Monday, July 30, 2012

The Secret to Losing Weight


 I know the secrets of medicine.  Back in medical school, during an initiation ritual, in the darkness in a room lit only by candles, those secrets were shared with me.  I have been sharing them with selected others for many years, after receiving their solemn oath to use such powerful information with only seriousness of purpose and gratitude towards those who first were given this knowledge by the elders of medicine (no I am not talking about the editors of the New England Journal of Medicine.  They are among those who try to keep it secret which, if you read it regularly you understand.)  My only goal is to clear the mist and shine a light on these secrets.  My ultimate goal is to open medicine to the public as it is too important to be left only to doctors.  Rob Spiro’s (for total clarity I admit he is my son) article in the Huffington Post and the recent pilot launch of his company Good Eggs, has inspired me to start revealing these secrets to a wider audience through my blog (so that both of you who read it can also know them) and to start with a topic that is related to nutrition and eating.  I start with the secret to losing weight. 

Good Eggs and their approach to fostering locally produced food reminded me that the secret to losing weight is as much about how you eat, as it is about what you eat.  Because, the best, safest, healthiest way to lost weight is (a drum roll please) 

EAT LESS AND EXERCISE MORE

I understand that some of you may be underwhelmed by this secret however it is much more profound than you may think.  By changing how you think about food, by actually thinking in terms of the quality of the eating experience and the quality of the food you eat, it is extremely easy to eat less.    While our culture encourages a “more is better” supersized attitude, the fact is that food tastes better when eaten slowly, when savored and when appreciated in a deeper almost spiritual manner.  When you eat that way, you tend to eat healthier foods and to eat less. 

In most religions, food has a spiritual place.  In Judaism, which I practice, there are specific prayers to be said before eating or drinking anything, the gist of those prayers being to thank God for the food.  When these prayers were written, you ate food after you or someone you knew actually produced it.  It was highly personal and part of the social fabric in which you lived.  It was only natural to thank God for all that went into what was before you on the table as it was readily apparent that the food did not just appear and that you and others you loved worked hard to put it on the table.   In today’s world, we have moved towards anonymity of the food producers.  We just go to the supermarket and ignore the work, sweat and pride that people who produce that food take.  We sometimes cannot even recognize the food as food as it is so processed and packaged that it becomes a product rather than something that came from the earth or from an animal that was slaughtered (hopefully humanely as both kashrut in Judaism and halal in Islam encourage) so that you can thrive.  However, when you stop before each meal and take a moment to think about all that when into the food, and thank either God or the people who produced it, or even the food itself as some have suggested, you actually eat slower, eat less and naturally follow a major aspect of the secret of weight loss. 

This attitude towards food also can force you to never eat on the run, eat standing up, or eat in a car, all of which can lead to eating more and gaining weight or maintaining higher weight.  That rushed approach to eating can never acknowledge all that goes into the production of the food and can often be based on eating products which are made to be eaten in that manner rather than eating food.  The approach of food as something to be slowly savored leads to less eating and more weight loss.  In our world, food research historically has been rightfully focused on feeding more people at less cost.  In other words the research has been focused on quantity which from a world hunger prospective makes perfect sense.  Local food in contrast is often developed for quality rather than quantity with local food producers focused on organic farming methods, taste and nutritional value rather than cost and quantity. 

Thus how you eat becomes even more important than what you eat as long as you are eating, as MichaelPollan has wisely stated, food rather than packaged items that you cannot recognize as food.  When you purchase food that is locally produced, since it does not need the same additives to increase product longevity as food created at a distance needs, you know and can easily recognize it as food.  As natural flavors are brought alive you don’t need the flavor that comes from the added sugars and other artificial flavors that processed foods bring to you and that can lead to weight gain.  When that first bite is savored, you often want to eat more slowly as you actually taste every bite.  Do this and you do eat less. 

Exercising more is also part of the secret.  This should also be done as a part of your life and not as a sprint to a finish line of less weight.  Just move more than you currently move and work up from there.  Start by parking further away in the parking lot, taking stairs instead of elevators for one or two (maybe even three or four) floors, pacing while talking on the phone instead of sitting.  From there, find something you like doing and dedicate time to yourself to do it.  Create your own escapes and small strategies to move more and let your activity increase from there.  One of the other parts of this secret is that the more you move, the less hungry you will be.  There should never be a finish line, although you may have goals along the way.  I believe the goals should not revolve around your weight.  They should revolve about changing your life and the way you approach food and activity as part of your life. 

Your goals should focus on ways to permanently make yourself happier.  None of these secrets involve a “diet” or a Biggest Loser approach to training that most people with work, family and other obligations will never have the time for.  Instead it is all a way of giving more time to your own needs as part of your everyday life: making this approach a part of living, not a part of dieting. 

I will now admit that I did not always follow my own secret as stress and time worked to undermine my own knowledge.  But I am now doing this, and have lost almost thirty pounds and feel infinitely healthier and happier.  It may be hard to change, but when the main change is just to pay attention to your own real needs in terms of food and activity, it feeds (pun intended) on itself and just gets easier and easier.  That too is part of the secret.