Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Losing Weight

The one sin for presumably I will never be forgiven is the fact that I ballooned in weight my first year of college. My freshmen year, I essentially tripled the "freshman 15" and put on about 40 pounds.  I topped out at 195 lbs, which is considered obese for someone my height. Previous to my freshman year, I was always in very good shape. I don't think I ever weighed more than 154 lbs. But once I had access to an "all you can eat" meal plan and I started to drinking "the alcohol", my weight exploded. I did go on a crash diet my freshman year and I was able to drop 30 of those pounds in about one month, simply by not eating.  I mean that literally - I would eat roughly a slice of bread or a couple of slices of tomato over the course of the entire day. I was able to get back down to 165 lbs, but my weight pretty consistently climbed over the years and I usually weigh between 180-184 lbs.  That is still scientifically considered to be "obese" for my height, but let's be kind and call it "overweight". From time to time I'll go on one of my extreme diets and drop 20-25 lbs but I'm fucking miserable the entire time. It's a rough life. Once the diet ends however, the inevitable crawl back to 184 begins.  Currently, I'm embarrassed to admit, I'm at a new all-time high. Something like 195-197 lbs, depending on what time of the day you weigh me. So I'll go on my crash diet now and the cycle will repeat itself....

We all know people who eat and eat and eat, and never gain a pound. We hate these people, but we acknowledge they are anomalies, and we move on with life. What we never really consider is that certain people can diet and diet and diet, and not be able to keep off weight. This is why we all hate fat people - it's the one socially acceptable prejudice remaining (I guess hating atheists and rednecks is okay as well).  We mock fat people who say they are "big boned" or that they have "slow metabolism." But these are actually real things. These are real maladies. While I'm sure many, many, fat people are overweight because they are lazy and they eat a lot, a substantial percentage of them are simply genetically predisposed to larger body builds. Not all mind you, but some. I am probably one of the healthiest eaters I know - I don't eat junk food, almost never buy fast food, don't east desserts, don't drink sodas, I cook many of my meals, I enjoy fruits and veggies etc.  I am also more active than most of my family and friends - I do many outdoor activities (basketball, biking, hiking, swimming at the beach), and I go to the gym frequently (3-4 times week). Now, I do binge drink (mostly beer) on the weekends and I drink lots of juices during the week (OJ, AJ, ice teas, Gatorades, etc.) so that can explain some of my weight problems, but so do many of my friends and family members and I weigh more than all of them. I look around and see people that eat more than me (quantity), eat worse than me (quality), are not active, and weigh 40 pounds less than me.  This is, you can imagine, extraordinarily frustrating.

That's why it was encouraging/discouraging to read this weekend's NY Times Sunday Magazine cover story asking, "Do You Have to be Superhuman to Lose Weight?" written by Tara Parker-Pope. The article cites numerous scientific studies explaining that there are measurable genetic differences that predispose us to obesity. This isn't so surprising. What is surprising (though I often suspected myself), is that people losing weight must be much more hyper-vigilant about their diets than those who never had to lose the weight to begin with. As the article explains,

Muscle biopsies taken before, during and after weight loss show that once a person drops weight, their muscle fibers undergo a transformation, making them more like highly efficient “slow twitch” muscle fibers. A result is that after losing weight, your muscles burn 20 to 25 percent fewer calories during everyday activity and moderate aerobic exercise than those of a person who is naturally at the same weight. That means a dieter who thinks she is burning 200 calories during a brisk half-hour walk is probably using closer to 150 to 160 calories.
 The article adds,

The research shows that the changes that occur after weight loss translate to a huge caloric disadvantage of about 250 to 400 calories. For instance, one woman who entered the Columbia studies at 230 pounds was eating about 3,000 calories to maintain that weight. Once she dropped to 190 pounds, losing 17 percent of her body weight, metabolic studies determined that she needed about 2,300 daily calories to maintain the new lower weight. That may sound like plenty, but the typical 30-year-old 190-pound woman can consume about 2,600 calories to maintain her weight — 300 more calories than the woman who dieted to get there.

Again, I think the non-obese population would find this information shocking . To me, these findings are not shocking in the least bit. But they also suggest a pre-determinated obesity that I find discouraging and conscious alleviating. It's discouraging because, in practical terms, there is little I can do in a sustainable manner to keep off my weight gains.  I know how to lose weight - it's just that kind of lifestyle is fucking terrible. I can do it for a month or so - just starve myself and sustain a diet of about 500-750 calories a day for about a month - but that is no way to live, I promise you. It sucks. And it's frustrating. My brothers could eat and drink all the crap food and alcohol in the world and not gain any weight. But when I work out at the gym, I only cut 20% of the calories of the woman running next to me. When I eat, I need to eat 12% less than the man sitting next to me.  And that's just to sustain my current level of obesity! With those kind of odds, it's no wonder I'm consistently overweight.

Of course, these realities are why I refer to my "freshman 40" as my unpardonable sin. The one prolonged streak of obesity consigned me to more than a decade of struggling with weight issues. I'll be honest though, Reading studies like these does alleviate my conscious a bit.  It sucks to consistently think of yourself as a lazy fat-ass. "I can't get laid because I'm fat," or "I suck at rugby because I'm fat" or "I get winded riding my bike because I'm fat." I mean, don't get me wrong! Those things are true! But it makes me feel a little bit better to understand that a) there is a some biological determinism going on here and b) a massive number of like-minded fat-asses share my frustration.

Anyway, this is just something to keep in mind next time you see me gasping for air during a basketball game. Trust me, I really want to be skinnier than this! I'll get skinnier in the short-term. I'm starting my crash diet now until I land in Italy on January 24. But when I put back on all those pounds in the succeeding months, I hope you understand why.


  1. When I joined my new gym in March at 210 I was intent on getting under 200. 10 months later of mostly consistent working out I'm more like 225. I'm telling myself I've just put on muscle.

  2. Although a crash diet is like the least healthy thing you can do to lose weight it seems you are planning on it for a trip so by all means. But instead of bread and tomato you'd probably lose it quicker on a diet if you mixed in some grilled chicken instead. You'd lose weight faster because of the protein. Take it from someone who would have to hit the sauna for an hour to make weight for a Heavyweight UFC fight and has been counting calories for about 4 days now.

  3. Yeah the crash diet is always a temporary thing. It's super unhealthy, but it gets the job done. In my experience, changing my diet and exercise routine along the edges does absolutely nothing. My metabolism rate will simply adjust to this new dynamic. My body seems to have settled on a certain weight - it is usually around 180 but I suspect the fact that I'm not standing on my feet all day waiting tables has temporarily altered the calculus. In my experience, the only way for me to lose weight is to force my body essentially to eat itself. That's kind of a gross metaphor, but it's the only thing that has worked for me in the past. Once I'm back down to 170 or so, I'll go back to eating and boozing like the whore I am.

  4. I'm not saying don't do it. I'm just saying instead of bread have a piece of grilled chicken. The calories are the same and it's better to eat protein than carbs.