Taking a Pounding with Regained Weight

ScaleYou’ve probably had the experience. You step on the scale one day and can’t stand the number staring up at you. You set your mind on losing weight. You find motivation from somewhere–perhaps it was in the back of the closet–and drop enough weight that you need new clothes. People notice. It’s great.

But then, you take your eye off the ball. Maybe the holidays sabotage your eating or a rainy month interrupts your exercise. Pounds start to creep back on. Pretty soon those new clothes you bought don’t fit so well anymore.

At present, I’m not frustrated with having regained weight. I am a bit up from where I’d like to be, but I’m still holding steady in an acceptable range. Nevertheless, I have experienced that roller coaster regain enough that an article titled “Why Regaining Weight Is So Common and How to Deal” caught my eye.

Unfortunately, like so many of these articles seem to do, this one came in light on the promise of the headline. It does not explain in the least why regaining weight is common (unless you count the anecdote about a woman who moved to New York and ate a lot).

Instead, the closest thing to science comes in this paragraph. Read it and think it through.

But here’s some good news: A 2014 study of nearly 3,000 people who had lost (and kept off) a minimum of 30 pounds for at least a year found that 87 percent of participants maintained at least 10 percent of that weight loss over a decade.

So what this is saying is that if I lose 30 pounds and keep it off for a year, I have an 87% likelihood of keeping at least 3 of those pounds off after 10 years. That’s really the good news? In the past two years, I have lost 55 pounds. I’ve kept that amount off for well over a year now. If I’m only down 5.5 pounds in 9 years (or in other words, if I gain back 49.5 pounds of my loss, I’m going to be really irritated. No. That’s not good news.

Actually, I wasn’t entirely fair to this article. Buried in the fourth piece of advice for re-losing the weight that you re-gained, the author suggests that a key reason why we put the weight back on is a feeling of deprivation from a diet.

To keep from feeling deprived by a diet, we really need to adopt diets that we can maintain long-term. Over the past two years, my mother has repeatedly asked, “Can you eat that on your ‘program’?” I point out that I can eat anything on my ‘program.’ I eat pizza, tacos, cheese, ice cream, and anything else that I want. I just don’t eat too much of it. Now, in maintenance mode, I can go a little crazy two days a week and not hate myself on weigh-in day. That’s a sustainable diet.

Dispatches from the Diet Lab

Belly FatHow would you like to spend your career studying diets and why they do or don’t work? That’s what Dr. Traci Mann does, and now she’s written a book about the experience.

Secrets from the Eating Lab shares many of Mann’s findings–which is that, by and large, diets don’t work–and then provides some advice on what to do instead of dieting. A reviewer from NPR shares these observations on Mann’s work.

Diets don’t work for a variety of reasons, from biology to psychology. Mann points the finger, first and foremost, at human biology. “Genes,” she writes, “play an indisputable role in regulating an individual’s weight: Most of us have a genetically set weight range. When we try to live above or below that range, our body struggles mightily to adapt.”

That sounds great, but I have a couple of quibbles with Mann’s conclusions. First of all, given the recent increase in obesity in the United States, is Dr. Mann suggesting that we have witnessed a monumental shift in human genetics? Second, just how wide is that range that she mentions? Is it a 5-pound range or a 50-pound range? That would seem to make a huge difference.

Beyond that, Mann goes to the brain, which (at least according to the reviewer) apparently is not a biological organ.

Second to biology, Mann blames a combination of neuroscience and psychology. Our brains are hardwired to want food for survival, she explains, so restricting calories creates a psychological stress response, which facilitates weight gain, not loss. Also, she adds: “Studies show that willpower, the thing we all blame ourselves for not having enough of, is in many ways a mythical quality and certainly not something that can be relied upon for weight loss.”

Again, I have to ask for some quantification. How much of a reduction in calories do we need before that “psychological stress response” kicks in? And this idea that willpower is a myth would seem to suggest that everybody ought to weigh 400 pounds.

Of course the problem with studying diets lies in defining just what qualifies as a diet. When Morgan Spurlock ate nothing but McDonalds food for 30 days, that was a diet. So was what I ate when I weighed 55 pounds more than today. At what point does a change of eating habits qualify as a “diet”?

What this book seems to ignore is the spiritual aspect of dieting. When we see ourselves as belonging to ourselves, then we’re pretty much reduced to some sort of inwardly based motivation. When we see ourselves belonging to the creator of the universe, then there’s help and hope for a healthier future.

Cheat Days?

Pile of Junk FoodI weigh in on Fridays, so, after tipping the scale and recording my weight, I often look at Friday as a day on which not to get too worked up about my food intake. This can range from a day on which I simply don’t record all of my food to a full-blown cheat day.

A few years ago, I planned a Friday cheat day into my schedule. Called “Lousy Eating Day,” those Fridays often saw me at the school’s food court sliding a tray with both a double cheeseburger and cheese fries toward the cash register.

These days, I usually reserve my “lousy eating” until I’m home from work. Then I can take Penny out somewhere indulgent. Last night, after eating a very sensible dinner at home, we splurged on Sheridan’s Frozen Custard, me opting for my favorite, E.T.’s Charming Cheesecake Concrete (with Heath bar chunks). The only thing bad about that confection is when you eat the last bite.

