Why do so many salad eaters have a problem with their weight?
Why are so many morbidly obese people also Diet Coke drinkers?
Why are there more and more people going to the gym and so many runners and cardio fanatics yet the overall obesity epidemic is not slowing down but keeps getting worse?
When I used to work at a health club, a chief complaint I heard from people who just signed up to the gym, or just hired their first trainer was, "hey I gained weight! The gym made me gain weight!"
It must be all the lifting I just did. So people mistakenly thought weight lifting would make them gain weight and people, especially women STILL associate weights with weight gain. But that doesn't explain all the cardio bunnies and avid runners, cyclists, boot-campers who have weight issues as well.
How come when McDonald's added salads, fruit, and other healthy items to their menu, their overall sale of Big Macs skyrocketed? Forget McDonald's for a second, why do your co-workers who want to lose weight keep munching on salad and their weight doesn't seem to move?
Diet Coke is low calories and has no fat, so why is it so common place to see it in the hands of the over-weight?
What the hell is going on here?
Well getting healthy and changing your weight is not all about exercise and nutritional knowledge. That is a very simple view of it. Like I tell my clients, if we could control everyone's brain with a remote control, everyone would be skinny. But we can't. So what's the real issue? The mind is the biggest obstacle. Creating change is bringing awareness about how you think about things, why you think that way, and then creating new behaviors. It's not therapy, it's called changing your lifestyle, not just your diet or adding exercise.
The first problem I see is adding a "good" or "bad" moral value to everything we do. Because we aren't beings of pure logic (thank God), we are emotional creatures who are natural counter balancers.
Salads and Big Macs
What I mean is this: I eat salad for lunch. I label this a "good" thing. Now I have permission to do a "bad" thing. In the case of McDonald's, people who were ordering the healthy items would either come back or at the same trip order a Big Mac. They did something "good" and now they can counter balance with something equally "bad." But like I said we aren't beings of pure logic, and these negotiations we make with ourselves are never a fair trade. What we ultimately want isn't an even trade, we want to make changes for the better. I ate salad all week, it's the weekend so I can eat some Big Macs if I want.
Diet Coke has a host of medical problems on its own and chemically can create more urges. But that's not what I am talking about today. I am talking about the idea of Diet Coke. The idea of something that's a "good" option. People often ask me, "Is Diet Coke a good option?" I ask what they mean by good. And they say, a "good option in comparison to regular Coke." Here is the problem with good and bad values, people will label something that's obviously not "good" as good, because they compare it to something really "bad." I am super healthy in comparison to my friend Bob who is a lazy oaf. How often do you make statements like this? Nearly every person I know has said something similar to this.
Back to Diet Coke, how often do you see someone wash down a really unhealthy meal with a Diet Coke? They made a negotiation with themselves. Poor eating is very psychological, it's about how a person deals with themselves, relates to food, and their willpower.
I go to the gym
The gym, oh the gym. Weights will make me gain weight! But what about all the cardio people who are not losing and sometimes gaining weight as well? I guess they are putting on heavy muscle as well. The simplest answer is probably the most logical. The simple answer is, people are doing something they value as "good" and they feel entitled now to reward themselves with something "bad." It may not happen that same day, maybe they wait for the weekend or the evening. I ran all week so I could eat out this weekend or party tonight. I run so I can eat whatever I want. This is a mantra that a lot of people have adopted, made famous by Jim Fixx who was a champion runner, who ate whatever he wanted. Jim died at age 52 of a heart attack. Even the best of us counter balance and negotiate and rationalize.
Even in the world of martial arts, MMA, and BJJ, you see someone who finished their tournament or their fight and now have earned the right to eat like crap for a few months until the next event.
This is not a strategy for making change for the better, it's a strategy to feel better about succumbing to our wants.
What's your mantra?
I have a personal motto (though to me it just sounds rational): That there is no such thing as a bad day, there are just days you grow, and days objective reality hits you in the face and knocks you down and asks you if you are still ready to grow.
I've dealt with a lot of personal issues over the years, and had my father and sister die an extended and painful death within 2 years of each other. It sucked. And the reality of death hit me in the face, and it will hit me again before it's all said and done. But what the hell do I know about "good" or "bad"? That's for philosophers and scholars and learned people, I just try to live my life as best as I can every day, 24/7. I had someone say, that's just wishful thinking, "that's just pretending." "We all have bad days."
