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Hot-Tubbing With a Frog

What's similar about weight-gain creep and a frog in hot water? Hint: Inaction can be disastrous.

Do you remember the science experiment with the frog and hot water? How, if you put a frog in boiling water, he'll hop out? But if you put the frog in cold water and heat the water gradually, he'll remain until, alas, it is too late! The boiling water will kill him.

The experiment illustrates two points. First, conditions that would be intolerable if confronted in their entirety can be accommodated when introduced incrementally. I would not, for example, voluntarily carry around a 60-pound sack of bricks. Yet I had no problem acquiring a pound or two a year until I reached 183 pounds.

Second, in accommodating small, negative changes, we passively participate in our own demise. In my case, an instinct for survival told me that if I didn't shape up, I risked not having much of a future. Before being lulled into unconsciousness, I jumped out of the water and began a fitness regime while I still could.

Debbie Wagner, a nurse and coordinator at the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Wellness Center in Grass Valley, Calif., is frequently reminded of the limited time people have to act.

"By the time a person decides to change, the window of opportunity may be closed, or, at least closing," said Wagner. "For example, back or joint problems from years of carrying around extra weight make exercise painful. Increased pain leads to a more sedentary lifestyle that leads to more weight gain.

"Lack of exercise and increased weight contributes to heart disease, stroke, and cancer," Wagner reported. "The effects aren't noticed on any single day. Rather, they silently accumulate over time until past decisions create irreversible medical problems."

In my "BC" period (before conditioning) period, I loved anything round and greasy! Losing weight meant I'd have to go without. Exercise was a burden on top of an already heavy workload.

Silly me! I had it backwards. Deprivation isn't giving up that chocolate sundae. It's giving up a walk because of joint pain, or lack of energy. Deprivation isn't going without sausage pizza and beer. It's going without self-esteem when you look in the mirror.

Having made the decision to jump out of hot water would, you'd think, be permanent. Yet the pivotal decision is only the start: Each day, I must decide what to eat and whether to exercise.

Knowing the number of decisions that lie ahead could be daunting, if I let it be. Instead, I find the ongoing process reassuring. Past decisions don't control the future. If I mistakenly get into hot water, I can quickly hop back out.

If you've made the leap of faith, congratulations! If you're thinking about it, hurry! The water's getting hotter!

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