Discover more from Sweary History with James Fell
Lose it Right
The Introduction to my 2014 Weight Loss Book
An Introduction to the Introduction
Hi. It’s James and today is June 1, 2021. That’s important to take note of because what you’re about to read was first written in late 2012. Then there was a year of editing, but suffice to say I’ve changed quite a bit as both a writer and a person in that time. Many people know me for being an outspoken ally for numerous groups. That didn’t really start in my writing until 2014 when the Isla Vista Massacre (some incel douchebag) made me fucking snap and I went on a tirade on my blog called “The Myth of the Alpha Male” and that led to a writing gig for TIME Magazine about toxic masculinity. Before that I tried to stay more neutral in my writing because I saw myself as “just a fitness writer.” When I discovered there were many who appreciated that writing, and despite those who really didn’t appreciate it, I began to evolve.
If I was writing this book today, it would be different. When it comes to the advice, the differences would be minimal. When you read Chapter 4 at the end, you’ll find a link to a popular piece I wrote a couple of years after this book was published that serves as a “Chapter 4B”. The content and advice remain solid, but some of the writing would be different. Some of the jokes would be changed. I’d endeavor to be more compassionate and understanding. Not that I’m saying this book is bad with the stuff, but there are a few examples that I look at and say yeah I would write that differently now. Definitely less poking fun at Kardashians. Also, with the focus on exercise the book could be construed as ableist in nature. And please note that “people first” writing, such as referring to “people with obesity” as opposed to “obese people” was not yet popularized. When I wrote this book, obesity had not yet been classified as a disease.
There is also the fact that some of the experts I interviewed for this book turned out to be shitty people. Were I writing this book again I’d definitely skip talking to those guys. Not that their advice was bad, but I don’t like to amplify the voices of jackasses if I can help it. Overall, however, you will find that in many ways in this book my role was more as a conduit for the knowledge of the true experts. My co-author Margaret Leitch has a PhD in the psychology of eating behavior, and we had the book evaluated by a registered dietitian who gave it a thumbs up. If you look at the page for this book on Amazon, you’ll see some glowing endorsements from some people with impressive credentials.
Okay enough CYA preamble. Oh, wait! If you missed yesterday’s piece that was a head’s up that I was about to start publishing this here titled “It’s Okay to Want to Lose Weight” then I recommend going back and reading that first before jumping in here.
Here we go.
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool.
—Richard Feynman, Nobel laureate in physics
Here is part of a rejection letter I received in the early days of pitching this book, sent to my agent from the editor of a major publishing house:
There’s so much I really like here, David. James has a brash and audacious voice, and a sensible and straightforward message. His column in the LA Times is great, and I like the way he approaches the material … But my main concern, I hate to admit, is the sensible, measured nature of his program. Despite his flashy prose, he actually writes like the informed journalist that he is … sane, levelheaded, with proven advice. And while that’s great journalism, I worry that it’s not as salable of a diet plan.
And people wonder why they can’t lose weight.
I know how it goes: your boss is channeling Linda Blair to the point that you’re waiting for the green vomit to fly, your kids are whining that they have so much homework it qualifies as a hate crime, the dog won’t stop peeing on the rug, your in-laws are coming for a visit, the toilet seat got left up and you fell in.
Life keeps serving up lemons that someone fished out of a dumpster until you want to start main-lining Häagen-Dazs and plowing through a bag of Doritos as if the apocalypse is imminent.
The food environment has programmed you to glue your butt to the couch and scarf pizza dipped in chocolate sauce because today sucked, but it doesn’t have to be this way. There are real, science-based approaches to behavior change that are not the fluff and nonsense spouted by some Oprah-endorsed “emotional eating guru” whose qualifications amount to been there, done that.
Sorry, but no amount of group hugging or “empowerment” is going to help change your eating behaviors. There is no quick and easy way to learn to control what you consume. Following a calorie-conscious and nutritious diet is not comfortable at first, especially since we have 24/7 access to hyper-yummy junk food. And yes, resisting the sugar-coated grease blobs and making wise food choices is a skill that must be learned, because we’re not evolutionarily programmed to instinctively know what’s best for us to eat. Being toilet trained isn’t a natural instinct either; I’d argue it’s worth the effort.
