Archive for the ‘inspiration’ Category
I don’t know why I can eat right and exercise throughout the Winter, Spring, and Summer, but Autumn always makes me crave more calories. Is it the increasingly colder temperatures? The lure of holiday baked goods and other unhealthy fare?
This particular Fall a number of various events have made it harder to eat right or get exercise. It’s the busy season at work so I’ve been spending more hours working. The shift to Standard Time means that it gets dark earlier. The weather has gotten cold very quickly, so I don’t take walks as much outside. My wife started a new job so I don’t have a couple of uninterrupted hours in the morning to walk on the treadmill while she’s sleeping anymore. Plus, there are a few other personal issues that have come up that take my time and attention away from Clean Livin’, or require me to eat & run more often.
I can come up with any number of reasons, but what it boils down to is that I’ve slipped. Luckily I have so many healthy habits that they haven’t all fallen by the wayside. I still weigh-in every day. I still record everything I eat (even the unhealthy, high-calorie foods).
How I Start To Slip
At first maybe I’ll grab some food on the run, or not calculate my caloric intake for dinner until the next day. Then maybe I miss recording a meal. Then miss recording a day. Then I get busy with other things and don’t do any research or writing for this site.
So far no matter when I’ve slipped a little (or a lot) I’ve still weighed-in. I think of all of my Clean Livin’ habits, weighing myself and then recording it are the easiest things to do. After four and a half years weigh-ins have become ingrained in my daily routine. Sometimes I forget to weigh in when my routine changes, but barring a day or so every few months where I don’t weigh-in, I have a solid record, and can at least see when I gain weight rather than lose or stay the same.
It’s hard to gauge gaining or losing weight when you weigh in every day, though, because you do go up and down even when you do everything right and are on a trend of losing weight. I think my threshold for thinking “Shit, I’ve got to do better” is going over a five pound mark. For instance, I was down as low as 254.4 a couple of weeks ago (so close to 250!) and then a few days ago weighed-in at 260.0, after going up and down a pound or so here or there for the past three weeks.
So that was a wake-up call. The hard truth is that losing weight takes conscious effort and attention. You have to think about it a lot more than you may want to, and stick to your daily budget most of the time. Sometimes it’s okay to go over budget, but not most of the time. When those indulgences become more frequent than eating right, you’re going to gain weight again. I don’t know about you, but I’ve worked too hard and come too far to backtrack now. Fuck that noise.
Back On Track
It’s not like I haven’t written about derailment or plateaus before. When it happens, no matter how many reasons I have no one to blame but myself. A slip can be just the kick in the pants you need to refocus your weight loss efforts, no matter how cold it is outside.
I’m not sure how long it’ll take me to lose the next ten pounds (some of those pounds… again) but I know it’s doable. I’ve done it for weeks, months, years now.
Losing weight may be harder as the weather grows colder, life gets busier, and habits slip by the wayside. Plan for weight loss to be slower then, but as long as you’re aware of the difficulty and consciously plan means and exercise, you can hunker-down and do it.
Update: Slipped on Posting Here, Too
Speaking of slipping, I originally had this post set to publish in late November and haven’t finished it until just now. Everything else still stands, and now that the holidays are over and I’m back to focusing on weight loss, updates should be more regular once again.
Sometimes you’re going to miss one of your goals, overeat, not have time for an exercise session, or otherwise screw up. Once you hit one of these failures to your fitness routine you may as well just give up, right? Cry yourself to sleep, shake your fist at the sky, and lose any hope of ever being in good shape. It’s over.
You could just shrug it off, go for a walk, and eat better next time. Everyone has a favorite unhealthy food – their own personal kryptonite. For me, it’s hamburgers, beer, Chinese food, pizza, and other savory, often fried, things. My wife is really into noodles. You may have a sweet tooth for ice cream, or like salty snacks like potato chips and pretzels. Maybe it’s all of the above. Whatever your vice, let’s say you ate some of it and now you’re feeling bad about yourself.
Embrace the Process
When you eat too many calories at a single meal, you’re not failing at the process. Occasional slipping is part of the process. So don’t despair and think of it as a setback or problem. You’re not on a diet, you’re making better choices for the rest of your life. Depriving yourself of any enjoyment of food is only going to last so long. Rather than eliminate everything you enjoy eating, you just want to cut back on the unhealthy things. Then eat them sometimes. It’s okay.
