Updated: Aug 18, 2021
This one is coming straight from the brilliant mind of my wife Hedy. One of the secret weapons I’ve had on this journey has been the chats I have with Hedy about why this journey is working this time.
Something that has been so effective for us is reframing what we’re actually trying to do when we’re trying to get healthy. If you’ve been reading these posts you know all my previous attempts to get healthy were exclusively focused on “losing weight”, which didn’t result in new habits and didn’t keep weight off.
So a couple months ago Hedy and I are talking in our backyard, discussing what’s been different this time because it’s been sooo much more than just losing weight. And this hit me like a bolt of lightening:
“Bill, we haven’t been just losing weight, we’ve been creating new normals”.
Told you she’s brilliant! Without knowing it, we’ve been setting goals that created new normals for our weekly lives.
My old normal was to think of each week in terms of lbs:.
“Wow, down 2.5 lbs! That’s a good week!” “How much can I lose this week?”
“That sucked. So how much of my gain can I get rid of this week?”
“If I lose 2 lbs every week I could be down 10+ lbs by August!!”
Weight weight weight. Lbs per week. 100% of our focus. This time it was about changing what we usually did when trying to get healthy. That was already new: we used to compare our behaviour to when we weren’t caring for our health at all, so any improvement felt like a “huge” change, which ultimately limited how much we actually changed. This time we compared our behaviour to times we were trying to get healthy. Improving on already improved eating habits. That comparison created a lot more success.
On previous journeys when we were stressed and ready to just binge it away, we basically relied on willpower to get through it. “Just don’t eat”, was our mindset. Cuz we’ll gain weight if we do. So just don’t eat and we’ll lose weight. Never more sophisticated than that. Sometimes it worked, but usually after about 3 months of eating better, we started to lose that willpower during stressful times. Because we had a normal reaction to stressful times and we hadn’t really put any thought into how to create a new normal. As long as the scale went down that week, it didn’t matter what we did, we called it successful.
This time, we unconsciously focused on creating new normal reactions to tough situations, because we were comparing this journey to other health attempts. I was still motivated by the scale, so I hoped to lose weight. But really the goal was to perform great during those hard times. Not binge when I’m stressed. AND to actually plan around that. We anticipated that these stressful nights would happen (before I just hoped they wouldn’t), we made sure to have a lot of healthy food on hand. If that urge to binge hit we wouldn’t try and dissect if this was real hunger or stress, or try to just tolerate hunger, we decided we could have all the fruits, veggies, and lean protein we needed to get full, we just avoided any food we could abuse, including making sure certain foods weren’t even in the house if we found it particularly hard with them around. It was a more thought out mindset shift compared to “just don’t eat”. Really it was about maintaining control. I can’t really binge chicken breasts and apples, so stress eating went way down and I realized healthy food did more to ease my stress than chips. And not surprising, better scale results showed up alot more consistently because of it.
So we kept going. Creating new normals. We made a goal of eating on vacation like we did at home. Eating healthy food at an amusement park. Ordering a healthy dish when out with friends. Making sure there was always a lot of healthy snacks in the car for long car rides. These weren’t weight focused goals, sure we hoped the scale moved, but these were situational goals that replaced our old normal with a new normal.
But to make it normal, we had to do it over and over. I thought that would take years. We were both shocked when in a few months into this new pattern we were showing up to birthday dinners at restaurants and without more than a 10 second conversation, it was already assumed we’d be ordering healthy meals because we’re having pizza Friday night. It had become a new normal.
In the past, we were both incredible at convincing ourselves that indulging was a great idea. And another new normal was to have an indulgent meal every week regardless of what the scale did, but what always messed us up before was convincing ourselves to go off plan and indulge way too much on multiple occasions. That’s what wrecked all our previous attempts to get healthy. We could talk ourselves into a $100 Chinese food order so fast it could make your head spin (Jean Luc and Nick have similar Chinese food stories, they’d pretend there was a house full of people when the food was delivered. Hedy and howled the first time we heard them tell that story because we would count the chopsticks included in the bag of our order and laugh at how many people they thought that order was for!). This time, along the way, we were talking about all the little things that were getting better. Not sweating as much. Energy for days. Sleeping better. I stopped buying Tums/Rolaids. So when that special occasion would come up, our thought process 95% of the time was “we’re not suffering right now because we’re eating healthy food until we’re full, in fact so many things feel better. So maybe on the next special occasion we’ll go nuts but this time let’s just stick with the healthy choices”.
This wasn’t about shedding lbs, we were establishing new ways of dealing with old problems as our primary goal, and noticing that we felt better doing it. And instead of making excuses to eat like we used to, we kind of just pushed that style of eating down the road. Some day in the future we’ll eat like crazy, but right now that will take away these good feelings we’re experiencing so let’s just stick with it.
And then one day you wake up and realize you’re not really thinking about what you “could” do anymore, because this is just what you “do” now. That line of “fake it till you make it” has a lot of truth. The negotiations had stopped. We were having a meal every week that we loved and making specific plans for those tricky times so we’d stick to that once-a-week pattern that’s clearly making us feel better.
We all have the same struggles 99% of the time right? Night snacking. Weekend eating. Stress binging. Planning to have a little of something on a special occasion and having 20x as much instead. Any one mistake or slip up by itself doesn’t matter. But our experience has been one mistake per week quickly turns into two, then three, then it’s “well this week is shot, I’m just gonna eat everything and start again on Monday.” So creating new normals for these common times we struggled with built momentum. Momentum is the appetizer for consistency. We didn’t know we were building new habits, but that’s exactly what this mindset shift did.
So instead of making a goal to lose 8 lbs this month, circle those tricky times in your week. And plan. It’s not “how can I handle those tough times?”, it’s “what do I need to handle those tough times?”. Be strategic. Make sure you don’t run out of healthy food. Consider using consistency and fighting hunger with healthy food to get rid of cravings instead of assuming that having a little will be enough this time. You may not always be successful. Hedy and I certainly make mistakes every week. Sometimes big ones. But Hedy says “we need to be our own scientists”. You’re looking for a path, it’s a giant experiment, and emotion makes it harder to find. Don’t beat yourself up for a mistake, push aside the emotional disappointment and get something strategic for it: why did it happen? How can I change my plan to prevent it from happening again? Don’t use big unmeasurable sweeping statements like “I need more motivation”, or “I need more willpower”. Be tactical. I used to use “willpower” to not hit drive thru’s on the way home from work, and then whine about self sabotage when I failed most of the time. This time I planned to always have healthy non-starchy snacks in the front seat, and I put my wallet in the trunk because I knew I wouldn’t stop to pull it out and pay for fast food (At 300+ lbs getting out of the car is a big deal 😆😆). Be tactical, not emotional.
Create some new normals in your life instead of trying to lose weight. It’s part of how we created new lives for ourselves.