Getting in shape is also worth the effort. You are worth the effort.
It’s going to take effort.
Here’s why: evolution programmed us to be fat storers. Most of the inherently skinny cavemen and women got naturally “selected out” as tasty treats for carrion eaters millennia ago. Those of us who stuck around, genetically speaking, got saddled with brains wired to crave pleasurable food. We also share the common trait of not wanting to be active if it isn’t critical to survival. We’re all about conserving those hard-earned and much-needed fat stores. Even today, our bodies are planning for the next big famine. (If evolution talk offends you, imagine that your ancestors rode dinosaurs and all of this happened only 6,000 years ago.)
In a nutshell, this is what Stone Age people thought about diet and exercise:
SO HUNGRY—MUST STUFF FOOD IN FACE HOLE!
DON’T MOVE EXCEPT HUNT OR FLEE SABER-TOOTHED MURDER BEAST!
Today, that mentality hasn’t changed much; it’s locked in our genes. But the problem is that now we have much morethan all the food we need—and it tastes so good—and there is even less motivation to get off our expanding butt cheeks, because somebody invented the grocery store and machines do our labor for us. Most of us bitch if the drive-through window is closed, and the only place we see a murder-beast is on the National Geographic Channel.
In other words, circumstances used to watch our waistlines for us, and circumstances have changed.
Skepticism Can Make You Strong
Our troglodyte DNA wants us to be fat, so how do you combat your genes to get and stay slim? First, you must become skeptical of all things weight loss. It’s a dirty, dirty industry full of male bovine droppings promising quick and easy results.
I am a shovel.
Who wants to lose weight slowly? That’s lame. It’s got to be fast, dammit! Guess what happens when I Google “lose weight fast”? I get almost 10 million results and ads that include words like “magic” and “miracle,” plus Dr. Oz flogging octopus spleens to burn belly fat, or something. Then I Google “lose weight slowly” and get only 13,000 results (and no ads), and most talk about things like “how to lose weight with a slow metabolism” or “to lose weight, slow your eating.” Not the same thing.
Losing weight fast doesn’t happen except in cases of significant obesity, but everyone—even if they are only a little overweight—really wants it to be possible. And the weight loss marketers take that desire and warp it, package it up all pretty and ram it down your throat via a massive deluge of advertising/brainwashing that permeates our society via every possible media outlet, often using celebrities, because …
Sex Sells Slimness
If you have an Internet connection and poor impulse control, you know why Kim Kardashian is famous. One hint: it’s not for her knowledge of pharmacology. This is why I was surprised to see her on 20/20 talking about QuickTrim diet pills, which she and her sisters endorse. “We helped formulate this,” she said.
Really? And that’s a selling point?
And Kim wasn’t just talking about diet pills. She also flogged Skechers Shape-Ups—the shoes that allegedly burn extra calories and tone your butt. That’s the same Skechers, by the way, that agreed to pay $40 million to settle a class action lawsuit for false advertising.
If you want to know how to achieve “celebrity” by leaking a sex tape, Kim is the one to look to. When it comes to the intricacies of sustainable weight loss for the population at large, however, I am suspicious of her qualifications.
Weight Loss Inc.
Welcome to Weight Loss Inc., where serpent lubrication sells like hotcakes. It’s capitalism run amok, and it is not helping. Weight Loss Inc. spends billions to perpetuate the myth of “quick and easy” when it comes to dropping fat from your frame. They do this because it’s profitable. If you believe in quick-fix miracle cures for getting in shape, you’re not alone. In 2011 the Federal Trade Commission launched a massive survey of consumer fraud in the United States and found that people were more likely to be taken in by a weight loss scam than any other type of fraud. It’s not all “bank inspectors” and pyramid schemes; year after year, fraudsters scam millions of Americans wanting to lose weight by selling pills, powders, machines, wraps, creams and even “weight loss earrings.” Huh.
Are people who believe such things stupid? Not necessarily.
