- Personal Health Information & Self-Help
Television and Weight Control
The Power of Suggestion
What every television advertiser wants is pretty much the same thing. To inspire the viewer, either on first seeing that commercial or the fifteenth or fiftieth time, to buy the product. Often, if it's something like food that you need every day. This is the core of a health problem that's soared every decade since I was a child, because since TV was invented, people have come to take commercials for granted.
If you want to live healthy and manage your weight, quit watching television.
Not just because sitting in front of the TV for hours a day resting isn't as healthy as exercise. You may be working long hours and so tired by the time you get home that you need a rest. That's what most people see as the problem with television, it's sedentary entertainment. You'll do better for exercise by getting a less sedentary job, because most people wind up working overtime or working unpaid overtime on salary, work almost round the clock and don't have time for basic self care and household care let alone physical activity just for health reasons.
Exercise isn't fun if you're tired, stressed and in pain.
So you may need to rest for a while after a long day. But if you spend that time watching a rented movie, reading a book, relaxing in your garden or on the balcony, talking with friends, taking up hobbies like art or a musical instrument or model-building or crafts... then you will actually get as much benefit from relaxing even if your hours are now spent tweezing together bits of model ships under a magnifying glass with tiny droplets of epoxy.
You aren't going to be interrupted in that activity every two minutes by a reminder to eat.
You also aren't going to be interrupted in the middle of a snack or a good meal that you enjoy with a guilt trip about how you should deprive yourself of your favorite foods and spend what spare time you have miserably performing repetitive calisthenics. There are some people who enjoy calisthenics and gyms. You can tell who they are, they have sculpted muscles, all-over tanning-bed tans and jog regularly. They have a tanned, overmuscled "I exercise for fun" look and they can be very dull to talk to since some of them won't stop going on about repetitions and routines and muscle groups and their current measurements.
If you're not one of these exercise hobbyists, it isn't going to be any more fun trying to take it up this time than it was all the other times you tried to work out, lose weight and improve your appearance. Instead, life will get tough, you'll have a bad day and wind up naturally resting after that day to calm down and de-stress before you can manage to go to sleep.
At this point, if it's in front of the television, you're exposing yourself to still more stress. Maybe even more stress than you had at work during the bad day. Every two minutes you'll be reminded you're not rich enough, not thin enough, not muscled enough, not young enough or old enough, you don't have enough life insurance, your car isn't good enough (if you have one) and most of all, that you could be dining at a lovely expensive restaurant and then run off to an expensive spa to work it off, or sign up for a special meal plan that will take totalitarian control of your eating habits to peel off the pounds.
Most people I've ever met hate commercials.
Most people, despite this, seem to still watch a lot of television and try to ignore the commercials. Few go to the trouble of recording the night's TV and editing all of them out though. That takes effort. What may actually be easier for the person who hasn't got the time and energy to pre-plan everything is to just surf and buy the programs online, download them, play them on your computer without the commercials and keep the ones you liked.
The commercials inevitably include at least one diet or food related commercial. These apparently contradictory, apparently unrelated messages have a one-two punch on the human psyche. They are real social pressure even if they aren't personal. Well-groomed high status people of your culture, who are at the peak of their careers, joyously extol either dieting to make their bodies perfect or indulging because the richest food is such a wonderful forbidden pleasure -- while dieting often involves an All or Nothing approach. You will never again have a Godiva truffle if you succeed in your diet.
So the diet-aids manufacturers make a mint and so do the restaurants, fast-food places and convenience foods -- in part because people mostly don't have the time or energy to cook when they get home. It is far easier to create a healthful, nutritious diet if you make it for yourself -- but in reality, anyone who's time-stressed and emotionally stressed is not going to put preparing food on a high priority and will settle instead for what's easy and available. Some of the worst convenience foods for nutrition value are also among the cheapest, so they become a staple for overworked people in debt or financial trouble.
It's a vicious cycle.
