Are You Ready To Change Your Life?

 

Are You Ready To Change Your Life?

If you make a revolution, make it for fun,

don’t make it in ghastly seriousness,

don’t do it in deadly earnest,

do it for fun.

D H Lawrence – A Sane Revolution

 

Why a ‘Me Change’ Isn’t as Appealing as a Sea Change When You Are Trying To Lose Weight

People who have lost a lot of weight and kept it off are often described as having made a “complete lifestyle change”. However, unless you’re hit by a truck (or experience a similar upheaval), you don’t one day wake up and think, “I’m going to make a lifestyle change” – instead, it’s a step-by-step process. While the power of hindsight is certainly profound, few people who experience an ‘aha’ moment realize just how powerful and profound that moment will be in the context of their entire lives at the time it is occurring.

Moreover, “lifestyle change” isn’t exactly a helpful term. For one thing, change can be scary. It has been said that people like the idea of change – as long as they can stay the same! Of the top ten most stressful situations in life (death of a spouse, divorce, marriage separation, jail, death of a close relative, personal injury or illness, getting married, getting fired, reconciling your marriage and retiring) all involve major change. Unlike a sea change, a ‘me change’ doesn’t promise warm sun, golden beaches and the sound of waves crashing along the shore. A ‘me change’ involves much more than just delving into the unknown. It often means delving into the depths of our very souls. Indeed, the need to instigate a “complete lifestyle change” also implies (to many people) a sense of failure: that the way they’ve chosen to live their lives up until now has been a waste, or just a prelude to the real thing. Even if people don’t feel like a bit of a failure before they begin, embarking on any kind of major change often means that our imaginations kick into overdrive and we often end up creating a multitude of worst-possible-case scenarios: “I’ll never be able to drink alcohol again!” or “I’ll have to go to the gym five days a week” or “I’ll bulk up if I lift weights”. We focus on what we perceive to be the negative impact this change will have on our lives. Like a child exploring a haunted house on a dark night, going down the road to change means we’re never quite sure what’s going to jump out and grab us…and if it’s ever going to let us go! We see it all as a big chore, and although we’re telling ourselves that it’s a lifestyle change is long term, we’re also telling ourselves that it’s “only until we lose the weight”. We feel obliged to “suffer” through these changes, so we don’t consider that we may actually come to enjoy them. They aren’t just chores to be endured, but new habits we may well come to embrace.

However, perhaps the most damaging aspect of the repeated use of the term “lifestyle change” is that it’s become a cliché, so as soon as we hear it we neatly put it away in our mental filing cabinet and never look at it again. We don’t stop to explore the many behaviours that the term encompasses. We no longer examine the steps, we just think of it as one giant leap.

 

Of course if you’ve gone from fat to fit then it’s impossible not to have made a complete lifestyle change. But rather than thinking of it in terms of the traditional giant leap, it’s much better to envisage yourself as the Bionic Man or Woman, making one giant leap in super-slow motion (sound effects are optional). It’s much more productive and positive to think of the “me change” process as an evolutionary one, rather than a revolutionary one.

 

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Weight Loss Revolution or Evolution?

Revolutionary change is all about making big changes, very quickly. While revolutions can be empowering, they can also be bloody. People get hurt. Property gets destroyed. In terms of weight loss, revolutionary change is the norm for most traditional approaches. Usually, starting on a Monday, people will decide that, despite previously having done little or no exercise and eaten quite unhealthily most of the time, they’ll suddenly be able to transform themselves (and their lives) and become virtuous health gods or goddesses overnight.

Unfortunately this rarely happens. Usually – by about day three, or, if they’re really determined, perhaps week three – everything starts to unravel. The would-be gods and goddesses soon reveal themselves to be mere devils in disguise, allowing one chocolate biscuit to become a whole packet, and one day of no exercise to turn into one month, and so on. Once again, the “on-again/off-again”, “all or nothing” weight loss cycle (which they’ve been living for quite a few years now) continues.

In contrast, evolutionary change is a much slower process, but also a much less painful one – and it lasts. It stands the test of time. It’s been around for about four billion years. Evolutionary change is all about making conscious decisions in your life to engineer your own process of natural selection to ensure the “survival of the fittest” you. It’s about eliminating the negatives, adapting the neutrals and adding more and more positives as the days, weeks, months and years go by. This applies to food, exercise, environment and mindset – your self-limiting thoughts that manifest themselves in self-limiting behaviours.

