By Marlene Laszlo
As we get older, health issues often top the list of reasons to lose weight. Obesity has become a national health crisis, with statistics showing something like 44 million Americans fitting into this category. Weight loss programs try to inspire us with warnings of health consequences such as diabetes, heart disease, and increased risk of cancer. Yet, though we believe these statistics, this form of motivation doesn’t have much of an effect.
So why is it that so many strong and determined people can ignore this terrible warning? Can it be that underneath we are so weak that all it takes is a carton of ice-cream to render us feeble-minded and obliterate our ability to think?
Research bears out the fact that it is only human to surrender to the here-and-now. For many of us a juicy steak today is worth a year tacked onto our life sometime in the future. And, of course, when we think of future consequences we also think we have time. The big diet will begin next Monday. Today I can eat whatever I want.
However, for those who suffer from musculoskeletal pain, researchers have verified a simple motivator that could help. A recently documented study out of the University of Cincinnati found that participants in a dietary weight loss program reported significantly less pain in the legs and back after losing an average of ten pounds. Chronic pain, especially as we age, is almost as widespread as carrying too much weight. Pain to the musculoskeletal system, especially legs and back, inhibits activity. Less activity leads to more sitting and more munching. Thus the cycle is reinforced to experience more pain.
One reason why such a small weight loss benefit may go unnoticed is that we are not taught to pay attention to the small, ordinary improvements. We are told to think big. Lose twenty pounds or maybe sixty – the sky’s the limit. Look fabulous in those skinny jeans. These are the images that motivate us and, also, that often defeat us. The cost is too much deprivation and the benefit too far in the future.
But what if a pain sufferer could easily chart and measure a decrease in pain after losing five to ten pounds? When you recognize and actually feel the benefit, the motivation to get it off and keep it off can create a cycle that is the opposite of the one I described. The reward becomes less pain instead of more food.
The way to do so is to use a simple scale. Not a weigh scale but a 1 to 10 scale where you chart your pain level. On a blank page, draw a line with 1 being low pain and 10 being high.
Where are you on the scale now?
Make a note of where the pain is and its intensity. For example, you might be at a 5 for pain in your knees and 6 for the lower back. Make a note of the date and your weight. After a five-pound weight loss, repeat this again. Do so again for every five pounds. What differences does a five-pound weight loss make?
When you go after a small, short-term benefit, the task doesn’t seem so overwhelming or far in the future. You know what you are looking for. You can measure the results and when you feel the difference, you then have it in your control to either keep your weight where it is, or to go ahead and lose more.
However, simply taking that one small step – five to ten pounds – could be the difference that makes a difference.