Saturday, March 12, 2011

Oh, Why do I Keep Doing This?

I know I know, I should know better right? 
I know that very few people read my blogs about clinical studies. Y'all really like artichokes and garden escapades much much better. I get that. But, why do I continue to post about obesity and clinical studies when few people read them or care? 
I have been on a quest to understand what has been happening to me. Last summer I was on a months-long plateau, following my plan the best I could, not losing weight, becoming miserable and depressed, having sleeplessness and lots of night-time cravings. I tried to make up for my cravings by exercising, and then ended up in an increasing eating/exercising spiral that left me exhausted and injured, and more depressed and slug-like. 
The only difference between this response and other times I tried to lose weight is that this time I just didn't give up. I kept tracking my food intake and exercise, encouraged my friends, kept going despite dismal failure. Each day I would wake up with all good intents, but by the evening, I was feeding the cravings, promising myself I'd do better tomorrow. And the next day, I would try the same thing, and get the same results. 
Isn't this the definition of insanity????? 
Then I made a few easy changes (not recommended by the "experts", in fact, they had warned me....) and I started having success. I was astounded. Why hadn't anyone told me about this before? It was always, "eat less, exercise more, use small plates...", all prescribed on the assumption that my problem was one of laziness, will-power and lack of character, lack of planning, and my love of fatty food like coconut and black olives. 
I went to the internet, and searched all the way to the end, to try to make sense of it all. That lead me to many prominent diet doctors, and then to researchers and then to Gary Taubes. 
I read all sorts of books, reports, studies, blogs, position papers, statements. Eventually I think I figured out why certain things started working for me and why certain things did not. But it was what Gary Taubes wrote that really started to make me mad, and to start talking about it. 
In his book, "Good Calories Bad Calories", he described a study that Ancel Keys did during WWII. In the study, he put a number of healthy young men on a "semi-starvation" diet to see what the effects of food shortages (like in Europe) would be. The diet was about 1500 calories and consisted of things like mostly ww bread, potatoes, turnips, cabbage, and a bit of meat or milk. So far, it doesn't sound that bad, except 1500 calories seems a bit low for men. They also followed a walking program. 
The men lost weight, sure enough, but the really interesting thing is that several had to drop out because of psychiatric problems, including depression and self-mutilation. When the diet was over, the men (still monitored) ate more, gained more and ended up fatter than where they started, and they still continued to eat! (And some still continued with the psychological problems for quite some time.) 
But the thing that really made me mad is that Ancel Keys did this study on conscious objectors. These were Quakers, Mennonites and Bretheren who were so into non-violence that they risked quite a bit to not participate in the war. WWII wasn't like Vietnam. It wasn't an unpopular war. People then didn't just escape to Canada for a few years. They had to prove that they had been born into one of these religions (the "birthright" religions) and demonstrate a life-long commitment to non-violence, and then go up against the notion of the times, that the war was justified. They had to follow up their intent with letters, witness statements, church records, etc. in order to be a CO. Many times they were just jailed. (I knew several CO's and their families because many were assigned out West in the forestry agencies, mainly fighting dangerous wildfires. Their families moved to this region with them and many stayed after the war.) Life wasn't as good for these CO's as people might have imagined. They weren't coddled. 
I found it amazing that a reducing diet would have led some of these peace-loving men to self-mutilation. This just doesn't seem to be what you would expect to see from a man who had devoted his life to peace. Their diet led them to later obesity and violence. 
So why is it that we are recommending such a reduced-calorie, low-fat, low-protein diet now? Why is it that when this diet fails, we just tell ourselves that tomorrow will be different? That tomorrow we'll be able to sleep? That tomorrow we refuse to be depressed? That tomorrow we WILL get on that treadmill? 
I read lots of blogs here, probably yours. If you comment on my page or blog, I visit your page and read them all. I know what people are saying about their progress. Many posts indicate frustration, depression, exhaustion, and while many friends have been successful, many have not. That's when I decided to write more about it. 
Friends, I REALLY do care about you. You are real people! I know you aren't weak-willed, or lazy or undisciplined. You have mentioned that you are doing "all the right things", and when you ask for help, the answer is usually to continue to do even more of "all the right things." And I think that's just insanity. 
This "insanity" is what has led several prominent diet researchers to throw up their hands, declare defeat, and recommend lap-band for everyone. And, it led me, a former vegan/vegetarian for 25 years, to start eating some meat again. And that has been surprising and difficult, since I have identified with the vegetarian movement for years and now finding myself a bit ostracized by them, and finding the paleo's to be more welcoming. Gosh, I never thought that would happen!
Anyway, enough rambling. If you read this far, thank you for reading and listening. If you leave a reply, again, I will send you a 5-points-worth goodie that won't make you hungry or raise your insulin level. 

[Note:  a version of this was posted on Feb 26, 2011 on another site.]

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