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Challenge or Threat?

Many people find that they can keep their diet and exercise regimen on track perfectly well as long as their life is going smoothly. But as soon as they hit a rocky patch, their meal prep, portion size, evening snacking and exercise time goes haywire.

In other words, when life inevitably gets stressful, their best intentions fall apart.

Enter the…

Transactional Theory of Stress

This model, outlined in Handbook of Behavioral Medicine, suggests that while we unconsciously assess the stressors and demands of an event, they’re not actually the problem.

The real problem is how we appraise each of them and then decide whether we have the resources (grit, determination, motivation or willpower) to meet the problems posed. But these “resources” also include our perceived ability, our previous experience, and our relevant skill level.

So when these stressful times arise, based on your ability to face these problems, you’ll fall into either a Challenge state or a Threat state.

  • The Challenge state is where you’ve processed the situation and concluded that yes, you can cope. You’re fully engaged with the task at hand and can employ positive coping strategies to deliver optimum performance.
  • The Threat state is where you perceive that you lack the resources to cope with the situation ahead. This often leads you to turn to old behaviours/patterns and abandon anything that doesn’t feel comforting or familiar.

The next time you are faced with a stressful situation, wouldn’t it be nice to have the “resources” on hand to be able to switch into a challenge state rather than a threat state?

That is a big part of what our Weighless graduates experience. Over the year-long program, we give you the tools and mindset to be able to reassure yourself that the problem at hand is a challenge which you can handle… without busting into a pint of Ben and Jerrys.

When your inner toddler throws a tantrum

Last night, Brock and I were coaching some folks who are working on impulse control. And more than one of them described times when an urge to eat something felt almost like an addiction. The more they tried to resist, the more overwhelming it felt. Sometimes, giving in–even though they knew they’d have regrets–felt like the only option.

But framing a desire as an addiction can make us feel really powerless. It also shifts all the focus onto the object of our desire, rather than our own thoughts and feelings–which is where the action really is.

Brock suggested that it might be more helpful to think of that part of ourselves as our inner toddler rather than our inner addict.

Deciding to resist an urge or craving can easily trigger a temper tantrum from your inner toddler. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of an actual toddler’s temper tantrum, you know how easy it is to get caught up in that emotional storm–and when you do, you have lost control of the situation.

But if we can step back and access our mature adult brains, we realize two things:

  1. We can see that the drama is totally out of proportion to the reality. For the toddler, getting the thing they want literally feels like a matter of life and death. As adults, we can see that it is merely a passing squall. We may even be able to see the humor in the situation, which allows us to respond more gently.
  2. We may also be able to see that the toddler needs something–just not the thing they are demanding. Perhaps they need a nap, or a cuddle, or less stimulation, or something more interesting to do. This can turn irritation into compassion and allow us to care for our toddler more effectively.

The next time you find yourself in the grips of a desire or craving, see if you can visualize that inner toddler who truly believes that they cannot live without this thing. Recognize the adorable absurdity of it all.

And then, instead of trying to reason with your screaming toddler, disciplining them, or simply giving in to an unreasonable demand (thereby perpetuating the behavior), see if you can figure out what that little person really needs.

Are you coping too well?

A lot of us use food as a coping mechanism. 

We’re eating to cope with stress, fatigue, boredom, anxiety, anger, grief…did I mention stress?

This might be OK — after all, coping is good, right? Except that all that “coping” is leading to unwanted  consequences. We gain weight or we can’t lose weight…and that is creating stress, fatigue, anxiety, anger, grief. 

Maybe we actually need to do less coping. 

If you stopped using food to “cope,” maybe you’d be compelled to make changes that made your life less stressful, boring, or exhausting. 

And maybe that’s the difference between coping and self-care.

So, here’s a question to consider: Is self-medicating with food allowing you to tolerate things that maybe you shouldn’t be tolerating?

What about your life might you be moved to change if you stopped “coping”?