The best solution for both sanity and nutrition is to cut out all television commercials first of all. Let's start by eliminating something you hate! If your glowing box no longer bugs you every two minutes like a screaming toddler, raising its electronic box to whine at you to buy something, are you really going to miss that? Or will you rediscover the bliss of paying attention to a movie without any interruptions other than its intermission?
I am not saying to stop enjoying your favorite video entertainment. Far from it. Check it out and rent or buy it. Some shows are actually more fun if you wait till the season is over and rent the whole season, it's easier to keep continuity between chapters. But that's personal taste, you may want to just download the regular episodes when they air. Just do it in some form that has no commercials and then see what happens. That is the first lifestyle change.
Keep a personal journal for this process too. Jot down how you feel, your moods, what you ate of course and how much, how often. It helps to know your baseline. You could even chart what you eat and watch and do for a week first before taking that first grand step of turning off the commercials completely, it'd help demonstrate the point when in a week without commercials, life starts to feel different and you're a bit more in control of yourself.
Eat Healthy Foods
Break the Vicious Cycle of Diet > Binge > Diet
When people diet, especially rapid weight loss dieting. what they do is teach their bodies that the food in their environment is intermittent. For hundreds of thousands of years, human bodies and animal bodies respond to intermittent food sources by optimizing digestion so that every last calorie is dragged out of anything they eat, stored as fat to be saved for the lean times. A diet sets up the body so that the moment you break it, every calorie of the fatty treat you broke it with is going to go directly to storage on your hips and butt and stomach.
This is one of the big reasons why so many people with serious weight problems will sometimes go on quite extreme diets and gain weight on them even without breaking the regime. The deprivation factor of dieting, being stuck with rabbit food in tiny quantities while others eat foods you wish you could and knowing that you should never, ever, ever have a pat of butter or Godiva chocolate again in your life is the other half of the vicious circle -- that and an old Puritanical idea that forbidden pleasure is better.
So you get the idea that chocolate is sin.
But what if it's not?
What if instead, you give up dieting too and sort out what healthful foods your body needs? Some cravings for less nutritious foods can come if they have trace quantities of vitamins and minerals you need. So get a good multivitamin and start taking it daily. Add more fresh fruits and vegetables to what you eat. Getting in more whole grains is good too.
But here we come to the difference between packaged foods with all their hidden salt/sugar/fats content put in to create flavor appeal and compete with other calorie-laden snacks, including some health-advertised granola bars and such, and food you prepare for yourself. Plus you have to retrain your body to expect its food supply to be complete and nutritious all the time.
My daughter, a pharmacy technician, herbalist and pastry chef, is tall and lean. She actually used to look like a supermodel, now she looks more like an athlete because she took up horseshoeing and it's put some muscle on her lanky frame. She's still lean, just more athletic looking now.
She studied nutrition thoroughly as a pharmacy technician and a mother because she wanted to give my grandkids a good start. It's working too -- both of them are lean. One's tall and skinny like her mom, the other stocky and muscular, neither is fat. Their baby fat would appear for a few hours and go away leaving them taller the morning after -- which is what baby fat really is, a storing of energy before a growth spurt. It's not continuous.
Her best advice for losing weight and maintaining the loss is to figure out what you really need in nutrients and make sure you do eat all of those things in their truest form -- buy good ingredients and prepare your own food to skip all the overpriced seasoning and fats that go into so many convenience products. She has some other suggestions too that worked miracles for my health and energy.
Introduce a new healthy food, like more fiber or more fruit, gradually in small quantities.
If you wind up going from a flab-indulgence diet of fatty convenience foods and fast food to suddenly hit the Grains and Fruits FIber Diet -- you are asking for two or three solid months of digestive misery. Your body can't adapt that fast to the increased fiber. So you may get bound up or you may get bouts of painful diarrhea, you will get gas, you will suffer and the bloat alone may wind up leaving you discouraged about the whole thing.
Keep in mind that bloating from gas can look like ten more pounds on anyone, and that getting enough liquid or being dehydrated can in itself account for five pounds on the scale, which is why your average weight over a long period of time is more accurate. The time of day you weigh yourself affects what you weigh. Whether you had a bowel movement is measurable. So get bound up and whoa, there you are gaining weight on the strict reducing diet.
