A few simple rules can make all the difference in losing weight -- especially if you apply them in a way that makes the most sense for you.
I came home from work early today, after a relapse of the flu that's been going around. I happened to catch an Oprah show discussing her most recent approach to weight loss. She had a fellow on with her, discussing his book on the subject -- sensible eating, or some such. I didn't catch his name or the title of the book, but the principles they discussed were worth recording.
Ahh. Google and Amazon to the rescue. The book was Get with the Program, by Bob Greene.
The 4 rules, as accurately as I can recall were:
As I describe the rules, I'll be adding some information of my own. But I'll try to stay focused on the short, pithy bits of information that were developed in the Oprah show.
There was one overarching principle she developed, though. It was to customize a plan that works for you. So take the principles and use them in a way that makes sense in your life.
This wasn't a big one for me, but apparently the biggest single cause of obesity is "emotional eating". That's what her guest said, at any rate. The point was to identify the emotional triggers, and learn to deal with in some other way. For example, if you're eating to "fill the void in your life", then fill it with family, friends, and other rewarding activities, instead.
(Interestingly, one of the reviewers at Amazon preferred Deborah Low's book, The Quest for Peace, Love, & a 24-inch Waist, for women struggling with that problem. The reviewer also recommended the author's site at www.deborahlow.com.)
Addressing emotional issues is also a big part of Jorge Cruise's program in 8 Minutes in the Morning. He also provides a web site where you can get in touch with others for emotional support, and get personal coaching (www.jorgecruise.com). He also hosts weekly conference calls, and he encourages people to lean on each other. So it's kind of a "find a friend" service for weight loss.
Drink water. Lots of water. All day long. A video montage showed Oprah sipping water all day long. On the show, she sipped through a straw. It kept her hydrated (important for burning fat), and kept her stomach full so she ate less.
When I gave up smoking, I noticed that my hands and mouth were longing for something to do. So one suspects that the constant sipping also has the effect of keeping the mouth busy with something else besides the food it's in the habit of working on.
On the exercise front, Oprah has added resistance training to here regimen, mostly with dumbbells. (It's great to see her recommending that. Resistance training is vital for building bone strength, for building fat-burning muscle, and for retaining the fast-twitch muscle fibers we lose as we age.)
Since morning exercise is most effective for weight loss, that's the best way to start the day. (Not only does it raise the metabolism for the rest of the day, but exercising on an empty stomach promotes the release of growth hormone -- which only occurs in the absence of insulin -- and growth hormone builds muscle and burns fat, in addition to repairing injuries and doing the "body maintenance" that keeps us young. When we're young, growth hormone is released automatically, and we take it for granted. But exercise is required to keep it from dwindling as we age.)
Her training regimen is pretty extreme, though: 30 minutes of cardiovascular work 5 days a week, followed by weight training 3 of those days. So it's clearly an area where you should customize something that works for you. (That's a pretty intense level of exercise to maintain past 20 or so. I'd be surprised if she's not experiencing the fatigue and ennui of overtraining -- that killer of exercise programs -- in 4 to 6 weeks. A better plan might be 3 cardiovascular days, interspersed with 3 weight training days, and one rest day. I've known some previously overweight people who developed "killer cuts" on that regimen.)
When I get my exercise device patented, I expect it will make a big difference. You'll be able to get a good workout in a matter of minutes, and raise your metabolism for the remainder of the day! Here's a book that shows how even a little exercise can make a big difference: 8 Minutes in the Morning, by Jorge Cruise and Tony Robbins.
This one was key, for me. The idea was to have your biggest meal for breakfast, a smaller one for lunch, a midday snack, and really small meal (like soup) for dinner. If dinner is early, then a small snack is allowed in the evening. But the idea is to eat nothing after 7:30. (That's her schedule, anyway. My schedule varies a bit. More on that later.)
The first half of this equation is that eating in the morning raises your metabolism -- so you have more energy through the day, and undertake more activities. So you not only burn what you eat, you burn more besides. If you start the day underfed, on the other hand, your metabolism stays in low gear. You move slow and conserve energy, and it becomes a habit.
So the ideal pattern becomes: Exercise and then have a big breakfast, first thing in the morning. (This sequence is ideal because, once the exercise produces growth hormone, it acts in combination with the insulin produced while eating to drive protein, as well as sugar, into the muscle. So the muscles grow, and the sugar replenishes muscle-energy instead of being stored as fat.)
This part of the plan reminds me of old-time farm life, where you get up early, do your chores, and then sit down to a big meal before going on with the rest of your day. It certainly worked for them. But after years of eating nothing for breakfast, I'm finding it impossible to eat a really big meal in the morning, especially after exercising. I have a sandwich, some carrots, and my morning tea, and I'm full! But then, maybe that's the idea. Maybe what seems like a lot in the morning really isn't all that much. And if it keeps you from eating even more later in the day, that's a pretty good thing.
