Is weight loss a signal for eating healthy? (and a rant on relocation dissonance)

Tis the season for New Year’s resolutions. Did you make any? If you did, chances they are about eating healthy or losing weight. Have you complied with these resolutions so far? Or did you go out and break one or more? Resolutions at the beginning of the year are common in many cultures. Are they useful or an outdated custom? Would we be better off if we try to make incremental change that we could stick with than monumental ones that are most likely to fail?

Linn Steward raised an interesting point in a LinkedIn comment earlier in the month. In many American minds, losing weight and eating healthy are considered equal. But are they? Her comment got me thinking. I ended up generating many more questions than formulating specific answers.

Losing weight. Most Americans are overweight. So it would make sense to resolve to lose weight in the new year. Losing weight could be beneficial, but how much over what length of time? What commitment do we make to get the pounds off? Then what commitment do we make to keep them off? Is the loss of these pounds going to make a real difference in our health? Or is it a mere attempt to make us look and feel better.

Dieting can be a short-term solution, but will any diet have lasting effects? Is our focus on pounds or on wellness? Do we adopt a popular diet? Or do we go radical like keto or vegan? Will we be able to stick to this diet or will we get tired of it and cancel the whole idea from our mind until next January 1? Can we make it a mindful choice that lets us eat foods we want in smaller quantities? Or will that just trigger our addiction to food?

Healthy eating is more than just losing a few pounds. For the effects to become permanent a change in lifestyle and dietary pattern may be necessary. Will we couple the weight loss with an increase in daily or weekly  exercise? Do we believe in calorie reduction or does our commitment go beyond calories?

Moderation seems to be a possibility, but how do we define moderation? Can we develop a dietary pattern we can live with and stick to? Will it be enough? Will we backslide? Where can we get help?

Ultra-processed foods have been identified as a possible cause of weight gain and premature death in those who consume them. Although the name implies additional processes, the ingredients are targeted as responsible for adverse health outcomes. Artificial ingredients, ingredients with chemical-sounding names, and ingredients that have undergone extensive processing are singled out. Do calories not really matter with respect to weight gain? Should we discount calories with respect to the healthiness of a food? Is consumption of ultra-processed foods that makes us gain weight, lose our health, and cause us to die early? Are certain chemicals in our food obesogens? Or have these compounds been declared unhealthy by fiat and looking for an identifiable cause? Then there are potential threats to gut health by unwanted chemicals in our food that contribute to obesity and early mortality.

A NIH study on showed a significant weight gain for subjects on a diet of almost all ultra-processed products. A group consuming almost all unprocessed foods lost almost the same amount of weight. After two weeks the two groups switched diets with similar results as noted earlier. Conclusions drawn from the media were that the unprocessed diet was healthier than the ultra-processed one. The lead investigator was cautious not to draw the same conclusion. I pointed out that unintentional weight loss can be just as unhealthy as unintentional weight gain.

Personal experience and BMI. In a recent post, I noted that my dietary pattern has been less than healthy in recent months. Since I have relocated to South Carolina, I needed to find a new primary doctor. I had my first post-hurricane checkup. Good news! My BMI went down from 25.1 to 24.0. Does that mean that my diet wasn’t so bad for me after all? Does it mean that weight loss is not a useful indicator of good health? Is my performance an aberration?  Is BMI an effective indicator of a healthy body?

Take -home lesson. Health is more complicated than simple concepts or slogans. Weight loss is not equivalent to healthiness. Incorporating some mindfulness into food selections can be helpful, but it should be part of a plan. Developing a dietary pattern that is healthy and that can be maintained is critical. Healthiness is more than eating healthy foods while avoiding unhealthy ones. It is about consistent adherence to a long-term dietary plan.

My rant on relocation dissonance follows on the concept of being a climate refugee. I noted that my wife and I are not really refugees. A refugee is “a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or a natural disaster.” Well we left the state of Florida to relocate in South Carolina. It should not be so hard, right? Well it is harder than it seems. We are both on Medicare. I received a threatening letter saying that I needed to change my medical and pharmaceutical coverage because my Florida coverage no longer applied in South Carolina. My wife’s medical policy still held, but she needed to change her coverage on medications. Since we were past the open enrollment period, we had to invoke our one-time option to modify our plans as victims of a climate-related disaster.

We are working on finding a permanent location in upstate South Carolina, but it has been difficult. We are getting subtle hints from our in-laws that we should move out of here by the end of March. We certainly understand. There are times when we certainly cramp their style. The problem is that it will be difficult to relocate back to another state or even another part of this state before October (when open enrollment begins). Such a move would have implications on our insurance plans. Just try to keep our address from them! Not a chance, they ran us down before our alumni associations did!

Our pension programs tried to change our official location to South Carolina before the end of 2022 with major tax implications. My tax guy from Georgia said that we were not official residents of South Carolina until we changed our driver’s licenses and registered to vote. Well we tried to do that yesterday, simple task, right? Just show them the old Florida licenses and take an eye exam. Not so fast, my friend! We needed to produce our birth certificates, our marriage certificate, proof of my naturalization, and two pieces of mail at our current address. We were able to find copies of most of the documents and took them back today. We sneaked by on the mail to our current address. It is not really a permanent address, and the DMV should not have taken our proof of residence, but please don’t rat us out!

Here we are. We need to stay in South Carolina to maintain our health insurance. We still don’t have a permanent address! Before I register to vote, I will try to get a library card! I thought Florida and South Carolina were both part of the United States of America, but relocating between the two states as a climate refugee is not as easy as it might seem!

Coming soon: Food in the news

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