Tag Archives: habit change

Black-and-White, Disguised as Gray

I keep thinking about a recent interaction with a client.  After a fairly significant weight loss – 20 pounds – she was stuck . . . couldn’t get motivated, and was in fact gaining.  Life threw her a curve ball – injury – causing the loss of mojo.

After looking at the plan she still thought she should follow (but wasn’t!), I could see that it was quite rigid and restrictive.  It was probably a struggle while she was losing, but she could manage it . . . it’s so much easier to do that when weight is coming off!  It was easy to see that without the weight loss to make it worthwhile, it was so hard to get back to it.

I suggested loosening up the plan a bit.  “I just can’t ‘gray it up’,” she told me.  “Whenever I loosen things up, I lose it!”

Hmm . . . this is what seemed so interesting to me.  If, in fact, she were thinking in gray terms (flexibly, realistically, humanly), she would have been more likely to keep moderate eating habits going, even if they were not by the book (or diet in this case).  I’m sure she would “lose it” (control, that is) less frequently if she were not so black and white in her thinking.

What was really happening:  She was viewing anything less than “perfect” as bad (the “black” in the black-and-white cycle).  She couldn’t seem to get back to “good” eating (the white side of it), so it all looked bleak . . . and, as a result of this thinking, the situation was much bleaker than a gray scenario ever would have been.

Truly gray thinking would have validated the change of circumstances and set some new guidelines (flexible ones) that took into account the new situation in which she found herself.  Maintenance would have been a more realistic goal until her injury healed, and maintenance is better than gaining.

Without the positive feedback the scale offered when she was able to follow a vigorous exercise program, the drive to follow a rigid eating program just wasn’t there!  This is where truly gray thinking would have helped by  making the eating plan less restrictive, making maintenance seem like a just and fair outcome.  In other word, if you are not sacrificing much, you do not expect as much in return – simple “return on investment” thinking applied to behavior change!

What’s wrong with the big picture?

This is an important question, one we are too seldom encouraged to ask when we embark on a weight loss plan.  Eating habits are not easy to change.  They are much harder to change when we forget to ask, “What’s wrong with the big picture?”

The approach to obesity and weight loss in the U.S. is much like the practice of treating chronic disease by simply treating the symptoms.  Fixing the “problem” (the symptom) may not solve the real problem.

Like many other health issues, carrying extra weight is not a simple cause and effect situation.  Factors like stress, body image, sleep, mental outlook, personal relationships, environment, and physical activity are so interconnected with each other and with our eating habits.  To think that we can just treat overweight as a simple energy imbalance is like thinking we can always fix a flat tire by putting air in it.

Sometimes a tire is flat because it has a big hole in it.  Few flat tires are fixed by simply filling the tire with air.  Similarly having a diet plan that will cause weight loss (if you can follow it) is seldom the answer.  More often I hear people say, “I know what to do.  I just have lots of trouble doing it.”

Unfortunately, instead of taking a look at the big picture and learning more about personal hurdles – dealing with work stress, incorporating physical activity, or working on a key relationship, for instance – many people will think they simply are not capable of succeeding with the prescription (a diet).

That is so unfortunate!  Eating is such a great window into life balance.  If you struggle with eating habits, you are gifted with a very visible indicator of your life balance.  “Oh yay,” you may say, but I’m serious!  When eating is out-of-whack, you can bet that there is something in your bigger life that needs attention.

By focusing attention – and intention – on the big picture, all of the littler pieces will begin to fall into place, including eating.  Unlike simply pumping a leaky tire with more air, you will be solving the real problem.  You will be patching the hole or getting a brand new tire.  Voila!  Finally the air will provide a constructive purpose.

Is It Much of a Stretch . . .

. . . to change “quitting smoking” in this quote to “dieting”?  

“Quitting smoking is the easiest thing I ever did. I ought to know. I’ve done it a thousand times.”