Whole unprocessed grains are a lot healthier than the sugar-raddled nutrition-poor cornflakes type of grains. You can find the Food Pyramid on almost any cereal box and half the brands of white bread out there. But even the whole grain bread at the store is only half whole grain. Bake it at home without mixing the whole wheat flour with white flour and you'll lose the funny bitter taste that storebought wheat bread has.
So buy a bread machine, this is 2009 after all and you probably don't have time to spend all day kneading and pounding own dough to bake your homebaked bread. Find good recipes online and experiment till you've got the machine turning out good quality whole grain bread. Add nuts or raisins occasionally for variety. This starts to save a ton of money too.
Don't cut out the treats.
Cut back on them. Don't expect treats every day. Desserts of fresh fruit are fine for an ordinary day, save the ice cream and cake and candy for things like special occasions, less often. Don't do the candy bar anytime you're hungry thing and you won't wind up getting the chocolate poundage. Have the healthy foods more convenient than the candy stuff or chips.
You can fry real potatoes in oilve oil and have tastier fries at home with much more nutrition if you leave the skins on. Potato skins have a lot of vitamins and minerals, they are one of nature's greatest foods. It's little changes like that which can improve someone's diet and nutrition.
Do these changes one at a time. Generally cut back a bit on the caloric stuff but not obsessively -- pay attention to them when you do enjoy them, get the best available and thoroughly enjoy them. It's much better to have a Godiva truffle once a week than a cheap candy bar every day and will even cost less to go ahead and pop for the fancy goodie once in a while over the cheap ones constantly.
Then instead of feeling deprived, start looking forward to that truffle.
If you take up cooking as a hobby, this itself can be tremendously good exercise. For one thing, cooks tend to actually skip meals because they're stuffed from tasting foods in progress. I've seen Kitten go through a whole energetic day without eating a meal -- but she ate a meal in hundreds of little bites and tastes throughout preparing the week's good food.
Do your major cooking for the week all in one day.
Prepare foods that taste good rewarmed or microwaved. Some things like marinara sauce are lots better after they've been steeping in the fridge for a couple of days letting the flavors mingle. When you prepare several large entrees on a weekend day, then you have the convenience throughout the workweek that you would if you were buying high calorie, low nutrient convenience food.
Get the best ingredients. If you stop buying prepared foods and eating out, you can afford them. Even on Food Stamps it's possible to get real butter, eggs, steak and fresh fruit and vegetables -- especially if on the produce you don't insist on everything being out of season nonlocal exotic foods or pristine perfect pretty. We tend to shop the slightly bruised cart and get whatever's cheap -- but get it so often that in the past three years this house has never been without fresh fruit for snacks.
The cooking process itself is good exercise. It means staying on your feet, running back and forth, getting things out of cabinets, kneading or rolling dough, the more complex the preparation then the more exercise it is. So if you are really looking to gain exercise, don't always choose the easiest recipes for the week's good food, make it a workout and do some interesting multi-stage recipes too.
Cleaning up after cooking is exercise too. It also leaves a tangible reward -- your kitchen is clean, it's inviting, it'd be easy to find everything the next time you want to cook. Actually enjoying that is possible after getting into the habit of doing it, because it's a task that produces a tangible reward instead of the demoralizing feeling of working hard for no apparent results.
Pay attention to cravings, especially if they are for unusual foods or healthy foods. If you crave broccoli, you need it. If you desperately need to eat a tomato, then eat a tomato. Your cravings sometimes reflect your body's real needs, and as you eat more healthy, these cravings are more likely to come to the fore. They will do so most of all if you don't feel deprived about the sweets and fats because you have them to look forward to and come up with recipes that the portions are reasonable.
Read up on nutrition and calories. I look at the nutrition information on all foods and it always seems to be calculated to a 2000 calorie diet for an average person. But this averages everything from small people doing sedentary desk jobs to large male farmers who need 3,500 calories a day to maintain their activity level.
