Urge vs. desire

For a long time, I didn’t appreciate the difference between an urge and a desire. I thought they were the same thing. I assumed that the urge to eat or drink or do something meant that I really wanted to eat or drink or do that thing.

But as I’ve been working with my own urges, I’ve realized that urges and desires are not the same. Not by a long shot.

An urge can be triggered by totally random things. I see the butter dish out on the counter and I have a sudden urge for a piece of toast. I see an open bottle of wine in the fridge and I have an urge to pour a a glass.

Photo by charlesdeluvio on Unsplash

What follows is that familiar (and often unsuccessful) struggle to resist the urge. The struggle can be uncomfortable. But some of that discomfort, I realized recently, resides in the belief that I really want or desire that thing.

It turns out (much to my astonishment) that sometimes an urge is just an urge. There’s actually very little authentic desire attached to it. It’s just a passing thought or impulse triggered by something in my internal or external environment. Or purely by habit.

And this has been a game changer for me. If I take a moment to investigate, I sometimes discover that my actual level of desire is pretty low. When that’s the case, and I consciously acknowledge it, moving on from that urge is much easier.

Try it and see what you find. When urges arise, instead of moving immediately into “resisting,” or arguing with yourself about whether or not to give in, take a moment to investigate your actual level of desire.

Do you really want that thing at this moment? Or is it just an urge?

Are you afraid to succeed?

In our years of coaching hundreds of people in the Weighless program, we’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon: As people begin to see progress–and especially when they start to get close to their “goal,” they are sometimes surprised to discover that they feel a sense of fear or dread.

Many of us have been trying to solve this problem for years–or decades. So, why on earth would we find ourselves suddenly afraid of succeeding?

There’s not a single answer. But some of the things that others have articulated are:

  • fear of backsliding and not being able to maintain their weight loss
  • being unsure who they are or how to be in the word without the identity of someone who needs to lose weight
  • fearing that people will see them differently and perhaps expect something new or different from them
  • fear that it might change their relationships with other people
  • dread that once they have solved this “problem,” they’ll be forced to confront other challenges that they had been putting off until they’d lost weight.   

Once we uncover thoughts like these, we can obviously investigate them. But if they remain below our conscious awareness, they can (and do) sabotage our efforts.

Do any of the above strike a chord?

Creating your transformation toolkit

We recently asked what issues make it hard for you to manage your weight and you told us: 

  • Overwhelm
  • Stress
  • Inability to get and stay motivated
  • Lack of consistency with habits
  • No-one to keep you accountable
  • Conflicting advice
  • Not following through with plans and intentions

We get it!  These are the very same dragons that we are slaying with our members in the year-long Weighless program. 

We shared some of our most effective dragon-slaying techniques in a live workshop earlier this year. 

We talked about the 5 things you ACTUALLY need to put in place in order to create lasting change, as well as 6 things that you probably THINK you need (but actually don’t).

Our goal was to send attendees away with a new sense of clarity, focus, and positive momentum. 

A replay of this workshop is available for a limited time. You can  access it here.

Why you don’t stick to your plans

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

We’re hearing a lot these days about the value of planning: A daily schedule to impose some structure to our days. A task list to keep us focused and productive while working or studying from home. A meal plan to keep us from mindlessly grazing all day.

So we dutifully make a plan for the day…and then abandon the plan by 10am. It’s tempting to conclude that planning doesn’t work.

But here’s the thing everyone forgets to tell you about planning. The trick is not in making the plan. The trick is in sticking to the plan you’ve made.

Because I can almost guarantee you that however solid and reasonable your plan, when it comes time to execute it, your brain is going to rebel. It will argue that it doesn’t really matter whether you write that email now or later, or whether you eat this or that. After all (your brain will say to you), you made the plan. You can change the plan. No big deal, right?

And the more often you throw the plan out the window, the easier that “no big deal” moment becomes. Each time you alter your plan, you empower the part of your brain that always wants to give up.

At the end of the day, however, you’re very likely going to be disappointed with the results. A lot of the work you planned to do is still undone. The exercise session you planned somehow didn’t happen. Instead of the nice salad you planned to have for lunch, you ate an entire tube of saltines, 4 slices of american cheese, the cookie you planned to enjoy after dinner plus three more. You’ll wonder how the day got so out of control.

