Why am I fat? The final part in the series.

Get out of your own way for once

There’s a popular quote that says something like “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” That’s actually not insanity, that’s just being stupid and not learning from your mistakes. This is a thing that seems pretty much exclusive to humans – it’s probably something to do with the size of our neocortex. Basically, we’re all stupid and lazy.

Once you realize this, you will see that if you always do what you have always done, you will probably get what you have always got from those actions. If sitting on the couch and eating cheetos all day made you fat, and you go on an actually insane [indicative of mental health issues] crash diet, and lose 100 pounds, then go back to sitting on the couch eating cheetos, don’t be surprised when you get fat again. This isn’t bad genetics, it’s stupid brain cells.

This is something that I personally struggled with a fair bit. My initial serious weight loss was all done by a diet that was not insane, was not a crash diet, and was actually sustainable. But it was absolutely nothing like how I was used to eating previously, and when I finished up, I slowly started to get fat again [3 year slow dirty bulk for the win!]. I made a mostly temporary change rather than a lifestyle one.

Thankfully I spent enough time in the gym picking heavy things up and putting them down that I also – essentially by pure chance – managed to put on some muscle while I was doing it, so while these days I’m a fair bit heavier than I was when I first dieted down, I’m in about the same relative shape by body composition/body fat percentage measurements. I have now learned that if I want to be not fat for the rest of my life, I need to stop doing the things that got me fat.

So figure out how you are sabotaging yourself, what bullshit stories you are telling yourself to take the sting out when the scale is up another 10lb, and if you are willing to change or not. But don’t continue repeating the habits that got you where you are if that place makes you unhappy in some way.

Small changes are probably best at first. Here’s one for you if you don’t know where to start: stop drinking calories. Either stop cold turkey or if you drink a gallon a day, cut it in half. This one change is usually enough to make positive physical changes for a lot of people. Switch to water, diet pop, or my personal favourite – those squeeze bottles of zero calorie water flavouring stuff.

The only one standing in your way is you. So clear the way and move on.

But wait, there’s more [and hope]!

Here we are. You have now learned that everything is your own fault. That you probably don’t actually know that much about anything fitness or nutrition related. And that you will have to change if you want to change.

You are now at a crossroads, and have to make a decision. Change, or not. Pick a different path, or continue on the one you are on. Whatever you choose to do, own it. Decide if getting a six-pack is really worth it [hint: it probably isn’t, and is not going to happen in 6 minutes], if getting healthier is worth it [it probably is], or if you are just fine where you are.

If you decide to change, don’t ever quit. You haven’t failed until you decide to quit. Went out for drinks with your friends instead of staying in and getting to bed at a reasonable time? Oh well, that was yesterday. Worry about today. If you take care of the days, the weeks and months will take care of themselves.

It’s a long road, and a hard one. But we think it’s worth it.

Why am I fat? Part 3 in a series.

You’re stupid, but you can blame the media a little

Every talking head on the moving picture box likes to tell you that they have the answers. That science just discovered that carbs are a panacea and will lead you to the promised land. No, wait! Carbs are a product of Satan™ and they will eat your children and sodomize your house pets and give you cancer!

And a lot of it sounds somewhat reasonable. You get someone in a labcoat with a bunch of letters after their name, or someone that everyone calls “Doctor” – I unfortunately am not a doctor, no matter what you may have heard that young lady calling me – talking about how they have discovered the One True Secret that THE MAN Doesn’t Want You To Know About.

And really, there is so much conflicting information out there if you don’t know how to sift through it. Are carbs bad for you? Are fats bad for you? What makes you fat? Is it calories? Is it carbs? Is it sugars? Is it salt? Is it processed foods? Does exercise make you fat? Does cardio make you thin?

The real answer to all of these questions is: 1) It depends, 2) Maybe, and 3) Not really, but sometimes. But those aren’t good sound-bites.

These topics tend to get people very worked up, even if you don’t go into things like gluten, GMO’s, or Paleo. And usually the people who have the strongest views on them are utterly convinced that they are right (usually because it worked for them), and completely unwilling to accept that there might be evidence to the contrary. They also usually have basically no idea what they are talking about, other than regurgitating sound bites that they have heard from daytime television.

