Friday, February 22, 2008

Grinding it out--or off

As of today, I have lost 15 pounds since the start of the year. That would be more exciting were it not that that's only the half-way point toward my goal. Moreover, that goal would still leave me, by my reckoning, about 7 or 8 pounds over my ideal weight.

I can, it seems, reliably lose about 2 pounds a week over the long run, by maintaining a pretty strict 1,200 calories a day. That implies that I burn about 2,300 or 2,400 calories a day, which is the same result I have had in the past, and which fits most guidelines.

It is remarkable how well someone like me, who loves to eat, can manage on 1,200 calories. It's not fun or easy, but it's by no means a daily nightmare, either. I'd try even fewer calories, but from what I've read, below about 1,200 and the body goes into a sort of "starvation defense" mode, in which it makes much more efficient use of food energy, so that dieting at that level (but short of starvation) becomes counter-productive.

My typical intake is almost disgustingly healthy (I am a long-time vegetarian anyway, which helps a lot). I get my protein, either as cottage cheese (which goes very nicely on a large, well-dressed green salad, as opposed to the usual disgusting single, wilted dry leaf of lettuce) or as one or another of the soy-derived "veggie-burger" type products; I get my modest amount of monosaturated fat from the salad dressing; carbos are not a major requirement; and we have long taken a carefully examined and computed set of vitamin and mineral supplements. And I have a "fiber bar" for dessert, which gives me, yes, fiber, and is also mighty tasty. Plus I have the recommended glass of red wine (and it ain't Annie Greensprings).

It's remarkable how much myth and nonsense there is out there about losing weight and about nutrition. Losing weight is simple physics and chemistry: if you take in more food energy (measured in calories) than you burn up in activity, the excess is stored as fat; if you take in less, the deficit is obtained by burning existing stored fat. It's that simple: when calories in = calories out, your weight is stable. But people simply do not want to believe anything that easy: they want to eat multiple banana splits and still lose weight, so they seek out the hucksters only too pleased to take their money for this or that "magic" method of losing weight without any least discomfort. Pfui. In this case, no pain, no loss. (Though, as I have said, the "pain" can be pretty modest.)

When I look about me at the average citizen (and I live is an especially fat part of the world), I am often struck with how hard these folk must be working at eating to maintain the monstrous tubs they push around all day. I felt grotesque being almost 40 pounds over what I feel is my right weight, but I was as a reed compared to the average hereabouts (and, by and large, nationally). How do they do it?

It's ironic. We evolved in an environment in which we needed to spend a lot of calories just staying alive, and efficiency in converting food energy to bodily energy was a definite evolutionary plus. Today we have appetites and metabolisms suited to eating--and burning--maybe seven or eight thousand calories a day, and sedentary lifestyles that burn up 1,500 to 2,500 a day, and that may be above average. The people who avoid overweight without even trying are those who, not so many generations ago, would have starved to death. T'ain't fair.

As to nutrition, most Americans seem to not do very well at it, because they like convenience foods, and that phrase is oxymoronic: the more "convenient" a stuff is, the less like "food" it is. Not that lots and lots of excellent real food is necessarily a nuisance or chore to cook--but these things are relative. To all too many, opening a pull-tab package or tin is already more "work" than they care to go through. That's why so many people who are straining to make ends meet in their household still eat out for a substantial fraction of their meals--not just lunch at work, but dinner for the family, and, often, even breakfast. I suppose parking their asses in a cheesy fast-food outlet's booth is still harder "work" than they care for, but it beats opening boxes, huh?

Sad to say, though, if we are obliged to hold our average calorie intake down to avoid ballooning, we are not going to easily be able to get all the nutrients we need. Some of them, such as Vitamin D, we couldn't get no matter our diets. So we have to study up on what we really need, estimate what our normal eating gives us, and take supplements for the rest.

That is no easy task. First, there is a tremendous amount of misinformation around concerning just about every nutrient (and some "quasi-nutrients") that anyone has ever dreamt of. Second, many important nutrients interact, so that increasing your intake of X means you need a different amount of Y (the many B vitamins especially interact in that way--you can create a mild deficiency in some by OD'ing on some others, which--because they're the ones cheap to make or extract--tend to dominate "multi-vitamin" pills).

Well, enough for now. My dinner is ready.

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