December 8, 2019

A Weight-y Matter

In a couple of previous blog posts, I made passing mention that I gained weight in the last couple of years. Even though I’m not overweight by most standards, I have belly rolls I never had before, and I’m carrying some extra padding on my hips and thighs.

I’m good at finding fault with many of my body parts, but I was always proud of my washboard stomach. And here’s the clincher: I never had to work at it. Now, it’s gone, and seeing fat where it never existed before has been a bit hard to take. However, I realize my indulgences over the last two years haven’t helped the cause: wine, soft drinks, chocolate, chips and french fries to name a few.

I’m now back in the gym working out on a regular basis. Yet, despite the many benefits of exercise, it’s not a significant contributor to weight loss. In fact, in my unscientific opinion, you’d have to exercise many hours a day to really make a difference in your weight.

So while I feel good about my level of physical activity, I have clothes that don’t fit and I’m still “rounder” than I was a few years ago. However, one positive thing about being a bit heavier is that the bones in my chest no longer stick out.

In light of my new reality, I’ve been giving more thought to how I perceive my body. I’m not 5’10” and 130 pounds. In fact, I’m five inches shorter and 10 pounds heavier. (Did I just say that?!) But, I’m in good health and all my body parts work. Really, I’m blessed and have everything to be thankful for.

Sure, I could drink nothing but water and herbal tea. I could give up wine, soft drinks, chocolate, chips and french fries, and I would lose 10 or 15 pounds pretty quickly. I’d have smaller hips, smaller boobs, and my former washboard stomach. BUT…I’d also have that bony chest again, and I’d feel deprived.

I’m generally careful about the quality of what I put in my body. I’m pretty good at avoiding excess, and I don’t eat or drink junk every day. I exercise a lot. So more and more, I find myself saying, “No, you’re not as slim as you used to be but that’s ok. YOU’RE ok.”

To help myself come to better terms with my situation, I started listening to some experts. Dr. Jen Gunter is a gynecologist who has made it her mission to debunk pseudo-science health myths. I enjoy watching her series Jensplaining. Last weekend, I watched her video “Weight Loss” where she focused on debunking fad weight-loss products and diets.

According to Dr. Gunter, almost half of Canadians try to lose weight every year and most are unsuccessful. She says that one-third of Canadians and forty percent of Americans are overweight. She also notes that the reasons for this are very complex and challenging to untangle. On top of that, she says, medicine doesn’t have great answers.

Here’s another statistic Dr. Gunter cites: The chance of losing weight and keeping it off is about five percent. Then add the media that loves to reinforce certain stereotypes of body image and make us feel badly about ourselves.

So now it’s obvious that we’re dealing with societal pressure and difficult science, and what’s the end result? An open door for weight loss predators.

Follow this diet.
Do a cleanse.
Take this supplement.
Drink this tea (or shake).

The reality is that if a “diet” is going to work, it’s got to be one that you can keep doing day in and day out for life. And I can guarantee you, most people can’t stick to ANY restrictive diet for that long.

In the “Weight Loss” episode of Jensplaining, Dr. Gunter also talks to Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, Associate Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Ottawa and medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute. In other words, he’s an obesity expert.

During their chat, Dr. Freedhoff has some interesting things to say:

“People are told, on a daily basis, from all sorts of sources, that they should care about their shapes and sizes, that weight is something they should feel guilt and shame about, and that they’re going to have horrible medical consequences if they don’t change it.”

“If there was any amount of shame, blame, guilt or fear that drove long-term behaviour change, we wouldn’t be chatting about this today. It’s impossible to drive long-term change on the backs of negative emotions.”

“I don’t think people can suffer in perpetuity. That’s the challenge and fatal flaw in most diets. If your ability to succeed requires you to be hungry, to cut out entire food groups, to not be able to socialize normally with your friends and family, and not be able to enjoy food, it’s not going to last.”

“The most idiotic diets will provide people with some benefits if they happen to enjoy those idiotic diets.”

“The fact that we’re not always on top of this [our weight] as our first priority is ok.”

I’m starting to think that unless your weight is causing health issues, it’s best to let it be. And if you need to lose some weight for health reasons, fear and feeling badly about yourself are not the best ways to embark on that journey (or any other kind of life change).

Dr. Freedhoff offers up the three easiest and most straightforward things he thinks people can do to lose weight:

Cook more. This helps reduce ultra-processed food intake and reliance on restaurants with their over the top servings. It also improves the quality of your food and saves you money.

Drink fewer calories. There are no beverages where the benefits of the liquid are worth the extra calories. Reduce sugar-sweetened beverages, milk and juice. Drink alcohol in moderation.

Keep track of something. Be aware of what you’re eating and drinking but not in a judgmental way. This isn’t about shame or blame. Awareness helps to cultivate thinking about our choices and that’s what we need, a more thoughtful approach to eating.

Overall, this can help manage food intake and in that context, help reduce weight. Interestingly, Dr. Freedhoff says that sometimes it’s thoughtful to be indulgent. Yay! Christmas Day splurge!

I’m heavier than I used to be, but I’m healthy, and I’m active. If you’re the same, I invite you to join me in not worrying so much about weight. Let’s change the conversation around it, and remember, if anyone tries to make you feel badly about your body, it’s their problem, not yours.