Obesity is not an overindulged state; it is a malnourished state. It’s a predicted consequence of eating a diet that does not provide sufficient nutrients, or building blocks, to maintain health. And this is why diets don’t work. Diets are about denying yourself: denying yourself sufficient total calories, sufficient nutritious fat, sufficient protein. And the reason that denying yourself doesn’t work is that denial is what made your jeans tight in the first place!
The solution to obesity is not to restrict one’s nutrients and calories, but to increase the nutritional value of the food that we eat while we simultaneously reduce our intake of nutritionally bankrupt items.
When you eat nutritious food, it fills you up. It sticks to your ribs, satiates you, and makes you feel satisfied. Bottom line: It nourishes you. Every time you eat something, ask yourself this question: “Does this food nourish me?” If it’s real food, the answer will always be yes.
Real food is filling, which is not true for manufactured calories and processed items. You may have noticed that it might be possible to tip a whole sleeve of Thin Mints into your mouth in one sitting, or polish off a 50-gallon drum full of Twizzlers in a single weekend. But you’ve never heard anyone push out their belly and proclaim “Oh, no, I shouldn’t have drunk so much olive oil!” When you eat real food, your body knows it.
In the past few decades, increasing amounts of the information Americans rely on to learn about food and nutrition have come from the very boxes that contain that food. Here’s my special name for that type of information: advertising. You can’t get unbiased information from the folks whose #1 goal, first and foremost, is to sell the stuff. By getting our nutritional information from questionable sources, Americans have gotten heavier and heavier.
Every time we endorse dieting as a reasonable response to a desire to lose weight, we accept the idea that obesity is due to overindulgence. And when that diet doesn’t work, we do something very odd: We shake our heads and rather than say that there must be something wrong with dieting, we go “there must be something wrong with me.” We blame ourselves.
You see, if obesity were due to overindulgence, then dieting would work, but it doesn’t. So what should you do when confronted with information that appears to have the opposite effect of what one might expect?
It’s time to reexamine the fundamentals. Let’s start with a look at the concept of wellness.
Wellness is a pyramid with 3 major pillars: activity patterns, rest and relaxation, and eating patterns. There exists tremendous synergy among these 3 sets of patterns, which is why a 10% improvement on all fronts can sometimes make you feel like a million bucks. In this post, I want to elaborate on the first 2 pillars.
To begin, think about your activity patterns. Do you lead a rather sedentary lifestyle? Do you sit in a chair all day? Maybe your first goal is simply to buy a pedometer. Research indicates that people who wear a pedometer walk 1000 steps more each day than they did before they started wearing it.
Let’s make one thing perfectly clear. You’re not training for the Olympics, or opening a monastery in Thailand, or scheduled to become the next spokesperson for Weight Watchers. You’re just thinking about small changes.
Try incorporating physical activities into your daily routine as well, such as taking the stairs instead of an elevator or parking at the edge of a wherever you go. You can also try brushing your teeth on one foot. Even if you shift back and forth every 5 seconds, be assured that things will improve very quickly. This is a particular favorite of mine, because it doesn’t take any extra time -- you already brush your teeth! Your goal isn’t to train, it’s to move. So think about opportunities that might help you to increase the amount of time you spend moving every day, even if it’s only a tiny bit. You have to start somewhere.
After thinking about your physical activities, shift your attention to rest and relaxation. Are you getting enough sleep? If not, consider going to bed 15 minutes earlier. Keep on thinking about small changes you can make to help you in this area.
Also, give some thought to how you might make time in your life for mindfulness. Mindfulness is observation without judgment. A gifted colleague of mine recently described it to me as “sitting on the banks of your life and watching the moments drift by.” I’ve heard yogis call it “focusing on the breath,” and swimmers call it “counting the tiles.” I’ve heard psychologists call it “making alpha waves.” All of these strategies improve the quality of your rest and relaxation.
Identify and incorporate activities that strengthen your ability to achieve a state of mindfulness. Do you spend all week running at top speed, but then you're in a stupor the entire weekend? How about the quality of your sleep? Does a racing heart make it hard to fall back to sleep when you awaken in the early morning hours? Do you find it impossible to turn off your brain?
If sitting quietly in a chair for 20 minutes a day with your hands in your lap and your feet planted on the floor is out of the question, then what about 5 minutes? Or how about three days a week instead of seven? Still too much? Then maybe you’ll consider sitting quietly in your car at the end of the day, with your eyes closed and your keys in your lap, for just two minutes before you drive home from work every day. That’s as good a place to start as any.
Dr. Roxanne B Sukol is committed to teaching you how to tell the difference between real food and manufactured calories! Blogging since 2009 at “Your Health is on Your Plate,” she shares her passion for prevention, translating complex information into readable content that inspires you to take the reins to improve your own health. Dr. Sukol is board certified in Internal Medicine. Her work in preventive medicine is greatly enriched by the 7 years she spent in environmental consulting prior to attending medical school. She keeps a coop with 8 beautiful chickens in her backyard in Northeast Ohio.
Walking Photo Credit: lzf/Shutterstock.com; Sleep Photo Credit: ruigsantos/Shutterstock.com.