Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Language As A Tool For Weight Loss

Say what you mean

“I am, by calling, a dealer in words; and words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” - Rudyard Kipling

In the matters of health and especially weight loss, how you think is just as important as what you put in your mouth. The words we use most often can dictate our attitudes and our ability to change. Affecting not only our ability to succeed but to maintain our successes indefinitely.

While I was planning on writing this post about ineffective words, Dave Asprey at the Bulletproofexec beat me to it and wrote a fantastic piece about these words.

But I wanted to specifically focus on these words in relation to health and weight loss.
Recently scientists published a study about how self talk can influence performance and exhausting during work outs, and concluded how you talk to yourself and the language you use can become the limiting factor or inversely the catalyst for better results and pushing beyond expected fatigue points.

The fact of the matter is, its not just "talk." Your words matter.

The words and what you really mean

  • Need vs Want
  • Can’t vs Won't
  • Bad/Good vs Effective/Ineffective
  • Try vs Maybe

Need vs want

We often say need, when what we really mean is want. There are definitely times we need things, can't do things, things are bad or good, or we just end up trying something. But we often say these words when we mean something else, and we make the meanings of our words weaker, making our convictions and adherence level to follow through weaker.

We say things like we need that (insert name of favorite food) or I really need to eat, or I really need to rest today or sit here and watch this TV program or check my email. What we really mean is that's what we want to do, it's not a necessity. But once you sell it like that, you start to believe it. You know how they say fake it 'til you make it? Well you say these things enough and you start to believe it and act like it. Now how can you go on any diet if you really need to eat a lot of food all of the time? Or how can you really exercise or go out and be active when you need to rest or stay in bed? To be completely matter of fact, in this modern world in this great country of ours, the majority of us have our basic needs met, everything else is just wants. Wants we can control.

Can't vs won't

Can't. It means inability, incapable, or withheld permission. Nearly every time we say can't, we really don't mean can't. I remember in elementary school, this was often the most corrected word by our teachers because we would use it in the wrong context, and we still do. It's because it implies such a powerful meaning, and doesn't need to be explained or defended. As opposed to things like: I don't want to, I shouldn't, I won't.

If someone asked you to go to the gym every day for 3 hours, for many busy people, they literally can't. But when we say things like, "I can't resist that, I can't work out at all, I can't control myself, I can't give that up", we don't really mean "can't."

We are capable, what we really mean is, it's really really difficult so we won't.

I'm guilty of this as well, we all self limit ourselves because we think our words don't matter, our mental fortitude doesn't matter in the fight against obesity. But it does matter.

Bad/good vs ineffective/effective

I've written about this extensively, this idea of morality in health and how we can fool ourselves into doing anything. There's a lot of judgement with words like good or bad and there's nothing wrong or right about some of our health choices. If I eat 12 bagels, is it bad? No you didn't do anything bad. Is it ineffective for weight loss? Yes! What about the inverse, I worked out 4 hours today, that's good! I can go out tonight and pig out! Working out is effective for weight loss, working out so long is probably ineffective, and using exercise as the reason for gorging, very ineffective for weight loss.

There's too much grey, room for rationalization, and lack of clarity with these words. And the fact is, it's not wrong or bad to be overweight. You didn't do anything wrong and you aren't a sinner or evil or a bad person. If you desire to be healthy, then it is ineffective for that end.

It's much easier to approach the giant burden of weight loss when we think about it in these terms and use the correct terms that fit what we are doing.

Try vs Maybe

Maybe, perhaps, a mere probability. There are things we can try, and the likelihood of success is uncertain. But things like, signing up for a class, eating a smaller dinner, going for a hike with your friend, you are either going to do it or not do it. There are no real barriers except you. Try means to make an attempt, what you really mean is you may or may not do it.

Try to many of us means no promises. It has more to do with a fear of failure and not letting yourself down or getting expectations up.

All the great people throughout history have an ability to deal with failure. Whereas many of us, the smallest failure, a thing not going according to plan, someone slights us, something out of our control, that makes us uncomfortable, and it can send us into a panic. The great ones not only can perform under those conditions, but they can live in those conditions indefinitely.

There was an era where people used to say, "if I say I'll do it, I'll do it." Now we say, "I'll try." If you didn't do it, then you didn't. You can accept that failure and move on. That's the difference. A lot of us try when we really are just hedging our bets. You either win or break even.

Trying means hoping, maybe means might hope, doing means success.

There's a university study that said every great entrepreneur failed 3-4 times before their big success. Do it and succeed. Or don't. But don't say try when you aren't going to do it or you look for the first obstacle to stop your attempt.

Language and Depression

(On a side note - countries with no subjunctive tend to be more optimistic. Countries with the subjunctive, especially France with two forms of subjunctive tend to be more pessimistic.)


This is not a magic cure-all, changing your words. But it's a big start.

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