Wednesday 17 February 2010

Why is it so hard?

Why -is- it so hard for most people to lose weight?

And why is it so hard for most people to keep going to the gym for more than 3 months after joining?

To the second question; we'll come back to that one another time. To the first question; the answer is really very simple these days. Lack of responsibility.

Yep. Be offended. Be very offended. Because I'm not actually blaming individuals themselves here.

Mostly, people are just lazy and/or woefully under-educated about food and nutrition and want a quick fix and want to rely on someone else to give it to them. I don't blame anyone at all for that attitude in a world where you can buy almost anything to circumvent personal effort, why should you not be able to buy health and a fantastic figure as well? There's also the people who make money out of it all. The people who make diet pills, "low fat" foods, "diet" plans; the lifestyle coaches, the advertisers. They're all in the business of making money. Yes, it's making money out of selling people an unattainable (long term, in general, using their methods/products) goal, but nevertheless it is business and not a social service. Does that make it right? Does it matter that it's not right? Does any of it add up to eanough of a lifestyle change to lose weight and keep it off?

The thing with answers to questions is that they generally throw up more questions...

The plain and simple answer, for -most- people (with no underlying endocrine disorder etc.), to losing weight and keeping it off, is to re-educate themselves away from all that the media, "nutritionists" and manufacturers are pushing at them and simply eat appropriate amounts of as unprocessed as possible food and not skip meals (as that tends to lead to bingeing).


Except, it's -not- simple. Most people don't want to have to prioritise planning, shopping, cooking from scratch over convenience, immediacy, spontenaeity and dedicating time to "more interesting" things than dealing with the job of fueling their bodies appropriately. Also, cheaper convenience foods do tend to be more heavily processed and have added ingredients to make them taste better, last longer, look shinier etc. which, to be honest, aren't really what the human body is designed to digest and metabolise. Freely available foods have, in general, evolved significantly more quickly than the human body. And the availablilty and cost of producing, and this buying, of simpler, less processed foods has declined. For me to make a lasagne from scratch, using reasonably quality ingredients without going over the top, would cost more than buying a pre-made reasonable quality one from, say Marks and Spencer. Now, I choose Marks and Spencer with care here as M&S do tend to keep the ingredient quality reasonably high, lean towards free range and organically produced ingredients and lay off the added enhancers and modifiers, but they do add some of that stuff because there is a need for attractiveness of the product and reasonable shelf life after production and shipping to the shops. However, M&S are relatively pricey in the field of "ready meals" so it is a reasonably fair comparison with making from scratch. But still... I can't make a good lasagne more cheaply than they can sell one to me. And it certainly takes me longer to make one than it does to buy one and re-heat it. So why should I bother making one?

I bother because I like making food from scratch. I bother because I like knowing exactly what's gone into my food. I bother because these things are a priority for me. I bother because I've learned a lot about food and nutrition. I bother because it interests me. I bother because I don't want to get fat again. But that's me. And those are my priorities. And that was the mess I got myself into in the first place that means I need to do all of that bothering because if I don't it is all too easy for it to slide backwards again.

I get constantly frustrated by people who say that they "can't" lose weight and they do eat healthily and there must be some underlying problem with them that means they can't lose weight. Yes, there are conditions that can cause that, but they're not all that common at all. The far more common reason for being unable to lose weight (and let's just look at losing it, rather than keeping it off) is that people are not fully aware of what they're actually consuming and how much of it. In general, it's not their fault at all.

There are so many faddy diets and so many claims pushed through the media about various "superfoods" and suchlike that without proper education and really taking note of what's going in vs. what you need each day to live, work, exercise (if you do that), sleep etc. people really don't see that there may be a mis-match somewhere. What's worse is the huge number of "nutritionists", with no scientific training or research to go on, who believe in things like the cabbage soup diet, with absolutely no view to long term weight management as a much bigger issue. Moreso the idea of "good" and "bad" or "naughty" foods. Someone once said, "food does not have a moral value" and ohboy are they right. Cake is not inherently evil, nor is eating it on occasion. Celery is not inherently saintly, and if you eat your own body weight in celery every day for a week, you're going to want a bacon sarnie and chips straight afetrwards (and possibly be quite sick).

