5 Things Nobody Tells You About Trying to Lose Weight
There are many facets to the creature that passes for yours truly. Some of them are sweet, others are sour, many are visible only during the Witching Hour. However, all of these aspects have one thing in common: They could probably lose a few pounds.
A few years ago, I realized I was rapidly transitioning from man to manatee and decided to do something about it. Since then, my weight has been in a constant state of flux, generally sailing the seas between Perfectly Acceptable Bay and Port Lardass. During this time, I've learned a thing or two about shedding pounds (and failing to do so), despite not being interested in dieting at all or qualified to talk about it in any way.
Hi, my name is Pauli. I'm a fucking idiot, and this is my guide to losing weight.
A little background: A few years ago, I made a pact with a good friend of mine. We'd both quit smoking cold turkey and never have a cigarette again. To enforce this decision, we agreed on a penalty: If either of us breaks our pact, the guilty party has to streak for a full mile through the main street of our town during the coldest time of the year, at rush hour. And, worst of all, all of our friends would be notified beforehand. The bet is for life, and the penalty is per cigarette, by the way. If one of us caves in and smokes a pack to honor his 80th birthday, the whole city is in for a hell of an interesting February.
Yes, we were drunk when we drafted this thing. Why do you ask?
I'm sharing this story with you for two reasons: One, to specify my particular brand of lunacy, and two, because the second I stopped smoking, my ass started ballooning like Kanye's ego. As years crept by, I went from a reasonably fit 160-pounder to 220 pounds of man slab, never really noticing anything until doorways started getting narrower and people began avoiding standing directly in front of me for fear that my shirt buttons could go ballistic and take an eye out.
Luckily, I was still far from the Jabba the Huttian pile of slowly wobbling lard that I feared was looming on the horizon. Even at my most expansive, my BMI barely qualified me as obese, and at best I was actually scratching the gates of what this (absurdly flawed) index ranks as normal. Surely what I had was not that critical, just a bit of a gut that I wanted to shed. Surely all I needed to do was to work out a little -- that shit would be easy as balls.
"From now on, I'm going to eat only 17 cheeseburgers a day instead of the usual 18. Dieting!"
Aaaaaand that was my first mistake. It's the same line of thought you see after every holiday season, when people who have spent most of December chowing down meals the size of their head suddenly decide it's time to get back in line. There's a reason January is the most lucrative month for the fitness industry, and that reason is morons like me, who, having finally realized the bathroom scale isn't dropping commas, choose to get rid of excess fat as fast as possible and never realize that starting to pay attention to your weight is just the first step on a trip that'll take the rest of your life. The only difference is that I didn't join a gym. I opted for an even more shameful route: I set up a Tumblr called Year of the Fat Bastard, sporadically updating it with my various successes and failures for what few followers trickled in to laugh at. The blog eventually wasted away, as such side projects are wont to do. However, the excess pounds ultimately didn't, much like they almost never do to all those January panic-workout people. This is because ...
The Inevitable Backlash
Here's a concept that will ruin your day. Experts call it the "fat trap," and pretty much everyone with a spare tire or 16 is subject to it. David Wong has already covered the issue at some length, so I won't go to specifics, but, basically, your body loves all the pounds it has and will actively work to gain back every single one you manage to lose, because fuck you, you're not the boss of it. I learned of the fat trap about halfway through my blog project, and I immediately wandered away to depression-eat the world until I had consumed the very concept of hunger.
It took the form of a giant burger, and it was delicious.
In my defense, the next day I picked myself up and continued with my exercise. I ran, I swam, I bicycled, I even lifted the dreaded weights a bit. Like other people in a similar situation, I was convinced that I and I alone could be the freak of nature whose mutant power is the ability to permanently shed 30 to 50 pounds, dammit! I'd punch fat in its fat face so hard its grandchildren would think twice before bothering anyone with even my approximate genetic makeup. And I did, too: I kept getting lighter and fitter, to the point where I weighed in at a moderately well-toned 180 pounds.
