Weight Loss and Maintenance by Al Coon

"At some level, we all want to believe. The idea of a "Fairy Godmother" popping up to set things right is a very happy one. When something wonderful happens in someone's life, it is described as a "Cinderella story." It looked like magic made it happen, and we just love magic."

"I eagerly waited for my glasses to arrive, just thinking about all of the cool things I could do with x-ray vision. When the glasses arrived, I was very disappointed..."

" It is physics, not magic that makes a 747 fly, with its 350 tons, and it is physics, not magic that will actually control our weight loss. "

Al Coon The Easy Part of Weight Loss
- By the Numbers

Our Magical Roots

In the European world of my ancestors, there was a living belief in magic. You can see this influence in the wonderful stories of the Grimm Brothers, filled with magical people and creatures. More recently great authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis have dipped liberally from that stream of cultural myth, to create wonderful stories. Movies and television shows have often used magic as a foundational element in the plot.

A belief in magic carries over into many lives today, and expresses itself in various ways. There are superstitions, like not walking under a ladder, or being afraid of Friday the thirteenth. Some people worry about black cats crossing their paths, and others carry lucky charms, like a rabbit's foot, even though 4 of them didn't seem to do that particular rabbit much good.

Most superstitions are relatively harmless, but there are other forms of magic that cause us more difficulty. There are medical quacks, who still peddle magical cures for this or that ailment, usually running off with a fair amount of cash, while the unfortunate dupe who believed them lost his money, while retaining his original unhappy condition. And you can count on that quack taking all the credit for the rare psychosomatic case, when the belief in his magic appears to have cured the ailment.

An even more widespread form of magical quackery is to be found in the very lucrative "weight loss industry." Have you ever tried to count the number of pills, and diet schemes that are offered to the unsuspecting public these days? It is unbelievable. No tactic is too low for them to try either. (Just do a search on "Dotti's Weight Loss Zone" sometime in Google and see all of the hits that you get for sites having nothing at all to do with DWLZ. Most of these people are dishonestly trying to cash in on Dotti's name in order to hawk their products, which Dotti has done nothing to promote or endorse.)

At some level, we all want to believe. The idea of a "Fairy Godmother" popping up to set things right is a very happy one. When something wonderful happens in someone's life, it is described as a "Cinderella story." It looked like magic made it happen, and we just love magic.

Fad diets are based upon this very thing. People want to believe if they can just find the right trick to play on their bodies, all of the weight will just go away, and they will then be able to go back to living their lives just like before, but as thin people. It would take real magic to make that happen!

Magic of Science

If you could take a few items—things that we would consider to be everyday and mundane—back to a time a few hundred years ago, the locals would think you were a powerful magician, and your trinkets were loaded with magical spells. A flashlight would produce light with no apparent source of flame; it must be magic! A ball point pen would write without an ink well. A set of walkie-talkies would be great magic indeed to those who had never conceived of electronics, and a MP3 player would appear to be utterly enchanted. But as we know, magic has nothing to do with any of these things. Each of them is based upon an understanding of the laws of physics.

We rely upon science to light our houses at night, and to move us up many floors without effort in very tall buildings. We allow science to move our cars without horses, and to take us up into the clouds, and across the country, or the sea. A medieval man would think that we lived in very magical world if he were suddenly brought here. We, on the other hand, realize that it is science, not magic, that makes all of these wonders real. There are over 6 billion people on the planet right now, and that would not be possible without science aiding agriculture.

Magic Still Overcomes Science

Even so, we want to believe. We watch movies and television shows, and we read books about magic, all for entertainment. However, in order for a story to work, it must get the reader, or viewer, to buy into the basic premise as being at least possible in some way. If we didn't have some inner belief that magic might happen, we wouldn't be entertained. It would be too disconnected from our existence, and would be something that we could not relate to.

Another common example, of our wish to believe, is the ever-present con man, trying to sell you something of no real value, but that appears to have value when you believe in his magic.

