. . . for my kids. . . and good friends

Health -- why weight?

I think we've had enough "stay angry" for a while; time to concentrate on staying hungry. . . or at least losing a bit of weight. And I have an incredible success story to report, in this second 'health' post.

It required three 'machines' costing less than €100 in total, took five months and produced almost 10 kgs of what seems to be sustainable weight loss. There's no diet involved but no magic either, just a slow shift of life-style. It's not me, but somebody very close to me, who had a good bmi even before this started.

I've certainly benefited as well, and we've been talking a lot about it, trying to understand what happened and why.

The first machine is the juicer, that I've already written about . It's the bulk of the money too (around €70). It makes two contributions, both between the ears, rather than round the waistline. A daily half litre of very fresh vegetable and fruit juice makes you feel full; you don't need a second slice of toast nor a couple more potatoes, depending on when you drink it. Also, when you do reduce your food intake a bit, you can be certain you're not going short of vitamins and minerals and trace elements, as you're overdosing on them if anything! Plus, I guess, it tastes really good and renders pretty well undrinkable all the processed options you used to prefer.

The second 'machine' I've had since early 2005; much mocked for many years, it's now accepted by my partner to have played an important part in the process. My pedometer (ideally the simplest, cheapest kind you can find, certainly well under €10) has taught us both to know when we've walked 10,000 steps in a day. Walking's not essential; the computation is very simple -- two hours per day of moderate to strenuous exercise is what you need; walking's wonderful, cycling's effective too; so is vigorous vacuuming, or whatever. But again, between the ears, the reinforcing effect of a simple feedback mechanism is essential, and for the first few years! You need to feel rewarded and successful in your efforts; and it's so easy to con yourself. Also, why else will you brace yourself against the cold and rain and go out again after dinner, unless you've realised there're only 6,437 steps on the clock not the required 10,000!

The third machine you have anyway; though maybe the wrong sort. Not a problem, it'll cost you under €15 to buy simple, digital bathroom scales. The other kind don't work; it's too easy to persuade yourself your weight's the same, just by moving your head from side to side. Digital scales make you face the truth, down to the nearest 0.1 kgs. And whatever anyone else says, yes you do need to step on them every day, preferably at the same time. Again it's about positive and negative feedback. You note your weight, you stay relaxed, you look for explanations (and perhaps adjust things a bit accordingly) and you monitor the trend.

Oh so simple! Not a chance. We've been doing all or parts of this for months and more, without even undramatic results; just bafflement. (But I hardly ate anything yesterday and only one glass of wine and I'm up 0.6!   Oh dear!)

The machines are necessary, I believe, but definitely not sufficient to guarantee long-term, healthy weight-loss. I've been able me to maintain my bulk around the top of my bmi range, significantly less than a few years ago (I've always had heavy bones!!) but for my partner her performance since the summer has been unbelievable.

At one point we even started to worry that she might be ill. Steadily, week after week, she was shedding half a kilo. Yes, twenty weeks, ten kilos. She used to be three or four kilos less than me; now it's, errr, more than twelve.

It has to be important to you.  As a family we're aware of weight, and what we eat, and health and fitness, but not obsessively; though I do have an obsessive contempt for the food industry and the muck they peddle; though that's for another (stay angry) time!

Against this background, we went in July to the French Alps, Pralognan-la-Vanoise; we had this silly idea of throwing summer snowballs at each other.

We did it, at 2,500 metres above sea-level; great walking too. Bracing camping; good open-air food; plenty of wine; and without any machines at all a significant summer weight loss! Three active weeks = minus three kilos!

An unexpected holiday bonus and not one to waste or let slip. It was all a bit thought-provoking. Re-stocking the fridge on our return makes you think! No more of those tasty, calory-intensive pots of supermarket, coleslaw-type salad, with added chicken or tuna or bits of crab. So easy to demolish in a day, or less. If they're not in front of you, you don't/can't eat them.  And far less cheese and milk (not easy for a Dutch girl!)

