To Conjure or Not To Conjure...

by Al Coon

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by Al

The myth is firmly set into all of our psyches that it takes magic, to first of all lose weight, and then even stronger spells to keep the weight off once it is lost. There are magic potions being sold from every drug store, and it seems on every street corner, for a nominal fee of course. Magic does not come cheap these days. And yet, we sometimes do pause and contemplate the fact that if weight loss is truly magic, and if any one of the magic potions actually did contain that magic, we would all be walking around as thin as super models. Of course, such rational thoughts are unpleasant, and go against the grain of our accepted myths, and we push them aside. The snake oil salesmen, of course, thank us for doing that, because it is what keeps them in business.

Abracadabra! Do you feel the power of the word? The professional illusionist uses hard work, and a great deal of thought and money, in creating the appearance that magic has actually occurred. He then gives total credit to the magic word, and does all that he can to direct attention away from his props and slight of hand. It brings him great wealth, and all professional magicians join a guild where they are forced into a vow of secrecy. Why? To protect the great wealth that awaits the exceptional illusionist. If the tricks become known, the money will evaporate. And there is no field of illusion more exploited than the one of weight loss!

Let us start with simple science, the arch enemy of magic. Science tells us that the simple act of living, causes our bodies to use up energy. Any active process in the universe takes energy to accomplish it. To start an object moving, requires the use of a certain amount of energy. To stop a moving object takes energy. For a given amount of matter, a set, given amount of energy will be required to move it. There is no magic involved. For a human body to process oxygen, circulate blood and perform all of its basic functions takes a certain set amount of energy. Then, in addition to that, getting up out of bed, walking around the house, sitting down, eating, drinking, sweeping, writing or any other activity will require a certain additional amount of energy to perform it. Running takes up quite a bit more energy than sitting and watching television, but the amount is still a set, fixed amount for your body. Once your body adds up all of the energy that it uses during the day, you are handed back the amount of energy that you need to consume in order to balance the equation.

We measure energy that the body uses, in Calories. When we use up a Calorie, we are said to have "burned" it. That is an appropriate way to look at it, because we release heat as we chemically use up Calories. Anyone who has exercised has noticed that the body does increase in temperature, and the sweat glands kick in in order to cool us back down to normal. So, for any given day, our bodies will incur a certain energy debt that will be paid one of two ways. Either, the Calories burned for the day will be taken from food that was eaten, or it will break into the food stores that the body carries around with it, called fat. In either case, the debt is paid and the body can continue to function.

So far, do you see any magic involved? No, it is simply the laws of physics acting in constant and consistent fashion. As we continue in the process, we see that if we eat exactly the same number of Calories as we burn, we hold the status quo, and there is no change in the system. If we eat fewer Calories than we burn, then our fat stores are going to be depleted by the amount of Calories needed to balance the books. Science has determined that one pound (0.45 Kg) of fat has 3500 Calories (4.18 Kj) of energy in it. So, if we should use up 3500 Calories more than we eat, we will have one pound of fat removed from our stores, and the scale will say that we are one pound lighter than we were before. To say, "Abracadabra!" at this point would be dishonest, wouldn't it?

There is another factor in what the bathroom scale will tell you, and that is water retention. Water is retained in your body, and to a certain extent that is fine. Your body needs water, and it will die without water, much faster than it will die without food. However, just like the food storage in fat, water retention can be excessive and cause various problems. One of the first things you will notice is that your bathroom scale will read higher. You may also notice that your fingers, or ankles swell up. Salt is something that will cause your body to retain additional water. By cutting down the amount of salt in your diet, you will find that the water you carry around with you, as extra baggage, will fall away. When most people "go on a diet" they cut down on the food that they are eating, and in the process, they cut down on the amount of salt in their diet. This will cause a rapid and dramatic change in their weight. They will often drop several pounds very quickly, and are elated thinking that they have dropped fat, when it was mostly water. Later on, the water level in their body stabilizes at the new level, and the weight loss is restricted to the actual fat loss, which is significantly slower. The dieters then become discouraged by the "lack of success" and go back to their old eating habits, confused, frustrated and feeling worse about themselves. Once again, it is nothing but the laws of physics at work, but abracadabra is given the credit.

