I’m a Life Coach.
I help clients develop strategies for living their life with greater purpose and passion.
In our sessions together, we explore some of the important universal truths about how life generally works. The better people understand these principles, the more likely they can live in harmony with them, rather than frustrated by them. As a Coach, I help people leverage the wisdom of these significant insights to create the kind of life they long to live.
Inevitably, our discussions turn to the topic of happiness. After all, the great longing of the human soul is to be happy. Regardless of who you are or where you’re from, it is what all of us want.
For thirty-some years now, I’ve been talking with people about their experience with happiness. Curiously, when I ask somebody to tell me what keeps them from being as happy as they’d like to be, their answers always fall into one of five categories.
· Personal peace.
· Physical health and wellbeing.
· Relational harmony.
· Financial security.
· Vocational satisfaction.
I have yet to find an exception.
Go ahead. Try it yourself. Think about what keeps you from being as happy as you’d like and I’ll bet your answer falls into one of these five categories. It will have something to do with your personal inner-world, physical vitality, relational harmony, financial security, or vocational fulfillment.
As clients and I work together to identify specific ways to address what they can do to be happier, I have found one ambition that is almost always at the top of their list, particularly among middle-aged clients. Both men and women list “lose some weight” or “get into shape” as a goal they want to tackle in our work together.
That leads to a discussion about the d-word: diet. (It is a four-letter word for most people.) Interestingly, almost every client has the same reluctance about “going on a diet.”
· “I don’t want to have to count calories.”
· “I don’t want to have to weigh food.”
· “I don’t want to have to read labels.”
· “I don’t want to have to eat boring food.”
· “I don’t want to have to keep a journal of my daily food choices.”
If they’re really honest with me, they’ll add, “And whatever you do, don’t make me stop eating _____________ (fill in the blank with their favorite junk food that is almost solely responsible for why they are thirty pounds overweight. You know, stuff like ice cream, doughnuts, soda, pizza, cheeseburgers, candy, alcohol, or fried everything.)
This is almost always followed by, “Please do not make me exercise.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. Tried and true practices like weighing food, reading labels, and exercise can be helpful disciplines on a weight-loss journey. I’m just saying they are typically what many people resent about the requirements of many popular weight-loss plans. Truth be told, they have neither the time nor the interest in paying close attention to what they eat.
And therein lies the problem.
It’s More About “Why” Than “What”
Other than a few people who are exceptions to the rule, most of us will never lose weight - and keep it off - until we learn to think differently about food and why we eat it in the first place. It will be a never-ending cycle of on a diet, and then off a diet a few weeks later. Unfortunately, the red-hot embers of resolve dissolve into smoldering ashes at the dessert bar two weeks after we start another diet for the umpteenth time.
Just so there’s no confusion, let me make it perfectly clear. I am not a Medical Doctor, a Dietician, Nutritionist, or a Health Coach. I am a Life Coach. I don’t spend time talking with clients about calories and carbs, proteins, or push-ups. I don’t offer them diet plans or workout routines. If they want that kind of help, I refer them to the services of professional colleagues in my network that can assist them in these more specialized pursuits. As a coach, I facilitate discovery, offer resources, help develop skills, and hold clients accountable to their goals.
When it comes to weight loss ambitions, my clients and I talk about eating instead of food. We explore more about WHY we eat rather than WHAT we eat. Figuring out those two important issues will lead to more successful weight loss results than the latest fad diet could ever offer.
I am finding that for most people, about 95% of eating is completely compulsive; impulsive habits of consuming food with little or no thought as to why you’re doing it.
Consider the following common eating habits.
· People eat even when they aren’t hungry.
· People eat long after they feel uncomfortable (“stuffed”).
· People eat more food in a day than their body can utilize.
· People eat just because everybody else is eating.
· People eat for something to do when they’re bored.
· People eat to comfort themselves emotionally.
· People eat as a form of entertainment.
