Monday, May 23, 2011
Why Americans Can't Lose Weight
In the pursuit of the typical American goal of losing weight, it dawned on me why weight loss is so hard for my culture of people. Yes, you could say we are whiny babies who want everything NOW! We are impatient, immature, and self-indulgent.
But, that's not the case.
My father came to America in the 1920s in a family of immigrants from Norway who knew that you work hard, you get stuff, whether it's recognition, promotion, money, or "things." We were all raised on the immigrant song of "anyone can make it, with some elbow grease." Americans don't take the vacations due them, they don't take siestas in the afternoon like others around the world who take a power nap, and we don't close down our job place at 4:30 to go to the pub. For an overworked culture, we have acquired a lot, including weight!
So, why is weight loss so hard for us?
It goes against every freaking principle we were raised upon!
Look at this way: You work hard, late nights, weekends, going the extra mile and you get more cash, bigger home, faster car, designer wardrobe.
What is the message to us from cradle to grave?
Work hard--get things!
What happens when you work to lose weight? I know quite well as it's a third job for me every day. I workout hard. I sweat. I take time out of my work schedule. I'm sore. I'm tired. I'm cranky, but I put tons of work into it. On top of this hard work I'm putting in, I have to take away "things" instead of acquire "thing" rewards, i.e. I now have to give up my latte, my candy, my bagel with cream cheese.
Work, work, sacrifice, sacrifice.
Not a lot of incentive, huh?
Sure, a hot body is one goal that we dangle before us, but the cost of acquiring this "thing" is dependent on not only continuing the hard work and the sacrifices, but indefinitely, as well. This is another reason why long-term weight loss is such a bitch.
If you went to work and worked hard and sacrificed your personal time and life to make it somewhere in your company and your company said, "along with working weekends, folks, there will be no 401K contributions and, oh yeah, no vacation time, but we promise if you keep doing this, you will get a title, but to keep that title, you'll need to keep sticking to his work deal the rest of your life."
We'd say "no fucking deal!"
How does a typical American counter that frustration of permanent sacrifice?
The only time when man manages to get past the American work ethic is in his personal ethical/spiritual world. A man can work hard at his corporate job and attain things and still be a good Jew and avoid the "unclean" meats. An ad executive can create campaigns for large corporations and live in downtown LA and still be an animal activist who will not eat animal flesh. In these cases, these are not sacrifices, they are parameters for their character/spirituality.
Sometimes, it's easier to know what you WON'T do, instead of what you WILL.
For instance, I don't do drugs. Nope. Nada. It's a parameter I put on my life. I'm hardly going around thinking, "damn! I can't do drugs!" I just don't define myself as someone who needs drugs to get through her day or life. I like to face it boldly and stick my tongue out at it. Someone else might have a parameter that "I don't hit my children," "I open doors for others," or "I pray before bed." These definitions of our personal parameters/spiritual substance/commitments are about our character and not about our acquisitions and do not feel like sacrifices, but realities of our day to day life. By not doing drugs, I'm not trying to obtain something, I'm trying to avoid something--addiction/debt/ill health.
So, in the weight loss realm, let's shift ourselves from sacrifice to character and ideals, parameters and self-definition. Every time you floss your teeth and wear your seat belt, you don't curse and fight that reality. It's just a part of who you are as someone consciously living and doing what you believe to be the healthiest decision. So, henceforth, re-word your journey to not focus on what you can't have, but what you "won't" have for reasons of spirituality, ethics, or self definition, i.e. "I won't have sugar and white flour." "I won't sit still all day without a 30-minute walk." This shift changes you from whiny brat having a fit over losing his favorite yummy treat to righteous health-conscious person who would never put such poisons in his body.
(In case you're wondering why I'd post about weight loss--it goes hand in hand with my adventure ethic. I hike, I explore, I climb, I seek knowledge and to do so, I must be in excellent health. For everything we do every day, our health is the only thing that can propel us from an idea to an actuality. They go hand in hand).