Monday, October 01, 2007

Weight Loss is Personal

Even if you're blogging about it.

So currently I'm working with one of the local newspapers as one of their panel of experts for a lengthy series on nutrition.

The launch was last weekend and included in the launch was an article written by a very young man who's just barely overweight. The article was about his month long experiment of following Canada's Food Guide and he's also keeping a blog about his experiences aiming at reaching a numerical goal weight (the weight needed to give him a body mass index of 25).

Now readers of my blog will certainly know that I'm not a fan of using BMI or "pound" goals because frankly they overlook the bigger picture - reality. Fact is, the best goal is whatever weight you reach when you're living the healthiest life you can enjoy. But put that aside for now. The important question to ask regardless is, "So is he enjoying his life?"

Not according to his newspaper articles and blog entries he isn't.

According to them he's been saving up his calories for supper and in so doing often finding himself starving and battling hunger demons (like the ones that live in Pizza shops). He reports being "desperate" for steak because his Food Guide approach doesn't allow him to eat large ones. He reports being tired and finding it difficult to find 60 minutes a day of exercise. He reports that he fell off his new wagon within one month of embarking on it. He notes that on at least one occasion when he ate more than he planned in the daytime he compensated and went to bed following a dinner consisting solely of a plate of green beans with two slices of toast. He reports that the "red numbers" on the scale motivate him and help him with what he feels his efforts require - "focus, attention and willpower".

In short, he's on a diet.

Given my chosen career and my experience with quite literally thousands of folks trying to lose weight, reading his article and his blog, I decided that there's no way that he's adopted a long term approach here. He's dieting and both anectdotally and in the medical literature, diets fail in the long term over 95% of the time.

So what type of diet behaviours does he admit to? By using the scale as a source of support, he's chosen the proverbial dark side of weight loss, letting the seduction of the numbers inspire him to greater acts of willpower - a problem when the scale stops whispering sweet nothings into his ear. By saving calories until the end of the day and cultivating blindly restrictive food limits, he's cultivating hunger which will lead him to battle hunger - a battle that if fought frequently, eventually just gets too irritating and bitter to fight. By trying to cram 60 minutes of exercise a day into likely a very busy and youthfully all over the place lifestyle, he's liable to get frustrated with the exercise and simply let the whole thing go. He appears to be trying to live the healthiest life he can tolerate - and for me, that's the definition of a diet.

So here's where it gets interesting.

I decided to write to him and in the email I told him that it seemed painfully obvious that he didn't particularly relish his new healthiest-he-could-tolerate lifestyle and that in the long run, if he didn't enjoy his life, he wouldn't continue living that way.

I also offered him our help with no strings attached. I recommended that he see our dietitian and told him that should he come and see her, he need not feel that he would have to mention the visit or our help in his blog or in his articles.

I logged onto his blog the other day and read what sounded to me like a fairly irritated entry from him stating that I had written to him, told him that he was going to fail and that I tried to convince him to join my office's weight loss program.

Now the later part's simply not true, I had offered him a free visit with out dietitian with no strings attached, but I'll chalk that one up to misinterpreted email, but the former part I suppose is true, and frankly, I'm sorry that I emailed him and more sorry that I clearly have upset him.

You'd think of all people, I'd know that weight loss is personal. It's my exclusive area of practice and thinking about weight and weight management probably takes up at least 2/3rd of my total waking hours.

I should have known better than to offer my opinions or even offer to help because the mistake that I made, was assuming he wanted my opinions or my help.

Weight loss is a personal journey. No one should feel comfortable muscling in on someone else's weight loss effort.

My mistake was an honest one. For heaven's sake, having a blog and writing articles about weight management pretty much opens the door to having folks comment on your efforts, but frankly I still should have known better.

Best of luck to him, and should he decide that in fact my opinion and help would be useful to him, he's still welcome to give me a call.

For all of the friends and spouses of folks trying to lose weight out there, here's the only question you should ever ask your weight-conscious friends, "Is there any way that you feel I can help you". If the answer's "No", then just leave it at that, if they want your opinion or help, they'll ask.