On the Failure of Diets

Okay, first some qualifiers: As I type this, I am eating leftover buffalo chicken pizza. Such decidedly unhealthy foods are the rule rather than the exception in my food choices, leading some to believe that I am blessed with an ultra-fast metabolism (If there are a small amount of goodies left at work, say a single donut or piece of cake or what-have-you, I’m generally the one that gets tasked to polish it off).

However, while I admit that this was true at one point, it’s really no longer the case. Instead, for over two years now, I’ve tried to do at least some type of exercise four to five days a week. Between the upper body work and the Dance Dance Revolution (Or, more accurately, In the Groove), exercise probably takes up a good 4 to 5 hours of my weekly routine, not to mention little things such as walking up stairs to my workplace rather than taking the elevator. So in short, yes, I am skinny, but I like to think I work pretty damn hard to keep myself that way.

Which brings me to my point. Look around you and you’ll find any number of people trying any number of “diets”, ranging from cutting carbs to thinking thin thoughts. Maybe you’ve even tried some yourself. Chances are, you’ve failed at some point, either in losing weight or keeping it off.

Basically, most diets involve two parts. The first part is losing some excess weight. I actually did this myself, going from 155 pounds down to about 140 between February and August, and holding steady there as of today (An interesting benefit of this was that, while I was a fairly good DDR/ITG player even at 155, I became that much better stamina-wise as I dropped the weight). Before you say “You weren’t fat to begin with!”, consider that my driver’s license generously lists me as 5’4″ tall, and I’m probably a quarter-inch shorter than that in reality. True, I wasn’t “fat” per se, but I did have a bit of a belly on me which I’ve mostly lost (If you believe in that sort of thing, the Body Mass Index scale puts 155lb at 5’4″ as being “overweight”). So believe it or not, I do have some experience here. Anyway, some people fail at this stage. They try to lose too much weight too quickly; to accomplish this, they may attempt to make drastic (And unsustainable) dietary and lifestyle changes, and then they wonder why their changes didn’t yield immediate, unrealistic results, and they give up. It should be noted that my weight loss took place slowly, about a pound a week over five months.

The second part, and the really hard part, is keeping the weight off. See, in my mind, a “diet” can’t be a temporary thing. Some people actually lose their excess weight–and then they immediately revert back to the habits that made them overweight in the first place, stopping their exercise and eating far more calories than they burn. And then they wonder why the didn’t keep the weight off. As I just said, this is the hard part. You have to continue your weight-loss routine, without any real tangible results to show for it–the number doesn’t get smaller, it just doesn’t get bigger either. Worse, continuing the routine tends to be met with awkward conversation and looks–for better or worse, at least in the U.S, exercise and working out is generally seen as something you only do if you’re trying to lose weight, not if you’re trying to maintain weight or generally stay healthy. It’s a very strange manner of thinking, similar to people wondering why those with wealth don’t make more frivolous purchases, because after all, “They can afford it”–never mind the fact that avoiding frivolous purchases was probably a part of how they came to acquire wealth in the first place! Likewise, I’m at a healthy weight (And indeed, my less physical came out great except for the fact that my “good cholesterol” was actually too low) because I exercise and generally try and eat small portions (Though that buffalo chicken pizza proabbly gave me enough calories to last the rest of the week!).

1 comment

    • James on November 6, 2007 at 7:10 pm

    Boulder is an interesting place to observe fitness folks. First off, we seem to have two types of people: fit and ultra fit. There are VERY few fat people here, mostly because most come here to enjoy the active lifestyle. The only time I haven’t been very strong was the winter of… let’s see… 2005, I think when I had a back injury that laid me up for two months. The highest my weight got was about 175, and now I’m right where I want to be at about 162. After my hikes last year I was around 155 but was honestly too skinny, though I felt reasonably good–strong in the legs, weak in the arms.

    I think you hit the nail on the head– there is no “diet”, you either adopt a healthy lifestyle or you don’t. Looking good is fine, but being healthy is really another issue. If you want to have some superbody, you have to really dedicate time and eating discipline–and it really pre-empts a lot of other things.

    Finding that balance between the things you love, a healthy mind and healthy body– well isn’t that what the Greeks were all about? :)

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