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50/50: Cheaters never win

On a recent trip to Bismarck, my right hand banged out the beat to some funky music. For three hours. When I checked my steps for the day, I was pleased to see I’d put in over 20,000. And only by walking out to my car!

Then I realized that if I just moved my arm up and down (the one that was wearing my Up), I could rack up the steps. I’ll get in shape SO fast! I don’t even need to be walking or anything. I can just lie here reading, draping my arm over the side of the couch, lazily lifting it up and down.

But I thought about it. That’s not going to get me in shape at all (except for maybe my flabby triceps). That’s cheating. So I started thinking of other ways we can all cheat about our health.

We can say that an apple has 80 calories, even if it’s the size of a small basketball. We can drink only protein drinks for a month and lose 20 pounds. We can get our stomachs stapled or shrunk or banded or whatever else can be done to stomachs to prevent them from holding too much food. We can get liposuction (does anyone even do that anymore? I haven’t heard) or my new favorite – fat freezing. I don’t even know what that is, but it makes me shiver just thinking about it.

I heard an ad on the radio that promised weight loss “without any exercise!” Just swallow this little pill. I turned to my son and said, “Why would anyone want to lose weight without exercise? Exercise is what helps our heart, helps build muscle and helps us feel fabulous.”

“People are lazy,” my wise teenager replied.

Before you start sending me angry emails about the legitimacy of stomach banding or liposuction or drinking only maple syrup and cayenne pepper in lemon water, if that’s what you choose to do, that’s fine. But let’s look a little deeper at what may be going on here.

If I am a moderately intelligent person and I believed, if only for a second, that I would actually be working out just because my band said so, who am I cheating? My Jawbone Up? Who am I cheating when I eat 150 calories’ worth of an apple and only mark down 80 calories? My nutritionist? Who am I cheating when I drink only protein shakes for two weeks? All those other people who are eating real food and exercising and not losing a lot of weight?

I think we are cheating ourselves. But we may think there’s someone “out there” who’s in charge of our health, in charge of our weight loss, in charge of our bodies. So when the doctor tells us to go on a 1,800-calorie diet, we have to outsmart her.

So we eat a row of carrot cake (who would ever do that?) and count it as 100 calories. We take a five-minute walk and count it as 200 calories’ worth of exercise. When we step on that scale again and see a 5-pound gain we say, “Oh no! Something must be wrong with my thyroid! I’ve stuck to my diet exactly and nothing’s changed!” Then with a concerned look on her face, your doctor may suggest something external to help you with your weight loss.

If you are in charge of your body, what do you want for it? Do you want strength? Do you want perfect health? Do you want to feel slim and have a bounce in your step when you walk? Do you want to be able to ski and jump and dance? Then become the CEO of your life. Don’t expect anyone or anything else to magically create the life and body you desire. As that pithy quote states, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.”

That’s not to say we don’t need support. We need all the help we can get. But maybe more in the form of friends, family and trained practitioners saying, “How may I support you best?” instead of “Here’s what you have to do ...” Then you can hear what they’re suggesting and decide what you think is best and still be in charge of your life.

There’s really no such thing as cheating when it comes to your body. It’s going to keep doing what it’s doing, relying on you to feed it, move it, love it. If you think you’ve gotten away with cheating, realize you may only be cheating yourself. An apple’s an apple. A step’s a step. And it may look impressive on my app, but I most certainly did not walk 20,125 steps the other day. But my arms sure were tired.

Susie Ekberg Risher is a writer living in Fargo. Follow her on a yearlong journey to lose 50 pounds – half through emotional work and half through physical effort. Readers can reach her at