Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Canadian Politicians go on Public Diet and Misinform Nation

Oy vey.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, and his City Councilman brother Doug, have gone on a very public diet. They've challenged other politicians and the general public to "Cut the Waist", and they've received a tremendous amount of media attention.

Yesterday was their first weigh-in.

The Mayor lost 10lbs in a week, and his brother Doug, 9.

What's their strategy?


More specifically according to this article,
"Running a lot, lifting weights and eating like a rabbit."
It's the classic diet plan. Under-eat and over-exercise and lose in a great big hurry.

Of course if that approach to weight management were useful, the world would be a much lighter place and I'd be doing something else for a living. I mean who hasn't tried that at least once? There'd also be a great many fewer gallbladders as weight loss that rapid markedly increases the risk of gallstone formation. We'd also be a heck of a lot weaker as rapid weight loss leads to disproportionate losses of muscle, which is why, when folks do go on extreme diets and lose rapidly, when they can no longer live a life of suffering and head back simply to their old lifestyles, they have a tendency to gain back more than they lost.

In this case the sadder story is the fact that their efforts are being broadcast to a nation, and rather than actually serve a valuable role models to a thoughtful and sustainable approach to healthy living, instead they're championing the same old stupidity that has plagued traumatic dieters for centuries.

Suffering. Willpower. Crazy amounts of sweat.  And I'm guessing their fair share of salads and grilled boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

I don't wish ill on their efforts, but if someone's taking book odds on their weights two years from now, if this is how they're planning on losing it, I'd like to put my money on heavier than day one of their challenge.

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  1. Great post, Yoni. Thanks for this.

  2. It's the "eating like a rabbit" part that bothers me...it doesn't have to be that way!

  3. When I saw this on the local news last night, you were the first person I thought of and wondered (hoped!) if you'd write about it. I was also hoping you'd contact them to help them see how they're setting themselves up for failure. Sadly, the Mayor and his brother's approach to weight loss is similar to their approach to cutting the budget: short term thinking (and pain) rather than trying for something sustainable.

  4. Anonymous9:05 am

    Machiavelli said, “Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.” Thank you for pointing out the difference.

  5. Diane9:34 am

    I totally agree!

  6. I liked food blogger Corey Mintz's take on the Ford's weight loss project along with his own experiences with weight loss/weight management. http://porkosity.blogspot.com/2012/01/diet-aka-skinny-hole-loses-weight-brags.html. He still uses the term daily austerity but it seems as though he's left plenty of room for enjoyment.

  7. I agree with you, Yoni, on many things in this article and others your write on maintenance. And I would bet with you that two years from now both these guys will be bigger than they are now, but it's not that they cannot handle a life of "suffering" and, hence, return to their "old ways." I see a nuance in this process that I'd like to explain. It's important.

    Speaking from the trenches, and not a medical position, what I see are people who are earnest, committed to longstyle lifestyle changes (they think this time something has clicked and they're ready to change for good, honestly). They may not even use the language of suffering. They diet, just like the magazines and TV programs tell them, and it's challenging at first, but once a little weight loss happens, they embrace their diets and find them fun and energizing! They become "inspirational" and spout advice. It's great! They lose lots of weight (the crowds go wild), then, following the common wisdom, they adopt a "maintenance program," which, in fact, is a modified lifestyle from their earlier days, often much more restricted than the lifestyles of their family and friends.

    BUT, dammit, it fails them.

    Their weight slides, slides ever upward. They tell people that their bodies are probably just adjusting and will stop at some "right weight" for them. But their bodies don't stop, because their bodies are changed by dieting. Muscle mass is depleted. Hormones are out of whack. These people may continue on this modified program until they slide all the way back to their original weight. Which is discouraging. There they stand, betrayed, holding a salad fork with a cucumber slice on it, when before at this weight that fork had a bite of cobbler.

