Thursday, December 30, 2010

Weight loss is personal

[Originally posted October 2007]

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.

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I am in the process of setting up a weight-loss blog/website myself, and I certainly would not write about anything for which I did NOT want comments. The mere fact that this person has a blog should have indicated to him that he might be e-mailed with suggestions or thoughts. There was no way for you to know he would react this way.
    With that said, I do agree with your last paragraph. As I went through my own weight loss battle and have continued to keep off the weight, I heard from many people who thought they were being helpful but… weren’t.

  3. I was moved by your post because I too have been a self-empowered, albeit well intentioned participant in the "open mouth insert foot" disease of offering help and unsolicited advice.

    I like and respect that you came clean about your honest mistake and appreciate your decision to write about it in an attempt to make amends.


    All the best in the new year Yoni! :)

  4. Anonymous9:09 am

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

    Hahaha, clearly you've never met my mother, my siblings, my aunt or even my in-laws. ;-)

    Seriously, I think he was crank from starving himself and a bit resentful that his blog made it fantastically clear he hated what he was doing right now and wanted someone to focus all of that anger on - enter you. Don't take his reaction and rebuffing personally. I'm sure he's a perfectly lovely person to break a loaf or three of bread with over a huge Porterhouse. :-)


  5. Wow, another great post. I look at it as some people are just really not ready to lose the weight when they start to work on it. Doesn't make sense to me, but I've seen it over & over. You're right that it's a lifestyle change - for life - and some never want it to be that. Personally if a PROFESSIONAL offered me free help, I'd jump at it!! :) I'm enjoying the expertice of the WLC. It amazes me that this "world" is there and I had no idea.

  6. Anonymous10:39 am

    He would be better off to through the CGFG out, get off sugars, grains, lubricants, and processed foods.

  7. Anonymous11:50 pm

    It is the fact that you want to help that makes me interested in reading your blog each day. So many people become cynical and nervous about stepping forward and offering assistance for one reason or another. I feel it is more important to continue offering a hand since one of these days a person will grab on and thank you for the rest of their lives.

    If it were not for the help of many dr’s my husband and I would not have a child. If it were not for you we would not be considering a way to offer help to many Overweight Ontarians in the future. Please do what you do, since you do it very well.

  8. Wow. This is tricky. On the one hand... yes, of course you're right, unsolicited advice on weight management is almost never welcome. Heck, in my experience, *solicited* advice on weight management is almost never welcome. As someone who's lost 60 pounds in a year and a half, loads of people have asked me how I lost the weight... and when I reply, "Short answer, counting calories and exercising almost every day," they almost always look at me like I tossed a dead rat into their lap. They don't want to hear it.

    On the other hand... the moment this guy started blogging publicly about his weight loss program was the moment he invited unsolicited commentary on how he's going about it. As someone who blogs a lot about very personal stuff, from weight management to sex to religion: If you're going to blog about personal stuff, you need to develop a seriously thick skin. Stat.

    However, when you get out of the realm of the blogosphere and into the realm of personal relationships with friends and family... you're absolutely right. Unsolicited advice is worse than useless.

  9. Anonymous10:13 pm

    Interesting melding of the public/private aspects of blogging, and in particular, of blogging that which is profoundly personal. I admire your sensitivity in recognizing that even when one has made the personal public, it may persist in being personal (or perceived as such, by someone who didn't really understand quite what the public presentation of the private means).

    But I am curious - this was originally posted in October 2007; do you know how this "weight loss as public performance / news / info-tainment" work out? Without enough info to research into the follow-up, I would hazard a guess that the blogger failed to meet his goal. Why? Because, I suspect, it was unpleasant and uncomfortable and not as easy as the "lose weight fast" scams would have you believe it to be. Your offer was kind, but undramatic - you offered no miracle cure other than the slow slog of making it work within the confines of unforgiving reality.

    Losing weight is not easy; neither is it glamorous. But it's worth doing, if your life depends on it. And it's do-able, if you're willing to work with reality.

    Thanks, Dr. F, for keeping us grounded. Happy New Year.

  10. Thanks for the nice words folks.

    In terms of how the young man did, I have no idea.

    His blog continued for a while and I believe he did reach his weight loss goal.

    What happened after that is anyone's guess.

    Happy New Year all!

  11. I love what you say "the best weight is when you are living the healthiest life" perfect! That is what I strive for too - and really have worked hard to eat whole organic foods whenever possible, drink lots of water, green tea and taking my Vidazorb which is a probiotic. I want to treat my body well and feel great and being healthy is far more important to me than a number on a scale. It is personal and I think we can all only do our best!

  12. I agree with anonymous at 11:50PM. It is important to keep offering help, even though you may get a negative response from someone. I don't think the e-mail was a bad idea. You had the best of intentions and I know you communicated it well, because your writing is very clear. Who knows. Maybe this guy will be struggling later and come to see you for help after all. It is risky to offer help to strangers, and this is one instance where the gamble did not pay off. I don't think this means you should stop trying. One day you might come across a blogger that truly needs and wants your help. If you hold back, you'll never know. Unfortunately, many details of communication are lost in e-mails, so it is even more difficult to offer honest help over the Internet. Especially when there is so much dishonesty on the Internet.