The Bear Necessities

 

 

Chrys Stevenson (Portrait by Michael Barnett)

Chrys Stevenson (Portrait by Michael Barnett)

This blog focuses on religion, science, politics and skepticism – all the things that are dangerous to talk about at dinner parties!

Oh, and the title of this blog?  It’s a mondegreen taken from the hymn, “Gladly the cross I’d bear”.

If only all religious texts could be reduced to the harmlessness of a myopic teddy bear!

Articles

If you like my writing, you can see more of it scattered across the internet. My LinkedIn profile has a complete list of my published articles, letters to the editor and media appearances.

High Court Challenge against Federal Funding for School Chaplaincy

I  was in Canberra from 5-9 March with Ron Williams and Hugh Wilson, reporting on Ron’s second High Court Challenge against Federal Funding for the National School Chaplaincy Program. You’ll see my blogs on the four days of the hearing below, together with some related comments (and rants)!

 

The cost of mounting a High Court Challenge is astronomical and Ron would greatly appreciate donations towards the cause  – details at his HCC website.

NSW Humanists and Jeremy Bentham

On Friday, 20 June I was in Sydney to speak about the Enlightenment philosopher, Jeremy Bentham and his influence on Australia, for the NSW Humanist Society’s  Symposium on the Enlightenment. Here is the YouTube video of my speech:

Here is a fully referenced transcript (with bibliography) – Australia a Christian Nation? Nonsense on Stilts: How Jeremy Bentham’s humanism shaped Australia

Brisbane Skepticamp

On Saturday, 19 July I gave a presentation at Brisbane Skepticamp about the myths, lies, snake-oil and outright nonsense one must negotiate to lose weight ‘skeptically’. I spoke about how I lost nearly 50kg  without gimmicks, products, programs, ‘miracle foods’,  or subjecting myself to the tortuous antics of a Biggest Loser contestant.

 

 

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Acknowledgement

Many thanks to Glenn Watson for producing the Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear image. Also, thanks to Glenn, keep your eye out for a ‘new look’ Gladly blog. Coming soon!

ACL the ‘Embarrassing Uncle’ at the Canberra Hyatt’s Party

Sir_Les_Patterson_Allegro3You know the old trope of the embarrassing uncle? The blathering black sheep of the family who insists on turning up at family gatherings? That ghastly, politically incorrect bigot who inevitably embarrasses himself with his anti-social behaviour and ruins the party for everyone else?

I just can’t help envisaging the Australian Christian Lobby as a Sir-Les-Pattersonesque mad uncle who has just rolled up at a party hosted by the very classy Canberra Hyatt – trashing, through association, the Hyatt’s otherwise-stellar reputation.

About now, I imagine, the management team at the Canberra Hyatt are wishing they’d shut all the doors and windows and just pretended they weren’t home when mad uncle Lyle Shelton and his despicable band of bigots came knocking.

Instead, the Hyatt agreed to host the Australian Christian Lobby’s annual conference this weekend – inconveniently forgetting their own pro-gay policy which stands in stark contrast to the obsessive bigotry and bastardry of the ACL.

Should anyone be in doubt that the Australian Christian Lobby exists, primarily, as an anti-gay hate group, consider this graph, compiled by Jacob Holman in 2012:

ACL Graph

Now, as a general principle, I would not object to a commercial venue accepting a booking from the Australian Christian Lobby. As the Hyatt has, rightfully, pointed out, the ACL is not involved in illegal activity and venues can hardly be expected to vet every client to assess whether their ‘values’ are in line with those of the managers and/or proprietors.

In a former life I was the Queensland manager of a large international hotel chain. I certainly wouldn’t have expected my hoteliers to refuse bookings for accommodation or conferences on the basis that the client’s views conflicted with their own. And I certainly understand that hosting an event for profit does not imply the venue endorses the views of its client.

But, I think there are some circumstances where a venue may be well-advised to steer clear of a business relationship with a controversial individual or group. I would not, for example, want the brand of my accommodation house tainted by association with a group which was clearly racist (e.g. Stormfront or Restore Australia) or one whose efforts endangered lives – the Australian Vaccination Sceptics Network springs readily to mind here.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that homophobia is analagous to racism and that the high rate of LGBTI suicide – particularly among youth – is directly linked to a toxic, anti-gay culture fuelled by the likes of the ACL. The ACL functions to make homophobia respectable just as America’s Southern Baptist Convention once functioned to make racism seem part of God’s loving plan.

