If there is a disease at work in the obesity epidemic, it is the disease of laziness. People want a quick fix to solve all their problems, and they don’t want to have to do anything differently… even though the things they have always done are what caused them to end up being overweight and unhappy with themselves.
The desire for a magic answer ends up creating a psychological barrier to progress. Because people want a quick, magical solution, even good medical advice is translated into bad, ineffectual behaviour.
The science of obesity is not complex, but cutting through the noise requires some common sense. If you are obese, then losing weight is simple. You need to gradually decrease the amount of food that you eat, and gradually increase the amount that you exercise, so that over time your body adapts to having less “fuel”. If you do this, you will gradually lose weight.
But there are no short cuts. There is no special food that you can eat, or exclude, and have the pounds melt away with no other change in your lifestyle. Eating organic or “additive free” food won’t help you if you eat 4,000 calories a day. There are no magic pills.
To hear the twitosphere tell it, seven out of every four people run a triathlon every week while restricting themselves to 500 calories a day, but still somehow manage to become obese by the biased standards of Western so-called medicine. Well, as in so many other areas, I find that good ol’ David Hume’s rule of thumb regarding miracles applies here: which is more likely, that basic laws of physiology suddenly cease to function in modern society, or that people tend to bullshit themselves in flattering ways to avoid facing up to uncomfortable truths? If you’ve been reading this blog longer than five minutes, I’m sure you know what my opinion of human nature is. Rare exceptions exist, I’m sure, but like it says on the label, they’re rare.
For those of you who can’t be arsed to watch the video (it’s okay, I’m right there with you most of the time), Louis goes to the doctor at 40 years old with a sore ankle. The doctor suggests doing certain stretches for half an hour each day. Louis wonders how long that will take to fix it. The doctor says, no, this is just a new thing you do now. Regular, necessary maintenance to stave off the worst of the inevitable decrepitude until death’s merciful release. Comic exaggerations aside, I’d basically agree.
Half a lifetime ago, in peak physical condition, when I did yoga, worked out (got a Soloflex for Christmas when I was sixteen, and I still use it today) and played soccer regularly, I was about 160 pounds. In community college, there was one phys ed course I took which gave you three credits for essentially having a gym membership at the school. One day, the instructor, Steve M., walked in the weight room while I was finishing some bicep curls and gave me an appraising look. “You know, Damian, I envy you,” he said while wagging his finger at me. Uh, say what? “No, seriously. You have the kind of body that you could sculpt into anything you want. A lot of people don’t have that. I couldn’t do that. You’re very lucky.” I’m not sure what he was basing that opinion on, but ah, youth, if only I had been able to fully appreciate my apparent good fortune then.
In the course of three and a half years of undiagnosed rheumatoid arthritis, I was getting treated mainly with steroid injections, which caused some fluid retention, and, thus, weight gain, up to around 182. After I had recovered enough flexibility and mobility thanks to medication, I converted the sturm und drang of a prolonged breakup with my ex into exercise fuel and dropped as low as 149. A few years after that, heartbroken over the deaths of two of my dogs in quick succession, lethargic and giving no fucks in general, I got as high as 207. Moderate exercise after that lowered me back into the lower 190s, and during the summer I worked as a satellite technician, I starved and sweated away more than fifteen pounds in a month and a half, back to the upper 170s. This past summer, I started the new job, one of the biggest benefits being the reliably steady schedule, which meant I could finally set up a consistent workout routine and stick to it without interruption. I quickly dropped fifteen pounds in the first month just through treadmill walking and a reduced diet — I’ll usually have a smoothie for breakfast (I especially like Bolthouse Farms), followed by two or three miles of walking, then something light for lunch, like bananas, tofurkey sandwiches, and/or more smoothies, and a regular dinner in the late afternoon. If I absolutely must snack at any point, I’ll have another piece of fruit or yet another smoothie. As I’ve added weightlifting back into the mix every other day, feeling sufficiently recovered from hernia surgery, I’ve noticed the weight dropping off more slowly, though I can obviously eat more without it turning into fat. Eventually, I’ll probably start spending some time kicking a soccer ball around the yard and practicing some old drills, to get some more aerobic exercise and get all the muscles working in concert again.
All of which is to say: my own experience tells me in no uncertain terms that if I don’t want to feel bloated and flabby, I have to make time to exercise and eat well. Barring the most incredibly fortunate genetic inheritance, or the most physically strenuous job, anyone who doesn’t want to gain weight will have to do that. Yes, that means setting aside at least six to eight hours a week to walk and lift weights. Yes, that’s time that I could be using to read and write more. Yes, yes, processed foods, lack of time, arbitrary cultural beauty standards, etc. No, it’s not fair, and no, it’s not always fun and invigorating. It is, however, what it is, and like Louis’s doctor said, it’s just a thing you have to do now. Deal with it or don’t. All that stuff my dad used to say about the necessity of discipline and cultivating good habits was right on, however bourgeois that may sound.