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Weight Management: Don't be like a bear in hibernation

Updated on March 28, 2011

If only making the decision to lose weight...

was like making the decision to get your hair cut.

Once you decide to get your hair cut, all it takes is a phone call, an appointment which happens usually a day or few days later. Once you go to the appointment, it’s done.

If you trust them, there are also walk-in salons where you can have your hair cut the very same day that you make the decision to have it done.

Similarly, when you make the decision to buy a new pair of shoes, you go out to some shoe stores or online and shop until you find a pair you like. You simply make the decision and do it. You see the results of that decision quite soon after the decision was made. Usually, other people notice too as you walk around with your new hairdo and your new shoes.

Unfortunately, there is no new body store where you can pop in and order a new body and wear it home that day.

There is usually a significant gap of time between making the decision to lose weight and seeing the results of that decision.

By its very nature, it is an endeavor that requires faith and patience: faith that it will work and patience to see it through. It is also that in-between time that can undo the strongest of us.

Copyright 2010:
Copyright 2010:

It feels good... make a decision to change though. In fact, it can be quite euphoric to assert control over your life and your image. It is not uncommon to project yourself into the future when you are walking around in your new, slender body.

That decision can also be filled with ambivalence, questions, and self-doubts. It is tempting to wish that you could just go out and buy that new body just like you can buy a new pair of shoes so not to have to deal with the inconveniences and hassles of dieting, the issues of figuring out what and when to eat, the temptations, the psychological torture that can be associated with it all.

If you are inclined, it can be a negative thinking trap where it is easy to beat yourself up and drive yourself to depression just thinking about the problem, maybe fearing deep down inside that you are too “weak” to make the change. This is why there will always be a market for the “magic pill” industry. People want the “quick fix.”

For me, my decision to lose weight was always filled with a simultaneous exhilarating energy toward my goal while wrestling against a more immediate, paradoxical hyper-awareness of myself as a fat person. That feeling was somewhat disturbing and posed an unusual dilemma. Once I made the decision, in my mind, I had already achieved my goal. The reality of my physical body was that I was nowhere near it.

Let’s go back to that critical moment when you make the decision to do it. That moment is when your determination is at its peak. You tell yourself that you must do it, you will do it, and you are hopeful, eager and excited. Then, comes the hard part - keeping that magical consciousness and anticipation fresh in your mind.

Depending on how much weight you want to lose, the time it takes to get to your goal might take weeks, months or even years. Maybe you’ve come to accept from past experience that in the lapse of time between your decision to lose weight and the achievement of your goal, your determination will wane and you will go back to your same old habits.

That frustration with my fat self and decision to lose weight would be followed by the decision to go on a starvation diet. It was simple because I didn’t have any “meals” to plan. I would eat a grapefruit here, a bowl of cottage cheese there, mixed in with a few celery and carrot sticks. It was a race against willpower. I wanted to see how much weight I could lose before my willpower had a chance to wane.

Along the same lines of thinking, I wrote out a plan to go on a 300 calorie-per-day diet for five weeks when I was 16. To get to the weight I wanted to be, I would have to lose 50 pounds in total. With my plan, I would lose twenty-five pounds by the end of the first month of my diet!

My motivation was that I had a crush on a boy who told me that he thought I had a pretty face and he liked my personality but was not interested in a relationship with me because I was overweight. All of my energy and willpower was embodied in my daydreams of the boy and I as a couple. Certainly, I thought, these would suffice for sustenance.

Even though a part of me was aware that it might be dangerous and unhealthy to lose weight this way, I did not even think of doing it sensibly. Why? Because it would take too long and I was in a hurry. In my mind, I wanted to lose the weight before the boy got another girlfriend.

Of course, I rationalized that after I lost those first twenty-five pounds, I could then switch to a more healthy diet plan. I thought it would be easier because I would have at least made solid headway toward my ultimate goal which was to lose 50 pounds at the time. In the meantime, I was sure that people who knew me, including the boy of my dreams, would surely be impressed with the dramatic change by the end of the first week.

