Why can't I lose ten pounds?

I really need to get "back" into shape

  • A quick solution appeals to our sense of immediate gratification. But, with few exceptions, quick and dirty thinking creates a false sense of truth and can be outright dangerous, especially when a Tectonic Decision is at hand. Losing weight is not a place for quick and dirty thinking.

  • Quick and Dirty Thinking is one of the Seven Deadly Stupidities.

“I really need to get back in shape.” How many times have you heard this or said it yourself? What does this statement really mean? And how big of a problem is this?

Rosalie Bradford was five feet six inches tall and weighed 1200 pounds. She was essentially immobile and bed-ridden for more than eight years. At one point, she was more than eight feet wide, and two beds were chained together to support her weight. It took her ninety minutes to take a bath. Bradford attempted suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills, her weight and size nullified the effect of the overdose, and she only slept for two days.

Bradford lost more than 900 pounds, which at the time, was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the biggest weight loss ever by a woman. Her first efforts at exercise consisted of clapping her hands while watching an exercise video. She made the decision to stop being lazy physically and mentally and recognized there was no shortcut to weight loss. 

After losing the weight, Bradford went on to be a motivational and inspirational speaker. It is instructive to take a quote from one of Bradford’s speeches on how to lose weight:

“Start where you are and chisel away.”

Another fitness all-star who did not use quick and dirty thinking was a former medical student in Great Britain. He was a gifted athlete and specialized in the one-mile run. But all elite runners are gifted, so how could he distinguish himself and go faster, especially since, as a medical student, he had only forty-five minutes per day to train?

The student surmised that he could run a faster mile if he ran at a steady pace on each of the four laps around the track that constitute the one-mile race, rather than conserving energy in the early laps and then sprinting all-out near the end. In other words, he had a well-thought-out theory about how to improve and he was able to test it. (Kahneman System 2 thinking at its elegant best.)

During his break each day, he and a few colleagues would go out to the track and run a series of quarter-mile (one-lap) intervals and try to run consistent and repeatable times on each lap before they hurried back into class.

The student was not hooked up to any machines to measure his VO2 max, respiration rate, and heart rate. There was no Apple Watch. There was no high-protein keto vegan low-carb South Beach specialized diet. He just went out and ran and relied on his theory about consistent lap times. He was not quick and dirty in his thinking, but quite scientific about it.

On May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister became the first man ever to run a sub-four-minute mile.

So, when you hear somebody (or yourself) say, “I am going to lose ten pounds,” think about Bradford and think about Bannister. Bradford had to start slowly and work her way toward a goal. Bannister was already in elite company but needed to figure out how to do better. Both attacked the problems they faced by avoiding quick and dirty thinking.

Back to your weight-loss problem. A better approach might be something like, “Well, two years ago I weighed 150 pounds and today I weigh 167 pounds. I want to weigh 150 pounds again.” So, you need to lose seventeen pounds, not ten. Why bother setting a random objective to lose ten pounds when the real goal should be to lose seventeen pounds?

Am I really seventeen pounds overweight? This question falls into the same category as:

·      Is my business losing that much money? 

·      Is my child that bad at math?

·      Am I studying ten hours per week, and it should be twenty?

We all get embarrassed by something at some point in time. Should you let that rush of emotion dictate your path? Absolutely not. Am I lying to myself when I say I need to lose ten pounds? No, but am I using quick and dirty thinking? Yes. Be honest and scientific about losing weight. Admit how bad it is now and use that as your true starting point. It worked for Bradford, and I doubt you need to lose 900 pounds.

Toughen up, take the pain upfront, and admit how big the problem is. As the expression goes, “The truth will set you free,” but it also can depress you.

Of all the quick and dirty methods we are exposed to, weight-loss scams are among the most prevalent. There are books, websites, newsletters, and television and radio shows, etc., and it seems that people cannot stop talking about intermittent fasting, the juice cleanse, weight-loss pills, and the list goes on. This is a multi-billion industry built on our penchant for a quick and dirty answer.

From the FDA website:

It would be nice if you could lose weight simply by taking a pill, wearing a patch, or rubbing in a cream, but claims that you can lose weight without changing your habits just aren’t true. And some of these products could even hurt your health. Learn to recognize false claims in weight loss ads and false online stories about weight loss products. Permanent weight loss requires permanent lifestyle changes, so don’t trust any product that promises once-and-for-all results.

In other words, the FDA is saying that if you want to lose weight, don’t be quick and dirty about it.

We can write an entire book about these scams, but let’s focus on Sensa, which was one of the most heavily advertised products in recent years and is representative of the falsehoods perpetuated by the weight-loss “industry.” The Sensa claim was that all you needed to do was sprinkle a little bit on your food to lose weight. Salt, pepper, and a little Sensa. Got it.

From a Sensa news release:

Based on more than twenty years of his research linking human olfactory senses to appetite and overeating, Dr. Alan Hirsch developed the SENSA® Weight-Loss System. SENSA® consists of patent pending blends of scented Tastants that you sprinkle on food that are designed to stimulate the olfactory senses and trigger satiety.

Sensa said that its crystals or “Tastants,” once added to food and eaten, promoted feelings of fullness.

Really? Like many of the weight-loss scams, Sensa relied on the propensity for people to go for the quick fix. The “science” behind Sensa was created by Hirsch, a physician who also owned the Smell and Taste Treatment Research Foundation, which published the “study.”

The foundation performed all the “testing” that helped Sensa claim that you can eat as much of anything you like, as long as you sprinkle Sensa on the food. Claims were for thirty pounds of weight loss within six months.

Hirsch even claimed to have a study that was peer-reviewed by an endocrinology association to support his claims. Such a study never existed, and the company was skewered on ABC’s 20/20 news television show. Despite all of this, Sensa sold more than $350 million of products over a five-year period before it started to unravel.

The first big lawsuit was in California for false advertising. Sensa paid $900,000 in 2013. In 2014, the hammer dropped and the FTC fined Sensa for $26.4 million, which the FTC distributed to almost 500,000 Sensa customers. Soon thereafter, Sensa was liquidated.

If you re-read the paragraphs above, you can swap in a few words and numbers, and everything here can apply to the thousands of weight-loss scams that have appealed to our thirst for quick results. Some of my historical favorites include those vibrating belts that “smooth” your skin, the special sunglasses that make everything a bit duller to reduce temptation to reach for the fancy packaging of some foods and, finally, the tape worm: just eat a few every day and the pounds will drip away. Stupid.

Given continued proliferation of these scams, it seems we are all getting dumber. Or, more plausibly in a world of texting and instant messages, we are simply succumbing to speed and all the mistakes that come with it. Instead of using our brains and thinking through problems, we keep going for the immediate gratification of the quick and dirty solution.

Starting a weight-loss program is a Tectonic Decision.


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