Just under five months ago I decided I didn’t want to get any fatter. I’d gone from athletic to “a bit chubby”, I’d had to have my suits altered, people were noticing and I didn’t feel good in myself. Being a specialist in embodied training I also felt a bit out of integrity, as while embodiment is about much much more than being fit, health is the foundation of anything we do and I teach this in stress, leadership and time management workshops regularly, so was starting to feel a bit like a hypocrite. Luckily my work is all about getting lasting behavioural change and transformational learning so I started to apply what I teach…like a demon. I am now 5.8 kg lighter (and have put on quite a bit of muscle), 15cm has fallen of my waist (5”) and my body fat percentage has fallen 6%.
I am not a weight-loss expert but a change specialist and this article is about how I changed my habits to drop the kilos. What’s here can easily be applied to other things and aside from my clients I have used many of these techniques myself around how I run my business, giving up smoking and drinking, exercise, communication patterns etc. In some ways food has been the toughest one as evolution has predisposed us towards overeating and society is set-up not to help, so I’m confident these tools can be used with anything.
Get The Science Right First
When I first started looking into weight loss I was offered a baffling array of theories, diets and approaches – but how to choose? This is what science is for – establishing validity and reliability. Most of the theories turned out to be complete nonsense but on my hunt for good evidence I also found some surprises. I found natural supplements like garlic and green tea I had no idea about, found temperatures as a factor (iced-water and swimming in the cold sea have been effective), foods and behaviours that reduce fat absorption and other ways to add to the old equation of calories in minus calories burnt. The main thing I did was reduce high fat/sugar foods (including some surprising ones like fruit juice) as we all know is good for us. This article is about HOW.
But It Isn’t Just Cognitive Stoopid
We all know what we “should” do to lose weight, yet we don’t as we are emotional, embodied creatures of habit not robots. More than a little book knowledge doesn’t help. But what does…
You need to measure stuff to know what you’re doing is working – this is where the old SMART goals come in. I chose 5kg at first but soon realised “6 belt notches” was a better measure for me.
When attempting change you need to consider all the factors. The best model of know of this is Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory. What follows involves psychology, behaviour, systems and structures and culture – his integral four “quadrants”. If you’re already working one, you may get better leverage elsewhere.
“Not doing” something is tricky as your unconscious minds doesn’t recognise the “not” and you don’t have anything else TO do. I decided that I using willpower probably wouldn’t last as it was hard work so I found something nice to replace anything I was stopping. Frozen yoghurt rather than ice-cream or Naked bars rather than chocolate for example.
Make it a pain in the ass to do the thing you don’t want to do and you won’t do it, make it easy to do the thing you do want – we’re not logical we’re lazy. I bought smaller plates for food, got junk food out of reach and put fruit in its place, went shopping when I was full, etc. Reminders are absolutely essential too, as many change efforts go wrong just because people get busy and forget. Out the scales and mirror in the kitchen. Again, willpower is for fools.
Sustainable Change and Minimum Effort
Diets don’t work, changing your diet and lifestyle habits does. I didn’t do anything that I couldn’t do for at least 90 days given life’s ups and downs and this is how long it takes to establish a new habit (it’s the normal minimum time for rehab for example). The changes I have made are sustainable life changes. It is also worth committing to what is the minimum effective time – many people quit just as things are getting better.
Understand The Emotional, Historical and Identity Component and Reframe
We all have stories around habits that keep them stuck there; these may come from our family or, personal history or wider culture. With food for example many people have been taught that unhealthy foods are rewards by parents, so they think “when I’m good I eat junk, if I’m not eating junk I must have been bad”. People can also be tied to habits at an identity level, mine was “I eat working class foods”. These need to be bought to the surface and questioned for any change effort. I am now someone who takes the stairs, someone who treats myself to expensive salads and who sees diet as part of what he is doing in the world.
Tying The Change to What Matters
Change is easy if tied to what matters most to us. E.g. “I’m giving up smoking to see my grandkids”. It’s important to be honest here, for me it was work integrity and sexiness/vanity, not health.
Get Support and Accountability
People don’t change alone! One of the first things I did when attempting the new challenge of losing weight was put my goals on Facebook and to ask for help. This gave me public accountability and a wealth of support. There are also new online resources for accountability. Note that not all opinions are equal and tips from Shawn Philips for example were worth a lot more than from some friend who once heard about a friend’s diet. While I lost most of my weight through diet rather than exercise, when I started going to a gym and learning a new martial art it was very supportive to be around people who are concerned with health – thanks ZTs fitness and Kenshiro! I also had a coaching session with put-himself-out-of-work-quick-by-being-damn-good specialist Paul Shepard. My (now ex) partner was also very considerate in cooking healthy food when it was her turn and supporting me going to the gym and coming home later.
Conclusion and Resources
I hope this is of help for whatever you’re changing in your life as I mentioned it can be applied to anything. More on Behavioural change and my PEESMSRT system here and a video on this is below: