Let’s get this straight, I am NOT on a diet. I don’t believe diets work in the long-run. And most experts who aren’t trying to sell you a diet plan will agree.
But. And here’s the kicker. Despite the fact that I exercise most days, and even though Hubby and I have made numerous healthy changes in our diet since his heart surgery… I’ve gained five pounds in the last three years. Now, how the heck did that happen? I was shocked when I stepped on the scale a couple of weeks ago, even though it only confirmed what I’d suspected. I had gained weight. My jeans and my mid-section had been telling me the whole sad story for a while.
Now don’t go all preachy on me, people. Or try to talk me out of the idea that I need to drop a couple of pounds. I know what I look like when I step out of the bath, and you don’t. Thank goodness. Ha. I also know what I look like in my jeans before I don that artfully draped scarf, or the loose tee that falls to just the right place to hide what needs to be hidden and not hide what I’m still happy to show the world.
And here’s the other thing. Those artfully draped scarves and tees weren’t always doing the job anymore. This, in part, contributed to the confidence-sapping moment that day a few weeks ago when I caught sight of my profile in a store window.
Once my suspicions about my burgeoning middle were confirmed, I thought I knew the reason why.
Despite daily exercise, I move a whole lot less than when I was working. Teaching burns calories. Talking to a room full of teenagers, animatedly waving my hands around, moving up and down the room, up and down the halls, and up and down the stairs at school all day helped me stave off what I call “slippage.” That slippery slope of weight gain that creeps up on most of us in middle age.
So what can one do? I guess I could go back to work. That would be simple, right? Ha. But not feasible, even if I were so inclined. Should I stop doing whatever I’m doing that keeps me sitting in my chair more than I should? Like reading, or writing this blog. That’s not going to happen. I’m not going to give up what I love in order to shed a few pounds. So… should I go on a diet?
The answer to that question is a resounding NO, according to my sources. Especially if that diet includes making drastic changes to my eating habits, changes that will be insupportable in the long run. Like the “boiled egg diet” which seems to be making the rounds of Facebook these days, claiming to help you lose 20 lbs in 14 days. Just for fun, I checked it out and it prescribes as many as four eggs a day! Four eggs a day! With nary a warning to people who might have cholesterol issues. If Hubby’s cardiologist read that, he’d have… well… a coronary. I’m also not going to go on the South Beach, or the Sonoma, or the Beverly Hills diet. I won’t be climbing onto the Wheat Belly bandwagon, which the dietitian at the Ottawa Heart Institute completely debunked at a workshop we attended a couple of years ago. Nor am I going caveman with the paleo diet, or the ketogenic one. I’m sure all of these plans would make me drop those five pounds in a few weeks. But what then?
In this article, Jennifer Kuk from York University says, if I diet, my body’s “resting energy expenditure” will drop, and when I stop dieting I may be one of the fifty percent of the population for whom this will be permanent. Which means I will gain back the weight and more because, just by living, I now burn fewer calories than I did before I started dieting. Apparently something called the “Biggest Loser Study” says that “six years after the show ended, the contestants in Season 8 found that their metabolism was still down an average of 499 calories a day.”
The idea of rebound weight gain is nothing new. We’ve all heard about it. But now scientists are finding the data to support what we’ve really always known, but rarely admit. Neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt, in her Ted Talk “Why dieting doesn’t usually work,” says that people who lose 10% or more of their body weight find that their “resting energy expenditure” drops, and they will need on average 200-400 fewer calories a day to simply maintain their set point, the weight at which our body seems most comfortable with itself. She adds that successful dieting does not lower one’s set point because, unfortunately, our bodies work hard no matter what we do to keep our weight stable. She does add that our set point is not a specific weight, but a range of usually 10-15 pounds. And that it’s conceivable that we can “use lifestyle choices to move our weight up and down within that range.” But outside of the range… it’s a losing battle against biology, hormones, and our brains.
So what am I doing about those five pesky pounds? Well, while I’ve not been on a diet for the past couple of weeks, I have been on a fact finding mission.
I’m using a free on-line food tracker to record what I’ve been eating and how much exercise I’ve been doing. I always track my exercise, partly because I love numbers, and partly because I work best if I have specific, measurable goals for myself. For the past year I’ve been trying for 300 minutes of cardio a week. This on-line program helps me to see how many calories all that cardio actually burns. And how many calories I’m consuming daily. I know it’s not just about the calories, but seeing the numbers always helps me… because for all my airy-fairy tendencies, deep down I’m a numbers person. I want to see the numbers generated by my food choices.
Turns out I didn’t know the whole reason for my weight gain. What I’ve learned from my food journal is that I have fallen off the healthy eating train that Hubby and I boarded together five years ago. Too many treats, too many MacDonald’s french fries, too many lattes, too much bread, not enough fruit and veg with breakfast and lunch, and too little portion control. So, I’m not going on a diet, I’m just going to make healthier choices more often. Putting back into play all those wise decisions that Hubby and I made about our eating habits five years ago, and which I’ve let slide a bit lately. I won’t be making major changes, just tinkering. Just being a bit more mindful. I figure that I’m following Ms. Aamod’s advice and “using lifestyle choices” to play within my set point range.
As far as exercise goes, I’m already walking and cycling or pedaling my exercise bike as much as I can. But I’m trying to fit in more weight work-outs. I’ve let those slide a bit. Mostly because this time of year I prefer to get outside for my exercise, and a weight workout is definitely an indoor activity. Maybe I should move my weights to the deck? Now, that’s a thought.
I know there are other solutions that I could consider. But whatever I choose to do has to be something that I will be able to maintain, that I will want to maintain, and not something that I will dread. Like yoga classes or swimming. Both fine forms of exercise, but not for me.
This afternoon I was discussing this post, and my research findings, with Hubby. And we were talking about health and diet and the importance of having a realistic self-image. I do realize that it would NOT be healthy to expect to ever again weigh 125 lbs. Or even 135. But it’s not unrealistic to want to be a bit better than I am at the moment, whether that’s three or four pounds lighter, or a bit more fit, and stronger. I think Hubby still holds a faint hope that I’ll carry the canoe one day. Ha.
As Hubby and I continued our conversation, I related to him what I’d read about all those famous diets, the boiled egg diet and the Beverly Hills diet which are so unhealthy, the South Beach and the Atkins diets which were so popular in their day, and the current keto craze.
And it occurred to me that the problem with all those diets, even the ones that prescribe healthy foods, is not that they don’t help people to lose weight, but that they do. Because according to the experts I listened to and read today… that’s when the really big problems start.
And that, folks, is primarily why I am not on a diet.
Have a listen to Sandra Aamodt’s Ted Talk for yourself. It’s pretty interesting.
Now, I must run. Hubby is watching the World Cup, and I’m making dinner tonight. Yes, I am. Don’t fall off your chairs in amazement. I haven’t entirely forgotten how to cook.
So, how about you my friends? Any diet or fitness challenges that you’ve faced lately? Any that you want to tell us about, that is?