Thursday, March 8, 2018

Misconceptions and wrong attitudes about weight loss

Obesity is a pandemic in the first world. Rich welfare countries where living standards are high have the unfortunate side-effect that said living standards offer people copious amounts of cheap food, and do not force people, or even give them incentives, to exercise. People tend to live extremely sedentary lives where they exercise way too little and eat way too much. This is a problem in most first world countries, even in ones that are not exactly famous for morbid obesity. Just observe people you pass by on the street, and notice how many of them are overweight, even obese. The percentage is actually a bit shocking, when you really start looking.

Obesity greatly increases the risks of many diseases, and can greatly decrease life expectancy. Type 2 diabetes is almost assured with obesity (the more obese someone is, the more likely they have or will develop diabetes relatively soon), and diabetes all in itself has all kinds of nasty consequences. Obesity also greatly increases the risk of many forms of heart and cardiovascular diseases, as well as many types of cancer. Other diseases may be a bit less likely, but still the risk is increased, and the total number of such diseases is shockingly extensive.

Of course the other major drawback of obesity is decreased quality of life. The simple fact of having very poor fitness and mobility is a major setback in terms of life quality. Even morbidly obese people who are still so young that they don't have any diseases yet, will have a poorer life quality because of their obesity and poor fitness. (In the most extreme cases some people can literally be so obese that they can't even tie their own shoes. It's true.)

Even if somebody is not obese in the clinical sense, just overweight, it can still decrease life quality and somewhat increase health risks.

Weight loss is something to strive for. Many people try, and most of them fail. For some people it might be almost impossible because of mental health problems (such as severe clinical depression or anxiety, which cannot be simply overcome by willing so). However, most people fail because they just can't find the correct attitude and mental state, and it feels like a completely overwhelming task, an effort well beyond what they are capable of.

And, of course, many people have all kinds of wrong attitudes, and misconceptions, about weight loss.

"Eating normally"

As an example, how many times have you heard the sentiment, paraphrasing, "sure, you can lose weight by killing yourself with a crazy diet, but you'll just gain all that weight back once you start eating normally again." I have heard that many times, in many forms.

There are two wrong concepts in this sentiment. Firstly, people like this, and in fact people in general, have some kind of aversion towards "diets", as if they were some kind of extreme self-punishment, even self-harm. They often talk about it like it were pretty much the same as deliberate malnutrition, as killing yourself by not eating enough. Many even think that dieting (any form of dieting) can be unhealthy and even dangerous. To many people the very word "diet" is a curseword.

They are right and wrong at the same time. A proper diet is a complex subject, which I will write more about later. There can be indeed be detrimental, unhealthy, even dangerous diets, but that doesn't mean that all diets are like that. There are also all kinds of misconceptions about the very concept of a "diet" (which I will also write about later.)

Secondly, and most importantly, that archetypal "when you start eating normally again" is all kinds of wrong, on so many levels.

If you want to lose weight, and not gain it back, you have to change what "eating normally" means. Stuffing yourself with 3000-5000 calories of junk food and candy every day is not the proper "eating normally", and should never be. If you want to lose weight, and remain that way, there is no going back to that wrong "normal". You have to forget about it, completely and permanently. It has to be gone, forever. It should never again be "eating normally", ever.

All (proper) weight loss advice always contains a part that says that you have to change your eating habits, permanently. This might sound like a big cliché, but it's 100% true. You cannot go back to the eating habits that got you overweight. You do indeed have to make a permanent, lifetime change in this.

And this is quite often something that most people who are struggling with weight, and weight loss, have a hard time accepting. They cannot even imagine having to permanently going to, what they perceive as, a permanent extraordinarily scarce diet. They have this notion that it will be endless hunger, endless craving, day after day, for years and years. A never-ending suffering, with them languishing every day, for years and decades. The very idea of this suffering, this constant hunger and craving, which never ends, puts off many people. They simply cannot even imagine themselves being able to live like that for the rest of their lives.

And thus they don't even try.

Of course this isn't so. Getting into the habit of eating less, eating more healthily, and avoiding junk food, is perfectly possible. And it doesn't become a constant struggle and constant suffering. Living on a 1000-1500 daily calorie diet, for the rest of your life, might sound like complete madness, but it really isn't. At some point you don't even want to eat the junk food, or significantly more than that. (Sure, it's not like junk food would stop tasting good. It's just that it stops being a struggle to avoid it. Skipping the junk food just becomes the new normal. Your "eating normally" has changed, and it's not much of a problem anymore.)

