You Can Be The 5%

Feb 1, 2012

You Can Be The 5%

In January 1, 2012, the  NY Times Magazine ran an article about a couple who are beating the odds by successfully keeping off 245 pounds between the two of them.   As the article went on to elaborate, they are having to work very hard to do that.  They figured out exactly what it takes for them, and they are getting it done.  I think the real question it poses, is, “Am I willing to do what it is going to take for me?”

I’ll never forget the day that one of my long time clients came to his appointment unnerved and dismayed by the fact that “the thrill was gone”.  He reluctantly admitted that he had binged that very day, that he could no longer rely on his visits to psych him up, to force him to get it together.  He was naturally afraid that he was insulting me, possibly hurting my feelings.  He was astounded at my response.  “Good,” I said, “now we can get to the real work.”

Fact is, while someone else may temporarily function as a catalyst for you, whenever you “have it going on”, it is because you have tapped an inner resource of your own, not someone else’s.  Success is an inside job and no external pressure (from your kids, your spouse, your doctor, your peers, your job or even a counselor) will ever permanently keep you from acting out on your desires.

“Oh, you will surely get there,” I told him, “and now it will be coming from a much more secure place…the inside”.  Interestingly enough, that same man has moved to Asheville and is now the most successful he has ever been at managing his weight, finally getting all the balls in the air at the same time and putting into practice all the skills he had worked so long and hard to acquire…and, with some of the hardest to manage eating habits of anyone I have ever worked with (virtually no produce, for instance).  But, he is willing to capitalize on the things that he can get himself to do:  drink rarely, pass on the bread basket, skip the snacks and exercise diligently.

To that same point, another client recently joked about how busy January must be for me with the New Year’s rush of new clients.  I responded, “Interestingly enough, it isn’t any more so than normal, really.  I do a lot of extra business projects in January (this year it is unveiling my new website), while all my future new clients are out joining diet programs.  When that wears off, long about the middle of February, then I get crazy busy with new people”.  People don’t necessarily come rushing in in January to learn the specialized skills I teach:  how to lose weight by following their own individually tailored program, how to make it routine so it gets easier over time, and eating all the while as if they already are their target weight (because that is simply logical).  And most importantly, they are learning how to never gain the weight back – a more valuable and necessary set of skills I think.

I am not being patronizing, truly.  My dieting history is pretty much the same.  I did the quick fix thing too before I resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to have a psychic change that fixed this or be able to permanently stay on someone else’s program.  I left college after my freshman year forty pounds heavier and proceeded to not eat a single morsel for the entire summer.  Oh, I lost the weight alright, but that paved the way, both biochemically as well as psychologically (we now know), for twelve years of seriously disordered eating.  That is the truth.  I eventually realized that I had better figure out how I was going to manage my weight warts and all.  And, by trial and error over the years I did figure out exactly what it takes for me.  Even now though I wonder if all the subsequent years of struggling with binge eating was the lingering biochemical result of that starvation message to my body, or just the natural consequence of twenty years of misguided nutrition information telling me not to eat fat!  Probably both.

January is the time for new resolutions though, for sure.  TV commercials for diet programs abound.  And, it would immensely more profitable for me to capitalize on all that spunk and just run jump start programs.  Believe me, that is tempting in a struggling economy.  Frankly, more money and less work for me.  But I am 100% convinced that that is not offering real solutions for my clients.   To their credit, with the exception of the really extreme ones, these programs are not intended by the promoters to be temporary solutions.  They virtually all teach at least some valuable long term skills, but typically we don’t stick around long enough to learn them.  Often, the only measuring stick of progress or success we use is pounds lost this week, and when that stops or lags, so does our commitment.

That first month or so of any program is the fun and easy part.  I call it the rah-rah phase.   All programs limit negotiation, but extremely choice limiting programs especially are easier to follow.  They get people all excited and do help to get a good roll going, often initially accomplishing some significant weight loss.  Wisely enough, it is anticipated by the advertisers of that program that the potential participants, in preparation for the deprivation coming, will have multiple “last suppers” prior to the start of the program and are pretty much guaranteed a significant initial loss from water alone.

Any radical program potentially creates a permanent starvation mentality to your body (possibly affecting appetite and fat storage biochemistry for life as the article explains), but maybe more importantly, the participants are not learning to measure progress by the right markers.  More often than not these dieters get hooked on the quick weight loss, the black and whiteness of perfection and its obvious, albeit temporary, external success.  Oh, sometimes they can run with it for a long time, but eventually the other shoe always drops.

Still, it’s all very gratifying….until it wears off.  Then, the unsuspecting dieters are left ill-equipped (because so far they didn’t have to learn it) for the reality of what’s really required for long term weight management success:  learning to stay the course, get up from a fall while remaining calorically accountable; not to mention figure out exactly how those falls happen so they can develop the strategies to deal with that inevitability without bailing.  Programs that don’t teach you how to get yourself to make “the right” choices for you undermine the likelihood of long term success the same way that cheating on an exam will get you the A but not teach you study skills or give you the actual knowledge you will need to pass the course.

How well I know how hard it is to walk that walk.  I have spent a lot of years doing it myself (one step forward and two steps back half the time) and countless hours discussing just such minute details of their lives with my clients.  Who else but someone with the same issue could even understand why you can’t “just do it” and could still find these conversations endlessly stimulating?  If I thought there were an easier way for them (or me), a way around that process, believe me I would teach it.  I would also get rich.

The unfortunate truth is that 95% of people don’t stick around to learn the skills they will need to maintain their hard earned success.  95% of people avoid the pain of that confrontation when they start to derail.  They do not learn to really pay attention to what they are doing right and then to do more of that!  95% of people gain all their weight back, and more.  That is the painful truth that the statistics, and long experience in the field validate.  But that absolutely doesn’t have to be you.

Is it harder to keep weight off if you’ve already allowed yourself to gain a lot of weight…maybe more than once?  We think it might well be, as elaborated upon in the NY Times Magazine article – important for us to keep in mind with a growing population (no pun intended) of overweight kids.

Harder?  Yes. Impossible?  Apparently not.  As Janice and Adam Bridge, the couple in the article, so beautifully demonstrate, once you can suck it up (as that same Asheville client so aptly puts it) and do whatever you have determined it is going to take for you, it can be done.  And anyway, since when is being hard a reason not to do it?  I’ll bet there are plenty of things you do every day that are equally hard.

The good news is that we know exactly what the 5% is doing to be successful.  There is an organization called The National Weight Control Registry, that has been tracking this population for many years.  We know specifically what the people who are successfully keeping their weight off for at least 7 years are doing.   Do they work hard at it?  They do.  Are they successful?  They are.  And you can be successful too.  You can choose to be in the 5%.

Begin your final weight loss journey now…


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