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Tuesday, January 03, 2012

It's a new year...and here we go again
Posted by Jill | 5:25 AM
It's only January 3, and already I feel that if I see one more paid celebrity shilling for diets I'm going to throw something at the TV. Every year, Americans make the same two resolutions: 1) I'm going to lose weight; and 2) I'm going to really hit the gym this year.

I've even succumbed to it this year, now that I've realized that even cookies don't appeal to me the way they used to, and that when they do, it's about one or two, not a dozen...and commercial cookies not at all. I don't expect to ever be the size six that I was for about five minutes in 1983, but a twelve would be nice.

See? There I go again.

It isn't the celebrity spokesmodels that make me think somehow this year will be different, not even Jennifer Hudson, who went on Weight Watchers can't seem to stop; rapidly turning into Thin-Era Oprah, with a tiny body and a huge head. Of course what no one admits is that Jennifer Hudson had a great voice and an Academy Award under her belt before she lost a pound, so it isn't as if doors were closed to her just because she was overweight. Not even Carrie Fisher, who is at least close to my age and has every bit as much emotional baggage. In fact, when I see a celebrity spokesperson for a diet, all I can think of is the personal chef that these people have, whipping up delicious meals with the appropriate number of points, or luscious salads and vegetable dishes to supplement all that inedible Nutra-System food. All I can think of is the personal trainers that these people can hire, and the workout time they can spend while not on a movie set (and sometimes, when they are) -- and the seven-figure fees that these people get to shill for programs that may work for those who have to live up to these fees and can afford the personal chef and trainer.

It's all part of the culture that gives us In Style magazine and other supermarket eye-catchers that show air-brushed photos of celebrities and tell us that yes, we too can look like them if we just follow their secret formulas. Of course those celebrities whose bodies (and minds) are like those of real people, and who end up failing again and again to keep the weight off, are treated brutally by the press -- see also Kirstie Alley, who has to dance two hours a day to keep her extra weight off and no doubt has a personal chef creating her "portion-controlled, organic diet".

And yet every year, women in particular make the resolution to lose weight and hit the gym. And every year, they fail, to the tune of the ka-CHING of cash registers at the companies that profit off of futility (NYT link):
Like many Americans who’ve made resolutions for 2012, I made these very same New Year’s promises about this time last year.

Which, it turns out, is great for business. Our collective failure to keep our resolutions represents an annuity of sorts for health clubs, weight-loss centers and other enterprises that make up what you might call the self-improvement industry. It’s an industry that thrives on our failure to change: recidivism is good for the bottom line

Americans spend many tens of billions every year in the hope of keeping resolutions to lose weight, get fit, quit smoking, fix their finances, organize their closets — on and on. Last year, we spent $62 billion on health club memberships, weight-loss programs, exercise tapes, diet soda and the like, according to projections from Marketdata Enterprises, a market research firm.

We start with good intentions. Memberships for health clubs and weight-loss programs spike each January, says John LaRosa, the president of Marketdata. But by March, the lines thin at the treadmills and many dieters relapse. So the next year, we try — and pay up — again.

“If I try one quick fix and it doesn’t work, I may be more likely to try the next quick fix,” says Lisa Lahey, the co-founder of Minds at Work, a consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass., which coaches executives and educators in sustained behavior change.

Supposed easy remedies like celebrity diets hold a powerful allure, but they rarely work in the long term, she says. After all, it’s hard for people to shake the underlying conditions — like stress or anxiety — that cause unwanted habits. If exercise tapes, dietetic meals, nicotine lozenges and personal finance apps worked by themselves, we’d all be fit, thin, smoke-free and rich.

The hard work of changing a lifestyle isn’t as alluring as dropping 30 pounds in 30 days. But some stop-smoking and weight-loss programs, as well as gyms, are trying to help for the long haul, a strategy that can improve customers’ chances of success and, for companies like Weight Watchers International, build brand loyalty and revenue.

JANUARY is the most important month of the year in the health club industry. At many gyms, new memberships double. Given that about a third of all members tend to turn over every year, the resolution crowd is crucial.

“The resolutioners always pop up,” says Scott Hamann, an analyst at KeyBanc Capital Markets covering the fitness industry.

But you probably know what happens next. Only a fraction of members work out twice a week or more, despite all those monthly dues. Health clubs in the United States had more than 50 million members and revenue of $20.3 billion in 2010, according to the latest data from the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, an industry trade group. But clubs reported that members typically visit only 54 times, or slightly more than once a week.