There is no such a thing as a magical diet

Dieting is a multi-billion world-wide industry. All kinds of diets and exercise regimes are being sold everywhere. You can't watch an infomercial on TV without something like that popping up. Millions of people spend copious amounts of money on all kinds of devices and books that in the end don't help them at all.

In the end, there is only one way of losing weight: You have to spend more energy than you consume. It's that simple. There is no magic to it.

There are like a million different diets and exercise regimes out there, some of them might work, some of them don't, and some of them can be outright unhealthy and even dangerous.

Those that work, no matter how fancy they might be, operate on the one and same principle, when you get down to it: Spend more energy than you consume. As said, it's that simple.

The thing is, there are healthy ways to do that, and unhealthy ways. The problem is that many diets, even those that do seemingly work, can be unhealthy, sometimes even outright dangerous.

For example, one of the worst diets in existence is the "protein only, no carbs" diet (whatever you may call it). It's not the worst in that it wouldn't work. It's the worst because it does work, but is extremely dangerous. Because it does work, it lures people into using it, and they put their health at great risk. Your body needs carbohydrates to work properly (it's essentially fuel that's used for many functions, especially metabolism). When you deprive it from your body for long periods of time, the consequences can be dangerous, sometimes even catastrophic. Sure, you might be losing weight, but you might also be killing yourself in doing so.

Many people will advocate the "no carbs", or some form of "low-carb" diet. Do not listen nor believe them, no matter how convincing they want to be. They are deluded.

One almost sure sign that a diet is either ineffective or even dangerous is if doesn't require regular aerobic and anaerobic exercise for it to work. If any diet promises that you will lose weight without having to exercise, skip it. It's not worth it.

The two keys to losing weight healthily are a balanced healthy diet, and exercise. This might sound like another huge cliché, but it's once again 100% true.

A balanced healthy diet has approximately the same amount of carbohydrates and protein, and consists of much of what's traditionally considered healthy food, rich in minerals and other nutrients. (As the source of protein, the modern popular wisdom of avoiding red meat, and instead using things like chicken, turkey and fish, is probably mostly correct. You'll probably not go wrong by following that advice.)

You don't need, and in fact probably shouldn't use, dietary supplements. If you eat properly, healthy food, you don't need them, and there exist some studies that indicate that their over-use may be detrimental.

As important as that is regular daily exercise. Both aerobic (the type of exercise that raises your heart rate, makes you sweat and makes you run out of breath, such as spinning) and anaerobic (the type that stresses your muscles, ie. lifting weights.)

Exercise is extremely important for two major reasons: Firstly, it of course makes you spend more energy, which aids in weight loss. Secondly, and even more importantly, it deters muscle loss during weight loss. When you are losing weight, you want to get rid of your extra fat, not your muscles. On the contrary, during weight loss you want to increase your muscle mass and strength, not decrease it. You want to become muscular.

Muscle loss one of the reasons why any dieting regime that does not involve exercise is so unhealthy and dangerous.

Strange attitudes towards muscle gain

One curiously strange thing that many people seem to have, is a negative attitude towards muscle gain, becoming fit and muscular. I have heard many people, including friends, say that they wouldn't even want to become muscular hunks. Somehow they talk about it like it were something to be ashamed of.

I doubt that any person who has gone through the trouble of becoming fit and muscular regrets that decision. What I believe is happening here can be described with the colloquialism sour grapes. Because they see becoming muscular as an almost insurmountable obstacle, something that they simply cannot see themselves doing because of the extraordinary amount of work and struggle that it would require, they turn it around and disparage it and pretend that it's something that they wouldn't even want.

However, becoming muscular isn't actually that hard in the end. If you get into the habit of regular exercise as part of your weight loss life change, and you eat properly (remember, about equal parts carbs and protein), you will start gaining muscle almost without noticing. And no, you won't regret it.

Another form of this is to say "I want strength, not large muscles." There's a really prevalent, and strange, notion that big muscles and strong muscles are somehow mutually exclusive. You either have one type or the other, but not both.

It is possible to enlarge muscles via types of exercise that don't increase their strength so much, as opposed to pure explosive strength exercise, and the constitution of both types of muscles will be slightly different. However, it's a complete misconception that strong muscles aren't visibly quite large. They are. Quite by necessity. Muscles cannot be strong without being large (strength is quite directly correlated to the cross area of the muscle, in addition to its constitution).

Just make a Google image search for, for example, "world's top male gymnasts", and see how muscular they are. And these are some of the strongest people in the world. Or "Devon Larratt", arguably one of the people in this world who has the strongest arms, and see how big they are.

As a bonus, and as cliché and vain as it might sound, becoming fit and muscular does wonders to your self-confidence and self-esteem.

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