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

Keeping it off

“I’m an obesity doctor. I’ve seen long-term weight loss work. Here’s how.”– Yoni Freedhoff, Vox

Making yourself suffer to lose weight is a sure way to fail, Freedhoff says. On the other hand, “liking the life you’re living while you’re losing weight is the key to keeping it off.”

That means you should enjoy the foods you eat and the exercise you’re doing.

That’s been my formula for success. It’s the most important weight loss and fitness tip I know.

Also, if you set out to lose 50 pounds, and lose 30 – that’s success. Don’t think of yourself as a failure for that. If you gain 10 pounds back later, count yourself a success for losing 20. Indeed, middle-class middle-aged Americans tend to gain weight as they get older, so if you keep your weight the same, that’s success too.

Extreme weight loss slows metabolism, which is why it’s hard to keep weight off, study says

study followed 14 contestants on The Biggest Loser and found that 13 of the 14 had slower metabolism and burned significantly fewer calories than their peers who had not lost weight. And 13 of the 14 (a different thirteen, if I’m reading this article right) regained all the weight they’d lost on the show, with some gaining back even more.

Matches my experience. Based on my Lose It settings, I burn 24% fewer calories than the average man my size and activity level, or 550 fewer calories per day.

Dr. Lulu Hunt Peters, the ‘Queen of Calories,’ wrote a breakthrough diet and fitness book nearly 100 years ago

Peters compiled the latest dietary research from a wide variety of sources and set about putting it all into layman’s terms. Diet and Health: With Key to the Calories was released in 1918. Amazingly, her nearly 100-year-old advice is not too far off today’s best-practice weight-loss methodology. Simply put, her plan was successful because it was based on the tried-and-true wisdom that in order to lose weight or maintain it, calories taken in must never exceed calories burned. She devised a fairly accurate way to determine the amount of calories in food, as well as a method for calculating one’s ideal weight very similar to today’s body-mass index standards.

Interestingly, Diet and Health was geared almost exclusively towards women in the way it was conceived and written. Part of the reason Peters’ voice appealed to so many was that she took a subject that had until then been considered dull and relatively clinical and somehow turned it into a great read filled with wit, humour and general wisdom.

MEET MRS. IMA GOBBLER

Peters infused her text with fictional dieters sporting names like Mrs Tiny Weyaton, Mrs Natty B. Slymm and Mrs Ima Gobbler. She also had her nine-year-old nephew do all the illustrations. Women found they could relate well to Peters, who’d struggled with her own size, admitted to frequent chocolate binges, and truly knew the pitfalls of dieting and understood the self-control required to lose weight. The book also discussed many previously unspoken-of psychological aspects of weight loss, such as jealous husbands and passive-aggressive friends rooting for the dieter to fail.

The good doctor had an innate understanding of what made dieters tick. Though much of her advice was practical – she included lists of 100-calorie portion sizes of common foods, and put forth a carefully thought-out regime of physical activity – Peters also seemed to embody a somewhat prescient weight-loss philosophy: “How anyone can want to be anything but thin is beyond my intelligence… if there is anything comparable to the joy taking in your clothes I have not experienced it.”

Now, nearly a century later, hopeful dieters still repeat the mantra that nothing tastes as good as being thin feels.

BEST-SELLING BOOK

Thanks to its chatty style — and the effectiveness of the diet — Peters’ unassuming little book slowly began to garner a following. Diet and Health climbed non-fiction best-seller lists across North America and there it stayed for more than four years. It all came as a huge shock to the author, who’d moved to Bosnia to work for the Red Cross immediately after she finished writing it. When Peters returned to the States from the Balkans two years later, she was shocked to find her book a best-seller and herself somewhat of a celebrity.

Peters seems to have laid out all the good and bad points about weight-loss and fitness a century ago. The good: Treating weight loss and fitness as a problem that is solvable with the application of achievable and moderate techniques. The bad: The religious zeal about weight loss and fitness.

