How to change your life without willpower

You can make permanent, deep change in your behavior easily, without willpower — even break alcohol addiction, like writer Edith Zimmerman did — if you change your underlying belief about yourself. www.thecut.com

This sounds like bullshit, but I can personally attest it to be true. I’ve done it three times: When I quit smoking, when I lost weight and kept it off, and when I started exercise. In each case, I changed my underlying belief about myself.

I was a heavy smoker, already up to 3 packs a day when I was 30. I quit smoking a million times before it stuck. I hated myself for smoking. I exerted great willpower to try to quit. Then I’d start again, a minute or a few hours later, and hate myself even more.

One day I set a deadline. End of this month, I said. I had done that a million times before too. But this time, when the deadline hit, I was a nonsmoker. That is how I thought of myself.

After that, it was easy. I just didn’t smoke anymore. There was some physical withdrawal, but not a lot. No worse than a moderate cold.

Similarly, ten years ago I just decided to lose weight. I downloaded an app for my iPhone, loseit.com, and started using it to track every bite I ate. I set my calorie goal to lose 1/2-2 pounds per week. I lost about 90 pounds over the next three years, then another 10 pounds. In the last year or so I’ve gained 10 back, and I’m working on lose those 10 again.

I just thought of myself as a person who is losing weight. Then I was a person who has lost the weight, and keep it off.

Also, I am a person who has a kind of physical disability. Most people have a sort of internal thermostat that regulates what they eat, and how much, and it keeps them at a steady weight — their ideal weight or a little over. My thermostat is completely broken, so I have to consciously control how much I eat at all times. It’s inconvenient, but not a big deal.

I still do food logging with Lose It. Every bite, every day. (The app is unimportant — there are other apps that are just as good. You can even do it with pen and paper, which is what people did for literally a century before we all started carrying pocket computers.)

Finally, I went from sedentary to moderate exercise. I walk about 3.25 miles a day. Again: I started thinking of myself as a person who exercises. And now I do.

So, yes, achieving big change in your life is easy, without willpower, if you change your belief about yourself.

But how do you change your belief about yourself? That’s the tricky part. I don’t have an answer to that, though I have some ideas that I may share at another time.

Via Lisa Schmeiser’s excellent So What, Who Cares newsletter. tinyletter.com

Reframing: The Secret Tool for Loving Exercise [Lose It blog: The Secret Ingredient]

You can get more exercise and get healthier by training yourself to think about exercise as something you enjoy.

This sounds like hippie bullshit but it works. I stumbled on it (so to speak!). I used to hate exercise; somewhere along the past 10 years — after I started my exercise program — I began to enjoy it.

If we get a few packages, great, I get to go up and down the stairs a few times! Hotel’s three-quarters of a mile from the convention center? Great, I get to have a nice walk twice a day!

Indeed, a couple of months ago I decided I was spending too much time exercising, and gave myself permission to skip the after-dinner walk, and also skip my daytime walk up to 2-3 times a week. I have stopped walking after dinner entirely. But I’ve only skipped the daytime walk two or three times in that time. And I think every one of those times I skipped was because it was either raining cold and hard, or I was recovering from a bad cold, or both. I seem to really like that daily walk, and find the time to do it no matter how busy I am otherwise. This would have been alien to me 10+ years ago.

Long-term weight loss ‘nearly impossible’? Pfui!

I was discouraged by a Cory Doctorow blog a few days ago pointing to a CBC article that concludes weight loss is “almost impossible.”

But I finally read the article and came away with a different conclusion.

The article describes research showing only 5% of people who try to lose weight succeed. The article suggests — but does not actually say — that the researchers define success as keeping the weight off after 5-10 years.

Every fat and formerly fat person reading this is now shrugging and saying, “Yeah. Tell me something I don’t know.” Everybody already knows losing weight is hard.

The article (and possibly the researchers) make the mistake of conflating statistics with destiny. And it’s true that some statistical outcomes depend on luck. You can’t do anything about those. But other outcomes depend on individual choice.

The lotery is an example of an outcome dependent entirely on luck: Only a tiny sliver of the population ever wins the lottery. And there’s nothing you can do to improve your odds. The books and people who try to tell you which numbers to pick based on psychic powers are peddling lies. You can’t buy enough tickets to influence the outcome because the number of tickets sold is so vast. Buy one ticket, buy a thousand tickets, your chances of winning are pretty much the same. Indeed, statisticians say your chances of winning the lottery if you buy a ticket are about the same as your chances if you don’t buy a ticket.

On the other hand, the chances of a middle class or poor kid getting in to Harvard are also pretty slim. But it’s possible if the kid works hard and gets scholarships. So it’s worth a try.

Successful weight loss is more like getting into Harvard than winning the lottery.

The headline on that CBC story stinks. Because losing weight isn’t nearly impossible, Five percent success doesn’t say “nearly impossible.” It just says “very difficult.”

The article and the research do touch on a couple of interesting questions: Why do so many people fail at losing weight? It’s not will power. Fat people hold down jobs, raise families, and do all the things requiring will power that thin people do. Fat people have just as much will power as thin people have.

I think part of it is environmental, which explains the global obesity epidemic. My current pet theory: Farmers feeding antibiotics to livestock.

Another cause of obesity is how our brains are wired for food. When I hear recovering alcoholics talk about their relationship to alcohol, it’s like how I feel about food, particularly high-fat, high-salt, high-carb, high-sugar foods. Most people can have a handful of M&Ms and say, well, that was lovely, and move on. Not me. I can eat a one-pound bag of M&Ms and then start looking around for a one-pound bag of mini-Snickers to chase it down.

The other interesting question raised by the article is whether healthcare providers should be presenting alternatives to weight loss. Given that 95% of fat people are going to stay fat, should healthcare providers concentrate on getting them to eat well and be active, making them healthier fat people?

I wrote about this earlier: Research finds long-term weight loss is nearly impossible.

None of this should be taken as a criticism of Cory, the researchers, or the guy who wrote the CBC article, all of whom are doing great work — Cory, in particular, is someone I admire a great deal. Also, Cory lost about 70 pounds and has kept it off far longer than I’ve kept off my weight, so he certainly has every right to weigh in on this subject. So to speak.

Image: Annals Of Weight-Loss Gimmicks: From Bile Beans To Obesity Soap

How do you exercise your dog in bad weather?

With temps over 90 around here, we don’t want to subject Minnie’s paws to hot pavement, which means we’re skipping our one-hour brisk walk in the afternoon. I’m just going solo on that.

What do you do to exercise your dog when it’s too hot for her to walk?

I figure we can just reduce her exercise a few days until the heat breaks, then resume, but I’d like a better option. For one thing, unexercised Minnie is INTENSE in the living room after supper.