Thursday, January 8, 2009

125. Change requires a commitment

The end of each year, though somewhat arbitrary in nature, often offers reflection of the previous twelve months. We consider our successes and challenges, and through this analysis, we postulate and compose New Year resolutions. For most of us, this is an annual routine in which we focus on both the things we want to accomplish and those bad habits we wish to break.

New Year resolutions are commonly made up of personal commitments to stop smoking, spend more time with family, and, my annual resolution, to lose weight. I am sure I am not unusual in that the same resolutions end up on the list year after year.

Losing weight is a battle for many of us, one that is often overwhelming and among the most difficult personal transition to make. I like watching the Biggest Loser, and was excited to see an Oprah show that talked to some of the previous contestants and whether they were successful at keeping the weight off.

It was nearly heartbreaking to hear that many of the former contestants had trouble keeping their weight off. Some, like the first year winner, had put almost all of it back on; while others, even those that were relatively successful at keeping the weight off, gained 30-40 pounds after the show.

One wonders, how does someone who is given a second chance, who leaves the show healthy, happy about themselves, and with an education about weight loss, put the weight back on? Obviously, in this specific example, there are some extenuating circumstances-life is put on hold while they are losing weight. They are away from the temptations of their "everyday" life, they are surrounded by people embodied in the same journey, they have 24 hours a day to focus on losing weight, and finally, there is that competitive spirit.

However, given their successes, and their second chance, the question is why do so many ultimately fail at keeping the weight off. The question is not just for them, in fact, it is unfair to single them out, because this affects many of us. Many of our New Year resolutions will ultimately fail, prompting the real question, why is it so difficult to make the changes in our lives that allow us to reach our goals?

Like the biggest losers, we are often successful for a brief time, maybe even a couple of years, but we often return to our problems. Research has shown that those most successful at keeping the weight off were those people who were organized and created plans that outlined their commitment to losing weight.

Losing weight involves not only a physical change, for example, exercising more, but also includes a mental change. We are often educated about what needs to be done to change a habit, we are "reasoned with," (which is often just an exercise in the obvious), but fail to address the mental state of mind that leads to the bad habit. For some, eating too much is a serious addiction, for others it is just frequent indulgences.

To make changes in our life requires a mental commitment, one that is equipped to handle "life" when it presents challenges to our resolution. I speak from experience when I say we are good at making justifications...where we make an excuse for our moments of indiscretion. We also look for short cuts, ways to have a great tasting cheesecake that only has 100 calories, rather than embrace the sacrifice required to really change our lives.

I remember when my father lost a lot of weight before he passed away; he was obsessed, as every conversation was about either what he ate or what he was going to eat. He was retired and, like those at the Biggest Loser camp, he had the entire day to focus his efforts. However, for many of us this is not possible, we require balance-we cannot afford to focus all of our energy to one specific endeavor or else our other responsibilities will suffer.

At the same time, we must change: Do what you have always done and you will get what you have always gotten. It must be a change that becomes part of our lives, but does not overwhelm it. In alcohol addiction, one is often referred to as being in "recovery" the rest of their lives after treatment for the addiction. In other words, it is life style change and commitment that must be dealt with every day.

Obviously, if I had the answer to this quandary, I would be making millions selling self-help books (and could remove this resolution from my list). However, what I will suggest is that losing weight, like trying to break other habits, requires attention to all areas of our lives. It requires that we change our lives-physically, mentally, socially, by educating ourselves, with familial support, and through the formulation of a "game plan." We need to use all of the resources available to help us reach our goals.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, once we accomplish our goals, we have to realize that the battle is not over-as maintaining our change is just as difficult as making it. Complacency will surely result in short-lived success, and a spot on next year's list of resolutions.

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