There's days of opposite extremes, but bad? If you ever read Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance, it does a great job of explaining how hard it is to value quality at all. The more I learn and grow, the more I know I don't know anything at all. Someone told me it's like Yin and Yang, you need bad to have good. The whole point of Yin and Yang is that there is darkness in light, light in darkness and the universe is always in balance. That there are dual energies, the chi or ki. Existing together, not in contrast. In acupuncture, when treating someone, either the chi is hot or it's cold. But you never put an arbitrary value of good or bad. Hot and cold is the opposite of each other but that doesn't mean one is good or bad. You just counter the cold with some hot things, the hot with the cold things. There is no morality in Yin and Yang. It's heaven and earth, only when it came to the West did it change to heaven and hell, good or bad. It's like when people added morality to skin color, oh what a problem that is.
This way of thinking becomes more problematic because in your mind you are always "good" or "right." Try arguing with your spouse! It's entitlement and it acts against our best interest. It's how we can call seriously unhealthy things like a cigarette, a heart clogging food, alcohol, or even drugs a "treat."
I had a client tell me she ate vegan ice cream. Another told me she eats healthy because everything she eats is organic. Or this thing is a super food, this thing is gluten free, this is fat free. All lovely buzz words, sexy and seductive, which gives people permission to indulge by focusing on it's virtuous quality - low calorie, gluten free, vegan, organic, etc. It may be totally unhealthy for you, but you won't focus on that, on all the sugar. It's still vegan ice cream, it's good for me!!!
It boils down to WILLPOWER and our constant negotiations and struggles with it. The biggest enemy of willpower is STRESS. Why is it so powerful? Because we illogically believe (remember we are NOT beings of pure logic) that stress is the only way we can get things done. Meaning if I stress myself out enough, I will do what I need to do. If I stress someone else out enough, THEY will do what I want them to do.
It's emotional reasoning and it'll sabotage you every time.
Stress and sweets
But the more stress you have, more stress you put on yourself, the more you and your brain wants glucose because stress uses a lot of brain power, and the brain needs a lot of fuel, and the one it's gotten most used to is glucose. So what do people always say they want when they are stressed out? Sweets! Refined carbs. Or maybe they don't want anything. They lose their appetite... Then they don't eat for so long, they break down and binge on, guess what, more sweets.
Not only that, because stress can be either "good" or "bad." If I am stressed and had a "bad" day, now I can reward myself with something "good," like unhealthy foods. So in this case all of a sudden, under stress, my value of good has changed. "Bad" foods have changed to "good" foods. See I told you, you can't trust your logic! If you have a lot of stress, but you got a lot done, now you did something "good," and now you can reward yourself with something "bad" like unhealthy food, once again.
You look at the photostreams of your most unhealthy friends, look just at dinner and weekends, how much of it is about them saying, "I am rewarding myself for a tough week," or "I am treating myself to bla bla bla." I've said this myself, 100% of the people reading this has done it at least once. Most of my friends are self proclaimed foodies and you can't even be a foodie and enjoy food at that level unless you have a certain amount of stress. It's why so many foodies and Yelpers have stressful jobs they don't always enjoy.
Willpower has off hours
Willpower gets weak at night and on weekends. It's when you are off the hook, off hours. It's why I wrote a whole post about why breakfast is so damn important. You may not succumb to these temptations in the mornings but at night it will get you. At night you've already absorbed all the stress of the day and put out a billion fires at home and at work and in your personal life. It's why I don't like the idea of having a whole bunch of mini-meals through out the day. 6 small meals, or constantly grazing? Can your brain and willpower handle so much good decision making? Or by the weekend or during evenings, or evenings on weekends, will you just be like "Screw it! Just pick anything! Let's go anywhere! Let's just eat!" It's like being at bat 6 times a day, 7 days a week, and thinking you'll hit a home run each time. You may fail at night, and if not you may do it for a while and then go on a binge, or give yourself the mother of all cheat days. Or worse yet, develop an eating disorder.
