Sunday, July 4, 2010


I am sorry about skipping days of posting. I got too sick, first allergies and then laryngitis and bronchial issues as complications to the allergies. This seems an ordinary experience in my life these days. My illness saps my energy beyond endurance and all I do next is what I must. I lost one day of work is all but my private life went to bed.

What follows is a post on obesity and diets. It seems it is part of a book that Dale Favier is writing, according to the post. Dale is a Massage Therapist (among other activities, including writing poetry that often reaches world class in my opinion). You could do worse than following his blog of many years: mole

I am so in agreement with his vision of obesity and diet that I am reposting it here. I asked Dale and he gave me permission.

I have had my own experiences with this diet thing and they seem to parallel Dale's. What is irritating about diet is that there are people who can successfully diet. There are people who can play their body like actors need to and blimp up for one part and slim down for another. That these people exist, that's like the people who claim because positive thinking works for them it works for all. Unlike Dale, I was overweight, hovered there for years, but am now obese. I feel like that happened out of one too many diets, the last one I undertook for really wrong reasons. I hate being this heavy but I hate trying and failing more. I have never been successful for more than a year, though I have had that year long success three times. My last attempt lasted maybe six months. Instead of fifty pounds or so like my best attempts, I lost only twenty. Now I need to lose a hundred.

The only time in my life that I waw actually slender while living a life not worrying about eating, I was thoroughly stoned all day most days. I was overweight as a child. In my young adulthood I was slender, but a dope fiend for over six years. Being a drunk did not work the same at all.

Everything is statistical when it comes to this stuff. The most common alcoholic has related emotional troubles, but not all do. The most common overeater also has related emotional troubles, but not all do. These two groups overlap but are not identical. Related emotional troubles are not necessarily causative even though they are associated. The brilliance of AA's analysis is that the resolution of the path to sobriety in part involves emotional cleansing, even though as a causative agent AA never accuses the emotional life. Some members think so about themselves, but AA says we like the effect produced by alcohol, not what that effect is.

AA says the will fails. That's what Dale says here about overeating and it is surely why I agree. Dale says there is a failure somewhere in the body's systems. Yes.

Dale writes:

Here is a simple set of four points summarizing the prevailing theory of why people get fat:

1) Human beings, having evolved in feast-or-famine conditions, are designed to store excess food as adipose tissue, which their bodies then consume to keep them alive when they don't have enough food.

2) By a simple exertion of will, such as that by which a person can make their bed each morning, a person can simply decide not to eat as much as they want.

3) Some people simply will not make the effort. These people get fat.

4) It doesn't matter what they eat. It's simple arithmetic: if you eat more calories than you expend, you get fatter; if you expend more calories than you eat, you get thinner.

I grew up believing these to be true. They are not abstruse propositions, nor are they particularly difficult to verify or disprove. In fact they are all false, and have been proven to be false: but their hold on the public consciousness is tenacious. Here are some contrary propositions:

1) Human beings don't “bank” calories, or not much. Fat people don't starve much more slowly than skinny people. When the body lays in excessive adipose tissue, it's because the endocrine system is malfunctioning.

2) People have no long-term control over how many calories they consume, just as they have no long-term control over how much oxygen they consume. The cerebral cortex can override the rest of the brain temporarily, but not permanently. The amount we eat is no more under our voluntary control than breathing is. If we found that people were taking in more oxygen than was good for them, we could tell them they ought to breathe less. We'd get results similar to the results we have gotten by telling them to eat less.

3) Some people have vulnerable endocrine systems. The homeostatic processes break down in these people, under certain environmental pressures, and they get fat. Some people do not have this vulnerability, and they do not get fat. There is no observable difference in the amount of will power between the two groups. Normal weight people, of course, think that their conscious decisions determine their weight, for the same reason that normal people confronted with lights that randomly switch on and off, and a switch that is disconnected from these lights, think that their flipping of the switch influences whether the lights come on and off. If there is supposed to be a causal connection between random events, people will perceive it.

4) It is indeed true that if you eat more calories than you expend, you will get fatter, and if you eat fewer, you will get thinner. But since the regulation of calorie intake is not under the long-term control of the cerebral cortex, this is not really useful information for someone who wants to lose weight. Human beings in general cannot, or will not (at the public health level, it doesn't matter which), regulate their calorie intake. If we can't change how much our bodies want to eat, we can't lose weight. We can torment ourselves, and struggle heroically, and lose weight for weeks or even months at a time, but in the end we will be fatter than ever.