It wasn't so difficult. Once you've started to enjoy feeling a bit slimmer, then that's a good counter-balance to creamy comfort-food. And anyway there's half a litre of vibrant veg and fruit juice sloshing around making you feel full.

So this accidental achievement was followed by a more cerebral strategy for success; driven by a determination not to let it go.  It's almost comforting and reassuring (virtuous even) to have a slightly hungry feeling.  Also, you have to accept that you can't rush it; you must give yourself months not weeks;  and realistic, regular target-setting is part of the necessary reward mechanism that plays a part.

Sober reality reminds us all that one kilo of body fat equates to 7,000 calories and that the averagely-active woman uses up about 2,000 calories in 24 hours. The maths is depressing but informative. Food intake matters much more than exercise, when it comes to weight loss. Though you do need to consider metabolic rate as well, (and a bunch of other technical variables perhaps, in due course).  

The implications are undeniable. Eat less. Portion size is really, really important. For several years my partner's son's contribution at the dinner-table has been: "Mum, you don't have to eat that; when you've had enough just stop!" This had seemed like precocious, youthful rebellion to those of us brought up to clean our plates. But he is, of course, right! (There is a limit to this, and you know you've reached it , when you're both surreptiously trying to nick something from the fridge before you go to bed!)

I was a hunter gatherer, and so were you. Feast and famine is our natural state; and for several years now, I enact a mini-version every day. I have an early breakfast and then wait six hours before I eat anything more. If nothing else it stops snacking. I do have coffee in between, with skimmed milk, and water if I want; but that's it. It doesn't suit everyone, including my partner but it had an impact on her eating as well, keeping between-meals nibbling to a minimum.

And I guess my alcohol habits have helped as well. We drink; we enjoy a drink; and given half a chance we might do it every day! We don't, and when apart we drink less. But now, every month, I have at least eight alcohol-free days, and try not to dink for more than five days in succession. Sometimes we don't succeed. But it's a good and realistic aim and usually our record is pretty good.

My partner sins. And sometimes she tells me about it!  So, if she's had a Belgian chocolate! a home-made biscuit! or a couple of thin, Dutch-slices of cheese!! she knows she has to compensate. No problem, an extra visit to the gym, no wine that evening (even if I do) or salad for dinner tomorrow (in January, like yesterday!)   And maybe skip the scales in the morning (why bother when you know it'll be depressing, and you've already decided to take corrective measures?)  

Ah ha, you say; the gym. More machines, more will-power, more departures from normal behaviour. Not really. She's been 'gyming' for most of last year and for months and months it made no difference at all to her weight! We have the depressing figures around to prove it. So it's not necessary for creating the smaller you.

However, for health and fitness, we've identified the six 'S's' that spell success!! Size is only one of them. The others are: strength, speed, stamina, shape and suppleness. Good eh! And the gym helps with all the others. It makes you feel and look good, it speeds up your metabolic rate and stops you being fat inside, even if the outside looks ok. The gym is not essential but being active is, in a way you enjoy (or come to enjoy) and that can be part of your life-style. And this is the definition of 'success', way beyond just losing weight .    

I mentioned home-made biscuits. We now bake our own bread, brew our own cider (occasionally) and make the most wonderful, fruity jam (in much less than an hour per batch!) using cheap strawberries, blackberries from the hedges near my mother, or rose-hips on the Aflsuitdijk. So, along with the piles of fresh fruit and veg, there's far less space or inclination to consume crap.

OK, to sum up, you want to lose weight eat less and better, drink more fresh juice, walk 10,000 steps a day, and watch the kilos fall off. Three machines; and also a serious determination to do it. Comments, reactions and questions would be welcome; I have a feeling that I've left out part of the story, but we're a bit close to all the details and perhaps we're taking things for granted; so please let us know!


As a footnote, I would mention a theory of behaviour change we've used in other contexts many times. You first need to predispose people to make the change (they need to want to do it!) Then you need to enable them to make the change (the three machines). And finally you need re-inforcement -- a very appreciative partner, perhaps.

Last Updated on Saturday, 12 January 2013 08:52  

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