Photo Credit: Terence S. Jones
When I used to fall off the plant powered wagon, I would experience anguish that can only be understood by watching this hilarious youtube clip of Denver the Guilty Dog.
Oh the guilt!
And I’m not the only one.
When we take a tumble, we often say things like, “I am having so much trouble following through…I don’t know what is wrong with me.” “I feel like such a failure for not being able to stick with this way of eating.”
We think that our failure is due to the fact that we lack willpower, discipline, and motivation, and come to the conclusion that we are somehow faulty human beings!
Not only are we left with the guilt and pain of failure, but even worse is the confusion, the overwhelm, and not knowing the next step forward.
But as you know by now, my manifesto is different. It is my passionate conviction that the problem isn’t you!
Though our first instinct is to blame ourselves, there are factors that play an enormous role in determining whether or not we succeed — yet we don’t often give them the attention they deserve.
Things like social support, organization and planning, and our inner psychology.
That’s why I talk about building Lifestyle Support Systems — the habits, programs, systems, psychology and safeguards of health that help us to orient our lives our health and well-being.
Your One Key Action
Now this can be a pretty overwhelming concept,
The last thing I want is for you to read this post and decide to spend the afternoon seeing for yourself why ostriches stick their heads in the ground.
Maybe it’s super fun?
So last week I introduced the Six Pillars of Lasting Health and Successful Weight Loss and gave you a six question quiz.
Today we’ll get minutely practical and use your quiz results to identify your one big win — the single most important action you can take to move forward towards lasting health and your goal weight.
Ready to begin? If you haven’t yet, take the quiz, identify which question you scored the lowest on, and click the corresponding link below.
I scored lowest on:
- Question 1: I know exactly what to eat to get healthy and lose weight.
- Question 2: Healthy foods are easy to prepare and readily available.
- Question 3: I have friends or family that support me on my journey towards better health.
- Question 4: If I get off track I will be held accountable.
- Question 5: I do NOT usually have self-sabotaging or negative thoughts.
- Question 6: I know the issues that sabotage my health goals, and I am working through them.
The Six Pillars Of Lasting Health and Sustainable Weight Loss
1. The Right Food
Even if you overcome emotional eating, have the most wonderful social support network, and never go off track, you will probably not lose weight if you are on the twinkie diet.
You have to know what foods are going to help you lose weight and get healthy and which only moonlight as health foods.
And in this day and age, that’s not super easy!
There are a million different ideas and approaches, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed and throw in the towel before you begin.
But interestingly enough, the research shows that following through on any program is more important and effective than finding the perfect one.
Your one key action to improve this pillar:
If you don’t know what to eat to get healthy and lose weight, the best thing to do is to try a plant-based whole foods program.
Discuss the options with a qualified medical professional, pick the program that resonates most with you, and follow it as diligently as possible. Usually the time frame is anywhere from 10 days to six weeks.
At that point, objectively step back and look at the data. Did you see improvements? Were you able to follow though? What is working? What isn’t?
The first hand experience is invaluable, and you’ll begin building the nutritional understanding that will allow you to sort through all the conflicting advice out there.
The more you learn, the more you will be able to become your own health scientist, evaluate the different approaches, and decide for yourself what works and what doesn’t.
And if you get stuck, you can make tweaks and changes and find a solution.
Need help choosing a program? Are you not getting results on your current program? These are what I have found to be the most important questions to ask:
- Does it focus on real food?
- Does it make veggies the focal point?
- Does it promote eating lots of nutrient dense foods such as greens, veggies, beans, berries, and seeds?
- Does it promote eating foods that are low in caloric density?
- And the most important, am I likely to follow through?
The follow through is the most important! If you know the program is too strict for you and you won’t follow it, start with an easier option. Engineer a win for yourself.
When you have a win under your belt, it’s easier to fine tune things and pick a more disciplined program.
You can modify or experiment with different approaches as you learn more about nutrition and what works for you as an individual.
2. Organization and Planning
When willpower fails, it’s often because we haven’t made it easy enough on ourselves.
And so once we know what to eat, the next step is to make sure that those foods are easily and readily available!
How can you organize your life in a way that makes it as easy as humanly possible to follow through?
Your one key action to improve this pillar: Think about the one meal that is the most difficult to prepare or where you get off track. Is it breakfast? Lunch? Dinner? Snack time? Dessert?
Take 5-10 minutes and make a step-by-step plan of how you will make sure you have easy access to the right foods. Here are a couple examples.
- Afternoon snack is my biggest weakness. I get ravenous after lunch and end up eating junk food.
- So I need to have snacks available in my car for my after lunch craving.
- I’m going to identify three snacks that I can buy or make.
- To make the snacks, I need to shop for these ingredients on Sunday.
- To have the snacks ready, I need to prep the veggies, put them in a little cooler bag, and put them in the car before I leave for work each day.
- I get home from work too tired to cook, so I usually end up getting fast food.
- So I need a quick and easy way to get dinner on the table.
- I’m going to pick one meal that I love, make a triple batch on Sunday and freeze the leftovers.
- I’ll have leftovers on Monday and Wednesday, use the Chipotle Method to put together something on Thursday and Saturday, and eat dinner at Whole Foods on Tuesday and Friday.
