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5 Lifestyle Factors That Keep You Fat

Now that I have your attention... No, it’s not the kind of title you’re used to seeing on our blog. (Let me get to that point in a minute actually.) As a weight loss division, we talk (and write) a lot about what it takes to lose fat. We very much want you and every one of our clients to succeed in that enterprise. In the midst of all the nutrition and fitness education, however, we as dietitians, trainers and weight loss coaches often find ourselves seeing interesting “lifestyle” themes in our clients’ stories that appear to play a significant role in their weight related journeys. They’re the practices, inclinations and assumptions that figure into the first part of any success story. What got us here? What happened along the road of life that led us to gain weight we never wanted? What did we somehow (often unconsciously) learn to accept in our lives that gradually eroded our health and wellbeing? Next, of course, in any success story comes the reckoning – and the resulting turn around. What shook us awake? What recognitions opened us to see our lifestyles in a new way and helped us become willing to embrace new changes and attitudes? What did we learn to revise in our lifestyles that allowed us to lose the weight and gain a more energetic, healthier life?

Accepting behavior change requires a certain “depersonalizing” of choices, activities and even self-identity. If we hold too fast to the idea that we have to follow all the traditional customs of extended family dinners, neighborhood potlucks, tournament party buffets, work dinners or other social events, we’re going to have a rough go of it. If we feel we can’t let go of a single thing in our packed calendars and that “this weight loss thing” is going to have to find a way to fit into existing reality, we’re setting ourselves up for frustration (and failure). If we think we can indulge in the same defeating self-talk and self-identifying language and yet have the self-confidence to push ourselves to big success, we’ll be disappointed every time. Luckily, we can depersonalize those choices and detach from them. We can enjoy family, work and social events without needing to go along with every part of the routine – or feeling self-conscious while we make the choices we need to make for our health. We can let go of certain roles and responsibilities (or reframe them) in order to make room for our own needs and wellbeing in daily life. We can – and must – let go of the idea that we are not athletic or that we’re destined to be unhealthy or that we’re too old to make considerable change or even that we’re "fat." (Yup, back to that deliberately provocative title…) Let’s take this moment to collectively address the concept and reject it outright. You are not fat. You have fat – fat that can go when you’re ready to embrace the right changes in your lifestyle.

So, now that we have all this down, we can step back and look at our personal lifestyles for a minute. Beyond the meal plans or workout sessions, what in our daily living trips us up? As pertinent a question as it is, let yourself take a light-hearted perspective. (Humor, after all, can often shine a light on what we’d otherwise prefer not to admit.) What would we label the snares in our journeys? What practices, activities, figures or even objects are (or have been) our undoing? Consider your own responses as I share a few I’ve observed in my work with clients.

Our Schedules

Everyone I know is busy. We all have responsibilities – usually too many. We have work hours of one sort or another. We might have kids. Some of us have commutes. Many of us frankly have no clue how we’ll ever gain control of our calendars. Some weeks, taming a lion sounds easier than taming our unruly schedules. If I could sell a way to add two hours of time to each of your days, I’d be a rich guy, yes? It just can’t be done unless you want to get on a plane and fly west every day, and even then you could argue you aren’t really gaining useful time anyway stuck in aisle 14 staring down the beverage cart.

Our calendars are packed from sun-up until (long past) sun-down with jobs/chores to do and endless distractions (unwanted or sought out) that steal our time. When I listen to people who want to change their health describe their individual schedules, it’s obvious their time is not their own. Their obligations are seemingly (to them) more important than their own well-being – at least until something cracks. Health erodes to a point where eventually enough is enough and some health crusade (or crisis) leapfrogs to the top of their giant “to-do” heap. Suddenly, they realize they must own their time and find a way to fit themselves into their own iCal.

Here’s an activity I’ve used with clients to put it all in perspective and prevent the reactive, after-the-fact, health-scare-driven scenario. Get out some paper or find yourself a giant white board. Ready? On one half, list all the activities you need to do to feel accomplished or in touch today – right down to flossing your 32 adult teeth, calling your mom, checking Facebook and meeting the three project deadlines popping up on your desktop. Take your time. Now look. (Disgusting, isn’t it?) On the other half, list all the things you need to do today to be healthy. Which side looks simpler? Which side is truly more rewarding? Which are ultimately about life or death – health or illness? Now which items belong in your calendar next week?

Take a minute to go back to that first list. Remember the words “all the activities you need to do to feel accomplished or in touch today”? Yes, differentiate what goes into feeling accomplished and what actually must be accomplished. The truth is, our health doesn’t really care if we feel accomplished. It does, however, care if we feel good (e.g. well-rested, well-fed, adequately exercised, genuinely relaxed, etc.) Go ahead, simplify that schedule. Go for broke and slash it in half. At a minimum, crowd out ten unnecessary choices (sorry, Facebook) with five healthier habits.

