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The Oprah Paradox – Why is Losing Weight So Hard, Even For Oprah?
You’re More Like Oprah than You Think
Oprah Winfrey is a billionaire. She runs many businesses. She manages hundreds of people. She has hosted a daily talk show since 1986. And she is a well respected role model and inspiration to millions. Over the years we’ve all witnessed Oprah’s painfully public weight battles. Yet by almost every measure she is more disciplined and more accomplished than most of us even dream of becoming.
If, as many people think, being overweight is simply a lack of discipline, then how can Oprah be overweight? It’s not possible. Reaching Oprah’s level of success requires almost unimaginable levels of discipline and dedication, yet even she finds it hard to maintain her weight. This is the Oprah Paradox.
I have to think Oprah has thoughts like this in her own mind. She has to wonder with all that she has accomplished, why can’t she keep the weight off. Perhaps you have the same thoughts about yourself too. But please consider this…
People who run billion dollar corporations are overweight. People who run countries are overweight. People who make revolutionary scientific discoveries are overweight. People who create and carry out the most intricate plans are overweight. Are all these people suddenly weak when it comes to food?
Let’s take a look at your life. Do you get up and go to work? Are you competent at your job? Did you make it through school? Have you experienced and overcome tragedy in your life? Do you manage a mortgage or rent? Are you raising a family? Are your kids clothed, fed and going to school? Are you saving a little for retirement? Have you maintained a long term relationship? Did you stop yourself from hitting that jerk who cut in front of you in the grocery line the other day?
You probably answered “yes” to at least a few of these questions. So, if you look at your life you will find overwhelming evidence that you are a capable and competent person. Although you may not be perfect, all the stuff you do in your life is actually quite remarkable. Think about this a bit. Don’t take it for granted. Think about all your amazing abilities and accomplishments.
You don’t sound like a weak person to me. Just the opposite. Yet we are supposed to accept that in the area of food, people suddenly break down and turn into incompetent weak-willed wretches who couldn’t put a fork down to save their lives. I don’t think so.
There must be more to overeating than weakness. Think how amazingly disciplined, strong, and capable you are in most every other aspect of your life. The fact that you have problems with food means that deeper issues must hide under the surface. The fact that the majority of people in the world will have weight problems points to a deeper problem than mere human weakness. Being overweight is not easily explained as simply a breakdown in willpower or discipline.
So please keep the following ideas in the back of your mind as you read on: maybe, just maybe, discipline and willpower aren’t the real issues behind being overweight; maybe, just maybe, something deeper and more profound is going on and once you understand what that is you can start controlling your weight.
Just Eat Less and Exercise More-Gee, Thanks
Thin people often used to tell me, in that tone thin people have when they are about to reveal the secret of losing weight, “Hey, just eat less and exercise more. It’s that simple.”
Gee, how helpful. I’ve never thought of that. Thanks for sharing. Losing weight has never been just that simple for me! Has it ever been that simple for you? I didn’t think so.
On the surface, that old favorite recipe of “eat less and exercise more” can’t be argued against. If you can “eat less and exercise more” you will lose weight. But there’s more to the story.
A thin person telling you to “eat less and exercise more” is a lot like world class sprinters telling you to just “run faster” if you want to be like them. You see, Olympic sprinters have more fast-twitch muscle fibers than your average person. These just happen to be the type of muscle fibers you need to run faster. If you want to be a sprinter having more fast-twitch fibers is a good plan. But you can’t plan it-your muscle fiber allowance is part of your genetic gift. It’s something you are born with.
Olympic sprinters work amazingly hard, but they couldn’t be world class if they didn’t have the right genes. The same can be said for world class swimmers, weight lifters, and marathon runners. Almost every sport has an optimal body type.
You and I can become faster, but it’s not likely we could we ever be world class. But each of us could become as fast as it is possible for us to become by working hard, by working smart, and by creating an encouraging environment.
Now ask yourself this: what if being thin is like being a world class sprinter? What if people who are naturally thin are that way because their genes make it easier for them to eat less and exercise more? If that were true, then we could figure out what caused the genetically less gifted to have such a hard time eating less and exercising more. And once we understood the causes of the problems we could then figure out how to fix them.
That’s exactly what this book does. It explores the causes of why losing weight is so hard and then uses that information to figure out how you can control your weight. You may not be able to become a world class sprinter, but you can learn how to be as lean and strong as possible, given who you are and where you are in your life.
Society is Wrong About You
My repeated weight loss failures made me doubt myself. I’ve had a few accomplishments in my life. Nothing major, certainly not like Oprah, but I am no slacker either. That probably describes most of us.
