The cover of the January/February issue of a popular women's lifestyle magazine, informs readers that they can "BURN 600 CALORIES Without Trying," "DROP 15 POUNDS FAST," and that there are "FLAT BELLY FOODS" containing carbs that "MELT FAT." If the Buddhists are right and expectation really is the cause of all suffering, Health magazine readers are undoubtedly anguished individuals.
That's because these teasers and the articles they introduce create expectations and unrealistic ones at that.
Want to guess what burns 600 cals so effortlessly? According to Rozalynn S. Frazier's article, "Dance Your Way Slim," it's dancing with your girlfriends.
But early in the article, the expert quoted on how easy this is, Susan Bali, MD, also mentions that an hour of dance burns somewhere between 200 and 600 calories. Although I'm not much of a dancer, my guess is that calorie expenditure from 60 minutes of dancing where "you don't realize you are exercising" is closer to the first rather than the second number.
Moreover, the workout that accompanies "Your Best Body Ever," the article that allows you to "DROP 15 POUNDS FAST," suggests my calorie estimation is accurate. It calls for "quick, intense cardio intervals and strength training" for 40 minutes, which should burn, according to information in the "Secret #2" insert, "up to 450 calories."
While estimate is more realistic, the article also contains unrealistic expectations, too. Readers who follow the aforementioned workout along with the accompanying diet are supposed to lose 15 pounds in five weeks. Yes, that's possible, but it's also about twice as quickly as is suggested by many authorities, ones like bodybuilder and nutrition expert John Parrillo.
In a recent Internet video posted on his web site titles "Don't Do It," Parrillo warns that the weight lost on a "quick" diet is up to 50 percent muscle mass. Moreover, this muscle loss often sabotages diet success for the long term because of something few dieters in their haste consider: muscle requires energy to sustain itself.
Lose 15 pounds in three weeks as the Health article suggests, and there's a fairly good chance that 7.5 of those pounds are lean muscle mass. That means your body now needs about 375 fewer calories than before.
So if your maintenance diet after the weight loss doesn't factor in that deficit, you'll regain the weight, but not as the lost muscle.
As a result, you look bad, feel bad, go on another diet, and start the cycle often called yo-yo dieting.
Now the point to all this is not to bad-mouth Health, for each issue does contain much useful information, but to illustrate why so many people have a hard time sticking with an exercise and/or weight-loss program.
They expect too much. And when those expectations aren't reached, as Buddhists like to say, they suffer as a result.
And while it would be good to school you on how Buddhists observe the world rather expect specific results from it, that's not the point to this column. Instead here's a suggestion that may not create great expectations but benefits your health in many ways.
Be a vegetarian for one day a week. Although the idea has been around for years, it has recently resurfaced as a health trend for 2011 under its alliterative epithet: Meatless Mondays.
While the practice may not sound as appealing as eating "FLAT BELLY FOODS" whose "CARBS MELT FAT," it also carries no false expectations. Eliminating meat from your diet one day a week is not going to cause you to "Look Great Instantly" as another teaser from the previously mentioned magazine issue proclaims, but it's a start.
For instance, a 2010 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report calls for individuals to reduce consumption of saturated fat by 15 percent. Since one day out of seven is pretty close to 15 percent, avoiding meat and meat byproducts like whole milk and cheese all major contributors to the intake of saturated fat one day a week is a relatively simple way to achieve that.
In addition, vegetarian diets are also lower in all types of fat. Gram for gram, fat contains more than twice the calories as protein and carbohydrates, so on a Meatless Monday you should consume significantly fewer calories, something about two out of every three American adults could surely use.
Furthermore, plant foods tend to be high in the healthy substances that the typical American fast foods lack: vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber.
Eliminating meat one day out of the week also helps reduce hunger throughout the world. That's because, according to Robert Lawrence, M.D., professor at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in a 2009 article for Environmental Nutrition, it takes seven tons of grain to produce one ton of beef, four tons to produce one ton of pork, and two tons of grain to produce one ton of chicken.
Finally, going without meat one day a week helps the environment. In Food Matters, A Guide to Conscious Eating, author Mark Bittman explains that a family that goes meatless one day a week creates the environmental equivalent to a typical family driving 760 fewer miles by car a year.