Thursday, February 23, 2012

Changing my beliefs

I decided to finish off posting about the "50 Tips" from "The Rules of Normal Eating" by Dr. Karen Koenig that I started just over two years ago. So I fired up the document and looked at the next section called "Beliefs to Change". This is something I was excited to write about because it's something I've been thinking about lately. But then I read the beliefs we are supposed to change and what we are supposed to change them to and, for a number of reasons, they bugged.

Starting with:

From "I need to diet to lose weight" to "Diets don't work long-term"

So what's wrong with that? I completely agree that diets don't work. It's because of what came after it that I think the secret message of this change in belief is "learn to eat intuitively and the weight will magically fall off". And sure enough, down at the end is this belief to change we have:

From “Losing weight is the most important thing” to “I will lose weight if I honor my appetite and learn to eat ‘normally.’

Except most likely you won't. If you want to lose weight, you have to eat less than you burn. That means managing your calories in some way. Because honoring your appetite and eating normally aren't enough if your homeostatic system is broken. And, even if it's not broken, often following the rules of normal eating leads to not gaining any more weight (which is a good first step), but not to weight loss.

But that's not the only reason I think it's wrong to promise this. The other reason is because it obscures why we need to learn to think differently about food to being with and that's not to lose weight; it's to improve our lives by improving our mental health. Plus, improving our physical health is not all about our weight either. It's possible to improve your relationship with food and get more physically active and be healthier while not losing significant weight at all.

In other words, you should do these things even if you never lose a pound because of it.

In my opinion, you have to fix what's wrong with you physically -- which eating intuitively doesn't do -- and you have to fix what's wrong with you mentally, whether that's dealing with horrible past abuses that require therapy to work through or whether it's just being open to changing your relationship with food.

Some of the rest of the "Beliefs to change" are centered around that kind of change and I am on board with them.

From “I am bad/worthless/ugly if I’m overweight,” to “I accept my body as it is and will still try to improve it.”

This is what my entire last post about giving up our endless quest for perfection and learning to love ourselves was about.

From “This is too hard” to “I can learn to do this over time.”

From “This will take too long” to “If I don’t change now, I’ll only be back in this same place again so I might as well get going on it.”

I see these as two ways of saying the same thing and I would put it differently. Most of us get very excited about changing our lives, getting healthy, losing weight and so we go a little nuts. We go from sitting on the couch, watching TV (or at the computer, surfing the web) and eating way more calories than we need to be a healthy weight to working out five days a week and cutting our calories drastically.

And, as you can imagine, this enthusiasm doesn't last. It's too many habits to change at once and our brains (and some times our bodies) rebel and, the next thing you know, we've given it all up.

I have had much better results by picking one or two things do to at a time, doing them until they were a habit, and then adding in a new habit to form. In other words, I start small and work my way up.

That's how I did an Ironman. I didn't set out one day to do one and start working out 10 hours a week when I was not working out at all right before that. I started with a more modest goal and working out 1-2x a week. When that became a habit, I added in a few more workouts aiming for 3-4x a week. Then I increased the length of my workouts. Eventually I was working out 5 hours a week and training for a Sprint triathlon.

I did the same thing with my food. I started out just logging my food with no intention of losing weight at all. It turns out logging my food did cause me to lose weight because it caused me to eat less. Then I started looking at what I was doing and seeing other ways to improve my eating. First I started drinking more water. Then I started eating more protein. The next then you know, I was losing weight and I wasn't even dieting.

Eventually I did start reducing my calories on purpose and giving up deserts. But I didn't start out going from 2500 calories a day to 1200 and no treats and drinking more water and changing all my food preferences just like that. The entire process took about six months and I've kept many of those habits today.

Zero to 60 in less than a minute is good for cars, but it doesn't work for changing your lifestyle. For that, slow and steady wins the race.
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