AS FAR BACK AS I CAN remember, I was overweight. When I was only 10 years old, I lost some weight on the Atkins diet, but I gained it right back. This pattern continued through high school, college, and law school, and into my professional life. I tried every new diet that came out: high protein, low protein, low fat, high fat, grapefruit, no fruit. Frequently I was able to shed those unwanted pounds, but they inevitably reappeared. Frustrated, I invariably blamed the diets, genetics, or myself for my failure.
Something similar was going on with my career. I began projects as enthusiastically as I adopted diets--opened restaurants and started a real estate newspaper. Although these projects were financially successful, I didn't find them rewarding personally and so I sold them. I'd gone into them without planning and only later realized that I had no real passion for them.
Seeing the Pattern
I recognized that I was repeating certain negative patterns, like choosing diets and even jobs haphazardly, but I was skeptical about the possibility of altering these patterns. "Why People Can't Change" seemed like a good topic for a magazine story, and I began to read whatever I could find on the subject. However, it turned out that there was much more material on how people actually do change than on how they can't.
I ended up reading more than 4,000 articles and books and interviewing a wide range of people. One thing that struck me was the discovery that successful people took total responsibility for the specific areas of their lives in which they'd reached their goals. My magazine article slowly grew into a book.
Shortly after I finished my first draft, I received a letter from a friend I hadn't heard from in almost 14 years. When I sat down to write back to her, my letter forced me to take a hard, unflinching look at my life. As I described my yo-yo dieting, my lack of passion in my career, my failed romantic relationships, and other negative patterns, I realized that it was time to apply my research on how to change to my own life. There was no escaping the fact that I'd chosen inappropriate diets and incompatible partners and, worst of all, that when I failed, I always blamed either other people (often my parents or girlfriends), circumstances outside my control (like genetics), or myself for being weak and powerless.
Disappointed, I made up my mind to change. I now knew that to alter my behavior I would have to set clear, specific goals and develop a strategy for achieving them. And I would have to take total responsibility for my plan.
Tipping the Odds
My first step was to review my weight-loss efforts over more than 20 years. In the light of what I'd learned from writing my book, I could see many reasons why I was still overweight: For example, I often changed my diet but never my lifestyle, I ate without thinking about what I was putting in my mouth, I hadn't developed a regular exercise regimen, and I relied too heavily on will power and discipline.
Once I really understood that I was responsible for my choices, I was able to create a plan with exercises that I enjoyed and foods I liked that were low in calories and fat. But my plan included much more than diet and exercise.
To keep myself motivated, I experimented with visualization techniques. I imagined what it would feel like to be fit--how easily I would move, how much energy I would have, and how much more confident I would feel. I quickly discovered that if I imagined this fitter self in enough detail, I could actually experience the pleasure of being in shape. This enabled me to choose the satisfaction of that future moment rather than the immediate enjoyment of eating, say, a big piece of cake.
I would also anticipate problems. I'd make sure that a restaurant I was planning to go to served foods that were on my new plan. Before going to a party, I'd rehearse mentally what I would eat and how I would explain myself to my date or my friends. I reveled in my new-found freedom. Did ! want these cookies or did I want to be fit? The choice was completely mine.
The more in control I felt, the easier it was for me to lose weight. I never needed willpower because I didn't feel deprived. I felt empowered, armed as I was with information, understanding, and strategies like visualization. With these brand-new skills, I lost 53 pounds and went on to co-found a successful weight-loss company, which I'm completely passionate about. I also overcame my uncanny ability to take up with incompatible women and met and married a wonderful woman named Shannon.
I can't believe that I spent so many years losing weight and then gaining it back and feeling hopeless and out of control. Now, when I feel myself getting off-track, I just ask myself what I really want. I remind myself that the choice is, and always has been, mine. As a result, I've kept those 53 pounds off for seven years now.
My Advice for Losing Weight
Take Responsibility. I found the power to change my eating habits when I stopped blaming other people, circumstances, and myself.
Arm Yourself with Tools. I used goal-setting techniques like visualization and mental rehearsal rather than relying on discipline and will power.
Anticipate Problems. Before going out for dinner or to a party, I would decide exactly what I would eat and drink.
Charles Stuart Platkin, a health and fitness writer, is the founder of Nutricise.com, an on-line weight-loss program, and the author of Breaking the Pattern (Red Mill Press, 2002).
Source Citation:Platkin, Charles Stuart. "I lost 53 lbs. for good; taking charge of my life helped me end years of yo-yo dieting. (One Reader's Success)." Natural Health 33.2 (March 2003): 44(2). Academic OneFile. Gale. BROWARD COUNTY LIBRARY. 6 May 2009
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