The waist in Rob Ford’s Weight Loss Challenge: Mayor Ford’s 2-pounds-a-week ambition casts will power in a heroic role that can’t prevail

Whatever happens in his 330-pound challenge, Mayor Rob Ford has a lot to gain or lose politically from the big publicity splash of his pledge to cut 50 pounds, the halfway mark for his long-term commitment to a healthier weight.

The problem is, any effort to cut 2 pounds a week for six months can’t help but expose the mayor to major obstacles, like the ones that explain why good-old-boy bluster, balls and bravado and other versions of celebrity dieting mostly reproduced the “yo-yo pattern” of rapid weight loss followed by equally rapid gain back.

So the whole show is likely to serve as one of the teachable moments of Ford’s mayoralty. My hope is it will expose the many lightweight notions behind the conventional thinking on health and public policy.

So far, I would say the mayor is in danger of landing in the same kind of quicksand he got himself into when he rashly tried to impose a crash diet on the city’s finances.

For starters, the whole effort is framed around weight loss, when the issue is health. More often than not, people who want to control/take charge of (other rhetorical tipoffs of mistaken understandings) their figure forget that weight is one symptom rather than the problem.

 

People can lose weight on what’s called the Twinkie Diet as long as they consume fewer units of Twinkie calories than they burn off in bodily exertion. As a role model in the public eye, the mayor should be highlighting a wider health purpose, because, of course, many harmful things can be done in the cause of losing weight, just as many harmful things can be done in the cause of cutting government programs.

Ford’s 2-pounds-a-week ambition is another symptom of his lack of gravitas. Two pounds every week is a lot to lose, especially after the body reacts to severe intake restriction by going on famine alert and holding on to calories. As well, if blubber is converted to muscle, the mayor may even put on weight, a good thing he’ll give himself bad marks for.

The mayor is locking himself into a mind-over-matter mindset, casting willpower in a heroic role that can’t prevail. Wise people have learned that matter has to be worked with, not bossed around – an apparent taboo for triumph-of-the-will types who think minds should run the show and no minds should have a mind of their own.

This is where fibre comes into the picture. Foods rich in insoluble fibre allow people to eat heartily and satisfy their stomach’s yearnings with roughage without gaining weight.

If the mayor makes that switch, he won’t suffer hunger pangs and will enjoy his best dumps in years, about which he may care to report during his weekly weigh-ins so we can keep track of this sign of progress.

Alas, the food industry, including the donut empire, which surpasses libraries in terms of ease of public access, has a hang-up about fibre. Sadly, the forces of natural selection failed to produce the pure white flour favoured by the food biz, so industry had to manufacture it for bread and pastry, though the food doesn’t look like, taste like or function like anything in nature.

Consequently, Ford, given the location of his office, will have little access to whole foods or fibre and lots of access to empty carbs, mainly because of what’s on sale in vendor trucks outside City Hall and what’s on offer in vending machines on city property after his regime refused to phase out the sale of sugary drinks, a proposal his own brother labelled as “socialist.”

As for burning calories in more pleasant ways than a Stairmaster in the office, a weight-loser will be alert to signs of what I call the war on walkers – all the ways that have been devised to make life easier for people who drive cars than for those who use their feet.

See how well city staff clear snow on roads and how well they clear slush and snow from sidewalks, and how scenic, pleasant and safe it feels to walk or bike in Toronto. Check out how much it costs to exercise in community recreation centres.

Once upon a time, the city established infrastructure, like sewage pipes and garbage removal to mitigate infectious diseases. Now it’s time to do the same to promote wellness: green space; regulation of fast food outlets, their locale (not near schools); banning of trans fats and requiring nutrition and calorie labelling in restaurants (as in NYC); fostering of more community gardens; using food cart licensing to promote healthy eats; and a variety of measures promoting a culture of activity, cycling, walking, etc.

The other big problem the mayor will face is that the pleasure of sweet nothings is immediate, and they’re offered everywhere, with no controls or cautionary signs. Public policy needs to correct the balance of a social environment where unhealthy choices are easier to make than healthy ones.

Who’d of thunk it, but the mayor is participating in setting a new social norm, putting it out there that eating just like the junk food industry directs can cause huge problems. There’s a lot for everyone to learn.

The biggest myth in thinking about weight is to imagine it’s all about personal choices. The mayor’s challenge will help everyone see the importance of public policy choices. I can only wish him well.

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