But I’ve tried so many times before

We asked people to share the biggest thing keeping them from tackling their weight issues. And one answer that keeps cropping up is breaking my heart.

“I have tried (and failed) too many diets in the past.”

“With a history of yo- yo dieting, I already feel discouraged.”

“Knowing myself, I won’t succeed.”

Ouch. I get it. You’ve tried again and again to lose weight without success. Or you’ve lost weight and always gain it back. The thought of trying and failing again is just too painful.

But the alternative seems just as painful: simply giving up and accepting that you’ll always be unhappy with your body and your relationship with food.

But there is one more option. And it’s not simply to try again and hope that this time, somehow, it will be different. It’s to try something you haven’t tried before.

Instead of going on yet another diet to lose weight, you could start creating a life in which you weigh less.

You can accept that this process will involve a certain amount of failure. But if properly utilized, those failures can actually become stepping stones to success.

And just like mountain climbers clip into each others’ lines for safety, you can hook into a community and a system that will keep you from falling off the mountain when you slip, and hold you in place until you regain your footing.

This is what we do in the Weighless program.

Here’s the thing: Every single one of the people who has succeeded with us had a long history of failed attempts.

I’m so glad they didn’t give up. I’m so glad they decided to try one more time…but to try something completely different.

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.

There’s a choice to be made

I know it seems like a lifetime ago, but think back to before we were all plunged into this global pandemic. What was on your personal To Do list? What goals were you working toward? What projects were most important to you?

Are those things still important to you? Why or why not?

Does it still feel possible to make progress toward your objectives? Why or why not?

It may be tempting to use this disruption and uncertainty as a reason to give up on goals you have been working towards.  Or as an excuse to (over)indulge in things that move you even further from your goal. 

Alternatively, you can choose to find the ways in which this disruption offers an opportunity.

  • Cooking more at home means eating more nutritious meals.
  • Less commuting means more time to exercise.
  • Fewer trips to the grocery store means less impulse buying.
  • Not eating out equals less temptation to overindulge.
  • The loss of old routines is a golden opportunity to establish new patterns.
  • A change in employment status is a chance to pursue a new path.

You can decide which of your previous habits you want to return to when conditions allow and which of them you’ll shed for good. After all, not all of what we used to consider “normal” was good for us. 

How do I know that it is possible to grow and thrive in the midst of chaos and uncertainty?

I’m watching you do it.

In March, just as Covid was shutting down the world as we know it,  a new cohort was just beginning in the year-long Weighless program.  We’ve got teachers, parents, essential workers, business owners, furloughed workers, and first responders. And these people are KILLING it!  They aren’t making excuses. They are figuring it out.  (And if you can learn to weigh less during a global pandemic, there’s really nothing that can stop you.) 

In a few weeks, we’re planning to open enrollment for our next group. We don’t know how the current situation will affect enrollment.  We may have a smaller group than usual. And that’s totally fine.  In fact, it may be a bonus. Because these will be people who understand that conditions are never ideal and that health and well-being is not a luxury. And that right there is a powerful predictor of their success. 

In the meantime, I want to encourage all of us to use the challenges we are facing as an opportunity and not an excuse. 

Photo by Mark Duffel on Unsplash

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?

Exercise is making me ravenous

Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

One of our Weighless Community members recently emailed with a dilemma:

I recently started hiking 5-10 mi a day and I am now ravenous all the time.  I eat my usual sized meal and I’m still hungry…or I’m hungry again 30 minutes later. I have upped my calories a bit, but that didn’t seem help. I also tried eating more frequently. No luck there either.

Eventually, my body acclimates, but if I increase my speed or add more miles, it starts over again.  Is there a way to control this? I was hoping to lose 5-10 lbs, not gain it!

In fact, there are some strategies for dealing with this.  But first, I needed to know what KC’s motivation was for continuing to increase the intensity and duration of her hikes.  It’s usually one of three things. 

Exercising to lose weight

If you’re exercising more in order to burn more calories in order to lose weight, then you may be shooting yourself in the foot.  

Exercise can stimulate the release of hormones that increase appetite. This is your body’s well-meaning (but perhaps unhelpful) attempt to replace those lost calories.  And moderate intensity, long duration activities like hiking, cycling, and jogging are the ones most likely to have this effect.   (Consuming a lot of gels and goos during your workout can make it worse). 

Exercise has so many benefits–and we want you to enjoy them all!  But as a calorie burning strategy, it often backfires.  You log more minutes on the treadmill in order to burn more calories but then end up hungrier as a result.  And this is why, in the Weighless program, we don’t encourage exercising in order to burn calories or lose weight.  (More about that here.)

Exercising to get fit

If the goal is simply to get fitter (which we certainly DO encourage!), you might want to opt for shorter, higher intensity workouts or interval training. These (when combined with a generally active lifestyle) can get you fit a lot faster. And they are also less likely to stimulate the appetite to the same degree. 

Training for a challenge

Now, as it turns out, KC was not hiking in order to burn calories or simply to get fit.  She wanted to get to the top of a certain mountain.  Just for the satisfaction of meeting the challenge (and, of course, enjoying the view).  This is an awesome reason to train!  But in that case, part of the challenge will be figuring out how to manage the impact of endurance training your appetite without overeating. 

We tackled that question on this episode of the Nutrition Diva podcast.  But in the meantime, we’d like to hear from you!  What is YOUR motivation for the various types of exercise you do? Are you exercising to get fit? Training for a challenge?  Or in an attempt to manage your weight? 

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.

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 suddenly formless 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?