Here's the reality for those of us lucky enough to still have a job: We're simply too stressed out and too damn tired to hit the gym. And when we get home at 7 PM, we're too damn tired to start cooking delicious healthy meals. And there's no personal chef waiting there with a lovely plate of field greens and organic vegetables topped with a perfectly-sized portion of honey-lacquered salmon and a one-once wedge of artisanal cheese in a light citrus vinaigrette made with $25/bottle extra virgin olive oil from a perfect mountaintop in Italy. If you're lucky, there's a spouse who gets home before you who can throw some chicken burgers in a pan, and heat up some Trader Joe's side dishes.

As for the gym? Yes, there's a gym right on site where I work. But what's it to be, then, eh? I have to leave the house by 7:15 AM most mornings; 6:15 on mornings when I have a 7 AM teleconference. On a GOOD night I'm home at 6:15 PM, but usually it's closer to 7 PM. So when should I use this gym? Should I skip lunch, which is not good for you either? Should I leave the house an hour earlier so I can do a half-hour on the treadmill? Should I stay after work and get home at 8 PM, then have dinner and take all the calories to bed an hour and a half later? Those options don't seem particularly healthy either.

OR, I can give up this blog and other writing, which is the only thing I still have in my life that I enjoy doing? Perhaps I should just become this machine that does nothing but work, eat quick, frozen, unsatisfying "diet" meals, exercise, and try to get some sleep amidst the chaos. Because after all, what is personal satisfaction and getting some pleasure out of life when compared to the pressure to lose weight and be as fit as a 25-year-old, no matter what your age or the reality of your life?

There's a reason Weight Watchers is a billion dollar business. There's a reason they recommend that you continue to attend meetings for the rest of your life. Every day I see women at work heating up their 8-ounce frozen meals from Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers or Lean Cuisine. I see them digging the last morsel out of the two-ounce can of Jenny's chicken salad. And when the leftover sandwiches and cookies come out of a meeting at around 3 PM, they're the first ones hitting the stuff -- because they're hungry. And yet, they keep going back to the meetings and ordering the food.

Take a look at the comments section of any article that is even remotely related to food or diets or exercise, and you'll see at least five bozos telling people who are overweight to lay off the fast food and doughnuts and get off the sofa. You know what I have to say to them? Fuck you. I don't eat fast food and doughnuts, and if I want to hit the sofa at 8 PM so I can wind down enough to be able to fall asleep by 9:30, who are these people to demand that I jump around the basement for an hour and then try to fall asleep? Especially when unless you make weight maintenance the entire focus of your life, your efforts are pretty much doomed anyway?

Last Sunday, the Times' Magazine section had an article about how those of us who have fought this battle our whole lives continue to fight with our own bodies even when we lose weight:

For years, the advice to the overweight and obese has been that we simply need to eat less and exercise more. While there is truth to this guidance, it fails to take into account that the human body continues to fight against weight loss long after dieting has stopped. This translates into a sobering reality: once we become fat, most of us, despite our best efforts, will probably stay fat.


Janice Bridge, a registry member who has successfully maintained a 135-pound weight loss for about five years, is a perfect example. “It’s one of the hardest things there is,” she says. “It’s something that has to be focused on every minute. I’m not always thinking about food, but I am always aware of food.”

Bridge, who is 66 and lives in Davis, Calif., was overweight as a child and remembers going on her first diet of 1,400 calories a day at 14. At the time, her slow pace of weight loss prompted her doctor to accuse her of cheating. Friends told her she must not be paying attention to what she was eating. “No one would believe me that I was doing everything I was told,” she says. “You can imagine how tremendously depressing it was and what a feeling of rebellion and anger was building up.”

After peaking at 330 pounds in 2004, she tried again to lose weight. She managed to drop 30 pounds, but then her weight loss stalled. In 2006, at age 60, she joined a medically supervised weight-loss program with her husband, Adam, who weighed 310 pounds. After nine months on an 800-calorie diet, she slimmed down to 165 pounds. Adam lost about 110 pounds and now weighs about 200.

During the first years after her weight loss, Bridge tried to test the limits of how much she could eat. She used exercise to justify eating more. The death of her mother in 2009 consumed her attention; she lost focus and slowly regained 30 pounds. She has decided to try to maintain this higher weight of 195, which is still 135 pounds fewer than her heaviest weight.

“It doesn’t take a lot of variance from my current maintenance for me to pop on another two or three pounds,” she says. “It’s been a real struggle to stay at this weight, but it’s worth it, it’s good for me, it makes me feel better. But my body would put on weight almost instantaneously if I ever let up.”

So she never lets up. Since October 2006 she has weighed herself every morning and recorded the result in a weight diary. She even carries a scale with her when she travels. In the past six years, she made only one exception to this routine: a two-week, no-weigh vacation in Hawaii.