The problem here is that your brain has (at least) two parts: A higher brain that’s looking out for your future well-being and a lower brain that favors immediate gratification.

Which part of your brain do you want calling the shots?

In the Weighless Program, we often refer to that lower brain as our Inner Toddler. And just like a child testing limits, our lower brain is constantly testing to see whether it can get the higher brain to cave in on all those pesky, no-fun plans. But just as a child actually feels much safer and happier when they realize that there are limits that prevent them from doing whatever they want, you will feel so much calmer and more in control when you know that you can count on yourself to stick to the plan. And every time you do, you strengthen that part of your identity.

The art of planning

Whether you are planning your work schedule, your meals, your exercise, or any other habit, you may need to experiment to discover what level of detail is flexible enough to be realistic without being so flexible that it fails to keep you on track. But whatever level of detail you arrive at, it’s helpful to write it down. Because then when your lower brain starts negotiating or you conveniently “forget” what the plan was, you can refer to that document and remind yourself, “Nope, this is the plan. End of discussion.”

At the first moment of rebellion, when your lower brain starts to argue that it doesn’t really matter whether you eat a salad or saltines for lunch, you calmly tell your lower brain, “No, we’re going to stick to the plan–simply because that’s what we planned. If we decide we don’t like this plan, we can make a different plan for tomorrow. But today, we’re following the plan. “

And then you follow through. You trust that what your higher brain planned for you was in your best interests.   When you’re tempted to have an unplanned snack or treat, remind yourself that your plan includes a snack and a treat. Just not this one and not right now.

So, you also want to be kind to yourself when you’re making your plans. You want to be looking out for your best interests, whether that’s finishing the work that needs to get done, or eating nutritious foods, or getting some exercise. But in addition to all of these ways of taking care of yourself, remember that your plan should also include ways of resting and relaxing, things to enjoy and look forward to.

It’s OK to plan a food treat but remember there are lots of other ways that we can give ourselves small pleasures through the day, whether it’s a call with a friend, a nap, a half hour with a book or magazine, or an episode of a favorite show. When we include treats in our plan, it makes it much easier for us to resist momentary urges–because we know we have treats coming our way.

If only as an experiment, I want you to see what happens if you stick to your plan all day long. You owe it to yourself to see what it’s like when you actually take care of yourself that way.

There may be a few bumps. You may feel a little grumbly at times. But at the end of the day, I want you to notice how it feels to have completed (most of) the work you meant to complete, to have eaten (pretty much) the way you intended to eat, just moved your body (more or less) the way you planned to, to have enjoyed the treats that you selected for yourself–and to have both the pleasure of anticipating them as well as the pleasure of enjoying them.

Does it feel better or worse than you feel when you abandon your plan because it doesn’t seem appealing or important in the moment?

If you didn’t stick to your plan, think about why your plan failed. Was the plan too strict? Simply unrealistic? Maybe your work plan needs to include an extra hour to handle unexpected stuff. Maybe the meals you planned weren’t quite enough to satisfy your hunger. Or, maybe you needed to leave a little more time for preparation. How can you adjust tomorrow’s plan to make it serve you even better?

I know what to do. Why don’t I do it?

When I was first practicing as a nutritionist, I worked with a lot of people who had health problems related to diet. They were overweight. They had high blood sugar or high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

They (or their doctors) believed that they just needed someone to tell them what to eat and what not to eat. But as I quickly learned, the problem for most people is not that they don’t know what to do.

They know what to do. They just don’t know how to get themselves to do it.

They know that after dinner snacking is resulting in unwanted pounds. They just don’t know how to break the habit.

They know that they are eating a lot more sugar than is good for their bodies. They just don’t know how to stop.

They know that prepping healthy snacks or getting more exercise would be healthier. They just can’t seem to be consistent.

Now, not knowing how to do something is nothing to be ashamed of. But so often, even when people go looking for help, they tend to look in the wrong places. They look for something that will provide motivation or accountability. They look for someone with a new and different solution. They look for someone who will tell them what to do–only louder.

But none of this answers the real question: How do I change my behavior?

And this is the question that the year-long Weighless program is designed to answer.

