Weight Loss:

It Ain't Rocket Science

This is an essay that a lot of people don't want you to read. People who make a great deal of money selling fad diet books, and fast weight loss programs, and exercise machinery, and invasive medical procedures.

They don't want you to read this because they want you to believe that weight loss can be quick, easy, and permanent (as long as you buy their products and services). The problem is that most of what they're selling is so much overpriced bovine scat, that might work in the short run, but has little or no permanent effect.

The problem is that our bodies evolved in an environment where food was scarce, and survival required a great deal of heavy manual labor. We could not, for most of Human history and prehistory, simply drive to the nearest grocer, or the nearest restaurant, and obtain cheap, convenient food with little or no work. And our bodies are much smarter than some people's brains seem to be, about energy management. When they're faced with a famine, they don't go into denial, the way some of us do when faced with the reality that we're nearing the end of our planet's supply of petroleum. They start shutting down nonessential functions, and craving energy sources: we get lethargic, we get hungry, and we develop a sweet tooth. And when faced with abundance, the body doesn't waste energy, the way we do, driving to places we'd be better off walking to, or taking public transportation, often in motorhomes and SUVs. It stores it up for famine. We get fat.

Our bodies may be smart when it comes to energy management, but they're not so quick on the uptake. If we starve ourselves, our bodies don't know that there's more than enough food available for our needs; all they know is that they're having to consume their reserves, and if they're consuming them quickly, then they're going to conclude that there's a massive famine, and that survival requires eating everything in sight, to build those reserves back up. They certainly don't know that those reserves are larger than necessary, and larger than is healthy.

Fad diets are all about fooling the body into not realizing it's being starved. The body may have no way of figuring out that there isn't any famine, but it's eventually going to realize that it's being starved, and it's eventually going to react to the rapid weight loss, with even more rapid weight gain.

Fat Cells

Some diet gurus talk about fat cells. Here's all you really need to know about them:

1. Like all cells, they reproduce. And when you gain weight rapidly, or simply gain it beyond what your fat cells can store, you end up with a net gain in the number of fat cells. Often a rapid one.

2. Like all cells, they eventually die. But it takes time. Lots of time. We're talking years of slow, gentle, weight loss for attrition to kick in on the fat cells. If, on the other hand, you starve your body, then you're going to have lots of starving fat cells.

3. The "Yo-Yo Effect" is real. But it's about wild, rapid swings in your body weight, not the small natural fluctuations that have as much to do with water, and with the contents of your digestive system as they do with fat.

It ain't rocket science, and it ain't molecular biology, either.

It ain't even cellular biology. It's physics. Not relativistic physics, or quantum mechanical physics, but simple Newtonian physics. And it's simple enough that you don't need The Calculus to figure it out, either.

Conservation of mass: You can't destroy matter (except by converting it to energy, and if you converted even a gram of your fat into energy, the resulting explosion wouldn't leave much left of you, or the building you happened to be in, or the city, for that matter). The only Newtonian way to change the amount of matter in a system is by putting it in from outside, or by taking it outside. To put it bluntly, if you ingest and inhale more than you excrete and exhale, you gain weight. If the reverse is true, you lose weight.

Conservation of energy: You can't create or destroy energy. You can only collect it, release it, store it, or expend it. If the energy you take in as food exceeds the amount your body expends in going about its business, your body is left with three things to do with it: it can expend it by doing extra work; it can excrete it in stored form; it can store it internally. And we already know which of the three things your body wants to do with it, that it will do, given the opportunity.

So to lose weight, you have to arrange things so that (1) you excrete and exhale more mass than you ingest and inhale, and (2) you either expend more energy than you take in, or failing that, you somehow deny your body the ability to store any excess. And oh, yes, (3) you need to do all of that without throwing your body into "famine mode."

You didn't gain all that weight overnight.

At least not originally. You gained it slowly, over a period of many years. It's ridiculous to expect yourself to lose it in a hurry, and then keep it off.

Lay off the artificial sweeteners

Problems with artificial sweeteners go back a long way. Far beyond the various rumors and urban legends implicating aspartame in everything from lactose intolerance to lupus to MS, to Gulf War Syndome. Far beyond the saccharin scare of the 1970s. Centuries beyond even the cyclamate scare of the 1960s. Trouble connected with artificial sweeteners goes all the way back to the Roman Empire, where lead acetate ("sugar of lead"), along with large amounts of other lead in contact with food and potable water, may well have been a contributing factor in the fall of Rome.

But actually, even a totally safe artificial sweetener is a problem, at least where weight loss is concerned. Think about it: almost all animal life is hardwired to like "sweet," and to associate it with concentrated, fast-acting, sources of fuel. Some species even have their tastebuds hardwired into insulin production. So what happens when we eat something that's sweet, yet inert? Our bodies almost certainly come to the conclusion that there's a problem absorbing sugar, and the cravings for sweet food become even worse. Far better to just reduce our consumption of sweets in general.

My weight loss program

There's nothing the least bit complicated about how I went from "somewhere north of 220 pounds" to "the polite side of 170, and counting." It's simplicity itself. But it took me two years just to lose the first 50 pounds.

I walk more. Whenever I have time, I walk anywhere from one to three miles after work. Before I began losing weight, on Hollywood Bowl concert nights, I used to take the shuttle bus from the Red Line to the Bowl. Now, I walk. It's a mile and a half up the hill, from the Hollywood & Highland station platform, with at least a 200-foot rise along the way, but given that on the way up, I had to wait for the bus to leave, and on the way down, I'd have to wait to get on the bus, it doesn't really take any longer, on average.

I redefined what "snack" means to me: Years ago, I used to gorge myself on cookies, as soon as I got home, and follow them up with a handful of potato chips, to cleanse the palate, all washed down with a pint of milk. And I'd do the same thing all over again at bedtime. Now, a snack means one cookie. Or one piece of cake. Or a couple of small crackers.

I also tend to eat lighter lunches. One hot dog, washed down with a cup of milk, and no dessert. Or a frozen diet lunch. I don't eat lunch out very often, and when I do, I get something smaller.

Little things count. Once I stopped sugaring my cereal in the morning, I found that plain Cheerios have a subtle flavor to them, one that stands up to milk, but gets totally overwhelmed by having several spoonfuls of sugar dumped over them.

And I weigh myself. At least daily.

It's been a very slow change, but I find that I rarely get overwhelmingly hungry.

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James H. H. Lampert
Copyright © James H. H. Lampert, 2011. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Revised Monday, November 16, 2015.
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