I’ve thought quite a bit recently about what it takes to motivate people to start a big change in their life, especially if they aren’t forced to do it. In my case, no one said I had to begin eating the way I did in March, I simply set the guidelines for my experiment and approached it more as an exercise in willpower than anything else. Sure, I was tired of feeling aches and pains, or looking in the mirror and hating how huge I was, but even my doctor wasn’t overly threatening to me in my annual physical. He was straight with me and helped me understand that the aches were more from my weight than an “actual” issue with my knees or legs, but at no point did he give me an ultimatum about losing weight or dying in a month, which would cause most people to take things seriously.
So I still can’t figure out why I’ve maintained this for six months now, because in the beginning I seriously doubted I would even make it through the first month. My personality type isn’t much different than most folks out there, so I’m not some gung-ho health nut tracking every morsel of food and step of exercise. I enjoyed all of the convenient and unhealthy things that normal Americans’ do each day, and couldn’t imagine trying to make my way through without being able grab something quick when I needed it. In the end, I was just like every person out there who is reading this blog right now, living life the same way day-after-day.
In the end though, I did draw a line in the sand on March 1st and set my goals. No one had much to say either way in the beginning, but it was important to me to share my daily successes or failures through this blog. Maybe I knew that people would be checking up on me to see how long I lasted, or that if I faltered, I would be typing that into the computer for all eternity. I made the choice to do something that anyone could do, if they had the right motivation.
So what is your motivation? Would it take a doctor telling you that you will die in a month if you didn’t change? At what point does changing your eating outweigh all of your excuses about a party coming up or not wanting to waste a pantry full of snack items. Trust me, I’ve been there and made every excuse in the book, looking months ahead at barbeque season, or the impending holidays and telling myself I’ll get started right after. So what made things stick this time? And how can my motivation help you decide that it’s time for you to make a positive change?
I’ve boiled my success down to three main areas that anyone can incorporate into their lives with just a little work.
- Don’t make it about the eating! People seem to always get hung up on their diet and what they are going without. In my past, I would focus so much on what I could and couldn’t eat, that it ended up consuming me. I actually made the “diet” into an evil creature that was to blame for making me go without the foods I loved. This would cause you to hear multiple statements like: “I’d love a piece of pizza, but my diet won’t allow it.” Or “That’s not something I can eat because of my diet.” People started to pity me because of this evil “diet” that was ruining my life and making me sad. In fact, once I started to cheat, my brain didn’t see it as a bad thing, but instead that I was escaping the clutches of the diet overlords and finally tasting freedom after a long imprisonment.
- My approach this time was to conduct an experiment instead of starting a “diet”. You might think it’s still the same thing, just with a different word, but the word “experiment” has a lot of power in it. First off, an experiment doesn’t run forever, so I had an ending date. Second the word experiment tends to evoke curiosity in others instead of pity. As they asked about the experiment, I could easily explain that this was more about a test of my personal will power than it was about losing weight. It certainly helped that my experiment allowed me to eat until full and never feel hungry as long as the food fit into the parameters of the test. Things quickly went from a situation where I was sacrificing something I loved, to determining how strong I was.
- Set a timeframe goal! You’ve already heard speeches and read books about goal setting, so I’m not going regurgitate a bunch of stuff here that you’ve gotten somewhere else already. Short version is that you need to set some sort of timeframe for your “experiment” and stick to it. I recommend a minimum of two weeks and a maximum of a month because two weeks without sugar, flour, and processed foods lets you get everything out of your system and begin feeling the benefits. One month gives you the mental clarity to realize the haze you’ve lived in all your life and you’ll likely want to keep going. Besides, how can you say no to a two week experiment? What do you really have to lose? I can tell you what you have to gain, the ability to realize that it’s possible and you can do it, then a month really seems possible at that point.
- When I started my experiment for a month, I wasn’t sure I would even survive, let alone continue it. I realized that something was happening to both my body and my mind around two weeks in and everything started to change. They say it typically takes 21 days to create a change in habit, but it seemed to be earlier for me after detoxing from all the crap in my system. When I talk to people about what I’m doing, they quickly let me know that there’s no way they could change their eating like I did. I then have to ask if they could do it for just two weeks, but many people still think that it would still be impossible. Sure they can imagine taking a vacation for two weeks in some exotic location, totally changing their daily routines, but changing their food is out of the question. I honestly believe that anyone could do anything for two weeks, just think about the 3,380 weeks you get in 65 years of life? Do you think you can try something new for just two of them?
- Tell people what you’re doing! Now I’m not saying you need to go grab strangers and tell them you’ve reached a point so low in your life that you’re trying something crazy to see what happens. And I definitely don’t recommend posting on social media that you’re starting a new “crazy diet” and people should express their condolences. Quite often in those situations, you’ll only get silence from others, mostly because people look at those “diet” posts on social media and see it as a loaded statement. They may want to show you some encouragement, but in the end you’ll likely fall off the wagon and not want people to know how far you fell. It’s still important to share your goals, but I feel that phrasing is important. Make it more about the experiment and testing of your personal willpower than the eating. You’ll find that people will start encouraging you more and become involved in your success each day for the timeframe you set.
- In my case, I started a blog about my month long experiment, where I shared everything I was experiencing and eating. This way, I had a record of what I did for some self-reflection down the road. Sure I had some folks call me crazy, or chime in that they could never imagine doing anything like I was, but overall people focused on encouraging me in my month long endeavor. In fact, quite a few people checked in regularly with my progress, which was a motivator for me. Plus a few folks used my experiment as a catalyst for their own personal change and decided the time had come for them. Talk about motivation! When you have people telling you that your journey is positively impacting their life and mindset, it gives you the extra resolve to continue forward. Just think about the people who look up to you and how you might positively impact their lives by doing a two week “experiment”. Why wouldn’t you give it a shot.
Finally, I have to put a plug in for planning. I didn’t include it in the “big three”, because I felt it goes without saying, but I’m still saying it. Let’s be realistic and agree that you can’t completely change your eating habits, unless you do some planning and prep on the front end, and some regular planning throughout.
I would suggest that you go through your house and get rid of all foods containing sugar and flour, but honestly you’ll read that sentence as, “Why don’t you wait a few weeks and eat up all your food before you think about starting this craziness?” Then you’ll conveniently forget you ever read this blog and just continue forward with life as you know it. PLUS, those of us with kids will gladly use them as a buffer to ever trying the experiment because we don’t want to be mean parents and force our kids to eat food that will make them healthier. Even with the kid factor, you can plan your meals and shopping to still give them some foods they love that won’t be tempting to you. See previous writings in this blog about how our three kids survive and eat “normal” food while we conduct our experiment.
So, what happens now that you’ve read over 1500 words of an incredibly long blog? I would recommend you sit down and make a list of food you enjoy that doesn’t contain, processed sugar, flour, or multiple ingredients’. If you really stop and think, you should be able to fill up a page with foods that you enjoy. Next up, create a menu plan for 10 days, incorporating those foods. Don’t worry, you will identify your favorites for the final four days of eating. Go through the house and discard the foods that will be too tempting for you, but keep the stuff the family likes, but you have no interest in. Finally set a start date for your experiment and tell everyone about your crazy plan to test your will power.
Make your two weeks a game to have good food within arm’s reach all the time, whether you are sitting at home, or on the road. Your objective is to never feel hungry without overdoing your portions so they make you feel bloated. If you need some ongoing motivation, then read my book and see what I went through.
All the best!