Dr. Len's Cancer Blog

Expert perspective, insight and discussion

Dr. Len's Cancer Blog

The American Cancer Society

It's Groundhog Day; So How Large Is Your Shadow ?

by Dr. Len February 02, 2012

It's Groundhog Day, and that means millions of people will focus their attention on a furry little creature in Punxsutawney PA to see whether or not the animal sees its shadow. Breaking news bulletins say that he did, so we have six more weeks of winter to look forward to.


I--on the other hand--think there is a greater significance to Groundhog Day. It is the day when I check on my own shadow, and determine whether or not I have kept my commitment to keeping my weight steady during the past year, which has proven to be a difficult accomplishment. The answer this year is mostly yes, partly no.


A brief history:


A couple of years ago I took a look at my weight charts for the past decade (yes, Virginia, there are some of us who do that). What I saw disturbed me: for the three previous years, my weight would go down in January and February when I would rigorously diet, only to rise over the remaining months of the year. And, on top of that, when I looked back I saw that both the peaks and valleys were becoming higher and higher, so that each year my weight at the bottom of the trough was higher, and so was the peak in December. And that, my friends, would not suggest a healthy outcome.


So I dubbed this observation my "Groundhog Day Diet," based on the Bill Murray film of the same name. You may remember the picture: Murray relives Groundhog Day every day until he gets it right. Much like Mr. Murray, I decided that I would get it right by not going through the same cycle year after year.


Finally, this year I met with some success: I did gain some weight, but the peak was lower. And the numbers on the scale were steadier over the course of the year. I partly accomplished my goal. Where I missed was that I still weigh too much, just like lots of you. And, as any good doctor would tell you, over time weight takes its toll on things like our joints, our blood pressure, our cholesterol, you name it.


And here is another thought about Groundhog Day: every January many of us make a commitment to lose weight, be healthier, exercise more, etc. etc. Why not reinforce that commitment on Groundhog Day? Maybe next year you won't relive the same life. Maybe you can promise again that you are going to stick with your resolution to take better care of yourself.


Why should I do this, you might ask? And I reply why not?


Overweight and obesity is ravaging this country. A report in the Journal of the American Medical Association released yesterday tells us that over 1 in 3 adult men and women in this country are obese. Not just overweight, but obese. The toll that takes on us as people is enormous. Our health and our futures are at stake, and we all need to take a hard look at what is happening, and determine how each of us is going to address the problem. If we don't, we stand to move backwards in terms of our health, the quality of our lives and the very length of our years.


I will share with you that back in December I started to experience the effects of my weight, when my knees started to develop increasing pain. I had put on some December pounds (who doesn't?), my diet was out of control, and my exercise program became less of a priority. Six weeks later-and still working on getting back on track by being careful in what and how much I eat and exercising daily--the symptoms have abated somewhat. For me, weight gain made a very real and immediate difference in how I felt and how I could function. Losing some unnecessary pounds has made a meaningful difference in how I feel and how I function. (There are probably other contributing factors explaining my symptoms: my life is probably complicated a bit more than most because of my frequent auto and plane trips, not to mention sitting at my desk for hours on end. It certainly doesn't help.)


So what should you do?


You can commit to yourself and those you love that suffering through all the maladies associated with overweight and obesity (the polite term is "metabolic syndrome") isn't worth it, and you can do something about it. You can commit to improving your diet, increasing your exercise, and getting up out of the chair to take a walk every couple of hours around the office. Drink too much sugar in your soda or juice? Cut it down. Drink alcohol frequently? Those are empty calories also, so cut it down or cut it out. Like snacks? How about some air-popped popcorn? Maybe more fish in your diet will help. And on and on and on.


So here is to Groundhog Day, to you and to your shadow. Punxsutawney Phil only has to worry about the next six weeks of winter. You need to worry about your life. Hopefully next year your shadow will be a smaller one. And you will be much more satisfied with what you have accomplished for your health.


Quite honestly, I don't think you will miss your shadow all that much.

Filed Under:

Diet | Environment | Exercise | Prevention


2/9/2012 2:10:08 PM #

Kyle Smith

Great article for this time of year.  I was waiting for someone to break out the old groundhog movie topic this year.  I loved that movie.  I like the spin you put on this article though.  Very thought provoking.  Thanks.

Kyle Smith

About Dr. Len

Dr. Len

J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, MACP - Dr. Lichtenfeld is Deputy Chief Medical Officer for the national office of the American Cancer Society.