· People eat to win the approval, affirmation, or affection of others.
· People eat just because there is food within their reach and they simply cannot let it go uneaten.
· People eat out of obligation in certain social or professional settings.
All of these, in one form or another, are an expression of compulsion. People eating food not necessarily because they are legitimately hungry or in need of the nutrition it provides. They’re just eating to eat. That is the essence of compulsive behavior.
It’s the old “sea food” diet joke. “I’m on a sea-food diet. If I see food, I eat it.”
We laugh at the humorous play on words. However, it’s only funny until you realize you’re admitting that you lack the self-control to stop doing what may be harmful to your health. Or worse, what is killing you. The humor comes back to haunt you when you lack the energy, strength, or vitality to enjoy your life, your grandkids, your retirement, or your bucket-list.
Make no mistake. Unhealthy food and the consequences of obesity take a terrible toll on both your quality and length of life.
Suddenly, it’s not so funny anymore, is it?
Compulsive behavior is the essence of addiction. It’s the unchecked impulse to do something without thought of risk or danger. You do it without even thinking why. We’re embarrassed to admit an addiction to alcohol, but we joke about our inability to stop ourselves from eating whatever is placed in front of us. We naively think our self-deprecating humor will somehow disguise the extra weight we’re hiding under that extra-large shirt. But there is no shirt big enough to stop the terrible toll obesity takes on your health. You can’t undo that with sarcasm or stop it with carefully layered clothes.
Quit Making Your Diet about Food
Healthy eating habits begin in our mind, not our mouth.
We have to choose to eat in the interest of our health. Changing old patterns of thinking about eating is neither easy nor quick. Any change we make in our behavior requires time and effort. It’s hard to teach our mind new ways of thinking and choosing. We are actually reshaping our brain and the way we have taught it to fire for years. It takes time to “re-wire” your thought patterns.
Losing weight can be such a frustrating goal. There are so many variables that affect our experience. We watch the scale with varying degrees of success and failure, hope and frustration. Initial efforts to eat better result in the loss of a few pounds, leading to the excitement that comes with progress. However, two weeks later, our weight loss plateaus at what seems an impossible wall to break through. Our enthusiasm wanes, and with it, our resolve.
One of the most frustrating variables of dieting is the ever-changing environment in which we find ourselves at meal times. We’re with family or friends. We’re alone. We’re with clients. We’re at home. We’re guests at somebody’s house. We’re on the road for business. We’re in an airport. We’re at a hotel. We’re in the car. We’re running late. We’re so busy we have no time to stop and eat. We’re hungry and there’s “no food in the house.” We find ourselves in so many different eating situations from day to day that makes it really difficult to stick with a regimented diet plan.
This is where most people get frustrated and quit.
Perhaps the most important step we can take in our weight loss efforts is to develop an eating strategy that will work in every situation. It has to scale to whatever circumstances we’re in when it’s time to eat or there’s food for the taking.
It’s easier than you think. I suggest you make your diet about a few guiding principles rather than particular food items. Just a few basic guidelines can change everything. Reframing our perspective – and our attitude – about this essential necessity of life can be the start toward a tremendous difference in how we look, feel, and live.
Here are five ways of thinking about eating I have found helpful. Perhaps they might be of help to you too.
1. Make it about Learning, Not Losing
What if you embarked on your diet as an experiment rather than a test?
Most diet plans are presented as tests. If you lose weight, you pass. If you gain weight, you fail. Even if that isn’t the language used by a particular plan, that is how most of us think about diets.
You pass or fail tests. One wrong move or bad day and you’re discouraged by your inability to successfully achieve your weight loss goals. That’s a difficult road to walk; a frustrating approach to a challenging, yet important, ambition.
What if you make your diet an experiment? Why not approach it as an investigation where you curiously seek information and insights about your relationship with food? Think of it as an exercise of growth in an important arena of personal development. Sometimes, what you try works. Sometimes, it doesn’t. That way both victories and failures offer insights to consider and lessons to learn, resulting in progress made. Any time we discover something helpful about how food relates to our health, we are successful.
