Exercise and Physiology Information

Changing Your Mindset - The Reality of Fat Loss
Mike Howard


“What is the fastest way to lose my belly”, “what should I be avoiding to lose weight”, “what kind of exercises can I do to shrink my butt”, “I need to lose 30 pounds – how do I do it?”. After years of being inundated with these kinds of questions (and by my own admission, not knowing where to begin when answering them), I was finally struck by a simple and yet undeniable revelation… The first thing that these “would-be-belly/butt-shrinkers” needed to change was their mindsets. Their focus was almost always on short-term results and scale weight loss, and most of them were disappointed when I didn’t have a simplistic answer for them. This got me thinking… where have all of these unrealistic expectations come from? It seems that the sensible approaches to managing weight have buckled under the powerful force we have come to know as unscrupulous marketing. We are told that losing copious amounts of weight in a short amount of time is both realistic and desirable. We are told that there is a simple, single reason why we are fat, and are provided with an equally simplistic solution. We are told that scale weight loss is akin to “success”. All of these promises usually come in the form of neatly-packaged, well-marketed publications. In short, people trying to drop body fat are being set up for imminent failure by a group of people who are creating and perpetuating half-truths, misconceptions and flat-out lies. The result… thousands upon thousands of people suffering the emotional setbacks associated with feelings of failure.

The Age of Instant

We’ve all seen it (or lets face it, experienced it ourselves). Tapping a foot angrily as our microwaves take a full 2 minutes to cook; sighing as our ADSL is a half-second slower than usual; cursing at the nerve of the ATM that takes too long to spit out the transaction record. Technological advances have created an instant-results-oriented culture who has bought into the expectation that like everything else – weight loss should be instant. Despite overwhelming research that we should go the way of the tortoise – not the hare when it comes to winning the losing battle, people continue to desperately search for the “quick fix” for their excess weight. “Guru’s” and other promoters of questionable methods and fad diets are more than happy to oblige this need, promising a quick-and-easy product, program or diet that they tout as “revolutionary”. Invariably, people learn the hard way and are left disappointed, and in many cases, worse off then they were prior to starting their “band-aid” method. Are we supposed to believe that we can undo years of poor lifestyle habits in a matter of months, weeks or even days? In echoing the message of rational health care professionals and other organizations, long term fat loss success is almost always gradual and non-linear. In other words, we should be looking to lose no more than 1-1.5 lbs per week (2 max), and also expect our weight loss to vary from week to week. In fact, one should consider not weighing themselves at all (more on this later). The bottom line is, people have a right to know that their journey towards fat loss and better health can be (and usually is) a long and bumpy one. This isn’t to say that somebody can’t, or won’t lose (and keep off) large amounts of weight, or that they should be discouraged from setting challenging goals. Rather, they need to know what is considered realistic, and what is not.

Changing the Definition of Success

A study out of the University of Pennsylvania asked a group of obese women the following four questions; 1) What is your dream weight? 2) What is the weight at which you’d be happy? 3) What is the weight you’d find acceptable? 4) What is the weight that you’d find disappointing? The average dream weight amounted to a loss of 69 pounds (32% of body weight). The “acceptable” weight was 55 pounds (25% weight change) and the weight loss that they would consider “disappointing” was 37 pounds (17% of body weight). After 48 weeks, half the women did not even achieve their “disappointed” weight. This study encapsulates the false reality that we have been thrust into by deceiving marketers, which has manifested itself into the formulation of unrealistic expectations. We have created an overemphasis on the importance of scale weight – to the point where it is the sole determinant of success. Not only is scale weight incessantly touted as a primary indicator of achievement, but we are also told that losing a lot of weight in a short period of time is both realistic and desirable.

Truth be told, scale weight in itself is inherently deceptive. To summarize, body composition (percentage of body fat) is independent of body weight, and losing body FAT (which may or may not translate into scale loss) DOES promote improved appearance and better health. (And who says I’m long-winded!). Additionally, there are daily, transient changes in scale weight due to fluid intake/retention, sugar stores in the muscle, time of day, time of month, etc. With its volatility and lack of validity as a predictor of health, it amazes me how we give the scale so much power to influence our emotions. Meanwhile, more and more studies, including one recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, are revealing that physical fitness is a more powerful predictor of heart health than is weight. This brings to light, the importance of shifting the focus towards activity-centered lifestyle changes, whilst shifting the focus away from “losing weight”. The “lose weight at all costs” mentality puts one on a predictable road towards failure.


