Scaling Back

Why are the tastiest and most irresistible foods the ones that make you fat?  This fact is the most persuasive evidence I have yet found for the proposition that life is not fair.

With 2013 lurking just around the bend, we are amidst the season of New Year’s resolutions, when roughly half of America vows to lose weight, just as soon as those last Christmas cookies have been dusted off.

On the matter of going on a diet, I know from what I speak.  Two years ago, on the first of January 2011, I resolved to lose 20 pounds before the year was out.  It took me all of three months to accomplish my goal, and I would go on to shed 10 additional pounds by Christmas.  I have kept most of it off ever since.

What is my secret?

As my fellow success stories will affirm, the secret to losing weight is that there isn’t one.  The unfairness of America’s collective waistline problem—fatty food is delicious—is partly redeemed by the simplicity of the solution.

The fact is, we know exactly what it takes to slim ourselves down, and we’ve known it for a very long time.  It’s what every weight loss guru recommends, and it never fails:  If you consume fewer calories than you burn over the course of a day, you will lose weight.  Period, full stop.

As a person who does not believe in divine intervention and puts in all his chips with the wonders of science, I take great comfort and encouragement in this equation—knowing, for instance, that if I eat one too many brownies today, I can get myself squarely back on track by eating one fewer brownie tomorrow.

Like Einstein said, the miracle is that there aren’t any miracles.  The universe operates exactly as we expect it to.  What is more awe-inspiring than that?

It is precisely because the answer to losing weight is so simple that the enormity of America’s obesity epidemic is so very interesting indeed.

The real trick as to how I managed to drop 30 pounds—you didn’t ask, but I’ll tell you anyway—is self-control and self-discipline.

So far as I can tell, America’s entire dieting and weight loss industry is based—and, indeed, depends—on the fact that most people (myself included) do not possess such skills most of the time.  If they did, they would not require the elaborate system of rules and strategies for dealing with food that our culture’s myriad diet plans offer.

During the time that I took losing weight seriously, I was never on any kind of “system” other than the one I devised for myself, which I essentially made up as I went along, and which was based on a much more limited knowledge of nutrition than I possess today.  It worked because I was determined to make it work.  There is little more to it than that.

Admittedly, the conclusion I seem to have backed into—that people who struggle with dieting are simply not “wanting” it enough—does rather make me want to punch myself in the face.

Losing weight effectively is not an easy trick to pull off, and I do not mean to imply to the contrary.  Temptation, the fundamental hurtle, is an affliction that science cannot easily cure, must ever be kept in check and never completely goes away.

What active dieting taught me—and still teaches me today—is a variation of the great line from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, “The only causes worth fighting for are the lost causes.”

Losing weight, and keeping it off, is hard, and that’s just as well.  If it were easy, it would not be such a great national obsession, would not be such a worthy personal challenge, and would not be so much fun.

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