How well you’ll fare with your healthier lifestyle in the long-term is largely dependent on how you handle failure in the short-term. The good news is that unlike most things in this world, how you think and feel about things is entirely within your own power (although it doesn’t always feel that way). Seriously, you’re in complete control of your own attitude. So you can either choose to despair and gain weight again or shrug it off, do the right thing most of the time, and succeed. You fall down. You get up. And so it goes.
Bruce Wayne: I wanted to save Gotham. I’ve failed.
Alfred: Why do we fall, sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.
Bruce: You still haven’t given up on me?
– Batman Begins
Hair of the Dog
So, you had a few drinks, appetizers, dinner, and dessert out with friends last night and now it’s the sober light of day and you’re beating yourself up about it. You’ve totally blown it, right?
Maybe not totally. While your body is still processing all of those extra calories you can force it to burn those first by exercising the next morning. So don’t wallow in guilt, get out there and walk, run, or lift heavy things. That extra energy hasn’t yet been stored as fat, so you can burn it off by exercising your muscles which will consume those calories rather than make you fatter.
Even if it’s too late, it’s never really too late. Just eat better next time. One meal’s not going to hurt you. The worst part about restaurant food is all of the salt anyway, so give yourself a day or two to recover from the excess sodium that makes your body retain fluid.
My wife and I went to the Chicago Botanic Garden on Saturday to walk around, look at flowers, and take pictures on a gorgeous Chicago summer day (sunny, clear, a little breezy, low 70s). As we were exiting the vegetable garden I saw a giant pumpkin and remembered having my picture taken with it the last time I was at the Botanic Garden back in April 2007. I remember being shocked and ashamed to discover just how fat I’d gotten when I first saw the photo.
Here’s that photo from 2007 and another one that was taken on Saturday. Sure, that was five years ago, and I actually gained more weight between April 2007 and when I started my Clean Livin’ in June 2008, but I’m still probably over 150 pounds lighter now than I was when that first photo was taken.
It’s helpful to consider how far you’ve come whenever you slip a little. One meal isn’t the end of the world, and you can usually make it up or at least try harder later. Give yourself a pass now and again so you don’t have to feel like a failure.
When I talk to people about losing weight, one of the questions I’m often asked is “How do you find the motivation?” It’s a reasonable question that I wish I had a better answer for. I’m clearly motivated but until I started writing this post it was something I didn’t really think about much.
First of all, what does “motivation” mean? What changes in you when you’re motivated? When I think of motivation I think first of “motivational speakers” and then those strange Successories posters that douche-bags hang in their offices. Is that what motivation is: platitudes and trite quotations laid out aside stock photography?
I think in the general sense people mean “inspiration” rather than “volition” when talking about motivation as an influence on behavior. Inspiration is an external influence, a push from the outside to enact some (usually positive) movement in the person being inspired. Volition is your internal mechanism for choosing to do something. It’s your decision-making mechanism, sometimes called The Will.
Motivation is usually lower-level than inspiration or even volition. It’s a catalyst to action, for sure, but motivation is to action what the Id is to the psyche. It’s in that lizard part of your brain. Hunger is your body’s motivation to eat – it creates an unpleasant sensation that eating can extinguish. It’s not that big of a decision. I’m hungry. I should eat something.
Volition is your mind making choices. Should I eat this or that? Must I eat now or can I wait for a bit? What shall we do after dinner?
Volition is a big part of what makes us human, but is there something to motivation as an external influencer? Can someone else motivate you to act?
Motivation can come from without rather than within if there’s a reward involved. When you were a kid you probably were motivated to do chores by the promise of an allowance, or the threat of punishment if you didn’t complete them. Both the reward and the desire to avoid punishment are external motivators, but you still had to make the choice yourself.
In vs. Out
Motivation is an intrinsic force. It always comes from within. Using “motivate” as a verb is a bit of a misnomer. It implies an extrinsic reward for doing a thing that you otherwise would not want to do. In that sense, you can’t motivate yourself without giving yourself a reward.
Your desires are entirely in your own mind, and under your own control (although it doesn’t always feel that way). You either want to do something or you don’t. If you do, you’ll probably do it. If you don’t want to do something, external motivation will only get you so far.
I can hear the voices from the peanut gallery now. What’s that? You want to lose weight but find yourself unable to? You lack the motivation to eat less and move more?