Our Belief in Moderation

Before you brand me an extremist, all-or-nothing nutrition and fitness talking head, hear me out. (Trust me, I’m fully human.) “Moderation” as a concept (let alone a means of measurement) is formless, vague, elusive, inconsistent – a slippery attitude to adopt. Technically, you can exercise unhealthy eating habits at every meal and still claim “moderation.”  (Because, after all, what is moderation really?) Moderation is too often an excuse, and we all know that excuses are just like armpits: everybody’s got them, and they stink. There’s an association to remember….

What if instead we all adopted a clearer but reasonable strategy or formula? What if we committed to that strategy…at least eighty percent of the time? How about an 80/20 rule? It’s a formula – a guide, rather than an excuse. Eighty percent of the time I follow my rules for good eating, exercise, bedtime, etc. Twenty percent of the time I either can’t or don’t care to follow the rules. Instead of being mostly “moderate” now, I’m mostly compliant with my healthy choices. The fact is, fat loss will probably be easier to achieve and maintain if the rules are followed most (80%) of the time rather than being “moderated” all of the time.

Our Social Circles

Speaking of socializing, we tend to become most like those people with whom we spend the majority of our time. (Both intuition and research confirm this idea.) If our social network isn’t exactly aligned with our new priorities for weight loss, they can be our kryptonite. I’m sure you can think of people who’d never dream of eating as well as you or going to the gym as much as you do. The good news is we can choose friends who challenge us to be healthier, or we can take the easy way out. This doesn’t mean we need to disown our families or let go of every friend in our address book. We should, however, balance out our social circles to include the support we need and deserve. Everyone is bound to have someone they look up to in terms of health or fitness. We meet people with similar health priorities every day at the club or perhaps even elsewhere in our daily lives. If you’ve found yourself feeling weak in your health and fitness commitment, reach out and spend more time with people who will support and challenge you in your new lifestyle vision.

Our Happy Hours

I bet you’re the life of the party, right? Always up for a happy hour? Or maybe you feel the need to keep up with your coworkers or just have to entertain clients as part of your job? I get it. I live in Minnesota, and I can cherish a lakeside summer evening with the best of them. However, I’ve noticed a trend developing in people I see in my work (and even myself), and it isn’t pretty (or fat-loss friendly). When the weekly hours spent “happy-houring” exceed the hours devoted to weekly workouts or even when it approaches the hours of a good night’s sleep, there’s less likelihood of fat loss to brag about. It’s a shame when those happy hours lead to unhappy outcomes....

Whether or not you actually drink alcohol, "happy-houring" can be equally tricky to include in a fat loss routine. The appetizers generally aren’t the healthiest fare, the sitting isn’t helpful after a day at your desk, and the social pressure to take down that last nacho is often just too much! You don’t need to be anti-social, but you may need to be okay with being casually tardy AND the first to leave the party. Alternatively, maybe some shuffling of schedules or activities is in order. What about meeting your friends for a workout, tennis match, basketball game or yoga session at your club? Last I checked, there’s quite an army of members paving the way for healthier happy hours at Life Time, and they seem like a pretty social (and fun) lot.

Our Couches

No, they’re not a lifestyle activity, but let’s just say the couch is the place where too much of our lifestyles takes place. Our love affair with extended televised events (NCAA, anyone?) or reality TV marathons needs to be represented somehow. What better way to symbolize our cultural lack of inertia than the piece of furniture that sometimes feels fused to our sweatpants?

I believe in rest. In fact, I believe in resting equally as hard as we work. How else are we supposed to recover from our fantastic workouts? With our busy lives, the couch can seem like a life raft once we finally reach it at the end of the day. After a couple of hours, I think, we need to start seeing that life raft more in terms of a dead-in-the-water boat that can sink all of our other good efforts. As with happy hours, too much of a ”relaxing” thing can backfire when we use the excuse of comfort to lose ourselves (and most weekends/evenings) in an endless stream of on-demand, lethargy-inducing, time-robbing entertainment. I, too, occasionally have fallen victim to weekend stints of TV watching that extend into several hours. I know it can be hard to turn off the box and be active. That said, I’ve also used wine bottles as weights to do all the exercises on a Tony Little VHS tape and been sore for several days after some high-intensity Wii tennis matches. The couch isn’t required to enjoy some quality TV time.

Couch (and T.V.) aside, we too often misappropriate our leisure hours and creature comforts at the expense of more productive activity time. It’s worth asking: what are you forgoing during those sedentary hours – what interests, activities or possibilities? In the end, a transformation journey isn’t just about the weight you want to lose but the life and lifestyle you want to claim.

Thanks for reading today, everyone. What lifestyle factors – everything from habits to attitudes – do you want to let go of? I hope you’ll share your thoughts and feedback.

Written by Paul Kriegler - Corporate Registered Dietitian

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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