 Mark Twain

For so many people in our diet-driven culture, losing weight is a serial activity.  When approached with a  more long-reaching outlook – and a good dose of patience – great improvements are possible.  Real changes simply take time.

I like to ask clients this question:  Where would you like to be in 6 months, at the same weight or higher (after losing the same 5-10 pounds 3 or more times and gaining them back), or 15-25 pounds lighter with some genuinely different habits?  The answer is obvious, so why do so many people behave as if they prefer to yo-yo back and forth?

Superb Tips for Strengthening Will Power

Planning upcoming classes always starts with a BIG idea.  Then I spend the next month or more paring the scope down to a manageable amount of information. Reining in my excitement for a topic is part of the process – all good!

Changing habits is an enormous topic, and I know it is what most people need most when it comes to weight loss and health.  Preparing for this class has been daunting:  “I can’t cut THAT out.  It’s so great! . . . but I really need to include THIS . . . etc., etc.”  – a painful process of elimination.

It was precisely at this point in my thinking that I received a perfectly timed e-mail from a therapist friend who was aware of my upcoming class offering.  The information is so great that I knew when I saw it that it was the boiled down practical summary of all of the information I have collected.  Whatever else goes into the class, this will surely be a part of it.

To get to the point where new patterns are practiced enough to become new habits, a person must find the will power to make it through the short term practice period.  Will power is not the answer for long term change – it’s too energy intensive – but it sure does help with the practice period before a new habit becomes natural!

I summarized the 5 tips below, but I would recommend connecting to the video link as well to hear Kelly McGonigal’s full presentation (about 30 minutes, and well worth the time).

1.  Forgive yourself when you think you have failed.  Remember that no one has perfect will power.  Let yourself off the hook instead of dwelling on guilt.

2.  Get enough sleep.  It recharges your body, an essential process for recharging will power.

3.  Reward yourself for short term successes.  Rewards need not be large or expensive.  We all need short term motivators to keep it going long enough to create new habits.  This should be something that motivates YOU.

4.  Be mindful of how you feel when you are tempted.  Let the feelings just exist, without trying to fight them.  Feelings that are recognized and accepted tend to dissolve, while pushing them aside often causes them to rise up furiously.  At the same time remember your reasons for changing habits.

5.  Expect to fail.  WHAT!!  Yes, plan for failure so you can prepare for success.  This involves taking a good look at why you fail with what you are trying to do – in detail.  Then you can find solutions to practice.  Take healthy snacks if you know you eat from the vending machine when you are hungry at work, or take workout clothes with you to work if you know once you get home to change you will stay there.


The Importance of “Mindset”

A Driver’s Perspective (above)

In My Runner’s Mindset

The process of changing habits is a topic of huge interest to me.  It is a large part – arguably the largest part – of helping people get healthier.  For this reason, earlier this month I found myself at an all-day seminar on the subject.

One piece of new information has been rattling around in my head ever since I heard it:  Habits are permanently stored in the brain.  Wow!  That really amazed me.  Does that mean that we cannot change habits?  Of course not, but it can be very difficult without the knowledge of how it happens.  Truth be told, it is still going to be hard with better understanding, just not as hard.  Considering the health consequences of everyday habits, every advantage is super important.

This morning I learned something about habits in the best way possible – I observed it in myself.  I was driving home down a road I use at least once every day.  Once in a while – the once or twice a week I put a few miles on my running shoes –  it is also a part of my usual running route.  So here’s what happened. Continue reading

Is Your Diet Plan Just a Waste of Time?

If you are someone who follows the dieting trends, hopping on every fad bandwagon, you are probably just wasting time as you avoid the real work involved in making real changes – that is, if you would like the weight to stay off, and you do, right?  Of course you do!

“What do you mean by ‘real work’,” you ask, “cuz I feel like I AM working really hard!!”  If you are trying to make a drastic change, knowing full well that you cannot continue doing it, can you really expect the changes to last? Continue reading