I remember when I was a young teenager, and I spotted an ad in a comic book for X-Ray Glasses. All I had to do was send in my money, and the company would send me back a pair of these wonderful (and obviously magical) glasses that would allow me to see right through things.

I eagerly waited for my glasses to arrive, just thinking about all of the cool things I could do with x-ray vision. When the glasses arrived, I was very disappointed to find that what the glasses actually did was to blur your vision in such a way, so that you saw two images that were offset slightly from each other. As a result, the overlapping part of the two images looked darker than the rest. This made the fingers of my hand appear to be nearly double their normal thickness, and there was a dark strip down the middle that simulated "bone." It was a very poor optical illusion, and I learned a very valuable lesson: That which appears to be too good to be true, is.

Even things that are described in ways to make them appear to be based up scientific principles (like the mythical magical Superman) can often be calling to our inner desire to believe in magic. Reading through the ads for weight loss products makes one think of a "magician" hawking his amulets. If you believed his patter, you would think that all you had to do was give this wonderful magician your money, and you will lose all of your excess weight instantly! Not only that; then you can go on to eat anything you want, and remain thin forever. It is almost creepy reading the ads making impossible promises to desperate people, knowing that many of those people are going to actually believe the lies. Only magic could supply what the charlatans are offering, and we so much want to believe in magic. The con man is counting on that belief, and many of them make a lot of dishonest money because far too many of us have it.

The Enchanted Diet

There seems to be a new diet that hits our society every week or two. All you have to do is give up this food group, or eat only this type of food, and the weight will fall off. If some new weird way of eating has yet to be proposed as the magical solution, it will be showing up on the bookshelves of your Borders or Barnes and Noble tomorrow or the next day, and the author will be on a talk show telling how well his magic works. With these fad diets there is always some magical formula that must be followed, like making the right incantation over a pot boiling with just the right ingredients, and you too can have your weight magically removed.

Fad diets play to our inner belief in magic. People rush out and buy the books and try the fad diet, thinking to themselves, "Hey, it might work!" Belief in magic is a powerful tool to be used by those who would take your money.

Magic is great, as escapism fiction, and can be very entertaining. However—just like the magical cures and snake oil sold to people for medical conditions—as a real solution to your weight problems, magic will be a complete disaster.

All Weight Loss Has a Scientific Heart

Just like with getting a plane into the air, science, not magic, is what makes weight loss happen.

What lifts a plane into the air? I was amazed to read that the air, which is carried in a Boeing 747 to pressurize its cabin, weighs over 2000 pounds. That sounds like a lot of air! However, the 747 can also carry 85,000 pounds of luggage, and 490 passengers. It is rated at being able to get into the air with a gross weight of 700,000 pounds, or 350 tons. How does such a lot of weight get into the air?

Physics comes to the rescue. The wings of a 747 have over an eighth of an acre of surface area. That comes to over 800,000 square inches. Although we normally don't notice it—except when we use it to drink through a straw—in our atmosphere each square inch of surface area has 14.7 pounds pushing against it. That means, sitting on the runway while waiting to take off, there are nearly 12 million pounds, or 6000 tons, of pressure pushing upon both the top and the bottom of the 747's wings. The pressure pushes up and down equally hard, and the apparent result to the passengers looking out of their windows is the same as if there were no pressure at all.

The design of a wing is such that as the plane moves forward, the air on top of the wing has to travel a longer distance than the air on the bottom. The faster the wing goes through air, the greater that difference becomes. The air moving over the top of the wing, by being thinned out this way, actually decreases in pressure. The air pressure on the bottom of the wing remains constant, pushing upwards with its 6000 tons. As the plane picks up speed, less and less pressure is felt on the top of the wing, and "lift" is created by that difference. As speed increases, that increases the lift. At somewhere over 100 or 150 mph the lift is great enough for a safe takeoff, and the plane leaves the ground.

It is physics, not magic that makes a 747 fly, with its 350 tons, and it is physics, not magic that will actually control our weight loss.

The Reserve Tank

Many trucks have what is called a "reserve tank." When the main tank runs out of gas, the driver is not left stranded, because he can switch over to the reserve tank in order to make it to a gas station. In an aircraft, having reserve fuel is even more critical, because you aren't just left stranded at the side of the road if you run out of fuel in the air.