 

Exercise doesn’t just have to be of the formal and scheduled variety. Merely increasing your daily activity levels in various ways – walking, vigorously cleaning the house, etc – counts as exercise. Indeed, most of my very overweight clients regularly report significant increases in their overall activity levels (via housework, gardening, painting the deck etc) well before they report the equivalent increases in terms of formal exercise (eg 10 squats + 10 lunges + 5 mins of arm weights).

 

 

Recent studies[1] reveal that this step-by-step or evolutionary approach to weight loss is just as effective over the long term as the traditional, revolutionary “all or nothing” approach.

Certainly an evolutionary approach is one that’s a lot easier psychologically. Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, by Roy F Baumeister and John Tierney, adds further weight to this. They argue that our willpower is a finite force. The more times we tax our willpower by pushing ourselves to make a vast number of healthy changes all at the same time, the quicker our reserves of willpower will be depleted and eventually run out[2].

Another fascinating aspect of Baumeister’s and Tierney’s studies reveals what humans use to fuel the part of their brains that controls willpower: glucose[3]. Thus, if you deplete your willpower too quickly (for example, by forcing yourself to make a revolutionary change to your eating habits), you’ll soon start craving glucose! And if you’re after a really quick shot of glucose, then there’s no better place to get it than in the confectionary aisle! Again, considering the evidence, a revolutionary approach to weight loss seems inherently flawed. According to Brian Wansink in Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, we make over 200 food-related decisions every day[4] (or 73 000 food-related decisions every year!). That’s a lot of glucose you’re going to need if you decide to revolutionise your eating – not to mention your exercise and activity levels.

But all is not lost! Baumeister and Tierney also reveal that our willpower is like a muscle than can be exercised and strengthened over time[5]. Now, if you push your willpower too hard and too fast (as you might with traditional “all or nothing”, revolutionary-type plans or programs), you’ll soon confront the equivalent of a pulled muscle – one that you won’t be able to use until it heals. But adopt a more evolutionary, or step-by-step approach, and your willpower will become stronger and stronger and stronger. Thus, losing weight…and keeping it off…will also become easier and easier and easier.

Moreover, developing your willpower is something that not only benefits your weight loss, but your whole life. Research shows that people who lose weight also tend to accumulate more wealth because they develop a prevention mindset (or stronger willpower), which enables them to consider the long term future implications of their actions, as well as the here and now[6]. Perhaps that’s what gave rise to the expression, “you can never be too thin or too rich”.

Leo Babauta elucidates the benefits of starting small – and then gradually building on this – in The Power of Less: The Six Essential Productivity Principles That Will Change Your Life. Babauta explains that this step-by-step approach makes things easier to handle, and helps you make lasting changes that yield successful results. Most importantly, it helps sustain your interest in the task at hand:

By starting out doing less than you can actually handle, you build up energy and enthusiasm, kind of like water building up behind a dam. That built-up energy and enthusiasm ensures that you don’t run out of steam early on, but can keep going for much longer.[7]

And we all know what it’s like to run out of energy and enthusiasm on our weight loss efforts.

The evolutionary approach is also a much less direct one, which can often mean it’s more successful, as John Kay alludes to in Obliquity: Why Our Goals Are Best Achieved Indirectly[8]. When I was overweight I was a workaholic teacher who was totally devoted to my career and the kids that I taught. The catalyst for my weight loss journey wasn’t hitting over 100 kg, nor suddenly finding myself wearing size 24 pants, nor being diagnosed with high blood pressure at the age of 29. I was actually turned down for a promotion at work, and I was devastated. For three days I walked around in a state of shock. On the third day (or what I like to call my “resurrection day”), I remember sitting in the park across the road from my house. My thoughts went something like this: “I shouldn’t be this devastated, it’s only a job – it’s not my whole life. Oh wait, it is my whole life – all I do is work”. So I set about getting a life – and losing weight was how I did it.

My primary goal was never weight loss. If you find that every time you try to lose weight it becomes an obsession or even just a mental drag, don’t think about losing weight. Reframe it so that you’re actually achieving something else (weight loss is just a by-product!). For me today, exercise is as much about stress-relief as anything else and studies have shown that people who exercise for reasons other than weight loss are actually much more successful at losing weight than those whose primary goal is, in fact, to lose weight. As John Kay observes,

 

Happiness is not achieved through the pursuit of happiness. The most profitable businesses are not the most profit oriented. The wealthiest people are not those most assertive in the pursuit of wealth.[9]

 

So too it seems that I just stumbled upon the key to losing weight…and keeping it off.