I don’t want to be inconsistent or hypocritical here. When The Grand Hotel in Mildura cancelled Catherine Deveny’s accommodation booking after she made some controversial comments about ANZAC Day, I objected on the grounds that it was none of the Grand’s damned business what opinions their guests might have.

“Apparently, it’s a new policy being tried out – guests’ political and social opinions must conform with management’s before a booking can be honoured,” I wrote.

“What’s next, party political hotels? The Quality Hotel Mildura LNP Grand? The Tullamarine Airport Greens Hotel? The Laverton Labor Inn?

Those clever bunnies at Quality are set to revolutionise the hotel industry! Just watch! Next we can segregate based on religion and race too. What fun!”

The ACL/Hyatt situation is, I think, rather different.

Increasingly, businesses like the Hyatt find their brands are strengthened by embracing positive values like diversity, equality and inclusiveness. Yes, it’s all very warm and fuzzy and good-corporate-citizenish for the Hyatt to publicly endorse human rights, marriage equality and oppose the bullying of LGBTI youth. But, it’s also good business. It’s a stance designed to make guests feel more warm and fuzzy about staying in Hyatt Hotels or holding corporate events at these venues. It’s hard to say that the Hyatt exploits the goodwill of the LGBTI community for fun and profit without sounding ungrateful for their support. But, ultimately, companies which support LGBTI rights are doing so, at least in part, because the goodwill of the LGBTI community and the vast majority of straight people who support their aims is good for the bottom line. And there’s nothing wrong in that! It’s a win-win situation.

Where things went pear-shaped with the Hyatt Canberra is that, while ‘exploiting’ their pro-gay credentials on the one hand, the hotel accepted a conference booking from Australia’s most high-profile, virulent, anti-gay lobby group – effectively assisting them to spread their malicious misinformation and blokey bigotry and lending the conference the cachet of the Hyatt’s name.

Had the Hyatt taken no position on LGBTI issues, I would have had no issue with them hosting the conference. I might have thought it was a dumb business decision, but I wouldn’t have protested against it. What has inspired me to take fingertip to keyboard in this case is the hypocrisy of the Hyatt taking a public (and profitable) pro-gay stance and then making money by hosting a group which devotes the vast majority of its considerable resources to opposing gay rights and pumping outrageously false anti-gay propaganda into the public square. That’s what differentiates this situation from that of Deveny and the Grand Hotel, Mildura.

Now the Hyatt has been educated about the fuck-wittery of these fundamentalist fools, they have been thrown into major damage control. But it’s too late to uninvite mad-uncle Lyle and his sorry band of sodomy-obsessed side-kicks. However, my friend, Troy Simpson has taken a calm and level-headed approach to the issue and, today, spoke directly with the folk at the Hyatt. Troy reports:

“Initially, the Hyatt faced a barrage of online messages calling for the Hyatt to cancel the ACL’s booking. But, today, the Hyatt has reached out to the LGBT community in three positive ways.

First, the LGBT community will be holding its own event at the Hyatt at 6.00pm this Friday: the Australian People’s Lobby Party. The Party will be an opportunity for the LGBT community to support and affirm one another, provide an opportunity for the Hyatt to reaffirm its commitment to the LGBT community, and provide public faces to the people whose rights and dignity the ACL wish to deny.

Second, the LGBT will urgently contact Rodney Croome and Ivan Hinton of Australian Marriage Equality (AME) to see what the Hyatt can offer the AME cause, such as donating a getaway at a Hyatt venue as a prize for an AME fundraiser.

Third, and most significantly, tonight the Hyatt will speak with head office in Chicago about issuing a statement that unambiguously reaffirms the Hyatt’s commitment to the LGBT community and suggesting that, next year, the ACL might find a different venue that better matches the ACL’s own “values”.”

The remarkable result is that, while the ACL will get to have their conference at the Hyatt, they come out of this looking like the massive embarrassment they are. They will be the embarrassing uncle at the Canberra Hyatt’s party. They will be tolerated rather than welcomed. They will be treated respectfully and courteously but they will clearly be there under duress – and there will be a huge, collective sigh of relief when they’re gone. What’s more, it seems their conference will, ironically, work to further the cause of marriage equality.

