Over my recent blogs, I have discussed the negative health impact of diets. I have encouraged people to never purchase another diet book and to make a commitment to never subject themselves to another diet. If you still want to lose weight, I have highlighted that there are five fundamental (non-diet) steps. First, switch to eating more ‘real’ foods (foods that have not changed for the past 10,000 years: e.g., more vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds). Second, improve your sleep (as the quality of your sleep has a direct impact on your weight). Third, meditate to decrease your stress hormones (which directly increase your weight). Fourth, try visualization with the image of your lower weight (as the visualization will rewire your brain, programming it toward a lower body-set weight point). Fifth, exercise (as it plays a 20% role in determining your weight). Yes, just five simple, long-term steps.
My overall recommendation is to develop these five long-term positive habits (eating healthy, sleeping well, meditating, visualizing, exercising) because they will lead to improved health, plus gradual weight loss. But the real obstacle to my suggestions? It is people’s goals. When you speak to patients, most of them can still tell you exactly how much weight they want to lose. Five pounds. Ten pounds. I had one patient who said (with great conviction) that he wanted to lose 27 pounds. Not 26 pounds. Not 28 pounds. Nope. Just 27 pounds. Tell me: Can you see the fallacy of this approach? Shouldn’t people be focused on achieving maximum health, not a specific weight loss? Which is more important? Weighing a certain, self-chosen weight? Or avoiding cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and the other chronic illnesses?
Weight and health are very much like income and happiness. People seem to believe that a certain weight will lead to health (which is does not); and people seem to believe that a certain income will lead to happiness (which it does not). Similar to the issue of weight, people can tell you exactly how much their income needs to change. The dynamics are simple. Weight has to go down; income has to go up. How much extra income? $10,000. $25,000. Sometimes a lot higher. Again, people can be very specific. But the truth? Like weight and health, income and happiness is not a linear line. Lower weight (through diets) does not lead to better health. Higher income does not lead to greater happiness. It’s a myth. For income, it’s a bell shaped curve. At some point, for almost every individual, the sacrifices for a higher income outweigh the additional money.
It’s the same equation for weight loss and health. As we have discussed, a diet will disrupt your normal hormones, creating a series of negative consequences. Your appetite regulatory system is thrown out of balance. Your insulin (for balancing your sugar consumption) is negatively disrupted. Your hunger hormone, Ghrelin, is also negatively disrupted, making it easier to develop later food urges. Your Leptin and Peptide YY, which determine how satisfied you feel after a meal, don’t work as well after a series of diets. The result? Your lose weight, and then regain the weight. But your health? It is worse, not better. The key self-regulatory systems for protecting your health are damaged – and for a much longer period of time than the duration of your diet.
The same is true for those actions that lead to an increased income. Your extra time at the office degrades the quantity and quality of your time at home. The statistics for family time in America are already horrendous. How much time do you spend 1:1 with your spouse on a daily basis? How much time do you spend 1:1 with each of your children on a daily basis? America’s statistics? Five to twenty minutes per day, at the most. Well, with that increased income, guess the direction of those statistics? They fall. Come on, forget the scientific studies, which substantiate the above facts. Just look at the tabloids. The wealthy have bigger houses, but homes with just as much (if not more) dysfunction. They have more divorces. They have more children who are substance abusers. What causes those problems? Many things. But going after the wrong set of goals is clearly one of the fundamental flaws in many lives.
So, what is my suggestion? Push aside that question about how much you might want to weigh. At the same time push aside the urge to work harder and harder to boost your income. Shift both of those focuses to issues of greater importance. Think about how to improve your health, not lower your weight. Think about how to improve your happiness, not increase your income. Remember the saying that the things that matter the most should not be at the mercy of the things that matter the least. You choose. Lower weight? Or better health? More income? Or greater happiness? Trust me. Those are real-life choices; and too many people make the wrong choices. So, over this holiday season, as you get a break from work, think about your choices. Think about your life. Don’t you think it is time to redesign yourself, your relationships, and your life?
Do you want to make it simpler? How about re-evaluating your work versus your life? Or re-evaluating external goals versus internal goals? An external goal would be weight loss or a higher income. An internal goal would be improved health and greater happiness. If you think those goals — even the internal goals – come automatically, you are wrong. You have to create a clear intention to reach those internal goals. You have to make choices that move you toward those internal goals. Ironically, they are not as clear. A specific weight is easier to measure that a specific level of health. A certain income is easier to gauge than the degree of happiness. But a lack of specificity does not make something less valuable; sometimes, it makes it far more valuable. For me, the best parts of life are not measurable. Certain not by a scale or a checkbook. You want to make the choice even easier? Maybe even clearer? Something that clarifies internal from external? Think home, not office. Now, to you, which is more important?