Are You Willing to Know Your ABCs?

Many of us have been using the events of 2020 to justify many of our undesired and unhelpful behaviours. Undoubtedly, it has been an emotional and uncomfortable few months but I have news for you – that’s not the reason you are off track.

It’s not a virus’s fault that you have been baking with flour, sugar and butter incessantly for 3 months now. It’s not the desperate need for racial equality that is driving you to drink more alcohol than you usually do. It’s not even the fear of paying for gyms and studios when money is tight (even if they weren’t closed) that is causing you to skip your workouts. It isn’t any of that stuff. That is just the window dressing. Those are scapegoats.

The real issue is that we have never been taught the correct way to address uncomfortable feelings.

We are suddenly bored of being cooped up at home. We are either ashamed of our heritage or enraged by it. We have had our jobs and finances upset and find it scary and difficult to establish new avenues. And all of this makes us fall back on the habits that we have practiced during previous times of discomfort.

You may have heard this referred to as the “think-feel-act cycle.” Or, in Cognitive Behavioural Terms, it is the ABCs.

The ABC model was created by Dr. Albert Ellis, a psychologist and researcher and its name refers to the components of the model:

A. Adversity or activating event.
B. Your beliefs about the event. This involves both obvious and underlying thoughts about situations, ourselves, and others.
C. Consequences. This includes your behavioural or emotional response.

When C (the consequences) turns into a destructive or even an undesirable behaviour (like overindulging or skipping your workout) instead of rushing to the baking cabinet, I suggest that it is time to look at B (our beliefs) instead. I mean, let’s face it, we really have no control over A and waiting it out is taking a lot longer than we had initially hoped.

In this ABC model, B is considered to be the most important component because if we can identify the belief that isn’t serving us, we can question it and ultimately change it. And once we change that belief, we change the consequence.

Here’s an example:

  • your spouse brings a bag of donuts into the house (that is A).
  • You see the donuts and think “Oh no, I am trying to lose weight but when I am this stressed out I am not able to resist the deliciousness of donuts.” (that is B).
  • You hold off for a while but eventually snap and eat not just one but a few of the donuts (that is C). Then you are mad at yourself, your spouse and the scapegoat of “2020” gets the blame.

So, you can see how changing B is a lot easier than changing A (you can’t control someone else’s behaviour – not for long anyway) and C is a direct response to B. So what are we left with?

Doing some deep questioning into the validity of B.

Are you really powerless around donuts? Are donuts really that delicious? Even if they are, do you have to eat them, just because they are there? Is the momentary reward of eating a donut more satisfying than making another step toward your goal of weighing less? Is blaming your spouse for bringing them into the house going to solve this issue? Is getting upset with yourself for not having more willpower going to prepare you for when this happens again?

By asking yourself these (and other) challenging questions, you can eventually rewrite the narrative of this ABC, and every other ABC, into a story that helps you achieve your goals rather than derailing you.

This is the type of game-changing work we do in the Weighless program that no other weight loss program does. Doing thIs deep work of cutting the issue off at its source, makes calorie counting and food tracking irrelevant.

It starts with being aware there is work to do – and ends with doing the work. And that work is forever. Not just until you have hit your goal weight.

So, are you willing to dissect and examine your ABCs?

Bait & Switch – My Noom Adventure

Photo of a woman eyeing a single leaf

When Monica and I saw that there was another program out there which promised to be a “weight-loss program designed by psychologists & scientifically proven to create real, sustainable results” we were pumped!

Sometimes when you are the lone voice in a space, you start to question your sanity. But Noom’s ads talked about all the stuff that is near and dear to our hearts here at Weighless. Phrases like “create new habits and healthy behaviours that stick” and “practice and master healthy lifestyle habits” were music to our ears. It was both validation that we were on to something, and reassurance that the world was truly fed up with diets and ready for something better.

Then one of our new members told us that she had actually quit Noom to come over to the Weighless program because they had put her on a 1200 calorie per day diet and she was tired of feeling hungry all the time.

Well, that doesn’t jibe with their messaging, does it?

So, I decided to sign up for their service and see what was going on.

Now this wasn’t some undercover, stealthy, nefarious, creepy infiltration. I was completely honest with them, including my goals and my name. I told them I only wanted to lose 2kg and was simply focussed on being healthy and strong as I approached my 50th birthday.

They had access to my demographic info (height, current weight, BMI, age, gender and so on) so what happened was a complete surprise to me.