So, in the end, it’s a good outcome, But I expect, next year, when the ACL comes knocking at the Hyatt’s (or any other respectable event venue’s) door they may find the pervading stench of their presence acts as a powerful deterrent against anyone accepting their booking. The price of any kind of association with the ACL is increasingly not worth the stain it leaves on the corporate brand. It seems those embarrassing uncle types never stagger out the door without leaving behind a nasty stain on the carpet – and homophobia is such a disgusting and difficult stain to shift.

Chrys Stevenson

15 LGBTI Priorities for ALP National Conference 2015

Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear: Assorted Rants on Religion, Science, Politics and Philosophy from a bear of very little brain:

I don’t often reblog, but this is an excellent post from my friend, Alastair Lawrie.

Originally posted on alastairlawrie:

There are now less than 12 months left until the next Australian Labor Party National Conference. To be held in Melbourne next July 24 to 26, National Conference is still the supreme decision-making body of the (traditionally) centre-left major party of Australian politics. National Conference is therefore the main opportunity to secure ‘progressive’ change in ALP policies during this term of Parliament, including on those issues affecting the LGBTI community.

And the first National Conference held after a loss of Government, as this one will be, offers more chance than most to help ‘reset’ the direction of the Australian Labor Party, to reject some of the worst policies of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Government (including the processing and resettlement of LGBTI refugees in countries which criminalise homosexuality) and to propose new, better policies which promote the fundamental equality of LGBTI Australians.

Which means that now is the time for LGBTI activists and…

View original 3,592 more words

World Congress of Families Protest – Parliament House Canberra, Thursday 28/8/14

 

photo (99)

This is my family. I live with my 90 year old mother, Daphne.

Daphne has Alzheimer’s. She struggles with her short-term memory. But she is still very switched on and she knows what her values are – the same values she and my Dad taught me.

When I was 13 years old I read an article in The Courier-Mail about ‘homosexuals’.

“What’s a homosexual?” I asked my Mum.

“Well,” she said, “You know how most men fall in love with women?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Some men fall in love with other men. Those men are called homosexuals.”

“Oh! OK.” I said. My question answered, I went on with reading the newspaper.

That was as big a fuss as was ever made in our family over homosexuality.

When I was 18, I was in a rock opera. During rehearsals I fell madly in love with the composer. I did everything I could to make him notice me, but to no avail. Finally, at the opening night after-party,  some kind person took me aside and said, “Sweetheart, it’s not going to happen for you. He’s gay.”

“Gay?”

“He’s a homosexual. He likes guys.”

I was bereft. In tears, I rang my Dad to come and pick me up and blubbed out the whole sad story.

“But I [sob], love [sniff], him!!!!!”

My darling Dad just let me wail and then gave me a hug and said, “Never mind, luv, plenty more to choose from.”

There was not one word against the young man or his sexuality.

In my family we took people as we found them. We took in ‘orphans’ of all kinds. Our Christmas table routinely hosted 15 guests or more – mostly people Mum and Dad had stumbled across who had nowhere else to go.

If you were in need, you became ‘our family’.

Our family only judged people on how they treated us. If they were kind and honest and treated us with respect, we reciprocated.

Most of our friends were eccentric in one way or another, so in this milieu, homosexuality seemed no more than a minor diversion from the norm.

My Dad was not a fan of Christians. He found them (generally) to be narrow-minded, hateful and hypocritical.

“Bloody Bible-bashing bastards!” he’d grumble at whatever was the affront-du-jour.

But, if his friends were Christians, he accepted them unquestioningly – although he could never resist a little gentle ribbing.

“He’s a BIble-basher, but he’s a good bloke, darling!” he’d probably say.

This was my family. We did not hate. We loved. We did not exclude people – we invited them in. We did not judge people – we delighted in their eccentricities and the colour they lent to our lives.

So, I can say uncategorically that the World Congress of Families which is (trying) to hold a conference in Canberra this week does not represent my family.

My Dad (were he still alive) would have called them “Bible-bashing bastards” – and bastards they certainly are.

When I told my Mum about this group tonight she said, “Some people just can’t help sticking their noses into other people’s business and causing trouble, can they?”

No, they can’t, Mum. But we can stand up against those sort of people. 

Something else our family values taught me is that ‘All that it takes for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing’.

“I can’t just do NOTHING!” my Dad would say to Mum as he headed off to help some single mother or battered wife or mate with money problems. 

