Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Losing weight

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I got an email from an on-line friend asking whether it was harder to lose weight the second time around. He has been involved in studying weight-loss and obesity issues professionally for quite a while, and he notes:

Every successful weight loss effort sets in motion myriad physiological and psychological mechanisms to regain the lost weight and prevent its subsequent loss. Of course, there has been speculation about this for 30 years, but now it seems the mechanisms are becoming clearer.

It appears that even one weight loss episode sets these mechanisms in motion, regardless of age.

So I had a big weight loss (80 lbs) and then I regained 20 lbs, which I’m now rapidly losing. (“Rapidly” does not apply to realistic and sensible weight loss: figure 1 lb/week, on average, and indeed the 80 lb loss took about 80 weeks: right at 18 months. I lost some data at my max because I made some router changes that threw my Withings wi-fi scale off-line, but on 18 June 2010 I was at 246.3; I hit 170.1 on 14 November 2011. Looking back, there was an awful lot of up and down, plus hovering between 180-185 for weeks and weeks, and then dashes down to 172, then back up, and so on. But just taking those endpoints, we’re looking at 17 months. Once I hit 170, I drifted between 170 and 180 for quite a while: not very good control. Then on 19 April 2012 I hit 192.6, and dropped to 186.4, but then back up to 192.9 on 10 May 2012. I paid attention, and generally speaking the weight started dropping.

Today is 30 June, 7.3 weeks later, and I’m at 180.4 this morning (weights are in pounds, not kg). 12.5 lbs in 7.3 weeks, or 1.7 lbs a week: quite a good rate, and included are some mild “blow-out” meals. I use that term for meals I now consider excessive, which is a far, far cry from my old blow-out meals, which now strike me as gargantuan. I have become so accustomed to the meal template, that even a blow-out meal must have a good balance of protein, starch, leafy vegetables, and moderate amounts of oil—and no refined starches or sugars. So the blow-out meals are not really all that bad. The worst part is normally I have a small amount (a half-bottle, generally) of wine, when generally I avoid alcohol altogether: pure calories.

Indeed, I broke the rule of no refined sugar or starch in the lead-up to 192.9 lbs, enjoying ice cream rather too frequently, but lesson learned: those foods are not for me. Theoretically, I could enjoy them in moderation, but moderation is much more difficult than abstinence—plus, I find, moderation is much more difficult for the unconscious mind to grasp: if I know I’m abstaining from ice cream, I can look at it with detachment, though I sensibly avoid looking as much as possible: I don’t even go down the ice-cream aisle in the supermarket. (Why strain my relationship with my unconscious?—particularly when he seems able to accept that we don’t eat that anymore.) But if I’m trying moderation, then any glimpse of ice cream means that I must (at the urging of the unconscious, no doubt) consider whether this is an occasion when I can partake—moderately, of course. But once begun, it’s hard to draw the line that defines where “moderately” ends and excess begins. Is eating just a spoonful a moderate amount? Surely. So perhaps a spoonful every couple of hours, or every 30 minutes, or every 5 minutes, or just sit down with the pint… You see how it becomes hard to draw a definite line on “moderately” but quite easy to know where the line is with “abstain.”

I should note that your adaptive unconscious is your strongest ally or your worst enemy, depending on how you approach him/her. (I find it helpful to consider the adaptive unconscious as a person in his/her own right.) Again I recommend Timothy Wilson’s Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious. (By the way, if any of my readers actually read a book I recommend, I’d love to hear that. 🙂 )

So: no, I don’t find it difficult to lose weight I’ve regained, because now I have learned the practical skills of weight loss and I know what to do. I have now also grasped that a 5-lb gain (quite easy to do) means a month (roughly) of work to lose it. When I looked at losing 20 lbs, I estimated I would be working at it for five months, though it looks now as if it will be more like three months.

I think many people have unrealistic internally-felt time tables, and sort of assume that they can blast away a 5-lb gain in a week, so why not put on another 5? That’s amazingly easy to do, especially if you have not actually changed your internal feeling of what a meal is. Thus the importance of the grub template (updated just this morning): once the template is internalized, it makes choosing foods (at a cafeteria, for example) much easier: small portion of protein, skip the bread and ice cream (totally refined foods), thus skipping butterfat as well. Avoid the cheese—a lump of fat disguised as food. Load up on leafy greens and vegetables cooked without fat. Look for some sort of starch that’s not potatoes (too much like refined food). Obviously no french fries, a deadly trio of a simple starch, a lot of fat, and a lot of salt. I sometimes accept cooked dried beans as a starch, though they are also a good fiber and partial protein. In fact, I’m going to start adding cooked pulse to my grub more often: I can lighten up somewhat on the other protein. (Tofu and tempeh are, of course, bean products and also complete proteins, and I use those a lot.)

People with a bad time-sense of weight loss will go a few weeks, see that little is happening, and decide, “To hell with it,” and have a big meal—and if they have not internalized the new way of eating, it will be a big meal of the very sort that created the problem in the first place. Their weight will increase, and they’ll think, “See? It just doesn’t work for me. I must have some special problem that medical science doesn’t yet understand.”

But in fact, I’m losing weight as rapidly as I ever did—indeed, more rapidly, because at this point I have a much better understanding of what I must do (in practical rather than theoretical terms) and I have had much more practice in doing it. Moreover, my gain gain to 192.9 lbs was pretty clearly from making bad choices based on the thought: “My weight is now so low, I can afford to eat some things as I once did.” That turns out to be a false dream. Instead, I should be thinking things like, “My weight is so low, I think I’ll enjoy an alternative meal, like clams and mussels with a small amount of cooked pasta and an enormous salad with 2 tsp of olive oil in the dressing and one glass of white wine.”

My goal now, once I reach 170 again, is to keep my weight between 170 and 173, which means sensible eating every day, rather than foolish eating once a week or so. The foolish eating can rapidly wipe out all that you’ve achieved and also serves to communicate to the unconscious, “Don’t give up hope! We can still eat the old way occasionally: prompt me when you see something tasty,” which means fighting (unconscious) impulses constantly. If you adopt the abstinence mindset, you won’t have the impulses—at least that seems true for me.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2012 at 9:56 am

Posted in Fitness, Food, Grub

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