Besides, having been through my own fair share of failed diet and exercise programs -- is there a woman in the U.S. who at some point or another hasn't fallen prey to Atkins or Nutri-System or Jenny Craig? -- and witnessed just about everyone I know also succumbing to counting Weight Watchers points or cutting back on carbs, I know what the success rate for most weight loss programs is. Abysmal. Something like 95% of people who go on diets gain every pound back with a few more tacked on for good measure within a year or two. Most people simply do not have the ability (metabolism? time? the money to hire a full-time personal trainer?) to make the permanent lifestyle changes needed to keep the weight off, especially when their bodies have been genetically programmed to be a little more zaftig than contemporary society believes they should be. Humans spent millennia evolving to survive periodic famines and have only had a few generations, and then primarily in the industrialized Western nations, to adapt to a different environment, one rife with Big Macs and chili fries and sedentary lifestyles, so it's not surprising more of us are fat.
But that's kind of a digression. What got me thinking about "The Biggest Loser" and dieting in general this morning was a New York Times article about the show and the contestants' relationship with food -- in a paradoxical way, they don't have one. Obviously, they're consuming a lot of it. No one gets to be 400 pounds without eating something. The trouble apparently is that they're treating what they consume like air -- they inhale it without thinking about it or even enjoying it very much. And almost to a person none of the contestants can cook. The article notes that contestants don't even really have a decent sense of taste.
"The food that got them to this point is salty, sweet, fatty, crunchy,” said Bob Harper, a trainer on the show since the first season in 2004, describing the fast food and snacks that are the steady diet of most contestants. “They lose their taste buds, they lose their hunger cues and they want what they want when they want it.”It's an interesting article that includes little gems like this quote from a contestant:
Second, they learn fundamental cooking skills that they — like many Americans — have lost, or never had.
“Most of them do not have the basic ability to cook a meal at home and very little understanding of how much fat and salt is in restaurant food,” said Cheryl Forberg, the show’s nutritionist, “even on the supposedly healthy part of the menu.”
“The kitchen was full of weird ingredients like quinoa and kale."Somehow I never thought of kale as weird. Just green.
Bottom line for the article is that people who do their own cooking instead of relying on convenience items (takeout Chinese, pizza, McDonald's, snack foods like Cheetos and Keebler cookies) are almost always going to be eating healthier than folks who don't. You build a relationship with food, you learn to savor flavors and textures, you pay more attention to what you're eating, and you're more likely to know when you've had enough. I don't know if I'd go as far as the article does in claiming spending more time in a kitchen will result in less time on a StairMaster (especially when I spend zero time on StairMasters now), but you never know.