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Hard Investments.

7 March 2017

I consider myself fortunate that I have a good mental makeup for long term achievement. I recognize that I won’t be good at things at first. I understand that mastery takes practice. And I connect in a satisfying way with getting slowly better at things. I don’t know if those things are learned skills, innate natures, or just plain random luck. But I have them, and so I’ve been able to achieve many sorts of things that don’t require me to be a prodigy but do require that I invest time and effort.

I think partially it’s also what I consider to be achievement. For example: I am a halfway decent cook. I like cooking, and I can generally turn a pile of ingredients into a meal worth eating. I’m not the best in the world. But I think I’m at least average, maybe a touch above. Especially when compared with other men living alone. I consider this an achievement. I practiced. I ate a bunch of crap for many years while I got better. I asked better cooks than me how they do things, and learned from them.

But I can totally see someone else looking at that and thinking, “Dude. It’s just food. We all need to eat every day. It’s not impressive that you can salt beets.” And that’s fine. We don’t all need to consider the same things achievements, and if I’m impressed with myself for climbing small hills, well, I’m ok with that. I don’t need the validation of other people.

But let’s not kid ourselves either. I like external validation. That’s why I play piano in public and not just at home alone.

Now I need to make another hard investment. Here’s the problem: I often get satisfied with middling success. Sometimes that’s fine. I have no designs on touring with an orchestra or opening a restaurant. Not my things. The one thing I’m really and truly an expert in, Health Care Engineering, well, that’s what I do professionally and I’m happy with that.

But I’m not happy with my eating. I’m making bad choices, especially at work, and I’ve been putting on weight despite all the running I’m doing. I’m back up into the 190s and I don’t like how I feel or how I look at the moment. So I can complain and whine about how staying trim is impossible and gets more impossible every year as my metabolism slows, or I can accept what I can’t change and change what I can.

There is plenty of low-hanging fruit to harvest when it comes to improving my diet (first of all, I should be eating more tree-fruits). I have been eating cookies after lunch at work. Dessert at home is miniature candy bars. Etc. There are a lot of easy ways to improve my diet that simply involve having the mental and spiritual fortitude to make good choices and be happy with the process.

That’s the key for me: happiness is a choice. I can choose to be happy about how I’m doing engaging in a difficult process to lose some weight. I can choose to be happy with long term progress rather than short term satisfaction. It’s a mindset.

There’s a general argument out there that “diet and exercise don’t work”, because the people who lose weight dieting and exercising tend to gain it back. Well, sure, that’s one way to look at it. But the other way is that “diet and exercise stop working when you stop doing them”. Diet and exercise are not going to make the weight melt away and never return. Whatever you have to do to get there is what you have to do to stay there. It’s a lifelong decision, and a permanent process.

One that will get harder and harder as we age. But it is simply a fact that if we consume fewer calories and burn more, we will lose weight. With some caveats: if we go too far, our bodies will enter a “starvation” mode and lower our metabolism drastically to compensate, retaining calories and making exercise difficult due to lack of energy. So we need a healthy balance.

So I’m going to make some small changes and see what I can do. That starts simply: no more cookies at 1pm. I’ve been through this before. I’ve seen what happens. I’m ok with this. I just need to recognize that my efforts will pay off slowly.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Rob permalink
    7 March 2017 10:41

    Good post – very thought provoking as always. I identify with your weight challenges as well as balancing the food with running !

    I’m currently reading the most astonishing book on diet and weight control called the “Obesity Code”. The title doesn’t do it any service but it’s written by a Canadian nephrologist in response to the number of diabetes patients he sees.

    I’ve read a number of books on nutrition but none that explains things so clearly or so simply debunks the “calories in/calories out” reasoning.

    Anyway, thought you may be interested !

  2. 7 March 2017 12:19

    I could write all day about what I “know” about dieting. Currently I am on a food plan that I don’t even agree with, but I have managed to stay on it for over four months, and likely will be able to into the future. And I have lost weight.

    The most discouraging study I have recently read is the follow up on The Biggest Loser contestants. They have RUINED their metabolism, and will probably never be able to be thin again. That’s the scary thing to me.

  3. Aimee permalink
    7 March 2017 13:47

    The calories in/ out model is inadequate to explain weight loss and maintenance. Yeah yeah, physics, yadda yadda. Yes it’s true that if you stop eating you’ll eventually starve to death, but that’s about as far as you can take that Equation. Apparently the human metabolism has a tremendous amount of play in it – it can improve its efficiency in response to low caloric intake by something around 40%. And it NEVER readjusts. Meanwhile our appetites increase (our brains change) as our metabolism slows. I don’t doubt you will have success, you are very determined and the measures you describe as low hanging fruit will certainly help. Try to keep your blood sugar as level as possible – lows in BG are one of the main triggers for metabolism changes.

    • 7 March 2017 13:58

      The in/out model, as I said in the post, will not completely describe weight gain and loss because metabolism changes in response to changed diet and exercise. But too many people use the non-linearity of the metabolic equations describing body mass to declare weightloss impossible to achieve or maintain.

      That’s not only trivially untrue (people lose lots of weight all the time and many keep it off), it functions as a demoralizing and self-fulfilling prophesy. People declare the goal unachievable before they ever test it. Which is one way to guarantee you never get there.

    • 7 March 2017 13:59

      So, “that’s about as far as you can take that equation” is absolutely, provably false. There are many reliable things we can do to lose weight and keep it off well short of starvation.

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