Friday, September 09, 2005

Weight Loss Blogs

Needless to say, having set up Losing a Hundredweight, I thought I’d see if I could find other like-minded sites out there in blogworld.

Too many hours wasted.

What I’d hoped, nay, expected, to find were plenty of blogs by people who were out there losing weight, getting fitter and sharing what works and what doesn’t.

What I actually found was hideously depressing. There appears to be only three kinds of blogs to do with weight loss:

1. Non-starters.
I lost count of how many sites have one, or maybe two entries that start along the line of “My plan is to lose 40 lbs before Christmas and this blog is going to detail my highs and lows, record my experiences and help me along with my quest. By writing this down, I know it will help to keep me motivated over the coming weeks.” Dated October 2003 and there are no further entries. So many people starting with great enthusiasm that has vanished within a week.

2. Lipophobes
There are just too many sites out there of people (primarily, but not exclusively, young women) who are clearly suffering delusional self-images and are obsessed with the culture of thin. Not health, you must understand, but thin. People for whom the term ‘ideal weight’ would place them somewhere between a baked bean and a helium balloon.

3. Money Makers
The only other sites I could find of people who had lost weight wanted to charge me a minimum of $24.99 to discover their secrets.

I mean, yes, I know the multi-billion $$$ world of dieting is screwing up millions of people’s metabolisms, mental health and bank balances, but I really thought that there must be some people out there who have a reasonably sensible attitude to the whole thing. But I gave up looking after several wasted hours.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Why did I overeat?

Eating disorders, indeed any kind of disorder, are very rarely caused by only one thing. It took me years to work out the various aspects that were contributing to my steady increase in size. This posting is going to outline what I discovered.

For those who’ve never had a problem with food, the idea that people would eat so much over such a long period of time is bizarre, so it’s easy to just dismiss it as people being greedy. End of story. Therefore, if you want to get back to a ‘sensible’ weight, you just have to engage a bit more willpower and stop eating so much. What doesn’t seem to occur to these people is that if it was that simple, we’d all be doing it.

On the face of it, greed is an issue. I saw the food, I wanted the food. I might already have eaten a plateful, but there was more food in front of me, calling me, beckoning me. I know I shouldn’t but, what the hell, a little more won’t harm. Anything that tastes that good can’t really be bad for me. So that was me being greedy – wanting more than I needed. But this explanation is too shallow. It doesn’t address WHY I was feeling that.

Leptin is a hormone manufactured by the body that helps regulate food intake. You would think that your body would work in such a way that when it needed food it would release a hormone to let you know that it’s time to eat. It turns out that it’s completely the other way round.

The natural state to be in is ravenously hungry - so hungry that you cannot think about anything other than food – and the body releases a hormone, leptin, to suppress it. When you have had enough, you stop feeling hungry. However, what happens if there’s a delay in the leptin reaching your system?

I’ve known plenty of people who would stop eating while there was still food on the plate, stating that they were full up (and it wasn’t even because they didn’t like the food). I never understood this. I don’t start to feel full for up to an hour after I’ve finished eating. This means that even if I had a full plate of food, I could eat it and still feel hungry. So I would have seconds. And then, if I took the plate out to the kitchen I would pick at the bits in the pans and, if still desperate, make myself a sandwich. About 30 minutes later I would start feeling full up, and about 20minutes after that I would start to feel uncomfortably full and bloated, by which time I would begin to regret that I’d eaten so much. At the time, all I could think of was eating. The mind is very good at conning you into thinking that it doesn’t really matter if you have a bit extra – no matter how many times you have felt bloated afterwards.

If there are abnormalities in the system, which delivers and activates leptin, the body can be in starvation mode at the wrong time. I don’t have proof that this is the case with me, but it certainly seems to make a lot of sense from my own experiences.

There’s no doubt that a lot of overeating is quite simply habit. If you are used to eating larger portions, or snacking at particular times of the day then you will, of course, come to expect that level of food at that particular time.