You don’t need motivation. You need to just do things that you know you need to do. Or not. Maybe you don’t really want to lose weight, but rather want to be fit. There’s a big difference.
I’ve been fat for most of my life – through the entirety of my adolescence and adulthood, and a large part (excuse the pun) of my childhood. I’ve lost nearly 180 pounds and I’m still fat. Sure, looking at photos from four years ago (or even earlier this year) you can see a difference, and next year I’ll look back on how I look now with a bit of amazement that I was this heavy, but if I simply wanted to be thinner I never would’ve come this far.
So what motivates me? What is it that drives my Will towards eating better, less, and getting more exercise? Let’s come back to that.
Motivation vs. Willpower
You can’t talk about diet and exercise without the word “willpower” rearing its ugly head.
Willpower is the negative inverse of motivation. Motivation is doing something that you want to do to get some reward. Willpower is not doing something that you want to do. It’s the stick to motivation’s carrot. It’s criticism instead of encouragement.
For example, you may be motivated to exercise in the morning because it makes you feel more energetic all day (it really does). At breakfast, though, you need your willpower to order the yogurt and fruit cup you know you should have rather than the donut you want to have. That’s a hard decision to make before you’ve had your morning coffee.
So what do you do? You take the decision out of it, or at least reduce the choices down to only those things that fit into your breakfast calorie budget. You may enjoy the donut for the 30 seconds it takes you to stuff it down your craw, but the good feeling you’ll get from eating a healthier option will last you for hours, and make you feel good about yourself for having made a good choice. You’re not depriving yourself, you’re eating what you want to eat. You just want the healthier option more.
I’ve always found that positive forces overpower negative ones, except in one area.
Pleasure vs. Pain
While we like to think we’re usually pursuing happiness, most of the time we’re motivated by the desire to avoid pain.
If you’ve wanted to lose weight but haven’t been able to, it’s not because you’re under-motivated. It’s because the pain of being overweight isn’t as significant as the pain of eating right, eating less, and exercising. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “No pain, no gain.” That’s only partly true, though. You can succeed without causing yourself pain.
You may think that your being overweight is causing you more pain than eating better for one meal let alone eating better most of the time, but at a certain point you have to look at your actions to see what actually motivates you, regardless of what you think motivates you.
I’ve said before that losing weight is a decision. You choose to do the right thing instead of the wrong thing (where “right” and “wrong” are relative to your goals). You don’t even have to change your mind right away – just start doing the right thing and you’ll start being the right thing. Your habits and actions will become who you are.
I will say that while changing what you want is sort of a decision, it’s also hard sometimes. The trick I use is to act as-if I was already fit. It doesn’t matter if you’re overweight, you can be fit in your head first and then act accordingly. Act as-if.
Move the Reward Closer
I’m not eating right and exercising so I can be fitter later. I’ve changed my lifestyle so I can feel and look better now. If you haven’t exercised – ever, or in a long while – you’ll probably be surprised by how much better you’ll feel after even a short time. I couldn’t believe my improvement after only 2–3 weeks. Instead of feeling more tired after exercise I felt more invigorated. The first few times I probably overdid it and felt worse, but over time I came to appreciate muscle aches and feeling more energized.
As a positive force, reward is fine, but in order to be effective the reward has to arrive sooner rather than later. Sure, it’s nice to think about how much fitter your body will be after a year of exercise and healthy eating, but that’s far enough in the future that you won’t feel motivated to do the requisite steps to get there now.
Now is always nearest, so plan for rewards as close to now as possible, and enjoy the intrinsic fitness rewards like feeling better. You get to the next milestone by just taking little steps. It helps if those little steps are also immediately rewarding.
The Snowball Effect
Seeing the positive effect of your efforts in your waistline and on the scale every morning (or week) is a huge motivator. There have been times where I’ve craved Chinese food or pizza but decided to skip it because I’ve been doing so well. That’s good motivation. I’m not depriving myself; I’m choosing to eat better because the (albeit minor) thrill of seeing my weight go down a little tomorrow (near future, close to now) is stronger to me than the desire to enjoy pizza for the two minutes it’ll take to eat a slice.
Of course, as long as I count it toward my daily calorie budget, I can eat all the pizza that I want, which is around four slices… if I eat nothing else all day.