In his 1997 book Why People Believe Weird Things, Skeptics Society founder Michael Shermer asserted that “smart people” could be more susceptible to outrageous claims than others “because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.” These non-smart reasons can include peer pressure, sibling and parental influences, life experiences, cultural pressure and even genetic predispositions. Shermer further explained: “More than any other, the reason people believe weird things is that they want to. It feels good. It is comforting. It is consoling.”2
I had a chat with Shermer to get weight loss specific details.
“Weight loss is so susceptible for fraud because it’s so hard to do and the signs of progress so slow,” Shermer told me. “The reward is not enough for most people. Anything that appeals to shortening the process is going to sell.”
Shermer, a competitive cyclist for 30 years, admits he’s struggled himself. “The cost in difficulty for weight loss is very high, and for the average person it seems impossible.” And so people spend money on weight loss “miracles” instead. “It’s called the optimism bias,” he said. “There are just enough success stories—either real or imagined—that people believe they will be the one who is successful.” And they buy again and again because they have a poor memory for failure.
Sensationalism sells. Just look at Oprah, Dr. Phil or Dr. Oz and the guests they have on their shows. Extolling sustained weight loss that comes via a slow and steady approach with gradual integration of exercise and dietary restriction just isn’t sexy, but “six-second abs” and magical raspberry ketones are. We have authors claiming it takes “eight minutes in the morning,” that you can get a “Four-Hour Body,” or that you should go on a “17-Day Diet,” and these books and products become best sellers. There is no shortage of profiteers taking advantage of the obesity epidemic by pushing gimmicks and scams on a desperate populace. (This doesn’t mean there isn’t good stuff out there too; we will make recommendations.) We like to believe in the myth of the quick fix, because, as Shermer says, it’s comforting.
Question: When has anything worthwhile in your life come about without serious and sustained effort?
If you want to lose fat and be healthy—if you want to get and stay in shape—it’s going to take effort from now until the day you dirt nap. There is NO quick fix. There are no miracle cures. This will take both exercise (ooh, scary!) and dietary control, and you won’t transform into a bikini model in a month. Deep down, you know that if something sounds too good to be true, it’s about as reliable as choosing Lindsay Lohan as your designated driver.
I think that’s about enough doom and gloom for now. Sustained weight loss is feasible. Here’s how to lose it right.
Learn, Prepare, Do
You know how Nike says, “Just do it”? Well, they’re wrong. You know what you get when you try to turn into a fitness fanatic overnight? A you-shaped bag of pain that thinks exercise sucks.
Don’t “just do it.” Instead, learn, prepare, then do it. This book helps you progress through all three stages. Stage 1, Learn, will tell you everything you need to know about how your body works, how it reacts to food and how exercise is an invaluable tool for slimming down and getting fit. In Stage II, Prepare, we’ll get you ready to embrace the lifestyle changes necessary for sustainable, long-term success. Finally, in Stage III, Do, you’ll be introduced to the Virtuous Cycle, a leveled eating and exercise program that will gradually transform your health, the way your body performs and the way you look.
This program takes you through behavior change at a gradual pace you can tolerate. See those “MBA” letters after my name in my bio? I’m going to proactively synergize your core competencies toward an optimized fitness paradigm. Uh, I mean, this book is about designing a personal and comprehensive strategy for losing weight and getting fit, because some product you bought from an infomercial isn’t going to change your physique or your life in just a few weeks.
You don’t build a house by slapping a few boards together. You need a blueprint; you must lay a foundation and have the right skills, tools and building products. It takes teamwork. There are goals—both short and long term—to be set, tactics to be devised, time to be managed and schedules to be adhered to.
When you’re building a house, quitting halfway through is not a great idea. However, this is okay when it comes to getting in shape. In other words, don’t adopt the all-or-nothing mentality. If you think losing 50 pounds will make you fitness-model lean, but instead manage to maintain 25 pounds of weight loss, is this not still awesome? You get leaner, healthier, have more energy and drive. You’ve adopted an improved lifestyle you can live with and sustain. Yes, still awesome.
You can hold firm partway through the process if you’re happy with your new lifestyle and the results you’ve achieved. We’re not cracking whips but encouraging sustainable improvement.
