What you'll learn from this episode:
- Why we constantly fail to follow through when it comes to weight loss goals
- How dramatic changes to your lifestyle impacts your success
- The different parts of the brain to be aware of for weight loss
- Building your confidence around weight loss
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Today I’m going to talk about a concept that I love because I see the opposite being done all the time. And I’ve been guilty of it too many times to count. It’s this myth that you immediately need to completely change your lifestyle to lose weight. And how that ties into breaking commitments to yourself.
First let’s talk about why we break promises to ourselves.
Why We Break Commitments
Think about every diet you failed. Every time you said you were going to lose the weight or start this new workout plan. You get excited and tell your friends about it. And then a few weeks later you dread the thought of anyone asking how it’s going.
Honestly, I can’t even count how many times I’ve done that. So why do we do it?
Keeping promises to ourselves is a skill we need to develop. If we’ve had a lifetime of not doing what we say we are going to do, our brain is used to this being the norm. So we have to create a new normal. The new normal of making a commitment and following through.
There are usually 2 reasons why we don’t:
- #1 Because we have a lifetime of not following through.
- #2 We make commitments that are really hard to stick to.
A Lifetime of Note Following Through
Every time we fail at keeping our word to ourselves, our brain logs it as evidence. Like, see, this is just like all of the other times so it’s no surprise you failed. And so the next time you make a commitment to yourself to lose weight, your brain already thinks it probably won’t happen.
I know I doubted my weight loss success every time I would start a diet, even if I didn’t say it out loud.
And I’ve seen it a ton of times with my clients. They say they are totally committed. And then I ask them this question, “will you give me $50 grand if you don’t lose the weight?” I love seeing their reaction. They immediately back peddle. Like “well, umm, I don’t know about that.”
I ask them why. And every time the answer is some variation of this belief that they can’t do it because they’ve never been able to do it in the past.
The 2nd reason we break our commitments is this all or nothing attitude. All or nothing thinking makes keeping our promises to ourselves harder. Meaning thinking something along the lines of, I need to completely change everything about myself and my lifestyle on day 1 if I’m going to lose the weight.
This is most noticeable around New Year’s resolution time. I’ll explain through an example.
You decide this is the year you’re going to lose that 40 pounds. So, you decide you’re going to try keto and cut out almost all the carbs from your diet. And you’re going to start this new workout plan 5 times a week with a personal trainer.
You think, I’m guaranteed to lose weight if I just stick with it. But the thing is, this is a complete 180 from your normal life. You love bread, pasta, and rice bowls. If you work out it’s maybe 2 days a week if you’re lucky. You have a busy and unpredictable work schedule especially around month’s end.
I used to do this type of think all the time. Basically thinking I had to be a completely different person right away to lose weight.
Belief & Willpower
But as I mentioned in episode 1, which you should definitely listen (or read) to if you haven’t already, our thoughts cause our feelings, and our feelings drive our actions. If you don’t believe you can lose the weight because all of the evidence of failed attempts tells you that you can’t, then your thought “I’m going to fail again” will cause you to fail again.
And if you still have thoughts like “pizza is my favorite food”, then diving straight into giving up all grains isn’t going to work out. You’ll be relying on willpower if you try.
And willpower works for a period of time, but eventually it runs out and then we order 3 pizza pies and shame ourselves for not sticking to our diets.
Sounds pretty awful right? You’re miserable avoiding the foods you love and then you shame yourself when you inevitably fail as if something is wrong with you.
Nothing Is Wrong With You
But luckily, nothing is wrong with you, you were just using the wrong approach to weight loss. Not only does this all or nothing mindset make you feel awful during your diet, it also gives your brain more evidence that it can’t follow through with the commitments that you make to yourself. So, the next time you try another diet, your brain is already subconsciously thinking, well this is probably not going to work out.
You need to build the skill of keeping promises to yourself to prove to your brain that you can follow through with healthy changes. That way, you can go through this weight loss journey with a bunch of successes that boost your confidence.
Completely overhauling your life when you actually don’t want to is actually a bad call for losing weight for the long term. It makes you feel awful while losing weight and it sets you up for failure.
How Your Brain Relates to Commitment
Too understand how to build this skill, you first need to learn about 2 important parts of the brain. And I promise I won’t get too sciencey. I’m not one for complexity and I don’t want your eyes to glaze over while you read. But understanding these two parts is important for you to use them to your advantage to reach your goals. We love the idea of long term rewards but often in the moment, we prioritize short term rewards and that’s largely because of these 2 parts of the brain:
The prefrontal cortex (or the higher brain)
And the lizard brain (or the lower brain)
Our prefrontal cortex is the planning and problem-solving part of the brain. It’s the part of the brain that thinks, I should meal prep on Sunday so I can make it easier to eat healthy during the week. Or signing up for my company’s 401k plan is a smart decision for a safe retirement.
The other part of the brain I’ll refer to as our lizard brain. This is the primitive part of the brain that is focused on survival. It just wants you to focus on the basics like eating, sleeping, and sex. It likes to focus on feeling good because that used to be an indicator for being important for survival. It thinks that eating foods that feel really good in the moment – think high sugar, flour, fat, salt etc. is important to our survival.
This guy likes to tell you on Sunday night, meal prepping sounds annoying and that food is going to be bland. You should order pizza delivery instead. It’s going to feel so much better. Or, more money now is going to be more fun than saving for retirement.