So that’s how I stay motivated. I just choose to do the right thing so it’s not a major decision every time I eat. I don’t always feel like hitting the treadmill every weekday morning. Most mornings I would prefer not to. It’s far easier to just surf the web, watch TV, eat a Pop-Tart and skip my morning workout. You know what I actually do? I get up and walk on the fucking treadmill.
The whole idea of a “motivational speaker” is absurd. If you need someone else to tell you to do the things that you want to do, you’ve got bigger problems than they can help. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy reading and hearing people talk about how to get things done, improve your personal power, and become a better person. I just don’t put too much stock into their motivational power to propel me to go great good. ↩
Speaking of motivational speakers, I think I first heard about pain-avoidance as a base motivator from informercial motivational speaker extraordinaire Tony Robbins. ↩
The first time I went to the gym I did way too much too soon and was dry-heaving into the drain in the shower after my workout (good thing I didn’t have breakfast first). It took a good two weeks of regular exercise to not feel sick to my stomach after working out. ↩
By tomorrow I won’t be happy weighing just under 275 pounds, but today it’s a milestone that feels worth celebrating. I’ll celebrate a milestone with every 25 pound loss, which means I have about three major weight milestones left (maybe four if I count my “ideal weight”). After that I’ll have to set new fitness goals to make the most of my new body, like running a marathon, climbing a mountain, etc.
Of course, there are some BMI range and personal history milestones left to come:
- 262.5 pounds – 3/4 of the way down from my starting weight of 451+ pounds
- 250 pounds – over 200 pounds lost, and a nice round number
- 240 pounds – dropping from “obese” to merely “overweight” on the BMI scale
- 200 pounds – my base goal for now – will need to re-evaluate once I reach it – but also moves me into the upper range of “normal weight” based on BMI
Getting my weight down to below 275 feels almost as significant to me as being below 300, but maybe only because it’s been so long in the making. I reached my previous weight-loss milestone post a little over two years ago, although what really happened is that I maintained a weight of around 300 pounds for two years, and then gained 15 pounds back, and now have lost 40 pounds in the past four months. So here I am 27 months after my previous milestone celebrating another 25 pounds lost.
A Little Perspective
According to Wikipedia, a Scottish caber weighs about 175 pounds. While I’ve never picked up a caber, they sure do look heavy. I suppose that from now on whenever I reach a milestone and say I’ve lost the equivalent of [blank] that most people will have no real idea of how much that is exactly.
Since people rarely lift things that weight more than just a few pounds I’ve run out of reasonable comparisons. I know that 175 pounds is more weight than most whole persons, so maybe I should just pose for photos with people weighing what I’ve lost so I can point to them and say “There. See this guy? I’ve lost this much.”
Weighing under 275 pounds was my goal for Labor Day so now that I’ve reached it five weeks early, I’m re-setting my weight loss goal to 262.5, which is 3/4ths of the way to my overall weight goal. It’s a little ambitious, but even if I miss it, at this rate it won’t be by much. I’m losing about ten pounds a month, so losing 12.5 pounds in five weeks isn’t that unreasonable.
Because everyone loves before & after photos, here’s one of me playing pool (badly) about a month into my Clean Livin’, back in July 2008:
And then to contrast and/or compare, here’s one from July 2012 (last week):
Sometimes people find out that I’ve lost a tremendous amount of weight and ask me “What’s your secret?” as if there’s one key piece of information that I know that helped me lose weight and get fit. My stock answer is that “I’m more active and eat better.” Everyone knows that’s how you lose weight, right?
No one is ever satisfied by that answer, though, because it’s only part of the equation. It’s harder to tell people that there are a whole bunch of things that you have to change: what you eat, your habits, hobbies, tools, attitude, and self-perception. I’ve been posting my “secrets” to this blog for the past four years. I tried to distill the psychological aspects of weight loss in “How to Lose Weight” but that’s not the only part (although I believe it’s the biggest part).
I’ve been trying to come up with an elevator pitch that condenses my weight loss “secrets” down into a 20–30 second soundbite, but its’ hard to compact a few dozen little things into a pithy statement, and even if I could, people would likely be dissatisfied with that answer anyway.
The Bigger You Are, The Faster You Fall
Here’s something that’s promising: the more weight that you have to lose, the easier the initial pounds come off. It’s encouraging to see weight come off the scale every single day when you’re just starting out with your Clean Livin’ regime, even just a week or two in.
