my age and fitness level, I have of late, adopted walking (briskly) with a goal of 10,000 steps a day as my regular, daily exercise activity.
As I have declared, my body is profoundly efficient. I do not require a great amount of food to maintain my weight.
Herein, then, is the problem.
When we eat, it is not just for nutrition, not just for the maintainance our bodies, but eating is also a social activity, a pleasurable activity and often, a comforting activity.
There are multiple reasons why we consume food – it is not just to live.
LET ME SAY at this juncture, that what I’m about to share is my experience and reflects me and where I am at. Please do not take offence, especially if you feel that my experience or understanding bears no bearing on you or your situation. We are all different. We are all at different places.
This is my story….
For me, the realisation that I was not just enjoying what I was eating, but I was also, and sometimes primarily, eating to enjoy. It dawned on me that I would initiate snacking and eating for the sole purpose of the enjoyment it brings. This was an epiphany, a revelation, a ‘light bulb’ moment which captured my imagination.
It was also rather disturbing.
There is a profoundly emotive word to describe this approach to life and eating. It is not a word that is easily or lightly used, and yet, I have chosen to use it to describe my case as it is the most accurate.
The word is ‘hedonism’.
This reflects the motivation of my eating, the ‘why’ I ate what I ate, and when, and how much. This understanding shifted the focus off of the ‘what’ I consume and placed it fully on the ‘why’ I would eat.
This was a key revelation for me. The ‘what’ – that is what foods I chose – is important. The ‘when’ or ‘how often’ I indulge is also important. But, the ‘why’, or the ‘motivation’ – it is this that drives both the ‘what I choose to eat’, the ‘when’, the ‘how much’and the ‘how frequently’.
In Part 2, I explore how my understanding has practically affected the mundane task of maintaining a healthy weight state.
Earlier I described myself with the pariah word ‘obese’. I now add to my self description, the equally unappealing, and often unspoken, unacknowledged pariah word ‘hedonistic’ to describe my approach to eating.