You're not the average. You're you. Somewhere in there is the right level for your real build and activity levels. 1.500 may not be a reducing diet for you.
But to reduce weight, I would suggest just gradually learning to eat well and increase activity -- starting with the activities you love most that are vigorous. Dance if you don't like calisthenics. Dance while you clean house. Play games and sports or something -- and if you don't like team competitive sports, take up something noncompetitive or off beat that does excite you. Plein air (outdoor) painting is just as good for getting more exercise as hiking without a sketchbox, a bit more in fact because you're carrying the sketchbox and standing at the easel too.
Whatever you choose for exercise, it has to be something you genuinely enjoy doing. Something that you will go on enjoying the better you get at it over the years, instead of a grim punishment for enjoying your dinner or having the wrong genes or having a mother that didn't breast feed you.
Pet the cat. It always helps.
Comfort Foods Vs. Other Comforts
One of the worst prompts aside from television commercials themselves is turning to comfort food specifically after having been stressed, humiliated, frightened or crushed socially. That's the third point of the diet - binge triangle. It goes Binge > Humiliation > Diet and all three go round and round and round.
So avoid people and situations that stress and humiliate you. Ask some hard questions about your other life choices, like what you do for a living, who you associate with, their attitudes about you and life. Sort out the people who bug you and drop them, especially if they are only acquaintances, avoid them if they are coworkers and don't take them at all seriously. Mouth off back to them -- after all, they seem to feel it's okay to criticize you!
And filter your entertainment content for music, movies, shows that do not focus on making fun of overweight or different or not-normal people. Look for things that leave you feeling happy and heartened after you watch them. Yes, this can include dark content. I love horror movies. Nothing like seeing the annoying people of the world get a comeuppance from a monster, especially when the monster's a wit. I mean avoid the bland snotty content that goes on about how you're nothing if you're not rich and thin and perfect and young.
The commercials are the worst for that, and you cut those out on the first step of this approach. But many sitcoms play off the same material since these actually sell the diet aids and food ads and stuff-appearances products. You can tell if you watch critically which ones are repeating the message of the commercials.
You know what happens with kids and toy ads. It happens with adults and food ads and products too. It can throw you into debt and obesity all at the same time and then sell you magic pills to be able to sleep after a rotten day and Prozac to help forget that your life is that pointless. Social pressure is hard to resist, and when you don't recognize it as such it's almost impossible to resist.
So that's dealing with some of the stressors right there -- solve the stress problem and there's less impetus toward comfort foods.
Then shift your spending money -- any reasonable budget will have some just as every reasonable diet or nutrition plan has some treats in it, otherwise it's impossible to stick to it long term -- on comforts that aren't food.
It's pretty basic but if you start picking up cheap novels in your favorite genre instead of chocolate snacks and just shift where you stop after a hard day from the candy store to the bookstore, wow, you will wind up better read and thinner. Or get into a hobby and stop at the hobby store for more yarn for your knitting or another boxcar for your model railroad or another tube of paint for your art.
There are many, many things in life that have personal meaning, that are comforts. It could be something like a fancy blank book for a personal journal. It could be some sort of toy or collectible. It could be comic books. It could be movies. It could be music -- it's not going to hurt you socially if you visit iTunes more often and snack bars less often.
But don't deprive yourself when you make those choices. Choose small treats and pleasures that are special to you, personally, little things that cheer you up. Then by paying more attention to them, do a bit of bargain hunting so you can afford to do this regularly, as often as you bought little snacks for comfort food.
One of the biggest treats for overworked people today is time.
If you reward yourself with free time when you succeed in dificult goals or comfort yourself with it after a hard day, that might not even cost any money at all. One thing to remember is that your free time does not belong to other people's demands, no matter who they are or how important their demands. You need to find a way to keep that in your life even when everything has blown apart and you can't meet all your responsibilities, because otherwise you will not be in shape to DO any of your responsibilities.
If what you want to do is get up early and just stare at the sunrise, do it, and make it clear to everyone you live with that you're not to be disturbed in that morning meditation. You can call it that even if you're woolgathering and fantasizing about something silly, because what goes on in your head is yours, not theirs. It may get a little more respect than "I need to daydream for half an hour before I can face the day."