For the first few days, it worked and I patted myself on my back for my tremendous vision and willpower. But, by the fourth or fifth day, my plan started to falter and I lost control, eating everything in sight. By the end of the first week, I gained back more weight than I lost in those first few days. Ultimately, the month went by anyway and my worst fears came true. I gained, rather than lost, weight. That boy got himself a slim girlfriend.

The truth is that just about everyone I have ever talked to who wanted or felt they needed to lose weight has also at least once felt the same way - that they wanted results overnight. A lot of weight-loss programs and diet pill manufacturers will try to sell you on their regime with this promise. Almost always the apparent “quick-fix” solutions ultimately lead to some kind of starvation and self-defeat.

While starving yourself does appear to be a quick way to lose weight, it backfires, regardless of whether it is a self-imposed plan or a commercially purchased one. The only situation I know of where this isn’t the case is some normally thin people who do this. The key is that their normal state is to be thin and their short-term starving brings them back to their status quo, the state at which their bodies are the most familiar and comfortable.

The key to body and soul integration is balance. It is important for you to work with and support that natural balance between satiety and hunger. Controlling and utilizing aspects of both will be a critical element to your success in achieving your goal.

No matter how quickly you think you want to lose weight, here are some darn good reasons to not starve yourself.

Hunger, in the most accurate sense of the word is related to a question of survival. It describes a physiological state where the need for food is accompanied by pain, weakness, and lack of mental clarity. It is a physiological response which can be followed by a psychological reaction.

Starving oneself to the point of genuine hunger is not only abusive to your body, it is counter-productive. Intellectually, you know that you are only “dieting.” Physiologically, your body sends a distress signal to your brain similar to what would occur if you were someone in a famine or a bear in hibernation where your food supply and calorie intake have suddenly been diminished. The body determines that your current rate of metabolism must be slowed down and your need for calories must be compensated.

Copyright 2010:
Copyright 2010:

If you take this approach to dieting, three very discouraging things can happen.

First, your slowed metabolism will cause you to not lose as much weight as you hoped to.

Second, the physiological drive will ultimately assume precedence over everything else and you’ll find that your necessity to compensate for those calories will take your brain hostage (blindfolds, gags, and ropes, the works!). No matter how much you thought you wanted that slender body two hours ago, that image and desire has suddenly been tossed out the window. One you reach that point, satisfaction is not easily accomplished either. In fact, it will usually demand over-compensation, like high-interest charges on a loan. Our bodies, the somewhat independent organisms they are, will react unforgivingly to the deprivation and lead us to the binge through physiological triggers and psychological “tricks.” It’s like your body’s own insurance policy. The binge is the result of the body/brain conjoined effort to regain the lost calories and a method of “stocking-up” just in case the deprivation occurs again in the near future.

Finally, there is one more long-lasting and detrimental consequence of the Starve/Binge cycle. If you subject your body to this over and over again, you can result with several life-threatening conditions. One is irreparable heart damage which occurs when weight fluctuates dramatically and repeatedly. Another is a confused metabolism where your natural regulatory system goes haywire and will stop functioning normally. You can also increase your chances of getting diabetes and other metabolic disorders. Then, there is always the possibility of becoming emotionally dependent on the starved state or anorexia nervosa. This is a physiological and psychological disorder where your judgment becomes impaired and your entire relationship to food becomes severely dysfunctional.

Unless you are on fasting regime prescribed and monitored by a physician, stay away from the starvation diets or any regime that demands you reduce your calorie intake to less than 1000 a day.

Remember: The physiological body CRAVES homeostasis. Left to its own devices, the body will do anything it can to get back to its familiar state after a “crisis.”

How the Starve-Binge Cycle Works

1. Delusion: 
If I starve myself, I’ll lose weight quickly and then normalize my eating afterwards. Dieting will become easier because my stomach will be smaller and I won’t have to eat as much. 
2. Body reaction: 
First, there is slight hunger, it grows to consuming hunger, then Emergency strikes! Body is in crisis! Warning! Warning! Severe calorie deprivation! The red light flashes: EAT! EAT ANYTHING! JUST EAT! EAT! EAT! EAT! DON’T STOP EATING!
3. Physical result:
Shrunken stomach filled with binge food “stretches” to make up for lost calories and accommodate stores for next “starve session."
4. Emotional Result: 
“I can’t do it, will never do it, why even try?” mentality sets in. The previously optimistic attitude is clouded by discouragement and despair, confirmation of feelings of weakness. Discouragement could last for months or years. 

