Read an Excerpt
101 Ways to Change
One of the truisms of psychology is that a problem never has just one cause, but rather stems from many causes. Just as there is no single cause for a problem, there is no one solution. For most problems, there are many solutions that can and do work.
This is especially true for weight.
Because each individual is different, a diet, a therapeutic technique, a concept, a suggestion, or an exercise program that helps one person lose weight may be unappealing or ineffective with another. However, when offered many weight-loss strategies and solutions, almost everyone will find one, or several, that work.
The basic premise of Think Thin, Be Thin comes from the "mere exposure effect," the well-documented principle that the more you see, hear, or read a message, the more positively you view it. The logos for Coca-Cola and Nike appear the world over because their manufacturers realize that mere exposure elicits a positive response to a brand or product. However, at some point, we stop paying attention to the same message presented over and over in the same fashion. We crave novelty and variety. That's why the debut of new commercials on Super Bowl Sunday draws almost as many viewers as the action on the field.
This book repeatedly exposes you to the simple concept that you can control your weight. Because no one strategy will work for every reader, we offer 101 fresh and varied weight-loss alternatives. Although you may not be aware of what's happening, mere exposure to these options will open your mind to the possibility that you can change the way you deal with food. And something in these pages-an insight, a technique, or a new approach-is sure to inspire you. When you make just one small change, you open the door to more changes.
This is not wishful thinking. Compliance experts, who study how people are influenced, know that once a person believes that change is possible, change occurs. With each change, you will come to see yourself as someone who can take charge of your weight. Through this process of self-indoctrination, you will develop a new inner responsibility for your body that will take on a momentum of its own.
The first step we recommend doesn't even involve food. Buy a "Think Thin, Be Thin" notebook, and write the following sentence on the first page:
"I, _____________, will continue to read Think Thin, Be Thin and put some of the suggestions to work for me."
If you prefer, open a new "Think Thin, Be Thin" file on your computer, type the sentence, and print it out. Either way, sign your name and record the date. Doing so creates a subtle, subconscious pressure to follow through on your agreement. With one small commitment, you psychologically prime yourself to make other commitments that will lead to a thinner, healthier you.
"I Think, Therefore I Am . . . Thin."
Diet experts emphasize that if you want a healthier, trimmer body, you should eat less and exercise more. They're right. But how do you get yourself to eat less and exercise more?
The answer lies in your brain. Your thoughts determine how you feel. Your thoughts determine how you behave. Your thoughts determine what you eat and whether you work out.
The discovery that thoughts create feelings and drive behavior—one of the most important psychological breakthroughs of the last fifty years—is the foundation of all cognitive and behavioral therapy approaches. Although these methods were developed separately, they all place heavy emphasis on setting goals (defining what you intend to accomplish) and changing the way you think about or interpret a situation.
Every day, according to neuroscientists, each of us thinks about sixty thousand thoughts as we plan, evaluate, judge, interpret, and remember. Some of our thoughts are as precise and logical as mathematical equations. Others are misleading or inappropriate. These inaccurate or self-defeating thoughts are the targets of cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT), which helps individuals free themselves from the distortions and negative thought patterns that shape their lives.
We do not contend that you can think yourself thin. But we know that changes in your thoughts can shape the behaviors that will enable you to change and lose weight. Think Thin, Be Thin focuses on changing your thinking about weight, food, and health, which will lead directly to a change in your behavior.
If you think that you can shed excess pounds, if you think that you can control what you put in your mouth, if you think that there is a form of exercise that you could enjoy, if you think that you can get back on your diet, then you are on your way to reaching your weight-loss goals. Throughout this book we will show you how to change and adjust the ways you think so you can change and adjust the ways you behave—and lose weight.
Where Are You?
How will you change as you read this book? Stage by stage. In more than twenty years of research on motivational readiness for change, behavioral scientists have identified five distinct stages that people move through as they go from clueless, to conscious, to committed to transforming their lives.
If you are still in the precontemplation stage, something is gnawing at you, but you aren't sure why you feel such unrest. You don't think of yourself as having a weight problem, even though others may. If you can't fit into some of your clothes, you blame the cleaners. Or you look around and think, "I'm no bigger than anyone else in the office." Unconsciously you may feel helpless to do anything about your weight. So you deny or dismiss its importance.
In the contemplation stage, you would prefer not to have to change but you can't avoid reality. Your doctor may caution you about your weight or high blood pressure. You wince at the vacation photos of you in a swimsuit. You look in the mirror, try to suck in your stomach, and say, "I've got to do something about my weight." Not tomorrow, you tell yourself, but definitely in the next six months.
In the preparation stage, you're gearing up by taking small but necessary steps. You may join a health club, buy athletic shoes, check out several diet books from the library, or call a commercial weight-loss program for information. Maybe you experiment with some minor changes, such as not eating a snack before bed or going to a yoga class with a friend. Internally you are getting accustomed to the idea of change. Maybe you even mark a "D" (for diet) day on your calendar.
In the action stage of change, you are deliberately working to lose weight. You no longer snack at your desk. You stick to a specific diet and track calories, carbs, or points. You hop on a treadmill or stationary bike for thirty minutes a day. You remind yourself a thousand times a day that no food could ever taste as good as being thin will feel. Your resolve is strong, and you know you're on your way to a thinner, healthier you.
