The New Year Begins. We’ve all been there: you step on the scale and hold your breath. Perhaps you packed on a few pounds over the holidays or have been gaining weight slowly over the years. You know you want to make some changes, but it feels so overwhelming! Sound familiar? This is a story most people grapple with, and one of the most frequent reasons people seek out coaching and support.
The work of researcher Dr. Stephan Guyenet reveals that weight gain, while typically uneven throughout the year, spikes dramatically during the holidays. We all know that the holidays are a time when we tend to eat and drink to excess. Astonishingly, the research shows that the lion’s share of lifetime weight gain can be tracked to the six-week holiday period, particularly when there is little incentive in shedding that weight soon after the New Year.
It’s ironic that the origin of the word diet comes from the Greek word “diaita,” which means “to live one’s life,” and from the Latin root word “diaeta,” meaning a “manner of living.” In modern times, the word diet is associated less with a balanced approach to life and more with deprivation of certain food types.
Rather than the word diet, let’s consider the idea of a sustainable food protocol for life — one built not on deprivation, but on science and your unique needs and dietary preferences. Lifestyle changes are sustainable when you feel mentally clear, physically strong, and emotionally steady. When you see results, you want to continue. But change doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it can feel like a slog during the six-to-twelve-week transition period from old habits to new. However, positive change (and weight loss) are often palpable sooner than later.
Where to begin? There are two key pieces.
What to eat. The first part isn’t so mysterious. What to eat will be different for each individual, based on their personal preferences and a health diagnosis, if applicable. Some people eat gluten-free by choice or necessity, others opt for vegetarian or vegan, some prefer Mediterranean, Paleo, or the DASH diet. There are many others. In general, most people understand it’s smart to eat whole foods that don’t come in a box; foods your grandma would recognize, per Michael Pollen in his fabulous book Food Rules.
Why you eat. This is the second piece, and for me, one of the most interesting aspects of coaching weight loss: helping clients address the mental and emotional blocks that get in the way of their success. The truth is, making change — even if we know it’s good for us — can cause mental and emotional anguish. The brain has an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” default. The mind is calibrated to keep the status quo, even if you’re overweight, pre-diabetic, experiencing inflammation, or have other chronic illnesses. The makers of processed food know all too well the human craving for excess salt, refined sugar, and unhealthy fat. Learning how to override erroneous cravings in the brain is about a lot more than the food on your plate, and impacts much more of your life than just your weight.
I can relate to this. I grew up in a household where food was a huge part of our lives. Much of it was healthy, but one of my fondest childhood treats was when Dad would take me to 7-Eleven to get a Coca-Cola Slurpee. It took me well into adulthood to kick that habit. It surely wasn’t because I liked Coke. I don’t. It’s sickeningly sweet. But long after Dad was gone, I craved a Slurpee when I felt like I deserved a treat, or when something didn’t go my way and I needed a lift. All of a sudden, I was 9 again and all was right with the world (until I crashed from the sugar high!) Ultimately, I became aware of my tendencies, the effects of sugar on my body, and how the urge was just an urge. That became interesting to me. I realized I could make a choice and disconnect from the urge but still retain the happy memory. On the rare occasions I go into a 7-Eleven, I genuinely enjoy passing by the Slurpee dispenser. “Hello, old temptation,” I think. I’m not enticed one bit.
It was bittersweet for me when I realized I attached so many food memories to my Dad (Slurpees, deep-fried onion rings, hot dogs, Carvel; I could go on…) My Dad died of heart disease at a time when we didn’t know how bad most of those foods were. Now we know. I believe that one way I honor him is by doing what I do now to take care of myself — and by helping others on a similar quest. My memories aren’t any less rich because I no longer eat those foods.
How to distinguish the motivations behind our eating? One way is to keep a food journal. While it’s important to know what you eat, it’s equally important to understand why you eat a particular food. When you identify accompanying emotions and thoughts, you can start to look at belief systems that may be blocking you from the success you desire.
When you uncover a strong desire for an undesirable food, acknowledge it and don’t push it away. While it sounds counterintuitive, welcome the discomfort. The brain and ego are working very hard to convince you that discomfort is about life or death. Trust me: it’s isn’t. What we resist persists. Like training a puppy, you’re training your mind rather than the other way around.
Mastering your mind is one of the most empowering things you can do to tame urges and transform unproductive thoughts into positive change. Imagine the scale moving down (if that’s your goal) while your confidence and will power goes up. Pretty enticing.
Never give up. When we fall short of our goals, all too often we throw in the towel and think, “I’ll never be able to do this.” As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
Research shows that being part of a support community makes a huge difference to success, and I try to build that for my clients. If you are interested to see how private coaching could work for you, please reach out for a complimentary session. And if you think you might want to join a small e-course covering the topics of lifestyle, exercise, attitude, and nutrition, check out my Prime-Time Health e-Course, which takes place through the year. The next cohort begins in February, a perfect time to set the tone for healthy lifestyle habits throughout 2019 and beyond.