The second half of the equation was to embrace that gnawing feeling you get in the evening, when you start getting hungry and want to graze. Her guest pointed out that you can't lose weight without experiencing that feeling. Oprah expanded on that point, saying relax, you're not going to die, and when you have that feeling, it means you are losing weight. So welcome it. She also said, "And if you feed the feeling, you wake up fat!"
As Bob Greene says in Get with the Program, "That slight craving for something late in the evening is your body warning you that if you don't feed it, it's going to dip into your fat stores for some energy. Let it! Just go to sleep wanting a little something and let the feeling pass." (p.132)
This part of the program rang true, for a couple of reasons. One was the memory that, as I child, I never ate anything after dinner. (Of course, as a teenager, I ate at all hours of the day and night. But that's a different story. Teens need a lot of fuel to grow.) The other reason it made sense was the way it matched my experience when training for my black belt, which I'll go into in more detail, shortly.
In other words: The feeling is your friend. Because:
So look forward to that feeling, welcome it, and plan on having a big breakfast the next day!
The interesting finding was that while quality of food is obviously important for health, it is much less important for weight loss than the other factors. So if you don't change anything at all about what you eat, but redistribute your meals, get more exercise, drink more water, and get emotional eating under control, you should have little trouble losing weight.
Oprah did point out that she was avoiding the "white foods" -- white bread, white pasta, white rice, and that she was eating more unrefined foods like brown rice. (The added fiber and nutrients undoubtedly help her stick to her plan. But it is also important to avoid poisons like the trans fats in partially hydrogenated oils that are in most manufactured food products, and the high-fructose fatteners (AKA high-fructose sugar) that are sweetening most every manufactured liquid.)
Finally, Oprah noted that she tried to limit the amounts of food, as well. So, for example, she had a smaller medium size potato, instead of an el grande huge one. (My suspicion is that we should limit amounts of the "guilty foods" that we know are bad for us and eat all we want of the foods that we know are good for us and, if in doubt, assume the worst until we find out better.)
This program is amazingly simple, and it works. First, there is the simple fact that by drinking a lot of water, you'll be avoiding the fattening high-fructose syrup that's in nearly everything bottled soft drink, these days. And beyond a basic sense of "eating what's good for you" and avoiding what's not, it's nice to know that you don't have to follow some rigorously specified diet. (For some tips on making good food choices for health, see What's Wrong with Partially Hydrogenated Oils? and Trans Fats: Metabolic Poisons.)
Reducing portion size is part of Oprah's regimen, but I suspect that it's really not that important to limit how much you eat. While it makes sense to limit "guilty pleasures", good quality food does a lot more good than harm. And it's self-limiting. It's virtually impossible to overeat fruit, for example. It is most likely that as your body adapts, you will simply want less, so your portion sizes tend to reduce themselves naturally.
Then there is the idea of getting in some quality resistance exercise, first thing in the morning. In 8 Minutes in the Morning, Jorge Cruise does a nice job of detailing why that part of the program works:
But the real revelation for me was the dictum to avoid eating before bedtime. (For at least 2 hours before going to bed, according to Bob Greene. I prefer 3 hours.) I immediately recognized that I had done that very thing while training for my black belt, as a result of becoming very strict about what I ate.
This aspect of the program works on so many levels, it's practically ridiculous:
And, as a bonus, it helps you take care of your teeth! The cutoff time for food intake makes the perfect time to floss and brush. (That was always a problem for me. There was never a good time to do that in the evening, because I never knew what sticky sweet thing I might be eating later. And the only time I knew it was safe when I was dead-tired and half-asleep already!)
The small change presented by this program has accomplished big things for me. It's most important effect was to reverse the weight-gain trend. For a very long time, my weight has been steadily increasing, little by little, every day. It's almost a negligible gain, really. But it adds up. After many years, it added up to a considerable amount (some 20 or 30 pounds).
When I was training for my black belt, I had myself on a strict training diet. I lost 20 lbs. easily over 8 months, but of course it was difficult to maintain a diet that strict, so I wound up inching my way back up again. A couple of years after attaining my black belt, I was back up where I was before (226/227, closing in on 230).
But now the trend has been reversed. After a couple of weeks, I'm down to 224. There is no feeling of deprivation -- just that mild gnawing in the evening that tells you you're burning fat -- and the knowledge that in the morning you're going to exercise and eat a big breakfast, which will persuade the body that it should definitely burn the fat, and preserve/build the muscle.
My evening activities were curtailed during those two weeks, for a variety of reasons. So the only exercise I got was a few minutes in the morning with my cardio-oriented strength-building device. As I add evening workouts back into my schedule, the effects of this program can only accelerate.
This program is giving me the same effect I saw in training -- a slow, steady maintainable weight loss -- but it's a lot easier to follow. And the fact that it's easy bodes well for the long term.
For a comparison of this program with several others, see A Tale of Six Diets.
21 Apr '03
Copyright © 2003
by Eric Armstrong. All rights reserved.
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