If fear of dying too young didn’t work, what will?
Not long ago, the fear of dying too young seemed to be one of the biggest motivators for making healthy changes. As the library of research grew that lifestyle choices (like diet, activity, and stress management) reduced the risk of developing chronic lifestyle diseases like heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, and certain cancers, fear of dying too young from one of these conditions felt jolting.
This evidence – that you will die too young – finally felt strong enough to motivate entire nations to make long-term lifestyle changes. Humans are motivated to live and survive, so this would be the obvious choice we’d make, right?
But a decade later, with even more research to support that lifestyle choices, do indeed, reduce the risk of developing cripplingly expensive lifestyle diseases, we have made no dent in long-term results.
How could this be?
Every industry connected to health and weight loss has an opinion on why we don’t sustain long-term results.
The medical and research community claims that “long-term weight loss is complicated”.
The tech industry perpetuates that it’s because we don’t “eat according to our DNA”. We require needlessly complicated 24/7 monitoring with unreliable devices and unnecessary personalized nutrition plans.
Commercial weight loss programs spend millions on advertising to convince us that it’s because individuals lack willpower.
What if it’s more intuitive than all of this?
I agree that the desire to live longer is no longer the largest motivation for sustaining healthy lifestyle changes; modern medicine and pharmaceuticals are proving that they can keep someone diagnosed with a disease related to poor lifestyle choices alive, comparatively as long, as a “healthy” individual.
In reality, we see people with healthy lifestyles die just as young as someone with a medically controlled chronic disease. The areas in our brains responsible for motivation and making new habits don’t find this at all encouraging.
To further compound the matter, the inability of patients to sustain healthy behavior changes (like eating better and keeping weight off) isn’t at all encouraging for physicians either.
So should we even continue to care about this whole ‘reduced risk of chronic disease’ storyline?
Yes, of course, we should.
The important question is no longer “how long can we keep someone alive?”, but rather “how can we help them improve the quality of life while they are alive?”
The extreme financial cost and the extreme cost to quality of life that results from managing chronic diseases by prescriptions and medical procedures alone require perseverance to continue.
How can we help individuals want to make long-term change – before they receive a costly diagnosis? How can we help them associate their lifestyle choices, their innate health, to being the person that they want to be while they live?
Fear of regret is emerging as a new motivator.
Long-term Weight Loss Motivation: Values over Vanity
How We Got Here
- Reward deficiency
- For better or worse, food, booze, and overuse of technology are effective “pleasure” (even if temporary). Many continue to show and feel love, reward, and praise with food.
- Many can no longer answer the question “what would I do instead?; how can I receive pleasure, connection, and reward from health-promoting hobbies and “fun” instead?”
- Overvaluing bad habits
- Because food and booze are effective, they consistently work the way you predict, you continue to use them even if you “know better”.
- Lack of stress recovery
- Cortisol and the chronic stress response inhibit your ability to adhere to long-term goals, wreak havoc on your physiology, and amplify your need for instant gratification.
- Feeling isolated in your environment (work, home, with friends/family, community)
- Not having access to like-minded individuals that share your goals makes you feel like “you are the only one trying”, makes adherence to long-term changes a steep uphill climb.
- “It’s all overwhelming”
- Media, the political and cultural environment, home responsibilities, ambiguity with work and finances all drive that need for instant gratification; add the stress created from overeating and poor sleep and you are faced with irritability, low tolerance for stress, and discomfort as your new ‘normal’.
- Lack of predictability
- You don’t believe there is a predictable positive outcome for all the effort; you’ve put the effort in before but gained the weight back or you still got sick, so why even try again?
Where We Can Go
- You can align your core personal values (traits like creativity, contribution, leadership, and teaching) to your lifestyle choices. Your core values are your superpowers, they are the traits that allow you to create and shape the life you see for yourself. Poor lifestyle choices like overeating, inactivity, and poor stress management mute these powers.
- You can increase your quality of life and quiet the fear of lost potential, at any age. Health allows you to answer the question “If I experience the health I know is possible, what would I do?”
- You can live more mindfully, starting just with yourself. You can reunite the awe-inspiring intelligence of your body with your mind. We are accountable to protect the intelligence of our cells. They are what “it” is all for, and when you experience the strength they reciprocate for being nourished and cared for, you will nurture a relationship with yourself that you might not even have known was missing.
How to Start (Again)
Let’s recap our conversation on “How to Lose Weight (again) and Keep it Off (really)”.
- Physiology First
- Nourish your body so your cells can do the jobs they were meant to do.
- End cycle of “on a diet” or “off a diet”; when making changes this time, go into with the mentality that maintenance starts on day one.
- Learn to live “outside of the crib” this time.
- Re-insert yourself back into the thought and choice process; stop the door from slamming shut.
- Values over vanity – Align your core values, the person you are and want to be, with your lifestyle choices.
- Be able to answer “What will I do instead?”
- Identify health-promoting alternatives to food, alcohol, and overused technology that provide needed sources of pleasure, reward, and comfort.
- Focus on what to add versus take-away.
- Practice making the choices you want – weekly, daily, hourly. Practice.
- Your brain has had 20+ years to develop your current habits; expecting to install a new go-to pattern within days or even a few months just isn’t going to happen.
What is the One Step to Take Today?
“DO” – Prioritize Physiology First
- Find a weight loss program that starts helping you correct imbalances in your physiology
- Make sure your next program was written for your goals with a structure you can follow, make sure it uses tools that are comfortable and fit your current lifestyle, and make sure it is written in a voice you’d like to continue a conversation with (for more help evaluating programs read our article that outlines these program design features here: Weight Loss Programs: Make Sure Your Next One Fits Like a Glove)
Contact me with questions. Everyone that has tried to lose weight or sustain healthy changes has felt overwhelmed, everyone including healthcare professionals. You will be in good company.