Of course, as nutrition and fitness professionals, Brock and I have created a program that will help you figure out what eating and movement patterns work best for you. But much of the weekly curriculum and group coaching is devoted to helping people understand why they do the things they do and how to change the things they want to change.

Enrollment for the year-long Weighless program is currently closed. But you can get a jump-start on our approach to behavior change by tuning into our Change Academy podcast. And if you are thinking about joining the cohort that will begin in the Spring, be sure you’re on our mailing list.

Stop looking for the perfect diet

Photo by Marten Newhall on Unsplash

Starting a new diet requires optimism.  Especially if you have a long history of failed attempts. (And most of us do.)

We have to convince ourselves that this time will be different.  Otherwise, why even bother?

One of the ways we muster that optimism in the face of so much damning evidence is to focus on the details of the diet itself.  Maybe our past attempts failed because we hadn’t picked the right diet.

But if you are overweight, the real problem is not your diet.  Lose all the weight you want on whatever diet regimen you choose. If you haven’t fixed the underlying habits and mindset, you are almost certain to regain the weight.

A study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that overweight adults who lost weight through focusing on changing their eating and movement habits (as opposed to following a certain diet) were more likely to maintain their weight loss for up to 12 months.

“Maintaining weight loss is often the hardest part of the weight-loss journey,” researcher Gina Clea says, “yet it was successfully achieved by our participants on the habit-based programs, without the need for dieting or strenuous exercise.

This is exactly what we see with our members in the Weighless Program. Although we certainly talk about food and movement, there is no prescribed diet or exercise program. We focus less on what you’re eating and more on how and why you’re eating it.  We work on dismantling that dieter’s mindset and creating the habits and mindset that lead to weighing less, permanently.  (Here’s what that looks like.)

And it’s working! Just last week we got a note from one of our members who started the program two years ago. By the end of 12 months, he’d lost 10% of his starting weight. Even better, he’s now kept it off for an entire year! It’s exhilarating to witness people finally break free of destructive yo-yo dieting patterns and discover what it’s like to weigh less.

It’s enough to make an optimist out of you!

What’s your kryptonite?

“I basically eat healthy but  ______  is my weakness.”

Chocolate.
Junk food.
Chips.
Beer.

It doesn’t really matter what you fill the blank in with. The idea is that you’re pretty disciplined. Except for this one thing.

Your kryptonite.  That one thing that strips you of your strength, your reason, your free will. You’re simply powerless to resist it.

When we declare something to be our “kryptonite” we’re essentially absolving ourselves of responsibility. If you’re powerless, then how can you possibly be held accountable for your actions?

Yet, we still get to maintain our self-identity as “someone who eats healthy.”  I mean, Superman was still Superman, right?

I call BS.

You might like chocolate.

A lot.

And there’s no reason you can’t enjoy chocolate! But you are still in charge of how much and how often you decide to indulge.

And if your choices around chocolate (or chips, or beer, or whatever) are leading to results that you’re not happy with, guess who has the power to choose a different result?

The next time you hear yourself saying, “__________ is my weakness,”  I want you to stop yourself, mid-sentence. Instead of giving yourself permission to self-sabotage by abdicating responsibility, try replacing that thought with something more true.

“If I’m not careful, I can really overdo it with _________.”

or

“If I ate as much of __________ as I wanted to, I would not be happy with the result.”

Then, take back your power.  You get to choose what you really want…both for the short-term and the long-term.

Maybe you’ll have a piece of chocolate.  Maybe, this time, you won’t. But chocolate is not the one calling the shots. You are.

Kryptonite has met its match.

What it’s like to weigh less

Sure, we can tell you what the Weighless Program is all about. But perhaps you’d rather hear from those who are actually in the program? Here are just a few of the emails and posts that come in from our members over the last few months:

“As a physician who has always struggled with my own weight, I’ve tried many approaches over the years, and the Weighless program has been the most successful and has simply made the most sense, based on the way the body and the mind work. Monica and Brock give us actionable steps, one at a time, that help us feel better about living better. This led to changes in my behaviors that I now want to continue, rather than looking forward to the end of self-deprivation. I couldn’t be happier with my own progress this year or the road ahead: slow weight loss–the best kind–and feeling good about myself.”


“This has been the best long-term weight & health management program I have have used. It’s educational and comprehensive. Thank you Monica and Brock for all the time, research, and dedication put into the Weighless program!”


