Thursday, December 27, 2007

A few words on weight

As the New Year approaches, we are inundated with advertisements for the weight loss industry. New year, new you... but the same old, tired shtick. They tap into people's (women's, mostly) low self-esteem and sell you on the idea that you can only be happy and healthy if you follow their weight-loss plan.

A few statistics about dieting:

- The diet and weight loss industry is a $30 billion dollar a year operation.

- At any given time, 62% of American adults are dieting, and 18% are constantly on a diet.

- 98% of people who lose weight on a weight-loss diet will gain it all back, and then some, within 5 years.

- The risk of dying from heart disease is increased by 70% in individuals with fluctuating weights (yo-yo dieting) than in individuals with a stable weight, regardless of their weight and other factors such as smoking, blood pressure, and cholesterol.

- The list of illnesses associated with dieting includes: anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, hair loss, gallstones, gall bladder disease, heart disease, ulcers, constipation, anemia, skin rashes, amenorrhea (absence of menstruation), gout, infertility, kidney stones, reduced resistance to infection, osteoporosis, and of course, eating disorders.

- In the USA alone, 150,000 women will die from the effects of eating disorders complications in the coming year.

- Most of the diseases that are touted as being "caused by" being fat -- diabetes, heart disease, etc. -- are actually, at their root, caused by endocrine (hormone) imbalances. One of the first symptoms of any endocrine disorder is weight gain. And so the "cause" -- fat -- is actually a symptom that something is wrong. Many other "fat-related" illnesses are actually caused by yo-yo dieting.

- "Overweight" is a designation based on weight charts, which were based on statistical reports developed by Metropolitan Insurance in 1959. These statistics are based on the normal range of middle- to upper-class white males in the 50's. Do you fit into that category? Me neither. 78% of American adults have a weight that's not in the "normal range".

- People whose weight is 20-40% "over" the charts actually live longer and have lower rates of most cancers, respiratory diseases, and hip and vertebral fractures (all that extra padding is good for something!)

(*these stats courtesy of NAAFA)

But Maggie, you say, you've been regaling us with the tales of your weight loss for 9 months now! You've lost 42 pounds, you look and feel better, and yet you're writing all these damning statistics about weight loss!

Well, actually, these statistics are mostly about dieting, not just weight loss per se. And I'm happy to report that I am not now nor will I ever again be on a weight loss diet. For the past nine months, I've been working out with my personal trainer to improve my overall health and fitness, to build lean muscle mass to make my body's metabolism work more efficiently, to reduce the effects of the multiple endocrine disorders from which I suffer. And yes, I have shed quite a few pounds as the natural result of improving my metabolic profile. But all the while, I've been eating normally.

Now, "eating normally" for me may look a bit different than it does for many Americans. As a rule, I do my best to avoid certain types of foods: overly processed food, hydrogenated fats, refined sugars, aspartame, soy foods, etc. You won't find very many frozen dinners or pre-packaged meals in my fridge or pantry. I only buy organic, full-fat dairy products, free-range meat, poultry and eggs, and as much as possible I buy my produce locally and in season (I make exceptions for things like bananas and lemons, which don't grow locally, but I do try to buy organic versions of these things). But I don't count calories, fat grams, carb grams, or anything else. I don't weigh my food or measure portion sizes -- I eat when I'm hungry and stop when I'm full. And yes, I do occasionally indulge in take-out, sweets, and restaurant meals.

I just don't believe that depriving myself of certain foods accomplishes anything other than creating a strong desire to binge on those foods. I don't believe that creating a healthier, stronger body can be accomplished by limiting my calorie intake to near-starving levels. My body needs an abundant variety of healthy, nutritious, "real" foods in order to perform all the functions it needs to every day. My body needs exercise in order to remain healthy, and it needs calories -- energy -- in order to be able to perform the exercises I do. By loving my body and providing it with what it needs, rather than desperately loathing the way I look, I am able to create wellness within myself. It's not about the weight, it's about taking care of me.


Ty-Anna said...

"real foods" that is the key! organic, locally grown, free range...something I strive for...and yet if I want to grab some take out, I do!

Exercise and keeping your body moving and limber is key and most important...LOVING YOU the way you are...that way it's EASY to care about what you put in your go girl!!

Jacqueline said...

very wise words, indeed. how do you find out your hormone levels? Someone just recently told me that blood tests do not do it... that it's a *saliva* test that will judge better... have you ever heard of that? I am so struggling with losing more weight. I"m stuck at the 25 lb loss... I know I need to eat better and I can't afford a personal trainer nor can I afford all/mostly organic foods. Sad to say... I *need* to, though, especially with my new high blood pressure issue. sorry I wrote a book here. I look forward to more words of wisdom from you!!!

Maggie said...

It really depends on the hormones... blood tests seem to be a good indicator for me of my thyroid panel and my PCOS-related hormones.

Have you tried weight training? I really believe that building my lean muscle mass has done a LOT to help my body. You don't have to have a trainer, although I adore mine, there are actually a lot of resources online with good info on getting started with dumbbells & such.

Misty said...

this was a great post maggie... some of it i knew, some i didn't... it really challenged my perspective on how i feel about me and the changes i do work at making!

Anne said...

"Diet" is one word I'd like to see die out. While I'm resolving to make healthier choices in 2008 (the fact I'm craving fruits and vegetables tells me I've been eating too much junk), I haven't dieted or resolved to diet in many, many years.
Thanks for your wonderful insights!