Recently, I read a great article in the New York Times Magazine called “The Fat Trap” by health columnist Tara Parker-Pope that gave me some great new insight about the goal-setting process.
This article was great for a number of reasons. First, I love the fact that Tara Parker-Pope demonstrates admirably that a person can still be a valid and inspiring health expert even though the person faces health challenges (in this case being overweight) of her own. We don’t always need the perfectionist–the triathlete/vegan/yogi to tell us about being healthy (although their insight and example is certainly inspiring). Sometimes we need the real person who struggles to fit in diet and exercise along with everyday life challenges.
Second, it was valuable to know that when it comes to weight, if we just “let ourselves go” thinking that at some point in the future we will have more time, energy and motivation to exercise or diet, we are metabolically doing ourselves a disservice. Her article points out that after the body holds excess weight for a certain period of time, the metabolism changes and it becomes measurably harder for an overweight person to maintain weight loss than for a person who keeps their weight under control constantly.
“For years, the advice to the overweight and obese has been that we simply need to eat less and exercise more. While there is truth to this guidance, it fails to take into account that the human body continues to fight against weight loss long after dieting has stopped. This translates into a sobering reality: once we become fat, most of us, despite our best efforts, will probably stay fat.”
–Tara Parker-Pope, “The Fat Trap,” The New York Times Magazine, December 28, 2011
This revelation makes me wonder if this recommendation for daily vigilance isn’t true in many areas of our lives. For example, if you are a binge organizer (as I tend to be with my busy family), where you let things go for a while and then clean it all up in a massive effort, this might end up being more work than if you struggled and picked away at your mess every . . single . . . day. (Just typing that makes me feel exhausted and a smidge depressed!)
But most importantly, this article points out that there is a tremendous variety of effort in achieving the same goal for different people. Some people may find it easier to alter their routines. Others may struggle significantly to get the same results. In short, it’s very easy to cry, “It’s not fair.” when comparing your effort and results to those of others.
This comment from a woman named Janice Bridge profiled in the article who exercises and diets every single day just to maintain a stable weight of 195 pounds was very insightful. Ms. Bridge knows that her metabolism may be either genetically low or altered by years of being overweight.
“It’s pretty easy to get angry with the amount of work and dedication it takes . . . “to keep this weight off. But the alternative is to not keep the weight off. ”
–Janice Bridge, profiled in Tara Parker-Pope, “The Fat Trap,” The New York Times Magazine, December 28, 2011 (emphasis added).
She profiles another woman, Lynn Haraldson, who has similarly struggled with weight loss and now maintains a weight of 140 pounds:
“[Haraldson] has also come to accept that she can never stop being ‘hypervigilant’ about what she eats. ‘Everything has to change,’ she says. ‘I’ve been up and down the scale so many times, always thinking I can go back to ‘normal,’ but I had to establish a new normal. People don’t like hearing that it’s not easy.’”
–Lynn Haraldson, profiled in Tara Parker-Pope, “The Fat Trap,” The New York Times Magazine, December 28, 2011 (emphasis added).
These two insights are often missing from weight loss programs like The Biggest Loser. We focus so much attention on just getting people started. We seem to think that if we just get someone started they will see how “easy” it is and the new habits will continue from there. We might even “Make the path easier.” initially so it is easier to get started. But the piece we are missing from this formula is that once we get started, we have to also practice “Make the path get gradually harder.” forcing ourselves to change and accept whatever the “new normal” is for our particular situation and that our change process is permanent and not temporary.
A similar point about the mindset of change in the context of home design was made today on the wonderful blog Young House Love by Sheri “$herdog” Petersik:
“If we ever become frozen in fear of a mistake that we’ve made (or the fear that we’ll make one) that’s when a room stagnates. We’d never get past decorating mistakes (or life mistakes) if we didn’t learn/adapt/evolve along the way. Our goal is for our house (and ourselves) to always be changing and growing. No freezing in place allowed. Because you usually can’t get around a life obstacle or a DIY debacle if you’re just stuck there standing still.”
–Sheri Petersik, “$herdog,” Young House Love blog, January 17, 2012
Based on this insight, I encourage you to ponder the following questions about whatever goals you are trying to achieve:
Ruly Challenge: List every “excuse” you can think of for why you have not achieved your goal. Ask yourself how much effort you are really willing to put in to achieve this goal. Would you be willing to change your hard-wired, “easy” routines? Would you be willing to institute a new “difficult” routine . . . every . . . single . . . day if it meant you would achieve the goal? If not, why not? If you are willing to make the change “someday” what would need to change in your life to get to that “someday.”
What insights have you had about achieving difficult change? How do you respond to the above insights? Please share in the comments.