Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Why Losing Weight Is So Difficult

I recently came across a good article by science writer Sharon Begley that appeared in the January/February Saturday Evening Post for this year.  The piece, entitled “Lose Weight for Good!”, says that medical science is finally accepting what many of us have known all along:  that losing weight can be a complicated, difficult process, and that no two people will succeed at it in the same way.  If you don’t have time to read the whole article, at least scroll down to the “Easy Rules for a Stay-Slim Life” at the end; some of them are not what you would expect.

This started me thinking about why it took decades to get my weight down to its present, OK level (145 lb.) and to get into better shape.  There were several factors not mentioned in the article that were obstacles for me and undoubtedly are for others as well.

        1.  Thyroid Problems.  I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism as a teenager but nobody followed up on this in a systematic way until decades later.  In addition, thyroid disease was evaluated differently in the mid-twentieth century than it is today, though some medical operatives haven’t caught up with the new thinking yet.  When I look at the current report on my blood work from the lab it gives .5 to 4.90 uIU/ml as the normal range.  This is wrong:  the correct range is .4 to 2.0.  In the 1950’s and 60’s patients with readings in the 2.1 and above range were regarded as normal; today they would be treated for hypothyroidism.  Low thyroid levels are associated with slowed-down metabolism and fatigue.  Personally, I have found that if my thyroid level is too low it is impossible to lose weight no matter how little I eat or how much I exercise.  It used to be extremely frustrating when people would say that I must not be trying hard enough!

        2.  Stress.  During early adulthood I was under stress pretty much constantly.  Grad school is a high-anxiety situation for a lot of people but it is supposed to lead to a professional career.  During the 1970’s it was tough for many of us to find and keep jobs; it was as though grad school never ended.  Recent research has shown that stress is linked not only to mood disorders like depression and anxiety, but also to metabolic disorders, including obesity.  

        3.  Weak Muscles.  In gym classes in high school other students could do pull-ups; I could not.  In my twenties and thirties my muscles were so weak that I couldn’t do a single push-up.  Why was this and why didn’t anyone ever notice that a solid-looking person like me had such poor muscle tone? Here again, people with hypothyroidism can have weak muscles.  Also, my lifestyle during that period was very sedentary – I mostly sat around reading – and I probably wasn’t getting enough protein.  I wasn’t a big meat-eater and my body didn’t seem to be that good at processing the protein I did give it.   

     The good news is that all of this was totally reversible.  I now drink protein shakes and eat protein bars to get my levels to 70-100 grams per day.  I probably need at least that much because my body is unusually muscular, according to the body composition scale I use.  These days I can do forty or more push-ups, thank you Tony Horton.  So far, I can only do assisted pull-ups, but I’m working on that.  If your muscles are weak you can’t get a good workout.  If you can’t get a good workout you won’t be able to burn many calories. 

        4.  Problem Feet.  When I started doing more serious exercise in the 1990’s I began to notice little pains on the sides of my feet.  This led to my getting orthotics, a story I have told in the post “Respect the Feet.”  If I hadn’t gotten my feet fixed, I wouldn’t be able to survive the heavy-duty workouts I do today; the stress on my feet, knees, and hips would have been too much.  I often wonder how many hip and knee replacements could have been avoided if those patients had gotten their feet looked at early on.

In spite of the hassles and frustrations, getting into shape has ultimately been a process of self-discovery.  At this point I know my body very well, how far I can push it, when I should pull back.  At the age of 66, I feel more comfortable in my own skin than I ever have in my life.

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