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The Power of Paradigm Shifting

On a recent commute, I was listening to the late Steven Covey explain his thoughts on the power of paradigms. In his well known book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he explains how our paradigms, the ways we see the world, can shape our experiences of success and happiness. It got me thinking about how our paradigms likewise influence our health journeys--for better and worse. The paradigms we have about wellness can hold tremendous sway over our ability to manage weight and achieve optimal health.

For example, one paradigm that has influenced the direction of public health over the past sixty years is the idea that fat is bad. Avoid fat at all costs. If you eat low fat, you’re on your way to a healthy diet. You get the idea. It’s an overarching vision that other relevant points must fall beneath to make sense. One assumption suddenly becomes an encompassing vantage point for understanding health.

You may, for example, operate from a paradigm that says, you’re healthy as long as you pass your basic physical exam blood tests. Or, you see yourself as healthy only because the doctor said you were not sick. From your point of view, you're healthy if you don't have a disease. Because of that paradigm, thoughts of eating or living differently don’t really strike you as necessary. You may think looking beyond basic blood cholesterol and glucose measures isn’t important unless your doctor suggests it. The absence of apparent disease (as measured by a narrow selection of tests) must equal health.

You may have a paradigm that suggests as people age they are invariably beset with aches and pains, part of an inevitable deterioration. Because these aches and pains are inevitable, you're okay with spending more of your time being sedentary rather than active. Because you see the world that way, you may, in your own aging process, interpret aches and pains as reason to avoid activity and to dial down your life. In doing so, you further reinforce the paradigm as your body subsequently becomes less functional.

What does this have to do with weight loss?

What would you say is the most common paradigm out there with regard to weight loss? How about weight management is just about eating less and exercising more. Sound familiar? With this paradigm, so many people commit themselves and strive diligently only to end up frustrated, falling off their low-calorie diets when they don’t work. Others might choose to not even try because they’re too overwhelmed by the ideas of deprivation and exhaustion they attach to the paradigm’s core message. They convince themselves that the self-denial and exertion are beyond their capacities. Still others feel the need to spend countless hours doing cardio in hopes it will increase the calories they burn and help them lose weight. They have no idea the excessive excercise can actually supress their metabolism and keep them from getting to their weight loss goals.

But what if the problem lies not with the person but the paradigm?

I recently met an overweight woman who enthusiastically told me about how healthy she ate. As she described her diet, she explained her only protein came from egg whites and Greek yogurt. Within her paradigm, that was healthy, but it wasn’t working for her and hadn’t been for many years. For her to have learned anything from our conversation, she first had to be willing to admit that her paradigm wasn’t serving her life. Unfortunately, I don’t believe she was ready to change. I wanted to share my point of view on her diet, and explain that the small amount of protein she was getting from egg whites and Greek yogurt wasn't enough. I also wanted to address the fact that she should be eating the whole egg, not just the whites.

You see, if we cling tightly to what we think we know about healthy nutrition, exercise and lifestyle habits, it can prevent us from seeing that our approach isn’t actually benefiting us the way it should. It can hold us back from exploring different, more effective approaches. In gripping the “truth” of our paradigm, that good-intentioned earnestness can keep us from hearing what concrete research says actually produces healthy outcomes, successful long-term weight loss, and optimum fitness.

One of the most consistent things our Health and Fitness Professionals see time and again, in those who successfully lose weight and keep it off, is their willingness to reconsider what they think they know. They understand that exercise should be performed at intensities and with frequencies that complement their metabolisms and lifestyle. They learn that healthy fats are a crucial part of their diet and will help--not hinder--their weight loss efforts. They learn over time that trying to relieve stress by watching television late into the night isn’t going to do half as much for them as benefiting from the genuinely physiological effects of getting adequate sleep.

They begin to look at food differently, no longer seeing their meals as simply a source of calories but as kinds of  fuel with the power to stimulate their metabolism in ways that will help them feel great and shed body fat or make them feel tired and store fat.

At the core center of the Life Time Weight Loss system is Mindset. Mindset doesn’t necessarily mean having a positive attitude (although that helps, of course). Mindset is really about opening your mind and being willing to shift your paradigm based on what science demonstrates will produce real health and wellbeing for your life. In cultivating Mindset, you'll benefit by accepting that an old assumption doesn’t need to be your final understanding. The most rewarding path to wellbeing might be the one you have yet to take.

Now you tell us. Have you changed your health paradigms and found success? Are you discovering that a change might be needed? What set you on a path toward reconsidering old frameworks? Share what you’ve reassessed and how it’s changed your health journey.

Written by Tom Nikkola - Sr. Director of Nutrition & Weight Management

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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