You’re Probably Not Rain Man

Do you remember the movie Rain Man from 1988? Tom Cruise played Charlie Babbitt, a used car salesman, and gambler, and Dustin Hoffman played his brother, Raymond. The film was excellent, and the critics and moviegoers gave it high marks. My reason for bringing it up is because of a unique little gift that Raymond possessed.

You see, he was Autistic and lived in an assisted living facility, unable to function in normal society. He was also a walking calculator able to solve virtually any math question instantly. I will not spoil the plot for those who haven’t seen the movie; however, Charlie, the gambler, and Raymond, the mathematical genius, experienced some exciting adventures. It’s an oldie but a goodie with a storyline that will touch your heart.

According to Mother Google, the Paradox of Dieting is as follows:

Dieting creates a perfect storm of restrictive eating patterns that cannot be maintained, along with feelings of shame and guilt. Eventually, most dieters fall off the wagon, which leads to weight gain.

How often have you heard someone say they need to get back on track with their nutrition or back on a diet? As a fitness professional and nutrition coach, I’ve often listened to these comments from my clients and members. My natural inclination is to encourage them to persist in their efforts and to be proud of their accomplishments rather than beating themselves up for their shortcomings. And yet, many people continue to struggle with their nutrition. Why?

I’ve asked myself this question countless times, which recently led to a significant ah-ha. So, consider the following scenario. If a parent and one of their children have an argument and aren’t on the best of terms for a few days, does the parent cease to be the parent? What about a husband and wife? What if he forgets their wedding anniversary, which hurts his wife’s feelings and leaves him sleeping on the couch for the night? Do they cease to be married? Obviously, the answer is no in both cases.

So why is it different with food? Why do so many people go on diets, and if they fall from that diet, they tend to go off the rails completely? It’s just food. Why do they treat food differently from virtually any other relationship in their life where for the most part, regardless of what happens, good and bad, the relationship is constant?

One reason is that people often have false expectations regarding what it takes to change their body composition. They fall victim to an “all or nothing mindset,” thinking they must be perfect in their nutrition to make real progress. The truth is that perfection is not required, and seeking perfection can lead to a poor or even dangerous relationship with food.

I learned about the Psychology of Deprivation from my long-time mentor, Nutritionist Keith Klein, over thirty years ago. If you deprive yourself of your favorite foods long enough, regardless of the significance of your goals, you will hit a wall and give in at some point. This can develop into a vicious cycle of restriction, binging, and purging, leading down a dark path of developing disordered eating or a full-blown eating disorder.

In most cases, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy your favorite foods while improving your body composition and your overall health. It’s simply a matter of portion control and frequency. The late great Zig Ziglar went from weighing well over 200 pounds to a healthy weight of 175 pounds in his forties by changing his nutrition and incorporating exercise. And he did this all the while enjoying his favorite ice cream once a week as a treat for his hard work.

There is one exception to the last paragraph, which concerns trigger foods. An alcoholic can not safely have an occasional drink just for fun. Their devastating past relationship with liquor demands a clear-cut black-and-white requirement of total abstinence. In the same way, if you determine that a particular food consistently causes you to overindulge, you may have a hard choice to make.

For me, it was sugar, and in my early forties, I decided to completely abstain from sweets from the grocery store or restaurants. While it would seem logical with all my nutrition knowledge that I could enjoy the occasional serving of ice cream, cheesecake, or cookies, my track record decisively proves otherwise. By the way, the sweets above are my absolute kryptonite, and eliminating them from my life was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. If you’re facing a similar scenario, be willing the make the hard choice. Life is too short to be a slave to certain foods.

A Personal Confession

I’m highly structured in my thinking and how I do things. Ask my mother, clients, any of our members, or my teammates, and they will confirm my admission. Back in college, on my first day of cost accounting, the professor said, this course will either be a breeze, or you’ll struggle. Thanks to my gift of structured thinking, I aced the class.

Given my natural inclination towards structure, it’s not a far stretch to consider that I love Excel spreadsheets. I’ve been tracking my goals, nutrition, and finances for years. Excel is a tool I personally and professionally use multiple times per day. Before the technology that allowed you to build and track workout programs on your phone or tablet, I used Excel. And considering the tools we have today, those old workout sheets seem antiquated.