Obesity and Overfatness – Complex causes, multifaceted solutions

One of the more prominent lies about weight and weight management being fueled by the weight loss industry is the oversimplification of the causes and solutions of obesity. Breaking things down in layman terms is one thing – but citing a single cause of obesity is inaccurate, and often used as a sales-driven tactic to pedal books and/or products. We’ve all heard it before “We’re fat because we eat too many carbs”, “We are fat because of excess cortisol”, “We’re fat because we eat carbs and protein together”, “We are fat because we are O-negative blood types and eat lentils”. The list goes on… and low-and-behold; the solution to our abject state of girth is to remove the single, alleged culprit. One could make the argument that being overweight is simply a matter of taking in more calories than you expend – and one would be correct. However, there are a multitude of underlying behavioural, psycho-social and genetic factors that influence the calorie balance equation. So, as easy as it is in theory to simply burn off more than you take in, there remains deeper territory to be uncovered. Therefore, until these deep-rooted causes are figured out, there cannot be an effective plan of action that will facilitate long-term results.

The Bottom Line

When embarking on a fat loss endeavor, it is easy to become enthralled by surface-level and short-sighted approaches. Unfortunately, these methods offer little in the way of long-term promise. Before mapping out a plan (or following a cookie-cutter program or diet), I advise you to take a step back and examine things from a holistic perspective – starting with your mindset. Many people quit their exercise programs and diets because they failed to mentally equip themselves for their undertaking. We need to re-wire our brains to not only participate in these health-enhancing habits, but also to embrace and enjoy the journey. This takes time. It also takes patience, perseverance, planning, realistic goal-setting, relapse prevention strategies and support from those around us. When all these things come together, it makes it much easier and pleasant to navigate through behavioural changes. Perhaps the most important thing to remember, though, is this; you need to know and believe that you can do it, and you also have it in you to make significant changes to your health and body. So before you even touch a weight or jump on a stariclimber, exercise that all-important area between your ears.

5 Tips for building a mind for health

1. Understand what you are up against:
It is important not to underestimate the physical, psychological and emotional challenges of losing fat and living a healthy lifestyle. It takes effort, commitment and desire to be successful in such a journey. An aloof approach or a failure to realize the implications of becoming active is a recipe for falling off the wagon. Take a realistic approach to your undertaking, but avoid putting pressure on yourself, too. Your journey should have elements of fun to it.

2. Set appropriate goals:
- When mapping out goals, be sure that they are; specific, realistic, multifaceted and flexible.
- Specific: Instead of “lose inches”, you might say “lose 2 inches from my waist by Christmas.
- Realistic: Take into consideration how much time and effort you are able or willing to dedicate to your endeavor. Consider every aspect of your lifestyle you can think of. If your goal is weight loss, consider the lightest you have ever been as an adult, and how long you were at that weight for. Consider also measuring progress in terms of inches and body fat %.
- Multifaceted: Try not to focus solely on weight or inches. Include intangible goals such as; increased self-esteem, better energy, increased enjoyment of activity, healthier food choices.
- Flexible: There is nothing wrong with re-evaluating and adjusting goals. In fact, this should be encouraged.
- Include short-term and long-term goals - focus on the shot-term goals

3. Identify Barriers towards Success:
The first step here is to recognize the difference between barriers and obstacles. A barrier is something you cannot control, such as; your work schedule, family commitments, illness, etc. Obstacles on the other hand, are situations that you can work around such as; lousy weather, getting up early and missing a reality TV show. Those that view barriers as obstacles and obstacles as challenges are much more likely to stay on track of their exercise and healthy eating plans.

4. Use mental Imagery:
Think about connecting your physical actions with your mind. Using imagery can elicit your unconscious mind to motivate you towards success. This can help prepare you to enjoy the activities that you will partake in. Because imagery can enhance emotions and desires, this can eventually lead to intrinsic exercise motivation - doing it for the pure enjoyment of it. Think about how great you will feel on your bike, or how the fat will melt off your body along with the sweat. Visualize yourself cutting up veggies and throwing them into a salad. And how tasty that salad will be when you eat it.

5. Draw up a lifestyle contract:
Putting on paper what you want to accomplish and what you are willing to do to accomplish these things. State how you are willing to make your health a priority, and that you refuse to feel guilty if you should fall off the wagon. Sign and date your contract and put it somewhere will you will see it often.

Mike Howard is the owner of Core Concepts Wellness Solutions – a health and fitness services provider that specializes in health seminars, personal training and workplace wellness. He is the author of “Winning the Losing Battle - The Truth about Fat Loss©”, and teaches courses based on the manual in the Greater Vancouver area. For more information, he can be reached at coreconcepts@shaw.ca