Enter in the snake oil salesmen, and the wizards who want to sell you on their magical scheme to lose weight. "Only eat grapefruit, don't eat any carbohydrates, and for God's sake never touch sweets!" It seems the more bizarre something sounds the better it sells. As these "magicians" hawk their potions and charms, people line up and give up their money. I am surprised that one of these charlatans hasn't proposed a case of dysentery for a quick weight loss scheme! In every case, for any of these diets, the laws of physics must be dealt with:

Calories eaten - Calories used = Calorie debt or surplus

If you only eat grapefruit, you will lose weight, not because grapefruit are magic, but because it is very hard to eat enough grapefruit Calories in the day to create a Calorie surplus. With all of these diets you will be flushing water weight, and starving yourself in order to drop pounds. However, it is like stepping off a building. You will fall, but have you considered what happens when you reach the bottom? Can you only eat grapefruit for the rest of your life? Can you avoid potatoes for the rest of your life? Do you want to live like that, even if you could? Of course not!

Let us cast aside the trappings of the magic man and his deceptive illusions. Let us leave the dark ages, and the drum beating snake oil salesman of the wild West, far behind us. Let us instead embrace reality and scientific fact as we construct our planned, intelligent, and guaranteed successful plan for weight loss and weight maintenance. If you eat the right number of Calories each day, you will fall to a certain weight and remain there. No magic, no Abracadabra!

Rather than looking for the latest magical potion, we must instead sit down and plan our strategy. How can we best use the laws of physics to our advantage rather than have them fight us all the way, so that we give up? The laws of physics are very determined. They do not sway or fatigue. They go on and on. They are consistent. They do not have bad days, or good days, they only have days, which are all the same. Let's take advantage of that fact rather than trying to beat it with our "will power".

1. Don't be in a hurry. This is number one because it has caused more people to fail in their weight loss attempts than any other mistake. You must be able to take the time to do it right, or it will not happen. Imagine how you would feel if the engineer who designed the car you are driving took the hurried approach, cutting corners, throwing the design together and trying to get finished as quickly as possible. How good would your car be? Would you really even think of getting behind the wheel of such a car? I doubt it. Anything worth doing, is worth doing right. That is as true in the process of weight loss as in any other endeavor on earth.

Weight loss takes time. If you are in a hurry, you will easily become discouraged. You want it right now, but you can't have it right now. What would you tell a child who wanted something right now but couldn't have it? It is much easier to tell our children what we often must tell ourselves. Weight gain takes a certain amount of time, and weight loss takes a certain amount of time. Therefore, rather than focussing on the weight loss, the safe and sane approach is to FOCUS ON THE PROCESS! Don't worry about what the scale says today, worry instead upon taking the right steps on your journey to success. If you continue to walk the path which leads to the top of the mountain, you will reach the top of the mountain. There is no magic, and there is no possibility of failure. The only way to fail is to leave the path, leave the process. The process is everything.

It is often hard to identify that which can be done, and that which cannot be done. Many people trip and fall in their life's endeavors because they confuse goals with tasks. If you have a goal to get a Ph.D. you do not just attempt to do a Ph.D. You first go to a college counselor and find out what the required tasks are that you must accomplish to achieve a Ph.D. You find that there are many classes that must be attended before you reach your goal. You will find that you must even take classes that have nothing to do with the subject of your Ph.D. However, you will have to take those steps anyway. No matter what your goals are in life there is a process that must be followed to accomplish the goals. Walking the path which leads to the goal is the only way to reach the goal. Time will pass, and we must accept that fact. It will not be today that we reach our goal. It will not be tomorrow that we reach our goal. But it is today that we can succeed in remaining on the path to our goal. Today we can be a total success in doing the process. Think of it, being a total success!

