Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Can't Lose Weight? Wanna Bet?

Losing weight and getting in shape can improve your health, increase your lifespan, reduce the risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. It can improve your relationships, let you live a fuller, more satisfying life. It can increase your confidence and, as a result, allow you to earn more and progress more quickly in your field.

And yet somehow, while all these benefits may fail to motivate us, bet someone $100 you can do it, and, BAM, you are all over it!

I am the greatest transgressor when it comes to this. I made my first of countless diet bets while I was in high school at Choate. When my plans to become a football hero were dashed by a nasty broken leg -- one of those twisting, shattering, full-cast-for-six-months kind of breaks -- I managed to pack on some extra pounds. When the piano player in my band, Caruso and the Busboys, said there was no way I could get back in shape for our big gig at the end of the month, I bet him a bass guitar I'd lose 20 pounds in 4 weeks.

And I did.

"So what's wrong with that?" you ask. Nothing. Except that I gained it right back. This has been a theme ever since. Gain weight. Get fed up. Make a bet. Loss the weight, collect the prize, and start the upward climb almost immediately.

But I have learned something in the process. With that first bet for the bass guitar, I lost 20 pounds in 4 weeks and gained it back in...five? I don't remember exactly, but it came back fast. The last bet I made was a couple of years ago. I lost about 30 in 3 months, and it took me a whole year and a half to get back to square one.

So what's the significance of this? "It's still a yo-yo," you say, "just a slow yo-yo." The significance is that you have to slow down before you stop. And what I have finally learned is that the thing you have to slow down is the rate at which you lose the weight.

This is America. We are the land of instant gratification. The land of silver bullets. The land of no payments till 2009. Unfortunately, this is not how the body works. Millions of years of evolution have hardwired various survival mechanisms into our DNA. One such mechanism is the "don't starve" mechanism. That's the scientific name, I believe. Simply put, our bodies will do what they can to prevent us from starving to death. That means, at the first sign of starvation, the body turns down the furnace. In other words, our metabolism slows so we need fewer calories. That is how prisoners of war are able to survive for years on bowls of gruel. The body slows down when we cut our intake dramatically.

The only way to circumvent this is to lose weight slowly. The slower the better. One to two pounds a week max.

There is a lot more to all of this, but it'll have to wait. I've got to get something to eat.

To be continued...

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