Losing weight and getting fit can be transformative, not because of the physical transformation itself but because it’s difficult to do, takes a long time, and relatively few people manage it. If you succeed at something like that, then you’re likely to emerge as a changed person. But you’ll still have all the problems, virtues, and flaws that you had before the change. You’ll be different but the same. I’m having difficulty articulating what I’m trying to say here.

And failing to get thin is … well, it’s not failure. Eat better, lose some weight, move more, and you’re better off than you were before, even if you never hit your goal weight. Or hit it and gain some of it back.

Also, mad props (as the young people no doubt are no longer saying) to Lulu for being a successful physician at a time when women didn’t have a lot of career options.

Research finds long-term weight loss is nearly impossible

Cory Doctorow blogs about research showing weight loss comes back in 5-10 year.

Sobering news for me — I’m only three years into my own weight loss success. I went from a peak weight of about 276 in 2003, to 266 in 2008, then down to 176 in January, 2011, and finally lost another 10 pounds this year. As of Monday I was in the high 160s.

I tend to put on weight when I travel, which is a problem because I’m traveling more this year. I eat a lot of crap when I travel: Candy from hotel minibars,  pastries from the snacks they put out at conferences, fried food, desserts, the same stuff that made me fat to begin with.

Cory describes how he lost 80 pounds 2002-3, and kept it off. Our methods are similar in that we require constant vigilance. I log everything I eat, and weigh and measure it when possible. Corywent for a low-carb diet where I’m counting calories (and probably reducing carbs as a side-effect — I don’t keep track of that).

It’s not a huge deal, but it limits choices. For one thing, Julie and I almost never eat out anymore, which is a shame. I miss going out to eat with Julie. One recent weekend morning Julie suggested spontaneously that we go out for breakfast, and I had to say no. My meals are almost always planned in advance, and the prospect of changing those plans was overwhelming (particularly on an empty stomach, ironically enough).

I’m curious how Cory manages his weight when he travels, which he does a heck of a lot more than I do.

Long-term weight loss considered nearly impossible – Boing Boing.

Great weight-loss and fitness advice from a woman who lost 90 pounds

ChKelley, posting to Reddit: 90 lbs lost. This is everything I wish I had heard when I was starting my weight loss journey. [long post] : loseit

I could have written nearly all of this myself. The major significant difference between her process and mine is that she’s on a more rigorous exercise plan. I just go for a brisk walk an hour a day.

The absolute worst thing a splurge day can do is make you give up. If you give up because you had one bad day it is the same thought process of “I missed one day of work and won’t get paid for that day, I might as well never work again.” Now you know thinking that is stupid, so why would you think that way about living a healthy lifestyle? Yes lifestyle. You are not on a diet, you are changing your relationship with food and your activity levels permanently. In the time that it takes you to reach your goal weight you are going to have a smaller calorie limit than when you decide that it is time to maintain. Like I said I was eating a net of 1150 until I decided to maintain and now net around 1600 with exercise. In that sense you are on a “diet” but when you maintain you are not going to go back to the way you were eating before because you “made it.” And honestly by that time you won’t want to.

These points have been key to my successful weight loss. Sometimes I cheat and eat calorific food. Sometimes I go crazy for a whole day, particularly when I’m traveling on business, where I’m essentially alone, surrounded by rich food, and sleep-deprived. When that happens, I just get back with the program the next day. Or as soon as I can. I continue to weigh myself weekly, or more often when I suspect I may have gained weight.

Like ChKelley, I eat the same as I did when I was losing weight; I just eat a little more. One of the ways people sabotage themselves with weight loss is they think of themselves as being on a “diet,” a temporary eating plan, and when they’re done they go back to their old eating habits. And then of course they put the weight right back on again.

Also, as ChKelley notes, after a while you lose your taste for overeating and for junk food. In 2007, if you showed me a bowl of Doritos, I would’ve eaten the whole thing. Now, I’m mildly repulsed by even one. I genuinely enjoy my fruit and cottage cheese in the morning, apples, carrots and nuts in the afternoon, and fresh vegetables with dinner.