But “stumbling” is one of the key tenets of obliquity and, indeed, of the evolutionary approach. It’s a process of experimentation, adaptation and discovery. Charles Lindblom described it as “the science of muddling through” or “initially building out from the current situation, step-by-step and by small degrees”[10].

9 Things No One Ever Tells You about Weight Loss Motivation and How to Capture the Weight Loss Mindset

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What works for Weight Loss?

So why does this work? Or, more specifically, why doesn’t a more direct, revolutionary approach produce better results?

The answer lies in the complex context of our lives and our bodies. While we live under the illusion that we can control our daily routine and how our bodies will react to certain stimuli (such as healthy eating and exercise), the reality is quite different. Our days don’t go to plan, and every day, new scientific studies reveal just how complex the physical and psychological process behind weight loss can be.

For example, the outcome of our actions doesn’t always match the intention behind them. If you set your alarm thirty minutes earlier every weekday in order to fit in five additional exercise sessions, logic would suggest that, also considering any changes in your food intake, you’ll start dropping weight. However, if this two-and-a-half-hour reduction in your sleep for the week produces a spike in your cortisol levels (a fat-storing hormone our body produces when we are stressed or sleep-deprived), then you actually might gain weight!

And that’s only a very rudimentary examination of the just one of the factors that affects weight loss. In terms of hormones, there’s also insulin, ghrelin, leptin, progesterone, estrogen, glucagons, epinephrine, norepinephrine, thyroxine, and xenoestrogens (to name but a few). Then, of course, there’s genetics, epigenetics, toxicity, which muscle fibre type you predominantly have (something that can only be accurately determined by a painful and invasive muscle biopsy), gender, training level, neurological status your potential for neuromuscular activation – and many more…

An evolutionary approach also sometimes involves taking a step backwards in order to move forwards. Everyone knows, for example, that you should eat breakfast. Many people who are overweight don’t do this. And I was one of them for many years. Now I eat breakfast every day, religiously and (most importantly) easily.

However, as I outlined in my first book[11], the method that I used to transform myself from a breakfast loather to a breakfast lover isn’t something that any dietician or nutritionist or weight loss expert will ever recommend to you. What actually helped me make the transition from being a non-breakfast eater was the humble cappuccino! I started having cappuccinos for breakfast and they gradually became bigger and bigger and bigger until they were a meal unto themselves. When I did start eating breakfast, it was almost effortless, because I was then used to having a really big intake of calories shortly after waking. Of course, a giant cappuccino is not an ideal breakfast – but it was certainly an improvement on no breakfast at all. And it was a relatively easy mental stepping stone to eventually developing good breakfast habits.

Cappuccinos may not be your thing, and you might decide that you want to start your day with a couple of biscuits (or even a slice of pizza!). In the short term it might be far from ideal, but if in a few weeks or months or years you’ve permanently made the switch from being a non-breakfast eater to a breakfast eater (along from switching from pizza to something a bit more nutritionally sound), it’ll be worth it. And then you’re well on your way to winning that weight loss battle, even if you didn’t take the most direct approach to get there.

The obliqueness of the evolutionary approach recognises that while some effort to tackle a problem is certainly needed, too much effort can ruin the final outcome. Success in any endeavor doesn’t come from being able to predict the future, but from being able to successfully adapt to the changing conditions we face on a daily basis; and the process of discovery and invention is paramount to success in any endeavor. Franklin D. Roosevelt described this process as “bold, persistent experimentation”, encouraging people to “Try something. If it fails, admit it frankly, and try another”[12].

An evolutionary approach to weight loss also recognises that you can’t give 100% all the time, no matter how skilled or dedicated you are. In fact, all the skill and dedication in the world isn’t going to help you, long term, if you choose to follow a diet plan or program. Consider the following rough mathematical equation. If you begin a weight loss program with 100% effort, you might be able to last maybe 3 weeks (if you’re lucky). Thus, your total effort for that time period would equate to 300%. However, give just 80% effort over 5 weeks and you’re going to get 400% results. Even more startling: a mere 25% effort over 25 weeks is going to give you 625% results. Do something for 25 weeks (that’s 6 months of the year) and you’re much more likely to want keep doing it forever. You’ve made a lifestyle change – and you’ve barely even noticed!

How to Lose Weight Without Really Trying!

How to Lose Weight Without Really Trying!

 

Personally, I can’t remember the last time I trained with 100% effort. However, on the flip side, I also can’t remember the last time I went more than a week without doing some form of exercise (even if it was just walking). Weight loss doesn’t have to be that hard. If you start with just walking, it doesn’t matter how slow you go, you’re still lapping everyone who’s just sitting at home on the couch – or, as Indian folklore says, “Even when you fall on your face, you’re still moving forward”!

