Why People Fail At Weight Loss

I started my weight loss journey in March 2011, and achieved my goal by Feb 2012. Since then, my gains have increased, and I’m in the best shape ever. In the past few months, many people who have seen the changes in me over this period of time have asked me for advice, and in many cases, have started on a regimen similar to mine. Most of these people have failed to get remarkable results.

A search on Amazon for ‘weight loss’ yields over 123,000 results. Over 70,000 of these are books. A Google search for the same yields 320 million results! With that much of information around, why are so many people still overweight? Barring the very small percentage of people with hormonal imbalances or other pathological causes, the majority of overweight people are victims of a pattern of behaviour that they need to change to lose weight and keep it off.

Why do people fail?

1) Slothfulness

Weight loss is hard work. In its initial stages, it requires a commitment of time, energy, and money to get started, and break old patterns. With people hoping to get there with minimal effort, an entire industry selling magic machines, portions, and lotions has sprung up to relieve them of their cash. The only cure for this is information, and the willingness to do the hard work.

2) Misinformation

Lots of healthy foods aren’t. The food, pharmaceutical and medical industries are very aggressive in passing on information that is outdated, incomplete, or in some cases, false. In 2008, a physician told me that I would be taking antihypertensive medication for the rest of my life. I’m not taking it anymore, and have normal blood pressure. In 2009, another physician told me that my heart was at risk of damage if I exerted myself by running or other strenuous activity. I can today run several kilometres non-stop, and do interval or Tabata sprint training twice a week. Nutritionists and physicians who enquire about my diet are horrified by the fact that I avoid all grains. My point is simple – it worked for me! I am fit, have high energy levels, and have seen my performance skyrocket in all areas of my life! Even the results that I have achieved have been after years of digging through mountains of advice and information and sticking with what worked.

Food companies lie to you. Period. Physicians are mostly corralled by the narrow confines of the knowledge they received in medical school. The pharmaceutical companies just want you to believe that being unhealthy is alright – if anything happens, they have a pill for you to take to make you better. Look around for information on what has worked for people. You don’t have to fall for the $39.99 e-books that are available with 7 special gifts for a limited period only. Make your body your laboratory – try different stuff and stick to what works.

3) Complacency

Sometimes people are able to gain some success with their weight loss goals, but later get complacent and fall off the wagon. This is slothfulness lite. Like knowledge, fitness is progressive – just like Alice’s Wonderland, it takes all the running that you can do to stay in the same place, and if you need to get anywhere, you need to run twice as fast as that. Weight loss or fitness cannot be a phase – it needs to be a lifestyle that you refine with each passing day.

4) Cheating

A new diet or workout regimen causes sweeping chemical and physiological changes in the body. Diets like the Atkins rely heavily on ketosis that usually takes several days to set in – other low carb diets focus on breaking out of sugar or hormone cycles that drive hunger and satiety. These changes require the elimination of certain foods or food combinations, and the consumption of even a small quantity of these ‘banned foods’ can result in a complete chemical reversal that can destroy days of gains. This causes disillusionment with the diet itself. If you are on a diet, do not pat yourself on the back with a ‘cheat’ that you feel won’t make a difference – it will make you fail.

Once you have reached your goal, it may be possible for you to relax the rules a little bit, but be forever wary of becoming complacent.

5) Haters

This may be one of the biggest reasons that people fail. When you start getting results and your appearance begins to change, there will be people around you who will try very hard to make you fail. They will be trying to prove that your diet is a joke, and that you don’t have the willpower to make the changes that you desire. They will criticise you, ridicule you, and encourage you to cheat. They will say that you have changed, and that you’re making these changes because you think that you’re better than them.
If you have such people in your life, you need to cut them off immediately. These people do not just stand between you and a healthier you, they stand between you and a better life.

Instead, surround yourself with people who have goals like yours and understand the challenges that you’re facing. These new relationships will improve your chances of success.

