No Escape from Exercise

There is a disquieting and endemic aspect to the American character. It is our inherent belief (right even) that tells us we can have it both ways. We believe that the normal laws of the universe do not apply to us. The piper does not have to be paid. At worst, we can defer the piper indefinitely. If we need more evidence of this, we simply have to look at the so-called fiscal conservatives in our Republican controlled Congress. The solution to all our problems seems to have it both ways: charge up the national credit card and let our grandchildren worry about it. No more of this guns or butter crap. It’s guns and butter all the time! Woo hoo!

Sadly, we Americans seem to be as addicted to the promise of getting something from nothing as a junkie is to his next fix. We believe in the laughably ridiculous. After all, are we not God’s chosen nation? Therefore, we line up like lemmings to buy lottery tickets. In addition, when we read that we can lose two to three pounds per week by eating pork rinds (just skip the carbohydrates) how can we resist? Eat filet mignon for dinner every night and we will still grow skinnier.

We learn today that this latest diet craze went bust. Atkins Nutritionals, a company formed by the late Dr. Robert Atkins, entered bankruptcy court on Sunday. Whether the company, which promotes the Atkins diet, will emerge from Chapter 11 remains to be seen. One thing is for sure: the American people have tried Atkins and we do not like it anymore. It was okay for a while. Steak for dinner every night sounded great. However, it was not the same without that baked potato slathered in sour cream. Yes, million have lost weight on the Atkins Diet. Nevertheless, most of them eventually put the weight back, often adding more. It seems we do not have the willpower to say no to carbohydrates forever. Eventually the body says enough and we are buying boxes of Krispy Kremes. Reputedly, even the good Dr. Atkins succumbed. The rumor is that Dr. Atkins died obese.

It is true that buried in the Atkins diet book was that little and rarely read caveat to the diet: eat normal portions and (like any diet book I have ever read) exercise regularly. In other words, eat less and exercise more. Our American brains though translate this into “Don’t exercise at all and eat the same, or more, of something you don’t normally eat.”

I have only tried a couple diets. The Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet did not do a darn thing for me. A variant of it, the South Beach Diet took off five pounds quickly. However, I found after a couple months on it I could not keep to it. So eventually, I went back to the most difficult but most reliable method of weight control ever invented: eat less and exercise more.

Exercise more. Exercise a lot more. The truth about weight loss is that it is not so much about food as it is about exercise. It should be obvious: if you eat like a pig on any diet, you are not going to lose weight. Nevertheless, there is rarely a downside to exercising. As long as you are sensible about it and work your way up gradually longer toward exercises, you are likely to reap the rewards, including weight loss.

The Washington Post recently reported some tips from dieters who managed to lose lots of weight and keep it off:

Nutrition fads come and go. Successful losers report reaching a healthier weight the old-fashioned way: They count calories, reduce calorie-dense food and move a lot more.

Nearly half of those in the national registry reported losing weight entirely on their own. The rest got assistance from commercial weight-loss programs, a physician or a nutritionist. “Over the years, I tried a lot of different things — Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers a couple of times, different combinations of diets in magazines,” said Melissa Glassman, a lawyer who practices in Tysons Corner. “I could always lose 10 to 20 pounds, but would always gain back more than that.”

It was only by changing her habits that Glassman shed 125 pounds — half her body weight — in the past couple of years. “It’s the little things that you incorporate into your daily life that help keep you on track,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be entirely about deprivation or exercising two hours a day.”

The Post reports what you probably know in your heart too but also have a hard time admitting. Dieters who manage to keep the weight off have learned there are no quick fixes. To succeed you have to develop a viable long-term strategy that works for you and stick with it. Another successful step according to these dieters: be active. That means you will not succeed in long-term weight loss by spending your leisure hours watching television. The Post reports that those who were successful with long-term weight loss had a number of other successful strategies. They include tracking your weight, enlisting support, and setting small goals.

I do not know of anyone who has succeeded in long-term weight loss that has done so by being a couch potato. You have to exercise. In addition, you have to exercise regularly (i.e. most days). It needs to be real exercise. Much of it needs to be aerobic in nature. It can be as simple as walking. Walking is a terrific form of exercise with virtually no downsides. It does not matter too much what form of aerobic exercise you choose, so pick one (or a few) that you really enjoy.

Until recently, my favorite form of exercising was biking. It eventually messed up my feet, but that was only because I did not think about the consequences before I started. I went overboard, biking 30 miles or more in tennis shoes. Now I have proper biking shoes and my feet are finally feeling better. I am hitting the biking trail again. Since I am fortunate to live three miles from my place of employment, biking to work is an easy way for me to get exercise. Nevertheless, by itself biking is not enough. Six miles of biking a day is just 30-40 minutes of exercise. The human body really needs more exercise than that. My sedentary job means that I need to do more. Therefore, I supplement it with 2-4 escapes to the Gold’s Gym a week. In addition, I look for other ways to incorporate exercise in my life. I climb four flights of stairs to get to my office instead of taking the elevator. If there is a hiking trail off the biking trail, I will stop and go for a hike too.

As I mentioned recently, we have bodies that are meant to move. Use every excuse to move your body. If you do not have any then invent them. Make the time. Yes, I know your life is busy. You may have rug rats at home, and junior has to go to soccer practice. Do it at 4:30 a.m. if you have to. Do it after the kids go down. Help them with their homework while you work out on an elliptical machine. Do not make excuses, just do it.

Here is what I think: the goal of weight loss is not to look better. The goal of weight loss is to be healthy. Therefore, you probably need to eat better. Equally important you need to exercise more. You can stay in denial if you wish. You can hope for that new miracle drug. However, even if you never lose a pound you will feel so much better simply by getting regular exercise. You can start by literally walking the walk.

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