How can you be depressed when you are a total success? There is only one way, and that is by not realizing it. When you step on the scale, and focus upon what it says, instead of focusing upon the process, you may shatter your opportunity to be elated over success, and instead sink into the depression of failure. We must keep in mind that weight loss is not the ultimate goal! Think of how many people you have known who lost weight and were very excited about it, only to have their weight creep back up. Sometimes they are even heavier afterward, than they were before they started. Our final goal is weight maintenance -- remaining the same, optimum weight for the rest of our lives. How is that possible? By FOCUSING ON THE PROCESS.

Each day is an opportunity to succeed. Each day you and I can focus upon and accomplish the steps included in the process. We cannot magically jump from where we are to where we want to be. However, we can scientifically walk there. When we know the steps and we take the steps, we succeed. I do not care how much or how little weight you need to lose, the path to maintaining your optimum weight can be walked by you.

2. We must write down what we eat, each and every day. One of the most important things in the weight loss process, is the thing that most folks with a weight problem want the very least to do. They would rather pay thousands of dollars for snake oil than to do this, but it is really quite impossible to succeed without it. All little nibbles count. All little tastes and snacks must be included.

The reason we have to write down our food intake is not magic. It is pure science. Science requires accurate data to work with. It is as simple as that. If you guess what you have eaten, you will guess low every time. You will think that you ate less than you did, and you will fail to lose weight, become discouraged and quit. You will almost certainly hunt up a snake oil solution next time and throw your good money away.

The Weight Watchers system has made it much easier to write down what you have eaten, and that is one of the reasons it is so successful. They took the scientific facts and made them easy to use. You are given a range of points that if you remain within, you will lose weight and then maintain your weight for the rest of your life. If you choose to not use the point system you can still track your food by counting calories. In either case, it is critical, one of the most important steps on the path to success, that you write down the points or calories that you eat each day. It is the only way that you can honestly say, "I was a success, because I remained on program, I did the process today." If you cannot say that, then you will not reach the goal, for you have left the path.

3. Planning. Would you throw a party without planning? How about a large wedding? Think of all the things that could go wrong without planning. No refreshments. No entertainment. The flowers, (or the pastor!) did not show up. A complete disaster unfolds, and it is your own fault for failing to plan. You know this is a fact beforehand, and so you avoid disaster. You do plan, and it is a success.

So many people take on the far more formidable task of reaching and maintaining their optimum weight, with far less planning than they would give a wedding. Imagine it! The process of determining what you are going to eat for the rest of your life, being done off the cuff. The process of what form of exercise you will be doing, for the rest of your life, being decide with little or no real thought. This happens every day! In order to be able to eat well, you must think about what you are going to eat. Since you are living within a range of points or Calories, the wide variety of choices must be narrowed down to the handful that you are actually going to eat. Do you want a piece of that chocolate cake? You can have it, but you must cut back on what else you can eat this day. Do you know that you are going out to eat on Tuesday? You must plan your food accordingly, since you will probably be taking in a large number of Calories for that meal.

When you plan, most of your problems will be over! By arranging for plenty of the right foods to be available to you, it will be easy to remain on program. If you set up snacks that are a known value of points or Calories you can have them throughout the day and easily track them. If, on the other hand you just try to wing it, you will be overwhelmed with the myriad of choices confronting you each day, and confused by the lack of time to make them. When you are tired, you will either be thankful for previous planning that you have made, or you will be crushed by the lack of it. Success is not magic, it is planned for!

4. Exercise. Weight loss and weight maintenance are dependent upon two factors in your control. The first is Calorie intake, which we have already discussed. The second is exercise. I watched Dotti during her weight loss period and she used exercise religiously. Her approach was to get up at 5:00 AM and go to the gym for an hour of intense aerobic exercise. She did that at least 3 times a week, every week during her weight loss. That was a very important factor in the fact that she never had a week where she gained weight and she lost over 90 pounds in 9 months. Without the exercise, she could never have done it that quickly.

