Many years ago I set a goal for myself of not going over 170 pounds (77 and 1/4 kgs; I am 6 feet, 2 1/2 inches tall — basically a tall drink of water). When I saw that I was over the maximum, I usually solved the problem by increasing my exercise level. In recent years, that has not been enough. Several months ago I saw that I was 2 kgs over my max, and I decided address the problem by making a permanent change in my calorie intake. For as long as I can remember I ate two sandwiches, a carrot, and at least two pieces of fruit (e.g., an apple and a banana) for lunch. I decided to normalize that pattern by eliminating one sandwich and one fruit. Also, for the short run until I returned to my goal weight I decided to eliminate the yogurt I usually ate as part of breakfast. That plan worked and today I found that I weighed 77.25 kgs. I used some strategies that others might find useful:
1. I avoided eating more at other times.
2. I was consistent yet flexible. If someone offered me a delicious item at lunch, I ate it. That happened once a week at most. On trips I ate more food for lunch, but I also increased my exercise level.
3. When I felt hunger, I responded by feeling happy and proud thinking about the hunger as a sign of self-control and a sign of reduced calorie intake. I did not think of myself as being cheated. I also did not let myself become very hungry for more than a few hours.
4. I drank water or tea sometimes when I felt hungry or might feel hungry soon.
5. I maintained a high level of exercise because that burns calories but more importantly it leads to fitness, which is more important to health than being normal weight.
One of my excellent former students, Hans Receveur, has had success in the past year in increasing his fitness and losing weight. Coincidentally, he sent me a message today that included good ideas relating to fitness and weight conrtol:
“I thought I’d share with you a few observations about behaviour modification and exercise that I have learned (and sometimes continue to encounter opportunities to relearn).
- You are spot on about the benefit of aiming to improve health and fitness rather than losing weight. It’s about how you feel about your own self that is far more important than what the scales say.
- Initial goals must be SMART! My initial, and ongoing goal which I have not changed since day 1, is to get 30 minutes of cardio four times per week. Whether I run 15km or 5km, as long as I make my 30 min, I congratulate myself unconditionally by vocalising my accomplishment without admonishment, regret or excuse. My measure of success is in consistency and duration, not intensity or magnitude.
- I have found that summoning the initial motivation to get up and start exercising is bloody tough. But something that a personal trainer told me, and has certainly proven a pearl of wisdom for me is the observation that, counter to intuition, the motivation for exercising comes after you do it, not before. So it takes courage, honesty and a bit of resilience to get over the initial hump from it feeling like primarily a negative experience to becoming a more positive and attractive option.
- I have found it important to change up routines and do different activities. At first, I was very shy and insecure about exercising with others due to my poor level of fitness and fear of being judged. So solo workouts were best to start with. To this extent, I reckon having someone exercise with you as a compatriot, especially in the early stages for the very unfit, can be a deterrent, especially if that person is a valued model (good old SCLT in action) or in significantly better health. However, as fitness increases, so does mood, confidence and a sense of mastery – and boy, that’s a great platform for starting to become more social in your exercise! I started with squash, I love it because it’s one on one, and rather than looking directly at your opponent (and how much they might be jiggling or huffing and puffing), the attention is always on either the ball or the wall. A great sport for the self-conscious, plus you get to have a good laugh at yourself when you pull the most preposterous and ungraceful “abracadabra” flourishes out of desperation. It lets you laugh at yourself, and allows your opponent to join in with you. This semester I am going to take the plunge and try some group classes.
- It’s important to pick your battles! Diet and exercise in combination from the get go can be too much to modify successfully, better to start with exercise alone to start with I reckon and then bring BMod into the diet – Weight Watchers has been a godsend for me!
- I have learned not to over-monitor performance. An excessive emphasis on performance can lead to a change in the way you gauge success, which can lead to falling in a bit of a heap when effort does not equal reward (eg. plateauing) and can lead to a propensity for developing an all or nothing mindset about performance. That said, being diligent is very important. Particularly in dietary control. The thing that I like most about weight watchers is that it requires the user to be honest and diligent in logging everything that is eaten. As William James so aplty put it “what holds attention determines action”, and by constantly attending to your eating, you become more aware of your own patterns, strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes and, all-importantly, the caloric density of the choices you make. The philosophy is very simple – rather than saying “don’t eat a big mac”, it’s more “enjoy your big mac, savor it, and do the right thing and account for it in your daily intake”
- Perhaps above everything else, the single most important lesson that I am continuing to learn is that change is not always constant, linear, nor always in the direction that we want. So it is important to learn to forgive yourself your faults, lapses and moments of weakness. Because, as Rocky Balboa said, it ain’t about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and still pull yourself back up off the canvass that really counts! Forgiveness, acceptance and the interpretation of mistakes as learning opportunities are really helpful in summoning the determination to get back up when you get knocked down.”
What behaviours or strategies have you found that helped you maintain or lose weight?
John Malouff, PhD
Assoc Prof of Psychology