A whole life includes productive work and enjoyable play, good food that tastes good, good company, close relationships, good friendships, pleasant acquaintances and a social context that rewards you for who you are and what you do. Don't settle for less. The "sinful pleasures" are not the only pleasures there are. Some of life's greatest pleasures get forbidden by omission -- just say that to someone, see how they react: "I like to spend an hour a day just daydreaming and staring out the window."
You will get as much or more shock from that than you would if you said you wanted to spend it having wild monkey sex with total strangers or eating ten gallons of ice cream. Even though an hour of daydreaming or journaling -- or a good night's sleep -- or both -- may actually do a lot more for your health than either of the above.
If you're in a relationship, vigorous sex is good exercise and a bit more creativity and imagination in it can make it a lot more fun. It gets touted as more of a big deal than it is, especially in a relationship. There's so much social stress about it that a lot of people inhibit themselves and don't even keep up their body needs -- but if you love your partner, have a partner and make time for it, that is also among many other good things, good exercise. It's also good glue for the relationship and keeps things warm emotionally.
If you're not in a relationship, the one thing that may attract a good partner is your living well and enjoying your life. More than appearance or income, attractive healthy people are drawn to people who are happy -- they must have something on the ball, they must be particularly doing well or they'd be as worried as everyone else. Don't discount that as attractiveness in itself.
Life is full of other comforts, which ones are most important to you may even have wound up the ones you deprive yourself of the most. If you think people will laugh at you for it, don't talk about it to acquaintances but find groups online that get into it and do take it seriously. Spend more time socializing with affinity groups that share your interests than with random mainstream groups where "food" is the only neutral topic.
For more detail on healthy foods and how to change your habits, Pam Grundy just wrote a wonderful Hub on http://hubpages.com/hub/Lose-Weight-Permanently-Without-Dieting that follows many of the same ideas. She explores the chemistry of stress and weight gain as well as much more specifics on what healthy foods to add and habits to change -- gradually, without dieting or depriving yourself.
Both of us share the idea that your lifestyle changes should be a net benefit immediately as soon as you start doing them -- enjoy the fresh fruits and veggies, enjoy your new activities, give yourself more time off, give yourself small rewards that aren't food and break the idea that food is the only reward system out there. Self affection can be displayed in many, many ways.
Age, Motherhood, Other Factors
A person's weight can also be affected by many other factors. For women, there's a vicious cycle that started around the 1950s or maybe a little earlier when bottle feeding became popular. The era was prudish and breast feeding was seen as something too physical and icky, women were taught to be afraid of it. Then something happened to their metabolisms.
Their bodies geared up for nursing babies throughout the pregnancy, which is what some of maternal weight gain is -- and then if it isn't used, that extra fat gets hoarded for the next child. Hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, heck, millions, hundreds of millions of years of evolution prepare mammal females to feed their young milk. Human milk is the most nutritious food for human infants.
Prepared formulas are mostly cow's milk, some vitamin supplements and corn syrup -- which makes them fat. This is so common that the image of a heavily obese baby is taken as a normal healthy baby -- the infants of breast feeding mothers look strange and skinny and muscled because they're not obese. I think they look beautiful. It took me decades to understand why I thought babies were ugly -- it was because a lot of them are sick and overweight.
This can set the child up for obesity throughout life, though it's possible for an adult to retrain his or her body to a better level and type of nutrition. It takes more work for someone who was bottle fed than someone breastfed.
As for the moms, I have known a number of women in my life who breastfed their babies. Every one of them took off the weight after pregnancy, one of them wound up thinner after having her baby than she was before she had one -- she had improved her nutrition for the baby's sake and then gave the extra pregnancy pounds to the person they belonged to, her kid. Every one of those kids grew up healthy and lean too, with less compulsion to overindulge in refined sugars and salty fatty foods.
