Monthly Archives: September 2013

Add wheels or lose pedals?

This is a rumination on how we learn.  When a kid learns to ride a bike, how do they do it?  My children were all kind of late to the bike riding game.  I don’t know if I can say my middle schooler rides a bike even now.  Doesn’t really swim, either, which is a separate question.  I have a grade schooler who has a learning disorder that involves overestimation of ones abilities, and so letting that one go swimming is a really terrifying proposition.  Yet that was the one who taught themselves to ride a bike through force of repetition.

I guess one thing children may do in learning is watch others.  This can have some hilarious results.  When I was teaching my oldest to tie her shoes, she would put her fingers down by her laces and then twirl them around in a dextrous imitation of what she saw of me tying my shoes, without actually doing anything.  The other problem is they’ve watched you tie their shoes while facing them for a few years, but when you want them to tie their shoes, it can seem backwards.  The answer, of course, is that they are imitating the process without understanding the effect on the medium.  Maybe my children are funnier this way than most.  But what does this have to do with weight maintenance?

Maybe I have an excessive sensitivity to the suffering of others, but i am really bothered by the idea that people want to lose weight and presumably keep it off and they don’t know how.  Imagine if in our society we didn’t put in the several weeks or months it takes to teach children to tie their shoes, but instead went with slip ons and velcro.  (Actually, I think part of the popularity of crocs was their slip on nature.  It’s not that people give up on teaching their kids, but there will be a few years there before they can learn when you just want to get out the door so you buy slipons.)  But the point is some things are difficult to learn.  Weight maintenance seems to be one of these things.

The analogy I was originally going for was riding a bicycle, and as my title references, does it work better to add training wheels, or in a new strategy you may have seen, remove pedals?  They make two wheeled things with no pedals at all, kind of a scooter that you sit on instead of standing and kicking.  Or you can simply unscrew the pedals from a bike.  Which is the more important aspect of learning to ride a bike, developing the strength to pedal fast, or trusting the gyroscopic forces of the turning wheels to keep you upright?  Is it better to cultivate development with external support or simplify things?

It probably depends on the person.  How do you teach kids to swim?  Do you cover them with floatation devices, put them on a kick board, or just keep dropping them in the water until they realize they can float?

I have a tendency to think that what is essential in maintenance is the thing that knock people out, which is the psychoemotional component.  This is like the principle of gyroscopics with the bike, buoyancy with swimming, and I guess in tying shoes it is knot tension. Nearly everyone understands the mechanics of weight management and calorie balance.  Now and then you’ll run into someone with very mistaken ideas on energy balance (I used to be one) but these people are seldom at the point of maintenance, they’re back still trying to figure out how to lose more than 6 pounds.

So I guess I’m making the claim that eating and exercising are like pedalling, or propelling your arms while swimming, or the twisting of fingers to tie knots.  They’re important, but they may not get you where you need to go.  If we look at early efforts at flying machines, people tried to imitate the mechanical flapping they saw on flying animals.  It turned out to matter less what birds do with their wings than what the wings were made of, and how they are shaped.  It was the fragility of wings, their give that assumes the form that results in lift.

But will focusing on the psychoemotional component work?  I think to some extent Sparkpeople has tapped into this, by teaching people to pursue goals, which is an inherent ego builder.  Buidling their program around support is generally helpful.  Though people have a tendency to withdraw.  They don’t understand the powerful tool that social interaction can be, that it is when they don’t feel like interacting that they really need to.  The 12 step movement incorporates assurances of this, that you work with others.  When you’re down, you need a meeting, and when you’re up, the meeting needs you.

Is it possible to work directly on depressive symptomology or does it need to be approached from the side?  I don’t know that there’s one right way to approach things.  Maybe training wheels will work better for some people.  They just pedal until the day they realize they training wheels aren’t touching the ground anymore.  (I guess this involves the parent raising them incrementally.)

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