In our search for someone to blame for our weight problems, many of us have at one time or another fallen into the popular, yet wrong answer of telling ourselves: I am weak. I am a bad person. If I was only stronger and better and had more willpower, then I’d be thin.
This is what society thinks about us overweight people. This is what we overweight people are told over and over again. We are bad. We are weak. We are unworthy.
There’s more to being overweight than personal weakness. After reading this book, you too will understand:
Society is wrong about you. You are not weak. You are not bad. You are not unworthy. You can lose weight once you really understand why Mother Nature has purposefully made losing weight so hard for you. With this knowledge, you can then create your personal plan for losing weight and staying on your diet for the rest of your life.
Being Overweight is Not All Your Fault
Here is a secret you probably already suspect and intuitively know down deep in your heart: your hunger is real. Your hunger is not a figment of your imagination and this means being overweight isn’t entirely your fault.
Recent research has shown obesity is not a failure of character or willpower. Obesity grows from your biological drive to eat. It’s part of your nature as an individual, as a human being, and it’s also part of the nature of our modern world.
Hunger is a drive, like breathing and other processes your body automatically performs for you. It turns out you have less direct control over your own weight than you think, because weight is controlled subconsciously through multiple body, mind and environmental systems. Later in the book, we’ll learn more about all these possible dangers and how you can protect yourself from them.
Yet even given your powerful biological derive to eat, your willpower is much stronger than you think. And in fact, only a few slip-ups a day may be the cause of most of your weight problems.
Your Willpower is Better Than You Think
People just assume that because they are overweight their willpower must be horrible. You might be surprised to learn your willpower is actually pretty good.
Consider this: 200 extra calories a day, one lousy extra soda or candy bar a day, can make you gain 20 pounds a year. Now imagine what happens when slip-ups add up over the years. Obesity is what happens. That’s all it takes to edge into obesity: just one slip-up a day.
Why do you slip up? The threats. Threats are what I call the forces that cause you to slip-up and sabotage your diet. Over sixty different threats are covered in this book. With all the threats working against you, one slip-up a day is very, very easy.
Some Common Threats to Your Diet
Here are just a few of the more interesting threats:
- Obesity is about as genetically determined as your height. Most genetic contributions to obesity make you hungrier.
- Weight loss triggers your body to gain all your weight back with a vengeance. That’s why 95% of people gain back all the weight they lose.
- Junk food acts like a potent drug in your body.
- You may be wired to feel more pleasure from food and become more easily addicted to food
- Some people have more taste buds than average and these people are thinner than people with fewer taste buds!
- You unconsciously eat a lot more when food is closer to you or when it’s served from big containers.
- You’ll eat more even if the food tastes horrible!
- You eat more from a bigger plate. Standard plates are now 50% larger than they were in the past. Simply choose a smaller plate and you’ll eat less.
- Sleeping too little doubles your obesity risk.
- Exercise isn’t a drive. You naturally want to rest. Yet some people are naturally more active and these people are thinner.
- A highly contagious virus may cause some obesity. It was discovered at about the time obesity started rising.
- Bacteria in your stomach may cause weight gain by more efficiently extracting calories from food.
- Air conditioning may cause you to burn fewer calories because you don’t need to maintain your own body temperature. Air conditioning became widespread about the time obesity started rising.
Threats like these constantly threaten to sabotage your diet, making you fall off your diet time and time again. You are not consciously aware of most of the threats, which makes them doubly dangerous.
Understanding the threats will help you overcome common misconceptions about controlling your weight that may be holding you back.
We’ve always been told, for example, a calorie is a calorie, so it doesn’t matter what you eat. Not true. A calorie from trans fats will turn to fat quicker than from other sources. A calorie from fructose keeps you hungry so you eat more.
Another misconception is all you need to.do is eat less. Not true. You can actually eat more food with fewer calories and lose weight, if you know the secret behind volumetric eating.
The equally common saying: all you need to do is exercise more, isn’t right either. Food has more calories than exercise burns.
Some well meaning people will tell you to just listen to your body, it knows how much to eat.This may be true for some people, but for people prone to obesity their body tells them to eat, eat, and eat some more. Your body wants you to eat so you can reproduce and survive. It’s not at all concerned about health consequences or how you look.
Neither do you eat to make up for calories you’ve burned. You eat because food is available and it tastes good. Your body isn’t doing calculations like “you just burned 100 calories walking up five flights of stairs so let’s eat an apple now to get those calories back.”
And you don’t select foods based on the nutrients you need either. Your body tries to make you eat a variety of foods so you’ll get all the nutrients you need.