 

An evolutionary approach to weight loss may also make us happier, since it’s what happiness researchers Kenneth Sheldon and Sonja Lyubomirsky refer to as an “intentional change” rather than a “circumstantial change”[13]. Circumstantial changes are similar to the many of the more traditional approaches to weight loss, which involve making dramatic changes to your overall circumstances – for example, going on a pre-packaged diet or exercise plan or program. Intentional changes, on the other hand, involve taking a more step-by-step approach: pursuing a goal, but constantly introducing new things which contribute towards achieving that goal based on what suits you best in terms of your personality, values and abilities.

 

Intentional changes also allow us to avoid what psychologists refer to as “hedonistic habituation”[14]. Humans enjoy positive new experiences (such as a new diet or exercise plan) for a while. However, if they repeat the same (or very similar) experiences over and over again, the novelty wears off. An evolutionary approach to weight loss helps ensure that familiarity doesn’t breed contempt and that happiness is sustained, rather than merely a short-term novelty.

 

The evolutionary approach to weight loss encompasses many of the most advanced psychological theories of how the we function successfully in the world. However, on a purely physical level, it also offers a myriad of benefits. It gives you the advantage of constantly shocking your body with something new, which makes it easier for you to keep losing weight quickly and consistently (your body doesn’t have a chance to become accustomed to doing the same exercises over and over again, so it has to keep working hard to do whatever it is you set out to do). This also reduces your likelihood of having excess loose skin when your weight loss journey is over. The evolutionary approach means that you always have room to improve your eating habits (you aren’t so close to being “perfect” by week three that you can’t go any further).

Discover How to Eat Intentionally and Lose Weight For Life Here

Discover How to Eat Intentionally and Lose Weight For Life Here

But perhaps most importantly, an evolutionary approach also works brilliantly in terms of helping us maintain our weight loss motivation. The ABC of weight loss is CDE: consistent daily effort. Michelle Bridges, arguably Australia’s most recognized personal trainer, often claims that you don’t need motivation, you only need to be consistent. Now that’s certainly true if you’ve always been fit and healthy (as Bridges has) and if you think like a naturally slim, fit and healthy person. But if you don’t, then nothing could be further from the truth! While consistency is certainly the key to successful weight loss, the key to consistency is motivation. If you aren’t naturally slim, fit and healthy and you aren’t motivated to eat healthily and exercise, then you’re just going to lie in bed all day and eat chocolate (believe me, I know)!

However, before we look at the best things we can do to motivate ourselves, let’s examine some of the worst things we can do. And the number one worst thing you can do in terms of motivation, if you don’t think like a naturally slim and fit person, is to follow a pre-packaged diet or exercise program or plan.  So how what’s the answer to following a weight loss plan without following a weight loss plan? Love Your Weight Loss of course!  Start your free trial now by clicking on the image below!

Discover how to love your weight loss 01

 

[1] T Neale, ‘Obesity: stepped approach to weight loss works’, Medpage Today, 2011, retrieved 11 December 2011, < http://www.medpagetoday.com/MeetingCoverage/OBESITY/28841>.

[2] RF Baumeister, J Tierney, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, Penguin, USA, 2011,

[3] Baumeister and Tierney, p. 50 – 51.

[4] B Wansink, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, Bantam, USA, 2010, p. 27.

[5] Baumeister and Tierney,

[6] Rutgers: New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, The Financial Aspect of Improved Health Behaviours, 2012, retrieved 21 January 2012, <http://njaes.rutgers.edu/healthfinance/health-behaviors.asp>.

[7] L Babauta, The Power of Less: The Six Essential Productivity Principles That Will Change Your Life, UK: Hay House, 2009.

[8] J Kay, Obliquity: Why Our Goals Are Best Achieved Indirectly, UK: Profile Books, 2010.

[9] Kay, p.12.

[10] Kay, p.67.

[11] S Symonds, 50 Steps to Lose 50 kgs…And Keep it Off, Palmer-Higgs, Australia, 2010.

[12] qtd. in Kay, p.42.

[13] K Sheldon & S Lyubomirsky, ‘Is it possible to become happier? (And if so, how?)’, Social and Personality Psychology Compass, vol. 1, no.1, 2007, pp. 129–145.

[14] S Frederick & G Loewenstein, ‘Hedonic adaptation’, in E Deiner & N Schwarz (eds), Well-Being: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology, New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1999, pp. 302–329.

About The Author

Sally Symonds

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