Wednesday, July 18, 2007

For The Health Of It

I'm thrilled to have been invited by Kada to write this guest post, and I've spent a good amount of time pondering what I should bestow on Her Fair Blog.

With the panic that has taken a stronghold in Western Society over this 'obesity epidemic' there has been an infestation of propaganda and products all geared to weight loss.

Weight loss. Not health.

While I love blogging and I love the fat blogging community, there are many blogs out there that make me concerned. I love finding blogs where a sensible, healthy approach to living is taken, and then of course, the weight loss follows thereafter. Many others out there skip the establishment of a sensible, healthy approach to living, and jump straight to the weight loss - having no idea of what it takes to keep off the weight, and being so focused on the numbers going down and the weight going down that they are willing to sacrifice being healthy if it is necessary.

After trying several diets - Weight Watchers, The Heart Patient Diet, The Three Hour Diet, Body For Life, Herbalife, I have finally realised that while I want to be thin, more importantly, I want to healthy. And fit. I'm not prepared to sacrifice being healthy for being thin.

And that means healthy in the MIND, as well as the body.

We can lead ourselves to believe that we can be 'perfect' all of the time - live off celery sticks and lettuce and exercise five times a day. The fact is that we are human. And we crave. And food is a pleasure to us, and being deprived of it is damn miserable. I'm sure most of you know where I'm heading with this. I'm referring to the vicious starve-binge cycle that seems to be part of the package of losing weight.

But. It is NOT part of the package of being healthy.

Only when, and ONLY when, you decide that it is HEALTH that you are prioritising, are you able to get out of the starve-binge cycle. You might make the decision to lose weight because of your health, but it is still the decision to 'lose weight', not to 'get healthy'.

Getting healthy is not just eating five plus a day of fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly, drinking water, and so forth. It's respecting your body's natural cravings, and understanding that your body is a complex object. It should not ever be summed up by a single number. Yet we do it all the time.

I was having a conversation with Kada the other day about a blogger that was excited about a new weight loss plan they'd started. They had just under 7 kilos to lose, which is about 15lbs. A safe, permanent loss is approximately 1lb per week, with some leeway if you're heavier or lighter. For someone who is heavier, then perhaps 1-2lbs per week can be handled. For someone who is lighter, then perhaps 0.5-1lb per week can be handled. What is the safe loss for you can only be established by you, and your interest in your body's responsiveness.

My body takes a lot of activity to get any sort of response, since my numbers are smaller. My Asian heritage means that you're a porker if you're above 140lbs. I have a bit of height which can smooth things out a bit, but I understand that genetically, my body behaves in a particular way. I put weight on around my stomach instead of my legs and hips, which continues to put me at a high risk for disease even though I'm in the normal weight range for the general population.

But I'm digressing. This blogger had 7kilos/15lbs to lose, and the stock standard number given out to everyone is that 0.4kg/1lb per week is safe. This blogger was impatient, and put pressure on herself to lose at least 1 kilo per week, because they didn't want to wait for four 'whole' months to achieve that goal. Then to make matters worse, this blogger discovered that others on the program had managed to lose 4 kilograms in the first two weeks, and began to try and achieve the same result herself.

This sort of dangerous approach to weight loss makes me very concerned, and I was discussing this with Kada. There are so many variables as to why other people could've lost 4 kilograms and how it might have been perfectly safe for them to do so. Or, it might have been very unsafe for them to do so. How do you know? The fact is, YOU DON'T. You could hypothesise - it could be because their starting weight was heavier, it could be because they dropped a lot of water weight, it could simply be because they forgot to take their coat off before stepping on the scales. Though you can never know this about someone else's weight. You can, however, figure it out for your own weight.

Both Kada and I felt the same level of concern. We knew that this woman's approach was not healthy, and would do her head in in the long run. That she was focusing on the weight loss, and not on the health. And as often does when I'm talking to Kada, we chatted about cravings and whatnot and how it is best to indulge in your craving rather than dreaming about getting married to a chocolate brownie or a creamy pasta dish, and then finally caving in to eat enough chocolate brownies and creamy pasta dishes to feed the whole of Sudan.

