Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Losing Weight Costs $1000/pound

I've now lost thirty pounds since my peak (just after I got home from my cursed Chow Tour, which also left me with high blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol). Health and weight loss have been my top priority ever since, and I'm finally able to fit into high school pants, but it's been a remarkably tough slog...even with an immaculate diet and Tasmanian Devil workouts.

I've learned a lot, but here's the big takeaway: losing weight costs $1000/pound. Most people budget more like $10 or $20/pound.

Like many people, I kept trying to back into dieting via a series of swearings off. Many years ago, I kissed my morning scrambled egg sandwiches goodbye. Then I swapped water for juice. Then abandoned dessert. And so on. And I started working out, which involved a series of swearings on (i.e. treadmill time expanded from fifteen to twenty to thirty minutes, more weight lifting exercises added, etc).

The problem was that I couldn't swear off foods, or swear on exercise, fast enough to keep up with increasing age, which made weight loss harder and harder. Coming from a family with a penchant for rotundity, not gaining weight was, itself, an accomplishment. And so my spare twenty five pounds never came off. It was like being caught inside a metabolic ratchet wrench.

Over the past two years, I decided to see what it truly took to reach my ideal weight. I'd always assumed it would simply involve a bit more swearing off. I'd eat out less, make lots of brown rice (mistake! high glycemic!), be more consistent at the gym, and the weight would melt off, a couple pounds at a time.

Nyuh-uh. Here's the grim truth: if I eat 1800 calories per day in three home cooked meals with no processed ingredients, saturated fats, sugar, white flour or fried stuff (just things like wild salmon, skinless chicken breast, broccoli, kasha, etc.) plus do four or five multi-hour grueling workouts per week, I can shed just under half a pound per week. If I lapse - miss a couple of workouts or dive expansively into some lasagna - I can easily pack on 1.5 pounds per week. Do the math: one serious slip-up per month means one half pound weight loss for that entire month!

I'm not complaining. I love how I eat now. By balancing each meal's allocation of carbs/fats/proteins, and sticking to whole foods (lowercase), I come away from the table feeling great. And I like the workouts, to which I've grown addicted. But progress is glacially slow, and it's taken time to accept this. At my rate, if I lapse only bimonthly, it will take a full year to lose the twenty optional pounds remaining between me and six-pack abs.

Each pound of lost weight requires a full two weeks of careful diligence (and time spent on cooking, food shopping, and gym visits). It's truly $1000 worth of effort. But now that I know this, it's actually easier to settle down and take a longer view. If you expect it to happen faster, easier, cheaper, you're as doomed to failure as a marathon runner who checks his watch during the race's first hour.

My aim here isn't to send distraught overweight readers retreating to their Haagen-Dazs to lament the futility of it all. My point is this: you must budget appropriately.

1 comment:

Care said...

The most common methods of getting rid of fat are not efficient. Starvation diets – those that require you to consume less than 1,000 calories per day – help you to lose weight, but much of what you lose will be water, some of it will be muscle and only a little bit of it will be fat. The problem with these diets is that you end flabby anyway and you’re still ashamed of your body in a bathing suit. And what is worse, you quickly gain the weight back.

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