My apologies to the spokespersons for liquid dietary supplements and all the local radio deejays who sing the praises of herbal diet pills. This is not an article about shortcuts in the weight-loss process as much as it is a caution to avoid the potentially fraudulent marketing pitches that permeate the diet industry.
One year ago in February I visited my physician for treatment of a minor infection. Part of the office visit routine involved the ritual weigh-in. To my dismay, I tipped the scales at a personal all-time high. I anxiously asked the doctor about the new generation of weight-loss drugs.
He told me that his experience was that people who lost weight on the medications invariably put the weight back on, and sometimes even gained more poundage after ending the prescription treatment. Some things just had to be done the good old-fashioned way, he said.
Driving home, I was embarrassed that I still had asked for a magic pill, even though I knew there was no such thing.
People don't decide to change in a vacuum. It is our interaction with others that can have resonating effects. My experience was no different. My wife's respectful attitude had always been that I would lose weight only when I decided the time was right. She had the wisdom not to hound me, but she'd been right. I also wanted to set a better example for my young daughter.
I took it all as a call to get back to basics. In a world where we cannot control all we might care to, it made sense to focus on the goals that are within reach. After all, at 40-something, I was essentially beginning the second half of my life.
Mine would be an "existential" diet, built on choices. It had taken a long time to put on the extra weight, so it was reasonable to assume that it would take a long time to get it off. I began restricting my fat intake and started to count calories. My target was 1,500 per day, with enough flexibility to max out at 2,000.
The key was always having the right kinds of food within easy reach. Portion-controlled foods are generally more expensive than bulk items, but I was willing to pay a premium for convenience and certainty. Ironically, as a family we actually spent more on food. The cost per pound of protein -- often $8 to $10 a pound, including prepared and portioned soy products -- is generally much higher than typical carbohydrates and fatty foods. The unexpected bargain was switching to the convenience of inexpensive instant oatmeal packets in the morning.
After taking on the sweaty rigors of yardwork to aid in burning calories, I started to average a two-pound-per-week weight loss. I never experienced extreme hunger, and with the better food choices, I never felt deprived. I marveled at how efficiently my body processed the portioned amounts of food. I was never one to weigh myself daily, but I could see the changes in my body shape emerge, initially in my face.
In fact, it wasn't long before the neighborhood pizza delivery franchise sent me a note saying they missed our business, along with some attractive coupons.
As my weight slowly dropped my large-size wardrobe became totally useless to me. The joy of being back into a normal size range was tempered somewhat by the expense of having to put together a transition wardrobe. It's particularly hard to make that investment when you have not yet reached your final size and the new clothes that you are buying, to some extent, are only temporary.
When the morphing process became more apparent, people invariably asked what prescription drug I was taking, or whether or not I was a disciple of the Suzanne Somers, Pritikin, or Weight Watchers programs. (One person even asked me if I was experiencing an illness.) It is, however, intriguing how so many people who haven't seen me in a while have all said the same thing: "You're a shadow of your former self."
People respect weight loss. But trying to tell folks that you have undertaken a "lifestyle change" doesn't have much sizzle or impact. This January, when the media turned its focus to post-holiday dieting, an article on the USA Today Web site coined the term "CRE" -- chronically restrained eating. New research indicated that the only people who lost weight and kept it off were practitioners of CRE. Finally I had found an explanatory term to satisfy curious inquirers.
Not a day goes by that I don't think about food choices and the amount I eat. I eliminate most of the poor choices and my body has relearned the sense of fullness that non-obese people enjoy. Food tastes better because I have learned to savor the flavors.
The toughest unexpected challenge is being around people who are not yet ready to deal with their weight situation. I let them know that their food choices are a completely neutral event to me and refrain from talking about my weight loss unless they bring up the subject. Then I share my conviction that they will only take action when the time is right for them.
Last month, almost one year since my turning-point visit to his office, I went to see my doctor again. It was both amusing and satisfying to witness his double-take at my 70-pound weight loss. He was genuinely touched when I gave him credit for triggering my decision to make a change. I don't think that it occurred to him that his words would have such a profound impact upon my life.
Finally, I thanked him for his wisdom in not writing me a prescription for a magic pill.
William Steinberg is a certified financial planner for Kelman-Lazarov. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.