Show, Don't Tell

I was a creative writing minor in college.  The #1 rule I lived by was "Show, Don't Tell."   For example, a book would be quit...

I was a creative writing minor in college.  The #1 rule I lived by was "Show, Don't Tell."   For example, a book would be quite boring if it was all telling.  "She was in a church.  It was old.  It was night. She said "I'm cold and scared."  Versus "She darted into the sanctuary of the cathedral with only a sliver of moonlight to guide her.  The winter wind whipped around the joints of the building, finding a crevice to permeate the safety she thought she had found."  Get the picture?

It's the guiding principle behind most art -- to involve the reader or beholder as an active participant in the story or painting, instead of a passive one.  Trust that the reader or beholder is smart enough to make the connections and follow you.

What does this have to do with my FGvW mission statement?  Two things that are almost related, but not quite: 

1.  I think it's a cheap literary mechanism that so often if someone is overweight that they're assumed to be miserable, lonely, unloved, and own 39 cats.  If a person is overweight and 100% happy or 100% normal, the author has to work against that stereotype to say "but really, s/he loves his/her life!"  Though, I fully admit that I'm not the most well-read person out there, especially when it comes to fiction.  Does anyone know an example of a piece of fiction where a character never blames their body fat for their unhappiness at one point or another or that it's mentioned that the person is fat, and never brought up again?  It just seems that with fat people, their weight is almost a character (antagonist) onto its own.

2.  Magazines.  Ugh.  If you've been with FGvW for a while you know that I have a love/hate relationship with magazines.  The girly side of me enjoys looking at new makeup, fashions, or human interest stories.  The FGvW side of me abhors when they give out diet advice.  Why?  Because they so often tell, and not show.

Case in point:  How often have you seen an article for the 1,400 Calorie Diet! or the 1,600 Calorie Diet! or any similar article variation without a disclaimer about how to calculate your daily caloric needs.  Why 1400 calories?  I think that's how many calories the average coma patient burns.  Some doctors say it's the threshold between starvation and proper nutrition, but even then, it greatly varies for people.

Is it because *twirls hair* girls are dumb and math is hard?  OR is it because the average magazine reader searching for a miracle diet would rather remain blissfully unaware of the basic rule behind all weight loss success, that is, the number of calories consumed must be less than the number of calories expended.  Eat less, exercise more.  BUT, there is a caveat that they never really mention -- that if you restrict your caloric intake too far, and burn too many calories, a body (especially a woman's because we're genetically programmed to hold on to fat/calories in the chance we become pregnant) will start to resist burning calories (on top of all the other psychological and physiological effects of the starvation/malnutrition).

Ask any dietitian or doctor -- in order to lose weight, one must eat.  One must eat in a manner that fuels their weight loss (a diverse range of nutritious and unprocessed/minimally processed food).  That's a hard headline to sell on a magazine, eh?  The general magazine reader would balk at a headline that said "The 1,800 Calorie Weight Loss Diet."  But for me, that's my sweetspot.  That's what I need to eat in order to grant my body the permission to burn calories.  It's different for each person, and this is why I suggest working with a dietitian or a doctor.  This is also why I don't publish my food log or diet on my blog because I don't want anyone blindly following my path without knowing what is best for their body.

I highly recommend using a BodyMediaFit device that measures (not approximates) your activity.  There are also devices like the FitBit that don't measure (i.e. they do not measure the heat coming off your body), but rather approximate calorie burn.  Some people love them, but I'm a bit dubious.  If you cannot afford one of these devices, I recommend doing the math -- (Basal Metibolic Rate) x (Harris Beneditct Factor) = Caloric Expenditure.  Or if you are afraid of math, use a handy dandy web calculator like this one, or like this one. 

And then just DO THE MATH.

1 lb = 3500 Calories

If you're dieting for 7 days a week (i.e. no "cheat days," which I think are a bad mentality), you need to average a 500 calorie deficit a day to lose 1 lb a week, average a 750 calorie deficit a day to lose 1.5 lbs a week, and average a 1000 calorie deficit a day to lose 2 lbs a week.  The CDC claims that people who lose between 1-2 lbs a week are most likely to keep the weight off in the long haul.  (Flip the "deficit" to a "surplus" to gain weight.)

So next time you see an article like that, please don't rush to follow it (especially if it's called a "detox" or a "cleanse") without knowing what works for you.  Take the ideas, take the recipes, but don't take it as a diet tailored for your individual needs.

So... what will magazines have left to sell once an educated public is reading them?

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4 comments

  1. Sharing this on FACEBOOK! Love this soooo much, even though I am a fitbit nerd. :0)

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  2. Wow!!! You are so right about everything. <3 this sooo much, with Christie! You are a good writer with something actually interesting to read with a point!!!

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  3. One of the best posts I've read in a long time. Fantastic.

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  4. Christie -- thank you. I wasn't trying to knock FitBit. I just have my own preference. You use what works for you, right?

    Amanda -- thank you for the love. The flipside is please let me know if I fail to be interesting and/or make a point.

    Karen -- thanks! I'm glad you liked the post.

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<3 Robby