But know that going from a metaphorical doughnut-scarfing couch potato to diet-conscious workout warrior—or even getting to the halfway point—is a serious undertaking. It’s a big project, and in the business world you break big projects down into manageable pieces and complete them in a logical order.
The simple advice of “eat less, move more” is a crock. As we’ve seen, both evolution and the current environment are conspiring against us. Two-thirds of the population is overweight or obese because it’s become too easy to gain weight, and too hard to get and stay slim. Saying “eat less, move more” to an overweight person is like saying “spend less, earn more” to someone living in crushing poverty. Granted, losing weight does require you to consume fewer calories and add physical activity, but learning how to integrate this into your life can’t be boiled down to a sound bite.
We’re going to make you somewhat uncomfortable one step at a time using our Virtuous Cycle exercise and eating plan. When each new step—each new behavior—becomes comfortable (or at least tolerable) and routine, it’s time to get a little uncomfortable again. These baby steps reinforce each other and add up faster than you think. The exercise changes your brain, so sticking to a healthier eating plan is more manageable and junk food loses its hold over you. From a weight loss perspective, burning calories pales in comparison to the cognitive benefits exercise bestows, transforming you into a better eater.
The Tortoise Wins This Race
A slow and steady approach (breaking a big project into manageable pieces) allows you to learn to love the journey so it doesn’t seem as if you’ve sold yourself into weight loss slavery. This isn’t white-knuckle lifestyle change, where with every passing day you have an increased desire to stab a badger in the kidney with a salad fork, or one where you can maybe power through for a few weeks or months but are doomed to backslide.
Starving yourself while suffering through sweat sessions to drop a few inches for a high school reunion, then beginning to regain weight the instant you hit the buffet line is not smart. That’s losing it wrong. Going slowly and steadily means you won’t be constantly thinking about being on a diet or engaging in an exercise program; healthy eating and physical fitness will just become part of who you are. No more yoyo weight loss.
Although this book is called Lose It Right, we want you to know it doesn’t have all the answers. You have an important role to play in adapting this program to your life, personality and physiology. Everyone is different. Overall, it’s about following a tolerable pace, and you determine what “tolerable” is.
Be a tortoise instead of a hare. You will reap benefits.
Before proceeding further, you must wrap your brain around this fact: this is not a weight loss book. This is not a “get in shape” book. This is a lifestyle overhaul book.
Deep down, most of us have an idea about what achieves lasting weight loss … that healthy-eating-and-exercise thing. What most of us don’t know is how to become a person who lives that way. Teaching you how to do this is our focus.
You need to be motivated, and the best way to do that is through understanding what you’re in for and how to change—not just your body but your mind, your schedule and your reason for being. It’s not just about the exercises you engage in and the diet you consume, it’s about changing who you are.
It’s not a list of actions. It’s someone you become.
Don’t just do this; be this.
Okay that’s the end of the Introduction, so how do you read the rest of it? Well, it depends on where you live.
If you’re in Canada, you’re very lucky, because Canada is awesome. You’re also lucky because you can buy a physical copy of the book or an ebook if you prefer. This is due to the nature of my contract with Random House Canada that only Canadian residents can buy it. Go to this link and scroll to the bottom and see your purchasing options.
For everyone else, you’ll need to become a paying subscriber. Please note that, because of my contract, Canadian residents are “geo-blocked” and cannot view those pages. So, starting tomorrow with the publishing of Chapter 1, any Canadian subscriber is going to be out of luck, but I figure well you get to live in Canada, and you can just buy a regular copy so please don’t be mad.
If you’re outside Canada, then it’s just $5 to subscribe (or you can get an annual subscription) and it’s not just Lose it Right you get access to but a shit-ton of my other writing that is behind a paywall for subscribers only.
A new chapter will be posted each day for two weeks and after that you’re free to unsubscribe and hey you got an awesome book for only $5 so what a deal, right? Here is where you subscribe:
1. Keith Anderson, Consumer Fraud in the United States, 2011: The Third FTC Survey, March 2013, 20.
2. Michael Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time(New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2002), 275, 283–84.