The human body also has a reserve tank where it stores its fuel. We call it fat. It is an automatic system that the body uses to keep us from starving. When we have an abundance of food, the body tucks the excess away for future use in our "reserve tank." This is great feature if we should be faced with a "no-food" situation.

Unfortunately, this system is not limited, like the reserve tank on a truck. If you try to put too much fuel into a gas tank, the excess just pours back out the spout and onto the ground. But in our bodies, we have an expandable tank, and it will just keep growing if we put in too much fuel.

If a truck's tank did that, we would see the tank take over more and more of the truck. If we continued to fill it, a point would be reached where the truck would be unusable for hauling anything else. A plane reaching that condition would be grounded, completely unable to fly.

Unfortunately, we do face that situation. As our reserve tank fills up to larger and larger levels, it begins to take over more of our lives. Instead of merely providing an anti-starvation safety net, it makes walking up stairs hard. Later, as the process continues, just walking at all becomes difficult. We have difficulty tying our shoes, and we are always tired. Even more frightening is the fact that serious medical issues can be created by an over expanded reserve tank. Our joints can start to go bad, and we face a real risk of diabetes, or heart attack.

The Easy Part of Weight Loss

We all know that there are very difficult parts of the weight loss journey, but the physics behind weight loss are very simple when compared with the rest. The reserve tank is storing excess calories. Once you stop eating more calories than your bodily engine is burning, you will no longer have any excess calories to store in the tank. In other words, you have turned off the pump that was filling the reserve tank.

Next, if you eat fewer calories still, to where your engine is burning more than what you eat, your body will turn to your reserve tank and start to use those calories for the energy it needs. Your reserve tank will start to drain off its excess, and weight loss will have begun.

Understanding this principle of how to lose weight is the easy part. The difficult part is applying that knowledge. Most of the articles in this series have been, and will continue to be, aimed at that more difficult aspect of our journey, but this time we are going to focus on the "nuts and bolts" of the process: the easy part.

Buying a Car or Building Your Own

There are two approaches that you can take to your own weight loss. You can either join a currently existing program, or build your own.

There are many programs available to you today. Dotti and I are very fond of the Weight Watchers system, especially their 1, 2, 3 Success program. That is what we both used to successfully lose weight. Weight Watchers couples a selection of very good eating plans with group support sessions, which are very helpful. Dotti relied upon those meetings a great deal when she lost 100 pounds in 1997 and 1998.

Of course there are other programs like Jenny Craig, and LA Weight Loss. When you choose a plan, you need to make sure it is one that you can work with easily.

Some Advantages of using a preexisting plan:

  1. You will have a professional do your numbers for you, making it much simpler for you to get it right the first time.

  2. The plan is usually built around serious studies, conducted by nutritional experts. This helps create effective and useful eating systems.

  3. In addition to having a safe and effective eating plan, most of these organizations have some form of a built-in support system as well. As mentioned before, Dotti was really helped by the Weight Watchers meetings she attended.

A few disadvantages to these professional plans:

  • They can be costly. There may be weekly meeting fees, or they may require you to buy their food products in order to run their program.

  • They might lock you into something for the weight loss phase of your journey that you would not be interested in doing permanently. Always, always remember that it is never wise to do anything to lose weight that you will not be willing to do for the rest of your life in order to keep the weight off. Otherwise, you will be wasting your time and money in a vain effort. Once you stop doing whatever you did to lose it, the weight will creep back on.

  • Some of the programs do not have anything in place for maintaining your weight loss after you finish the weight loss phase. Since the only point of losing weight is to keep it off, this is very unfortunate indeed.

    Having said that, I feel that the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages in using a solid professional program like Weight Watchers. Here's why:

    1. The legwork has already been done for you. You are handed a ready to go program that you just plug yourself into and start your journey. You don't have spends days, weeks, or months researching the mounds of weight loss data available. You can just take the program and work with it, getting started on your way far quicker.

