Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The 3 Changes That Have Made The Most Difference

Looking back over the past few months and trying to attribute the changes I've seen in myself to specific causes has been very interesting to say the least.

When most people are confronted with the comment/question combination of "Wow, you look great! What have you been doing?", they usually have a simple answer.  Those answers are in the form of: I have been (exercise name) for X minutes per (day/week) or I have been doing the (Diet Name) Diet.

However, those would not be completely honest answers for me.  I have not been following any specific diet plan.  I have not been following any specific workout routine.  Nope.  That's right.  I have lost about 20 lbs and 4 inches of my waist size while re-compositioning from approx 23% body fat to approx 19% over the past 4 months (Aug-Nov) but I have not been following a "diet plan" or workout routine.

So, how did I do this?  Well, that is a good question, and I think I have finally come up with the simplest explanation: I changed my mind.  I changed my mind about A LOT of things.

First, I changed my mind about my thinking that once you are in your 30's, you can loose some fat and gain some muscle, but minor changes are all that you can honestly hope for.  At that time, I just wanted to minimize the yearly waistline expansion because I did not see a major body re-compositioning as a possibility for a 30-something with a full-time job.

What changed my mind on that?  I saw others who had done it.  If they can do it, I can do it.  And that is where my motivation began.

The second major change I made was how I looked at what I was putting into my body.  I like to call this Food vs Nutrition.  For my whole life, I had been "eating food".  Who would think that term could cause any problems?  It does not seem negative.  That is when I discovered that the concepts of "eating food" and "consuming nutrients" are actually extremely different.  Hang with me here...

What comes to mind when you think of "eating food"?  I can guarantee that you are mentally picturing a dish or meal.  You are thinking about how good it looks (presentation on the plate/table).  You are thinking about how good it smells.  You are thinking about how good it tastes.  You are probably actually having a Pavlovian response right now causing your mouth to water just from these mental sights, smells, and tastes.  Are you thinking about the chemical makeup of the meal?  Hell no!  You are thinking about the sensory perceptions involved with the consumption of the meal, not the chemical components of the meal.  Is that a bad thing? No, not necessarily.  But it CAN be.

I decided to change my mind and start educating myself about nutrition and looking at the same act as "consuming nutrients" instead of "eating food".  Everything suddenly shifted from being based on sensory perception to the body's internal chemistry.  As I learned more, it shifted from just thinking about the human body's internal chemistry in general, to MY individual, specific chemistry.  I started paying close attention to how I felt after consuming something.  If it made me feel better, I noted that.  If I made me feel worse, I noted that as well.  I started only consuming things that caused me to feel better after consuming them and stopped eating things that caused me to feel worse after eating them.  This is a very simple concept, but the magic in it was the personal, subjective nature of it.  I was making my own decisions in what is best for me.  And this leads into the next change of mind.

We listen to and take the advise of people who either claim to be experts themselves or claim to be passing on the knowledge of experts.  We trust these people to be looking out for our best interest and to be honest and truthful.  There is one major problem though.  These are still people; they are not computers/machines.  They have bias.  They have flaws.  What would you think if you found out that the research organization that turned out a report linking saturated fat to cardiovascular disease was headed by a politically active vegan?  Do you honestly think that company is capable of putting out a fair, scientific, unbiased study?  Hell no.

I changed my acceptance of press releases and news stories as truth/fact just because they came from ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, etc.  I started researching these things myself.  For some ideas/theories, I find more evidence to support than to contradict, so I consider them "ideas worth looking further into".  For others, I find more contradicting data than supporting data, so I consider these "interesting ideas without significant evidence to support them, YET".  There are many ideas/theories that contradict the currently available data when they are presented, but as time goes on and more data is collected, seem to fit the newer data better than their opposing theories.

I never outright label an idea/theory as "wrong".  How do I KNOW its wrong unless I know the right answer?  It may not seem right, but unless I can PROVE that it is wrong, I don't think of it as so.  I may think of it as far-fetched, illogical, unlikely, ignorant, psychotic, or whatever, but I don't think of it as "wrong".  Maybe an infinitesimally small probability of being correct, but I still leave that possibility that it COULD be correct and that it only seems so unlikely because of the way that I am currently looking at it.  I advise to question everything and everybody and, when in doubt, follow the money to find the full story.

So, in summary, if you want to make major changes in your health you have to change your mind.  You may have different ideas, theories, and perceptions to change than I did, but if you are not having success with your current mindset, some type of change is necessary to find that success.

For me, I had to:
  • believe that it was possible
  • start thinking about consuming nutrients instead of eating food and perform n=1 experiments with my unique body chemistry and use the results to make better choices
  • stop blindly accepting information provided by so-called experts
I have made many other small changes of mind, but I see these 3 as the major shifts that have had the most impact so far.

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