They immediately adjusted my goal weight to 72kg (instead of my actual goal of 75) and put me on a 1400 calorie per day diet. What?!

I am a 6 foot tall, quite muscular, very active, 48-year-old man. 1400 calories per day is about 1000 calories less than I have been eating for the last 25 years. And even when I was a 21-year-old professional ballet dancer, I never weighed in at 72kg (158 lbs).

But the good news was, the Noom app told me, that if I exercised more, my calories allowance for the day went up.

Well… that also doesn’t jibe with their messaging, does it?

Here’s the thing. After working in this space for as long as Monica and I have, we have learned to recognize these behaviours as two of the cornerstones of disordered eating.

  • Starve yourself using an extremely low-calorie diet.
  • Reward yourself with more food by exercising (usually excessively).

And to top it off, I was meant to record all of my meals in their app, tracking every bite. Just like every diet and calorie counter I had ever encountered. A practice that has been shown in studies to decrease quickly over time.

Sure there were daily lessons that were surprisingly aligned with what we teach in the Weighless program – but by that point, the damage had been done.

Any possibility of “developing healthier habits that last” is lost when any of the weight loss I would experience (and I would definitely experience weight loss had I stuck to that absurdly low-calorie intake) is obviously coming from a diet that is exactly like all diets before it.

This is a true case of bait and switch.

They promise a lifestyle overhaul but that promise is purely window dressing on yet another diet that is doomed to fail in the long term.

See also: Weighless compared to Noom

Motivation and the Hierarchy of Needs

I have been thinking about how our current covid-heavy situation might be affecting our motivation and willpower lately and my research led me to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Now, this may sound dry but stick with me for a minute.

This is how the hierarchy goes, in order from most important to least important (remember, this is in “the survival of the species” terms).

  1. Biological and physiological needs – food, drink, shelter, warmth, sleep, air.
  2. Safety needs – protection, security, order, law, stability.
  3. Love and Belongingness – family, affection, relationships
  4. Esteem (cognitive, aesthetics) – achievement, status, responsibility, reputation
  5. Self-actualization – personal growth and fulfillment
  6. Transcendence – Helping others (this was a later addition to the hierarchy)

If we are striving to maintain motivation for some of the higher needs on Maslow’s scale, like “Self-actualization” (personal growth and fulfillment), but – for perhaps the first time in our lives – we are faced with the possibility of our “physiological” or “safety” needs not being met, well isn’t it totally understandable that our motivation for self-improvement takes a backseat? Or gets the boot altogether?

Here’s an example: you want to learn how to do a pull-up properly so you resolve to exercise for at least 30 minutes each evening after dinner. Great! But instead, you find yourself reading social media posts about how the food supply in your nation is deeply flawed or obsessing about how your retirement savings have taken a hit during the current financial downturn.

By nature of our own instinct for survival, the motivation to get strong enough to do a pull-up is replaced by worry about safety and security.

This is the problem with relying too heavily on motivation. And I mean any time In hIstory, not just during a global pandemic.

In the Weighless approach, (unlike in most diets or exercise programs) we take the focus off of motivation and willpower and instead build systems that can withstand stress and uncertainty. We focus on paying attention to the thoughts and the feelings that drive our choices and actions. Are they true? Are they meaningful? What other choices do we have that are rooted in reality (not just in fear)?

By doing this we can circumvent motivation and achieve our goals, even during stressful times.

Motivation can certainly help you survive but it is unlikely to help you thrive.

Getting Unstuck

Have you ever wondered what it is that keeps us stuck at a particular weight, or a particular level of fitness, or a particular amount of money in the bank (etc)? Well, I have. And I have to say that the answer is more surprising and simpler than I had imagined.

Photo of a cat in a tree

It is our habits.

This is how it goes: our behaviours/actions are based on our thoughts, and our thoughts are based on our inputs. Our inputs revolve mainly around our habits, and those habits are perfectly curated to support our current results (body weight, fitness, job, relationships, and so on).

Let me restate that: our current habits are the perfect blueprint to achieve our current life.

So, what do we need to focus on to create a change in our current lot in life? Developing new habits.

Current Self vs Future Self

Most of the habits we engage in on a daily basis are designed to satisfy our current self with little or no regard for our future self (let alone our ideal self). For example:

  • Current self passes the fridge and opens it up to see if there is something delicious in there to much on. Future self wishes that current self would show some self-control.
  • Current self sees that there is some extra money in the chequing account and decides to order-in dinner three nights this week. Future self sure wishes the retirement savings account was a little more robust (and our waist line was a little less robust).
  • Current self hits snooze one more time and rushes into work without doing the morning movement routine. Future self is stiff and lethargic.
  • You get the idea. Current self’s habits are holding future self in stasis which means ideal self is left to hang.