I have arrived at these conclusions after a lot of reading and a lot of observation. I believe the second theory fits the observable facts much better than the first theory. The motivation for fat people to lose weight is overwhelming. They are led to believe (far more than is true, actually) that their health, their love lives, their sex lives, their careers – basically, their whole happiness – is at stake. If these motives don't suffice, it's hard to see what motives would. Far the simplest explanation for why people don't restrict their calorie intake, is because they can't.

The tantalizing thing is that diet obviously does affect weight. People can, to some extent, change their eating habits, and they do. They can induce great see-saw swings in the amount of fat they carry. What they can't seem to do is the one thing they want to do: lose fat and keep it off.

Some time ago I read quite a bit about weight loss, and I was startled by how little real science had been done. The real scientists considered the problem solved – people simply had to eat less: if they didn't, that was their own problem, not the scientists'. The field was left largely to hacks, who proposed diet after diet, claimed great success rates, and who rose and fell like the tides.

What the pop diet people understood – the solution they were groping for – was that there might be some kind of diet that would make people less hungry, some way of eating or thinking about eating that would solve the real problem. The real problem being that our bodies think they need more food than they do.

I believe this problem has now been partly solved: the single thing in the diet that most confuses our bodies are refined carbohydrates. Sugar and corn syrup, especially in liquid forms – the obvious and glaring culprits being soft drinks, fruit juices, “sport drinks,” and beer, which deliver incredible amounts of sugars virtually direct to the bloodstream – are the worst. After that come all the starches: the potatoes, and the overrefined grains: white flour, white rice, pasta. Nothing in our evolutionary history prepares us for these foods, and for some people – but not for others – they wreak havoc on the endocrine system.

Exactly how or when this damage is done, we really don't know. Some of it is observably “real time”: when I've been in a phase of eating lots of sugar and carbs, I am hungry virtually all the time, often savagely, ferociously hungry. But some of the damage may be done before birth, or in infancy. Some of it may be irreversible. And some of it may not be dietary at all.

I've done a lot of experimenting with diet and eating: I've become interested both objectively – interested in the science of it – and interested, as someone who practices meditation and introspection, in the mental processes involved. I've been overweight all my life – according to the usual (totally unscientifically arrived at) standards, by thirty to seventy pounds: that is, I tend to waver right around that magic line between “overweight” and “obese.” I have been as motivated as anyone else to lose that weight, and tried as many things as anyone else, and failed as miserably as everyone else. My knowledge of diet and nutrition is not that of an expert, but that of a well-read amateur. Likewise my knowledge of brain science. The only expertise I can claim is that of introspection. I have observed very closely what happens in my consciousness as I overeat, or do not overeat. It's fascinating and humbling to actually watch one's will crumble.

Will. It's an interesting concept, largely unexplored in the West, except among people who have a special interest in it: addicts and contemplatives, who are daily brought up against the fact that it doesn't work at all as advertised. We of all people know that will power is a very finite commodity, which has to be deployed with exquisite care. We can't afford the luxury of believing the cerebral cortex always controls our behavior: we know – by dint of repeated excruciating failure – that it does not.

I am writing this as part of an experiment. I already know that I am incapable of restricting my calorie intake. Whether this “should” be true is a question that I will leave to theologians, or anyone who thinks it is a meaningful question. That it is true, I have discovered empirically by repeated experiment, and I'm not interested in running any more (emotionally painful, if not devastating) experiments on that question.

My present experiment is to see if I can change what I eat (not the amounts, but the kinds of things), permanently. I am hoping, of course, that I can. And I am hoping that if I do, I will lose weight. But really at this point I am motivated more by curiosity and irritation than by hope. I'm ready to be done with this whole sorry business. If I can change what I eat, and maintain that change for six months, I will declare the experiment a success, regardless of whether my weight changes much. If I can't, I'll declare it a failure. This is not an experiment in diet so much as an experiment in will. My hypothesis is that if I deploy my will power carefully, at the points of maximum leverage, I can change my diet from one that makes me obese, to one that makes me merely overweight.


  1. Oh Christopher! How many pounds have I lost and gained, all to swallow or vomit a feeling that lies within me undigested? Are we at fault here, or can we forgive each other the pounds of protection? I forgive you Christopher. I understand, as I am able. Have lived in the battle, under a different flag.

  2. I hear you. I accept. I pass it on as best I can. All this knowing that your undigested feelings are opportunistic of deeper challenges yet. Challenges in feelings marry up with the other pressures and collect together even though if you did not have those feelings you would still overeat or not, depending. And even if you did not overeat or not, you would still have those feelings. Neither cause the other in so many cases.

    You may be among the group of people where this connection really is causative, but it is not so for many of us. As for me, I think food masks for challenges of spirit just as my alcohol did but really what is revealed as with my allergies, I do not fit well in this world.