I can’t get to Canberra to protest our government’s disgusting toadying to this homophobic, sexist fundamentalist Christian group but I have signed a petition and added a photo of my Mum and I (our family) to a family album that’s going to be presented at Parliament House, Canberra, this Thursday at 11am.

I’m proud to stand up and say, “Not our family! We are not represented by the World Congress of Families. They do not speak for us and they certainly do not represent OUR values.”

I think it’s important to tell our politicians that those who support this kind of hate group will never get our vote. 

Will you join the protest?

Please visit the Vocal Majority website, sign the petition and upload a photo of your family.

And, if you can, please join the protest at Parliament House, Canberra at 11am this Thursday, 28 August.

Chrys Stevenson

 

 

 

Williams on School Chaplaincy: Fishing for a Senate Inquiry

Ronald - not Donald!

Ronald – not Donald!

I had lunch with High Court Challenge litigant Ron Williams last week. Over a meal of fish and chips, we chatted about his long battle against the Commonwealth and Scripture Union Queensland over Federal funding for the chaplaincy program at his children’s Toowoomba school. 

Ron and I talked about the history of the program, its political context and the political purposes it served. We agreed that school chaplaincy – for politicians and for the parachurch agencies which supply chaplains – has very little to do with the real welfare and mental health needs of children.

We also talked about the skullduggery of the government in keeping this program alive, despite two High Court rulings that the Commonwealth has illegally expended close to half a billion tax payers’ dollars on a program they had no authority to fund.

The threat of legal sanctions for this kind of behaviour was easily solved – the government simply changed the law!

Over lunch, Ron confided that he is now pushing for a Senate inquiry into what he calls “possibly the most outrageous political stunt ever foisted upon the taxpayers of Australia”. Whistleblowers are already lining up to testify.

Today, The King’s Tribune has published an extensive article (written by me in consultation with Ron Williams), about the political motivations which underlie bipartisan support for the program and the reasons why there must be a Senate inquiry into this travesty of justice, democracy and public accountability.

To accompany the article, Ron has substantially updated his video detailing the history of his four year battle against the National School Chaplaincy Program, adding his personal appeal for a Senate inquiry,

Help the cause. Write to your local Senator today and demand an inquiry. Maybe send them a link to The King’s Tribune article and Ron’s video.

Chrys Stevenson

Defying Gravity, Mischief Managed and Joie de Vivre

On 22 August last year I very trepidatiously stepped into a gym. I weighed 126.6kg – 3kg down from my heaviest weight of over 129kg. (Now, I confess, I did cheat a bit – having two major cancer surgeries removed a few bits and a kilo or so. My doctor tells me those kilos “don’t count”. I say all’s  fair in weight-loss and surgery!)

The week before, I rang the gym and spoke to a nice man called Peter who said, based on my height, I should aspire to be around 72kg and that would take 12-18 months solid work.

I was taken aback. 72kg! 12-18 months??? Oh, no, no, no! I wasn’t up for extreme weight loss. I wanted – needed – to drop back to a weight at which I remembered being fairly comfortable and feeling just a little bit sexy,  but that was taking things too far.

“No!” I said, perhaps too abruptly. “I’m not looking to go that far. I worked out if I can lose 1kg per week I’ll be around 95kg by next Easter. That’s all I’m aiming for.”

“OK,” he said, “It’s up to you.”

I signed up for the gym and started on a very low impact 30 minute workout. I also started eating ‘clean’ and reducing my portion sizes. Early in the piece, someone suggested I use My Fitness Pal to track my calories and that has been hugely helpful in keeping me ‘honest’.

Once I worked out how many calories per day I could eat and still lose 1kg, I just kept to that.

The mantra, “If what you’re doing is working just keep doing it,” kept me off the chocolate eclairs and on the treadmill.

Because one tends to lose more than 1kg per week in the very early stages of weight loss, I reached the 95kg target well before Easter 2014.

“Oh well!” I thought, “Might as well keep going until Easter and aim for 90kg.”

So, I did, and got there pretty much on target.

“That wasn’t so bad,” I thought. “Maybe I should just lose another 5kg so I can hover between 85 and 90.”

But, at 85, I found I was between two sizes (14 and 16) and it made buying clothes difficult.

So I thought, “What the hey! Another few weeks and I can get down to 80 and be a comfortable size 14.”