Then there’s the type of food you eat out of habit. Are you used to visiting a burger joint every week? Or are you used to putting excessive cream and sugar in your meals? My parents never liked their greens so my wife was quite surprised when she first cooked me peas and I expressed my dismay at the fact that they had not been cooked with a large knob of butter and a few spoons of sugar.

Another habit established in childhood for many people is clearing their plate – you won’t get any pudding until you’ve eaten your food all up.

Habits can be broken, but they have to be identified before they can be worked on, and it is rare that overeating is due to habit alone. It isn’t the only contributing factor, but it mustn’t be overlooked either.

Comfort eating is another mystery to those that don’t indulge in it. But this is multi-layered too. Sweets are treats. From a young age, many of us are treated to sweets, chocolate, ice cream and puddings as signs of affection from indulging adults. So when we are low, quite apart from the sugar rush, eating these foodstuffs reminds us of a time when we felt good, or someone was expressing their love for us. Sugar and love is a potent combination.

Beyond this, in more extreme emotional states, many of us feel loss, grief, stress and unhappiness as a great gaping hole in our stomachs. Cramming food into it is a way of trying to fill that void.

Some people deal with these emotions with drink, drugs, gambling, shopping and even sex. Some use food instead.

Some people are dealing with past or present instances of emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse. When going through such things a common reaction is to feel responsible in some way for the abuse that you’ve suffered and you will hate yourself for it.

But abuse doesn’t just have to be immediate and perpetrated by one or two people. If you are persecuted by society it is just as easy to lose your self-esteem and begin to hate yourself. And whatever reasons got you to being overweight in the first place, western society will sure as hell make you feel bad about being there. Fat people are viewed as being weak willed, stupid and un-sexy and we are constantly being bombarded with media images that tell us thin is good. So if you don’t feel bad about yourself before you become overweight you sure as hell will afterwards.

So what do you do when you feel bad about yourself? Comfort eat!

Beyond this there is another, darker side, and that is overeating as a form of self-harm. The self-loathing a person feels for him or herself can create a sense of wanting to damage this pitiful wretch they despise so much. In this case, the people are very aware of the damage they are doing to their bodies by overeating, but will abuse their body quite deliberately. This action can quite often be accompanied by alcohol and drug abuse, or even cutting and burning the skin.

Quitting smoking
Anyone who has given up smoking knows that one of the problems is finding something to occupy the hands and mouth. I quit smoking 15 years ago and put on weight quite quickly. Over 30 times a day I was used to placing a cigarette in my mouth, so mints, sweets and snacks very easily substituted this habit. However, it is worth pointing out that smoking is worse for you than being overweight, as well as worse for anyone near to you breathing in your cancerous fumes.

Much of the processed food we buy, whether at a fast food outlet or even pre-packaged in the supermarket, has an excess of salt, fat, sugar and other additives in order to make the food tastier and more desirable. Simple economics – if you want people to buy more of your product then make sure they want to eat more of it. But where is the line crossed between creating something tasty and something addictive?

If you have never watched “Super Size Me” then I suggest you go out and rent it immediately. Morgan Spurlock ate nothing but McDonalds for one month and this film follows the rapid deterioration of his health. Quite tellingly, he discovered after a while that his mood would get extremely low and he would suffer headaches, yet would miraculously feel better once he’d got a burger in his mouth. Clear signs of physical addiction.

Fighting addiction is not simply a case of being strong. There are help organisations available for alcoholics, junkies and gamblers, but fat people are just seen as weak willed.

Summing up
We all know that eating junk food is no good for us, and that we’d be much healthier if we ate more fresh fruit and veg, so why don’t we do it? Because it’s not about being weak willed, we are up against hard sell from the food manufacturers, society, physical and psychological addictions.

It’s taken many years to identify all the different aspects of habit, comfort eating, self-loathing and addiction, to bring me to a point where I was actually able to begin to effect change. Some of these issues may have been completely obvious to you, but each one was a revelation to me as I discovered them. But it was these revelations that made me realise that the move to healthy eating had to be about lifestyle change and not just some temporary diet.

