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good, wise, and talented friend Laszlo Bencze (see article 52 for more about
Laszlo) emailed and then called me a few days ago about a morbidly obese friend,
we’ll call him Bill (not his name). Bill, in his late 50s, weighs 350 and
wants desperately to lose it—a big part of the problem. Like many (most?)
people, he wants to lose it fast. He’d lost nine pounds in two weeks, as a
result of dieting and embarking on a new exercise program, and was already
experiencing strong food cravings and feeling deprived. “Food is ever on my
mind,” Bill confided to Laszlo; “I’m tired and I crave fat.” Recognizing that as a bad sign, Laszlo feared for Bill’s welfare.
“He’s been through several failed diets already,” Laszlo told me. “I
feel that I have to reach him now or never.”
I've been thinking
about your response to my last email about losing weight and it makes me worried
for you. You say, "At one pound per week I would need more than
120 weeks to reach a decent weight. I'm just not willing to wait that long.
That's nearly 2 1/2 years!"
Bill, let us reason together. First of all, how long did it take to gain the excess weight you now carry? Six years? Seven? Eight? I know that at some point you were a serious bicyclist; but that must have been years before I first met you about four years ago, and you were hefty then. So I'm guessing that your weight gain may have taken as long as ten years.
That's a long time.
Now you want to lose all that by when? December? A mere six months? Or perhaps by Spring of next year? Nine months. Do you really think that’s reasonable? Do you really think you can maintain a 4 1/2 lb per week weight loss for 27 weeks? Do you think you can achieve such a weight loss without the use of drugs or surgery or confinement in a hospital?
What if I told you I wanted to achieve a doctoral level of proficiency in theology, but I was put off by the prospect of spending six years in full-time study? I wanted to do it in six months, in my spare time. Would you think that reasonable?
Bill, your body is telling you something. Your food craving means your body is feeling threatened. It's fighting back. Your body is activating its survival mechanisms. You cannot maintain a deprivation diet for very long. No one can. The effects are too dire. You become weaker. Your body actually phases into storing more fat even as you lose weight. (That means you're losing muscle. Hardly the goal.) You become cranky and tired. You can't stop thinking about food. You grow depressed. Your mind and senses suffer severe impairment. People notice. And frankly, you soon reach the point where you just can't take it anymore; you have to dump the diet and make up for the weeks of deprivation. You then go into a rebound phase and regain everything you lost and usually a little more.
To lose a steady pound a week means you lose fifty pounds in a year. That is a magnificent achievement! Do you have any idea what a heap fifty pounds of fat would make if you dumped it on the kitchen table? It would be huge. Fat is far less dense than muscle. And it would be ugly. You would be thrilled to be rid of it!
You stopped working out and dieting sometime around May of last year. If you had maintained your program, you might now be 58 lbs lighter! Bill, we're all getting older. Years zip by like seasons used to. Let this "time acceleration" work to your advantage. For a guy over 50, a year is not a long time. Be satisfied with a rational rate of weight loss--a rate that will not cause your body to go into starvation mode or cause you to feel deprived. Before you know it, you’ll be a different person. You will look better and you will feel better. A fifty-pound weight loss is a super goal for a year of effort. And it is a goal that can be achieved without a relentless and depressing focus on food. Establishing a few new habits is all it will take, which will take no more than six weeks.
Clarence Bass says, and I quote: "Rushing the process torpedoes more weight
loss plans than anything else." Bill, even world-class bodybuilders who are
fit and highly motivated can't keep up a deprivation diet for much longer than
six weeks prior to a contest. And the price they pay for such dieting is extreme
crankiness (as in "I can't take it anymore, I want a divorce") and a
loss of good health (many of them look drawn and haggard in this state of
deprivation). Trust me. As soon as the contest is over, they head to the pizza
parlor and make up for lost time JUST LIKE ANYONE WOULD!
So Bill, I advise you to rethink your expectations about losing weight. Pay attention to your cravings. Having food cravings means you have cut back too far on your calories. The shortfall in calories will work against you because you have pushed your body into survival mode. Your body rebels. Cravings are the first sign of rebellion. Putting on fat is the second. Dumping the diet is the third.
You can only lose weight permanently if
you do it slowly. Please accept this truth and reconcile yourself to it. It will
take you two years to get to where you want to be. So what? You'll have a good
time on the journey. You'll have a good time, because your strength and fitness
will improve as you go. The process will be satisfying. You will feel satisfied.
Those pound-a-week losses add up. You
will start getting loose in your clothes long before you lose 50 pounds. And
your muscularity will be increasing. You will be stronger. That always makes a
person feel good, as you have already noticed in your improved ability to rise
up from a squatting position during your workday. By the time you lose 50 pounds
you will need a new wardrobe. You will have a new attitude towards life. That
will be a great achievement for your first year. You will be happy because you
will know that you can lose the balance by continuing on the same path.
ENJOY THE PROCESS! Eat as many fresh vegetables as you want. (You will never get fat eating such stuff; I don't care what anyone says.) Eat a slice of pizza once in a while. You can make up for that in a couple of days, and you’ll be happier. If you have a food craving, satisfy it. That nips bingeing in the bud. Slow your rate of weight loss to a sustainable and enjoyable level.
Weigh yourself no more than once a week. (Direct advice from Clarence.) Keep a weight chart next to the scale in the bathroom. Observe the trend. You can't expect to lose exactly a pound a week. One week you may experience no change; the next week you’ll probably lose two pounds. The trend will be down. That's what matters.
Your diet should not be a purgatory. It should not be penance for past sins. It should be a positive part of your life that fills you with pleasure and satisfaction. Focus on your workouts. Make them better. Gain muscular weight. Configure your diet so you do not feel deprived. This is an absolute MUST. If your current diet plan forces you into an unsustainable eating pattern, FIND ANOTHER PLAN!
Please do not delay, Bill. You must not allow the feelings of deprivation to continue any longer.
[Laszlo’s advice to Bill is right
on the money for anyone who wants to lose weight—and keep it off. For more
details about the perils of rapid weight loss, see article 6 “Dieter’s
Dilemma” and my book Ripped 2.]
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