What you can do right now

I’ll let you in on a secret: The trick to talking me into a big project (like writing a book or hosting a conference or chairing a committee) is to ask me a year ahead of time.  Because although I always feel waaayyy too busy in the present, I somehow always believe that I’ll be less busy in the future.  

Do you share this delusional thinking?

I think that’s why so many people put off taking action on their health or weight. We tell ourselves that once this work project/tax season/kitchen renovation/pandemic is out of the way, we’ll have the bandwidth to focus on building a healthier lifestyle. 

But of course, our lives never really get less busy. A new project or challenge will come along as soon as this one is in the books. Meanwhile, the costs of not taking care of ourselves accumulate and compound.

And the truth is that we don’t really need to spend more time on the problem in order to solve it. We just need to spend the time we’re ALREADY SPENDING on it more productively.

Instead of complaining about all the things standing in our way, we can move just one of them out of the way.

Instead of endlessly researching our next step, we can take imperfect action right now.  

Instead of talking about how discouraged we are about our lack of progress, we can identify one small action that will move us in the right direction. (You’d be amazed at how quickly THOSE things start to accumulate and compound.)

Think of a goal or objective that you’ve been putting off, waiting for a “better time.”  There really is no better time than today. What small step can you take before this day is over?

Does your week always start strong and then fall apart?

“I start out strong every Monday, sticking to my plan, making healthy choices, checking off my daily wins…but then the week just wears me down. By Thursday, I’m completely off plan and making poor choices. I’m tired and stressed and can’t find my motivation.”

Sound familiar? 

What if we redesigned your week? Instead of  a 5-day slog  followed by a 2-day collapse,  what if your week were a 2-day sprint, 2 days of rest and recovery, followed by a final 3 day effort?  Would that make it easier to sustain your focus and motivation?

This doesn’t even require talking your boss into an alternate work schedule. All it takes is mental reframing.

Even those of use who work non-traditional schedules have been culturally conditioned to think in terms of 5-day weeks and 2-day weekends. We’ve also been trained to think of Monday as the day we “start fresh.”  with a renewed intention to make healthy choices,  But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Whatever your work schedule, trying thinking of your “personal work week” starting on Thursday.  If you set weekly intentions or keep a habit- or goal-tracking chart, have it run from Thursday to Wednesday.  

On Wednesday night, set aside an hour to prepare yourself mentally and logistically for what you want to accomplish personally in the week to come.  Write down your goals, intentions, and objectives. This would be a great time to listen to a podcast or read a book that inspires you to live your best life.  (Members of our year-long Weighless program sometimes use their Wednesday nights to listen to their weekly materials or to spend time problem-solving with us and their fellow members in the forum  )

 You head into Thursday calm, motivated, and prepared.for two days of solid effort. After two days, you get the weekend to restore and reset your intentions.  When you start again on Monday, your “week” is already half over. FInish strong!  And on Wednesday evening, assess your week and get ready for the next one. 

If you are tired of starting every Monday feeling strong and finishing every Friday wondering what happened to your health goals, this simple shift could make a big difference.  Even if you doubt that something so simple could help, what do you have to lose?  Let’s try it together this week and see how it goes.

Getting to your goal faster

I am not much of an (American) football fan. But because it was always a part of our family’s (American) Thanksgiving gatherings, turning on a game while cooking dinner always feels nostalgic. Especially this year, when nothing else feels normal or familiar. 

As I was half-listening to the game this year, I got to thinking about the difference between passing games and running games. Some teams throw lots of long passes in order to move the ball down the field and into the end zone as fast as possible. Passing games are exciting because the score can change rapidly. They’re also exciting because there’s a much greater chance of turnovers, incomplete passes, and interceptions.

Other teams prefer to play a running game. They rarely go for big yardage. Instead of putting the ball in the air where it can be picked off, they keep the ball on the ground. They may only move a few yards each play but they rarely turn over the ball. It’s a lot less flashy to watch but teams that do this well can be unstoppable. 

