Dear Abdomen, Issue 16-2

Dear Abdomen,

I am at a total loss as to how to drop these pounds.  I don’t eat much at all-based on my math, my calorie count is always less than my friends, and my portions never seem to be enough to fill me up.  It is depressing to see how all these people eat food all the time and keep a steady weight.  What am I doing wrong?

Dear exacerbated woman,

Let’s use a camping story to explain your circumstance and give you a pathway out of your pattern.

A cooking fire-hot with a constant source of fuel
A cooking fire-hot with a constant source of fuel

Here is a photo of a cooking fire.  Cooking fires aren’t big, but they create a lot of heat and create few ashes.  What separates a cooking fire from other kinds of fires?

Cooking fire require constant fuel.  There is no such formula that includes “add fuel once and the fire burns hot for hours.”  For outdoor cooking enthusiasts, a cooking fire requires that you fuel it all the time…. but you aren’t adding much to the fire at any time.

Next, a cooking fire only stays hot when you burn hard wood, not garbage or rotting wood.  Anyone who cooks on a fire knows that you need to have an ample stash of wood next to where you are cooking before you light the fire.  Otherwise, the heat dies off while you are cooking and you lack the time to gather more wood while simultaneously preparing a good meal.  The gathering of the wood is just as important and the gathering of the food ingredients.

Bonfires burn hot, then go out, leaving lots of unburned wood on the edge.
Bonfires burn hot, then go out, leaving lots of unburned wood on the edge.

Let’s compare that to a bonfire.  In a bonfire, a lot of fuel burns at once.  Once lit, it burns rapidly and creates immense spikes in heat.  The heat is so strong that garbage items like tin cans, nails and the like melt from the heat and in some instances even vaporize from the high temperatures.  However, once a bonfire burns down there always remain large chunks of wood on the perimeter.  Simultaneously, “hot pockets” of coals are found throughout the pile, often covered in ash and soot.

Unlike a cooking fire, bonfire construction is all but indiscriminate.  When making a bonfire, you pile on wood of all sorts, in any order, and you assume (correctly so!) that with a little bit of starter material, the whole thing will light up.

Bonfires burn uncontrollably.  They are unreliable sources of heat or light.  What they are good at is burning a lot of substance in a short period of time, but they leave waste and unused fuel..

Let’s connect this to your circumstance.  You are a fire-that is the most basic explanation of metabolism.  Which fire prep method to you adhere to?

A “cooking fire” person burns a lot of fuel each day, and they are always eating. They keep their metabolism high and their corresponding energy levels by eating MANY meals a day.  Their idea of healthy eating isn’t a pattern of breakfast, lunch and dinner, with an occasional missed meal.  For them, success associated with managing their weight and fitness levels is contingent of eating something every hour or two.  They don’t “do” three meals a day-it is more like 4-6 meals a day.  Their calorie counts are high and people often conclude that they can eat massive amounts of food and never gain weight.  The truth is they eat food on a constant basis, thereby maintaining their metabolism and keep their proverbial fire hot.

A “bonfire” person may or may not eat a real breakfast but may grab something “on the run” or “to go,” claiming that they are too busy.  They eat a lunch but it is typically unplanned and doesn’t contain enough energy to either light or sustain the metabolic fire.  They eat a light “something” in the afternoon, but it is typically not rich in macro-nutrients but instead holds the hope of quick energy to get them through the rest of the day.  Then, when they get home, they light the bonfire.  Glasses of wine before/during/after dinner, appetizers (we call them samples while we are cooking, though) and desserts after a full meal govern their evening.  They often pretend to be in control, saying no to portions or desserts.  Truth be told, they get half their calories in a full day during a 1 hour window of time.

The consequences of bonfire eating late in the day are exacerbated by our tendency to sit down and do nothing after lighting the bonfire. As the fire begins to roar and create a lot of heat, we don’t use it.  Instead, the heat get converted into a storage medium for use later.  That storage medium is called fat.

Your fix is most likely simple but astounding.  You can’t lose the weight because you aren’t eating enough.  You don’t have the metabolism to burn the fuel, fast enough.  When you do add fuel, it isn’t done in the presence of previously added fuel (namely, you waited until you were hungry to eat!), and it doesn’t get completely burned up.

Keep in mind that more than one soul has misheard this message to mean eat more and they stop there.  You need not eat a lot more, but consider fueling reasonable portions of metabolically stimulating food, all day long, starting as soon as you wake up.   Eat breakfast, and have a snack at 8 and 10 am.  Eat a lunch, followed by a snack and both 2 and 4 pm.  Eat a dinner at 6 pm and go for a walk afterwards.

If I eat less or skip some of these snacks, I tend to slow down and that leads to weight gain.

Eat More often and lose those pounds!

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