“I just finished a huge workout,” the Facebook post bragged.
“I’m going to go celebrate at Starbucks.”
The man behind the post was very overweight. While it’s admirable that he’s using a FitBit, and he’s doing his best to push himself, two things are wrong here:
First, that drink contains 350 Calories, and 45g of sugar. That’s a treat, all right.
Downing that drink effectively wipes out most of his entire workout, and it undermines his effort, if his effort is to slim down.
Second, exercise is not the silver bullet we so want it to be in order to drop our pants sizes and get slimmer.
Food is the dominant factor.
In fact, if you and I push too hard, workout excessively, we increase our appetites. Then, and yes I am looking at YOU Keto and Paleo. If we force unappetizing food down our gullets, we will inevitably head for the candy aisle. You can only eat so much kale and sweet potato (oh, GAH) before you body rebels.
If I see one more book extolling the joys of beet juice I am going to vomit on the entire Paleo section of my Barnes & Noble bookstore. It will always taste like crap to me. Hand me a bowl of fresh steamed broccoli, I am all over it. But that’s just my set of tastebuds.
We need good calories, but if we’re going to be healthy, please, we need to want to eat them. There is little more miserable to sitting down to a dish that smells like crap, looks like crap, tastes like crap. But it’s good for you ( I am looking at YOU, roasted Brussels Sprouts).
But that’s just me.
Your taste buds are different.
On top of that, if you’re older like I am at 66, the metabolism slows naturally as we age, requiring fewer (and ideally, better) calories to fuel the body as it fights the good fight against age-related issues. We need quality food, just less of it.
Yesterday on my way home, I passed a truly obese woman doing something brave. She was running up a major street in my neighborhood. She labored. That is hard work. That’s courage.
The problem is if she expects that labor to do the trick. It won’t. It will help with fitness (especially if she gets off the crowded road where exhaust can and does cause serious illness) . That’s the last thing she needs.
Changing her eating habits might well speed up that process a lot faster than speeding up to avoid bumpers.
Sleep More, Seriously
A sleep deficit will make you hungrier and more impulsive, and you’ll have a strong craving for high-carbohydrate foods. This makes avoiding the muffins at the coffee shop or turning down the doughnuts at the office a nearly impossible feat. Being chronically sleep-deprived can also mean elevated cortisol and insulin resistance. This doesn’t bode well for fat loss, much less your overall health.
I used to think I could manage my life on four to six hours. Nonsense. While there are a few of us who have real trouble sleeping, let’s be clear. This is a real problem. Not only does your noggin use up an enormous amount of calories while you dream away, sleep deficits are shown to be a factor in Alzheimer’s Disease. So, slumber. And that means put the device down earlier, cuddle up with your partner, dog, cat, cockatoo or whatever, and shut your eyes for an adequate (for you) number of hours.
The other thing about a FitBit is that, if you are anything like I am (read obsessive compulsive to the MAX), you might find your habits ending up like this writer. This hit home big time. Medium is full up with articles about those of us who are already overly obsessed with perfection. Step and calorie counting is just yet one more place where we end up being miserable because the damned FitBit owns us, rather than serves us.
We end up living or dying by numbers which are only that: numbers. They don’t speak to your character, your personality, your humor. Yet if we’re not careful those numbers can shoot us into a tailspin.
Here’s what this writer said about dumping her FitBit for a short while:
I hiked without tracking how many steps I took or looking at my heart rate. I simply enjoyed the fresh mountain air and let the burn in my legs be all the data I needed. I ate whatever my body felt like eating, fit in lean protein at every meal, and stopped when I felt full — not when I hit my calorie goal for the day.
She used 30 days’ of tracking to train herself. Then she dumped it and had fun. That’s balance. That’s different from obsessing over the numbers.
By comparison, I’d have a hard time getting away from the numbers. That’s just me, and it’s a lot of us. A FitBit’s best value is to help us learn ourselves. For people like me, I’d far too focused on measurement. That’s a Pandora’s box I won’t open.
I’d rather serve myself a big bowl of berries and cream, thank you, than hand myself another torture device. I’d go from fumbling with it, to learning it, to bragging about it, then obsessing about it, then hating it, then selling it on ebay to another OCD sufferer.