6) Alcohol

This is probably one of the most common ways to sabotage a diet. Alcohol contains a huge number of empty calories, and is broken down into acetate by the liver. This acetate takes metabolic precedence over carbohydrate and fats, and thus as your body works to deal with the acetate, fat burning stops. Also, the snack foods usually served with alcohol are often unhealthy, and get stored away as fat while the acetate is dealt with.

The Bottomline

Yet, it is possible to drop weight and keep it off. The rewards are tremendous – you look better, you have more energy, and you are able to deal with stress better. In an age where medical care is horrendously expensive and medical insurance is a sham, health is wealth. Five years ago, if someone had told me  that my life would be so awesome if I fixed my habits and stuck to it, I would have done it from that day itself.

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Food Emotions And Happy Places

For the past three weeks or so, I have been on a very strict diet, mainly as a test of my willpower and the social consequences of eating healthy no matter what. It has been rather easy so far. Breaking my Friday beer and chicken liver habit was slightly difficult, sticking to club soda at a recent birthday party wasn’t too hard, and politely dodging the sweets distributed at my office was easy too. Things however came to a head at a recent Freemasons meeting a few days ago.

After our meetings finish, we usually have a couple of drinks followed by a hearty dinner, with lots of jokes, and leg-pulling. I stuck to my club soda routine – not too difficult, because I’d done it before, and steered clear of all the eats, except for the green salad. The bretheren were quite supportive, as many of them have seen the drastic change in my physique over the past 12 months or so. Some even picked my brain on diet and exercise ideas.

Slowly though, I started feeling uneasy. I found myself craving a whiskey and soda. As dinner drew near and the fragrance of the rice and spices wafted through the air, I found myself craving the food that I had been easily avoiding for quite some time. While it would have been easy for me to say to myself ‘screw it’ and get a drink, I tried to follow the craving back to the emotion behind it.

I came to Hyderabad by myself in March 2009. For the first few months there, my evenings at the Freemasons hall were the highlight of my social calendar and being an outsider in a new city, this was one place I was comfortable, accepted, and at home. The smell of whiskey within the warm Edwardian building, and the aroma of Hyderabadi cooking wafting through the air were linked in my mind to a happy place. My diet plans almost got derailed after over a week of being firmly on the wagon!

This is a major challenge that lots of people face in eating clean. With meals being such a social event in all cultures, joyous events are linked to excessive meals everywhere. As one matures into an adult, years and years of this conditioning links that food to a ‘happy place’, and makes this pattern of eating harder to break.
The way out of course, is to de-link the emotion from the food. This is not easy at all, since humans tie in data from all our senses to form memories of our experiences. At the events like the one that evening, it is very unlikely that someone will coax or force you to eat or drink something that you don’t want to, but things might get more difficult at family gatherings or other social events.

My clean eating spree continues largely intact, except for a dinner at a friend’s place where I had to join in at a large social meal.

Slipping Off The Wagon

OK, so I went on a regimen of diet and exercise, lost a lot of weight, and made tremendous improvements to my athletic performance. These weren’t easy changes to make, but I pushed, and was able to stay on the wagon long enough to see some pretty remarkable results, but then the slide started.

 

Normally, I’d allow myself one ‘cheat’ meal every week. At this meal, I’d eat a small portion of one food that I absolutely love, but is prohibited by my diet rules. Soon after this meal, I’d get back to my usual programme, with perhaps a couple of slightly more intense workouts thrown in. However, over the past few weeks, I’ve become a little more casual about what I eat. I found myself breaking my diet rules ‘ever so little’ but much more frequently.

 

Now, instead of the one bite of dessert while dining out, there was a humungous piece of cake at a birthday party; instead of a little bit of Biryani I had a pretty substantial portion with lots of other things that would temporarily alter my body chemistry and take me out of my fat burning zone. Instead of sticking to a single beer and a few glasses of water to restore hydration, I went on a drinking spree almost as extreme as my bar bankrupter days.