I started that Tumblr blog at the beginning of 2012, and my weight at that time was precisely 212 pounds. In May of this year, my weight was ... precisely 211.6 pounds.
And it's not just because I broke my bathroom scale years ago.
Basically, I've been yo-yoing over 30 pounds of lard up and down for the last few years, and I have barely even noticed it happening. I'm far from the only one, too: This phenomenon is called weight cycling, and it's actually really common, whether you're overweight or not. The bad news is, this most likely applies to you (it does; don't pretend that those pants are shrinking and enlarging because magic). The good news is, you're far from alone. According to science, most people exist in a constant state of flux, trapped in a vicious cycle of losing and gaining weight. Kind of puts all those crash diets and bulk-ups Christian Bale is so fond of in perspective, doesn't it?
All the Little Things That Affect Your Weight (Which You Can't Control)
Remember that smoking story I told earlier? Well, ditching smokes generally only slaps about 10 pounds of extra bulk on you. Yet, I used to attribute pretty much all of my weight gain to that one aspect of my life (an idiot, remember), despite the fact that I had a shit-ton of different, pound-packing things going on simultaneously. I had just transitioned from a customer service gig to a desk job with far more responsibility, which took away the considerable physical toil that was the staple of my old job and replaced it with sitting and learning how to efficiently figure out some very specific tasks, an alien concept to someone like me at the best of times.
"GROG FILE REPORT WITH MAGIC BOX."
Also, I turned 30 during this time. I have no idea whether it's a physical or psychological thing, but if you say hitting the dreaded 30s doesn't contribute to weight gain, all you're really telling me is that you're still safely in your 20s. That extra weight will be coming your way, too, homing in on you like a blubbery ballistic missile and screaming your naaaaaaaame.
On the other hand, when I realized the situation and made the decision to lose weight, my life was in a pretty comfortable place. I had no professional or personal crises going on and an adequate amount of free time at my disposal, so I had ample opportunities to get offended by the scale and the mirror and enough motivation to send the excess fat scurrying by paying attention to what I was eating and how I exercised.
Then, eventually, life got hectic again, and suddenly sports and self-image issues didn't seem so important anymore. So before I noticed, I had ballooned up again.
Seriously, that's all it takes: little changes. You get a little older, your job situation changes a bit, you change your personal habits a little -- and boom! Hope you enjoy that You-Fatsuit, because that's what you're wearing from now on. Only the truly wealthy, truly lucky, and truly obsessed are able to control their life to an extent where they're able and willing to exercise and eat well enough to keep that body fat in check in the long run. Such is life: You either ride the gravy train or you accidentally eat it.
Which, incidentally, you'll probably wind up thinking is totally OK, because ...
By the time you're reading this entry, the comment section should already be filling with the "I'm better than you" people, screaming how I'm clearly an inept fool (true) and how they totally lost a ridiculous amount of weight in a stupidly short time with a groundbreaking diet of kale and the souls of lesser men (unlikely). You can go laugh at them right now. Go on, I'll wait.
Most likely, they look like this.
I'm not saying that there are no people who can keep fit. There totally are -- we can see them jogging by every day we waddle our way through our McDonald's/Dunkin' Donuts run. They're the ones who have somehow (more about that in a minute) learned to dodge the excuses.
Oh, you know what I'm talking about. We, as a species, are motherfucking excuse specialists, routinely ruining good and constructive developments with our clueless brain-farts of rationalizations. Here are some of mine:
"I really want to go to the gym, but what if everyone laughs at me?"
"I have a bad feeling about this, so I better just stay home and wait until the mood to work out strikes me."
"Before I do this, I need to wait until the rain stops/answer this email/check this Reddit IAmA/."
"I'll just need to referee this polar bear boxing match real quick."
Most people I know have used those and many other justifications for inactivity, and they generally work. Sure, on some level we realize they're all a crock of horseshit: Anyone who laughs at other people at the gym clearly has the personality of a loofah and can safely be disregarded, and the "mood to work out" (as opposed to the decision to work out) has never once in history struck anyone who's honest with themselves.