Enough already with obsessive self-improvement. Because for my money, that begins with being okay with where I am right now, rather than driven by hate or disgust. That motivation means that I am very likely to abuse myself for how I look, the calories I ate over the proscribed limit, for even LOOKING at a Krispy Kreme donut, and vilifying myself for having an appetite when I still have a jelly roll around my middle.
That kind of self-hate translates to our emotional (lack of) well-being and it sabotages us big time. When we don’t make our goals in record time, then we are by any measure…
Therein lies the cycle.
I’ve been there. The only way I broke that cycle- long before FitBit-was to fall in love with good food (veggies, fruits, reasonable and good fats) and stop eating what my body clearly didn’t like. That would include breads, cakes, crackers, donuts. My tongue likes them, the body doesn’t. I don’t have celiac disease, but I did do elimination trials to find out what the body didn’t process well. Took those out of my diet.
Yes, I moved more. It took a year but 80+ lbs dropped off for good. That was 31 years ago. No fitbit. No magic diet. No painfully expensive meal plan. No support group. However, fundamentally changing what I ate did lots more than the regular exercise.
As I inch towards 70, I notice, as we all do with a certain dismay, that even when I am very disciplined these days, a few too many almonds can add up. I can’t gorm a whole bag. Too many raisins. Too much of anything. I have to drink more water and nibble fewer snacks. My activity level is still high. But the body’s needs have changed.
Besides, the jury is most definitely still out. Even some of my favorite books have holes in them as explained here. We really Do. Not. Know.
Our body changes for us all. Age, pregnancy, illness, disease, emotional stress all play a part. However, so does getting horrifically upset about interim results as well as perpetually sidelined by this or that new book, new diet, new program.
We desperately need to learn how to carefully curate the masses of conflicting information that lands daily in our inboxes. What makes sense. What is non-sense.
I found this in my inbox the other day. The reason I like it is because these days it’s hard to take an hour for yoga every single day. Not when I’m already doing 45 minutes morning AND night for PT to resolve hip labral tears, hamstring tendinosis and rotator cuff rehab. At some point, god damn it, I have to work. These few excellent stretches are easy to memorize and easy to master over time. And they do the body so very much good.
I like it when someone can curate just a few key moves that do a great deal of work. In such a case more isn’t better (just as too much cardio can damage us or make us eat too much), but better, and fewer, might be perfect.
The same goes for food. One single Lindor truffle won’t kill you off. ONE. Slamming the entire bag is probably suicidal for your body’s metabolism. But one? Cut the thing into tiny slices and let them melt on your tongue. Savor the flavor.
My Medium peep Ann Litts eats a single square of dark chocolate every day. According to her, she’s supposed to not have any. Bullswocky. As she stares down 60 and I stare down 70, at what point do we get off the restless, angry treadmill of body hatred and relax enough to be in our bodies, as they are?
There’s nothing wrong with a FitBit until it drives you nuts. Then you end up using it to punish yourself for not doing enough, or to justify an entire dozen Krispy Kremes.
Just in case you didn’t click through to the Pocket article on why exercise won’t help you lose weight, let me add this quote:
So if one is overweight or obese, and presumably trying to lose dozens of pounds, it would take an incredible amount of time, will and effort to make a real impact through exercise.
You aren’t off the hook, however. But you may have to rethink what you eat in light of this harsh reality. It’s actually a lot easier, more effective and longer-lasting to make fundamental food changes than it is to force ourselves into hateful programs that not only annoy us, but will never produce the results we desperately desire.
Finally, here’s a parting gift for those of you who are still looking for the Holy Grail of diets. There isn’t one (well, shit.) It’s as unique a journey as our lives, changing every so often as we age, our bodies morph, time takes its toll, and we vary our activity levels. As with all things, it depends. Except for…
Exercise? YES. There are too many reasons why. But exercise to lose weight? NO. It’s a far better partner once you are maintaining a better weight for your body type. Besides, when you work out in that fitter body, it will be a lot more fun.
And that is the whole point.
Fun food, fun movement, a more fun life.
I am up for that.