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New year, old resolutions

Why New Year’s resolutions are hard to achieve

New year, old resolutions

With the New Year come New Year’s resolutions. And as the year goes on most of these resolutions fall by the wayside. As we start off another year it is perhaps appropriate to look at some of the resolutions we make and what chance they have of being kept.

As far as I am concerned, there are four broad types of resolutions that are made at the end of the year. First are about ‘moral’ issues especially related to matters eschatological. Second are about relationships, third about money matters and the last pertain to health concerns. I absolutely claim no expertise in the first three but have some input to offer about health issues.

One of the commonest resolutions is to lose weight. Weight is relevant in two important aspects of our life, health and often more importantly that of self image. It is important to understand in this context that being overweight from a health point of view is not the same as being overweight from what we might think we should look like. For young women and teenage girls, trying to achieve what is referred to as a dress size zero (or what in my day was called the ‘Twiggy’ look) is an entirely unhealthy pursuit and all parents and or ‘significant’ others should discourage such attempts.

One of the methods used to determine ‘appropriate’ body weight is a measurement called Body Mass Index (BMI). In general a BMI of between 19 and 24 is normal, above 25 and below 18 is abnormal. As a matter of fact, having a slightly higher BMI than normal is protective when people develop a serious illness. That extra fat stored in the body comes in handy as it was supposed to during ‘lean’ times when humanity first emerged as we know it today.

One simple way to determine ‘appropriate’ weight for women is 100 pounds for first five feet of height and then an added five pounds for each inch. For men it is 106 pounds for the first five feet and then 6 pounds for each added inch. Being about ten per cent more than that is perfectly acceptable, but being ten per cent or more below that is not a good idea. To be that underweight suggests malnourishment (intentional or environmental) and could mean that the person is prone to many diseases.

Today my intention is to provide some entirely idiosyncratic advice about how to lose weight. But before I go there I want to emphasise that for somebody who wants to lose 40 pounds, it will take a few months to lose that much weight safely. This ‘delay’in losing weight is the major reason why so many people get discouraged and stop trying to lose weight after just a few weeks. The second thing to remember is that there are many ‘diets’ around that promise weight loss in just a few weeks. Most of these are effective but the lost weight is almost always put back on in a matter of months after the diet is stopped.

For somebody who does not build pyramids, about 2000 calories for men and about 1800 calories for women per day is probably about right.

The only reason why I might recommend a ‘crash’ diet is if a bride to be wishes to fit into a spectacular and expensive wedding dress. The obvious down side is that once the wedding is over the bride might never fit into it again. Fortunately, men are rarely under the same sort of pressure but I must admit that the only use I had for my marriage sherwani was to get it re-cut to fit my eldest son when he acted as a ‘shahbala’ for his uncle. One bit of advice, whenever going on a crash diet, always for that time take some decent preparation of ‘multivitamins’.

The question then what is the right way to lose weight. The only way to lose weight is to consume fewer calories than the body burns for a period of time. There is a lot of stuff out these days saying that all calories are not the same. The bottom line is that all calories consumed but not used up by the body are stored in the form of fat. The basic idea behind all successful weight loss schemes is to cut down the amount of calories consumed so that the body is forced to ‘burn’ up the stored fat for production of energy.

The start of any proper diet in my opinion is to collect data about the calories you consume over a period of one week. Here the old adage, be true to yourself applies totally. Calories consumed include breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, drinks, sugar and milk used in tea or coffee and even the sugar in chewing gum and breath mints counts. Once you have an idea of the number of calories you consume in a day on average you are ready to start on a proper diet plan. The Internet will provide you with a calorie count for whatever you eat.

For somebody that does not work building pyramids, about 2000 calories for men and about 1800 calories for women per day is probably about right. So, if you can dip your daily caloric intake below that level you can start losing weight. Here I want to emphasis one thing, it is best to cut the calories you consume by cutting down on the more ‘calorific’ foods you consume. These include white bread, white rice, mithai/desserts, sugar laden sodas, commercially prepared fruit juices, most snacks, and fat that is solid at room temperature. If cutting out bread makes the food less filling, leafy vegetables and whole grains are an excellent substitute. Remember also that boring diets are hard to adhere to, so leave room to cheat every now and then.

The second common failed resolution is to exercise regularly. Exercise helps in weight loss but by itself is not enough. You have to run a mile to burn off one hamburger. But exercise has so many benefits that if exercise is all you did twenty four hours a day every day of your life, you could possibly live forever. For non-athletes about 30 minutes or a bit more of a brisk walk at least five times a week provides all the health benefits that most ordinary people need. Also, most ‘studies’ have shown that New Year gym memberships are probably the most unused of all presents.

The third common resolution is to give up smoking. Tobacco/Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances. Users can be divided into two categories, the social users and the addicts. My advice, just stop smoking one day. If you can, great, but if you are a true addict you will probably go back. For those that keep going back, some form of medical intervention will be necessary if they really want to stop.

Successful achievement of these resolutions can also bring financial advantages. If you lose weight and exercise regularly you can prevent or delay diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and all the expensive medicines and operations needed to treat them. Also the rich food not eaten and the cigarettes not smoked add up in dollars and cents.

Syed Mansoor Hussain

syed mansoor hussain
The author has served as Professor and Chairman, Department of Cardiac Surgery, King Edward Medical University.

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