Once you go down that slippery slope of being off your "diet" or not being "good," things get worse. If I have one bad day, might as well just give up. I ate one bad thing, might as well go all in. I am out of my work out routine, might as well not work out at all then. Logicians we are not. It's like finding you have a flat tire and popping all the tires. But in your mind, that sounds perfectly reasonable.
Going back to the gym, even things like working out too much, can cause your body a lot of stress. There was a whole article about how too much running has been detrimental to the American health. And being tired is the same as not getting enough sleep. It weakens willpower! It's another reason why at night, especially during late night hours when you should be sleeping, that you eat worse and worse foods. You got no willpower left at all! You are stressed, tired, under slept, and you have surrounded yourself with unhealthy foods and enabling friends, what do you think will happen?
Problem with self help
Once we see this behavior we have to take action. But change isn't easy. Maybe you know someone who loves self help books, or goes to seminars all the time, leadership conferences. They want to make big changes, new career, or a new business, but they never start. They read the book or go to the seminar or lecture and now they've given themselves permission to do nothing. You earned it. Hey I was at a seminar all week, so this weekend I'm just going to chill and drink wine, or better yet wine tasting! We see this all the time. Don't think so?
Think about how different everything would be if every person who read a self help book or went to a self help seminar actually went and changed and started their thing, wrote their book, started their business, made a career change, became that life coach. And the world of self help would be out of business in 24 hours, but they know it won't happen. People did something "good" so they earned the right to do nothing productive with their time. Planning to be productive allows them to have a lot of leisure time. How often do you hear the least productive people who produce the least amount of things or do the least, complain about how busy they are? Oh you were so busy? How many books did you read? Languages did you learn? Books did you write? Classes did you take? Businesses you started? Often you will hear they produced nothing, but did a lot of busy work or planning, busy with their social life, or best yet, busy stressing and worrying and doing little to make positive changes.
Living in Hollywood, I know so many people who read the amazing screenwriting book Save The Cat, but never ended up writing a script. But they don't have to, they read about screenwriting, like reading about building an app, or starting a website, it's almost as good as the real thing right?
People don't act today because they falsely assume tomorrow will be different. If you are not motivated today, chances are you will be not motivated or even less motivated tomorrow. Or that whatever you do won't matter. But it does matter, it matters right now. Tomorrow is the worst day to do something, start it now.
The skill of worrying
Willpower is like any brain activity, like worrying. The more you do it, the stronger it gets. Tell yourself things you will do, little things. Then go do it. Then tell yourself little things you won't do, then don't do it. Try a habit of meditation, if that's too much, breathing exercises, if that's too much, yoga sun salutations. Be reasonable and do something.
Stress does not equal more productivity. In fact it may make you bargain for less productivity. Be aware of your triggers. Be aware that willpower wanes at night and on weekends. Make sure you're loaded up on good foods in the morning. Create new behaviors, let people know what you are weak to and what new behaviors you are trying to curate and cultivate. Scary as it sounds, sometimes you need to make better friends, get a healthier job, avoid negative influences. If nothing else, just try. The act of trying does a lot for you mentally and will create new habits. It's something no one can bottle or sell you, you don't need to pay someone, or wait to do it, yet it'll create more dividends and have more impact on your health than anything else you try. But you're thinking, this isn't as sexy as buying a DVD or training with a trainer/fitness model or training at a place that has crazy good looking people with their shirts off. Yeah it's not sexy but sexy is also arbitrary and constantly changing. If everything people tried to sell you worked, and if everything you did was the right thing, there wouldn't be anything left to correct. Obviously popularity then isn't a good measure of it being rational.
Now with all this said, not everything is about willpower and your mind. A lot of it could be medical or lack of nutrition knowledge, genetic, hereditary, emotional or mental health issues, etc. It's just that the mental aspect is something that most people never touch upon. Most just assume with poor logic that you will always act in your best interest so all they need to provide you with are some exercises and some diet rules and there will be instant health change. We really aren't beings of pure logic.
But that's not lucrative. So this article isn't for everyone. Not everyone will read something this long or care or want a long winded answer. But for a few, hopefully this will make a huge impact and has blown your mind.
Sam Yang from an early age has been obsessed with connecting the dots between martial arts and efficiency, health, mindset, business, science, and habits to improve optimal well-being. For more info, join his newsletter. You can also connect to All Out Effort on Facebook and Twitter.