We go about health and fitness all wrong. This was not a hundred percent evident to me until I met Dale. He was a long haul trucker. He came to my clinic for help with weight loss and his new diagnosis of diabetes. His wife sent him, he told me. I could tell he thought I was weird from the get go. He said, “I don’t believe in all that “woo-woo new age stuff”.
He told me what he ate. “I eat where my truck stops”, he said. Vending machines at rest areas, soda and snickers bars at truck stops, fast food and greasy diners. Most of his meals were literally right out of an Exxon Mobile gas station.
You can’t tell a guy like Dale to go to Whole Foods and get some organic Kale and fresh Salmon. I knew I had to make this change as easy or easier than his current lifestyle. I told him to trade his vending machine soda and chips for water and nuts. I said switch your candy bars for hotdogs, but throw off the bun. We talked about munching on Slim Jims and apples instead of crackers. I told him to order eggs and bacon at the greasy spoons. I said to forget about calories, and to eat before he got hungry, felt cravings, or started getting energy lows.
He still thought I was weird. “Hot dogs with the bun thrown off? That’s weird, but I can do that”. That is what I wanted to hear, he could do it. He went away and I thought I would never see him again. Three months later I walk into my waiting room and there is Dale, all 30 pounds less of him. He was beaming. He said, “Doc, I did what you said. I went on that Slim Jim diet, and I lost thirty pounds, and I am off my diabetes drug!”
I was floored! This guy ate cured Slim Jims, salted nuts, fatty hot dogs, bacon, eggs, and aspartame filled diet soda. These are things I would have considered poisons before I met Dale. But, he lost thirty pounds, got off his metformin and felt in control of his health for the first time in his life.
The funny thing was his “plan” for change was not predictable. It did not resemble any thing I had prescribed for anyone else. And there were no supplements involved. In truth, I did not think this plan would do much good. But I did use a few key things I learned from my clinical experience over the years:
- Fat was better than starch for diabetes/obesity.
- People need change that is doable.
- Never force a plan to a person, instead adapt your plan to the individual.
- An inferior solution that is easy, always beats a better program that is not.
All of this led to a successful outcome for Dale, but another person may not have fared so well. They would have required their own tailored solution.
Dale illustrates what is wrong with our current model of health and fitness. We create broad rules, like “eat less, and exercise more”, that rely on willpower. We give people foreign diets, confusing exercise programs, and strange supplements all at once. Then we wonder why they feel overwhelmed. One-size-fits-all programs rarely work in any discipline.
The “eat less, exercise more” model is an example. Eat less, and what happens? You get hungry. Exercise more, and what happens? You get hungry. The very thing we are telling you to do is making it far more likely you will do the reverse. If you can eat a cup of cereal for breakfast and a mini-salad for lunch and not binge on pizza when you arrive home for dinner, then that may be a good plan for you. But most people cannot win this battle of wills against their physiology.
The truth is weight loss is about hormones not just calories. Eating like a bird and running for miles everyday creates hormonal compensatory reactions that lead to increase hunger, relentless cravings, energy fluctuations, and eating too much of the wrong foods.
How many calories does sleep have? How about stress? Silly questions, right? You can’t eat sleep and you can’t eat stress, but they dramatically impact how much we eat and what we choose to eat. This is because they change hormones. Balance the hormones first and you will automatically feel less hunger, have reduced cravings, and enjoy balanced energy, and the calories will take care of themselves.
We are all as different on the inside chemically as we are on the outside physically. To create body change and optimal health there is no way around this fact. We may share certain biochemical tendencies, but ultimately we all have unique metabolic expressions, psychological sensitivities, and personal preferences. Health and fitness is an individual process, not a one-size-fits-all protocol.
So, how do you go about designing a health and fitness lifestyle that works for you? Here are my pointers…
- Think “It’s all about ME”, meaning you. You are unique so honor your metabolic expression, psychological sensitivities, and personal preferences.
- Think hormones NOT calories. Choose what to eat and when to eat based off of how those foods control hunger, manage cravings, balance energy, and deliver results in health and weight loss.
- Think easy or easier. Make the program fit to your life, and don’t try to fit yourself to the lifestyle. Make sure you are confident the changes you are making can be done without disrupting your life.
- Think one thing at a time. Change one thing, and psychology research tells us your success will be close to 85%. Try to change two things and that number drops to 35%. Try to change three or more things and your success rate drops to less than 10%. An inferior program that you can do and build upon is always better than a superior program that is impossible to maintain.