Just When You Thought You Were Healthy…

Why do flags flap on a windy day?

Believe it or not, this is just one of many questions science cannot surely resolve. There are others: What is gravity? Why do we dream? How many species inhabit our planet? Why is it that the freeway lane I choose is always the slowest? (Okay, in all fairness, I really doubt if scientists spend much time on the last question.)

Each of us has unanswered questions.

Since my field is health, I’ve often wondered why is it that we determine someone’s correct weight based on the Quetelet Index of Obesity, a formula dating back to nineteenth-century Europe? Granted, about a century later we shifted to Body Mass Index (BMI), which is weight divided by height squared. Yet the main premise remained in tact: how tall you are is virtually the sole factor to determine how much you should weigh.

That has never made sense to me. Why would a 5’ 6” forty-four year old vegan woman who enjoys yoga and jogs with regularity; and a sedentary man of equal stature who scarfs red meat, French fries, and drives his car 100 yards to the corner store; be considered healthy at the same weight? I have always thought something’s messed up.

It appears I’m correct – but I take no comfort in what I found out.

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Difficult Until it Isn’t – Once You Make Up Your Mind, It All Works

Despite contrary opinion, losing weight is not hard to do; it’s amazingly simple:

  1. Eat a little less than you want
  2. Wait five minutes before you start
  3. Walk a little more than you would
  4. Focus on today (tomorrow will take care of itself)
  5. Repeat process until desired results are obtained

Voila! No pills. No bizarre food concoctions. No expensive plans. Simple. To the point. Successful.

As stated, it’s not difficult.

Why then do Americans spend $33 billion a year on a process that can be outlined in fewer than 50 words?

Here’s the thing: Losing weight is not hard; changing one’s mind to accept reality can be another issue.

I offer my own experience as case in point. I am no Johnny-Come-Lately to the rigors of dieting; having been on weight loss programs since before my memories were formed. As an overweight child who wore “husky” pants and XXL shirts, my mother served skim milk in (non-sugary) cereal and fruit for dessert. Doctors tried to shame me into losing weight; again and again forcing upon me those purple mimeographed pages overloaded with food lists, calorie counts, and dieting “secrets” (which never worked). Upon reaching adulthood, well-intentioned friends pointed out the health risks of obesity: heart disease, diabetes, and stroke; attempting to nudge me toward change. My life has been forged and melded in the furnace of dieting. I know this stuff better than the back of my slightly chubby hand.

So, why do I STILL have trouble sticking with it?

The answer? We make the process more difficult than necessary, gunking it up with all manner of artificial mental barriers and obstacles. Instead of accepting what must be done, I lament the process of change; stubbornly hanging on to the ineffective, seeking to finagle my way around what is required. I devise excuses for not waking in time to exercise. I tell myself, “just this once won’t hurt” while nibbling leftovers from the refrigerator. I protest the higher price of healthier foods, opting instead for the long-term cost of greasy, crunchy, fried bags of chips.

Our thoughts are the problem, not the diets.

We put ourselves at odds with our own best interest. At day’s end, it is usual to want to “shut down,” and unwind. Close the curtains. Turn off your mind. “Relax,” coos the seductive call of well-worn behaviors, “You can start tomorrow.”

“The price of freedom is eternal vigilance,” said our third president. To obtain independence from the tyranny of destructive habits requires ongoing diligent effort, as anything of value does. Yet, it is equally accurate — and too often forgotten — that when we pursue our passion, treat our bodies with respect, engage our better selves, and witness the results of those actions, there is no comparison to the elation, joyfulness, and euphoria that floods our soul.

At that point, the whole thing almost seems too easy.

 

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