Not everyone has as much to lose as I did, though, so my results are probably atypical and while I’m happy to be an inspiration for anyone, don’t be disappointed if you don’t lose 50 pounds in three months like I did.
As I’ve lost more weight it’s gotten harder to lose weight, and it’ll likely get harder still. I’ve had to reduce my calorie budget a couple of times already since I’m no longer burning as many calories just keeping my now smaller body alive. It’s not terrible. I’ve adjusted by eating healthier, lower-calorie foods so I wouldn’t have to reduce portions to the point where I’m hungry all the time (although I am hungry before I eat).
You’ll have to experiment a little, and adjust your calorie budget based on your weigh-ins, how fast you want to lose, etc.
Surely you’re thinking “I want to lose weight as fast as possible,” but if you want to keep it off, and get healthier while you’re losing weight, that’s probably not your best strategy. Optimal, sustainable (local and organic) weight loss is healthy only if you lose about 1–2 pounds per week, which means creating a calorie deficit of 500–1000 calories per day, either through eating less, eating healthier foods, by exercising more, or some combination of the three.
Garbage In, Garbage Out
A lot of people ask me “what do you eat?” as if there’s a magic weight loss diet. Me? I eat what I like. I try to eat new vegetables, or familiar favorites prepared in a new and exciting way. Novelty helps me. People are so used to various diets that stipulate cutting out entire swathes of foods that they expect I’ll have a short and simple answer like “Oh, I used the Paleo Diet” or “I cut out carbs, fats, and sugar.”
Sometimes people get annoyed with me when I try to simplify my eating strategy down to “I count calories, stay within my budget most days, and eat healthier foods so I’m hardly ever hungry.” Is it because that’s the conventional wisdom that everyone already knows? It’s common knowledge because it works, people.
Weigh yourself. Record the weight. Log what food you eat. Count the calories (especially helpful is to plan out a meal before you eat it). Take a tape measure and measure your waist. Take your blood pressure if you have a cuff. Talk to your doctor about measuring your percentage of body fat.
The more you know the more information you’ll have to help you make better decisions.
Check the color of your urine. While cloudy, yellow urine isn’t a sure sign that you’re dehydrated, clear pee is a good sign that you’re well-hydrated, especially if it’s combined with more frequent urination.
Wash the Weight Away
You’re not drinking water because you’re thirsty, you’re drinking water to flush out the crud that’s been building up in your system, and making it easier to get the water that comes out of your adipose tissue (i.e. your fat cells) flushed out of your body as you break down the fat cells (which also contain water) to make up for the calorie deficit you’re creating by eating fewer calories. Why weigh all that extra water weight? Go pee that stuff out because you’re hydrating like crazy.
It’s a Decision
That’s all fitness is: a series of good choices that get you to where you want to go.
You are trying to transform your body, but the transformation has to begin in your mind. Imagine an Olympic athlete suddenly inhabited your body (like in one of those Freaky Friday, 18 Again, Vice Versa, or Like Father, Like Son movies, but with an athlete switching bodies with you instead of a relative whose life will inspire you to change. That athlete will likely be frustrated with how your body performs, like asking a race car driver to compete in the Indy 500 in a Prius. You can bet they’d whip their new body into better shape, though. So become that athlete yourself and you won’t have to wait around and hope for a magic mirror, fountain, or fortune cookie.
You’re Not Exercising. You’re An Athlete.
Exercise isn’t something you do for thirty minutes at a certain time every day. It’s who you are. You are motion. You are activity. Every day you’re getting stronger. Your day-over-day improvements in strength, endurance, and speed may be imperceptible to you, but week-over-week, month-after-month you’ll start to find that you can do so much more than you could a month or two ago. Exercise isn’t work. It’s training.
Goals Are Where You Are Going To Be, and What You Are Going To Do To Get There
Your weight loss goals aren’t something that would be nice to do. Your goals are a series of small things that you do that get you incrementally closer to where you want to be. You’re playing the long game, setting milestones and taking every step necessary to get there.
Your goals are small enough that each one should be 100% achievable. You’re going to lose those ten pounds because you’re going to create a calorie deficit every day, by reducing what you eat at most meals, most days, and increasing your activity level to take up the slack.
The best way to predict the future is to invent it.
– Computer scientist Alan Kay, 1971
So How Did You Lose So Much Weight?
I eat better and move around a lot more.