Building the Ideal Self

So, what if we designed our habits to support future self instead of only satisfying current self? Could we break out of a rut? Could we reach our larger life goals? Could we become the ideal self that current self only dreams of and future self laments?

Yes! Yes we can.

Remember that our current habits, behaviours and actions are exactly the ones that we need to repeat in order to continue to be the person we currently are.

So, in the Weighless worldview, we focus on what we need to do instead to move toward the person we desire to become. How we change those small behaviours, repeat a different set of habits, and (as we say in the program) “become the type of person who _insert_desired_outcome_here_” instead of remaining stuck in our current self.

So, what habits and behaviours does your ideal self engage in? What is holding you back from becoming the type of person who chooses those instead?

The Power of a Craving Reboot

When I was younger, I worked for a division of the Government in IT. In that crowd, there is a running joke that almost any computer issue can be resolved by “turning it off and back on again.” And all joking aside, it really does work… a surprising amount of the time. Seriously, give it a try next time your computer, phone, tablet or even TV is giving you grief.

The American author and poet, Anne Lamott, also wrote that “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” Which is a key point in her TED talk called “12 Truths I Learned from Life and Writing” which I encourage you to check out.

This restarting strategy is very similar to something we teach in the Weighless program as a way to outwit random food cravings. And no, it doesn’t involve you having to go and take a nap everytime you get a craving for [insert default food here]. It simply involves taking a break from the situation that caused the craving in the first place.

Many conventional diets will simply tell you that you are not allowed to have that food (or will try to sell you on a substitute version) but in Weighless we prefer to be both a little more forgiving and more realistic in our advice.

We know the strength of willpower but we also know its weaknesses – so whenever possible we prefer to take it out of the equation.

So, instead of using a ton of willpower (if you have any left at this point in the day) to resist that urge, we suggest instead to make a deal with yourself to simply take a break for 10-ish minutes and remove yourself from the location or situation that kicked off the craving. Restart your inner CPU, as it were.

Then, the second part of the deal with yourself is that if you still have that same craving after 10-ish minutes of letting your brain reboot, follow through and go ahead and enjoy a sensible amount of that treat. But, and this is important, you REALLY take the time to enjoy that treat!

Don’t eat it distracted.

Sit down, focus on the treat, and enjoy the heck out of each bite until you are satisfied.

You know what? Honestly, more often than not after the restart, our members generally forget about the craving and move on with their day. And even if they don’t, the anticipation, the ritual and the mindfulness of eating that treat with no distractions makes it more enjoyable and often they find that just a few bites is all they required.

Try this strategy next time you find yourself with a random craving and let us know how it works for you. I bet, like my crappy old MacBook, a restart will make all the difference.

What Makes a Workout?

Photo of an old time gymIn an article I wrote over on my coaching blog, I gave a brief history of the gym (or the “health club” as it was known). In my research, I discovered that it was in about 1977 that the majority of the population slowly started to be introduced to the idea that gyms were a place that you could go to “get fit.” But it didn’t really catch on until the 1980s.

I was 6-years-old in 1977 (and honestly didn’t step foot in a gym until the 1990s) and yet, many of you reading this and many of my peers still have the idea that you can’t get fit if you can’t afford, don’t like, or don’t have time to get to the gym. Or more recently, don’t have a Peleton, treadmill or visit a yoga studio (real or virtual).

Interesting, eh? It really didn’t take us very long to somehow lose our innate ability to maintain our own fitness without outsourcing it to someone or someplace. And never has this lack of understanding been so pointed and obvious as it has been during this current viral lockdown.

Everyone and their dog is currently sharing their workouts on social media, asking people like me to teach some workouts they can do at home, and online workout services are gaining more traction than ever because of this lack of understanding of how to stay fit on our own. And I am not trying to shame anyone. This is a good and natural reaction but …

Give a person a workout video and they are sweaty for a day.
Teach a person how to exercise and they are fit for life. 

So, I want to make it simple for you. Are you ready?

The three criteria that a movement needs to fill in order to qualify as an exercise are:

  1. Raise your heart rate (a little or a lot)
  2. Challenge your muscles (a little or a lot)
  3. Move your body beyond your comfort level (a little or a lot).

That is all.

