Change one thing at a time

Every New Year people flock to the gym in the hopes of getting in shape, but only a handful stick around long enough to see meaningful change. What do these people do differently?

I have no hard data I’m afraid, but I do have a strong suspicion. People like that don’t get frustrated to the point of quitting when they aren’t seeing results from their labor. They continue to go to the gym, trying out different approaches until something sticks. That means that the end result isn’t what they obsess over, but rather their process.

What do most people do when they say they want to get in shape? They psyche themselves out telling themselves that THIS TIME they’ll CRUSH their goals. Nope. Not happening. You’ll stay stuck in the same cycle. Try something. Get discouraged. Stop. If you feel you can’t change the part of you that’s only interested in results, you should give up on ever becoming fit.

The annual probability of an obese man attaining normal weight is 1 in 210. That’s a 0.476% chance of getting fit. It’s 1 in 124 for women (0.806% chance). The odds for morbidly obese men and women are staggeringly low, at 0.077% and 0.147%, respectively.[1] The mechanics of weight loss are known to virtually everybody, which means it’s not a knowledge issue, but a behavioral one.

Once a habit has been formed it’s hard to change it into something else, especially because our habits are informed/triggered by the environment we live in. I have two particularly strong environmental triggers. One is after dinner. I always crave something sweet after dinner. I scour the kitchen cabinets and fridges for something sweet, but because I hardly ever buy any, there is none for me to devour.

The other trigger is if I happen to be in front of a TV and can’t occupy my hands with something, like a game controller. Sometimes I crave something sweet, at other times something salty or fat. It’s because I’ve primed myself with eating those things in front of the TV doing fuck all else. It sucks because now I’m stuck with those cravings, possibly for life.

What would it take to unlearn that?

It would be like unlearning how to drive a car once you’ve already mastered that.

You can’t.

You’ll never forget how to drive a car once you know how.

People basically get only one real shot at forming healthy habits when they’re young. It gets progressively more difficult the older you get.

All I can realistically do is replace the relatively boring task of watching TV with something more stimulating. I don’t know what to do about that craving for sweetness after dinner, aside from ignoring it for a few hours. It does pass. Although, writing about it right now makes me long for dessert again. Funny how that works. Let’s not be quick to blame sugar. It’s you. It’s me. I know, I know. That’s a hard thing to accept.

You have to completely change the way you live your life to get in shape. It’s not optional. The body listens to environmental signals. If your body consistently found itself underneath heavy weights it would get the message of “if you don’t adapt you’ll die”, but since yours consistently finds itself seated or lying down, it has no reason to adapt but grow fat instead.

I know, I know. It fucking sucks.

Why can’t we just eat a humongous amount of donuts without consequence? Why can’t I scarf down bags of chips every night without worrying about becoming unhealthy? Why must I pass on all the sweet looking pastries after dinner? Why does all the good stuff require preparation for it to taste good? Damn it.

But the body’s state also affects the mind.

We can’t neglect either one, or our quality of life plummets.

It’s in our best interest to take care of our body as best we can.

You can do it.

It may take a decade.

It may take less than a year.

But you can do it.

IF you stop obsessing over results.

You must instead obsess over improving your habits one day at a time. That way you can take a hit of disappointment much more easily, and you won’t get frustrated as much either. What does obsessing over your process look like, then?

You need four things to successfully get in shape: a healthy diet, sound sleep, consistency, and (workout) intensity. In that order.

Start with a healthy diet first. Forget about gyms or hard exercise. Make only one small change at a time. An example goal could be swapping your daily Coca-Cola intake with water. For some this is an already seemingly insurmountable challenge. This simple, but difficult, change will already net you noticeable results. You’ll feel less constipated, less bloated, less foggy, and your skin will clear up.

Next up would be changing your breakfast to a vegetarian one. You really don’t need the insane amount of protein people are consuming these days. It’s much more important to get an adequate amount of veggies into your system and understand how much food your body actually requires.