In the maintenance stage, you strengthen, enhance, and extend the changes you've made. Whether or not you have lost all the weight you want, you've made significant progress. As you continue to watch what you eat and to be physically active, you lock in healthy new habits.
Where are you right now? Read each statement and decide which best applies to you.
1. I'm standing in the bookstore flipping through this book because I'd like to lose weight. —Contemplation Stage
2. I bought this book and I'm probably going to try some of the suggestions. —Preparation Stage
3. I have been following a diet for three weeks and have started working out. —Action Stage
4. I have been sticking to a diet and engaging in regular physical activity for at least six months. —Maintenance Stage
Don't expect to progress through these stages just once. Most people "recycle" several times before a change becomes permanent. As you do so, different strategies in this book may prove more useful than others at different times. Cognitive strategies, such as learning about the risks of excess weight, typically work best in the contemplation and preparation stages. Cognitive and behavioral strategies, such as positive self-talk, journaling, keeping a food diary, or putting down your fork between bites, are more effective in the action and maintenance stages.
Whether you're moving forward or have temporarily fallen back, remember that change is a journey that happens step by step, meal by meal, day by day, stage by stage.
Your Line in the Sand
Stand alone in a room. Draw an imaginary line in front of yourself. The side you're standing on represents your past weight issues. The other side of the line represents the life that is yours to shape and change. Maybe you already crossed this line psychologically when you started to read Think Thin, Be Thin. If you have not yet crossed the line, choose a position in relation to the line and note how it feels to be where you are now.
Do you know how far you are from crossing the line? Can you visualize yourself crossing? Then answer the following questions:
• Is something in the way of your crossing? Maybe you can't afford to join a gym or sign up for a commercial weight-loss program. If so, are you ready to look for a no- or low-cost alternative, such as walking in a park every morning? If not, when might you be ready?
• Do you need to do anything before crossing? Maybe you're planning a big party and figure you'd blow your diet preparing the feast. Why not ask a friend or family members to help with the cooking so you're less likely to be tempted?
• Is there any other reason to postpone crossing? Maybe part of you is afraid of trying and failing, especially if that's happened before. Are you afraid of what lies on the other side? For instance, you may worry that others will expect you to take on more responsibilities, such as leading school hikes or volunteering for charity walkathons, if you slim down. Think through how you might handle such requests-or consider the idea that you might even enjoy such outings.
Psychologist Kenneth W. Christian, author of Your Own Worst Enemy, developed this exercise for the Maximum Potential Project, which helps people overcome self-limiting behavior. As he and others have found, there is seldom any advantage to deferring change. If you wait until you have more money, more time, or you're comfortable with what the future holds, you may end up waiting forever. So go ahead. Cross the line.
Transform Wishes into Goals
If we could wish away weight, none of us would be heavy. Unfortunately, lots of overweight people live in wish mode. You may wish that you didn't have such a big appetite, that you didn't enjoy food so much, or that you had more time to exercise. But you're more likely to slim down if you stop wishing and take concrete steps toward what you want.
In research on performance in students, athletes, and employees, the one characteristic that separates high and low achievers is having clear, specific goals. As you launch your weight-loss program, set goals that are both a reach and reachable. As you progress, add or modify your goals so they continue to inspire rather than overwhelm you.
Here are our suggestions for creating goals worth going for:
• See it, say it, and write it. Create an image of your goal. Maybe you see yourself dazzling old friends at a reunion or buttoning the pants that fit just last year. Maybe you visualize yourself smiling as you step on a scale or see your lithe body in a bikini. Describe and define your goal in your mind. Then put it in words, and commit it to paper. Until you write down what you want, it's only a wish. Set aside a page or section of your notebook to record, amend, modify, refine, expand, and extend your goals-and to check off each one as you reach it.
• Think in terms of evolution, not revolution. Revolutionary changes trigger counterrevolutionary rebellion. Although you may want to drop fifteen, twenty-five, fifty pounds or more, aim for losing five. Anticipate the sense of accomplishment you'll feel as you hit each five-pound marker. Each small win can add up to a big boost in motivation. Even if you want to shed more pounds, this difference alone will lower your health risks and boost your self-confidence.
• Identify your resources. Do you have what you need—knowledge, skills, time—to succeed? For instance, if you're committing yourself to a daily walk, make sure you have good shoes. Identify a path or track. Decide if you'll go alone or ask a friend to join you. Clear thirty minutes of your day so you'll be sure to hit the trail.
• Systematically analyze barriers. Think through, in very concrete and specific terms, what is likely to get in your way. For each obstacle, list solutions. If bad weather is a potential threat, for instance, come up with indoor alternatives. If the break room at work always overflows with goodies, limit the time you spend there, or bring a healthy snack. If seeing other people eat high-calorie foods makes you crave them, eat lunch with a friend who's also watching his or her weight.
• Set goals that go beyond pounds. Thinking only in terms of pounds can be both limiting and frustrating. Set goals that focus on changing behavior and make them as specific as possible, for example:
Today's goal: I will take a fifteen-minute walk at lunchtime, and I'll have low-fat milk instead of a milk shake with my lunch.
This week's goal: At least three evenings this week, I'll have fruit for dessert or no dessert at all.
This month's goal: I'm going to get off the bus one stop sooner and walk the rest of the way to and from work. If the weather's bad, I'll walk up one flight before taking the elevator up to my office or apartment. By the end of the month, I'll get off two stops away and walk two or three flights before getting on the elevator.