Disclaimer: this post expresses my personal opinions. Fancy that. On my personal blog too. And guess what, this opinion may even be different to yours. You can let me know if you agree or disagree with the views expressed here. You might even go as far as to tell me that I am wrong. I may or may not care about that. Enjoy reading.
Phew. Now that we got that out of the way let’s talk weight loss. Everyone on the internet knows that the best way to get traffic is to tag your pearls of wisdom “weight loss tips” and “Jessica Biel’s diet secrets”. I have neither. Sorry. But this post was mostly brought on by the frustration that the topic of losing body mass is still a priority not just in conventional women’s magazines but in ancestral health community.
You know the one: “Yes, I’ve given up grains because Robb Wolf told me to, I don’t eat refined carbs after reading Gary Taubes, I stopped sugar after watching that Lustig’s video and I force down a tablespoon of fermented cod liver oil since attending Weston A.Price conference. I feel great but… How do I lose another 10kgs?”
And of course there is no shortage of available experts on the interwebz:
– eat less carbs
– eat more safe starches
– introduce interval training
– stop HIIT to salvage your burned out adrenals
– eat sauerkraut for healthy gut
– calories don’t matter
– calories matter
– start IF
– use FitDay to track your daily intake
It’s all very sad.
In the meantime the average long term success of most weight loss strategies is around 1%. Yeah, sure, most people do it wrong. They choose the wrong diet (Lemon Detox, anyone?), they choose the worst possible exercise (if you are a female with a cup size C and above, for god’s sake stop running). And they just don’t have the willpower that the new dieter has (sarcasm font). Because the new dieter knows that he/she will be different. I will be in that 1% who does it right and stays skinny ever after. The End.
There are numerous reasons why weight loss strategies fail. And there are numerous reasons why they succeed. Temporarily. You can lose weight in literally thousands of different ways: Paleo, low fat, low carb, low calorie, ketogenic, vegetarian, aerobic exercise, HIIT, IF, bariatric surgery, liposuction…
That’s why the to and fro arguments on which approach is better for weight loss is kinda pointless. YES! YOU CAN LOSE WEIGHT EATING MARS BARS AND DRINKING COKE! (feel free to leave this page at this point and celebrate).
We have this love and hate relationship with a number that determines our body mass. Lily Allen famously said: “And everything’s cool as long as I’m getting thinner”. There is another number that we have become very preoccupied with in the last few decades: serum cholesterol. Chasing that number (down) is the name of the game, mostly by pharmacological means. Of course, you could tilt this snow globe upside down and decide that the number per se is not very meaningful and in fact represents some other pathological process in the body. Ideally you would choose an intervention that both addresses the cause of the problem and pushes that number in the direction you want. A nutrient-rich diet free of processed junk and pro-inflammatory toxins accompanied by reasonable physical activity is likely to address the chronic inflammatory state that leads to dyslipidaemia and therefore drop the dreaded cholesterol numbers down and please your conscientious doctor.
But sometimes it doesn’t get you to the magic 5.5 mmols that your doctor wants to see. Just like your 6 month foray into the Paleo diet fails to get you to that elusive number that determines your weight, size and consequently happiness. Time to go on PaleoHacks and shout for help.
I am not having a go at the desire to be slimmer. Sure, I wouldn’t mind losing a few kgs. I also wouldn’t mind losing my freckles or having bigger hands (it sucks trying to find surgical gloves that fit). Neither affects my sense of self worth.
So for what it’s worth, these are my ideas in relation to weight loss (note, doesn’t say FOR weight loss):
1. If your primary focus is weight loss you are already behind the eighth ball. If being skinny was a powerful motivator we wouldn’t have 2/3rds of Western world overweight or obese. Wanting to lose weight tends to screw with people’s heads even with the best foundation: they start stressing (excess cortisol=bad), they start reducing/counting/starving/hating their bland food/exercising at 5am and generally stop listening to the bodies.
Things are quite different when you eat to nourish every cell in your body. Shift your focus to wellness and flip the switch.
1a Unless you have congestive heart failure or chronic kidney disease, chuck your scales. Like now. Get up and throw them in the bin.
2. Start with having a nutrient-rich diet and get rid of junk. Use whatever framework takes your fancy: Paleo, primal, perfect health diet, whole30, Mediterranean, vegetarian (gasp! ). Minimize the “healthy” versions of unhealthy food, you don’t want any food holding you emotionally hostage.
Until you have that down pat, forget the words “Do you have these pants in a smaller size?”
3. Find a regular consistent physical activity you enjoy. I know exercise is supposed to be about torture. That’s ok if you enjoy torture, no judgement here. Do something you can see yourself doing regularly in a year. Or five.
3a. Do not ramp up the volume/intensity of the said activity to accelerate weight loss beyond the level you see yourself comfortably doing long term. Did I hear you say “bootcamp”? Pfft.
4. You cannot fix self esteem issues with weight loss. The two have very little to do with each other.
4a. In the same vein, having weight loss as a dangling carrot in the future can derail your enjoyment of today. Don’t put off activities, clothes or happiness until you get thinner. See point 1.
5. It seems that the thoughts of weight loss frequently return when people are still longing for a six pack in spite of measurable improvements in their physical and mental health. This is where we hit a little snag.
Let’s say you start off in the obese category. Up to a certain point weight loss and health gains go together. Then you reach a state where your body is happy, healthy and well-nourished. To lose more subcutaneous fat from this point will not gain any further health benefit. In fact, you may dip down into negative territory. If you are body builder, dancer, gymnast or any athlete dependent on low body mass this is the risk you have to take. If you are a suburban mother of 2, disappointed she doesn’t look like her graduation photo any longer, you may be playing a dangerous game. If you still choose to continue down this path that’s cool. Your choice. It’s way harder to shift the happy-healthy weight so you may have to pull out all stops. Some of those deviate even further from the path to long term health and wellness. Obviously if you are naturally lean and small you have to flip this scenario 180 degrees. Getting massive past the point of diminishing returns may not be optimal for your body either.
When I see an obese patient I do not have an overwhelming desire to help them lose fat. To me their weight is nothing more but an external manifestation of serious internal issues. I worry about their risk of heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and autoimmune conditions. I feel the same level of concerns for the skinny-fat: normal BMI with little muscle and obvious visceral adiposity.
For a health-conscious and somewhat rebellious community we are still remarkably superficial and eager to conform to the current body image stereotype.