At 80kg, I decided to try for 78kg so I could do the ‘hover’ thing. 78kg became my new ‘target’ because I knew that I didn’t want to be super skinny and it was a weight at which I’d be very comfortable. This was the weight I was in my 20s. Then, because of the pressure put on women, I thought I was fat. Now, I was determined to be 78kg and wallow in the knowledge it is definitively not fat!

And today I reached that goal. Thursday 31 July 2014, 11 months and one week after I began, I weighed in at  77.9kg.

Now – don’t laugh – I will lose a little bit more just to allow for weight fluctuation, but really, that’s it. I’m done. The ‘weight loss project’ is over and now the hard work of maintaining it begins.

I don’t expect it to be hard. I didn’t go ‘on a diet’ so I won’t be changing the way I eat .- although I may allow myself three pieces of chocolate instead of two, a sandwich for lunch instead of a fruit platter, and a meringue with my coffee (on occasion).

I won’t go back to drinking alcohol – I don’t miss it; although I won’t knock back the occasional celebratory glass either.

And I will keep exercising – although five days a week at the gym is not on my long-term (or even short-term) agenda. I do try to do something – walk, gym, swim or gardening – for an average of 45 minutes per day. I’m not sure where the limits are with this new stage, but I’ll find them and, when I do, I’ll stick with whatever works.

There are some things I’ve learned on this journey, which I’d like to share.

The most helpful, supportive thing that anyone did for me was to tell me I was ‘hot’ just the way I was – that the size or shape of my body had nothing to do with how they felt about me.  Then, they both supported and delighted in my decision to lose the weight because it pleased me and they wanted me to be fit and happy and confident. Not once did they make a derogatory remark about  of how I used to look or question my weight loss decisions. They just stood on the sidelines admiringly and said, “Well done!”

That, was a gift beyond measure. It was the nicest, most precious thing anyone has ever done for me.

My friends and readers have also been hugely supportive and tolerant of the barrage of selfies and breathless “down another dress size” posts when they signed up to follow me for religious and political comment. For those who are sick to death of the weight loss thing, I’ll try to ease back on it now. To those who’ve shared my excitement and had fun joining in with my personal transformation, I say “Thank you! You’re weird, but you’re wonderful.”

So many people think they can bully or shame people into weight loss. It’s counter-productive. One (immediately ex) boyfriend said, “You used to be so beautiful … what happened?”

And most women have heard the ‘well-meaning’ comment, “You have such a lovely face, you’d be so beautiful if you just dropped a few kilos.”

You know what? I think I was beautiful before I lost weight. All that’s changed now is that clothes shopping is easier and more fun.  I haven’t morphed into Elle McPherson. I’ve still got droopy boobs and a soft puppy tummy – I’m not perfect and I don’t want to be. I embrace my imperfections – they tell the story of my life. I like to think they give me character. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ with it!

I don’t think women should lose weight or should have to lose weight. I just think you need to find out where you’re happy.  I was happy being fat for a lot of years because it served a purpose. Then, there came a point where that protective layer of flesh just seemed – well – superfluous. It was like a winter coat in the middle of summer. I just felt I didn’t need it any more.

It’s about agency, not expectations. And I don’t think it’s helpful to suggest to a person who’s wearing a winter coat because they need it to keep warm – perhaps even to stay alive – that they should take it off. Let them decide what to do, when and if the season of their life changes,  and support their decision.

I’ve changed the decor in my house recently because I’ve changed. ‘Country cottage’ didn’t seem to reflect me any more. I’ve gone for a weird mix of French provincial/modern steampunk/eccentric Edwardian explorer’s study. It wouldn’t suit everyone’s taste but then, neither do I. (Here’s hoping ‘empty bank account’ suits the new me, because redecorating – even via eBay and Gumtree – ain’t cheap!)

The redecoration is not a revolutionary change – it’s an update – a bit of zhushing. That’s a bit how I feel about the weight loss. There came a point when my life was changing and I looked at my body and thought, “Who the fuck is this? It’s not me anymore. It’s not what I feel like inside. It’s not who I want to be now.”

For me, losing weight was about being reassured that I was beautiful, nurtured, loved and admired just-the-way-I-was; that my worth as a woman or as a human being  did not depend on my body. Somehow, that realisation set me free to embark on a journey to discover ‘the real me’.   That doesn’t mean larger me wasn’t real. It just meant that I changed, my view of myself changed,  so the soft-furnishings had to go.

