Have you ever had the following experience?
One day you decide to lose weight. In fact you’ve been trying to lose weight on and off for a long time with little success. So you decide to solve the problem once and for all. You plan an ambitious exercise regime and a strict diet. Let’s say, for example, you decide you will go to the gym every other evening (even though you’ve only been to the gym once in the past five years and you didn’t much like it), or you decide to go running three times a week. You’re only going to eat salads from now on. Or you’re going to completely cut out chocolate, even though currently you’re eating several bars of the stuff per day.
So you make a good start; in fact you actually do go for a run, feeling ridiculous maybe, but you force yourself to get out there and do it. You eat only salad for lunch. But then the evening comes and you’re ferociously hungry; possibly not physically hungry as such, but you crave food. You want a massive chocolate dessert, or five burgers, or a pile of pancakes.
So you crack. You give in to the craving, deciding to definitely start afresh the next day, or maybe next week after you’ve planned out a whole weight loss schedule, or maybe at the weekend when you’re not working ….
If you can’t identify at all with this experience, hopefully these articles can still give you some useful tips and help you to lose weight more effectively. But if this is very much the sort of vicious circle you get into, then definitely read on — because this series of posts is written exactly with you in mind.
Why You Need to Pick Your Weight Loss Battles Carefully
The fact is that willpower is a finite resource. Each of us possesses only a certain limited amount of it. It’s possible to develop willpower and to increase your store of it, but it’s a gradual process, like building up a muscle or, indeed, like losing weight safely, effectively and permanently.
This means that you have to pick your challenges carefully, and plan your weight loss campaign in such a way that you use the willpower you have to maximum advantage.
It took me a long time to figure this out myself. It’s so easy to formulate an inspiring plan that you think will completely sort out whatever problem you’re trying to tackle, be it losing weight, changing your diet, learning some new skill or whatever. The trouble is that plans formulated like this rarely work. On the other hand, a plan that involves starting from an honest appreciation of where you currently are, and making incremental changes bit by bit, has every chance of success.
If you want to lose a lot of weight, you might be trapped in that horrible circle of self-loathing and comfort eating that is becoming an all-too-common way of life for so many of us in modern Western society. This increases the appeal of short-term magic plans. You don’t want – or feel able – to formulate a plan that takes place over eight months or a year. So you formulate short, unworkable plans, utterly fail to stick to them for any real length of time, and then before you know it you’ve spent far longer stuck in the same rut than if you’d formulated a sensible, workable long-term plan and stuck to it. Yeah, I’m speaking from experience.
Here’s my advice about crash diets and ambitious short-term up-at-the-crack-of-dawn exercise plans: FORGET THEM. Instead, steel yourself, and develop a long-term plan involving an initial period of stabilization followed by gradual, long-lasting change. These articles will show you how. That way you can build up your willpower, make easy, gradual changes to your life and avoid putting yourself into all-or-nothing situations where you’re destined for failure.
Losing Weight and the Art of War
Think of losing weight as fighting a battle, with willpower as your ammunition. Your army is facing another army of equal size and ferocity. You’ve fought this army before and lost. How are you going to win this time? Are you going to send your troops into the battle firing off their guns madly in all directions, attempting to smash through enemy lines using brute force, even though brute force only ever works against small, inconsequential enemies? Stop, don’t do it! If you want to win this time, you need to conserve your ammunition; use it wisely, according to a well-researched, well-thought-out battle plan. Then you can succeed.
As Sun Tzu says in The Art of War, “Every battle is won before it is ever fought”.
It’s crucial to realize that your body, and your mind, respond very differently to gradual, incremental challenges than to sudden, overwhelming challenges. Try to lift a heavy weight right now and you run the risk of serious injury, not to mention failure. But try to lift gradually increasing weights every other day on a well-planned schedule, and after six months or a year the original challenge will be something you can do regularly without injury or even all that much effort. The same kind of rule applies to learning a foreign language or a musical instrument or other skill, getting over a phobia, and most certainly to losing weight.
Always, always, pick challenges on the edge of what you’re currently capable of; challenges that require you to get just a little bit out of your comfort zone. If you are currently completely out of control, dieting one day and binge eating the next, your first challenge is to stabilise your eating habits and regain control, not to cut your food intake; once you have attained a stable, steady eating pattern, then you’re in a good position to begin losing weight. Follow this advice and you can break that self-destructive crash diet and binge eating cycle, and see real, rewarding progress; progress that maybe you never really believed yourself capable of.
