Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Imagine a doctor who gives you a prescription without ever examining you, or asking any questions, or having kept up with the medical literature. Would you follow it? Could you trust it? So much of the weight loss advice out there strikes me like that. It may be good advice and even work for a lot of folks, at least for a while. It could still not be the right path for you or your long term health. When I used to hear things like “just eat less of what you're eating, and exercise more” or “just follow the government guidelines,” it made me want to burst into tears. I was not an overeater. I didn't eat a lot of junk food. By conventional wisdom, I was eating a “healthy” diet. But I wasn't healthy. I actually eat more now, not less, and have learned that eating too little can do real damage. And even that old saw, that it gets down to “calories in, calories out,” is not the whole picture. Hormones, especially insulin, play a huge role even if you're not diabetic. (For a really straightforward explanation of this based on hard science, with platinum endorsements, see Jonathan Bailor's The Smarter Science of Slim.) The body is not a machine. It's a dynamic system with its own complex intelligence. I found it really helpful to think about my body as an estranged friend that I had not been treating very well but couldn't live without (literally). I had some making up to do, and we had to re-establish mutual trust.
Just like other friends, bodies are not all the same. Lots of factors make every-body different. How much is someone overweight? For how long? Why? Does s/he have particular health issues? For me, it was a hair-trigger pancreas and a thyroid that my immune system thought was a foreign invader. I was medicated for that latter for decades, but kept putting on weight nevertheless. So discovering the other (by finding the right eating plan) made all the difference. My stepson and daughter-in-law turned me on to South Beach. Its emphasis on eating lots of non-starchy veggies, getting enough lean protein, and just the right amount of fat—eaten together every few hours—was like magic. It was like the sun came out on a gloomy day. I finally had the energy to start getting more exercise.
Based on what I've learned since, this kind of pattern (similar to Bailor's and others) is perfect for me, but other people might need a different mix of of carbs/protein/fat. Research done at Stanford suggests there are three different metabolic patterns that respond better to low carb/high protein, higher (good) carb, or a balance somewhere in the middle. Personally, I think there's a spectrum, and you have to find where you are.
South Beach also suited my personality and life circumstance—for two years. I wanted something simple but very flexible, that didn't require me to track anything. Personality and circumstances are other factors that I think need to be taken into account. We may all need support from others, but that doesn't mean we all need to go to meetings. Some of us may need a meal plan to follow. I can't even follow a recipe without changing something. And some people may need to pay for something to stick to a commitment. I don't pay for anything I can get free. (I do invest in my health, mostly in high quality food, good books, exercise stuff, and a heart rate monitor.)
Things can also change—your body adapts to the change, your life circumstances change. I came to Sparkpeople after a major stall. This was not a “plateau” but a dead stop. Because tracking food with Spark required little effort (it became a game) and there was so much rich information and camaraderie, it helped give me more insight into what was happening. It helped when I finally figured out how to adjust the nutrition ranges to suit me, so it wasn't scolding me for eating too little carbs. Hashi folks need less. Period. Even so, it took months of experimentation to get things to “click” again. It seems what's “right” can also change with the stage of weight loss. Those last eight pounds took a real shift...but that's another post.
So much about getting it “right.” It's something each person needs to work out. But I do have two signs you're not doing it “right.” 1) It's not working—for you, over time. The results (tape measures are better than scales) just don't show anything. Or you can't stick to it. This is not your failure, the strategies just aren't right for you. Good thing to learn, especially if you can figure out why. 2) You're not enjoying yourself. But that's for another day.