I've had some of the best times of my life during rigorous workout sessions. However, any time I'm actually headed for one, the brain starts making these little panic farts, attempting to ensure that I will stay where things are good and comfortable instead of indulging in that whole workout bull. These little brain jives are totally cool once in a while (see: cheat days). The problem is that most people are good at talking themselves into a cheat day, to the point where they (and I!) can have a really tough time actually getting any exercise done.
Status Quo: The Ultimate Hurdle
Before I share my grand theory about weight loss and whatnot, I'd like to remind you once more that I'm not a professional in any way whatsoever (this applies to any and all skills and subjects). There are probably thousands of dieting experts touting a variation of the following words as a higher truth, and my only advantage on them is that I don't charge you for reading them, and also you don't have to watch me prance about in yoga pants. As such, before you drop to your knees and elect me as your new Diet God, take a moment to reread the title of this piece and remind yourself that I'm just some asshat struggling with his too-tight pants, just like you and the rest of the Western world.
(Besides, I'm more of a chaos god anyway.)
Behind this link you will find a Harvard study about a thing called status quo bias, which is your brain's tendency to keep the situation as is unless the situation you're facing is of the "I need to put myself out because I'm on fire! Aaaaaaahhhh!" variety.
"Nah, sounds like work. Maybe open a window or something, though. It's pretty warm in here." -Brain
I've come to believe that status quo bias is the ultimate end boss standing between me and weight loss. The whole point of this particular brain glitch is to heavily lean towards your default mode of existence, and mine is most definitely not "athlete." I grew up a geeky kid and enjoyed reading and writing far more than working out. That's my natural state: sprawled on a chair, consuming pop culture, and occasionally making my own tiny contributions to it. Within this environment I can be surprisingly productive and active. But when it comes to all forms of athleticism (and overly healthy eating), status quo bias always makes them seem a bit alien to me no matter how hard I try.
I think this applies to everyone, too: If you grew up in an environment where "let's jog to the gym" wasn't immediately followed by hearty laughter from all parties, chances are you have a lot less problems maintaining an idealish weight, for "person who is cool with exercise" is your status quo. Does this sound like bullshit? Well, here's a sports psychology expert and Olympic weightlifting coach saying the exact same thing and calling me wimpy in the process, because, frankly, what the hell am I going to do about it?
"Mind if I borrow that squat machine for a while?"
With this in mind, I've recently taken a new approach to the whole weight-loss thing. Instead of attempting to arbitrarily fill my life with workout routines and temporary diets that crash and burn the second some pressing matter takes my mind off them, I'm now on what I call a "Fuck You, I Do What I Want" diet. I try to exercise when I can (taking special joy in flipping the bird at my stupid brain that whines about status quo whenever I put my trainers on), eat as well as I can (while still allowing myself a burger every once in a while), and generally try to think of exercise as just a normal thing that happens on some days when I have time, never once thinking it's all part of this big-ass mission to shrink my big ass.
As idiotic as this may seem, so far it appears to be working. I started doing this a couple of months ago, and I've lost maybe six, seven pounds since then. It's not an impressive amount -- I could easily gain it all back with a good weekend-long fast-food binge. Yet, somehow, I never seem to. That shit has gone away from my average weight, not just that peak of Mt. Lard weight-cycling makes us all climb every once in a while. To be honest, though, I have no idea if this is a situation that will last forever, or if it's just another way I'm foolishly escorting myself towards full-on obesity. Will I ever gain a male-model figure this way? Unlikely. Can I ever fulfill my destiny of being a professional-level athlete? Probably not, unless Cracked's longstanding campaign of making sitting on your ass and giggling at your own dick jokes an Olympic event gains traction.
*Sigh* Some day.
But am I happy with the way things are going? Fuck yes. And, with just that little change, the dude in the mirror is slowly, slowly starting to look all right.
Pauli Poisuo is just big boned, honestly. Follow him on Twitter.
For more from Pauli, check out 5 Terrifying Killers (That Turned Out to be Mass Panics) and The 6 Least Impressive Ways Anyone Ever Got Rich.