If that concrete had been my own dietary transgression, then I wouldn’t feel any qualms this morning, but I also snacked a bit too much as I watched the Royals win a ballgame that evening.

The idea of cheat days is well established in at least popular diet and weight loss writing. Google the term and you’ll find all sorts of opinions ranging from the psychological to the physiological. I’d like to take up the question of cheat days from a theological perspective. As a Christian, is it acceptable for me to cheat on my diet now and again?

I used the word “transgression” earlier on purpose. Sin is a serious thing in our worldview, so we wouldn’t entertain the notion of a cheat day for adultery or murder or idolatry or stealing. “I just punched out my spouse, but that’s okay. After all, it’s Tuesday!” No, that would be ridiculous.

We have been forgiven all of our sins, past, present, and future, yet Paul makes it clear that this does not mean we should take a casual view of sin. In Romans 6:1-2, he quickly shoots down the notion of sinning more so that grace can abound. This would seem to suggest that cheat days are as inimical to the Christian life as “Buddha Days.”

But is “cheating” on your diet really the same as cheating on your marriage vows or bowing down to an idol? I’m going to argue that the answer to that is “no” for a trio of reasons.

First, your diet need not be a day-by-day thing or a meal-by-meal thing. I frequently keep my food intake low at breakfast and lunch so that I can indulge a bit more at dinner. Similarly, if I balance things out so that one cheat day is offset by six “faithful” days, am I really cheating at all?

Second, didn’t Jesus condone, or at least enable, a cheat day? The only miracle to appear in all four gospels is the feeding of the 5,000. In Matthew 14:20 we learn that the people there that day all “ate and were satisfied.” I take that to mean that they ate as much as they wanted to. I can’t really see these Galilean peasants pushing aside plentiful, free food and saying, “Oh no, I really shouldn’t. I’m trying to cut down.”

Finally, the particulars of your diet are not points of obedience to God. We are called to be a stewards over our bodies, but God leaves the details up to us. I believe that the putting aside of the Jewish dietary laws illustrate this aspect of Christian liberty. If I “cheat” today by eating a cheesecake concrete without putting my body back on the course to obesity, then I am still being true to my obligations.

Cheating on a diet is not the same as cheating in a relationship. In fact, “cheat day” is probably an unfortunate term for a Christian. That’s why I intend to reintroduce the much more acceptable name, “Lousy Eating Day.”

Enjoy your indulgences so long as they do not prevent you from maintaining what God has provided you.

Good Diet Advice?

movie_snacksA recent article in the New York Times provides seven “simple rules for healthy eating. As I read these rules, I’m struck by how sensible they seem, but then I’m also struck by how the “common sense” of 2015 that underlies these rules might have seemed senseless a few years ago. Take, for example the brave new world attitude toward two of the bogeymen of diets past:

Things like salt and fat aren’t the enemy. They are often necessary in the preparation of tasty, satisfying food. The key here is moderation. Use what you need. Seasoning is often what makes vegetables taste good. Don’t be afraid of them, but don’t go crazy with them either.

As appetizing (sorry) as I find these guidelines, I wonder if the author Dr. Aaron Carroll, isn’t just lending his credentials to the prevailing winds of public opinion. In fact, this scientist admits pretty frankly that his ideas are not terribly scientific.

These suggestions are also not supported by the scientific weight of rigorous randomized controlled trials, because little in nutrition is.

If this is true, as it apparently is–after all, would a doctor lie?–then why are the pronouncements of doctors, nutritionists, or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to be taken seriously? Why should we think of a diet rich in pizza and cheesecake as being inferior to one full of whole grains and organic veggies? Why should we take this non-scientific advice more seriously than we take the dietary codes of the Old Testament? The answer: It just seems right. I’m sorry, but that’s pretty feeble science.

I have to admit that reading over Dr. Carroll’s ideas, I feel as if he gives good advice. I feel that, but I won’t be a bit surprised when the winds of opinion shift in ten years and decide that Wonder Bread was actually what we should have been eating all along.


A Whole Grain No-Brainer

Whole Grain BreadsGluten-free has become a new promise of life and health in food circles lately. What with people eating “Paleo,” is there any real place in our cupboards for grains any more?

Whenever I hear of somebody putting the hate on grain, I remember that God commanded Ezekiel to bake bread with not one grain but four plus a couple legumes.

“Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself. You are to eat it during the 390 days you lie on your side…. Eat the food as you would a loaf of barley bread; bake it in the sight of the people.” (Ezekiel 4:9,12)

Of course, if you know this passage, you might be thinking of the part of verse 12 I left out. That, I believe, doesn’t change the goodness of grain. God also commands showbread in the temple and various sacrifices of grain. Grain is good stuff.

Imagine my lack of surprise to discover that science has “discovered” what God already told us. A recent study has indicated that eating whole grains correlates with a 9% decrease in mortality and a 15% decrease in death from heart disease.

So enjoy that whole-grain bread. Just don’t eat the whole loaf.