Fight Small, Winnable Skirmishes, Not World War III
Not only is gradual, strategic change important, but picking the right challenges is also vital. Certainly you are eventually going to have to eat less and/or exercise more if you want to lose weight, but if this is something you find difficult, eating less and taking serious exercise isn’t necessarily the first thing to begin with.
In these posts we’ll be looking at ways of reducing the difficulty inherent in exercising and losing weight so that when you finally do need to face these challenges, they’re not so hard. To return to the battle analogy, we’ll be looking at ways of fighting a series of small strategically-planned battles requiring minimal ammunition, so that when you face the big, important battles, you’ll find the enemy weak and in disarray instead of strong and unvanquished.
To give you a foretaste of the kinds of things you can do to make losing weight easy for yourself, we’ll be looking at how you can beat sugar craving by eating delicious fruit salads and fruit shakes (that’s right — I believe you may need to start by eating MORE, not LESS! It’s worked for me whenever I’ve needed it, and I believe it can work for you too!), how you can slash food cravings using exercise, how you can exercise very effectively without leaving your house or even your bedroom, and how utilizing the correct type of exercise can enable you to change your appetite in less than two hours per week.
In Summary: Using Your Willpower Effectively for Strategic Weight Loss
- Don’t crash diet. Following a well-planned long-term strategy will likely be quicker in the long run.
- Don’t set yourself crazy challenges; think about incremental changes instead.Results will follow faster than you think.
- Search for ways to make your main challenges easier rather than facing them head-on.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up! Stick With the Plan
One last thing before we move on to looking at these topics in more detail. Even if you take my advice and make use of steady, incremental change alongside doing whatever you can to make your main challenges easier, there will still be times when you feel you’ve ‘failed’. It’s then very easy to start beating yourself up and telling yourself that everything has gone wrong, following which you’ll be prone to giving up completely.
It’s important to avoid self-recrimination if you want to avoid vicious cycles. Let’s say you’ve followed all my advice, you’ve read all the articles in the 10 Weight Loss Secrets series and you’ve embarked on a well-thought-out, carefully-planned long-term weight loss schedule. You’ve followed my appetite-stabilization techniques, you’ve broken your sugar addiction and you’ve begun to gradually reduce your food intake. But then one evening somehow you get into a bad mood and you find yourself pigging out on ten burgers and a bucket of ice cream. When you finally stop eating – be it an hour later or a day later – you’ll be tempted to throw the whole lot up as a bad job. “This’ll never work!” you’ll say, and you’ll feel like just going back to living however you were living previously.
If this happens, don’t indulge in self-recrimination. It doesn’t help. Do you want to lose weight or do you want to feel bad about yourself? You need to make a hard choice between the two. The right thing to do is continue with your plan, but adapt it where necessary. Maybe the binge was a one-off, after you had a bad day at work, let’s say. If so, go easy on yourself. Just get back on track and don’t let your downbeat mood be compounded by feeling guilty over food. We’re all human, we all make mistakes, and we all have to live with not being perfect. Don’t give up, and don’t make any decisions when you’re in a bad mood to start with.
If you find yourself repeatedly lapsing from your plan, then the plan isn’t right. That’s OK; just go back over it and figure out how you need to change it. Do you need to spend more time stabilizing your appetite before cutting down on food? Don’t be afraid to spend the time. Was your plan just a little too ambitious? Change it. Maybe you even need to go right back to the drawing board and find just one or two little things that you can do, and stick to, to help begin the life-changing process of losing weight. But don’t completely throw up an established plan just because of one or two lapses. Ask yourself how things are going on the whole, when you’re in a clear frame of mind and not in the midst of binge-eating or self-recrimination, and make changes to your plan commensurate with that.
However hard you find losing weight, a well-planned weight loss strategy can help you to lose the weight you want. A good plan, adjusted to your specific needs and preferably written down, can be the rock that you lean on through difficult times. Don’t be tempted to discard it completely just because you can’t be perfect all the time. A good weight-loss strategy, like a good battle strategy, avoids wasting valuable ammunition by taking on unwinnable battles, and just because you’ve lost one or two skirmishes doesn’t mean you’ve lost the war.
Next: understanding unhealthy foods vs healthy foods; how you can enjoy great food, great health and a healthy weight all at the same time.