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Why I don’t care about your results pt 2

July 1, 2009

I really must learn not to give any kind of timeline in terms of when I’ll likely post things. Life always interferes.

So I’m not totally happy with this entry yet. This is the third incarnation of this particular post. The first was too emo. The second, too snarky. This one manages to be neither and I’m not sure if it says exactly what I want it too. But I have other things I want to post and this has been nagging at me, so here ya go. It may get edited to clarify what the hell I’m talking about.

As I said at the end of my last post, whatever your goals and whatever your methods, if you’re approaching things in a healthy way (as in not starving yourself or training your body into the ground) and getting to where you want to be, good for you. And if everyone just went about their business and if weight, fitness and health weren’t public and common topics, then there wouldn’t be any issues.

But it’s never as simple as that, of course. Remember during the height of the low-carb craze when everyone and their mom had lost 10+ lbs in those first couple of weeks on atkins/south beach? So much weight and so fast! Amazing! I know that, despite feeling skeptical at first, I couldn’t, after so many of my friends and family had dropped all this weight so quickly, help but pick up a copy of South Beach and give it a try. Really, how many of my readers either did the same or know multiple people who did? These things pick up momentum based on the stories of the people who try them, not because everyone sits down one day, considers the evidence and thinks “Carb Intake is probably what’s actually behind obesity.”

Of course, losing lots of weight in the first couple of weeks on a low-carb diet isn’t proof that the scientific claims behind low-carb are true, it’s water loss caused by the body using up some of its glycogen stores. Not nearly as miraculous, but no one said “Oh yeah, the scale showed a big drop, but most of it’ll come back as soon as I eat some pasta and bread.”

And that’s what lies at the heart of my tendency to jump into conversations about X miracle diet and do my best Buzz Killington impression.

Allow me to puncture the bubble of your enthusiasm.

Allow me to puncture the bubble of your enthusiasm.

Because if people don’t understand why their diet is working, then they’re much more likely to blame themselves when/if it eventually fails. And let’s face it, the odds are pretty high that it will especially if you don’t understand the basics of weight-loss in the first place.

Want to read something depressing? (probably not, but maybe it’s your thing.) Go to some forums or posts dedicated to particular types of diets or specific plans promoted by some Dr/Guru. You can literally find hundreds of posts that boil down to “I know I’m not doing this right because it’s not working. Please help.” And people try to help. They try to find where this person went wrong, but most of the time it’s pretty pointless. When you’ve drunk deeply of the guru’s kool-aid, you often can’t imagine the problem could be with the plan itself.

Could the reason person X isn’t losing weight on a low-carb diet be that they’re eating enough calories to maintain their current weight? Nope calories don’t matter, just insulin.

Could the reason person Y is always hungry while “eating to live” be that they’re only eating 1300 calories per day which is way below what they need to maintain an active lifestyle? Nope, they’re feeling fake hunger or maybe they need to eat bigger salads.

Could the reason people are failing on low-fat diets be that they’re not feeling satiated and/or that they’re eating ‘healthy, low-fat’ foods willy nilly? Don’t be silly.

People on these boards have often lost all ability to truly think critically about their diet of choice. And because we have elevated the personal weight-loss anecdote to a level equal to or even above that of actual research, the existence of a number of people who have succeeded on a particular plan is enough to validate it completely.

I don’t have a problem with people coming up with various plans to help others reach their body goals. Everyone’s different and what works for one person, may not work for another. To paraphrase something I’ve read lots of other places: the best diet is the one you can stick to. What I think though is that we need some basic honesty from everyone involved:

Every single effective weight-loss plan must either lower intake or increase energy expenditure. This is the basis of every single diet out there. Some never come out and say it, but there’s really no way to get around this fact.

Chances are your guru is not Galileo. Meaning, if they’re making claims that 99% of the people who know what they’re talking about call bullshit on, those claims are probably bullshit. If someone really had discovered the ‘secret’ to effortless and healthy weight loss, then they would be billionaires.

You can lose, gain or maintain fat. You can gain, lose or maintain muscle. You cannot spot reduce. You cannot ‘lengthen’ muscle. Lifting a heavy weight won’t give you a different muscle quality than lifting a light weight. Heavier weight is simply going to actually build muscle while light weights won’t do much.

I could probably fill dozens of blog posts with all the basic ideas that are twisted or ignored in popular diet books. But that’s boring and frankly, I don’t want to deal with the true believers who would come to this blog.

Telling the truth about diet and training doesn’t make different plans obsolete. What works for you, works for you. But it’s not magic and it is certainly not universal.

Because I love a good example, let me close with two possible descriptions of the “Eat to Live” plan. The first from the Doctor’s own website:

The key to this revolutionary diet is the idea of nutrient density, as expressed by the simple formula Health=Nutrients/Calories. When the ratio of nutrients to calories is high, fat melts away and health is restored. Losing 20 pounds in two to three weeks is just the beginning. The more high-nutrient food Dr. Fuhrman’s patients consume, the more they are satisfied with fewer calories, and the less they crave fat and high-calorie foods. Designed for people who must lose 50 pounds or more in a hurry, EAT TO LIVE works for every dieter, even those who want to lose as little as 10 pounds quickly. No willpower required-just knowledge!

Now how would I edit this?