Of course, it hasn’t just been about the size of my body. It’s been about reassessing my life, my priorities, my goals, my attitudes and my ambitions. At the beginning of the year I chose “Defying Gravity” as my theme song and although my boobs seem not to have complied with the directive, I think the rest of me has done pretty well.

So here I am. “Mischief managed” as they would say in Harry Potter. I saw this sweatshirt on sale at Big W last week and I thought, “That’s it! That’s what I want to wear the day I reach my goal.”

And, here I am.

photo (96)Chrys Stevenson

 

Don’t legitimise the Australian Christian Lobby, Mr Shorten! – An open letter from Adamm Ferrier

Apparently I wasn’t the only person to be taken aback by the news that Labor leader, Bill Shorten, has agreed to be the keynote speaker at the Australian Christian Lobby’s forthcoming conference. When I rang his office yesterday, his very polite staffer acknowledged they’d been deluged with complaints.

I was planning to write a blog post in the form of an open letter to Mr Shorten until I came across this letter from Adamm Ferrier on my friend, Doug Pollard’s, Facebook page.  It is beautifully written and really says everything I wanted to say.  

Adamm speaks for me (except for the ‘church-going Anglican part!) and, I expect, his words reflect the thoughts of many of my readers.

If they do, you may wish to contact Mr Shorten’s office yourself.

bill.shorten.mp@aph.gov.au
(03) 93261300
twitter @billshortenmp

Chrys Stevenson

 

An Open Letter to Bill Shorten from Adamm Ferrier

Dear Mr Shorten,
aferrier
I met you once, back in 2008 when you visited the Western Hospital in Sunshine Victoria. I was impressed at the time at your integrity and earnestness. I have continued to be impressed by your integrity despite the circus of musical-chair Prime Ministers – both of whom, I might add, appeared to have every virtue as far as the public were concerned excepting team playing. One can understand the political desire to gain a majority in the lower house, but frankly, I simply don’t know what the Australian Labor Party stands for any more. The ALP might just as well change its name to “Not the Liberal Party”, rather like “Not the Nine O’Clock News” but without the irony, charm or intentional humour.

I am a regular church-going Anglican. So I feel somewhat qualified to consider the Australian Christian Lobby as nothing short of a sanitised Ku Klux Klan, and find it difficult to understand why any political party in its right mind would lend credence to this most unChristian of organisations.

If you feel the overwhelming need to court this group of right wing lunatics then by all means do so: but remember, a leopard cannot change its spots. They will never endorse the Australian Labor Party: never in a million years. Not even with your undoubted charm and charisma and boyish smile. Never, mate. Never.

One day, I hope, someone with some sense in the party will connect the dots: Australians don’t give a tinker’s cuss if people are religious, but the vast majority resent moralistic views being shoved down our throats by a self-appointed and self-righteous federal lobby group.

Only a fool would think that courting the ACL could result in an electoral dividend for the Australian Labor Party.

Exasperatedly yours

Adamm Ferrier

 

Adamm Ferrier, RN, holds a Masters degree in Health Science Administration and is a lecturer and doctoral candidate at the School of Public Health & Biosciences at La Trobe University. 

Clearly, Adamm Ferrier’s views are his own and do not reflect those of La Trobe University.

Weight a Minute! That’s Bullshit!

Transcript of  my presentation on losing weight skeptically for Skepticamp, Brisbane Skeptics Society – Saturday, 19 July 2014

This is me on Christmas DaFat Chrysy 2012. I was Size 24 and weighed over 129kg.

In August last year, I decided to lose the weight. Since then, I’ve dropped 50 kilos – a fairly consistent loss of a kilo per week over nearly 12 months.

My doctor calls me The Incredible Disappearing Woman.

I’m not a weight loss evangelist. If you don’t want to lose weight that’s absolutely fine with me.

But, if you need to or want to lose weight – I’d like to suggest that you do it skeptically.

People keep asking me, “How did you do it?”

And when I say, “Diet and exercise” you can see their faces fall, poor pets.

Diet and Exercise

“Oh,” groaned one guy who clearly thought I held the secret to demolishing the verandah over his toolshed, “I was hoping you were going to say something easier than diet and exercise.”

Here’s the billion dollar secret.  Losing weight is about maths, not myths.

You will gain weight if you eat more calories than you burn.

You will lose weight if you burn more calories than you eat.

It’s so astoundingly boringly simple. I may have to throw in a little pole dancing to make this speech entertaining.