The studies that the media reports on are usually on diseased populations, rats, or are in vitro studies. And guess what… rats aren’t humans! And (metaphysics aside), neither are in vitro cells. And if you don’t have whatever disease or condition they were studying, it probably doesn’t apply to you.

Can you trust the mainstream media to ever get it right? Well, it depends. But a pretty good rule of thumb is that if they are preaching anything other than moderation, they are probably trying to sell you something, or it is something that you actually don’t need to worry about. Ditto anyone who tells you that calories don’t matter.

I’m just as guilty of talking out my ass about stuff I don’t actually know about, but thought I did. Until I read a couple of really good deconstructions of his work1, I was a firm believer that Gary Taubes actually knew what he was talking about. He cites studies! Dieting using the principles he espouses worked for me! I was in the grip of the Demon Carbs™ but now I am free and I must spread the word! Hallelujah and all hail Satan! Or whatever. But then I learned about cherry-picked research. And bias. And people selling things.

So… I just told you that you can’t trust anything you read. And that sometimes that people will lie to you to sell you something. And that everyone who sounds like they know what they are talking about probably doesn’t, including the government. What do you do now?

Well, you’ve taken the red pill and now your eyes have been opened and I can sell you the truth! Just thirteen easy payments of $19.99.

… Just kidding. Mostly. If you want to send me money, I’m ok with that.

A good litmus test is that people who give you definite answers to general nutrition questions are pretty suspect, because the answer is usually “it depends.” There is good2 information3 out4 there5, you6 just7 need8 to look beyond the shiny sales pitches that get thrown at you.

Anything that strays too far from “try to eat mostly things that are identifiable as coming somewhat recently from plants or animals, and try not to sit on your ass all the time” is probably something you should be suspicious of.

We will wrap up this series on Monday, and then make some reasonable suggestions as to what you can do to help yourself on your journey to awesome.

Why am I fat? Part 2 in a series.

If you fail, it’s your own goddamn fault

When is the last time you heard someone say “I was doing great on my diet, but then some maniac kidnapped me, tied me down, put a gun to my head, forced me to eat a dozen pieces of pizza, and told me that if I ate anything healthy ever again he was going to kill me and my whole family”? Never, right? Because that would be insane. But it would probably also make for a blockbuster rom-com.

How about “I was doing great on my diet, but then I ruined it by having a couple of Oreos, so I said fuck it and ate two extra large pizzas and a tub of ice cream and I’m a failure so I’m just not going to bother any more”? It happens, a lot. And it’s just as insane.

I partially blame this all-or-nothing 110%-all-the-goddamn-time attitude on society and the media, but that’s a rant for another time. Perfection is the enemy of progress.

Unfortunately, I personally still prefer cheesecake to broccoli, and probably always will. So I’ve had to figure out ways to let myself have the things I love without turning into a cheap parody of Jabba the Hutt, but without the hot slavegirl (note: I am accepting applications for the currently vacant position of slavegirl. The Contact Us link on the left works just fine). It turns out that staying on track most of the time but still letting yourself indulge a little occasionally is a lot more maintainable and fun than the 110% on/off mentality that many people seem to have.

When you fail, when you give up, it’s your own goddamn fault. When you quit, that is your choice. No one else’s. You were lazy.

You decided that “this is just too hard, and I don’t care enough” and that change was less important than comfort. And if that is what you want to do and be, own it. Don’t blame anyone else, and don’t make up excuses. If you are going to be a fat, lazy slob, be the best goddamn fat lazy slob that you can be. Don’t let anyone make you be less fat or lazy. Who gives a shit about health anyways, right? But you haven’t failed until you quit.

If it’s worth doing, you will push through the discomfort of changing things. You will look at the habits that cause you to fail, and work on changing them. Oh, and that whole “21 days to form a habit” thing you hear all the time? Mostly bullshit. Research1 suggests that takes somewhere between 18 to 254 days to form a solid habit, with an average of 66 days for fairly simple ones.

So, give it three months. At least. And if you eat an extra oreo cookie? That’s about an extra 15 minutes on the treadmill or exercise bike. If you eat two entire pizzas and a tub of ice cream? That’s two weeks worth of hard work and dedication wiped out. Either way, you can choose to do one of two things afterwards: fail, or pick yourself up and continue. You haven’t failed until you quit. So don’t quit right now, no matter if you slipped a bit or not. Sleep on it first.

