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Obesity: Simple or Complicated?

Monday, June 10, 2013


FOR-A-HEALTHY_BMI recently referred me to this great David Katz blog from the Huff Post on the whole obesity debate.

I'd been thinking about whether dealing with obesity is simple, or complicated. And Katz has too: that's really what he's writing about.

And of course at one level obesity management IS simple . . . for most of us. Eat less, move more.

But: not easy. Because for many of us, doing those two simple things is really really difficult. For a whole lot of complicated reasons.

David Katz compares teaching swimming skills to teaching people the skill to manage obesity. It's a pretty good analogy: there are quite a few similarities.

But of course nobody has to swim. And all of us have to eat.

You CAN drown in seconds: but most of the time, people swim without experiencing any immediate danger. And although drowning happens (when it happens) instantly, obesity happens over time.

So: not a perfect analogy. Still, the comparison is illuminating as a way of thinking about obesity skills.

What I think myself about the simple/complicated inquiry is that although obesity IS complicated (for many of us) it helps most of us to act as if it's simple.

It helps quite deliberately and consciously to forget about all the (real) reasons obesity can be complicated: to forget about the metabolism, the mother, the environment, the health problems, the unhelpful spouse, the stress at work, the . . . you name it. These are all perfectly good "reasons" and perfectly good explanations as to why we eat too much and move too little: but (and I mean this in the kindest way, and this is exactly what I say to myself): so what. Sometimes I've gotta say that to myself louder. SO WHAT?

Yup, it helps to "just do it": eat less, exercise more. Most of the time.

And then -- AFTER the fact (the same point at which we acquire motivation, after we've done it) -- this obesity control thing actually has the potential of becoming, if not simple, at least simpler.

For those of us who have been William Blake fans: the progression is a bit like his movement through innocence to experience to higher innocence. A willed innocence, a willed simplicity. A willing which is less one of rigid and determined self-discipline (which gets exhausting fast) and more one of avoiding temptation, turning away. It's all about the simplicity of making choices in advance so I don't have to ask myself, what do I want to eat right now? That's a complicated question, for sure. But not if it's already decided. Simple. Simple. Simple.

Not, " I think, therefore I am". And absolutely not "I want, therefore I need".

Eat less, move more.

Or: fake it until you make it.

Knowing always that the potential to get mired back in the complexity is there, it's real.

But choosing to ignore that. Choosing to keep it simple.

Eat less, move more.

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    You post the best links and thought provoking analysis.

    The analogy (although not perfect) is wonderful.
    "just as swimming must be taught, so must swimming rather than drowning in the modern food supply and sea of technology"

    I'm still laughing at the the imagined advertisement.
    "Awesome rip current: Swim here, and we'll throw in a free beach towel! (If you ever make it out of the water...)"

    I've bookmarked this for the inevitable conversations that crop up from time to time at our gym.

    1836 days ago
    Obesity is simple in exactly the same way that addiction is simple.

    What's the cure for obesity? Eat less and move more!
    What's the cure for addiction? Just stop!

    Stop lighting up the cigarettes and you'll quit smoking.
    Stop shooting up and you'll quit the heroin.
    Stop drinking and you'll… well… you'll quit drinking.

    The problem with all of them is the same. There is an underlying physiological itch that demands to be scratched, and until you figure out what will make the itch go away for good, you're pretty well doomed to be overweight. Oh sure, you can eat less and be hungry every single day, but human beings are not very good at voluntary suffering for very long without a really, really compelling reason.

    I quit smoking 12 years ago after 4 failed attempts. (Doesn't that sound like dieting to you?)

    Every failure taught me a new lesson, though, and on the fifth attempt I finally (gruelingly) got through the physiological addiction and then pushed my way through the next phase: breaking all the individual habits and routines that had made up my smoking addiction.

    The third piece of the solution was constant positive reinforcement. I learned the trick of constantly reminding myself that I was no longer a smoker. Every single time I wanted a cigarette I said to myself that, oh, that's just that "thing" that I don't do anymore. For the first few weeks I said that same phrase to myself every few minutes all day long. Over time I said it less and less until I was finally weaned and the addiction was broken.

    I will NEVER be a non-smoker, only an ex-smoker. One lapse could throw me back into addiction.

    How does this relate to the obesity epidemic?

    There absolutely is a physiological itch that keeps people addicted to food. If you need proof, it's a pretty simple thing to test, actually.

    Most people can do any diet for two weeks, right? (It's especially easy if you tell them they can quit the diet after those two weeks.) For two weeks remove all sugar and starch from your diet. Drink a good bit of water. Eat leafy greens and low starch/low sugar veggies at every meal. Eat as little processed food as you can. Get good quality protein, and for once in your life don't obsess over eating fat - just steer clear of the trans fats. Get enough salt to keep your electrolytes in balance.

