His loss is your gain. Nat passes along some hard-won truths about losing weight and getting fit.
There are few things that irritate me more than schemes (or should I say scams) that promise easy weight loss. Maybe it’s because I’ve tried practically everything and can say, with good authority, that none of it works. From Xenical to the cabbage soup diet to acupuncture, I’ve tried them all. The only thing that works is expending more calories than I take in. The trick, however, is actually managing to do that.
As a former fitness professional, I will be the first one to tell you that losing weight is mostly about diet, as in how one eats, not how one restricts what one eats. In a recent wellness blog in the New York Times, Gretchen Reynolds backs it up with research that has been done on diet versus exercise, including the rather frightening things some anthropologists did to members of the Hadza tribe in Tanzania. The truth is, if you want to lose weight, you have to stop gaining it by stuffing your mouth with fattening food.
But as a dedicated foodie who loves a good meal, I resent the demonisation of food in modern society. Okay, some readers will say that is precisely why my efforts to lose weight have failed, but I think there is more to it. I can say this now because I believe I have found a method to achieve fitness that works for me right now.
The key words there are ‘method’, ‘fitness’ and ‘right now’. Notice I don’t say ‘diet’.
I have written — some would say complained — often about how, at the age of 34, my metabolism slowed down and I could no longer eat whatever it was I wanted without gaining weight. I have also complained, er, written, about how stress compounded my losing battle to keep myself fit. I have spent the last few years on a quest to get myself fit again and am finally having a measure of success, partially by changing the way I eat, but primarily because I also have changed my life and the way I exercise.
When people seek to lose weight, the emphasis is not becoming fit, but becoming thin. As we all know, being thin does not necessarily result in good health. This is why blog entries emphasising diet don’t necessarily tell the whole truth. Yes, you need to change your diet if you want to lose weight. Yes, exercise without a change in eating habits is not as effective as restricting your diet. I don’t dispute any of that.
However, if you want to be fit, you had better do both along with a good dose of meditation or whatever it is that you do to keep stress at bay. There are three things to take into consideration when striving for good health in a modern world: diet, exercise and stress relief. Any victim of anorexia nervosa is testament to the fact that simply dieting is not the way to good health, nor is thinness the key to looking good. You have to do more than that, and it isn’t easy.
So what am I doing that seems to be working? I have changed my diet, but that wasn’t enough to really get me going. Now I have changed my exercise programme to include cardio-vascular exercise done outside. I started swimming to alleviate a back injury and a side benefit of that has been losing weight. I’ve been running a bit (but not enough to re-injure my knees). This is all stuff that I once loved to do. I started to exercise this way in my teens and kept it up well into my 20s. Only when I started working in an office did I begin focussing primarily on gym work, to the detriment of my appearance.
I wish I could say that I was able to alleviate the stress in my life proactively, but nothing I did really worked. It took a back injury and a doctor prescribing swimming as therapy before I was able to alleviate stress. It was as if, one day, the stars aligned, things started to fall into place and the stress was gone. I hope it stays gone.
My point is that concentrating on one thing, like diet or exercise, is not the solution. You have to take your whole life into account. The combination of diet, exercise and stress relief that I stumbled upon is working right now. It is the right programme at the right time in my life. I am becoming more fit and, by happy coincidence, I am losing weight. Keep looking for what works for you. Don’t give up.
06/08/2012 - 11:20