Tuesday, September 4, 2007

How did I get so big?

It's not a nice feeling to get on a scale for the first time in a year and get shocked by the number. First there is denial, then anger (though there need not be acceptance!) Seldom is it one factor that leads to such a surprise. In my observations I've noticed that people can get into trouble with their weight in a variety of ways. The following are a few of the ways people start gaining weight despite good intentions - and ones that were all contributing factors in my own 'sticker shock' on the scale: 

* Lack of Knowledge. When we don't know nutritional information on the foods we eat there can be little hope of losing weight, or even maintaining it! It's like shopping without looking at price tags. Start looking at the 'price tags', the nutrional label on your favorite foods and do a little research on what you like to eat out at restaurants. As I mentioned previously, switching from the Mucho Grande Nachos (1320 calories) to a soft chicken taco (190 calories) or from a steak/egg bagel the hash browns (130 instead of 700 calories) will make a huge difference.

* Lack of Awareness. Sometimes people are aware of the facts but are less aware about how much (or how often) they're eating. On several foods I was surprised to learn that the amount I would typically eat was 3 or more servings. Another killer for me was the candy jar at work, just way too convenient to dip into. The soda machine would be similar, but I only drink water and diet soda. For others, stress eating can be a big problem. They don't intend to eat an entire sleeve of crackers, but under certain conditions (or times) that's just what happens. If you don't intend to over indulge, just move the jar, put the crackers on a top shelf where you need a ladder to get them. (If that makes you laugh, knowing full well you'll get the ladder, read the next reason.)

* Lack of Self-Control. I listed the candy jar as lack of awareness, just because I would dip in so mindlessly and often. For others, they dip in with full knowledge and perhaps in agony, unable to resist. For me, there are several foods that if they come in the house, I'm toast. Once I open a bag of cool ranch Doritos, it's virtually impossible to stop. Egg Nog is another nemesis. The solution in this case is pretty obvious - don't bring them in the house. Do your shopping *only* when you're not hungry or craving something, and make sure you don't buy things you know you won't be able to resist. (This applies to several vices, not just food!)

* Lack of a Doggie-Bag. The portion size for most meals at restaurants is huge! A typical lunch could easily cover two or even three meals. Do you find yourself thinking you'll take some home, only to find yourself a half-hour later staring at an empty plate, stuffed? (I sure did!) For me an extremely simple trick works great. "Make the cut before you bite" Before you take your first bite, cut the serving in half and move it well away from the rest of the food. If I know in advance what marks "done" it's far easier to stop. Clearly, there may be some temptation to go beyond, once you reach that point. Console yourself with the fact that you're going to have this great lunch *again*, if you stop now - and you won't be tempted to fall asleep this afternoon either. This technique works particularly well with chinese food, mexican food, or other restaurants in your area with large quantities (I'm not as likely to cut a burger and half and save it for later, for example.)

* Lack of Exercise. This is a biggie that I'll get more into later, but it's quite rare to to find an overweight person that felt they were exercising regularly and effectively. Lack of exercise is not only a reason for weight gain, but for a host of other health problems (whether or not they occur now, or down the line.) Twice in my life I've been able to trace back significant weight gain to the point where I stopped doing exercise or sports that had been fairly regular (things were "too busy" at work to keep up with exercise). Getting back into some form of activity that I *enjoy* doing has been a great help in becoming more healthy and losing weight.

In an average week of eating without thinking, avoiding the scale, the excess calories due to the five factors above might be 1200, 1600, 1800, 2000 and 1200 respectively. If done poorly and consistently, that's a gain of two pounds per week and an eventual gain of fifty pounds. If you're only consuming 1/4 of the excess calories I was, or you ignore good eating habits "just" two days a week, that's still enough to put on about twelve pounds over the course of two seasons.

If you're facing one (or all!) of these problems, there's nothing "wrong" with you!
- You can be extremely intelligent and have a gap in knowledge about nutrional information.
- You can be very sensitive and aware in general, but may miss the mark at times.
- You can be extremely disciplined and show self-control in one area but have significant
problems with self-control in another area.
- You can be fairly active overall but still fall short of what is needed
in terms of exercise for weight control and for overall health.

if you recognize there is a problem, get past the denial stage and start thinking about what it is that has led to your present situation - what are the key contributors to being overweight, and think about whether it's time to do something about it.

Mind you, I'm not a medical doctor or nutrion expert, and there are a lot of other reasons for weight problems, including medications, lack of sleep, eating too quickly, too much fat and sugar, too little fiber, skipping breakfast, as well as eating disorders and psychological reasons. The ones listed above however are very common, and were ones that contributed to my own weight gain.

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