During this past week, Instapundit linked to an article about dietary fat, weight loss and health, not to mention this one on big breakfast. In a nutshell the first article points out that a low-fat diet is no key to losing weight. The article makes a lot of sense, at least for the most part, pointing out that carbs and sugar contain a lot of calories too and that people generally just substitute those things for fat and no weight loss results. To which I respond – no freakin’ duh. The second article looks at a select group of people, their eating habits and link it to BMI – a measure that is also under criticism.
Before I go any farther, let me establish some bona fides. I am no nutritionist. I am a chemist, but biochemistry is my least enjoyed branch of that science. But I have had more than one doctor tell me I have done something very, very few people do – lost boat loads of weight the hard way. About 10-12 years ago my weight approached somewhere near 500 pounds. No clue the exact weight as I was not about to head to the truck scales to get it. It got to the point where movement was more than simply difficult, it was painful. I then took off something over 200 pounds – diet and exercise, no gastric surgery of any sort and no programs, just did it. I then underwent a series of “body contouring” plastic surgeries to get rid of the crap that hung off of me like drapes on a window. Then like the self-satisfied moron I was, I put 70-80 back on over the course of 5-7 years. I have spent the last year losing about 100 pounds and am aiming to take off another 20-50 depending. Again, no surgery and no programs.
Here’s the thing, and this is just basic biochemistry, body weight is a matter of calories in/calories out. All the rest of it, high fat/low fat, carbs, sugar, whatever is playing on the margins – what matters, and all that matters when it comes to weight, is calories in/calories out. Now there are other factors one must consider – nutrition is necessary for life – you cannot simply fast your way to weight loss, you have to eat and you have to get certain things in that food to have the healthiest possible life. But that fact notwithstanding if you do not cut calories you will not lose weight. That is what the article on fat is all about, at least until the very end, cutting fat calories in exchange for carb calories will do you no good.
But at the end the fat article does go horribly wrong. It starts to suggest a diet with fat and lower carbs is the way to go. It suggests that such is healthier metabolically and provides better appetite control, noting that sugar tends to increase appetite. In my less-than-knowledgeable but highly experienced, opinion – hogwash! There is one key and one key only. Toward the end of the piece, citing anecdotal evidence for the proposed “fat-centric” diet is this tid-bit:
So far, Knight has lost 32 pounds on Ludwig’s plan. But it’s not just the lost weight that has her feeling optimistic. “This is the only diet I’ve ever tried that feels effortless—just no willpower required,” she said.
This quote reveals everything – the issue is not what one eats, the issue is willpower. If you are used to eating 3ooo-4000 calories a day and you cut down to 1200, which is what it takes to lose weight, it does not matter what you eat – you are going to feel hungry and you are going to have to exercise willpower not to eat. The other article cited talks a lot about what diets help manage appetite, not weight. But that is the problem, you are trying to control your weight, you simply have to exercise your will over your appetite. Even this article which quite rightly points out that weight management is highly individualized, misses the point when it says:
“You need a plan that satisfies hunger,” iDiet founder and Tufts University nutrition professor Susan Roberts told Time. “Most diets fail because hunger erodes willpower.”
Losing weight, particularly as you get older (I am 60) involves eating very little. There is no way you can consume as few calories as you need to to lose weight and not be hungry. There just is not – particularly in a world where you are bombarded with food enticements everywhere, from advertising of all sorts to it simply being available at every stop, and all the time. This is even true for weight maintenance since, if you are overweight to begin with, the calorie intake you want is obviously larger than the calorie intake you should have.
Yes, hunger erodes willpower, but no diet can ever manage hunger completely, so you simply have to find more willpower. There is no magic bullet, no right diet, no perfect method – there is, in the end, only your willpower. Given my regains after huge losses, obviously it slips for everybody. Just take a deep breath and bear down again – that’s all – you just have to want it.
The obesity problem in our nation is, in the end, all about our values. We value immediate gratification pretty much over anything else. Advertising sells it to us, our entertainment choices deliver it to us, and our weight pronounces it. Agreed, that candy bar at the check out stand would taste pretty good, might even take the edge off – but guess what, it is 25% of a weight maintenance caloric intake. You eat that plus three normal meals and you are 25% over what you should be on caloric intake. Do that every day and 500 pounds is not that hard to hit over the course of a few years. You have to walk by it, you have to stay on that edge – it’s the only way.
The only way to do that consistently is to change your values. To value something more than your gratification. When it comes to discussing weight control and Christian thinking, most are quick to talk about gluttony – one of the seven deadlys. But I prefer a more positive approach – self control is one of the Fruits of the Spirit:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. [emphasis added]
The value you need to change is to desire to be God’s more than your own. The secret to finding the willpower you need is to lose and maintain your weight is lay your hunger on God’s altar and allow His Holy Spirit to fill the void with self-control. My weight “backslide” was a function not of a loss of self-control, but in the self-satisfaction. I congratulated myself for what weight I had lost instead of congratulating God who provided it. I have little doubt such will happen again, the best I can hope for is to catch it sooner and pray harder.
I do not find it coincidental that the obesity problem the nation faces has increased as Christian thought in the nation has declined. If we are honest, the change in sexual mores the nation is undergoing is also a reflection of valuing gratification above all else. If you are truly worried about obesity, personally, or as an issue, pray for revival. Historically such is the only force that allows us to place our desire for gratification into proper perspective.