Since I had been tracking my personal nutrition for years, it seemed logical to me to give my clients the same type of plan tailored to their needs. This was my thinking almost five years ago when I went full-time as a fitness professional and nutrition coach. And while I’ve constantly sharpened my skills as a coach through continuing education and trial by fire, it’s always puzzled me why a few of my clients have done great with the nutrition plan I created for them while most still seemed to struggle.

This ongoing frustration led me to the question shared at the beginning of this post. Further, it led me to reach out to my coach after going through Precision Nutrition’s Level II Master Class. The program lasts one year and is structured like an online college course. Every student is assigned a coach; mine was Toni Bauer, based in Chicago. She was a lifesaver, especially considering that I went through the program during the heart of the pandemic. It was a blessing to have Toni to connect with via Zoom regularly.

Since I completed the course, Toni and I have stayed in touch, and I recently sent her a meeting request to do a short Zoom call. She was happy to oblige, and our call was set. I had one big question, and I knew in my gut what her answer would be. Precision Nutrition is an education company; however, they are also a coaching company. The largest nutrition coaching company in the world, in fact. Their program is year-long and is based on introducing a new habit every two weeks. Habit layered upon habit creates a success rate with clients that is high by industry nutrition coaching standards.

After briefly catching up regarding our work and families, I asked how PN’s nutrition coaches integrated nutrition plans into their habit-based approach. Her reply, which I pretty much expected, was that they sold their program based on implementing a year’s worth of habits, not by offering a simple nutrition plan. She said they figured out what I had experienced with my clients long ago and that meal plans alone don’t work for most people long-term. That’s why it’s so common to repeatedly hear about people going on and falling off diets.

So what about my clients who have achieved great success? We discussed it and agreed they are similar to me in their highly structured and detail-oriented personality style. Further, they all worked on their nutrition with me long-term rather than simply purchasing a meal plan and going on their own. For the rest of the population, a habit-based approach works much better.

So, just how powerful are habits? Consider the following:

I am your constant companion. I am your most excellent helper or heaviest burden. I will push you onward or drag you down to failure. I am entirely at your command.

You might a well turn over half of the things you do to me, and I will do them quickly and correctly. I am easily managed – you must be firm with me. Show me exactly how you want something done, and after a few lessons, I will do it automatically.

I am the servant of great people and, alas of all failures. Those who are great, I have made great. Those who are failures, I have made failures. I am not a machine, though; I work with the precision of a machine plus a person’s intelligence.

You may run me for profit or ruin – it makes no difference to me. Take me, train me, be firm with me, and I place the world at your feet. Be easy with me, and I will destroy you.

Who am I?

I am habit.

If you change your habits, you will change your life. Now, this statement is impartial. The more positive habits you build, the better your life will be. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true, and if you develop enough negative habits, you can literally destroy your life.

So, what percentage of your daily actions are based on habit? The answer is somewhere between roughly 40%-95%, depending on the person. Some of you are literally sleepwalking through your everyday life on autopilot.

Could you apply the same percentages to your choices in nutrition? Again, the answer is yes, for better or worse. So, would it help to build more positive habits surrounding your daily food? Would it help to take some emotion and decision-making out of eating? Again, the answer is yes.

After my conversation with Toni, I have revamped my nutrition coaching style to model how Precision Nutrition works with its clients. You might question why I didn’t come to this conclusion sooner. The answer is a classic case of missing the forest for the trees. I used to coach my clients in the way I would want to be coached, emphasizing their nutrition plans more so than building long-term and sustainable habits to support their nutrition and overall well-being. Moving forward, I am coaching in a way that serves and benefits the masses, which is a significant shift for the positive.

Core Foundational Habits:

1 – Eat Slowly
2 – Stop eating at 80% full
3 – Eat lean protein
4 – Eat fibrous veggies and fruits
5 – Eat smart carbs
6 – Eat healthy fats
7 – Drink enough water
8 – Get 7+ hours of sleep per night
9 – Manage stress & overall recovery
10 – Have regular doctor check-ups, including blood work and other needed tests as appropriate by age, to monitor internal health

You might think the list above looks too simple to make a significant difference, and you would be wrong. In almost five years of coaching professionally, I’ve never met a member of my club who nails these suggested habits 100%. Further, if you took a random sample of the population in general, the odds are probably worse because at least my members are working out. According to Mother Google, less than 25% of the population works out regularly, so it would be safe to say the other 75% are likely less compliant with the habits above.