Though when you think about it - how odd is it for me to be able to chat on a sensible level to Kada, the intuitive eating goddess, when I am Marshmallow, the calorie counting nut? Kada is all about listening to her body, letting it tell her when it needs food, and what it wants her to eat. I, am all about looking at the numbers, the graphs, calculating averages, analysing trends, and making scientific conclusions.

Kada has achieved the safe, sensible, healthy approach to weight loss by taking numbers out of the equation. She has reduced the number of times she's weighed in, and doesn't even think about calories and grams of fat, carbs, protein, etc. She's realised that weight is a simple representation of a complex thing, and that for her, taking time away from the numbers helps her to understand the complexity of her body.

Meanwhile, I am at the other end of the spectrum. I'd like to think I've achieved a safe, sensible, healthy approach to weight loss by putting numbers IN to the equation. I have increased the number of times I've weighed in, increased the number of graphs, constantly assessing the number of calories, grams of fat, carbs, protein, etc. Though I have also realised that weight is a simple representation of a complex thing, but for me, I've put more time into the numbers, and have used them as a tool to understand the complexity of my body.

I like this quote from one of Kada's earlier posts:

The number on the scale lies you see. It said I've gained only a little. But what does that mean really? All the scales can tell me is the gross weight of my body. Just like I was a packet of sausages you'd buy at the butchers. It doesn't tell me my “nutritional breakdown” ie how much fat, lean meat, water, fillers etc are within my casing. But, unlike that packet of sausages, I'm more than the sum of my parts.
And she's absolutely right. Though HOW can I agree with her, when I'm such a scale nut? When I'm on and off the scale two times a day?

The one single thing that makes our journey and destination the same is our commitment to understanding our body, and to make our body healthier, forever. Not for twelve weeks, or two months, or whatever. The only difference between us is the tools that we take along with us. Kada is the one who hikes through the woods with the 'whichever way the wind tells us to blow' approach. I'm the one with the maps and the compasses and the calculators and all of the measuring equipment that says, 'according to my calculations, the wind is blowing that way, so that is the way we should go.'

We both don't put pressure on ourselves on how long the hike should take. Because we don't know. We'd *like* to think it'd take a certain amount of time, but really, how the hell are we supposed to figure that out? Our abilities are certain to develop and change along the way, never mind that the terrain will definitely get more rugged as we go along. And of course, there'll be distractions. We'll drop some of our supplies and will have to turn around to go back and get it. We could stub our toe on a log or something - or perhaps, just stop and inhale the fresh air and pause to observe the incredible wildlife around us. We're not going to say, "It takes the average person 2 hours to climb that mountain, though I don't want to wait so long, I'm going to aim to do it in 1 hour." We're going to see whether our quads are as strong as these 'average people' that we've heard about, and we're not going to risk our health by trying to overshoot this Goodness Knows What Data This Is Based On number. We're not going to beat ourselves up if we take longer than 2 hours to climb that mountain. We're not going to beat ourselves up because we took a detour since we swore we saw a yak wearing a hula skirt and it just was more interesting at the time and in any case, you can resume climbing the mountain once you're done dealing with the distraction whereas that yak won't be hanging around for very long.

So what is the moral of this story?

There is no single, predefined way that one can truly get into the healthy headspace. Where you can stand back and make an assessment of your health based on your own individual feelings or your own individual numbers. You decide what tools you need - whether you need more, less, or none at all. What matters is that when one starts focusing on health, weight loss is a convenient side product.

It's not an obesity epidemic that we should be worried about, but an epidemic of unhealthy behaviour. And weight loss attempts without a focus on health? Dude, that ain't healthy.

5 Nibbles:

Amanda said...

Here, here, Marshy. You're completely right- although Kada and yourself have taken seemingly polar opposite approaches to health and weight loss, the underlying aims are the same. And that's what makes you both wonderful :)

Anonymous said...

Great post. I laughed when I read the getting married to the brownie part. I actually dreamed of honey mooning with one :)

Anonymous said...

To that I say...

Lily T said...

Great post! You two ARE polar opposites and it’s interesting how the two approaches differ.

Tully said...

Fantastic post Marshy. Interesting to see how different approcahes work for different people- yet you are both healthy and doing what is right for your body.

Gets me thinking about the difference between weight loss nd health...