One of the major errors in judgment I made when I tried to starve off 25 pounds was that I was too driven by what I thought other people thought about my appearance. Rather than viewing my body as an extension of my spirit and physical vessel for my soul, I made the mistake of thinking of my physical shell as my complete identity. Of course, being a 16-year old rejected by a boy I liked because of my weight did not help.

Being so externally oriented, it is easy to overlook the endangering aspects or the abuses of starving the body in the long run. It is too easy to zero-in on the idea of having a figure worthy of external attention as (even if temporarily) more important than health. This is a direct influence of the pressures of socio-cultural influences in our society that appearance and being slim is everything. It is so important to recognize that the body is a physical manifestation of the spirit and needs loving care to function at its best.

Copyright © 2005-2010. Margit Selvey, MSc


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    • M Selvey, MSc profile imageAUTHOR

      M Selvey, MSc 

      8 years ago from United Kingdom

      fucsia, yes, young people are especially prone to this mentality because I think they may be less patient and want the quick fix but, as you rightly said, it is so dangerous. Thank you for stopping by and for your comment.

    • fucsia profile image


      8 years ago

      certain types of diets recommend to eat once a week more than necessary for not slowing down the metabolism. Unfortunately many people, especially young people, fall into the trap that you have described well of starve / binge cycle with all its serious consequences. I also, some many years ago, thought to losing weight with a starvation diet and I know well,also because I saw it on others, this dangerous mechanism.

    • M Selvey, MSc profile imageAUTHOR

      M Selvey, MSc 

      8 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thank you Nellieanna for you comments and sharing your experience! I agree that you need that happy medium (min-max) because it is realistic. The problem is that weight management is so much more about psychology than anything else. I love what you said:

      "The biggest trap is feeling like it's all over if one slips up and gets off the program and then feels like 'I might as well give up'."

      That was pretty much the mentality I grew up with and I think what largely contributes to the starve and binge cycle. Once that discouragement sets in, it is hard to keep motivated to get back on the track.

      It would be so great to have that teenager metabolism again! :)

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      8 years ago from TEXAS

      I've needed to watch my weight during my life. It's never been very far afield but once I had to lose 25 pounds - and it was under the supervision of my eldest sister, who was no-nonsense about it. I was 19 and she assured me that if I achieved a good weight for my 'type then, I'd never need to worry about weight. I guess it was hypnotic, because it always seemed fairly easy for me to maintain it or - if it began to get out of bounds, - to rein it in.

      My own best solution has been to set a 'min-max' - because, believe it or not, if I start losing, sometimes it just keeps going below my goal. It did that once and I ended up weighing 102 - and at 5'4-1/2" as I was then (before I shrank a couple of inches) even with light bones, it was a bit too gaunt at age 50 or so.

      So - my min-max is 110-120. Allows me some leeway, especially nice around holidays. lol. I like to think I can "yo-yo" a little if I like!.

      Fortunately I prefer the healthy foods so it's not difficult to maintain. But I don't believe in punishing oneself. If I want something special occasionally - I have it.

      My motto is "if it can't be fun, why do it?" - which means some things have to be made more fun arbitrarily! hehe

      Anyway - I guess there're not many people walking around who don't have some sort of weight-balancing challenge to attend to. A good program has to be reasonable, healthy, and fun. The biggest trap is feeling like it's all over if one slips up and gets off the program and then feels like "I might as well give up".

      Discouragement is the biggest enemy of any kind of success!

      Great hub. I read it before my comapany arrived. They were here a week and I thought I'd replied - but EVERYTHING got behind - lol.

      Speaking of food - my teenage great grandkids can really put food away! They're very tall and active. Aaron is health conscious (for his athletics) but he can really eat quantities! whew! Bryana eats less but she's tall as well. Both almost 6 feet - at ages 15 and 13.


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