    It is only then, after they are failed by the mythology, that they may accept defeat and return to their "old ways." (Really, people are that stubborn and disciplined. It takes that much to get them to give up.) And since their mucscle mass is depleted and their endocrine profile is also awry, more "efficient" at calorie storage and creating impulses to eat, they gain additional pounds from their starting weight.

    That's one of the ugly elephants in this weight myth room: the idea that "Maintenance" is some lesser challenge than weight loss. You and I agree on this, but the nuance, I believe, is important because it takes the blame out of diet failure. When you say people adopt suffering, you're accusing them of being ignorant, in so many words, when they see themselves as being "healthy." When you simplify the process with the words: "they head back simply to their old lifestyles," you're indicating that they're less observant or weaker willed than they really are, and they believe you, because, hey, proof is in the pudding -- they regained. So (and here's why the nuance is important) they may go on medical AWOL, hide in shame. They dieted and failed, and they don't want their doctors to know and be as disappointed in them as they are in themselves. That's a secondary health crisis.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment Debra.

  8. I'd recommend that the Ford boys pick up a copy of Dr. David Kessler's excellent book called 'The End of Overeating'.

    "Eating like a rabbit" is a surefire recipe for feeling deprived and beginning the infamous yo-yo dieting cycle so familiar to so many of us.

    A better role model might be those folks who have successfully lost weight and maintained their weight loss over time, like the thousands listed in the U.S. National Weight Control Registry. More on this at: "Heart-healthy Weight: Secrets of the Always-Slim" at http://myheartsisters.org/2011/06/22/secrets-of-thin-people/

  9. Adrian1:07 pm

    As someone who's interested in, but doesn't properly understand this stuff, I'd be much appreciative if you could post some information on how this sort of very rapid weight loss is even possible, Yoni. Surely it’s not fat he’s losing?

    My understanding is that someone like Rob Ford (5 foot 10; 330 pounds) needs roughly 4000 (food) calories a day to support a sedentary lifestyle, or 28000 or so in a week (lets round up to 30000 to keep the maths simple).

    Also, as far as I can make out from reading the Compendium of Physical Activities, exercise doesn’t increase your energy needs by as much as many people would expect. If Ford ran for 5 miles a day, 7 days a week (and I don't think he could do anything like that much in reality -- it'd make just about any novice runner break down with an injury within days), his energy needs would go up by roughly 6000 calories a week.

    10 pounds of fat contains about 40500 calories of energy. So even "running a lot, lifting weights and eating like a rabbit." won’t give him the energy deficit to generate that sort of weight loss.

    So what's in that 10 pounds in a week? Does muscle loss happen that quickly? Or, is there likely to be a big wack of water loss and temporary dehydration there as well?

    1. Chances are that he's lowered his calories or his carbs sufficiently to impact upon his glycogen stores.

      Lose your glycogen stores and you'll also lose in the neighbourhood of 7-12lbs of water.

  10. Louisa3:06 pm

    When I started my own weight loss (slowly and, I think, properly), I lost a lot of weight in the first couple weeks from water loss. Once I rehydrated properly, I started on a steadier course (avg 5 lbs/month... told you it was slow!). I would be more impressed if the Fords had started out with a small loss that is realistic to repeat every week. In any case, I wish them success as I know how hard it is to do this long-term, and I hope they use their positions of influence to publicize good habits, not just the torture technique.

  11. These "shock-and-awe" weight loss programs are always so ridiculous- whether it's politicians, celebrities' post-baby weight, or the contestants on shows like "The Biggest Loser", it puts up this rapid weight loss as evidence of self control and moral righteousness in the individuals suffering this treatment. It also puts the numbers on the scale as the most important aspect- as if health isn't more than just a number!

    This is just a contrast to believing that being overweight is a result of moral corruption- by losing weight quickly we turn these people into "heros" and sources of inspiration, when really they are starting an unsustainable crash diet that could start a cycle of yo-yo dieting and an unhealthy relationship with their bodies. If people cheer when we lose weight, what does that mean when we gain it? These challenges should focus on health, overall and sustainable, but I guess that isn't as dramatic as showing numbers...