With an experiment, we can learn from our failures. Every time something doesn’t work it educates us about what to do differently. Observations about “What did I do?” “Why did I do it?” “How did I do it?” become instructive to us in the experiment. Even factors like when and where you failed can be helpful. If we pay attention to the factors influencing our experiment, they can reveal patterns (habits) and circumstances (“triggers”) that influence us.
For instance, if we observe most of our poor eating choices take place late at night when we are alone, we can create some structures to help eliminate the risks of that particular situation. Stocking the pantry and refrigerator with healthy snack options, or determining not to eat after a certain hour are two new exercises to try in your continuing experiment.
See how that feels different than pass or fail?
Why not try measuring your success with a diet by how much you’re learning about yourself, rather than how often the numbers are changing on the scale?
There will be good days and bad days, victorious moments and discouraging moments, wise choices and foolish choices. This is about learning, not losing. With any set back we simply ask, “What is it that I still don’t understand about eating properly for my health?”
2. Make it about Health, not Weight.
Contrary to everything you’ve ever heard about weight-loss strategies, the primary objective of a diet is to be healthy, not to lose weight.
The healthier you are pays greater dividends than how much you weigh. As I often say, “If you make weight loss and exercise about size, shape, or strength, it will become a chore to endure. If you make it about your health, it will be a gift to enjoy.” This is less about losing weight and more about being able to fully enjoy the rich experiences awaiting you in the future.
The simple truth is the healthier you eat, the healthier you’ll be.
Start with owning up to the following truth. If your food comes through a window, is served in your car, or has it’s own commercial, it’s probably not good for you. One of my favorite quotes is, “You can’t look like a million bucks if you keep eating off the dollar menu.”
You might think junk food tastes good, but it’s not good for you. Stop eating it. It’s compromising your health. Eat healthy food for a few weeks, and you’ll be able to taste (and feel) just how awful lousy food is for you.
3. Make it about Fuel, not Full
Food is fuel. Your body needs a certain supply of it in order to function properly. We readily understand not eating enough food is bad for the engine that keeps us alive. Unfortunately, we rarely recognize gorging on too much food is just as bad for us, if not worse.
It’s a sad reality that for many people their only cue for when to stop eating is when they feel uncomfortable! They won’t quit eating until they are “stuffed.” “I’m full” is the only signal they recognize for when to put down their fork. Crassly put, discomfort becomes the Pavlovian trigger to get the rat to stop putting food into his mouth.
The relationship between food and the human body was never intended to result in pain.
Unfortunately, we learn these habits when we’re kids. We are raised as children to “clean our plate” for of all sorts of reasons from “not wasting food” to “starving children in Africa.” Most restaurants don’t help by serving enormous helpings of food on larger than necessary plates. Cleaning them inevitably leaves us waddling away from the table rubbing our belly in pain. When you’re loosening your belt or unbuttoning your pants after a meal, you’ve eaten way more than you should have. I’m just sayin’.
If you feel uncomfortable every time you leave the table after a meal, dreading the inevitable onset of heartburn or gastric distress, something is dreadfully wrong. Your body was not designed to work like that when it comes to the vital fuel it uses for sustaining life.
A great place to start is portion control. You only have to eat enough food at a meal to provide the nutrition you’ll need for the next few hours. Not the entire rest of the day! A general rule is a single serving of a fist-size portion of each item prepared for the meal. Give your body enough fuel to run the engine for the energy you’ll need until the next meal.
And whatever you do, stop putting lousy fuel into a high-performance engine like your body. A steady supply of unhealthy food is like pouring sewage into your gas tank. After awhile, your engine’s vital functions are going to break down and your performance will be severely compromised.
