“Breathe. Just Breathe. Now reach out. What do you see?”
This quote from Star Wars: The Last Jedi highlights an older, wiser Luke Skywalker training the young and frightfully powerful Rey. While the movie is yet to be seen it is easy to see that Luke is trying to impress upon Rey the need to relax. Not only to harness her power but to be able to wield it with a calm mind. Jedi’s who can’t control themselves become big baddies in the Star Wars universe, which always leads to their downfall.
All this sounds great if you are a Star Wars fan, and probably pretty stupid if you are not but what do cool sci-fi ramblings have to do with losing weight?
The truth is that how you think has much more to do with losing weight than most people would ever realize. There is definitely a physiological component where stress affects brain chemistry and activity which in turn can affect fat storing and fat burning hormones, and how hungry you feel. But unless you’ve got your mental game on track, knowing the biochemistry of how the body works is of little use in dropping the Dad-Bod while pounding out a 60 hour work week. So I’ll tackle that in another article. Today we will discuss HOW to focus your mind so that you can harness the Force and lose all of those unwanted pounds.
The human mind can be pretty complex, but you don’t need a PhD. in Psychology or be an all-powerful Sith Lord to understand the basic forces that drive human behavior. Two of the most powerful are; the need to avoid pain and the desire to gain pleasure.
- The Need to Avoid Pain– this is behavior at its most basic. The need to avoid pain is a deep physiological and behavioral imperative. Makes sense right? If something hurts you it may pose a threat to your survival. Well, what’s the first three letters of the word Diet? DIE! Does that sound like a lot of fun to you? Do you or anyone else you know enjoy forgoing their favorite foods and being hungry all the time? I bet not many. The vast majority of folks will not enjoy denying themselves. Watching their friends eat pizza, grill cheese and cookies while they munch their leafy greens and a side of grilled salmon. Now this is not to say that you can’t eat healthy and enjoy it (because you can) but rather what eating a certain way truly MEANS to you and WHY you are doing so. Even if you are following a nutritionally correct plan (and most folks aren’t) but you feel consciously and unconsciously that dieting is painful and unpleasant then you will sabotage your own efforts and will fail to reach your weight-loss goals. Success, by the way for weight-loss is not merely to lose weight but to avoid regaining it. 95% of all folks that lose weight not only regain it in less than a year but gain an additional three pounds on top of their original weight! The USA has a population of approximately 320 million people. Around 40% (128 million) are considered overweight and some 60% (192 million) do at least one diet a year. So yearly around 182.4 million either fail in their initial weight-loss efforts or regain the weight plus some extra within a year. So it’s pretty obvious that diets don’t really work in the long run. If denying yourself and suffering was a successful model it would work for the 95%, not fail them.
- The Desire to Gain Pleasure– a lot of folks focus on this but pain is a stronger motivator. Still, seeking pleasure is a powerful influence on the conscious and unconscious mind. People eat a lot of certain foods because it is highly pleasurable. If a food tastes good and invokes feelings of bliss, comfort or security then you will gravitate towards those foods (even if you intellectually understand that they are bad for you) in order to gain pleasure and avoid/escape pain. So let’s say you are on a diet and you’ve done pretty well so far. You’ve lost some pounds and your clothes fit a little better. Then your car breaks down and it’s going to cost $1200. Now you’re late for work and miss an important meeting. The rest of your day just bites you in ass from then on until finally, tired and frustrated, you collapse on the couch two hours later than you normally would have gotten home. Dinner on the food plan tonight is supposed to be grilled halibut, asparagus and salad. But you’re tired, it’s late and you’ve had a crappy day. Your Day has been full of Pain so you need to escape it. With the way you feel, eating salad and grilled fish just sounds awful. Now you see a pizza commercial on TV and it looks so good! You may regret it later but in that moment you needed to avoid pain and you saw the pizza as a way to gain pleasure. The end result? You scarfed down an extra-large pepperoni, half a liter of coke and two brownies! Now you feel guilty, and have to fight off not only your guilt but the desire to hit the pizza and brownies again because now you’re stressed about blowing your diet!
Now the above is merely an example, but similar circumstances continually play out this way across the planet. A never ending cycle of pain & pleasure that tricks, controls and emotionally devastates millions of dieters every year. And none of this discussion is even touching on the science of nutrition and its huge impact on your success or failure.
SO WHAT TO DO?
Well the good news is that you don’t need anything complicated to get started and make a big improvement on staying consistent (one of the most important factors in long-term dieting success). Here’s a few things to get started on:
- Be very clear on what you want to accomplish. Be specific! : Don’t just say “I want to lose some weight and feel better.” Having a clear vision of what you want to accomplish gives you a sense of purpose and something to focus on when times get tough.
- Understand the concept of Pain & Pleasure and how it relates to staying on a healthy eating plan: By understanding why you feel the way you do, the urges that you feel and why you so often sabotage your own efforts you can utilize these powerful motivators proactively instead of being an unwilling participant. It’s kind of like having the other teams quarterback’s playbook. It’s not foolproof but it gives you a huge advantage to understand when/why things happen and how to counteract them to stay on track.
- You must focus your mind and efforts and change what dieting means to you: Even if you are highly motivated to lose weight that is not enough. You must truly believe that all of the steps you are taking to lose weight are LESS PAINFUL than the perceived stress and pain of sticking to your plan. In other words even though what you are doing is difficult and challenging, NOT doing it is even more painful, difficult and upsetting.
- Understand what your pain and pleasure triggers are: If you are always tempted by something (Cinnabons are not allowed in my house!) be aware of it and be ready to deal with it. If something causes you some level of pain or if you notice you always blow your diet after having certain experiences then you can plan ahead for them.
- Have a plan: You have clear goals on what you want to accomplish, you understand how the forces of pain & pleasure work, you’ve focused your mind on how NOT following through would be even more painful than just getting it done and you know what usually sets off your cycle of avoiding pain and looking for pleasure. Now you need a simple plan to recognize how you feel and get ahead of it before it overwhelms you and sabotages your efforts.
Now, I have only given you a few of the general concepts of getting your mental fitness in order but they work well and can help you right away. Don’t expect perfection, focus instead on making progress. Hold yourself accountable (it helps to have someone that you trust and who has a good attitude to help hold you accountable as well) and don’t stress if you make mistakes.
Remember. “Breathe. Just Breathe. You can do it, and as Obi-Wan said to young Skywalker “You’ve taken your first step into a larger world”
May the Force be with you always.