Or maybe not ….

It’s not an exact science but, basically, weight loss can reduced to a simple formula.

Formula

It amounts to this. You need to know how many calories per day you burn at your normal activity level,  you need to boost that with some calories burned with extra exercise, and, to lose ½ kilo per week, you need to eat around 500 calories per day less than you burn.

You can go online and find a basal metabolic rate calculator.

The good news is that even if youspend the entire day on the sofa you’re still burning calories – quite a lot of them. This is your basal metabolic rate – the calories you burn just being a sloth

You’ll also find the factors to account for your normal activity level online. If you’re basically sedentary, multiply by 1.2.

I’m a writer. My activity level is somewhere between comatose and death. Frankly, I just based my equation on the sloth figure.

You’re going to have to do extra exercise. Exercise buys food calories and the object is to reduce how much you eat, not to starve or even to feel hungry. Be realistic. Work out how much extra exercise you can do and factor the calories you’ll burn into the equation.

There are roughly 3,500 calories in half a kilo. So, to lose half a kilogram per week, you need a calorie deficit of around 500 calories per day.  If you want to lose a kilo, you need to subtract 1000 a calories. But, be aware, you’ll almost certainly need to increase your exercise significantly to buy more calories to eat or you’ll be on a starvation diet.

Please, don’t eat less than the minimum recommended number of calories without consulting your doctor. 

Now, I need to make a major disclaimer here. This is not a magic formula!  The figures are a bit fuzzy because half a kilo isn’t exactly 3500 calories but somewhere between 2000-5000.

Your individual physiology and size comes into it and estimating how many calories are in the food you eat is never going to be exact.

But that doesn’t mean it won’t work. It just means you may have to juggle the figures a bit to reach your weekly target.

It’s a starting point. You may find you have to eat less or exercise more. I had to do both, but I did it in consultation with my doctor. You may find you can eat a bit more or exercise a little less and still reach your goal. Good for you! I hate you!

rocket surgery

The formula isn’t a ‘magic pill’. But it gives you a no bullshit starting point.  And, for most people – not all – but most – eating less calories than you burn will result in weight loss. It ain’t rocket surgery!

Technology can help. I use two free phone apps to help me track my calories in and calories out – one is called My Fitness Pal on which I log everything I eat and all the exercise I do.

And one is called Moves – it  makes it easy to track how far and for how long I’ve walked.

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Now, here’s a revelation– FAD DIETS WORK!

Because virtually any diet that drops your calorie consumption below your calorie expenditure will make you lose weight, any diet will work – as long as you stay on it, or don’t die in the attempt.

The weight loss industry is a multi-billion dollar scam; not because you won’t lose weight with Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig or by drinking diet shakes, cutting carbs, food combining or doing the Lemon Detox. It’s because, realistically, unless you keep paying out to these companies, few people will have the willpower or discipline to keep to their diets.

As for diet books, all the way out claims about miracle foods, super foods, eliminating toxic food groups, or other ‘weight loss discoveries are mostly complete and utter bollocks.  If the diets work they work because they limit the number of calories you eat.  The rest is gimmick.

You don’t need someone else’s diet plan. In fact, if you go on someone else’s plan you’ll almost certainly fail in the long term because it’s theirs – not yours – and you’re always going to revert to what’s familiar to you.

You don’t want to go ‘on a diet’ at all because that suggests it’s something you are going to go ‘OFF’. Instead, you need to work out a strategy for eating less calories, by modifying what you eat now.  You need to look at your calorie allowance and your current eating habits and work out what foods you can keep, what you’re willing to sacrifice, what you can keep if you reduce portion sizes, and what you can swap for lower calorie alternatives.

You will have to change the way you eat. But you don’t have to revolutionise it. It’s really not hard.

Here’s a typical day for me.*

BreakfastSour dough toast, lightly buttered with poached egg

cup of white coffee (skim milk, sweetener).

Morning teaWhite coffee (skim milk, sweetener)

LunchFruit platter AND 3-4 cracker biscuits topped with hommus

Afternoon tea: Skinny cappuccino (sweetener)

Pre-dinnerDiet Coke in a good wine glass, 30g soy rice crisp snacks

Dinner: 100g salmon fillet , home-made tomato sauce, steamed broccolini and brown rice

After Dinner(If I skipped the rice crisp snacks) White Coffee (skim milk, sweetener) and

2 squares Lindt chocolate.

