August 19, 2011

The Mythology of Weight Loss

The Greeks defined the body ideal through
their art and their attention to physical
fitness.  You see this in every painting
and sculpture. The Greeks created the
gymnasium (in fact, the word itself means,
"to train naked") and developed exercises
we still see practiced today in gymnastics.
The Greeks told themselves a series of stories to help explain the unexplained.  Gods controlled the wind, the seas, the water, the land and skies and even got together to have little Gods (kinda like the royal family). These stories would bring order to the lives of many and comfort when things got kinda rough.

The mythology of weight loss is really no different. We tend to tell ourselves stories to help explain, what we feel, is the unexplainable.  I hear these stories, in their full glory, when I facilitate a weight loss / exercise course and try my very best to explain the truth based upon the current science and psychology. It has also been my experience that a belief is stronger than concrete and many times you can't break them no matter how reasonable and sound the truth is.

This was no more evident than in a conversation I had recently with a few friends. We were chatting about health in general and the subject turned towards fitness, weight loss, and aging.  Beliefs about weight loss and gain came at me like paint gun pellets....I tried to deflect each one with the facts but felt it was bouncing off their invisible protective shield (and there's nothing wrong with that).  Beliefs are like a shield of self-protection from damage to our esteem, confidence, sense of self, and how we are in the world. No one wants to hear something that goes against their beliefs. No one wants to be told that it is because of their actions that they are in their situation (some already understand this...this is important to health but we all have our blind spots).

I hope the old belief that muscle can
turn into fat has been dispelled. For
years, people believed this. As you
can see from the pic above, it is
physiologically impossible as they
are two different tissues.
Unfortunately, our beliefs about fat loss can lead to a life of fat gain. For example, if we believe that weight equates to health and beauty, we may be standing on that scale everyday. If we believe we aren't good people unless we weigh a certain amount, we will be negatively effected by the number on that scale (I mean really...who hasn't felt the pang of disappointment when we get on that scale expecting success only to be crippled by the jump in number?). If we believe we must eat a certain food to lose fat, we may fill our kitchens with "fat burning" foods that have no valid research to suggest it's so - more a waste of money than anything. Lastly, if we believe that certain exercises will contour and shape our bodies in a positive way...we will be trading in what we love to do for something we hate.

If you are wanting to lose weight (and maybe are going through the process right now) I have a suggestion for you. Grab a pen and some paper and list the beliefs you have about fat and weight loss. Don't analyse or judge them...just write them down. Take your time, relax, and start writing. For example, some of my beliefs about weight loss (in the old days...although I have to admit, I still struggle with a few today) included; believing I am not attractive unless I weigh a certain number, believing certain exercises will lead to more success, believing everyone else can do it and I can't, believing I will have to give up all my fun foods to be successful. These were a few of my beliefs but certainly not based on fact. 

Alive and well is the belief that it is an inevitability that we gain
weight as we age. Although for many this is doesn't
have to be the case. You can make a difference by eating
and training well.
For my next post, I will address the most common beliefs of weight loss and exercise (especially as it relates to the aging woman) and I will provide you with the facts.

Have a great Friday.

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