If you’re a heavy dude or dudette be warned. Your body requires an insane amount of food to maintain that weight. It’s advised to not calculate what your body would need at a normal weight, but less than what you’re eating to keep the weight you’re at. That requires counting calories. I know, I know. It fucking sucks …

Suck it up.

Once you’ve mastered that you can move on to something else to improve on. I picked dinners. I am thankfully lucky enough to be able to afford HelloFresh. It only takes me about five minutes a week to plan my meals thanks to HelloFresh. They make it stupendously easy to eat healthy. They also tell you how much each meal has in calories, so it’s easy to track that too.

All I track at the moment is breakfast. That’s not hard.

I don’t mind cooking. I do mind doing groceries and the stress that comes with choosing what to eat. Now I’m basically guaranteed an adequate intake of vegetables every week and get my groceries delivered. Win. If you can afford HelloFresh or something similar, invest in that, I beg of you. You need to have a system in place to win this fight. I doubt you can do this if you’re poor. I’m sorry. I truly am. Being poor fucking sucks.

I’m still stuck on getting lunch right. I’ve been trying for many years. No real success. I’m able to eat a vegeterian or vegan meal for lunch usually a couple times a week, but never consistently. I’ve tried rotating between meals but life’s much too exhausting to keep that up. I’m not too concerned about lunch though, as long as I manage my intake and get dinner and breakfast right.

Despite not having mastered lunch yet I can safely say that this result is “good enough” territory. The next target for you to master is sleep. Prioritize good sleep hygiene and go to bed on time. I could fill an entire post on how to sleep well, but for now it suffices to say that sleep is of paramount importance to get right. Your body won’t transform the way you want it to if it doesn’t get adequate sleep.

The only thing I recommend adding before mastering your diet and sleep is simply moving more. For instance, I bike and walk everywhere. Anything under 25km away from me is still doable by bike. I haven’t touched the car in months!

So to recap for a moment, focus on diet first, but only change one thing at a time. Then get your sleep habits under control once you’ve made strides in your diet. While doing all this you just need to move more than you did previously. I’m not talking exercise. Do nothing that requires a change of clothing.

What’s next?

Hard exercise.

The balls to the wall type of exercise.

Intense “I want to die” type of exercise.

Life-affirming exercise.

You get the picture.

I enjoy running, but I don’t do it consistently enough to see any major changes, despite loving it. I can’t do it consistently yet because I’m struggling with my mental health. I tire easily thanks to CPTSD. Dealing with that is a major pain. I don’t stress over it though. I focus intently on making small improvements to my diet and sleep routine. I run whenever I get the chance.

If I can manage to perfect my sleep and absolutely nail my diet then maybe I’ll have enough energy to workout consistently. Perfecting the routines that keep my body from falling apart will ensure that once I get serious about working out I’ll have the emotional bandwidth and the energy reserves necessary to improve my fitness. That’s the hard part of getting fit, managing your energy levels until they improve enough for you to not have to care about that anymore, but getting fit requires you to stay consistent.

You must show up week after week to enact meaningful change.

That fucking blows, doesn’t it?

I personally believe a fit body is out of reach for most people. It requires vast resources, a focused mind, and an unbelievable amount of work that the vast majority of the working people don’t have the energy or money for. We’re not even there yet. Once you’ve mastered your diet, sleep, and workout routine, you’ll have to up the intensity for the body to say “you know what? These fat reserves are a liability, they must go!”

Unfortunately, most people don’t have it in them to push themselves to their limits. That’s okay. It’s much easier with a trainer coaching you, or taking a class. It’s just that these services cost money. Out of reach for most. Getting in shape fucking sucks. It’s a difficult behavioral problem, but also an economical one. You need money, and lots of it, to buy healthy foods, and access to required services (e.g. trainers, classes).

If you’re a smart cookie then you can apply the same principle to any other hard problem that requires a change of habit. Focus on incremental change over long periods of time. That’s how Rome was built.

Created on August 16, 2021
Published on August 16, 2021