The Accidental Wisdom Of Special Snowflake Susan
I have been teaching Group Exercise for over eleven years. Let me preface this by saying 99% of
my regulars members are dear to my heart, I know their birthdays, their favorite songs and who
needs to add more resistance to the bike because their Left ACL is a little dicey even after
exploratory surgery last Spring. I love the majority of them. However, the 1% are Special
A few weeks ago, after my book went up for pre-sale, there was a great deal of buzz before class
one day. The 12:15 regulars were extremely interested and one of them asked what the title was,
I answered “Why Can’t I Stick To My Diet”. Enter Special Snowflake Susan. She immediately
asked what we were talking about. Someone filled her in and then she took great joy in
announcing to the group what the true answer was. “All we need to do is to “Eat Less and Move
More” everyone knows that”.
Thankfully, it was time to start class and I wasn’t going to get pulled into a debate with her. It is
significantly more complicated than what she told everyone, and also 3S is rather difficult. The
music is always too loud, the fan isn’t on high enough, she could feel more special and why are
people sweating so much? I could go on and on, but I have a feeling you get the jyst. She did
bring up a good point, most likely inadvertently, to how many people believe it is still a question
of “calories in and calories out”. To lose weight quicker, we just take less in and burn more right?
The main problem with “Eat Less and Move More” is it is not maintainable, and we know it. We
cannot continually eat less and less and exercise more and more. Eventually there will reach a
point where there isn’t any less food we can eat and still function, or any additional exercise we
can do without our bodies breaking down and our children be neglected or our bosses still being
interested in employing us.
The Eat Less Lie
• Many of us with PhDs in Dieting such as yours truly know an average sized woman is
supposed to eat at least 1200 calories a day, and 2000 are to maintain a healthy weight or so
Cheryl Tiegs told me in 1980s in a library book I checked out. So, if I really wanted to lose
weight quickly for an event, I should just eat next to nothing to hurry it up or get even
skinnier? It is simply math correct? WRONG When we go into starvation mode for too long,
our evolutionary side kicks in and (this is where I picture Wilma from the Flintstones lecturing
me, don’t know why just humor me for a minute) starts to worry a famine is coming and
conserves energy i.e. body fat. The end result is do not drop excess weight. I bet you probably
didn’t think of excess body fat as having a purpose. It has one!! Body fat it is stored energy
from a biological point of view, in case we have to outrun a Mastodon and haven’t eaten lately
we have the energy, thankfully hasn’t happened to me lately. So, the less we eat can backfire
on us brutally which is the antithesis of what we want right? I know of diets where it is
suggested a woman goes down to 500 or so calories a day. That is a hearty lunch as far as I am
• Another problem with the food restricting concept is we become quite frankly, starving angry
wildebeests or as my 12 year calls it Hangry. When I am too hungry, it can get scary. I have
been known to eat anything not moving down, I resemble the Tasmanian devil in my kitchen,
leaving a path of destruction in my wake. When we restrict i.e not eat enough consistently, we
are setting ourselves up for the inevitable binge. Imagine a see saw, if we go too high in one
direction, restricting, we will at some point balance it out, binging. The goal is to live in where
both sides are even and eat pretty much the same way all the time. However, our diet culture
has us brainwashed into thinking we need to starve then we can eat what we want and maintain
the weight loss, which makes absolutely no sense, file this also under the lies we tell ourselves.
• Lastly, eating next to nothing wrecks our metabolism. Remember The Biggest Loser? What is
really fascinating about the Biggest Loser, besides getting weighed on a scale the size of a
Jumbotron, is how there has never been an officially sanctioned reunion show. There is a good
reason for it, it is because so many of the contestants gain back their weight and then some.
That doesn’t make for good ratings now does it? Seeing how Harry once weighted 300 lbs, got
down to 180, and is now at 350, isn’t uplifting, nor does it make you want to watch the
upcoming season. Also, I doubt Hypothetical Harry wants to be on camera interviewed about
what happened. Last year, a large study by the National Institute of Health was conducted on
past contestants to see what long term results the show had produced, and they were pretty
disturbing. All of the contestants had slower resting metabolisms than when they started the
show, some as much 800 calories less per day. Some of it could be explained by the weight
loss, but some contestants had gained their weight back, and their metabolism was still
working against them.
• There were times in my life where I worked out considerably more than I do now. Such as 2-3x
as much as I currently do. I still work out most days, for an hour or so. In a given week, I
average 9 or so hours a week, I know this because my phone tells me so! Back in the day, as in
the pre kid days, I would get up before work, do an hour of cardio on the elliptical in the
building while watching the Today show, do the work thing, go running in Central Park for 90
minutes or so, or take a Spin class after getting to Equinox and doing cardio before the class to
“warm up”. Then on Saturdays, I would put in 90 minutes or so of cardio. Post children, if I do
not get a workout in first thing in the morning after drop off, the odds of it happening later on
in the day after pretty slim. I don’t have from 5-10pm to myself to spend at the gym. Hardly,
those are the Lacrosse practice hours, “help me with my homework” time, I am prepping
dinner and insisting showers are taken with SOAP. (I have to clarify or else my son forgets that
part). So, if I attempted to replicate my old routine, it wouldn’t be practical given how I no
longer live in an apartment building with a gym on the first floor, or across the street from an
Equinox. Central Park isn’t a 10 minute walk from my house now and the dog needs to be
taken outside a lot.
• There is a sweet spot when it comes to exercise where we can do more damage than good.
Everyone is different. I remember reading a book once when I was training for the Marathon
where a certain famous runner’s body would break down at 60 miles of running a week, so the
trainer would only let her run 59. Other runners can put in 80 miles a week, while some 40.
Every body is different. So with regular old exercise, unless you are training for a specific
event and are supervised by a trainer or coach, I do not recommend more than an hour, even if
you are going for a weight loss. The only exception would be circumstances like a bike club
where the members go for a 3 hour leisurely bike ride on Saturdays where the high point is
breakfast, but the other days of the week the members are putting in an hour of some sort of
activity. Why is this the recommendation? First of all, our current weight is determined 80% by
our food and only 20% by exercise so the phrase “we can’t out the run the fork” is relevant
here. Secondly, one can get their heart rate up, get in resistance work and cool down/warm up
in 60 minutes, I know this because I have taught group exercise classes forever. More isn’t
always better, sometimes it is just more. Lastly, over use injuries are no joke. Remember our
runner who would get hurt at 60 miles per week and not at 59? Sometimes we are that
sensitive. Do you want to risk your favorite form of activity you love for weeks or months
because of what your friends are doing? Or end up in chronic pain due to sciatica because you
didn’t listen to your body and take a break from your Crew Club?
So Special Snowflake Susan and to those of you who still tell yourself the common lie of “Eat
Less and Move More,” STOP IT.
To lose weight for good, you need to follow my fundamentals where we focus on health and the
weight loss follows. You need to sleep, drink a lot of water, practice stress management and
enjoy your life. Yes, we are eating and moving, but not obsessively counting calories or going
super low fat and doing 90 minutes of cardio after work. We want to have our blood sugar
controlled which can’t really happen if all we are eating is diet yogurt and then running 10 miles.
Food is not the enemy and we should not be exercising to “undo” what we eat. There will be
times when we can’t spend all day at the gym, or we only have 20 minutes and that is OK. Once
we change the way we think about food and health, everything else will fall into place.