In the next step of my initial encounter with a patient, I always share a personal anecdote about my children and college. It starts with my denoting the perceived value of a great education. I believe there are few equals, in terms of value gained in knowledge, future employment possibilities, and self-esteem, compared to an excellent education. Today, college is a necessity for most, but an increasingly expensive proposition, and the more rigorous, higher vaunted and sought after private and public colleges are no exception. Accordingly, I confess to a bias that all teenagers should strive to get the best possible college education for the money (or their parents' money for the fortunate ones) spent.
To gain admission to the more intellectually challenging schools, a high school candidate most usually presents an exceptional academic record (except if you are a gifted athlete or have legacy). What does such a record entail? Mostly As. How does one get mostly As? By studying to get A pluses. You see, when you study for an A minus, you may and can often end up with a B. Study for a B and failure becomes an option. Studying for an A plus offers no guarantees, but it does increase the likelihood of success.
Suffice it to say that my three, now adult children, were exposed to this philosophy early in life, and I am glad to say they all made it their own. Effort, diligence, attention to detail all paid off for them as it usually does for most people. (Just ask my children the three personal traits that lead to success and each will independently rattle off "persistence, perseverance and tenacity." I began to share these ideas with them when they were barely out of diapers.)
Regardless of one's mental capacity and education acumen, there is no substitute for motivation and effort when it comes to any level of success.
Likewise, people who want to change their weight status and health, most also strive for similar excellence. Even if you didn't go to college or an A was not your usual grade (or you never even saw an A), the pursuit of excellence is inherent in all of us. You must believe as much if you are to make changes in your life. I have yet to meet a regular person incapable of making changes. I know you can, but you must believe in yourself as well.
How does this rah-rah cheer-leading apply to your life and what does my excellence-in-school example have to do with anything? For that, you need answer, as my patients do, the next question.
What percent of food in your house would you deem unhealthy? To qualify as unhealthy, let's include the following: bread, crackers, cookies, cakes, chips, pasta, yellow cheeses, creams, margarine, butter, ice cream, fruit yogurts, fruit juices, etc. What ever number comes to your mind that is less than 20% should be doubled as you probably missed a few. Now think back to my school example. If there is any unhealthy food in your house, what is the probability that you will not consume it at some point, any point? Are you aiming for an A+ or are you aiming from the get go for a B or C? Are you setting yourself up for failure before you even start?
If the unhealthy food is there, regardless of your excuse that it's for your spouse, your children, your guests, etc., you are rationalizing trouble ahead. The reason is because if you are depending on willpower to save you from devouring the food, it will eventually fail you. Willpower almost never does well against constant temptation. In fact, according to scientific studies (see the book Willpower by Roy Baumeister), willpower gets depleted as you repeatedly make decisions to spurn temptation. At some point, mistakes, weakness, if not disaster looms. It is said that the average person makes about 200 food related decisions per day. With so many decisions to make throughout the day, isn't it likely you will make a few bad choices? That's just one of the reasons you can't rely on willpower. The best approach to willpower is developing a process, such as food shopping when you are not hungry, but that's a topic for another day.)
So what's a person to do to avoid the trap of eating unhealthy foods and snacks at home? Remove in their entirety (donate to homeless shelter or just discard) such unhealthy foods from your house and replace them with health promoting foods like vegetables, fruits, beans, seeds, nuts, whole grains and wild salmon. This is the FIRST step towards taking control and reinventing YOU.
So the first reason people stay fat is that they deceive themselves into believing that they can control their urges at all times and they don't need a process in place to make good choices consistently. This is true whether they eat at home or at restaurants.
But I'm not done with the analogies just yet.
Have you ever owned a car, or know someone who has, that required premium fuel only. If you or they owned (as opposed to leased) the car, did you or they put anything, but premium gas in the tank? The common answer I get to this question is "no" and the reason I'm given is that the person believes that the car will not function as well with inferior quality gas.
But more importantly, most would agree that the engine of a car that requires one level of gas and receives an inferior level may ultimately fail. So what's the big deal? Can't you replace the car if the engine fails? So you are out of pocket a few bucks, but who doesn't like to get a new car once in a while? Cars are replaceable!
Well by now you probably get the point. Your body is not replaceable and yet many people, particularly those who eat poorly, treat it like they can swap it out anytime. (Maybe when science fiction collides with reality that may become true, but don't depend on that happening any time soon.)
Therefore, the secret to losing weight for health reasons is not to focus on losing weight, but to focus on getting healthy. To borrow again from the car analogy, if you feed the car premium gas, the engine will run better and last longer. Just like premium gas helps maintain the value of your asset, health promoting foods enhance the vitality of your life.
Accordingly, the second reason people stay fat is because of the type of foods they eat far more than the amounts of foods they eat. Premium foods like whole foods mostly promote health without weight gain; processed foods do the opposite.
Therefore, although I am not a psychologist, I know if people can't wrap their minds around the notion of changing their behavior and are not fully committed to make critical changes to their food selection, they simply aren't going to succeed. BUT... if they can light the candle of inspiration so it shines bright...if they can flip the switch and make the connection in their minds...if they can follow the label that says 'Premium Fuel Only"...and they are willing to work for the A...wonderful things can and will happen.
I often ask my patients if they are religious and the answer is usually no. They always have this immediate look of concern as they wonder if I am a proselytizer? I am not. In which case, I tell them that losing weight will require them to find religion. I am not referring to the religion of believing in a sovereign being (as I do); rather, I am denoting the religion of faith and conviction in one's own actions. I tell them, using a wide variety of references to holy war such as "crusades" and "jihad," that it's time to take up the battle against their fat-craving bodies and regain control. (I mean no offense to anyone that thinks such terms should not be used lightly given their historical consequences. I use them because they strike powerful images in people's minds and I am prepared to go to great lengths to help people get healthy.)
The battle of the bulge is as great a fight as any human being can ever be expected to fight on their own terms. It takes that level of consciousness to win this war of attrition and claim back which is rightfully yours--your health and waistline!
As partners with my patients, I help them help themselves realize their aspirations, whether to look and feel better, or for whatever reason they are motivated to do so. Together, we take the first steps to a higher quality, healthier life. Yes, the process begins with what feels like a psychological intervention. But this is merely the first step of a method proven to work without drugs, supplements, and surgery to improve health and lose weight.
We teach how to eat right at all times without ever feeling hungry: No tricks, just a changed attitude that results in changed needs.
You can change your life, improve your health, and have more energy today if you are clear about your motivations. If you are not, let's speak.