    Most people report that, in as little as a day, but almost always within a week a lifetime of food cravings have gone away.

    THEN, start working on fixing a whole lifetime of eating associations and habits!

    Simple, no?
    1836 days ago
  • BOSS61
    could not relate to the article. I swim like a fish. Regrettably, I also eat like a glutton. Drowning is no more possible for me, than say, having someone say "Now there goes one tall drink of water. A lanky guy." Realist enough to say that is not me. Thinness remains an elusive goal, though perhaps not quite impossible. Thanks for the post.
    1837 days ago
    Eat less - move more. Yes, it's simple, but not always easy. But once you get in a habit of exercising, it does get easier, at least for me. What never seems to get easier for me is eating less. I eat healthy things. I just eat too much of them. But I'm still a work in progress. I'm not giving up.
    1838 days ago
    I would add, and then enjoy life more! Which is where it can become simple or at least easy. Once people make the connection between the idea that when you take great care of yourself, by eating less and moving more, you feel better, you have more pleasure in life, and thus life is simpler.
    1838 days ago
  • NANCY-
    Blessed are those who can stick with "Eat less, move more"
    While it may be simple for some, is very complicated for others.

    When ill and cognitively impaired my desire for carbs become the driving force in my thoughts and actions. Exercise falls by the wayside. Comfort is what the brain and body desperately seeks. So simplicity goes out the window, something more is needed.

    All we can do is keep moving forward.
    1839 days ago
    Works for some of us... " one person's solution automatically becomes another person's problem, so extreme is our polarization."

    1839 days ago

    Comment edited on: 6/11/2013 8:35:31 AM
    Dang, Ellen, I'm so sorry to break the news:

    1839 days ago
  • _LINDA
    The KISS method has always worked for me. The less complicated things are the better it is. Just bulldog my way through things and let the chips fall where they may lay :P Everyone knows what they have to do. As long as they work towards it, no matter the method or how long it takes or how many slips, if they keep at it, eventually it will come to pass. Just. Never. Give. Up. That is the key.
    1839 days ago
    I agree. "Eat less and move more" is a prescription to cure obesity.

    If we can move beyond all the reasons why we think we can't do that...
    ...and just DO it...
    it will bring success.

    And then that first success will bring more success.

    P.S. Unfortunately, I discovered that when I began my weight loss journey, I was not one of those who could just DO it. I had to work things out in my head first, and it took a while before i got to the point where I was eating less and moving more each and every day.

    1839 days ago

    Comment edited on: 6/10/2013 11:48:45 PM
    Losing weight IS simple or at least approaching it as simple certainly *works*.

    Of course being simple isn't to imply that losing weight is EASY, but the KISS approach certainly works. And if one can tune out all the other "stuff" (stress from job, relations, finances, etc.) over which we have either no control or limited control, losing weight can become even easier. IF! Sometimes this is easier said than done, however. I've enjoyed those "simple" times and gotten muddled up in "complications."

    But it certainly helps to remember how effective keeping it simple can be!


    btw, which specific Katz blog are you referring to, PRH? Appreciate the new resource, will be checking him out!

    btw part II: along the KISS line you might appreciate this: http://blogs.plos.org/obesitypanace

    1839 days ago

    Comment edited on: 6/10/2013 11:20:01 PM
    Very good!
    1839 days ago
    I think pretending it's simple works at a certain level - as you said, a higher innocence. We can focus on the basics, to eat less and move more.

    But there's also a need to acknowledge the reality - that many (most?) of us fight with biogenetics (for lack of a better term) - the genetic biology that, in essence, allowed our ancestors to survive while others died out - the genetic make up that holds onto fat for future famines, or trudging across Siberia, or whatever.

    If it were as simple as eat less and move more, we could be whatever size we want to be - and yet, none of us can be smaller than our body type and body frame allow.

    But - and this is a HUGE but - while there are many factors that we can't control - you are SO right - the part that we can control comes down to exactly that:

    Eat less.

    Move more.
    1839 days ago
    Some people do tend to wallow in self-pity and excuses and avoid the not-always-easy steps one must take to achieve success in the long weight loss journey.
    It's not easy but it's not really that complicated-
    doing it-
    not the figuring out why part.
    You sure are a deep thinker, my friend.

    1839 days ago
    "What I think myself about the simple/complicated inquiry is that although obesity IS complicated (for many of us) it helps most of us to act as if it's simple."

    That's what it boils down to for me. Kinda reminds me of the Fat Loser program. Like Steve Siebold himself says, we can use every reminder there is. emoticon

    "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."
    - Theodore Roosevelt
    1839 days ago
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