Mechanics of weight management

A concise summary

Everybody wants to be lean and fit, and yet few succeed at it. Talk to any overweight person and the chances are that they will tell you how they eat practically nothing but keep on gaining weight. While it is true that one cannot completely rule out unusually slow metabolisms, a record of what such a person consumes during a day would invariably demonstrate how peculiar some people’s notion of ‘practically nothing’ can be. Incidentally, weight loss is the only loss anybody has ever found desirable. And fittingly enough, it is not a piece of cake. As mankind’s resolution-defying issues go, obesity probably is second only to stupidity.

What makes it so difficult is that overweight is good for business. It is an infinite loop: Ice-creams, sodas, confectionery items, and the like make people fat which results in their craving these things even more – the familiar story of a monster that grows greedier, instead of being satiated, the more it is fed. Doctors, pharma manufacturers and undertakers are certainly not complaining.

The mechanics of weight loss could not be any simpler. It is merely a matter of the net difference between energy intake and expenditure. A positive difference (calorie surplus) results in weight gain, zero difference (maintenance) in constant weight, and a negative difference (calorie deficit) in weight loss. Over the last few months, I managed to lose all my excess kgs. Many people ask me how I did it. Well, there is no secret as to how it is done: eating carefully and exercising is all there is to it. But this seems to drain all enthusiasm on the part of the questioner. It ought not to, because eating carefully does not necessarily mean eating less, although overeating does not belong in any fitness program either. When it comes to the intake, it is a matter of eating well – avoiding processed food as much as possible and opting for whole foods instead.

On the expenditure side, it is exercise. But there is a limit to the number of calories that can possibly be burned; and with the kind of food generally consumed these days, that limit is reached rather quickly. Without controlling the intake then, the whole project is doomed. It is therefore a matter of developing a consciousness of which food item is good for you and which is not. But this consciousness has a way of deserting you just when you need it the most. This is where regular exercise comes in handy over and above its role in burning a certain number of calories every day. Because when you are putting effort in regular exercise and can be forgiven for getting outside a pastry or two occasionally, you generally resist the temptation. But when you are making no such efforts and cannot afford to exacerbate matters any further, you invariably yield to all temptations that come your way. This consciousness goes hand in hand with practice. And the results keep one motivated. The proof of the pudding is not in eating in this case – or eating in moderation, to be precise.

In the end, it all boils down to the old question of eating to live or living to eat. It used to be that with many other attractions on offer, people under thirty usually ate to live. It was only later, especially after marriage that the transition to the living-to-eat phase occurred with obvious results. In this respect, matters have gone from bad to worse because the fast-food generation starts getting its kicks from food very early in life.

Careful eating is easier said than done though. More than overcoming the unhealthy urges (which is no mean feat), there is the unfortunate fact that most readily available food is unhealthy. It therefore takes hard work to eat healthy, which in turn requires time – a precious commodity in the brave new world. While it is true that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, too busy a life also needs to be reconsidered for this reason among many others.

Weight management is a war that is never completely won, even if one keeps winning many battles in a row. Resting on one’s laurels is never an option. This calls for a consistent, sustainable effort. Drastic weight losses are almost always temporary. There are many fancy ideas doing the rounds about the best diet for the purpose, and some of them would even be effective; but a rule of thumb is this: the more peculiar the diet plan, the less time it is likely to last. It is much better to stick to a balanced diet than going to any extreme.

In the end, it all boils down to the old question of eating to live or living to eat. It used to be that with many other attractions on offer, people under thirty usually ate to live. It was only later, especially after marriage that the transition to the living-to-eat phase occurred with obvious results. In this respect, matters have gone from bad to worse because the fast-food generation starts getting its kicks from food very early in life. Spotting a delivery man every day at a neighbour’s door, my father once told the ten-year old who lived there to go a little easy on junk food. His reply: ‘Uncle, we will die without it.’ Die, we all will. Still, it does not hurt to live well before the inevitable happens.

Hasan Aftab Saeed
Hasan Aftab Saeed
The author is a connoisseur of music, literature, and food (but not drinks). He can be reached at www.facebook.com/hasanaftabsaeed

1 COMMENT

  1. Well written!
    You’re right there is no secret to weight loss but yet we’re at a verge of ‘Obesity Pandemic’.
    Sometimes what is a common sense to you is not so common!
    Like your phrase;
    ‘weight loss is the only loss anybody has ever found desirable.‘

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