Here’s an example: let’s say you are carrying the laundry basket up some stairs, how can make that into an exercise?

  • Go up the stairs quicker or two steps at a time,
  • add more weight to the basket,
  • hold the basket in a different way than usual,
  • go up some of the stairs sideways.
  • Boom – you are exercising! And getting the laundry done!

Now you may be thinking, “that sounds too easy, what if I am more fit than that?”

Well, there are three factors that need to increase to create fitness, and they are:

  1. Distance
  2. Duration
  3. Intensity

That is all.

Here’s an example of this: let’s say you have been carrying that same laundry basket up the stairs for a few weeks and it is feeling easy now. Then you could:

  • increase the intensity (by adding more weight to the basket),
  • you could increase the distance (by going up and down the stairs a few times),
  • you could increase the duration (by taking each step slower and more controlled).
  • Boom – you are getting more fit from the same task!

Sure this is overly simplified. There are a lot more factors you can add in (like which body parts you want to develop) and more considerations that are fun to focus on (learning to do a pull-up) but when it comes to doing nothing (because you feel so lost) and doing something simple like this (because let’s face it, we all need to do laundry during the pandemic) I would choose this every time!

Make “no quit” Your New Habit

A day or so after one of my favourite runners of all time came in fourth in the USA Marathon Olympic trials, Boston Marathon Champion, 2-Time Olympian, and NCAA All-American, Des Linden, posted this on Twitter.

Screenshot ot a Tweet from Des Linden

I share this for a few reasons:

  1. Des had every reason to feel defeated and down after barely missing a spot on the 2020 USA Olympic Marathon team but instead she focussed on the fact that she didn’t quit and kept pushing through.
  2. The idea that we can actually make a decision like “no quit” into a habit in our daily life is one that lends itself to success in many areas of life.
  3. If we don’t quit, we can make our worst days into barely a hiccup rather than a disastrous cascade of choices that don’t align with our goals.

You know, before folks join us in the Weighless program, one of the prevailing issues that we see repeated again and again, is that when a person hits a bump in the road and makes a misstep (like eating a cupcake at the office birthday party or being too busy to make it to the gym) that instead of accepting that they slipped up and get immediately back on track, they quit and throw caution to the wind for the remainder of the day – or the week – or the month – and they resign themselves to start again when they are “really ready.”

But what if they added “no quit” as a habit?

What if they simply shook off that momentary lapse and got right back on track? Well, then they would join us in taking their worst day and make it “not that far off their best day.” A day that would have otherwise turned into a stream of regrettable decisions would instead be a day where you missed your workout but went for a lunchtime walk instead. Or you ate the cupcake but then had a lovely piece of fish and a salad for dinner.

The truth is that every time we give ourselves an excuse to quit, we get better at quitting. But every time we don’t quit, we get better at pushing through.

Which one would you rather practice?

Is that Treat Really a Treat?

Photo by Jacqueline Howell from Pexels

At a very early age, society, advertising, and popular culture start instructing which foods are a treat and which aren’t a treat. I remember Saturday morning cartoons glorifying cupcakes, cheeseburgers, doughnuts and candy while vilifying vegetables, fish, liver and cottage cheese. It’s insidious the way they programmed us to believe that a doughnut is a treat and it should be gobbled up the moment it presents itself but we should only eat spinach if we are forced to by an authority figure (mom or a doctor).

But the great thing about becoming an adult is that we have the free will to actually test these societal assumptions and make up our own minds. If – and that is a big IF – we take the time to do so. And that is the key right there.

Here is an experiment: the next time a coworker brings in a box of some type of sugared-dough or other, watch as everyone devours them. Are they even tasting anything? Does anyone savour their treat? Or are they simply reacting to some ancient programming that tells us: sugar + dough = yum.

But does it? Really? Every single time?

It may seem like I am picking on doughnuts here (and I am) because I personally had a revelation a few years ago that most doughnuts actually suck. And on top of that, they give me a bit of a stomach ache and, after the brief sugar rush, make my energy levels plummet for the rest of the day.

After I tested the theory a few more times and decided I was right, I stopped eating the doughnuts that were brought into the office (nearly) every Friday. In fact, I became known as “the guy who doesn’t like doughnuts” around the office. A badge of honour and pride that was envied by many of my coworkers who had decided years ago that they were powerless to resist the sugar-dough combo in any form. It appeared to them that I had some superpower. But in reality, I had just taken time to test the theory that these so-called treats were actually a treat to me.

They weren’t.