“I remember one year ago the pain and despair I felt around food. It was so exhausting to be in conflict constantly between “long-term goals me” and “Instant gratification me”. And now I’m just me! I haven’t felt the “ah, screw it” mentality in about 6 months!  I am just so proud and happy. I truly do feel free!”


“Things are going incredibly well for me, I look forward to every Friday’s new content. I’ve lost 8 pounds and it feels like it’s been easy. I’m the lowest weight I’ve been in 6 years! I still have another 10 pounds to go but that seems so achievable right now.

“I really think having knowledgeable, experienced professionals to guide me is making a big difference.  It’s one thing to know what I should do–but quite another knowing how to actually do it. I’m really pleased I signed up for this!


“I just wanted to say how grateful I am for this program. I was hemming and hawing about joining – it was a lot of money to put forward on something unknown but I am SO glad I took the plunge. Five months later I am 15 pounds lighter without any dieting, deprivation, or food anxiety. I feel fantastic. I’m wearing smaller clothes, I have more energy, and I just feel more like the real me.

“When I think about my weight watcher years – the guilt, the starvation before weigh ins, the food obsession that came with tracking and measuring each ounce, the fear of ‘blowing it’ if I ever strayed – it’s a huge weight off my shoulders as well to drop all of that and just live a healthier life overall. Of course I’ve had to make changes, but they were on my own imperfect terms and at my own pace.

“So I just wanted to throw out a big thank you to Monica, Brock and all of you for your advice, talking me through my rough patches and keeping me focused on the big picture. You are all amazing. Looking forward to continuing this journey together!”


“I absolutely feel like I got everything I needed in the program.  I feel great now — I have ditched an impressive collection of diet books. I am done dieting forever and have the healthiest attitude about weight and food that I have had in my entire life.  Brock and Monica are so accessible—it’s a very personal program.  It’s been a life changing program for me. “


The Weighless program has been life changing because it has taught me to begin to change  in small and significant ways. The alluring fantasy that quicker change is better change has been so destructive for me.  I see now that it isn’t even quicker in the end. “

“I’m so very thankful for the Weighless program! I decided to try on a dress that I’ve always considered my “goal” dress and lo and behold it fit!!! My sweet husband said, “Wow, it’s so great to see you lose weight and get fit without dieting!” Life has been been chaotic the last few months, but I discovered the Weighless principles work no matter what is happening, especially as they become a way of life. I’ve learned so much from Monica, Brock and all of the wonderful members of this group!”


“It’s been more than three and a half months since I finished the Weighless year and I wanted to let you know that I’m delighted with how I’m continuing to progress. I’ve actually lost more weight since we finished without really seeming to try (don’t get me wrong, I’m being mindful but it seems like a lot of the lessons from the weightless year are embedded rather than effortful).

“I have never felt so confident in my ability to take care of my own self and my own needs. It’s actually impacting several areas of my life and I am so so grateful. I have lost weight, obviously, maybe dropped 2-3 dress sizes but more important is the perspective, skills and confidence I have gained. For the first time in my whole life I don’t feel like I’m my own worst enemy. I’m proud of myself.

“I will always be grateful for this gift you have given me and am hopeful (I know the tools are there to identify any slippery slopes before they get too out of hand! ) that I can live this way for the rest of my life.”


“Thank you, thank you, thank you for creating this amazing program. There are so many words to describe it – transformative, liberating, amazing, brilliant….I could go on. You have truly changed my life for the better. You have also helped me to model a more positive message for my two young daughters and for that – I am eternally grateful.”


“This past week, I saw people I haven’t seen in a while and a few noticed that I’ve lost weight.  On the numerous times when I’ve done Weight Watchers, I would lose the first 10 pounds in the first two or three weeks, and no one would EVER notice. I guess there’s a big difference between losing 10 pounds of fat in a healthy way and losing 10 pounds of god-knows-what in an unhealthy way. I haven’t spent the last three months weighing and measuring and depriving and monitoring like crazy. I’ve just spent the last three months living my normal life, with a few tweaks here and there.”


“The thing that amazes me most is how enjoyable this new lifestyle is. I don’t feel deprived, or like I’m having less fun (which is what I expected). If anything I feel more energetic and joyful. I would never have believed it 6 months ago.”