Exercise is a two edged sword. It will slice the weight off with one edge, by burning additional calories during the workout. It will cut the pounds off with the other edge by speeding up your metabolism throughout the day, burning even more calories and it can actually suppress your appetite so you will not want to eat as much. (One activity which is an exception is swimming, which for many people has the opposite effect. I get extremely hungry after swimming.)

The toughest part of exercising is finding a form of exercise that you like. If you find something that you love to do for exercise, then you will keep coming back for more of it. It will be a joy to exercise and you will never give it up. If on the other hand you attempt to do something that you hate, simply because you have to in order to lose weight, you will give up very soon. I like walking. I also like basketball and racquetball. Any of these things will bring me back because I enjoy them. Other people like to jog, or play tennis. The important thing is to find something that you like to do, and then do it.

Note: as a general safety concern, never, ever start up an exercise program without getting the go ahead from your doctor. It would very much defeat the purpose of your exercising if you should suffer a heart attack or some other ailment because of exercising too intensely, too quickly.

If you do not exercise, you can still lose weight but it will be a much slower process. Also, you will not receive the other benefits of exercising, which include additional energy, better muscle tone, increased ability to withstand stress and better cardiovascular development. Why not set aside an hour a day for 3 or 4 times a week for some exercise? It really is an important part of the process.

5. Attitude. I saved the most important for last. You cannot walk the path without the correct attitude. It is impossible to do so. When you set your foot upon the path of success, you must:

  • Believe that you can succeed. If you do not think it is possible, you will not even begin. If you do not believe that it is probable, you will not endure passed obstacles. If you do not think it is certain you will never reach the end. You must believe that you can reach your goal. Then you will be willing to make any sacrifice in order to triumph. Mentally, this is your ace in the hole. When you know that you will ultimately succeed, you will find the time to plan to make it happen. When you know you will succeed, you are excited about the exercise you are going to do today because it will help you to accomplish the goal you know you will reach. If you are certain that you will succeed you will not be put off by having a bad day where you actually did fail and fall of the program. You get right back on it the next day and forget about the mistake. That is how you reach the goal.
  • Put success at the top of your to-do list each day. If you think about success, and plan for success each day, you will succeed. The only way that you can fail, is if you stop focusing upon success. If you forget and focus on something else instead, you will not plan your meals, you will not write down what you eat, you will find an excuse not to exercise and you will then wander off the path. Wake up in the morning and say to yourself, "Today I will succeed. I will not worry about yesterday, for it is beyond my reach to change. I will not worry about tomorrow for it is not yet mine to effect. I have reached today in my life and I will make it a success, because I can."
  • Get back up! Never use failure as an excuse to quit. Failure means that you are human. All humans fail and it is foolish to fret over what you have no control over. You do have control over how you react to failure and you must exercise that power you have. When I quit smoking, it was a study in failure. You could have written a thesis and gotten your Ph.D. on failure by studying my feeble attempts. Over and over again I tried to quit. Over and over again I failed. The secret that I learned over time was that if I failed, I had two choices. I could go back to smoking my three packs a day, or I could try to quit again immediately. At first I went back to smoking, throwing up my hands, telling myself that I would never be able to quit. But later on, I finally realized that it would be easier to start off from where I was, after only smoking a few cigarettes, than starting from scratch where I had been smoking a whole lot of cigarettes. It became a process and today I am a non-smoker, and have been for several years. There is nothing that I have done in my life that was so hard as giving that habit up. But I made it. It was not because I quit at first and never smoked again, but rather because I was not put off by my failure. I found that failure was merely part of the process and I no longer let it bother me. I walked the path, including the failures, until my goal was reached.

We have the path laid out before us. We know where the path leads, and we know the steps we must take. Each day will move us closer to our goal as we focus on the process. Today we will succeed because we choose to succeed and we plan to succeed. As we walk on our journey we will remember that this is not magic, and we don't need a magic potion or a charm, or anything else from one of the snake oil salesmen out there. All we need is to have the right attitude and to focus on the process. The top of the mountain will be gained before you know it!

By Al, My Wonderful, Supportive Husband

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