 

The results were predictable – my gains have tapered off. I have made no gains in either inch loss or weight reduction in the past two weeks. Thinking back on all these events made me realize that I’m slowly slipping back into the pattern of behaviour that resulted in me being overweight in the first place! I’m back on the wagon now, but this has been a frightening lesson in how easy it is to slip back into old habits, and reverse the gains I have fought so hard for.

 

I have been uncluttering my life, hoping for more time to ‘stand and stare’. This has given me far more free time that especially on weekdays has resulted in moments of utter boredom. While restructuring my life a few months ago, I had been able to link this boredom to smoking and ‘grazing’, both of which I have cut quite drastically since. Maybe I do need to keep myself occupied, and perhaps this is the best possible time for me to get back to finishing that novel and screenplay.

I love my new body, It’s totally worth the fight to keep it like this 🙂

What About The Kids?

I have often wondered about the ‘genetic’ link to certain diseases. Could it be that people ‘inherit’ infirmities from their parents, not because of their ‘genes’, but because of inherited patterns of behaviour, including food habits?

A few years ago, I was at a shopping mall with a friend of mine. In those days, I myself was quite overweight, but my friend, a 40+ former military man, was in better shape than most people in their 20s. Suddenly, he stopped  dead in this tracks, turned to me, and said “Nate, when you were in school, didn’t everyone make fun of the fat boys?”

“Yes” I replied, cautiously.

“Well, by the time you have school-age children of your own, it’ll be the fat ones making fun of the thin ones!”

I looked around. He was right. Many of the children around us were overweight, definitely a greater number than were overweight in my class at school. All who were accompanied by parents had at least one chubby parent.

A number of people I know have jumped on the health wagon late in life, making changes to their lives in recent times. Some have modified their diet, some cut back on alcohol and smoking, some have even discovered the demerits of simple carbohydrates and sugar, and have given them up, but what about the kids?

Here are some of the scenarios I have noticed in India.

1) Parents are reasonably health conscious and don’t eat much junk food, but they take their kids to fast food places and load them up with unhealthy foods and HFCS laced drinks.

The most serious problem with this is that since many of these visits are presented as a ‘treat’, the child may form a psychological ‘pleasure connection’ with that kind of fast food, and later, as an earning adult who can afford to eat it three times a day, may turn to it for emotional gratification. Indeed ‘comfort eating’ is a major cause of obesity! Some of them end up messing up their diets because of the kids’ junk food lying around the house.

2) Health conscious parents who fall for marketing fads.

I know of many adults who are ‘health conscious’, but perpetually get their health information from TV commercials.  Their kitchens are often full of sugar loaded name-brand cereals that claim to have health benefits, added nutrients, etc. In their misguided quest for health, they’re actually feeding their kids’ sugar addiction. I don’t blame them, lots of these companies use cheap shots in advertising. Indian television is full of emotionally abusive commercials usually targeted at mothers that show children losing martial arts tournaments, being growth stunted, or underperforming at school because they don’t use a particular energy drink or breakfast cereal.

3) The indifferent ones.

I’m not implying that these parents care any less for their kids, but because of a lack of information, they fail to prioritise good nutrition.

4) The unhealthy ones.

These are parents that need the most work themselves, because they’re unhealthy themselves and are passing that behaviour on to their kids. Kids copy their behaviour of sedentary life and bad food choices, setting themselves up for a lifetime of battles with weight and poor health.

If there is something that you would like to add to this, please note it in the comments section below.

 

Lifestyle U-Turn

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.” – Benjamin Franklin

September 2010 (93 kilos)

April 2012 (76 kilos)

Hardly a week goes by without someone familiar looking at me from head to toe, smiling wistfully, and saying that they should really get back to the gym to get in shape. Even more frequently, people ask me for advice on losing weight and ‘getting in shape’.

The former usually never get to the gym, and the latter tend to tune out when I get to the importance of diet in any weight-loss programme.