Also, as a fair warning, I will mention pizza a lot because it’s my favorite food. I am a born and raised New Yorker so loving pizza is basically in my blood. Although I am living in Denver these days. Anyway, back to these part of the brain.
To get better at keeping commitments to yourself, you want to put your pre frontal cortex at an advantage to your lizard brain.
Building the Skill of Following Through with Commitments
I’m all about simplicity so there’s a simple way to do this and it’s only 2 steps. Step 1 is to plan your meals a day in advance. By making a decision in advance, your prefrontal cortex (the part of your brain that is more evolved) is in charge. That part of your brain thinks about future benefits like losing weight.
By planning what you’re going to eat before you’re in the moment, you put this prefrontal cortex in charge so you can think of Future You’s benefits when you plan. You also reduce decision fatigue in the moment.
Decision fatigue is when our brain gets tired of making decisions. It happens to everyone. Do you remember how Steve Jobs would wear the same outfit all the time? A black turtleneck and jeans. That’s because he was aware of decision fatigue. He wanted to make sure that he left all of that energy for running Apple.
Now think about the time of the day when you usually slip up. It’s probably in the afternoon or after dinner. I know that 2:30 slump for me used to be a killer. Later on in the day you’ve exhausted your brain from all the problem solving and decision making so you have less energy to make decisions.
Since our brain likes to conserve energy, in those moments the lizard brain takes over and tells you to order out when you’re looking at your fridge full of different options. Because you’re exhausted from the decision fatigue, you default to your lizard brain because listening to it requires less effort. The lizard brain stores all of our habits and anything we do on autopilot.
But if you already planned what you were going to eat in the moment, there’s no choice to be made, all you have to do is follow through.
Part 2 of building the skill of keeping your promises to yourself is even easier than part 1. When you’re planning your food for the next day, don’t plan anything you would consider as out of the ordinary. Right now you are just focusing on the skill of keeping promises to yourself and proving to yourself that you can honor your commitment.
When you’re done making your plan, look down at it. The reaction I want you to have when looking at this plan is, hell yeah I can totally do this.
Let’s say that a normal day of eating for you looks like/normally you eat a bacon egg and cheese sandwich for breakfast. A granola bar for a mid-morning snack. For lunch you typically grab a roast beef sandwich from the sandwich shop across the street from work with a bag of kettle cooked chips. In the afternoon you have a chocolate protein bar. And for dinner a typical meal might be a bowl of chili over some rice with cheddar cheese on top and tortilla chips to dip with. After dinner you finish your night with a bowl of Ben & Jerrys for desert with a chocolate drizzle.
Plan tomorrow just like this normal day for you. You can even plan to have more than you usually eat if you really don’t trust yourself. And when tomorrow comes, you eat exactly what you wrote down.
Lizard Brain Deviation
The plan sounds super easy right?
Well your lizard brain is going to show up in the moment tomorrow and try to make you deviate. It’s going to tell you that you should have the ham sandwich instead of the roast beef sandwich or that you need to have a bag of popcorn instead of the protein bar. This is when you rely on your plan.
By deciding that you will keep the commitment that you make to yourself, you are breaking that pattern of lizard brain negotiation. That’s why I want you to start with an easy plan. That way you can build the new habit of following through with your plan.
There’s no deprivation despite what your lizard brain might tell you. You planned a day full of any food you wanted and all you are doing is following through on your plan.
And since habits are stored in your lizard brain, you can use the lizard brain to your advantage. The longer you practice following through with your plan and not reacting to the lizard brain in the moment, the more it becomes autopilot. And once it becomes a habit not to listen to that lizard brain, the easier following through with you plan becomes.
Small Healthy Changes
You may be thinking, but how am I going to lose weight if I just plan unhealthy food for myself? As I mentioned, when you start planning in advance, you have your prefrontal cortex in charge. Eventually after some time of practicing the skill of following through, you may decide you want to start eating healthier than what you were planning for the past few weeks.
This is where the choice to eat healthier comes in. You aren’t depriving yourself of what you want, you are deciding that a healthier choice is what you want. I recommend starting with tiny changes to your meals that are slightly healthier as you continue this plan. So instead of the bacon egg and cheese sandwich you typically have, you may start cutting out the bacon. Then a few weeks later you might do another change like scrambled eggs with veggies instead of the egg and cheese sandwich.
Making tiny changes like these, compound over time. Slow and steady small changes are how you make permanent habits that will last you a lifetime. Since the changes are always small steps, they never seem as hard as the complete diet change so they are easier to stick to. So, you’ll have months of consistency instead of 2 weeks of trying and giving up. This way, once you do lose the weight, you will never have to lose the weight again
- We have a lifetime of broken weight loss and diet promises to ourselves
- These broken commitments give evidence to our brain that the next time we try to lose weight, we won’t be able to because we can’t follow through
- We also go on extreme diets that are completely different than how we normally eat and we are often miserable on them because it’s not how we want to eat
- The key to keeping promises to ourselves lies in our brain
- Two parts of our brain are often at odds with each other when it comes to our weight loss goals
- Our prefrontal cortex has our future in mind
- Our lizard brain just wants to focus on feeling good because it thinks it’s good for survival
- But by planning 24 hours in advance, you can put our prefrontal cortex in charge so you can make healthier choices in advance and avoid using our lizard brain in the moment to make a decision
- To making this a habit, you need to start easy by planning how you already eat now and slowly make small healthy changes
- That way you can build up the confidence to prove to yourself that you can follow through with your commitments
- No go out and make your plan for tomorrow’s meals