At this time of year when we often make new year’s resolutions, I thought I might do something to help you make lasting change. The following details the changes I made that have led to a 69 lbs. (and counting) weight loss.
My weight has been a problem for a long time. When I was in the Army, my weight hovered around 222. I was physically fit and didn’t seem to have a problem. Then I got out of the Army. Within a few months (or weeks), I gained seven lbs. Not too bad but over the limit to stay in the National Guard. Over the years, my weight kept creeping up. I went through some terrible weekends dehydrating myself so I could make weight. The low came when I went to an army school and got sent home because I missed the weight and body fat standard. By then I was a senior officer and it was humbling to get dressed down by my commander. Motivated by the humiliation, I lost about 20 lbs.
Sadly, I couldn’t keep it off. At my last summer camp, I weighed in at a hefty 270 and couldn’t button my BDU trousers. After that (and for other reasons), I retired from the reserves. And then things got bad. I took a high stress job as a hospital administrator and within about a year I weighed in at a stunning 335 lbs. – over 100 pounds heavier than what I had weighed in the Army.
For years, I stayed there, always thinking about dieting and wishing I was less heavy. I started tons of diets, lasting anywhere from a few hours to a few days. I even lost 40 lbs. once but soon regained it. Then last year at my birthday, I decided to loss weight. Now six months later, I am down almost 60 lbs. with 25 to go to reach my goal. So how have I done it?
Some years ago, I read a book called “Influencer – How to Change Anything”. In this book (you can look it up at www.vitalsmarts.com), the authors explored what makes change successful and developed six sources of motivation – personal motivation, personal ability, social motivation, social ability, structural motivation and structural ability. Here how I have used the six sources of motivation.
The first step of change is personal motivation. In the “Influencer” book, one of the authors describes that his daughter, a type 1 diabetic, was very bad at taking her daily insulin shots and eating right until he took her to a diabetic treatment program that showed the consequences of not following her care plan. After seeing the problems that can arise, she became highly motivated to comply with her doctor’s instructions.
For many years, I told myself I needed to lose weight, but I never really “felt” the connection to doing so – my heart was just not in it. Then last May, a few things happened. First my wife told me how much she was concerned about my weight and it potential effects on my health. Second, I visited my brother and sister who are both suffering the consequences of being very overweight. And finally, I went to a presentation where I heard that 50 percent of healthcare costs are associated with lifestyle choices such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and overeating. I decided then I wanted to change. I “felt” the connection to my goal of losing weight.
The second step is personal ability. This involves learning what I needed to do to lose weight. One book that was very helpful was “Bright Line Eating” by Susan Pierce Thompson. The concept from this book that stuck with me is the idea that if I make a plan and keep it in mind, I don’t have to rely on willpower - a common dieting failure. After some study, I decided to follow the Keto or Atkins diet plan. I established some clear bright lines about what I could eat. I set of a goal of 20 net carbohydrates (carbs) per day. To achieve this, I have a bright line of no flour, no sugar, no milk, and no starches (like potatoes and pasta). Whenever those foods are available, I don’t have to think or use willpower – I have already decided I am not going to eat them. In addition, I read the carbohydrate content on whatever I am thinking of eating and anything that is high in carbs goes back on the shelf.
The next two steps, social motivation and social ability really run together. It essentially involves enlisting others to help. This part requires a bit of humility. First because who wants to admit they are overweight? Being overweight is literally like ignoring the elephant in the room (and I was getting as big as a baby elephant). Second is recognizing that sometimes, we can’t do everything on our own. The help I went for was first from my wife who had the courage to have the difficult conversation with me about my weight. I told her I wanted to start losing weight and it was helpful (and move than a bit painful) to hear her talk about my weight but it was sure motivating. A word of warning for those trying to help others – don’t start this conversation uninvited – it can be disastrous. Secondly, I started sharing my weight loss goals and progress with my children. They and my wife are my greatest cheerleaders. And then I tell everyone that I am on a diet. Food is a big part of our social life and being able to say, “I can’t eat that because…” is key to success. I was surprised how many people have been supportive (albeit after some initial surprise) when I tell them I can’t have French fries or pasta or whatever that is on my bright line list. I still have 25 lbs. to go so if you see me, feel free to ask me how I’m doing.
The fifth element to change is setting rewards and being accountable. When I started on my journey, I set a big reward – getting the new Army dress uniform. When I reach 250 lbs., I am going to buy the new Army “pinks and greens” uniform that comes out in the spring of 2020. The uniform is a throwback to a popular uniform from World War II. Being a military history buff, I have always loved the look of the uniform. So, when I get to my goal weight, I am going to get one. Just losing weight has had smaller rewards for me. I no longer struggle to get up from the sofa, I feel better, I sleep better, I can take my dog Brutus for long walks, and my father-in-law no longer mentions my “ponderous gut”. It just feels great when I hit a five lbs. goal and share that with my wife and children.
The sixth element is changing the environment. Some things I have done are to keep track of my progress have been to make sure I have things I can eat in the house. Plenty of meat and low carb vegetables. One of my great weaknesses was drinking milk (high in carbs) - I could drink a gallon of milk in a few days. Hence, we got rid of milk in the house. I have my current Army dress uniform out where I can see so I am reminded of where I’m headed. And I keep a weight journal to show my progress.
So, there is how I have lost nearly 60 lbs. In some ways, it probably seems complicated but it really boils down to a few simple must do things – get emotionally attached to the goal, develop a plan, take willpower out of the equation, get others to help, create motivating rewards and create a supportive environment. As you look to make changes for this coming year, I wish you success!