When I was a younger man, which is to say right up through my early 30s, my annual spring weight loss plan was painlessly simple. If I happened to indulge a bit too much in the delicious side of life each winter, which was usually inevitable given the minefield of holiday dinners and other food-centric gatherings, I’d dust off the old running shoes come March and hit the road. It seemed like 10 pounds would just effortlessly fall off in those days. Within a couple of weeks, I was back down to my ideal weight.
Alas, something happened along the way to 40. I now realize I took my youthful metabolism for granted, as each spring it gets increasingly difficult to shed that winter weight. And those 10 pounds? They’re more like 20 these days. What’s more, the ‘run it off’ plan doesn’t work the way it used to anymore.
Or does it? You’ve heard it said a million times that if you want to lose weight, just eat less and move more. But before you roll your eyes, perhaps you should do as I did and have an honest conversation with yourself, starting with the question, “Am I really taking care to control what I eat, and am I really getting enough exercise?”
The answer to both of these questions is usually “no.”
A couple of years ago, my winter weight gain was particularly alarming, as I had taken a culinary vacation to France and Italy. I came back from that gastronomic adventure on the wrong side of 200 pounds for the first time in my life. I’d always been a skinny– some say too skinny– 160-pound distance runner all through my teens, 20s and most of my 30s. Now I was still skinny, but with a distended belly like you used to see in those tear-jerker ‘feed the children’ TV commercials. And it wasn’t coming off. The 3-5 mile runs I used to do every morning to get back into shape were having little to no effect.
Then a friend told me that exercise was only half the battle. No, it was actually much less than half the battle. Eating right– both quality and quantity– were paramount, she said. If you have to choose between exercising and eating whatever you want and eating right and not exercising, she said, choose the latter.
Of course, you can always choose to both eat less (and healthier) and exercise daily. I set a goal of completing my first half marathon that spring too, just to have something to motivate me. And lo, by the time May rolled around, I’d dropped more than 15 pounds. By the time my race was looming, I’d lost more than 20.
I’ll never be that skinny 160-pound kid that used to run 4:40 miles in high school in college. But with honest self-reflection, followed by simple action– eating less and healthier, moving more every day, I was able to accomplish something that so many people my age seem to have great difficulty doing. I consider myself an extremely liberal guy, but there is definitely something to be said for the old conservative talking point about self control and personal responsibility.