She also weighs everything in the kitchen. She knows that lettuce is about 5 calories a cup, while flour is about 400. If she goes out to dinner, she conducts a Web search first to look at the menu and calculate calories to help her decide what to order. She avoids anything with sugar or white flour, which she calls her “gateway drugs” for cravings and overeating. She has also found that drinking copious amounts of water seems to help; she carries a 20-ounce water bottle and fills it five times a day. She writes down everything she eats. At night, she transfers all the information to an electronic record. Adam also keeps track but prefers to keep his record with pencil and paper.

“That transfer process is really important; it’s my accountability,” she says. “It comes up with the total number of calories I’ve eaten today and the amount of protein. I do a little bit of self-analysis every night.”

Click over and read the entire article, if you haven't already done so. Note especially the "Before" and "After" photos of Adam and Janice Bridge. In the "Before" photo, they're happy and smiling and enjoying themselves despite being overweight. In the "After" photo, they're grim and unsmiling. Perhaps they are just hungry.

They are also retired, which gives them hours a day to exercise. And still, they burn less while exercising then people who have never been overweight:
Scientists are still learning why a weight-reduced body behaves so differently from a similar-size body that has not dieted. Muscle biopsies taken before, during and after weight loss show that once a person drops weight, their muscle fibers undergo a transformation, making them more like highly efficient “slow twitch” muscle fibers. A result is that after losing weight, your muscles burn 20 to 25 percent fewer calories during everyday activity and moderate aerobic exercise than those of a person who is naturally at the same weight. That means a dieter who thinks she is burning 200 calories during a brisk half-hour walk is probably using closer to 150 to 160 calories.

Last year I resolved to dramatically reduce consumption of "white foods" -- white pasta, white potatoes and the like. I was pretty successful with that one. During the year I gave up diet soda and substituted water with meals, and it still took me a month to get used to not having that sweet taste with dinner. This year I think it's going to be sugar -- fewer desserts, protein snacks like nuts nstead of cookies or granola bars to address the 2:30 PM crash. These are things that are do-able.

But live like Janice and Adam Bridge? Yes, it might help me live longer...or maybe it'll just SEEM longer. Besides, who's going to have enough money to live that long anyway?

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Anonymous The Wifely Person said...
This is a gazillion dollar industry designed to make women feel bad about themselves so they will spend money they may or may not have on shit that will not help them feel any better. This is how those industries survive...on our wallets and our self-loathing.

Just as heroine chic makes emaciated, anorexic children into "models," this youth driven crap turns pedophilia into okay. You know all those bikini waxes...all they do is try to make an old vagina look like it belongs on an 8 year old..and that's supposed to be sexy? Normal? How about perverse?

The advert industry has found a more than willing class of victims to exploit...and we are it.

Blogger Oldfool said...
I will be 73 March 5. Feb 13th will mark the 4th year of making a lifetime change in my life. You see, I am what you call in the horse business an "easy keeper". At that time I weighed 222. I now weigh 187 which is what I have been for more than 8 months.
The lifetime change was to be aware of every bite that goes in my mouth. I started with 1200 calories a day but that only lasted about a month but it was a start. I now shoot for around 1800 calories going into my pie hole and that includes everything including water.
Since I drink a bottle of wine everyday that leaves less that 1200 calories of solid food (a big bag of chips with dip). Without the wine I would never make it.
According to the experts I am still 3 pounds into obesity. I walk, I bike, I garden and I cut wood to heat with.
I was never fat as a child or as a young man but things started to change in my '40's.
I am keeping the weight off but only because I have been taking small portions for so long that it is now an ingrained habit.
I love the taste and texture of edibles. I love to cook. My spouse is an Excellent southern cook but nothing affects her. She eats and drinks beer all day long and still only weighs 100 pounds.
I'm not going back because I feel so much better but I hate it. I'm hungry all the time.
The depressing part is that I will be hungry until I die.

Blogger Patricia said...
I am so damn tired too. The constant pressure to be a certain size.I hate this thing that has happened to me since I hit middle age.When I went to the doctor she told me to eat less. Uh, ok, but I don't eat a whole lot to begin with.I refuse to give up my Saturday night wine.Then there is the whole scary, freaky looking people with really bad plastic surgery. It just sucks along with the crappy 12 hour shifts I work. Like I am not a total wastoid when I get home from that. Ugh

Anonymous Ted said...
Fat is NOT just the passive blob that the body "produces" to store the idle calories you take in, it is an ACTIVE body substance that, like all living things, works very, very hard to survive.

When you lose weight, you kill fat cells. The fat fights back with enzymes that make you hungry, tired, irritable, and all the other things attributed to dieting -- and cells dying.

I saw the link to this on one of the healthy lifestyle blogs some months ago, and of course I can't find it quickly now that I want it....