It's damn hard to lose weight and just generally get in shape. Americans are getting fatter every year, and 80 percent of people who lose weight gain it all back. Why does it seem so impossible?
Part of the reason is willpower and genetics, blah, blah, blah, but a big part of it is other people. Here are some of those often well-meaning monsters you must overcome in your battle to get healthy.
Tell other people that you're trying to get in shape, and inevitably, someone will chime in about how calorie counting is a waste of time and it's all about carbs, or superfoods, or "muscle confusion," or some other magic bullet that renders all other aspects of getting in shape moot.
These people aren't doctors and don't even play them on TV, but they still authoritatively dispense advice about how our bodies were made to handle all-meat diets or all-grain diets and outline detailed eating schedules they claim will trick your body and increase your metabolism.
What happens is they read a blog or watched Dr. Oz or a P90X commercial, and are now regurgitating their confused recollection of it as if it were fact. They don't remember half the details, they just remember how excited they were to find out something boring they previously took for granted (eat less and exercise more and you lose weight) was really untrue, and something unexpected and exciting was true in its place! This is, after all, Cracked's secret to success.
Strangely enough, it seems to afflict moms more than any other segment of the population, probably because women are more interested in health news, and moms are more interested than any other population group in giving advice and meddling in people's lives (their kids' lives, specifically).
If you can't tune these people out, it can really take the wind out of your sails when you're starting out on a simple diet and exercise regimen and don't see much progress at first (which is normal), and start to doubt if you're on the right track. With people spouting specialized theories at you about how weight loss "really" works, and why what you're doing is never going to work, it's pretty easy to just stop going to the gym the first day you feel tired.
Everybody knows that society is oppressing us with ridiculous standards of body image, especially when it comes to women, and that we all need to do our part to reverse it by making normal-sized people feel confident in themselves and stop them from thinking they are fat.
That's totally correct, but all good things can be taken too far. Some people think that it is always 100 percent wrong to ever admit anyone is fat and have a confused notion that to ever agree with anyone that they are overweight is to become one of society's oppressors. If someone who is actually overweight says, "Oh man do I need to lose some weight," these people's knee-jerk reaction will be, "Oh no! What are you talking about! You're totally fine the way you are!" without even looking at them.
This happens the most when someone is just slightly overweight, like by 25 pounds or so, because that segment of the population -- slightly overweight women -- is the one we think needs the most coddling in terms of self-esteem, the most prone to spiraling into self-hate and anorexia at the slightest provocation. For some people, body image is a very sensitive thing, and a lot of tact is needed, but many people are actually capable of talking about being overweight as a matter-of-fact problem, like if their roof was leaking or their car broke down.
It can be a bit condescending when this kind of handle-with-care attitude comes from people who should know you really well and know you're not a fragile flower who needs any comment about their appearance addressed with gentle euphemisms and patronizing reassurances.
In practice, it's a big pain in the nuts when people exchange meaningful looks when you order a salad for lunch and tell you with misplaced concern that you're just fine and try to pressure you into getting a burger. It might be appropriate concern in the case of an actual anorexic, but not for someone whose doctor has told them they are 30 lbs. overweight and their cholesterol is in the danger zone.
Food isn't just food in our culture, or in anyone's. Weddings always come with banquets, family get-togethers on Thanksgiving and Christmas are centered around elaborate meals with specific dishes, birthdays require cakes, big political and business deals are made at power lunches, and first dates are almost always about judging the other person's restaurant behavior.
So yeah, food means more than food to everyone, whether they know it or not. Again, some people take a normal thing too far and become absolutely dogmatic about what food means. If we don't have a Thanksgiving turkey this year it's not a real Thanksgiving! If Grandma doesn't make her secret cranberry sauce recipe, Christmas is ruined! If someone doesn't eat your birthday cake, they don't really care about your birthday! This can only mean they wish you were never born!
So if you're on a diet, or you have food allergies, or you're a vegan, and you have to turn down a slice of someone's birthday cake, some people can take it as some kind of personal statement against them. Even worse are the birthday police, where it's not even their birthday, but they feel obligated to get offended on behalf of the birthday person and sometimes jokingly pressure you with, "Oh come on, it's Eric's birthday. He only has a birthday once a year."
The problem is that the 40 people in your department at work might have birthdays up to 40 times a year, and 40 days of cake (plus holidays and anniversaries and weddings and cruises) can really do some damage to a diet. And if I eat Eric's cake but not Jane's cake, that's going to send even more of an unintended social message.
Everyone knows about the stereotypical Asian parent that sees their kid's straight-A report card and asks, "Why no A+?" This kind of joke is apparently very funny to people without such parents but just depressing and straightforwardly true to people who have them.
Well, you get the exact same kind of people when it comes to getting in shape. Tell them you're going to stop drinking soda and drink only water, and they'll say, "That's not going to do anything, you're still eating burgers for lunch and playing video games all day." Tell them you're going to take a half-hour walk at lunch every day and they'll snort derisively and say, "You know the amount of calories you burn in one walk isn't even enough to make up for one banana, right?"
Pretty much nobody outside of movies ever switches lifestyles overnight, suddenly cutting fat from their diet, exercising five times a week, quitting video games and TV, swapping pasta for quinoa and steak for tofu. Almost everyone who's successfully turned their weight around started out with one "useless" change, like exercising once a week or subbing water for soda. (I put "useless" in quotes because dropping one extra large soda can save you 500 calories just like that.)
Losing weight after being fat for a long time seems like a monumentally impossible task, like climbing Mt. Everest, or in some cases, a flight of stairs. Either way, going from the way you are to being a "normal" weight can sometimes seem like a ridiculous fantasy. That's why when you succeed with changing one tiny habit, it can change your whole perspective. It's not this monstrous solid mountain you have to overcome, it's just a big pile of stones, and you just easily picked one up and moved it. It's not about heaving the whole thing aside with some supernatural effort, it's just about moving one stone at a time. And the first one wasn't so bad, so you're stoked to grab a couple more.
That's why when a "friend" says, "Ha ha, you dipshit, what good is that one stone going to do you?" you want to clock them. And maybe you should, that will burn a good five calories.