Sunday, June 21, 2015

Taking the Long View

There are two ways to lose weight. 

Option 1: diet. All diets work if you commit to them because they all restrict calories. The bad news is you cannot keep the weight off without option 2.

Option 2: change your life style. Your life style caused you to put on weight and unless you change will do so again. So, let's focus on changing life style to produce a result that is attainable and sustainable. This can be done by a continuous series of conscious choices or by changing your habits. 

Weight loss programs try to address this and ensure your continued patronage by selling their food, services snd systems as long term solutions. As long as you consciously follow the program, you can maintain the weight. The problem is that conscious effort is an effort. 

In his book 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done, Peter Bregman told how he lost weight by identifying sugar as his biggest problem and eliminating that. This was his version of a lifestyle change through conscious choice. In effect, he developed a stop doing list with one item on it. 

In her recently released book Better Than Before - Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives, Gretchen Rubin offers an assortment of strategies for eliminating bad habits and installing good ones. Since habits put your life on autopilot, they become the definition of the lifestyle change you seek. She starts with four strategies. Let's consider each in terms of eating more wisely and exercising more. 

Foundation Change what is easily accessible so supporting the desired habit is easier than falling back into the old one. Get the unhealthy food out of the house. Put your walking shoes next to the bed so you put them on and go for a walk first thing each day.

Scheduling Put the daily walk on your calendar along with anything else that contributes to your desired lifestyle. Depending on your diet, this may mean scheduling when you eat. 

Accountability Find a partner who knows the change you seek and will check in on your progress regularly. Another variation of this is posting results in progress to Facebook, Twitter, or other social media. 

Monitoring Keep a record of food eaten, exercise completed, and weight. Most diet programs build this in and your computer or phone have apps as well. There are    also activity trackers built in to everything from phones to shoes to watches. These will even post out to Facebook for you. 

These strategies work whether they are supporting the development of a habit or supporting the achievement of a goal. You can and should use as many of them as you can when installing a new habit. I used all of these, and more, when I did this three years ago.  

I still believe that focusing on a goal makes sense, but it helps to correctly define the goal, to recognize its price and understand the motivation behind it. Let's look at an example. 

On a recent trip to the East Coast, I drove a few hundred miles of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It is a beautiful road, designed to get traffic from one part of the state to another quickly and safely. Exits are several miles apart, so if your destination is between two exits you must pick the exit before or after. If you are in the wrong lane when the exit comes up, too bad. Why weren't you paying attention to the signs two miles back?

My Personal Story

On October 29, 2011, I committed to losing 28 pounds over a period of four months by walking ten hours a week and changing my eating habits. During that 4 months, I walked about 700 miles, ate smaller portions, and eliminated the worst of my eating practices. I attained my target weight of 150 pounds. 

Over 3 years later, I've sustained that weight. The scale still reports 150 pounds. I avoid really bad food choices most of the time and try to make better choices every time I can. My walking habit has logged over 7000 miles. 


Reaching a target weight is a great accomplishment but unless you're doing it to win a bet it's a milestone, not your final goal. Your real goal is to maintain the weight you desire. To do that, you need to develop habits that support a new lifestyle. Like preparing to get off the turnpike, this calls for planning ahead. Your chances of success improve dramatically if you adopt habits that contribute to your success. 

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