    I would never have made it out of infancy had I been born much earlier than 1945. That is simply true. I witheld from the gene pool for precisely that reason, not wanting to pass on the life that allergies and asthma gave to me to some other innocent kid, far too much punishment of innocence.

  3. "I think food masks for challenges of spirit."

    This is me. Oh, how this is me.

    And so even now, relatively thinking, I grab fistfuls of chocolate for breakfast, gummies for lunch, and you don't wanna know for dinner...The only way that I've lost weight, as I am quite stubborn, is to have mostly given up full dinners. Instead, I'll eat a plate of vegetables and yet refuse to banish the naughty food from my list. If I eat balanced, I eat balanced plus the naughty food. Now I eat naughty plus vegetables, throw in a bit of cottage cheese and periodically some protein.

    And too, I have learned that you can teach an older body new(ish) tricks. I started walking - ALOT - and now I even make this thing run sometimes, despite the pain that follows in my back for a couple days after. It's kinda a lump and go approach but I am now maintaining my weight of fifteen years ago or so. Not so bad, but I am aware of it every day. My spunky spirit refuses to lay down my will with junk food, though. It would take something very large to stop me. I do these things, I beg for destruction before I change. Not so healthy, I suppose, but it is my nature. I agree with you, the will is a powerful thing.

    Go for as many fruits and vegetables as you want. Keep them well stocked. Eat a whole plate of brussel sprouts for dinner. YUM! Talk vegetables with someone. It might sound stupid, but when I got turned onto vegetables I was excited by what my friend was eating and I was eager to share what I had. And then down a handful of gummies. You'll see...and find pleasure in using your body. Walk with music. Sing out loud. Ignore those who watch, unless they're watching with a smile.

    much love Christopher
    this is one case where size doesn't matter


  4. I think it is wonderful that you have found something that is working. The trick will be can you keep it up? Is it something that you have found your pace with? Will it still be working this time next year? Will you have another plan if it stops?

    I found out that I could, probably still can succeed with a plan of exercise, low carbs and zero refined sugar. Fifty pounds and better. I have no alternate plan. I have made it work three times, something like a year. Big salads, other vegetables. Great meat. Minimal pasta and breads. No fruits because they refer to sugar, not a good idea at all. I get the pace and then somewhere after the year my body is so full of rage at the discipline that I can't hold against it.

    I don't mean that I treat other people mean, I just can't do it anymore, really need donuts or something beyond all endurance, just the end of it. Once I start eating sugar it's all over.

    I have tried adding occasional fruit, but that's only good for about twenty five pounds before I cave.

  5. This is quite the post. As you have seen my body. I can not tell you why i am slim, on the skinny side. Except for a few years, where i was actually voluptuous :), i have always been slim. And i agree that it has nothing to do with food, excercise, or has an emotional aspect. Although i appear to have a 'healthy' lifestyle, i know that is not it. I have the least will power, you can imagine. I love to lay around.
    There is one thing though that i notice, when i see 'bigger' people, they always seem to be more relaxed, less nervous or jumpy, they move less when doing things that don't need movement, then i do, which is totally involuntairy. I do feel for you who have to go that path, and when you find the answer, i would love to know, because i have my own issues where it seems i lack will power to make a change.
    Saying all that i do believe in positive thinking, it makes me feel good about who i am.

    love, jozien

  6. Sorry you'vre felt so rough, Christopher, sounds miserable.

    I found Dale's post interesting and your addtional observations and those here in the comments too. Thanks.

  7. Jozien, I have heard that before. Some slender people feel too thin, are too thin even. Slender people are out there, like you, who do not worry in the least about overeating, apparently never gain weight much no matter what they do.

    All this does not negate the simple fact that eating too much adds weight. I presume that you could "stuff the goose" even with thin people. It wouldn't be eating anymore, but something else. That leads to a syndrome or two that may come out of this...

    Not that eating doesn't lead to overweight but that eating at that level is secondary, a measure of distress in a much smaller part of the overweight community, just as those who deliberately use their allergies to affectively avoid engagement with the world are a smaller group of allergy sufferers.

    I remember making a conscious decision before I got over pet dander allergies that I was going to have pets. This was as a young boy. Choosing a lifestyle in defiance of allergies is self destructive, or at least is when you suffer at my level as it was then. Overeating can be like that, a more or less deliberate use of a debility that exists anyway. Then it's "stuffing the goose".

    Lucy, our friend Dale is quite something. Thank you for suggesting him to me when you did.


The chicken crossed the road. That's poultry in motion.

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