Many people have a hard time understanding that it’s hard for you to lose weight because they think everyone is the same. Not so. Your genetics, environment, and strengths and weaknesses are different than anyone else. We may all look similar on the outside, but everyone is different in so many ways. All these differences impact how easy or hard it is for you to control your weight.
When I think of all the threats and misconceptions, I am left with the feeling of amazement. Who would have dreamed the world of weight loss was so bizarre? We humans are more complicated than I ever imagined. This means you can’t explain someone’s obesity by saying they are lazy and have no willpower. After reading about the threats, you’ll probably think to yourself, “Ah, that’s why losing weight and staying on a diet are so hard!”
How Do You Defeat the Threats?
You defeat the threats using the strategies presented in this book and by applying the Designer Way principles. Strategies are how you overcome the threats. If you can find ways of preventing slip-ups then you can control your weight. That’s what the strategies help you do, prevent the slip-ups caused by the threats. The principles are powerful ideas for helping you make the best use of the strategies. We’ll talk a lot more about threats, strategies, and principles in later chapters.
Considering all the forces trying to spin your diet out of control, you do a pretty job good of controlling your weight. You really do. Don’t be so surprised! But to do even better, you can’t depend on motivation.
Motivation is Not Enough
Some say you’ll lose weight if you are really motivated, no matter what. People do lose weight, so motivation can work in the short run, but most people gain the weight right back. Think about how many people, through motivation alone, will never slip-up once in their entire life, once in a year, once in a week, or even once a day? Answer honestly now.
Very few people can sustain enough motivation to stay on a diet every waking moment of their lives. That’s not a knock on people. Very few people have the motivation and discipline to become world class athletes either.
That’s why the strategies in this book do not assume constant motivation and total control for success. You must learn how to control your weight without depending on motivation. Motivation is not enough because of the immense power food has over you.
Food is Different from Everything Else-Food Has Power
We’ve talked about how people who show incredible discipline in every other area of their life somehow fail when it comes to food. What makes food so different?
Food is different for a reason that should be obvious, but was still surprising to me: food is the most important thing in your life, because food is essential to survival.
Get lost in the woods for a few weeks and you won’t worry about sex, your stock portfolio, or how you look. You’ll worry about food and how to get more of it. Food is almost all you’ll think about.
Tasty food reaches deep into your brain and makes you want to eat with a real and true hunger. Food has power. The unlimited quantities of fatty high-calorie and sugary foods available in our modern world are a constant threat to make us slip up and gain weight. If you are prone to obesity, you will often find yourself eating more than you want and exercising less than you think you should.
Eating isn’t something you decide to do. Eating is a powerful drive. Eating is raw survival and your brain wants you to survive above all else.
The Problem: You May be Playing the Wrong Diet Game
For a moment, let’s think of your diet as a kind of game. What I have found in my research is that you are probably playing the wrong diet game. It’s likely you are playing the lose weight game instead of the stay on a diet game, while your body plays a completely different game called the survival game.
Most People Won’t Win the Lose Weight Game
Most of us have been playing the lose weight game without much success. I know that every time I lost weight it always found me again!
This is why the lose weight game isn’t the one you need to play. Up to 95% of all dieters gain back every pound they lose. And 65% of all Americans are overweight and the trend is up, especially for children.
You Need to Play the Stay on a Diet Game
A recent study showed most diets are about equally effective at losing weight. The problem is most people can’t stay on their diet. Dieting is not enough as Dr. James O. Hill, director for the Center for Human Nutrition said, “The popular plans only help you with weight loss. They don’t help you with keeping it off, and that’s where the real issue is.”
Not playing the stay on a diet game prevents you from maintaining your weight loss goals. It is so hard because your body is playing the toughest game of all: the survival game.
Your Body is Playing the Survival Game
Everything difficult about controlling your weight makes complete sense once you understand the life humans lived 25,000 years ago.
In our prosperous modern world, survival is not the game most of us are playing, but your body doesn’t know that. Your body still drives you to eat like a famine might lurk right around the corner-though it’s far more likely there’s a fast food joint.
I had always thought of my drive to eat as something unreal. I had always thought wanting to eat was just a figment of my imagination, something I made up, like a bad dream. I had always thought my drive to eat was a weakness of my own character, something I should be able to overcome.
But what I learned in my research is that eating has a real purpose other than making me fat. There’s a bigger picture I wasn’t seeing. I had never truly understood the deeper purpose of eating before.
Finding Food is Job #1 for Your Brain
We humans are excellent at gaining weight. It takes a lot of training to become a world class sprinter, yet most people can become overweight with absolutely no training at all! It’s a natural skill we have.