    2. You are accountable to someone. You come in and are weighed and it is tracked. This helps you to want to do well to have a good showing. It also helps you to avoid pretending to yourself that you are "doing the program" when you are not. The results will speak for themselves. Since many of us—and that definitely includes me—will naturally tend to think we are doing well even when we are drifting off course; accountability will yank us back from those misguided excursions into the danger zone.

    3. You have a source of expert advice. Your leader and your organization will normally have a great deal of experience dealing with problems, just like the ones you are likely to face. What works, and what doesn't work, will often be well known to those you will be dealing with, and that can be very helpful in your time of need.

    4. You have a place to openly talk about your weight issues with people who will not judge you. You will be surrounded by people who have been there, and who are still there, no matter what they might weigh today. A leader of your group, or a one-on-one counselor, will have lost weight, and will still be faced with the daily challenge of maintaining that weight loss. This is a lifetime journey, not a "get-thin-quick scheme" that will be cast aside once you reach goal. Being able to discuss your own weight control problems openly with others, who are having the same struggles, is extremely valuable, and has been demonstrated over many years to be effective in helping people to successfully overcome destructive behaviors.

    5. Receiving Praise. When you are in a good program, and you make progress, you will be praised for your progress. When you fail to make progress, you will be praised for your efforts, and you will have help in finding out why you didn't make the progress that you had hoped to achieve. This is called support, and we all need lots of it!

    6. The opportunity to praise. It is a fact of human nature that we receive a great benefit from helping others. (This principle is at the heart of Dotti's Weight Loss Zone, and why Dotti originally created her web page.) When members of your group have a great week and lose weight, you not only make them feel better when you pat them on their backs and praise them, you make yourself feel better too! A group session forms a symbiotic relationship between its members. The support you give, you get back, multiplied by the number of other people in your group.

    7. You can still work for your own weight maintenance, even if the program falls short in this area. As long as you remember that your goal is to healthily remain at your goal weight for the rest of your life, you will focus on the long haul. You will learn as much as you can during the weight loss phase of your journey about how to eat right for the rest of your life. You will learn how to control the amount of food you eat, through calorie counting and/or portion control. When you hit your goal weight, you will be prepared to keep right on going, through the rest of your life, eating right and living at your goal weight.

      Keep in mind also that, even if you first think that a professional program is probably not going to be for you, you can always "put your toe in the water to test its temperature." With some of the programs you are not committed to a long term obligation, and if you are not happy with the program, you can always take a new direction, perhaps even building your own program. Meanwhile, the time that you will invest, into learning their system, will be well spent, because you will later be able to apply the knowledge you gain, to whatever system you end up using to reach your goal. But of course, you just may find that your first impression was wrong, and "the water is just fine." Then you can ride the professional program all the way to your goal weight.

      Building Your Own Program

      This will be covered as a separate topic later. Here are a few of the items that you will have to put together in order to build a good program:

      1. Identify how many calories you will need to eat at any given weight in order to achieve your goal.

        • How many calories can you eat and still lose weight at whatever weight you are at.

        • How many calories must you eat in order to avoid going into starvation mode?

        • How many calories will you need to maintain your goal weight?

      2. Identify what types of food you must eat in order to keep yourself healthy while losing weight.

      3. Find a good support system for your weight loss. It is nearly impossible to do this journey entirely alone. You will need friends and supporters. Dotti's Weight Loss Zone and its associated message board can be a great help to you in this, whether you are in a professional program, or you are going it alone.

      4. Work with your doctor and a nutritional expert in making the changes to your eating and your exercise. It is always good to get an okay from your doctor before starting any exercise program, and it is always safest to start out slowly with your exercise.

      Remember Aesop's Tortoise

      A final thought. Whether we choose to use a professional program, or we chose to build our own, it is very important to remember to SLOW DOWN. It will make everything so much easier. We will not lose all of our weight overnight, no matter what we do. We will cause frustration—maybe even cause injury or worse—if we get in a hurry. Relax and take your very best shot. You can do this if you are patient!

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