I think everyone knows that our bodies store fat as a defense against starvation. When there is too little food, the metabolism slows down and fat is stored as much as possible. If it can’t be stored, then the body looks to other sources of fuel, such as muscle. As a very last resort, it will burn off fat reserves. We call that “dieting.”
When more food is available, rather than shutting down this system of fat storage and speeding up the metabolism, it continues to conserve fuel and store as much fat as possible.
I find this really interesting. We don’t have an automatic function that tells our body that everything is OK and to shed the stored fat. The fat-storing is automatic, but there is no way to notify the body that everything is fine. It just keeps preparing for the next starvation episode.
Of course, people who have never dieted or been through a famine haven’t ever turned on this fat-storing mode. I wondered if it is possible to return to this state. This was part of the reason I quit dieting. I wanted to see if it was possible to relax this drive to store fat, or even reverse it.
I made a few lifestyle changes. One was to try as much as possible to not be too hungry and not be too full. The book “The Seven Secrets of Slim People” gets credit for some of this idea. When I get hungry, I eat if at all possible. If I’m not hungry, I try to wait until I am. In order to have a fairly normal relationship with food, it’s important to eat enough to make it to the next meal, but not so much that the next mealtime arrives before the hunger.
My goal isn’t so much to lose weight, but to reassure my body that everything is fine. This has worked for the most part. When an occasion comes along where I do eat more than I need to, I have found that within a day or two my weight returns to where it was before. I think that this means the excess food was not stored as fat, which makes me hopeful.
In the past year, there have been three times when I have lost ten pounds. There were several months of maintenance between each. After three years of not dieting, I started walking to work. It’s about half a mile each way. The ten pounds came off slowly, and I don’t know why it stopped at ten. I’m still walking because there are so many other benefits.
My next lifestyle changes that prompted another ten-pound loss was to eat less processed food and to eat more slowly. By eating slowly, the idea is to not touch the next bite of food until the one in my mouth was chewed and swallowed. This means not digging the spoon or the fork into the food. It means not reaching for the next potato chip. You might be surprised at how much discipline this takes. I went through several cans of Pringle’s Potato Chips learning to do this. I also switched to brown rice, whole grain bread, whole wheat pasta, and many of those higher fiber, higher nutrition changes. This allowed me to slowly lose another ten pounds. Then my weight stabilized and stayed the same for several months. I still try to eat foods as close to their natural states as possible, when I can.
In the more recent drop of ten pounds, my son told me he wanted to be vegan. He showed me some documentaries, and I thought it sounded safe enough. I liked the part about it not being a religion, and if you make a mistake, you just go on. It’s not that you have failed, you just ate some animal-based food. I thought I would encourage him by doing it with him. At first, it was challenging, because I’m too cheap to throw food away, so I took all the cheese, milk, and sandwich meat to work and at them for lunch to keep the house vegan-ish. I still wore leather shoes. When the animal food was either eaten or given away and I seriously started eating beans, grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables, my whole digestive system kicked into high gear. It was a constant battle to not be hungry. Eventually it settled down to a more comfortable level. Over three months, I lost ten pounds. Even though I have returned to a less restricted menu, I still eat vegan now and then. The weight has stayed off, making it a total of 30 pounds for the year.
For the most part, I wouldn’t say that I have been dieting, but experimenting with my health from time to time. I think it’s interesting that these little ventures result in ten pounds lost, not more, not less. I’ve been maintaining for quite some time now, and every so often I try to think what I could do next, to tweak my lifestyle to be a little healthier and see another ten pounds go. The first ten happened over the holidays, so if I can think of something, I just might give it a try.