“Instead of making food choices in order to lose weight (Snackwells, anyone?), I’m now making decisions that improve my health. It’s a pro-health and pro-me approach to food and life. And my resulting weight loss feels like a welcome side effect. It doesn’t feel like deprivation, so it doesn’t feel so exhausting and scary. This non-diet Weighless approach has been free from the backlash, setbacks, binge eating and guilt that has plagued me with diets.”


“So grateful for this program, for Monica and Brock, for all the honesty and empathy from everyone here. Back in July I couldn’t have fathomed weighing less without the suffering and guilt. I have really turned myself around from where I was then. Just today I had lunch with my dad at a place I hadn’t been to since the summer. At that time, I parked in a handicapped space! It pained me to walk and I got out of breath so easily. Today I happily parked in a regular spot, and was reminded of how far I have come. I’m down about 17 lbs, in smaller clothes, and moving so much more comfortably.”


“One of my favorite things about this program is that I do not dread special events.  I’m not waiting until all the planets align and there are no special events on the horizon to start a diet. I have navigated weddings, vacations and holidays without obsessing over food choices. I’ve made good choices and poor choices, but overall I feel much more in control of my outcomes.  No one indulgence is going to derail me.”


“Yesterday when I got home from being gone for the holidays,I stepped on the scale. I’m the same as when I left 2 weeks ago. A surprise, considering the haphazard schedule and occasional treats. Then it hit me. I’ve shed the yo-yo dieter skin. Last year and every previous year since God created the earth I’ve started some crazy new diet come the new year. Not this year. I’m happy. I’m not where I want to be yet, but I’m on the path that will take me there. Thanks, everyone! Happy New Year!”

See also: In their Own Words: Interviews with some of our clients

Ethics vs health goals

A member of our year-long Weighless Program recently approached us with a dilemma. “Hannah” prefers not to eat animal products, due to ethical concerns. And yet she is finding it difficult to get enough protein without getting too many calories.

“It sounds like the protein requirements will only get higher as I get older, while my calories needs may get even lower. If I don’t want to sacrifice my health or muscle mass (or even if I just want to weigh less right now), am I going to need to eat chicken and/or fish? “

I don’t think we need to choose between our health goals and our values. But there will likely be some tradeoffs.  After all, we’re solving for a lot of bottom lines here:

  • desire to avoid animal products
  • desire to maintain muscle mass
  • desire to weigh less
  • desire to enjoy life

Optimizing for any two of these (much less all four) is definitely going to be a balancing act.

It’s certainly possible to get enough protein without including animal products in your diet. But plant-based sources of protein tend to be significantly higher in calories than the same amount of protein from animal sources. So you’ll probably have fewer discretionary calories to spend on food choices that are not simply about meeting nutritional needs. 

[Compare the protein density of various animal and plant-based sources.]

Fortunately, this is not an all-or-nothing situation. Even if you’re not getting the “ideal” amount of protein at every meal (or ever), getting a bit more protein, more often, can move you toward your goals. If you can tweak the protein content of your typical meatless meals from 5-6g to 18-20g (or even 10-12g), that’s a major gain in terms of muscle protein synthesis.

See also:
How to build muscle on a plant-based diet

and

Keep in mind that the amount of strength training and weight-bearing exercise you do is also going to have a big impact on your lean muscle retention, independent of your protein intake (although the two definitely work together).


For more on fine-tuning your nutrition, movement, goals and values in mid-life and beyond, check out our 50,000 Mile Tuneup podcast series

Does your discomfort have value?

“I’ve realized that changing my habits doesn’t have to feel comfortable,’ a friend of mine recently wrote.  “It doesn’t have to be fun. it’s just necessary if I want to reap the benefits of healthier habits. And when I can see that discomfort as leading to what I want, it becomes a valued discomfort.”

A valued discomfort.

I’ve been turning that phrase over in my my head all week.

When we experience discomfort, we often take that as a sign that something is wrong. But sometimes discomfort is a sign that we’re doing something right.

What might be possible if you started to distinguish between discomfort that has value and the kind that doesn’t? If you started to welcome (or at least tolerate) the discomfort that’s necessary to create the future you want for yourself? 

What If you got better at choosing your discomfort?