The problem is, your rational mind isn’t totally in charge of natural skills. No one has a calorie calculator constantly running in their head. After eating a handful of berries, you don’t say, “I just consumed 100 calories, I need 1,900 more calories today or I’ll starve.” That’s not how it works. Your brain tells you you’re hungry and then you eat.
You don’t have “drink water” or “go to the bathroom” calculators either. These too are basic and ancient survival drives.
So, the drive to eat isn’t under your direct control. Can you imagine if it was? Think about all the tasks you are supposed to remember to do. How many times have you forgotten to take out the garbage, pay the bills, or pick up a gallon of milk on the way home from work? Nothing really bad happens if you forget any of these. Forgetting to eat means death. That’s why eating has to be a drive.
Your brain cleverly anticipates what you need to do now, so you won’t have problems in the future. And your feelings of hunger are how you know what you’re supposed to do: eat. The number one job of your brain is to find food and eat, so you can survive.
Mother Nature made us into highly skilled weight gaining machines so we could survive a hostile world. She developed dozens of ways to get you hungry enough that you’ll get off your butt and risk death to get enough food to eat. It’s only after you have enough food that you will survive long enough to make babies and ensure your genes survive into another generation. Wise old Mother Nature wants her children to reproduce and survive.
Scientific research has found that we modern humans are in an epic struggle with our ancient hunter-gatherer selves. We are losing an unconscious and hidden war with our bodies. We are ancient, highly tuned survival machines thrust into a modern world of plenty where every instinct drives us to obesity. We simply don’t fit the modern world.
This mismatch happens because nowadays very little exercise is needed to earn a living, and tasty, high-calorie food is available anywhere, anytime, in unlimited quantities. Yet we are built to survive a world of scarcity and high activity. How could the result be anything other than a stunning rise of obesity throughout the world?
The ease with which we currently survive in our modern Land of Plenty has had an interesting effect: we no longer value our bodies’ survival skills. We now hate our survival super powers. When food is always available, it’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security, thinking of food as optional and our urges to eat a nuisance. But your brain doesn’t listen. It keeps paying attention to food, like it always has.
A short story might help understand the situation a little better…
The Land of Plenty-A Surprisingly True Tale
Once upon a time, Hero was told by a playful Genie that he would be stranded on a desert island. The Genie would grant Hero one wish.
Hero’s first wish was not to be stranded at all but the Genie said that was against the rules, so try again, smarty pants.
Then Hero boldly wished to be genetically engineered to have the best chance of surviving on the desert island. What genetic changes did the Genie give Hero?
First, Hero was given the ability to efficiently store fat. Your standard desert island doesn’t have a lot of food available so making the best use of limited food supplies is top priority. No calorie can go to waste.
Second, Hero was given the ability to eat as much food as became available for the rare times when generous food supplies could be found. No food can go to waste.
Third, Hero was given the ability to just rest and relax until work became necessary. There’s no reason to burn precious calories for nothing.
The Genie was very generous. There’s no limit to the weight Hero can gain. Hero’s fat cells can bank as many calories as are available for later withdrawal when food becomes scarce.
Does this sound like a useful set of genetic mutations? It should. Hero has an excellent chance of surviving under very difficult conditions. What more could you want?
How about rescue…
After many successful years of survival a miracle happened-Hero was rescued and taken to the legendary Land of Plenty. There, delicious foods are free for the taking and are available everywhere you look.
What happened to Hero in the Land of Plenty? Hero gained more and more weight. All the genetic changes that helped Hero survive on the desert island now worked against Hero in the Land of Plenty.
Sadly, the people of the Land of Plenty looked down on Hero because they thought Hero was lazy. Hero couldn’t find a mate. And Hero’s once excellent health began to fail.
Hero tried telling people about the Genie and how beautifully he’d survived on the desert island, but the people in the Land of Plenty just laughed and turned away.
Hero tried everything to lose weight but he was created for a different environment and nothing worked for long. Then one fine day, he stumbled across a book called Your Designer Diet. This book helped Hero so much! It understood the problems he faced in the Land of Plenty. Using Your Designer Diet, he was able to create an environment that helped him lose weight and keep it off. Finally, Hero found a way of living in a world he was never meant to live in.
As our tale draws to an end, please consider this: until modern times, nearly everyone lived on a desert island, now most of us live in the Land of Plenty.
What is really amazing is that even more people aren’t overweight given our modern toxic weight environment. Earning a living now requires almost no exercise. Cheap, tasty, high-caloric food is available everywhere in near unlimited quantities.
These forces taken together are why we are seeing an epidemic of obesity and are exactly why Oprah can be one of the most successful people on earth and still have problems controlling her weight. And if Oprah can have problems controlling her weight, it’s not surprising that we can too.
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