BS per square inch is more highly concentrated in the field of diet, nutrition, and weight loss than anywhere else, and I’m including multi-level marketing and trance mediums on the list. Nobody knows anything. It’s so bad that people have stopped believing it’s possible to live a healthy lifestyle and started believing that it’s natural to need pharmaceuticals and medical appliances to survive. I know more people who need CPAP machines to breathe at night than I do people who can run 5 miles. Add in all the people I know who have had open-heart surgery or who have an insulin pump, and I know more people in the intervention group than I do who can run one mile. Humanity is planning our first mission to Mars, and we can’t figure out how to keep people using their own lungs? It’s terrifying. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Our culture is funny. People are often more impressed by someone who has lost a lot of weight and kept it off than they are by someone who has a patent or who has published an article in an academic journal. Of course, we also like to choose our political leaders based on whether it would be fun to drink a beer with them, which is bonkers, because surely our president has more to do than to lounge around in a tavern, although I’ll make an exception for Grover Cleveland. In short, we’ve started thinking that losing weight is harder than anything else, for two reasons:
1. Almost everyone in our culture is overweight;
2. Misinformation is so common that accurate information is a statistical anomaly.
I’m a Unicorn-American. I lost my weight even though I had a low-functioning thyroid gland and chronic fatigue. I ran a marathon even though I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I’m too small for a size zero in all but, like, three stores. I’m 40 and I’d rather share selfies of my abs than my face. Nothing I have read in the past several years about body image or healthy lifestyles makes any sense to me whatsoever. First I’m going to review all the trends and truisms I see and completely ignore. Then I’m going to share what I actually do; the things that work for my thyroid disease/chronic pain/chronic fatigue/migraineur/sleep-disordered middle-aged self.
That’s not real. It’s natural to gain weight as you get older. I’ll never be thin. Having children makes you fat. I’m fat because I have an injury that keeps me from going to the gym. The only way to lose weight is the way I did it; I lost 40 pounds; I should do that again because of course I’ve gained it all back and then some. MACRONUTRIENTS! Specific individual foods with maaggggical powers! Juicing! Smoothies! Packets of powders! Bars! Shakes! Foods nobody knew about before the great 20th Century Obesity Epidemic, because that makes perfect sense! Abdominal exercisers! Anything whatsoever sold on INFOMERCIALS! Plastic wrap for your abs! PILLS! SO MANY PILLS! Motivational posters! Calorie-burning shoe soles! Caffeinated skin creams!
[Full disclosure: I actually have tried acupuncture and homeopathy, though not for weight loss, but I did once buy a $35 cellulite cream, because yeah, my thighs totally needed to absorb more substances… ]
Okay. I lost 35 pounds. This is what I did.
1. Googled “healthy weight for my height.” Tried to get other reputable opinions from other websites. Accepted there might be more science behind the number that came up than there was in my current method, which was NO SCIENCE. Committed to test-drive myself at that weight, at least temporarily.
2. Googled how much water someone of my height/weight should drink. Trained myself to drink it.
3. Kept a meticulous food log. Measured and weighed everything. SCIENCE!
4. Strictly limited calories – cut by about 30% for three months.
5. Weighed in every day. Took regular stats with a tape measure. (chest, waist, hips, thighs, biceps) DATA!
6. Reached my goal with a full, nuanced understanding of my previous ineffective eating habits.
7. Kept doing steps 2, 3, and 5.
8. Got rid of my fat clothes.
Note that there is no step for exercise. That is because exercise has nothing to do with weight loss! Stop thinking that! You don’t ever have to go to a gym if you don’t want to. The research is pretty clear: diet for the short term, exercise for the long term. Most of my weight was lost while I sat around on the couch, feeling sorry for myself and crying because I couldn’t have a chimichanga until next month. Then I trained for a marathon and gained back 8 pounds because I kept eating so many vanilla fig bars. Then I lost it again while sitting on the couch and icing my ankle. (Wait! I know! My IKEA couch is actually a MAGICAL WEIGHT LOSS MACHINE! You can make an appointment to sit on it for just three monthly installments of only $1999.99).