So women who are considering having kids, please listen to these women friends of mine and do both yourself and the baby a favor by planning to feed it yourself. Nothing is more healthy for your baby than what you grow for the baby, especially if you do eat well during and after pregnancy. This is a huge factor. I honestly think it has a lot to do with the levels of child obesity in the country today.
Another is aging.
Teenagers still have a growth metabolism. Young males especially will shoot up like tall sticks and eat like there's no tomorrow. They spend it in body energy, and if they don't eat enough healthy foods may wind up apathetic and sedentary. But around 25 or so the male metabolism shifts. The vast quantities of protein that were needed in young men are too much for mature men, and so the adult-male potbelly and beer belly start to emerge. Hard to peel off. Really hard since you can't turn the metabolic clock back to growth.
Men start to fill out at that age and that's how life works, so that is a time to shift the overall quantity of food to match your new metabolism. That and maintain an active life, this doesn't always happen with men who are active. But it can even for very active men if the activity doesn't match their earlier caloric intake. I've known tough guys in rugged physical jobs who still drag around ten or fifteen or twenty pounds of potbelly despite all that hard work, because they're still eating like 25 year old farmers and ranchers rather than 35 year old or 60 year old farmers and ranchers.
Where you live is another factor. I have noticed that people in colder climates tend to be heavier. Places with harsh winters especially, there are more heavy people around. This is a biological adaptation. The fat layer may save their lives in the worst weather the same way a seal or whale's blubber helps protect their innards. In fact, many heavy people I've known have a great deal of trouble with heat and love icy cold weather.
So there may be genetic factors if your ancestors all came from cold climates or environmental ones supporting it if you live in a cold climate. Skinny people get cold fast and are more subject to hypothermia. Pay attention to this and dress accordingly -- and for a heavy person moving to a hot climate, it may be important to put weight on a higher priority and get thin to adapt. Think of going outside or doing physical activity at night, like dancing, when it's not going to invite heat stroke.
In many health matters it helps me to look at myself as an individual without looking at what's right for other people. They aren't me. I have met people who can eat lots of fatty foods and never gain weight. Heck, I am one -- my general build is consistent regardless of how much I get to eat, but if I eat enough then I can manage more activity and I'm not as sick. My 3cm shorter right leg means all physical activity takes five times the body energy it would for anyone symmetrical. So I do need a lot of protein to sustain it and a fair amount more calories than most people -- because just moving around is like I'm doing heavy farm work.
What also helps a lot is to think of my body as an animal, a simple breathing living mammal -- no matter how smart and intellectual I am, the human being is also the human animal. Running is popular because human instinct and long legs make us distance runners. Competition is popular because we were and are pack hunters like wolves. Human beings are currently one of the most successful creatures on Earth.
It's that success itself that's causing many problems, it means that for most people their social interactions with other human beings have much more to do with survival than their ability to chase prey, build a den and get the necessities of life. The biggest risks to human beings are other human beings -- so humans live in a constant state of stress from social pressures, many of which are unconscious and carry on by cultural inertia. Or they get generated as a side effect of something else.
The commercials exist from their makers' point of view to sell products. That's all. They aren't put together by malevolent plotters who want to ensure a third of the population needs a diet aid. Many of the people coming up with the diet aids may be doing it to help, seeing the problem as a problem. But any kind of social input that is constant, stressful and daily is going to have a huge impact.
These things don't have to make sense in relation to reality because social needs are often placed at a much higher priority than survival needs. After all, sheer survival doesn't take much in America. You can have sheer survival in a bad job or a homeless shelter, or in jail, in any number of bad situations survival needs are taken care of but life isn't worth living that way. Understanding that and standing back from it all to eliminate anything from your life that's not worth your time and energy, focusing it on those things that really are worth your time and energy -- the ones you love, the things you really enjoy doing and the pleasures of life, including good food -- which is even better than a restaurant if prepared with love to your personal tastes.
keeping a good life in balance is a lot more important than whether you know the jingle of the latest cereal commercial. Its feelings will not be hurt if you don't pay attention to it. But yours will be a lot less frazzled and your loved ones will appreciate it if you're happier.