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.

Rule #2: Maximize Inner Motivation

torah-scrollRecently, I shared my observations on an article called “Ten Rules Fit People Live By.” Since I was rather critical of the author of that piece, I’ve decided to see if I could do better by examining each of the rules in the light of Biblical teaching. You can check out Rule #1 here. 

The second rule, shared, like all of them, by a personal trainer named Joel Harper, is Maximize Inner Motivation. Here’s how the author explains that.

To do this you need to be absolutely clear about why you want to get fit. “Figure out what’s really important to you,” Harper urges. “Do you want to lower your blood pressure? Fit into a size two? Or do you just want to feel better?” Motivation that lasts can’t come from an outside source—like your doctor or a loved one who wants you to slim down. It has to come from a personal, deep-rooted desire for change.

Rule #2 is a sort of common-place of self-help literature. According to those writers, you can’t get motivation externally. You have to want something yourself in order to achieve it. This theory is related to the widespread lie, “You can do anything if you want it badly enough.”

I have to admit that I somewhat agree with Rule #2. It wasn’t social pressure or Penny or any other outside force that had me at the gym this morning lifting weights or out on the streets in Independence putting in 6 miles. That was all me.

On the other hand, if inner motivation were really the ultimate force in the universe, then why does the military employ butt-kicking drill instructors? Why do we need police to keep people from driving like maniacs? Couldn’t we save a lot of money and effort by just teaching everyone to self-motivate? Those motivational posters aren’t all that expensive!

There are limits to inner motivation. From a spiritual perspective, those limits seem to live in the space between our redeemed souls and our sin-afflicted bodies. Paul understood this limit well as he explains in Romans 7:21-25:

 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

When I ran that 6 miles this morning, my intention was to maintain a 9-minute pace along the way. What I found was that I couldn’t do it. But that’s a lie. What I found was that I didn’t want to do it badly enough to endure the complaints of my heart and lungs. I don’t believe that I actually sinned by falling off of that pace, but the descent into sin, the fall from intention to execution, is similar to what Paul describes here.

I’m at peace with my slightly disappointing run this morning, but there are other places in my life when inner motivation utterly fails, places where I need to imagine Christ watching me, where I need exterior motivation. In 1 Kings 8, during his prayer of dedication for the temple, Solomon prays that people, aware of their sins, will spread “out their hands toward this temple.” He doesn’t urge the people to look inward but to look at the temple, an external, physical symbol of God’s presence and power.

Rule #2 isn’t utter foolishness, but it is a limited thing. For the truly important things in life, exterior motivation is often a necessity.

Fitness Advice from Socrates

socratesOnly three writers from antiquity tell us anything about the great philosopher Socrates: Plato; Aristophanes, the playwright, and today’s guest, Xenophon.  In his book The Memorabilia,Xenophon relates a brief exchange between Socrates and one of his students, Epigenes, in which the older man berates the younger for being out of shape.

Do you count the life and death struggle with their enemies, upon which, it may be, the Athenians will enter, but a small thing? Why, many, thanks to their bad condition, lose their life in the perils of war or save it disgracefully: many, just for this same cause, are taken prisoners, and then either pass the rest of their days, perhaps, in slavery of the hardest kind, or, after meeting with cruel sufferings and paying, sometimes, more than they have, live on, destitute and in misery.

Why, then, does Socrates tell Epigenes to get to the gym? Happily it isn’t so that the younger man can get chicks. (Actually, that thinking could take us into a whole other, uncomfortable aspect of Greek culture.) Instead, Socrates appeals to the patriotism and self-interest of Epigenes. Essentially he says, “If you’re a fatty, then you won’t be able to defend our city, and, if you don’t care about that, then you also run the risk of dying or being made a slave.”

I can admire the reasons Socrates gives for being fit, but he utterly neglects the most important reason. Jesus, we learn in Luke 2:52, increased in favor with God and man as he grew up. Socrates’ thinking here focuses strictly on the favor of man, ignoring the desires of God.

Epigenes might allow his desire for the pizza buffet to outweigh his pride and patriotism. He might decide he didn’t care about Athens or that he would take his chances in battle. He might recognize that these war-time appeals would become less significant as he grew older.

God’s claims on our fitness are stronger and more enduring than those that Socrates presents to Epigenes. Sorry, Socrates.