4. Make it about Purpose, not Pleasure
Before you tune me out, I am not saying you can’t enjoy good food if you want to lose weight. That is not true at all. You can eat plenty of delicious foods while working toward your weight loss goals.
It’s when food is consumed ONLY for the sake of pleasure at disregard for purpose that we are placing our health at risk. Unfortunately, the foods that bring us the most pleasure are often the unhealthiest for us. Foods and beverages laced with copious amounts of sugar, salt, processed flour, fat, grease, chemicals, and dyes are hurting us more than helping us.
Sadly, we have trained our taste buds to like the stuff that isn’t good for us. The good news is they can be trained differently.
If you take pleasure in harming your health, that’s not really about taste. That’s ultimately about intelligence. Adding sugar to rat poison to make it taste delicious doesn’t change the fact that it will kill us if we eat it.
The primary purpose of food is to provide our body the nutrition it needs to function so we can enjoy our lives. There is absolutely no reason why the food that is good for us can’t be savory and satisfying. However, to sacrifice our health for the sheer enjoyment of food that ends up hurting our one and only body is – there’s no polite way to say it – foolish.
Wise people eat on purpose. Fools, only for pleasure.
5. Make it about Nutrition, not Dysfunction.
When considered honestly, many of our eating habits are more dysfunctional than nutritional. They’re impulsive inclinations to make us feel good rather than to provide our body what it needs to perform successfully.
More often than not coffee, soda, alcohol, desserts, candy, snacks, and second-helpings (!) are compulsive wants rather than nutritional needs. Face it, the caffeine jolt, the sugar high, the alcohol buzz, and the feeling of being full, are more about dependency than necessity. We’ve trained our body to want it to the point we believe we need it.
The truth is, we really don’t.
I am not a big fan of coffee. Frankly, I do not like the smell, so the thought of drinking the stuff is rather repulsive to me. However, all bias aside, I am intrigued with what appears to be a socially acceptable dependency on the physiological stimulant of caffeine. I am not saying coffee is, in and of itself, bad for you. Unless it’s full of cream, sugar, and other flavor enhancers, coffee is relatively low in calories. It’s the dependency that I am interested in here. People depend on the caffeine-hit coffee offers them when their energy wanes. Early morning lethargy or mid-afternoon slumps drive java junkies to instinctively reach for their coffee cup for a jump-start. That’s compulsiveness, whether we like to admit it or not.
Coffee is not the only offender here. The cravings for sugar, salt, grease, and even the chemicals that go into our favorite processed foods can be every bit as addictive. When we start talking about “cravings” and using phrases like “I could really go for some” or “just the thought of that makes my mouth water” we are using the language of addiction. We really need to be honest to that if we ever hope to get a handle on our eating choices and lose unwanted weight.
Stress, boredom, anger, frustration, and disappointment are emotions. They arise from places inside of us that cannot be fixed with food. (This is different from the emotional crash that occurs with low blood sugar.) However, many of us use food as a way to cope with these feelings. We have to recognize the enormous distinction between eating and coping.
Using food to appease unsettling emotions is an unhealthy psychological pattern that can lead to serious eating disorders. Not to mention, it will never work. There is no way the nutrition in food can satiate the pain in your soul.
The purpose of food is to fuel your body, not to manage your emotions. Keeping the two separate is a very important distinction to understand in our effort to lose weight and live healthy lives.
Don’t Make It About Food
If always trying to sort out what food you should eat while looking to lose a few pounds is one of the reasons that keep you from achieving your weight-loss goals, change your strategy.
Quit making it about food. Determine it will be about health. Decide to put reasonable portions of as many healthy foods as possible into your mouth, and you’re half way there. Learn to let nutrition triumph over pleasure in influencing your food choices, and now you’re almost home. Figure out why you eat, and what you eat will become much less of a factor in the daily struggle to make wise decisions and honor commitments.
Before you know it, the healthier, wiser you is looking and feeling a whole lot thinner.