OK, here comes the analogy you knew was coming!!

Diets that promise fast weight loss are a lot like passing games. The score (on the scale) can change quickly!  But there’s also a big risk of failure, burnout, or rebound weight gain–which is the equivalent of fumbling the ball on the 1 yard line and having the opposing team run it all the way back for a touchdown.

In the Weighless program, we play more of a running game. We have seen over and over again that playing the slow and steady game of sustainable behavior change gets our members into the end zone more quickly, and with far less chance of fumbles and interceptions.

At first, they might miss the adrenaline rush of seeing those first five or ten pounds come off in a few weeks. But they soon learn to appreciate the reliability and security of a good ground game. Especially when they realize that its the only way to win at sustainable weight loss. 

So, ready to try out your running game? We’ve put together some ideas that you can put into practice this month (yes, even during the holidays!). You can download it here.

Staying in the game

As the winter holidays draw near, there’s a temptation to put our goals (and ourselves) on the back burner. With so much going on, we don’t feel like we have the time or energy to focus on ourselves. So we decide to let ourselves off the hook for the rest of the year and regroup in January.

It feels like a relief at first. One less thing to worry about. But then that low-level anxiety creeps in. How much further from our goals will we be by January? What does this say about our chances of ever actually reaching this goal?

The thing is: It takes so little to stay in the game. It’s not about spending the holidays on a diet. It can be as simple as not finishing a cookie that doesn’t taste as good as it looked. Or putting on an extra layer or two and going for a walk even if it’s frosty. Or setting aside just 15 minutes for a morning warm-up. Or, checking in with others who are working on the similar goals.

Even if you’re not making rapid progress toward your goal, these small actions can reinforce your commitment to your goal, and help to strengthen the mindset and habits that will ultimately get you there. You may be on the bench taking a breather but you’re still in the game.

And here’s the crazy thing: Staying in the game won’t make your holidays any busier or more overwhelming. To the contrary, you’ll probably feel a bit calmer, more in control, and less stressed.

If over the next few weeks, you find yourself tempted to throw in the towel until January, see if you can find one tiny way to stay in the game for another day.

 

There are better ways to avoid wasting food

“I often eat things because I don’t want them to go to waste. I may not even like them that much, but they cost money and I don’t want to be wasteful.”

Can you relate?

One of our Weighless program members posted this in our forum this morning. We’ve heard hundreds of variations on this theme over the years. I shudder to think how many millions of excess calories are consumed every year by people who just can’t stand to throw food away. Or the kids who are being indoctrinated into this unhelpful mindset with things like the Clean Plate Club.

Don’t get me wrong. Food waste is a huge problem that deserves our earnest attention. But guess what? Eating food you don’t need–or don’t even want–does not reduce food waste.

It doesn’t feed starving children. It doesn’t recover the resources that were used to produce it. It doesn’t put the money back in anyone’s wallet. It doesn’t really even keep it out of the trash. It simply turns your body into the trash receptacle.

Once we recognize the sheer folly of eating food just to prevent it from being wasted, it opens up some really useful alternatives:

  1. We can truly commit to an essential Weighless principle: If you’re not hungry and/or you’re not enjoying the food, stop eating!

  2. We can truly commit to meaningful action to reduce food waste.

The best way to reduce food waste is to stop buying, cooking, ordering, or serving yourself more food than you want or need. (We have specific strategies for this in Weeks 3, 6, 8, 9, and 12 of our year-long program)

If you do find yourself with more food than you want or need, share it with a friend, stranger, or even with your future self. Split an oversized portion with your dining companion. Donate excess food to a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. Pack it up and put it in the freezer for later.

If none of that is possible, throw it away or compost it. If it feels bad to throw it away, let that motivate you to redouble your efforts to avoid the situation in the future.

It is everyone’s job to help reduce food waste. But it is not your job to be a human garbage disposal.

I hereby disband the Clean Plate Club.