The key to this revolutionary diet is the idea of nutrient density, as expressed by the simple formula Health=Nutrients/Calories. eating large quantities of low-calorie foods such as fruits and vegetables in order to maintain a large energy deficit. When the ratio of nutrients to calories is high, fat melts away and health is restored. A large deficit can cause fairly quick weight loss and fruits and veggies contain lots of healthy vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants so that’s a plus. Losing 20 pounds in two to three weeks is just the beginning.Literally, this will just happen in the beginning. Unless the amount of energy you require to maintain your weight is pretty high, once you’ve lost a bunch of water weight, losing any more than 3lbs/week would require a calorie-deficit of over 1,500 calories every day. The more high-nutrient food Dr. Fuhrman’s patients consume, the more they are satisfied with fewer calories, and the less they crave fat and high-calorie foods. Eating higher volume meals can increase satiety and make it easier to eat at a deficit. And hey, if you’re trying to eat fewer calories, veggies are your best bet in terms of eating high volume. Designed for people who must lose 50 pounds or more in a hurry, EAT TO LIVE works for every dieter some people, even those who want to lose as little as 10 pounds quickly. No willpower required-just knowledge!You must learn to love vegetables and eschew fat.

Now, I don’t think the second description is bad, just honest. Do you want to eat a very high volume of low-calories foods? If not, then don’t. There are a lot of other ideas out there.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. July 1, 2009 7:17 pm

    Hey, this is my diet! Except I’ve never lost more than 1 lb/week, even at very beginning. Must be the calorie dense food I still throw into the mix. It’s funny, too much high fiber food, and I start craving pizza. Too much low fiber food, and I start craving kale.

    Seriously, though, Eat to Live doesn’t seem as wacky to me as many of the others, but I will never ever be able to eat a pound of cooked veggies a day. I do have the emphasis on produce, though.

    • July 3, 2009 3:31 pm

      I wouldn’t have a problem with ETL if it wasn’t for all the gussying up of what’s a fairly simple idea with random theories (the ‘true hunger’ stuff) and pseudo-scientific diet speak. I mean, I wasn’t particularly happy on it, but others feel great eating that way.

      Plus, the way the vegan community sort of blindly follows any claim of the superiority of that kind of diet without an ounce of skepticism really chaps my ass.

  2. July 2, 2009 9:48 am

    Every single effective weight-loss plan must either lower intake or increase energy expenditure. This is the basis of every single diet out there. Some never come out and say it, but there’s really no way to get around this fact.

    Sing it, sister. This is why I never lost weight on Atkins (though my blood sugar levels stabilized a lot). I can eat fatty foods till the COWS come home, ok? I think my calorie intake actually went UP, but everyone was telling me that I must be eating carbs SOMEWHERE. Um, no. Just a LOT of butter and cream.

    (I later found out that something in my system was malfunctioning, and I wasn’t absorbing fat, so my body was craving it for the nutrients. The holistic dr put me on a supplemental regimen, and I stopped craving fat for the first time in my LIFE.)

    What it really boils down to is finding what works for your individual body: what fills you up the most effectively on the fewest amount of calories. For some people it might be Atkins, for others it might be low-fat – every body is different. I do best on moderately low-carb, high-plant-fat, high-purine diets. Now ask me how reliably I eat that way . . .

    *walks off, whistling innocently*

    • July 3, 2009 3:37 pm

      I adore fatty foods. And omg, when I was low-carbing all the olive oil and butter and cheese I consumed! I remember getting a recipe for something called ‘dragons eggs’ which was sausage, eggs and sharp cheddar just kind of scrambled together in some kind of oil. And I was like “this is so healthy because it’s low carb!” HA! And I just took my failure to lose weight as proof that nothing was going to work for me.

      Now I find I’m happy with a moderate-everything diet.

      • brahnamin permalink
        July 3, 2009 9:14 pm

        Checks fridge.

        Finds ingredients.

        Sausage? Check.
        Eggs? Check.
        Sharp Cheddar? Check.

        I can has breakfast?

        • July 4, 2009 6:22 am

          Lol!

          It was very tasty, iirc. But all that fat does not mesh well with my personal digestive system. : p

  3. brahnamin permalink
    July 2, 2009 10:12 am

    There is a very long poem called the Wiccan Rede that offers expansive suggestions on dealing with spiritual life, spiritual beings, and spiritual ethics.

    This long rede summarizes itself (falsely, IMO) with the following ending: “eight words wiccan the rede fulfill, an [if] it harm none, do as ye will.”

    Which quickly became the only part of the rede that was ever quoted. So long as no one gets hurt, do what you want to. Kinda in the same way Christians will chirp about the fear of the Lord being the beginning of wisdom but leave out the entire rest of the book of Proverbs.

    Soon after, the rede became further shortened to the command: Harm None.

    It went from a guiding poem that covered all aspects of life, to a mission statement of peaceful living, to a harsh, angry, almost biblical style commandment.

    I think people do the same with diets ( 🙂 I tend to think of low-carbers as the fundamental extremists of the dieting world, though I follow a low carb diet myself because I have looked at the science and it makes sense to me). People take whole books of dietary and lifestyle advice, pare them down to a single, simple mission statement, then hammer the mission statement into unassailable commands that must.be.followed.

    . . . grumble, grumble . . .

    Dieting has very much become a religion, complete with scattered sects, sacred writ, and blasphemous heresies.

    At this point I’m just waiting for someone to cry, “JIHAD!”

  4. July 3, 2009 6:11 am

    Yeah, you edited out the gimmicks and kept the parts that work, which work all the time. It reminds me of the AA saying, which is that their plan is simple, but it’s not easy. People like to add complicated gimmicks because it makes the whole thing–weight loss–seem more easy. It isn’t. Even with gimmicks.

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