But I’m not suggesting you copy what I eat. It’s up to you – not anyone else – to make your food choices – but do try to make healthy ones.

The Biggest Loser

The good news is that one of the biggest – and most harmful – myths about weight loss is that you have to go through Biggest Loser style torture at the gym to lose weight.

Going to the gym isn’t like that. And if it is – find a new gym!

That show didn’t encourage me to lose weight – it made me terrified to set foot in a gym. Luckily, I did join my local gym and I can honestly say that I lost 50kg, and got fit and strong and toned, with very little loose skin, without ever once going faster than a brisk walk, lifting more than 5kg or raising more than a light sweat.

I’m built for comfort, not speed.  I have never worked out until I threw up.  I Iost 50kg without once having to tie a tow rope around my waist and pull either an F-111, a semi-trailer or a locomotive. Occasionally I puff and pant a bit – that is the extent of my exertion.

Honestly, I’m still not fussed about exercising but I figure it’s the rent I have to pay for the new body.

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Once I started talking about weight loss on social media I started getting hammered with weight loss myths – even from my sceptical readers.

One of my Facebook readers scolded me for ignoring the fact that obesity might be due to genetic predisposition or to the inadvertent consumption of MSG.

“It’s not just about diet and exercise, Chrys!”

When I was fat, even I used to buy into what’s been dubbed, fat fatalism.  But, except in rare circumstances, it’s bullshit.

I am genetically predisposed to being overweight, I’ve had a hysterectomy, I’m menopausal, I suffer from chronic fatigue, and I have an underactive thyroid. Yet, fuck me dead, when I started exercising and counting calories the weight just melted off.

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It’s OK to be fat!  What isn’t OK is to believe that you can’t be thinner if you want to be. That misguided belief takes away your choice.

Sure, you might have a genetic predisposition to gain weight, but a 2011 study of nearly quarter of a million people showed genetics can be offset substantially with diet and exercise. And the idea that MSG causes weight gain is a myth. It’s as silly as claiming that mercury in vaccines causes autism. The only ‘hidden additive’ in food that is causing your weight gain is calories.

Many people assume I must have gone on an exclusion diet. What did I ‘cut out’ I’m asked. The assumption is that sugar and fat and carbs make you fat so they have to be eradicated in order to lose weight.  Sugar, fat and carbs are essential nutrients. They aren’t ‘bad’ for you.  In reasonable quantities they won’t make you fat. What is bad for you is too many of them.

Weight loss is about maths – calories in and calories out.  Weight loss myths abound and even skeptics fall for them. I fell for them.

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People of all sizes are beautiful. I have no tolerance for fat shaming. But, I’m a big advocate for personal choice.

And the good news is by counting calories and adding some gentle exercise you can almost certainly choose to lose weight, cheaply, relatively easily and keep it off long term. And if someone tells you it’s more complicated than that, just say, “Weight a minute – that’s bullshit!”

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Chrys Stevenson

 

* Anticipating the naysayers and food nazis out there, this is a ‘typical’ day’s eating for me only is that it reflects the kinds and quantities of food I may eat during the day. I don’t follow a ‘diet’ or a ‘plan’ so it’s not what I eat every day. Please don’t extrapolate this and say, “She eats too much [xyz]!” or “She doesn’t get enough [zyx]“

You can’t take this an assume it’s all I eat. Some days I eat more. Some days I eat less. It evens out over a week.

Sometimes I’ll have more salad, sometimes a day will include more carbs or protein or fibre or,  (shock!) fat! I try to eat a balanced diet, but I’m no fanatic.  If I’m out and about, lunch will typically be a smoked salmon sandwich on multigrain bread with lettuce and cucumber. If I go out to dinner, I try to order something low calorie but, if nothing particularly low calorie is available, I order the best I can find and perhaps eat half.  I started out feeling a bit deprived by having to choose ‘low cal’ – now I find when I look at a menu those are actually the meals I gravitate towards. I’ve lost the stomach for pasta carbonara – literally!

I no longer drink alcohol at home, but I do have a glass or two on special occasions. Moderation is the key.

If it’s a special occasion, I eat what I want (without going overboard!) and I eat lightly for the next couple of days and try to do a bit more exercise.

Recommended Reading

The Skeptic’s Diet – Steve Novella – The New England Skeptical Society blog

How I lost 40lb doing everything wrong – Eric Davis – Skeptic North