While I now use PN’s list of habits as my foundation, I’m still careful to craft my coaching around my client’s needs. There’s a lot to be said about what a client is ready, willing, and able to do consistently. And depending on the client, the first thing they’re ready, willing, and able to do may not be on my standard list of habits. And that’s okay. As long as we agree on an area for improvement, I will hold them accountable, and it will be a great place to start. Remember, small steps of progress lead to massive change.

Adding Structure

What if I could help you to become super consistent with the ten simple habits mentioned above? You would be living in rare air because, as I’ve explained, very few come anywhere close. Yet, you will likely struggle without some simple daily structure, and I have a great analogy to illustrate my point.

Do you remember driver’s education? After going through the laborious process of watching video after video in a classroom setting, your big day arrived, and you faced the daunting challenge of your driver’s test. If you were fortunate enough to pass, you could legally drive. But you were not a good driver. No one is in the beginning. You had to think about your hands at ten and two, remember to put on your seat belt, release the emergency brake, and check your mirrors and blind spots before passing. You had to think about everything, and in the beginning, it was hard.

And now? You can fly down the road at eighty-plus miles per hour with a Starbucks in one hand and your iPhone in the other (driving with your knee) and think nothing of it. How? Because driving has become a habit. You don’t have to think about it anymore.

Now, you may be one of the best drivers in the world in terms of your ingrained habits, and yet, if all the street signs, traffic signals, and the entire communication system for all the roads and highways were taken away, what would happen? It would result in sheer and utter chaos. Therefore, you need the structure of our road communication system to maximize your driving abilities.

It works much the same way when it comes to your daily nutrition. You may be excellent at eating protein and veggies; however, you will only be able to reach the success you are truly capable of with some structure and a daily and weekly game plan. So what kind of structure? It could be as simple as committing to having breakfast, lunch, afternoon mini-meal, and dinner based on your daily schedule and needs.

Once your foundation is built, then you can start adding habits. And how many habits do you work on at a time? I will answer the question with a question. How do you build a puzzle? Some will say you start with the edges, which may be accurate; however, the answer I’m looking for is that you build one piece at a time.

But you might say you want to go faster and work on multiple habits simultaneously. Before I share the actual statistics, please let me remind you that you’re probably not like Rain Man. What our beloved Raymond could do with numbers is herculean beyond what your average person can do when adopting new habits.

Statistically, if you shoot to add one new habit over a few weeks, the odds are roughly 87% that you will be successful. If you shoot to add two new habits, your odds of success drop to less than 50%. And if you try for three, you’re off in a ditch at less than 15%. So the moral of the story is to focus on one habit at a time.

So how long do you work on one habit before introducing the next? It all depends on you and the complexity of the habit. You may be 100% compliant in as little as a week for something as simple as adding a daily multivitamin. Becoming a master at planning, shopping, and meal prepping when you’ve never cooked in your life may take a little longer. And that’s okay.

Closing thoughts for my readers:

Thomas Edison famously “learned” 10,000 ways not to create an electric light bulb before coming up with the correct solution. Thank God I came to the above conclusions before going through 10,000 clients. Now, it’s not like I’ve wasted my client’s time having them spinning their wheels with no progress. I’ve helped a lot of members over the past five years make significant improvements in their health. However, to echo the words of the late great Steve Jobs, “There’s got to be a better way,” and I want all my clients to crush their goals.

The Power of Accountability

Want to up the odds of reaching your goals substantially? I will let you in on a little secret. Most people don’t have a written set of goals regarding any area of their life. In fact, the number is only 3%. Here’s another point for you to consider. On average, people with written goals make nine times more financially than those without. So, getting serious about writing out your goals is prudent because it pays really well.

So, what are the odds of hitting your goals by simply writing them down? The answer is 42%. That’s way better than wishful thinking, which is my definition of goals still spinning around in your head. Would you like to raise your odds of success to 76%? I have the solution, and it’s easy.

You need an accountability partner, and they don’t necessarily have to be knowledgeable about what you’re striving to accomplish. They just need to hold you accountable.

1 – Write out your goals
2 – Share with your accountability partner your key action steps for the next week.
3 – Connect at the end of the week and share your progress
4 – Repeat until you’ve achieved your goal

It’s that simple, and it works really well.

Best of luck with your efforts.

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