Here I was, all set to write my first substantial blog post in quite awhile and Diane at Fit to the Finish went and asked a question that started me writing and writing until I realized that I wanted to deal with the question in my own blog. So, voilà...here's the question and here are my thoughts on it!
Diane's blog post today is entitled "What Makes Them Different?". "They" are those weird people who just don't overeat. To quote Diane:
Perhaps you’ve known people like this, who in an eating situation can just say:I think that Diane said something really insightful when she then went on to say, "They seemed to possess an internal full signal on their food tank that I thought was missing in my body. I was rarely full enough to say no to food." This, I believe, is at the heart of what makes naturally slim or reasonably weighted (now that's a weird way of putting it!) people different from those who struggle with their weight.
“I’m going to pass on dessert because I’m full,” or may say, “No thanks, I’m done.” When I was obese I’d stare at them like they had lost their minds.
Naturally slim people ARE different from us. They do NOT have any more control or willpower than people who have trouble staying at a healthy weight. They have a completely different attitude towards food. For them, saying "no" is not an act of willpower or superhuman control. Here's an analogy to explain what I mean: When we look before crossing the road and see a car coming, our brain tells us "no" because we know that stepping out will get us hit by that car. There is no effort required. Any sane person would respect the "no" coming from their brain. For someone who has never had issues with food intake or weight control, it's the same thing. The normal "full" signal simply tells them to stop, not to cross over into the zone where they're eating more than they actually need. There's no special mental effort required, just as there's no special mental effort required in keeping your feet on the sidewalk when a car's coming.
Naturally slim or average weight people view food as food. It's not something wonderful and magical that must be seized and devoured at all costs. Yep, if the stuff tastes good and they're hungry, they'll eat it. But the minute their stomach presses the "full" signal, they have absolutely no more interest in it--no matter how tasty or beautiful the food is. Once the empty space has been filled, it is natural and normal for them to say no. What it is NOT is an act of will or willpower.
Babies know exactly when to say no to food. Any parent can clearly see in their mind's eye how an infant strongly and knowingly turns his or her head away from the breast or bottle the minute the full signal goes off. It's nigh impossible to poke or prod an infant into eating any more than what that baby "knows" in an absolutely primal way is enough.
Unfortunately, many of us lose this instinctive, basic knowledge as we grow up. And there are probably any number of reasons for this sad phenomenon.
Many weight loss bloggers come to the realization that they learned at an early age to use food to stuff down their emotions. Eating helps them to deal with difficult issues. However, that is not the case for all of us.
The fact that our Western world is full of easily available, cheap junk food might also play a certain role. Again, though, I don't think it explains everything.
The fact that as a society we move much less than before certainly plays a role. Most of us do work that is more sedentary than it ever would have been in the past. While many of our grandmothers washed laundry in a big pail, wrung it out and then hung it up to dry, we have washing machines and dryers that do everything but fold and put the clothes in the proper drawers. We have electric mixers instead of the old hand mixers, we have cars that take us door to door from home to work. We even send e-mails to our colleagues in the next cubicle rather than taking those 15 steps to go over and talk to them. We have to schedule time on the treadmill because we walk so little.
But above and beyond all these other factors, our collective loss of the ability to hear and respect the "full" signal is, to my mind, the most tragic because it puts all the responsibility for not overeating on the weakest link in the human psyche: saying "no" consciously.
Let me bring you back to my car analogy. The "no" that stops us from crossing the street springs from the primitive brain. Parents instinctively know to stop their children from running out into traffic. If the human race (or any other species) didn't possess that instinct, we wouldn't still be roaming (and destroying, in many cases) the earth. We instill that "no" into our children with a passion because we want them to survive.
However, there are many things that we can say "yes" to without perishing on the spot. Overeating is one of them. It's curious how we're born with a better instinct for not overeating (pulling away from the bottle or breast) than we are for self-preservation (running out into the traffic as a child) and that as we age, many of us lose the former and the vast majority of us gain the latter.
The pure "no" method of weight loss or weight maintenance is, for the most part, doomed to failure. In the short run, many people can say no. In the long run, most cannot say no constantly, consistently and unfailingly for the rest of their lives. If you ask someone who has never struggled with their weight how hard it is to say no to food, they will probably look at you as if you had just sprung another head. Their "no" is instinctive, ours is forced. Their "no" comes from the natural full signal that they feel so keenly. Our "no" comes from a rule book filled with points or calories or a list of "bad" foods.
Let me make one thing clear: If you count points or calories or have a strict list of banned foods and this works for you, MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU. Congratulations! You are amongst a very small and elite group. I'm not the one telling you this. We know statistically that the vast, vast majority of people who lose weight do not keep it off. MORE POWER TO YOU IF YOU ARE SUCCEEDING. If it works for you, DON'T CHANGE A THING!
But now that I've strayed really, really far, let me get back to Diane's question: what makes them different is that they have stayed babies. We have not. Sadly, getting back to that blessed baby state is perhaps just as hard as saying "no" forever. Personally, I think the babies have it right. However, it doesn't mean that I have found the holy grail. That's what we're all looking for.
What's your take on things?
P.S. Here is a picture of a "milk drunk" baby. Pure happiness.