But if you choose to fail, don’t blame someone else. Figure out what it is inside you that made you choose to fail. And maybe work on that first. You can always give it another shot later.

It’s your choice.

  1. Lally, P., van Jaarsveld, C. H. M., Potts, H. W. W. and Wardle, J. (2010), How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol., 40: 998–1009. doi: 10.1002/ejsp.674

Why am I fat? Part 1 in a series.

You are fat because you choose to be, and you are the cause of all your problems

You know the saying that goes something like “the one constant in all of your dissatisfying relationships is you”? Well, it’s true about relationships, and it’s true about fitness.

You might actually be genetically predisposed to being fat. I expect that most of us are, if only because we evolved to survive in times of scarcity, when it wasn’t possible to waddle to the fridge and grab a bottle of sugar water that would cover the caloric requirements of a small third-world village for a week.

I was a fat kid. Not morbidly obese or anything, but I was definitely the guy who got picked dead last in PE class for absolutely everything that didn’t involve math. So, everything. I hated exercise and thought it was basically a special form of cruel and unusual torture that was only good at keeping me away from my books. I also loved food – and still do, actually. This means that I was always predisposed to be a little on the hefty side. My dad has always been a fair bit overweight, so it’s not something I ever thought much of.

Vegetables were a thing that showed up on the plate and I did my best to avoid. I’m sure my parents (Hi, mom!) had some vague idea of what a proper “balanced” diet looked like, but I was always a fan of “garbage” foods. I’m also sure if you take pretty much any single parent in the world who is just trying to do their best, and give them the choice between fighting for an hour or two with a stubborn kid over a couple of pieces of cauliflower or just letting them eat most of their food and skip dessert instead of eating the goddamn cauliflower, they’re gonna pick the easy route so that they don’t go to jail for killing their children.

I ate a lot of crap as a kid, especially once I reached middle/high school age and was allowed to deal with my own lunches. Two packs of instant noodles per day? Check. Cheezies, ice cream, ALL THE CAKE? Check. So, my parents tried. They really did. It’s not their fault that I was a willful little shit and just did what I wanted.

I’ve always joked that I should have “poor impulse control” tattooed on my forehead as a warning to others. For a lot of years I thought that “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing to excess.” So, I was fat. Never ridiculously so, though I really don’t know why (unlike a certain lazy fuck that I know. Get off your ass and back on the bike, House).

And who’s fault was it? Was it my dad’s, who gave me the dreaded “fat gene”? Was it either of my parents, who would just decide that after an hour of screaming back and forth with me that it wasn’t worth fighting any more? Was it the government, that didn’t beat proper and simple nutrition information into the heads of it’s citizens? Was it the food industry, that has become really really good at giving us what we want – delicious foods with salt and sweet and fat? No. It was my own. No one put a gun to my head and told me to eat the cake. If someone tried to do that, I would be totally OK with it, because that meant I could eat their slice too.

I was, and am, the source of all my problems. You are the source of all of your problems. The only one who can work on them is you.

Life dealt you a shitty hand? That sucks, bro. Guess what, you’re still doing better than at least 50% of the population just by being able to be in a position to read this. “Bad genes”? Ditto. I think it’s called being human – well over 50% of the upper part of my family tree is between slightly and quite hefty.

It might not be completely, or even mostly, your own fault that you got into the position you’re in. But the only person keeping you in the place that you are in is you. If you want to complain about being morbidly obese while swilling down a 500oz Ultra-Mega-Super-Diabeetus-Gulp and stuffing your face with cake, you need to understand that it’s your own damn fault. You are the source of all of your dissatisfying choices and decisions.

You have the ability to change things if you want to. It’s all at your fingertips. The only person holding you back is yourself.

Isn’t that awesome? I think it is.

PS: If you are part of the approximately 1% of the population that has a medical condition that makes it literally impossible to maintain a healthy weight, I’m sorry for your situation, and this advice is not meant for you. I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. Talk to one of them. No, seriously. You should do that.

PPS: Here’s a hint: stop thinking about it as “I AM fat” but rather “I HAVE fat.” One is a state of being that feels immutable. One is something that you can do something about. Your choice.