“Oh man, dieting is not for me”

“The gym? Went for three days, it’s not for me”

“I’m a foodie, I just can’t help it”

The truth is that your body is in the shape it is because of a set of habits that you have picked up and followed for years. It could be the Friday night drinking spree, the 2 litre bottle of carbonated beverage that you go through in two days, the dessert binges every other day, or as in my case, all of the above!

‘Getting into shape’ often needs sweeping changes in habits, and not all of these come easy.

In my opinion, the desire to change is the most important. It is this desire that inspires changes, and ensures that you get back on the wagon every time you fall off. Your desire for change must be stronger than your craving for your favourite junk food, a slothful week, or anything that gets in the way of your fitness goals.

Another important thing is your support structure. It is very important for those close to you to understand the changes that you’re trying to make, and if not help you with them, at least not try to pull you down.

A year ago, when I decided to give up all alcohol for a month, a long time friend wouldn’t buy any reason for me not having a drink. I had to tell him that I was on antipsychotic medication that reacts terribly with alcohol before he stopped badgering me! I wouldn’t blame him though, there was a time when the two of us were called ‘bar bankrupters’, because between us, we could drink a small home-bar dry.

Like him, many friends will not understand the ‘change’ – some might resent it, some might try to roll it back, but if you’re lucky, you’ll find those who will pat you on the back and help you deal with it.

Luckily for me, most of my friends though, have been very understanding of my diet choices, and even help me work meal/activity plans around my needs.

The most important thing is persistence. There is a strong possibility that you will fall off the wagon. I did, every weekend for six months. When you do mess up, don’t get back on your programme from ‘tomorrow’ or ‘Monday’, do it right then. Stop what you’re doing and fix things from the next meal itself.

Suppose you miss a couple of gym sessions, don’t let the guilt get to you, just get back to attending from your next session. Every day off your program will subtract seriously from your gains.

The best way to manage a lifestyle U-Turn successfully, is to ease into it. If you make too many changes at the same time, things will become difficult.

Say, on a given Monday, you decide to hit the gym, start a diet, and quit smoking, by Thursday, you’ll be faint from the sugar/carb cravings, sore from the exercise, and psychotic from the nicotine deprivation.

The best way to do this is to start simple – eliminate the harmful stuff first. Say on day 1 you quit smoking. Once you’re properly off cigarettes for a month or so, begin a diet. Once you’ve been able to stick with the diet for a couple of months, start working out. This will ensure that your body beats these stresses one at a time instead of all at the same time, increasing your chances of success.

Exercise And Depression

Modern medicine seems to have moved away from a ‘cure’ approach to a ‘disease management’ approach. What else would explain the increasing number of people on perpetual medication for hypertension, heart disease, depression, pain, and a host of other problems.

Especially with emotional and psychological issues, what in the yesteryear was simply called melancholia has now been branched into several forms of ‘depression’, each treated with drugs that have frightening side effects. As tolerance to these drugs builds, more are added on, as are other meds to control the side-effects of the main ones. More worrying now, is the trend in certain countries where drug companies are allowed to market potent prescription medication directly to consumers!

At least for depression, we now have a number of studies that show how moderate exercise and a generally healthy lifestyle can deal with most of its effects. The Duke University study on exercise and depression is one that I love to quote.

http://today.duke.edu/2000/09/exercise922.html

“After demonstrating that 30 minutes of brisk exercise three times a week is just as effective as drug therapy in relieving the symptoms of major depression in the short-term, medical center researchers have now shown that continued exercise greatly reduces the chances of the depression returning.

Last year, the Duke researchers reported on their study of 156 older patients diagnosed with major depression which, to their surprise, found that after 16 weeks, patients who exercised showed statistically significant and comparable improvement relative to those who took anti-depression medication, or those who took the medication and exercised.”

This article dates to 2000. What really concerns me is that in the years since, the number of antidepressants available in the market has exploded, and what’s more, they’re now being prescribed to children!

Could it be, that with increasingly sedentary lifestyles and diminishing face to face contact, our minds are not receiving the kind of social and (natural) chemical stimuli needed for happiness?

