People who spend their non-working hours running, or playing beach volleyball, or twirling around inside a hula hoop, are lucky because exercise is just built into what they love. Our knitting time on the other hand has to come from someplace... and if you wanna knit, you're gonna sit.
It's the same for writers, or anybody else whose job puts them in a chair for the duration. Sitting more than a few hours a day - in total, including driving or public transit time - has been linked to a lot of health hazards. Plus, unless you compensate for all that sitting with a lot of exercise or calorie-watching, you're probably going to gain weight. Yay!
True, you can get a standing desk. You can even get a desk attached to a treadmill. Those are terrific adaptations for people with space and/or money, not to mention motivation.
And that, my friends, is the word that gets left out of the Eat Right And Exercise message.
As in, you need some. Especially when there's yarn sitting beside the sofa saying Hello, I'm Delightful.
Weight management options
|Pretty colours: highly motivational for this knitter|
Let's look at a few popular weight-loss approaches and how they use motivation to help people achieve their personal goals.
Weight Watchers: widely regarded as the best system for getting a body to a healthy weight, whatever that means for the individual who lives inside it, this system is built around a social core. You go to meetings. You weigh in. Humans are social beings and it's hard for us not to appreciate the reward of others' support and encouragement. There's an online Weight Watchers option too, which shifts the in-person social support network to a virtual one.
The FAST Diet: this approach is based on the medical benefit resulting from seriously restricting how much you eat for no more than two days a week. One motivator comes from the knowledge that you only have to do this today - tomorrow you can eat whatever you want - but another comes from the good chance that you will be reducing your risk of diabetes and heart problems by giving your body a rest from digesting, without losing as much muscle mass as you would through daily dieting.
The Really Fast Diet: I'm lumping several kinds in here, but you know what I'm talking about - the ones that enable super-speedy weight loss through shakes or vitamin injections or whatever. The motivation there is that you see a significant change in an insignificant period of time.
The Prepacked Food Plan: you can get this through big-business programs or from a local chef who will plan your menu and deliver to your door, but basically, your motivator is the fact that somebody else is going to worry about your food intake for you. The rest is simple: just don't eat anything (much) outside that plan. Surprisingly freeing.
The Boot Camp Approach: apart from taking up running or cycling or some other activity and pursuing it several times a week, this might be an organized exercise class that meets often, or a personal trainer who coaches you through and keeps you accountable, or even exercise videos you use in your own home with or without equipment. How much and what you eat has less of an impact on your body if you ramp up your exercise time in a big way, and hello: Endorphins? Once you get over the initial resistance to taking the time to go exhaust yourself, this stuff feels good. And that, my friends, is motivational.
The Low-Key Eat Healthy And Exercise Plan: the motivation here is the simplicity of it. You don't have to think too much about calories, and you don't have to move that much more than usual. Often, this sort of system advocates walking - like, park a block farther away from work (not hard if parking is as hard to find where you live as it is in Toronto), or climb the stairs instead of taking an elevator. It's slow - you might not even lose as much as a pound a week - but it's also not painful. And it's pretty healthy too because you're going to ramp up your unadorned fruit, vegetable, and water intake. Those things are super important.
The Food Diary: This one is a component in a lot of different programs, but it can be effective on its own. Basically, you keep track of everything you eat, every day. You don't need to be a fitness trainer to know that if you sat most of the day and then consumed 3000 calories, you're not likely to see a lower number on the scale the next morning. A food diary keeps you accountable so that you are more likely to consume the right number of calories for the ones you're burning off.
Knitting: Can it possibly be - bad for you??
As if we didn't know it already without scientists weighing in, there is a lot of evidence that knitting is fantastic for your mental health. It challenges your brain while soothing your nerves, it's tactile, and it increases your confidence even as it eases high stress.
If you don't do it in moderation though, what it does for your physical health is another story. My own experience is that turning back to knitting after a 20-year break definitely impacted how much I sit. And that in turn impacted my consumption/exertion ratio.
When I'm writing, I get up and walk around a lot. Writing is hard work. You have to think about how to say what you wanted to say, after you figure out what you wanted to say in the first place - and frankly, both of those things are more bearable once you've moved away from a blank computer screen.
But knitting? It's not uncommon to sit for hours at a stretch because you're so incredibly driven to get to the next project. And sitting for any length of time is really, really not good for you, quite apart from its not using up enough calories to support a delicious array of eating options.
So... which compensation approach is best?
Which exercise/consumption system to choose really depends on which goal is most inspiring for you. And remember, that goal may change over time. Any combination of any of the approaches I described at the beginning of this post may become part of your overall method for losing and/or maintaining your weight.
The statistics on keeping weight off in the long term show the biggest success comes out of the 'no more than a pound a week' camp. So if your goal is both getting and keeping it off, the 3-4 pound a week approach might not be your best bet. It's depressingly common to gain back everything you lost and more if you don't change your lifestyle in a way that is sustainable from this day to your last one.
Similarly, if your goal is "Please! No gallstones!" you might want to steer clear of super rapid weight loss and long-term calorie restrictions. I can't speak from experience. But the comments I read from actual long-term users on review sites for some of those programs? Yikes!
If endorphins are the thing that inspires you, then running and biking and the like are great. Especially if you live in an area where it's easy to do that year round, or you have space for equipment in your house, or you can make yourself get to a gym to work out indoors in brutal winter months. It also helps not to have any hip or knee issues going in (Hello: me, and insert: sad face. I hated running most of the time I was doing it, but nothing puts you in good shape faster, and it really does feel good at the end.)
When it comes to simple weight loss, I've read many times that the most effective approach is tracking both what you eat and what you do - that in fact, without that tool, you won't be successful in the long term. But it's got to be easy to keep those records, because if it's not practical for you to maintain whatever system you choose the results don't last.
It costs rather more than a pad of paper and a calculator, but my favourite tracking system so far is the mobile phone app for Fitbit, used in conjunction with a Fitbit One. It's just so fast to tap in what you've just eaten, wherever you go, and the Fitbit device takes care of everything else. Your only remaining interventions are pressing a button to note when you go to bed at night and when you get up, and recording specific activities like weight training or swimming or - okay, making stuff. It all counts! And the app offers instant motivations and rewards, thanks to the colourful bar charts and smiley faces that appear as you work your way through the day.
I mean: I will walk up and down the stairs at home for no reason other than to make those colours and images change on my phone's screen. They are that compelling.
Yeah, yeah. But like we said: we're knitters. What motivation will work for us?
Take a deep breath, folks. What about - knitting?
Knitting a sweater?
Knitting a sweater that's a size or two too small for you, depending on your goal?
Rewarding yourself with knitting every time you complete a certain amount of exercise in a day?
Fitting into that sweater when it's done and then...
Knitting another sweater?
Just a thought.
Nothing to do with my finally deciding to pull out this sweater I started just as life started to get unmanageably stressful a few years ago, and stopped when I realized it would no longer fit even if I finished it.
And now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to get up from my desk and go for a walk. See you on Monday!