Wednesday, June 06, 2018

On Desires 2018 - Supplemental: Weight Loss

I did promise to say something about weight loss, and I want to make good on that promise.
26 months ago, I weighed over 105 kg (235 pounds).

20 months ago, I weighed less than 80 kg (175 pounds).

Today, I weighed in at 80 kg (176 pounds).

Most people who lose weight gain it back quickly. I have not.

I offer these facts as a way of suggesting that some of what follows might actually be useful.

As I pointed out in the last post, hormones determine hunger - the strength of the desire to eat (the desire "that I am eating"). There is no “free will” or "will power".

A reader familiar with the Star Wars movies can think on the scene in “The Empire Strikes Back” where Luke Skywalker hanging from the roof of an ice cave, his light saber out of reach. By concentrating on “the force” he gained the power to retrieve the weapon telekinetically. Some people think that they can use "will power" to control their weight. But that doesn't happen in the real world. Such a force does not exist.

If you have a desire to lose weight, you have motivational force at your disposal. The trick will be to use it effectively. The most effective way to use your desire to lose weight is to use it to cultivate other desires that will help you out, and to get rid of those desires that get in your way.

I mentioned in that last post that the hormones ghrelin and leptin influence your desire to eat. So, you can likely obtain some benefit at controlling weight by controlling your levels of these hormones. You want less ghrelin and more leptin.

You will benefit from researching these hormones. However, please - and this is important - make sure that you are getting your information from reliable sources. A lot of selfish people out there know that somebody interested in weight loss will be searching these terms. They do not care about whether you live or die, live well or suffer in poor health, as long as you transfer your money from your bank account into theirs.

(There I go . . . throwing away income I could be making on my miracle weight loss program. I am such a poor business person.)

Where can you get reliable information?

See your doctor.

If your doctor does not know how the body works with respect to such matters, you need a new doctor.

Remember, in desirism we distinguish between desires TO accomplish something from desires THAT accomplish something. A desire to maintain a healthy weight is a useful motivator. However, what you want are desires that maintain a healthy weight. So, under your doctor’s advice, you need ways to reduce ghrelin and increase leptin, and decrease leptin resistance. Apparently, a high cholesterol diet may increase leptin resistance.

For me, cultivating desires that would help in maintaining a healthy weight meant cultivating my desire to play computer games and putting that to work on the side of weight loss. There are places in this blog where I have been critical of the time I spend on such useless games. I called that desire to play them a bad desire - but it is a bad desire that I have and that motivates me to waste time in such activities. (In “Lord of the Rings Online”, on the Landroval server, ask around for the hobbit and former Bounder Chief Meadowlarke Sweetweed, or Hedgerow Shrewburrow, or Alphred Troute.)

Computer games are designed to activate the reward centers of the brain. You perform this useless activity, but you get a reward. You get points, you hear bells and whistles and see flashy lights, and you receive statements of praise. All of this is engineered to act on the reward center to create a desire to continue that activity. So Hedgerow heads out on an imaginary skirmish to collect imaginary marks to buy imaginary relics for an imaginary magic club. If one wants evidence that there is some truth to desirism, note that we have here a business activity that utilizes many of the same psychological theories, though for a less worthwhile end.

I received (as a gift) a FitBit watch. I recognized this as an opportunity to turn diet and exercise into a computer game. The "score" each day consists of the number that my FitBit app calls "calories remaining" - the number one gets when one subtracts the calories consumed from calories burned. A score of 400 at the end of the day means about 50 grams (2 ounces) of fat burned. A score of 400 every day for 6 months means 9 kg (20 pounds). I took 500 calories off of my score each day to account for inaccuracies in the system, and still scored much higher than 400 points each day to lose 27 kg (60 pounds).

[NOTE: Fat burned does not equal weight lost. There is a lot that goes into one's weight than the weight of one's fat.]

Exercise, particularly walking, earns points awarded at one level as “steps” and another as “calories burned”. You can also set it up so that certain milestones activate events that also work on the reward system. So many steps taken or calories burned activates flashing lights and congratulatory messages. This strengthens the desire to engage in the activity, which is a desire that helps to control weight. One can look at my record during this time and see that, in each month, I was more active than in the previous month as I found ways to increase my score and my desire to engage in those activities grew stronger.

On the other side of the equation, every time I ate I needed to record the calories, which lowered my score. This acted on the reward system to promote an aversion to eating. Of course, eating also produces its own rewards (in most of us). However, by adopting a rule that I had to enter the calories of what I ate before I ate it, that made it a little harder to reach for that extra snack or second helping.

More importantly, there were a lot of times when I could reach for one kind of food, but not another. Every one of us has something that we like that is bulky and has low calories - something actually good for us. I acquired a taste for stir-fry vegetables with mushrooms. In the calorie game, I only had to lower my score by a few hundred points before preparing a huge meal that would certainly fill me up (thus lowering ghrelin levels, leaving me less hungry). Now, I have cultivated a desire for these high-volume/low-calorie meals at the end of the day.

This leads to another principle that I have associated with desirism. A person with good desires never has to make sacrifices for the sake of the good. The person with good desires does what he wants to do - which happens to also be that which a person with good desires would have done in the circumstances, which is the very definition of doing the right thing.

Because I focused on altering my desires, once I lost weight, it was easier to keep the weight off. I am still active because I cultivated a desire for activity. I still prefer high-volume, low-calorie foods because I cultivated a taste for such foods. So, 20 months after reaching 175 pounds, I am still quite near that weight.

There is still some effort involved. In other words, the desire to keep my weight down is still an important motivating force. This is sometimes the deciding vote - meaning that I am sometimes giving up other things that I desire for the sake of maintaining a healthy weight. However, I am not making the mistake of drawing upon some "will power" (or "free will") that does not exist and failing. I am, instead, drawing upon the motivational force of other desires and aversions I have cultivated because they support this end. That makes things a whole lot easier.

I hope this is useful.

Also, I hope this provides a useful illustration of desirism being put to practical use. It's not just a theory.

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