Could it be that the guy who spends his time playing video games instead of field/court sports and interacting on Facebook instead of inviting friends for dinner or hosting a cocktail party is actually setting himself up for depression or aggravating his existing loneliness and melancholia?

Coming back to exercise and depression – is it that hard to fit an hour and a half of exercise into a week? Lets see if there are options that can help fitness AND improve social contact.

1) Aerobics Classes: Old School, but works, you get a decent workout and have the opportunity to interact with other people in a class – a good opportunity to make new friends. Also consider the new avatar, Zumba.

2) Dance Classes: Find something vigourous with the potential for social dancing, like  Salsa, Bachata, or the Tango. Many other vigourous dance forms like Jive, and Lindy Hop are enjoying a resurgence too and are a fun way to be active and social. With the emphasis on posture and form in most dances, you will look better and more graceful.

3) Join the neighbourhood soccer game (India): All over the country, young men congregate in open spaces to play soccer or volleyball every now and then. Apart from an intense workout, you’ll also enjoy the camaraderie and will forge new friendships.

4) Martial Arts Classes: Most martial arts are very intense, and apart from strength and stamina, also build balance, reflexes, and co-ordination. They’re also a tremendous way to build self-confidence. Choose something like Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, or Krav Maga. Make sure though, that your instructor is not mean, and lessons don’t involve humiliation and/or brutality. (disclosure: the author is associated with the International Krav Maga Association in India)

5) Join a running/cycling club: These two forms of fitness are really exploding in popularity. Again, this provides a good opportunity for fitness and mingling. Often, the veterans go out of their way to ensure that you’re comfortable and help a lot with equipment and training choices. Running has to be the cheapest fitness activity out there. If you join the barefoot movement, you don’t even need a pair of shoes!

These are just a handful of options that any city-dweller can use to improve their mental health and aim for a healthier lifestyle.

Sticking To A Diet

A major part of the weight loss that I have accomplished comes from streamlining my diet. As a rather social person with a passion for food, this poses problems. Here are a few ideas that worked for me.

1) Switch from Glutton to Foodie

Most people who call themselves ‘foodies’ are barely so. In my opinion, (and yes, I have been guilty of this) they’re just trying to cloak their gluttony in a veil of respectability. As a ‘foodie’, instead of stuffing your face, try to enjoy food for its presentation, aroma, taste and texture. Take your time over a small serving and truly enjoy it.

2) Social Calories vs Diet Calories

Having to stick to a serious diet while dining out a few times a week is difficult. A drastic change in diet can make even long time companions uncomfortable and could ultimately alienate them. So while my diet generally was quite austere, consisting mostly of fruits and minimally processed stuff (diet calories) inspired in part by Dian and Tom Greisel’s ‘Turbocharged’, on evenings out, I wouldn’t sweat the odd bite of dessert or pint of beer (social calories).

3) Watch your alcohol

I love my weekend tipple. There is nothing better I like to do on a Friday night than settle down with a beer and a nice movie. Unfortunately, with my tendency to occasionally go overboard, this Friday activity has often set the scene for overeating all weekend. On weekends that I have abstained, my hunger levels, and indeed calorie intake, has been much lesser than ones where I have been drinking. This has led me to believe that perhaps the no.1 enemy of your healthy diet is alcohol.

I have moved all my alcohol intake to social calories now, and am trying very hard to stick by it. Indeed, the results are obvious almost immediately.

4) Get back on the wagon

It is very likely that in the first few weeks you will slip up a number of times. The important thing here is not to feel guilty and ‘get back on the diet from tomorrow’ – you’re just extending the damage. Once you’ve realised it, stop immediately and get back on the diet from the very next meal. Indeed you’re not defeated by the number of times you fall, but by failing to get up!

Resources:

These are some of the books that I found very useful in managing my diet:

1) Turbocharged by Dian and Tom Greisel http://turbocharged.us.com/

2) French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano http://mireilleguiliano.com/section/sub/14