Why is the population getting fatter and fatter and unable to lose and keep off weight. Education. Education. Education. Not taxation, as some mad people are suggesting. "tax cake!" er, yeah, right, it already -is- taxed; oh, actually cake isn't taxed, chocolate covered biscuits are, but details aside, taxation will not help. How many people stil smoke? How many drink to excess? They're taxed heavily and have those problems gone away? Have they hell! Diets are not the answer either, as they are a;ll about short-term deprivation which is not re-education and invariably results in going back to the old habits that got you there in the first place and then some.

With proper education, right from the start at an early age, there wouldn't be the need to lose weight, mostly people just wouldn't get overweight in the first place; there wouldn't be a need to plan and think and obsess over this kind of stuff because it would be more ingrained into general knowledge. Yes, there would still be fat people, and conversely very thin people with the exact same problem manifest in a different way, but it would be far less common. But not just education around food and nutrition but cooking too. OK, I said it's quicker for me to buy and re-heat an M&S lasagne than cook one myself, however, there are a zillion things that -are- quick and easy to cook from scratch it's just that people aren't encouraged to cook simple, quick meals by the fact that that kind of cooking isn't sexy enough for TV programmes and if you can buy it ready-made more cheaply... and so what if cooking a meal occasionally takes a few hours, it's so satisfying, dammit!

So, there we go. Education and the media. Oh and it's so hard to lose weight because it's easier not to.

(if you're looking for a good place to start; I can recommend lots of resources, but here are two to get you started:- How Not to Get Fat and Weight Loss Resources)


  1. While I agree with an awful lot of what you're saying here it's still very much the case that some people need to do this in order to get thin, or not get fat in the first place, and other people *don't*. The vast majority of non-fat people that you or I know don't need to think about how much they're putting in their mouth at every meal, every day, for the rest of their lives.

    For many people that's because these choices are just ingrained, and they're doing it unconsciously. But at the moment I can't imagine it ever becoming so completely unconscious to me, and for me that *is* hard to get over.

    I suspect you'd probably consider me to be following a faddy diet, but I think the principles are fairly similar to yours in a lot of ways, even if they're encoded in different ways.

  2. Exactly. The vast majority of non-overweight people -don't- need to think about it and for that I will always be jealous of them. I don't think it ever will be ingrained enough for me to not have to think most of the time and ohboy is that not a great thought. However, I am lucky in that I find this stuff really interesting and so I don't see it as much of a chore any more.

    I'm pretty skeptical about any diet that doesn't engender changes for life if it's not just to shift a couple of stubborn pounds, say. Temporary changes are usually just that. If the diet you follow works for you and means that you do make changes that follow on to successful maintenance on your own terms then as far as I see it, it's worked pretty well.

  3. What a great post, Im totally with you on this one. I feel the same way as you, I think I'm always going to have to give the health and fitness area of my life quite a lot of attention to be able to keep off the weight that I've lost, but luckily while losing the weight I've developed a real interest in being healthy, rather than being thin and I just hope that will be enough to keep me going for the rest of my life!

    I think the key to losing weight is education on proper nutrition, the ability to make your health and fitness a priority and a realisation that theres no such thing as a quick fix, changes have to be made for life.

    Thats part of the problem - people want a quick fix

  4. On the contrary, PCOS and insulin resistance are dead common. And many endocrinologists don't even know the latter causes the former, let alone how to treat it.

    People do need to learn and take responsibility, but the medical establishment needs to do more to help with the underlying causes -- physical AND psychological.

  5. Oh SW is for life, not just for Christmas :) Once you reach your target weight the path to maintenance is pretty much to keep eating in a very similar way, but to keep adding a bit more food in the category medium-density-but-good-for-you until you start to maintain instead of losing.

    Sadly first time round I gained 8lbs within a fortnight of reaching target, struggled for 6 months failing to lose that again, and gave up. In the words of your second post I wasn't ready to keep at it at that point. I'm still a bit nervous about whether it's doable now to be honest, but I can only try.

    I am really glad it's working for you :)