Easy target, another nutrition myth

Now that I’m a bit warmed up with my first post for a while I can move on to one of my more favorite targets to bludgeon: no,  not the Repugs or religinuts (too easy) but one of my favorite whipping boys, the nutrition scolds.

You might wonder why I point out the follies of these folks. Well, it’s simple (if you read my other posts). I have successfully lost a lot of weight, going off all meds as a consequence, and I want to keep it that way and not, as most do, drift back to the bad old me. So I need help, real help (i.e. evidence-based) of things I can change. So I read a lot of stuff, almost all of it bad (or silly or dogma or just plain misinformed). So, like I say, an easy target.

Over all the time I have spent ranting about nutrition scolds I realize it’s like most human activity – opinion and dogma with very few facts. So naturally I love it when I find studies that contradict the conventional wisdom, such as this post. While the breakfast-is-most-important-meal is a favorite to flog this one is a bit more subtle – if you are losing (or plan to lose) significant weight, which is better, do it as fast as you can or do it gradually.

The conventional wisdom of nutrition scolds is to due it gradually, on the grounds that rapid loss will just be followed by rapid gain. Now that part, based on what evidence I can find, is not the part that is wrong. The wrong part is that the gradual loss is much more effective. Of course this study, like almost any study (since they all contradict each other) debunks that. And why not? What is so magical about gradual weight loss that it works better. If I can try to get the scolds out of a jam is that what they’re really saying is that you need to change your ways, not just for a brief time during rapid weight loss, but for the rest of your life. Agreed, no problem with that idea. But it’s the next step, of course, about how that gets them in trouble. Either they support silly diets (all diets are silly, except any that reduce calorie consumption below expenditure) or they think some magical foods (their favorites, “superfoods”) are the panacea.

Well, sorry, it’s simpler than that. Prepare yourself, if like me you body likes to get fat, to be hungry a lot. Not fun, not a silver bullet message, but the harsh truth that actually works.

Now in terms of this study why might it be true that rapid gain is at least as good, if not better, than gradual loss. Absent any scientific evidence (this study, or at least the pop reporting of it, has no actual biochemistry to support its conclusions) we’ll have to assume it’s all about state of mind and so a couple of simple things (partly hypothesized in the article) come to mind:

  1. losing weight definitely means being hungry a lot and that’s not fun, so perhaps the less time you have to spend under-consuming calories, with the attendant growling stomach, which evolution gave us to seek more calories so we get off our butts and go find some and don’t starve, will work out better. A few months of thoroughly committed and engaged calorie reduction is a lot easier to handle than many months of being slightly less hungry (we’ll get that when we worry about maintenance)
  2. we all respond to incentives and a nice chart (or just some numbers somewhere) nicely reinforces the unpleasant feelings we’re having – progress toward a goal always helps stay on track
  3. maybe a lot hungry instead of a little hungry also produces the sense of really working at it rather than just sorta trying and for many of us hard work creates the psychological state that we’re really doing something rather than just dabbling at it.

Whatever might be the explanation, which is not proven by this study or any other I’ve found, it also might just be what kind of person you are: I like working hard, I like measuring results (esp. when there are some), and I like the sense I’m really trying. So rapid reduction works for me (I have 70lbs on a chart to prove it, too). What works for you? Well, that’s up to you.

And perhaps that is the main point. The nutrition scolds don’t have answers (at least any evidence-based ones) so if one of their schemes fits your life, go for it, but don’t believe that any answer is going to make it less difficult. It’s hard and you’ll suffer so get ready for that. And good luck.

Now since I hit my goal and now have been bouncing around somewhat above it, let me tell you the real answer about maintenance. You WILL have periods of failure (eating is too much fun, there are too many excuses, like in my case, vacations). But that’s not the bad part, it’s OK to blow it. The hard part is that that little bit of gain is going to be just as hard to get rid of, if not harder, than the blob you had before. You regain weight a little at a time, so set some threshold where you go back into high gear and the full dieting mode (whatever worked for you) after hitting the threshold. Don’t wait, it won’t get any easier. And for me, that means doing the drastic loss again, and then sometime later, again, and, guess what, again and again. So I think the drastic loss is better, you’ll get practice at it and you’ll get good at it, and that you’ll need. You have a little lapse and bounce up a bit, a extra few minutes of exercise or one less muffin isn’t going to do it (I’ve found it takes five days of aggressive loss to make up for one day of indulgence). So don’t put it off. Don’t panic over a few pounds, but just don’t let those few pounds become a few more and few more.

Weight loss, for fat bodies, is about being hungry – sorry, kale smoothies or steel-cut oatmeal isn’t going to fix it. HUNGER is (and exercise, but that’s the easier one for me, at least until I get a bit older and my joints give out).

So it’s simple – more calories in than you burn, you’re gonna get fat; less and you’ll get it off. No magic, just work.


About dmill96

old fat (but now getting trim and fit) guy, who used to create software in Silicon Valley (almost before it was called that), who used to go backpacking and bicycling and cross-country skiing and now geodashes, drives AWD in Wyoming, takes pictures, and writes long blog posts and does xizquvjyk.
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