I don’t “juice.” I have a smoothie maybe once or twice a year, if my mom makes me one. Under no circumstances have I ever given a care about tracking macronutrients. It’s been debunked. What I do track is MICROnutrients. Fiber, people! I eat wheat, corn, and soy whenever I want. I don’t take any medications other than birth control (which people think causes weight gain, just like thyroid disease, so go figure). I take a B-12 supplement, but you should know that taking a daily multi-vitamin has been linked to greater mortality from all causes. Vitamins (see above under micronutrients) should come from food, not a jar.
I don’t do crunches. I haven’t had a gym membership for five years. I’ve never worked with a personal trainer, although I plan to one day. I have muscles but I’m super lazy. Every now and then I decide I’ll do planks, and I do one for about a minute, and then that’s it for the next several months. The reason I have visible muscle definition is that I’m down to 22% body fat. I don’t lift anything heavier than a laundry basket. I haven’t even done pull-ups for several months because I got tennis elbow from my phone. I walk about .8 miles to the coffee shop where I write, maybe 2-3 days a week. Exercise is something I do as a treat, or when I’m angry or frustrated about something that makes me too restless to stay in the house. Exercise is a means to an end: the ability to carry a backpack and hike into the backcountry; local transportation; ability to “play hard” on vacation; a giant F.U. to the endocrine gland that tried to kill me and made my hair fall out. You hear that, thyroid? Yeah, I said it.
To be fair, there are things I do that may make a difference besides just eating a consistent volume of food at consistent times of day. I sleep 8 hours a night, more if I can get away with it. I don’t drink sweet drinks – not juice, not soda, not diet soda, nada – and I also don’t drink coffee or alcohol. I don’t eat sugars in general. I don’t eat 95% of what you would find in a typical grocery store bakery, including bread, bagels, muffins, croissants, cookies, pies, cakes, donuts, brownies, or whatever. I also don’t eat crackers, breakfast cereal, frozen desserts, or snack foods in general. I don’t eat junk food or fast food. I might eat chips or fries at most once a month. I don’t generally eat grains, especially not pasta or white rice, unless I’m in training, but I do eat a large baked potato with lunch every day. I eat wheat bread, but only from three specific brands. I eat as much fruit as I want, whenever I want. It’s not “carbs” – how oversimplified and misleading! – but rather, over-processed industrial foods. I’m not a strict personality – if I want candy, I’ll eat it – I’ve just lost my taste for these foods. They make me feel weird when I eat them, which I sometimes do, just often enough to remind myself why I don’t eat them every day. Once I realized that I ate more desserts by volume than I did vegetables, I felt foolish and started ramping up my cruciferous vegetable consumption. To this I attribute my overall state of health, sound digestion, “young skin,” and ability to sleep well. Gut flora. Worth considering. Also take note of magnesium deficiency, its prevalence, and its symptoms. As a final note, I eat a plant-based diet. I think most people would do well to be as skeptical of dairy products as they are of grain products. I haven’t eaten dairy products since 1997, and it seems unfair not to mention it.
Don’t believe anything I’ve said. I have no credentials, and that matters! The only thing I can offer is anecdotal evidence. I lost a bunch of weight and reversed my health problems, and now I’ve maintained my bikini bod for a year and a half. It’s possible I’m making false correlations and attributing my results to the wrong inputs. It’s not possible I’m some kind of genetic anomaly, since I was at least as fat and ill and sedentary as anyone else for my first 35 years, and my family tree has no athletes that I know of. All I can say is that I believe it’s possible for everyone to be lean and fit, as long as we don’t follow the Standard American Diet or live the Standard American Lifestyle. Anyone can make lifestyle experiments, track data, and chart a trend line. What have you got to lose?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.