BMI - Body Mass Index

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a rough guide to how overweight or obese you are. It is based on a formula that makes a connection between your height and your weight.

You have to go metric to make it work, but in essence you divide your weight in kilograms by your height in metres multiplied by itself (W/HxH)

However, if you don't want to mess around with conversion tables and a calculator, then I suggest you visit (if you click on that link it will open up in a new window) and scroll to the bottom half of the page. You can then select your height in feet and inches, and your weight in pounds and it will do the calculations for you. If you're feeling really morbid, then you can scroll back up and use the information to calculate how long you have left to live, barring fatal accidents.

So here are the Obesity Definitions:

BMI under 18.5: Underweight
BMI 18.5-25: Normal
BMI 25-30: Overweight
BMI 30-40: Obese
BMI 40+: Morbidly Obese/Extremely Obese/Grossly Obese/Pathologically Obese (these are all medical terms - who says there's no prejudice in the medical profession?)

This is only a rough guide, because of course athletes tend to fall outside these categories. For example, every member of the England Rugby Team would be categorised as Obese under these definitions, although the amount of fat they are carrying is negligible. However, for the rest of us mere mortals it does work as a rough guide to where we are at

Back in February, my BMI was 43. It is now 34 (as of September 6th 2005)

Food Addiction

For those ever wondering about whether they might have a problem with food addiction, I found this list kicking out there on the net. Apparently if you answer yes to any of them then you might have a problem. I'll tell you at the bottom how many applied to me

1 Have you ever wanted to stop eating and found you just couldn't?
2 Do you think about food or your weight constantly?
3 Do you find yourself attempting one diet or food plan after another, with no lasting success?
4 Do you binge and then "get rid of the binge" through vomiting, exercise, laxatives, or other forms of purging?
5 Do you eat differently in private than you do in front of other people?
6 Has a doctor or family member ever approached you with concern about your eating habits or weight?
7 Do you eat large quantities of food at one time (binge)?
8 Is your weight problem due to your "nibbling" all day long?
9 Do you eat to escape from your feelings?
10 Do you eat when you're not hungry?
11 Have you ever discarded food, only to retrieve and eat it later?
12 Do you eat in secret?
13 Do you fast or severely restrict your food intake?
14 Have you ever stolen other people's food?
15 Have you ever hidden food to make sure you have "enough?"
16 Do you feel driven to exercise excessively to control your weight?
17 Do you obsessively calculate the calories you've burned against the calories you've eaten?
18 Do you frequently feel guilty or ashamed about what you've eaten?
19 Are you waiting for your life to begin "when you lose the weight?"
20 Do you feel hopeless about your relationship with food?

Me? Back at the beginning of the year I would have answered yes to 13 of them.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Danger of Dieting

98% of all diets fail. That is, only 2% of all people who diet manage to keep the weight off once the diet has ended. The rest put it all back on within one or two years, and the majority of them end up heavier than when they started. Most of the biggest people you see around are not people who need to go on a diet; they are people who have been dieting most of their lives.

Next up, with most diets, the first thing you lose is muscle tissue, as your body goes into starvation mode and stores the fat. However, when you the regain the weight it comes back as fat rather than muscle. So even if you end up at only the same weight, your proportion of fat will be higher.

For your average man, if he loses a significant amount of weight and then puts it all back on, he doubles his chance of a heart attack.

So if I offered you some kind of reward for undertaking a task that has a 2% chance of success, and a 98% chance of doubling your risk of having a heart attack, how quickly would you sign up?

Diets cannot work because they are temporary and, like stomach-stapling, jaw wiring or liposuction, don’t actually address WHY we were overeating in the first place. Without dealing with this crucial issue, eating will always remain a problem.

So if diets don’t work, and they’re bloody dangerous, what are we to do if we don’t want to stay massively overweight, with the accompanying health dangers? In essence, we have to change our lifestyle. The changes we make have to be healthy and they have to be sustainable.