And with that new knowledge, I didn’t have to use any willpower, motivation or superpower to say “no thanks” to them. I honestly did not want them or the repercussions they brought with them. And I am not even talking about calories here.

After that, I started testing other so-called treats and sure, a few of them are still on my list (I am a sucker for whipped cream) but many others went the way of the doughnut. And on the flip side, I realized that grabbing a bowl of spinach to eat popcorn-style was something I really enjoyed.

  • Cupcakes – nope.
  • Hard Candy – never.
  • Pie (most fruit) – yup!
  • Brussel Sprouts – yes, please!
  • Cottage Cheese (with ground pepper & diced carrots) – hell yeah!
  • French Fries – hard pass (I know, right?!?)

The challenge!

This is something we do in the Weighless Program: we challenge our members to take the time to actually taste their food, fully experience it – in the moment and also for the few hours after – and make up their mind for themselves. Treat or not?

You may find that birthday cake holds no allure but a stalk of rhubarb does. Those generic cookies you buy in a box from a little girl in a funky outfit are flavourless and pasty while the cookies made by your mother-in-law are totally worth it. Just because the words “burger and fries” are often said together that doesn’t make them a must-have combo, if you don’t actually enjoy the fries.

What is a treat to you and only you? You independent and discerning individual?

 

Move your body when you can this holiday season

Time is tight during the holidays, and that may mean that you really do not have time to do your regular exercise minute routine.

Usually, I walk 15 minutes to the gym, do 40 minutes of throwing around something fun and heavy, and then walk 15 minutes home again. That is 70 minutes that I definitely will not have while I am prepping for holiday festivities and trying to maintain my status of “super cool uncle.”

But that does not mean I will throw in the towel and skip my movement practice altogether. I will simply do what I can with the time I have.

Here are a few things I plan to do and that you can also try.

  1. Turn errands and chores into exercise. This can be as easy to do as walking to the store with a couple of bags and a backpack to pick up the holiday meal ingredients or last-minute presents. Or it can be more involved, like adding some extra challenges to shovelling the walk. Personally, I like to alternate which hand I use on the shovel and also challenge myself to see how far I can throw the snow.
  2. Do some short movement breaks throughout the day when you have a few minutes. Burpees, jumping jacks, squat jumps and other full-body movements are great activities to pepper in when you don’t have much time but want to get your heart rate up. The key is to choose multi-joint and full-body movements to maximize the impact these short bursts of movement will have. If nothing else, get up 7 minutes early and do the Scientific 7-Minute Workout before you even say good morning to anyone.
  3. Turn outdoor fun into fitness. There are many great outdoor activities available to us at this time of year—and many of them can be turned into a real workout with a slight variation. For example: sledding. Sure you could watch the young ones go up and down the hill while you take pictures on your phone, but how about taking it to the next level by joining in and running up the hill each time instead of doing the traditional trudge. For bonus points, invite some kids to add some weight to your toboggan by giving them a ride up the hill. Use your imagination and make it fun!

When time is tight, focus on doing what you can, when you can, with as much of your body as you can. That is much MUCH better than doing nothing and crossing your fingers while waiting for Jan 1 to roll around.

Menopause and the Middle-Age Spread

In the Weighless Program, we have members spanning a wide range of demographics. One well-represented group is perimenopausal and menopausal women. As a result, a common question that pops up is whether or not the “middle-age spread” is inevitable.

As we tell our members, just because something is common, doesn’t mean it is inevitable.

I recently interviewed Dr. Tamsin Lewis on the Get-Fit Guy podcast.  Dr. Tam is both an Ironman athlete and a Medical Doctor as well as a middle-aged woman herself. So she understands the body both medically and athletically.

When I asked Dr. Tam if this middle-age spread is indeed inevitable, she replied: “I don’t think anything in life is inevitable, is it? Apart from death and taxes. Menopausal weight gain is certainly common, but that doesn’t mean it is inevitable or even normal.”

“Theoretically, [during menopause], your body does become more prone to storing weight around the middle.” and that is why she advises the patients that she works with to make some changes to their diet, how they exercise, and perhaps even look into hormonal supplementation.

You can listen to the complete interview here.

In the Weighless Program, we question common assumptions and dissect “conventional wisdom.”  We also encourage our members to experiment with changes in exercise and diet to learn how our bodies respond rather than accept a one-size-fits-all solution–or throw our hands in the air in defeat.

Ageing happens, there is no doubt – but that doesn’t mean we have to go down without a fight!