I’m saying the “F” word here, and even spelling it out so there’s no mistaking my meaning. I’m F-A-T. And America has become a fat nation.
Don’t bother with euphemisms like thick, plump, overweight, avoirdupois, or any of the other assorted and sundry terms that we all know are the excretion of your average male bovine. Because honey, you can’t hide the fact that you’re fat. You can’t use a glorified vacuum cleaner to suck it out (except liposuction, which is a surgical procedure that brings its own set of risks.) You can’t buy a magic pill from your favorite magazine, or employ some equally-magical cream and expect the fat to all just magically disappear. You can squeeze it into tight clothing or camoflage it with something loose, but everyone still knows you’re fat.
On the surface, gastric bypass surgery seems a miracle cure for obesity. It’s proven effective for fast, permanent weight loss. It’s performed by a physician. It’s also extremely dangerous. One report from CBS news cites a one in fifty chance of dying within a month of undergoing gastric bypass surgery. The figures are higher with an inexperienced surgeon.
My New Year’s resolution this year is to not go on a diet. It is to stop the self-delusion. I am not going to lose 100 pounds doing the Atkins diet or doing the South Beach diet or “doing” anything else except cutting back on calories and pushing up my exercise levels.
My body didn’t get this way overnight. It took a combination of multiple childbirths, working too many late hours and grabbing too much fast food, trying to work three jobs to make ends meet so I could afford the aforementioned fast food, and precious little sleep. It’s no surprise to hear that science has found a correlation between sleep deprivation and obesity. When you cut out something as fundamental as sleep, you’ve got to make up the energy elsewhere. Food is the most common way to recharge your biological batteries. Unfortunately, it can’t actually replace sleep, so it’s like trying to force a square peg into that round hole in your biological needs. You might manage to get the square peg into the apace, but it will never really fill the gap.
In spite of everything, somewhere along the way, over the past month or so, I have indeed lost a little weight. What’s more, it didn’t involve starving myself or restricting what foods I could or could not eat.
Three separate books came to me through various channels last year. They have different authors and different titles, but every one said the same thing: that a diet is the most destructive behavior you can adopt. A diet damages your body and your self-image more than the weight you’re trying to lose. A diet is most assuredly not your friend.
So what’s a fat lady (or man) to do?
Start by loving yourself. That’s what all the self-help books say, anyway. I personally haven’t perfected the art. At 49 years old, I’m having a pretty darned hard time undoing all of the negative messages I’ve accumulated over the past half-century or so. However, I have started looking at diet and hunger differently. I’ve stopped beating myself up because I dare to experience hunger. In case you’ve forgotten, getting hungry is a natural human function. It starts at birth. It’s not a crime nor even bad for you. In fact, if you truly don’t get hungry, something is seriously wrong.
It took all three books, all saying the same thing, to drive home one simple message. I wasn’t hungry, and therein lay the problem. Despite the fact that I was almost never truly hungry, I was almost always eating.
I had to re-educate myself to recognize hunger. Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? I’m not talking about your body’s response when you smell food. That’s a learned mechanism, right up there with Pavlov’s dogs. But letting yourself go long enough without food to be genuinely hungry, and then only eating until you’re not hungry any more? That’s a little more tricky. I’d done the genuinely hungry part now and then, after which I’d stuffed myself well past the point of being satiated. It was the “stop eating when you’re not hungry any more” thing that took a while longer to perfect.
The scary part is that when I actually started paying attention, I discovered I didn’t need or even want seconds (much less thirds) to be comfortable. I could stop at one sandwich or one bowl of cereal and be just fine.
Somewhere along the way to re-acquainting myself with the phenomenon of hunger, I also started paying more attention to the taste of my food, too. When I did, I discovered that a lot of fast food doesn’t taste as great as I’d once believed. Home-cooked meals are hands-down the best food you can get, both in terms of health concerns and taste. It’s not tough to cook a balanced meal, even if time is an issue. It may entail making meals in bulk and freezing individual (or family-sized) portions, sometimes, but it’s certainly doable.
What’s even better is that by cooking at home, you save enough over time to pay for the new wardrobe to fit your shrinking size!
Incidentally, lest you think this is some radical and outrageous concept that lacks any medical foundation, consider that it comes with a pretty spiffy pedigree. Among other things, the first thing the Mayo Clinic mentions for effective weight loss is to eat only when hungry, and the US Army admonishes troops to eat only when hungry, instead of eating out of boredom or stress.
Eating when you’re hungry won’t make you fashion-model thin. It also won’t undo your weight problem overnight. It will, over time, help you discover what your normal, healthy weight is, and will help you to achieve and maintain it.
Don’t cut out your favorite foods. Denying yourself something you love will only make you crave it more. That, in turn, leads to unhealthy binges. Instead, listen to your body. Eat whatever you want to eat, but only when you’re hungry and only as much as you need to stop being hungry. The first part is easy, the part about eating whatever you want to eat. The second part may take a little bit of focus at first. After all, you’ve been ignoring your body’s sigals for years. You’ve got a lot to unlearn, and you’ll undoubtedly blow it now and then, no matter how much you promise yourself you won’t. If you do overeat, don’t sweat it. Just wait until you’re hungry again before you eat.
What’s the barometer to measure overeating? If you eat until you’re “full,” you’ve overdone it.
Take time when eating. Turn off distractions like television. Sit down at the table and focus on the food. Take the time to savor every taste, to pay attention to how your body feels before, during and after a meal.
Sounds kind of decadent, doesn’t it?
To lift from an old television commercial: “Try it. You’ll like it.”