It can take some time to get your particular system figured out. If this is your biggest barrier, take some time to learn how to buy and prepare healthy foods in a quick, easy, efficient and cost effective manner.
It will get easier over time. It can also help to start with a meal plan, or you can use a resource like the Chipotle Method to learn how to put together quick and easy meals.
3. Social Support
In a study highlighted in the New York Times, the researchers found that when we have a close friend that becomes obese, we are 57% more likely to become obese ourselves.
Even more incredible is that we are 20% more likely to become obese if the friend of a friend becomes obese.
The takeaway? It’s critical, absolutely critical, that you find some friends that support your journey to optimal health.
Your one key action to improve this pillar: Find a meetup group (www.meetup.com), a yoga class, or a local support group that you are interested in joining and sign up now.
Put it in your calendar.
If there are no groups available, reach out to one person who shares your health values. Call or email them right now and Invite them over for a meal, for a walk, or for a Sunday food prep session.
If there isn’t anyone else in rural South Dakota who cares about health, then join a facebook group or find a virtual accountability partner.
If I told you that you could double your chance of success without any additional effort, would you do it?
Accountability often makes us squeamish, but adding real consequences to our goals can more than double our chances of success.
A Yale economics professor founded the website Stickk, in order to do just that. The site is an online commitment store that allows you to set a goal and add a financial incentive to ensure that you follow through.
From 2008 – 2011, the Stickk found that average success rates of 33.5% skyrocketed to 72.8% when an additional incentive was added.
Your one key action to improve this pillar: Call somebody close to you, a friend, your significant other, your son or daughter and tell them that if you haven’t set up some accountability by this time next week, you owe them $20.
Then go to www.stickk.com, set a goal, find a referee, and put some money on the line.
You really want to make this thing happen right? Do you want a 30% chance of success or a 70% chance of success?
Think about what it will be like to succeed. How great you’ll feel. How good you’ll look. How your life will improve. Imagine all the money that you will save on medications and health care costs.
It’s worth it. Put your money where your mouth is.
This may seem a bit ambiguous.
But remember Nora’s success where she overcame a lifetime of failed diets, and lost 100+ pounds?
In her story, the big shift happened when our heroine not only found the right information, but shifted her mindset.
Negative or self-sabotaging thoughts can have a huge impact on our ability to stay the course and follow through long term.
Your one key action to improve this pillar: Simply recognize when you are having a negative thought and acknowledge it.
Here are some common ones:
- “I’m not good enough.”
- “I’m just going to fail anyway.”
- “I deserve this treat.”
- “What is wrong with me, why can’t I stick to this?”
Just becoming aware of our thought patterns is the first step towards changing them. Recognize the story you tell yourself.
When you recognize the story, you can begin to rewrite it.
We are all going to have negative thoughts. We are all going to struggle. Know that the path can be difficult.
The right mindset is understanding that this is a process. Keep your focus on getting healthy, expect some ups and downs, and know that if you just keep at it you will succeed.
Progress over perfection. It doesn’t matter how many times you fall down as long as you get back up. It doesn’t matter how many times you spill the milk as long as you don’t lose the cow.
6. Address Your Issues
Health isn’t just physical. Shifting from a diet mentality to a healthy lifestyle mentality is so effective for this very reason. It broadens our focus to look at the whole picture of health.
A healthy lifestyle involves physical, emotional, mental, and social health, and these are all intertwined.
That’s why Addressing Our Issues has to be included in the equation.
Fascinatingly enough, this shows up as one the biggest factors that separates people who are able to lose weight and keep it off, from those who end up yo-yoing.
In a study, 90% of the people who were able to lose weight and keep it off shared this common trait: They dealt with their problems head on.
Note: It doesn’t say that they solved their problems. Only that they were willing to deal with them head on.
We all fall off the wagon. We all have moments of self-sabotage. We all have some weird piece of ourselves working in our best interest, and some weird piece of ourselves working against it!
Whatever the issues are, we must face them. Emotional eating? Stress because of work?
There are a million different examples and possibilities, but I’d bet top dollar you aren’t scratching your head wondering what it is for you.
Your one key action to improve this pillar: Find the tiniest thing that you can do to begin to address your issue, and put it into practice.
Addressing our issues can be a daunting task, so the best way to move forward is to break it down into the smallest possible steps.
What is the first step that you can take to begin to move forward?
Do you struggle with stress? Sign up for just one meditation class, or begin meditating just three minutes a day.
Is it emotional eating? Commit to keeping a food journal for just ONE of your meals.
The most important thing here is to simply begin. Find the smallest step forward and take it!
But this is hard!
Did you skim through the article, but not take action? Most of these things are not easy to do, because they involve looking at the root of the issues that are holding us back.
It can be uncomfortable to look at your issues, pay attention to your inner psychology, put some money on the line, reach out to someone or sign up for a new class.
But I’m not here to help you be comfortable. I’m here to help you make real transformation in your life. Be brave.
I believe in you. I know you can do it. Just take that one single next step. Take the one little action to move you forward.
And let me know in the comments: What is your one key action? What are you going to do right now to move forward with your health goals?
We will never sell your information or spam you, ever.
Matt Jager is a wellness activist, yogi and co-founder of True Wellth. His life mission is to transform the healthcare and food system in this country, so that every single person has access to the tools and support they need to look and feel their best, control their health, own their happiness and revolutionize their well-being.