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Monday, June 27, 2011

To Be Skinny, Do Skinny People Stuff!

Confession: I am a huge Dave Ramsey nerd. He is a finance celebrity of sorts who encourages people to get out of debt. His wisdom and encouragement has helped millions of people pay off financial mistakes. One of his “pearls of wisdom” that has stuck with me is, "If you want to be poor, do poor people stuff. If you want to be wealthy, do rich people stuff.”

So, what does that have to do with a blog on weight loss? Recently, I received an email from a physical therapist colleague of mine. She is thin, even after having a couple of kids. However, she admits keeping weight off has been a struggle. Despite this challenge, she finds it upsetting when obese friends, patients, and co-workers make comments such as, "Oh, you wouldn’t know how tough it is…..you’re thin!” She feels the comments are not fair. “It doesn’t come easy," she says, "I choose to work out over lunch while others sit, and I go for jogs in the evening while others watch American Idol.”

As PTs, we are aware of obstacles patients face with limited ability to be active because of their medical conditions. However, she makes a very good point. Some have a protective mechanism built in that makes the assumption, if others have been successful it must have been easy. However, there is a very simple principle that will make your journey easier: To be skinny, skinny people do skinny people stuff.

So what is skinny people stuff

Skinny people move. When others choose to do sedentary activities like watch tv or sit and enjoy a prolonged lunch with friends, that is when my friend gets in some exercise. Most of my obese friends know they should exercise regularly, they just have a hard time finding time. However, increased physical activity has been correlated with lower BMI*. In younger subjects this was even more predictive than most food intake differences. 1 The decision needs to be made to find the time to be active. Start where you are at, and do what you can do. The goal is not to run a marathon today. The goal is to do a little bit more than yesterday. Here are some suggestions:
Wake up 30 minutes early. If you are worried about getting enough sleep, skip David Letterman.
Before eating lunch, take a brisk walk around your work place. It may cut into your eating time, but maybe that is a good thing.
If you must watch American Idol, develop a routine and get off the couch while you watch. Do some calisthenics and abdominal exercises while you watch the “boob tube”.
Start working out with your significant other or a friend. Interestingly, those who are thin do have a higher tendency to have an active spouse.4

Skinny people don’t diet. They don’t obsess about food the way obese people often do. According to a 2005 study published in Obesity Research, successful weight maintenance was associated with relatively fewer attempts at weight loss. 2 Think about your diet history. Are you guilty of doing the HCG diet to drop a few quick pounds before swim suit season, or a few weeks of the Atkins plan to fit in that wedding dress, or the office Biggest Loser contest to win a couple hundred bucks?
Skinny people love desserts, but they indulge in them occasionally. They usually do not clean their plates, and they often share a restaurant meal with their significant other. Skinny people may have a slice of pizza or two, but they don’t regularly go to Pizzarama’s all-you-can-eat buffet. The point is, people who are thin eat what their body needs for energy.2 As the cliché goes, they “eat to live, they don’t live to eat.”

Skinny people are ok with hunger. Doesn’t it feel like when you get a little bit of a stomach growl it feels like a 5-alarm emergency? But at worst, it is a distraction. The big secret is, a little tummy gurgling at 3:30 in the afternoon never resulted in death at 4:00. On the contrary, hunger pangs are often a sign of boredom or habit. I mentioned this in my last blog, but a signficant predictor of successful weight management is restraint. 2 I know it is frustrating when a thin friend at work says they are just going to have a bite of an indulgence, and then actually do it. But, if those who struggle with weight would start copying that behavior, they would likely start seeing the pounds come off. I am not saying to starve yourself and eat a 1000 calorie diet. I am talking about those daily indulgences that keep us from achieving our goals. Something I remind myself when faced with temptation is, "Nothing tastes as good as it feels to be in shape."

Skinny people are creatures of habit. In a 1999 nutritional study, it was shown that eating a high variety of entrees, carbs, condiments sweets and snacks coupled with a low variety of vegetables was associated with increased body fatness. However, less variety of the fatty foods while eating a large variety of veggies predicted the least amount of body fat. 3 So, ever notice that thinner people tend to have similar lunches day after day? I have. It may seem mundane but real change will come when you start treating food as fuel, not as your major source of fun.

This is by no means an exhaustive analysis. I am sure if you imagine Jeff Foxworthy in your head saying, “You might be a skinny person if you……(insert hilarious response here)” you’ll come up with all sorts of observations. In fact, that is how I want you to start thinking and then model those behaviors. It won’t be easy, and we are programmed from a very young age to follow the path of least resistance.

I was reminded of this the other day. My three-year-old's swim instructor called the house to inform us he was ready to move up to a more advanced class as the skills were now all too easy for him. We excitedly went to tell him the good news and were perplexed when he didn’t have as jovial a response as we anticipated. After he thought about it for a moment he replied….”but I like easy!”

I know. We all like easy. Making real lasting change is very, very hard. But it can be done! There will be costs involved. It will surely be slow and very frustrating. However, what seems impossible just takes a while.


BMI- body mass index. a ratio between rate and height that is a measure of obesity and an indicator of overall health. A BMI  greater than 25 is indicative of obesity. Those with a BMI of 22 are shown to have the low levels of illness. This scale is a good general tool for average individuals but is flawed when measuring those with high levels of muscularity. BMI is very easy to check. BMI calculators are readily available on the Internet by simply doing a search for BMI calculator.
1. Wendell, et al. Dietary intake and physical activity of normal and overweight 6 to 14 year old Swiss children. Swiss Medical Weekly. 2007 July 28. 137 (29-30): 424-30.
2. Vogels n, et al. Predictors of long term weight maintenance. Obesity Research. 2005 Dec; 13(12). 2162-8.
3. McCrory MA, et al. Dietary variety within food groups. Association with energy intake and body fatness in men and women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1999 March. 69(2). 440-7.
4. Davison KK, Burch LL. Lean and weight stable. Behavioral predictors and psychological correlates. Obesity Research. 2004 July. 12(7). 1085-93.


  1. Hi Stan! I found your blog on facebook and love what I've read so far. I'll continue to follow it and hope to actually live out what I'm learning here!

  2. I get it. Makes perfect sense to me. Thanks Stan. Keep writing and I'll keep reading. :)

  3. Thanks Gail and Rox for your feedback. I will strive to always put out responsible, honest evidence-based posts. If you ever have questions feel free to shoot me a note. S.