New Year’s Resolutions
Everyone takes time at the beginning of the year to focus on things they would like to change. People decide that they want to lose weight or exercise more. Businesses decide to focus on one aspect of the business or another. Pundits make predictions on what will happen during the next year, but most pundits get laughs or wry smiles by extending what is currently happening to an absurd level rather than focusing on what will change in the coming year – because, of course, things never really change.
But sometimes things do change.
I have done a lot of work with the methodology of Dr. Adizes. In fact, I currently teach his methodology at ManagementVitality. His works focuses on organizational change, but it applies to anything in life. I am going to take the liberty of excerpting some of his thoughts and apply it to the specific lifestyle arena of low carb living and why low carb diets work for so many people versus low fat diets or just increased exercise.
Deciding and Implementing are Not Related
There are two things that need to happen before any change can be made. You have to make the decision to change, and then you have to implement that decision. Making the decision to improve your health is a good decision, but implementing that decision is where the problems arise.
Dr. Atkins advocates a four-step process of induction, ongoing weight loss, pre-maintenance, and maintenance.
Just like in business, diets or programs are evaluated on immediate short-term outcomes in the beginning. Just like in business, if a diet doesn’t show early results, the program or the process will likely stop. The immediate takes precedence over the long term; the outcome takes precedence over the process. This is human nature. Nutritionists and others can rail against it. They can try to overcome it with education and intense counseling, and good businesses make sure that any change process has these elements. But a program that facilitates early results has immediate gratification and has self-reinforcement. I lost 10 lbs; maybe there is something in this. It doesn’t matter if some of this is water weight. I lost 10 lbs.
The first two weeks can be followed by anyone. Most foods like meat, cheese, green vegetables and eggs are readily available and easily prepared. Atkins genius is allowing unlimited eating (within reason) during this initial phase. There is no weighing of the food. How can you feel deprived if you can eat a lot of food? But something magical happens, you eat some of this food and you aren’t hungry! You don’t have to eat a lot of it to feel satiated. On every other diet I have ever tried, I have always had to battle hunger. Carbohydrates make me and a lot of other people hungry. Nutritionists who advocate sticking to a low-fat diet despite hunger and talk about willpower and a calorie is a calorie should be kicked out of the profession or retrained. They are automatons banging away at the same outdated processes over and over again thinking that -- if only this person sticks to it this time -- things will be different.
Dr. Adizes has a great analogy. He gives four groups of people the same information about a business and then asks them to describe the problem, come up with solution, write down their thoughts, and give the problem and solution back to him in an envelope. He then opens the envelopes and all four problems and solutions are different. Why are they different? Because the people are different. The same is true for people on diets. Our bodies and the way they work are not understood very well. Everyone has different DNA that tells the body how to proceed. Why don’t nutritionists concede that people may be different in how they process carbohydrates? Why do they keep advocating the same thing hoping that this time the outcome will be different for this person? (I have read some of the posts on sci.med.nutrition that were just hilarious.)
Things might be different this time, but I would suggest that if you process carbohydrates incorrectly and have large blood-sugar swings, your chances of staying on a “normal, medically accepted” diet are slim. Hunger is too hard of an opponent to fight. Our bodies are structured to avoid hunger, and a person will naturally follow the structure and eat more to stop the hunger. If you eat fat, you don’t feel hungry and your blood sugar levels don’t swing. You aren’t fighting the structure of your body so you have a chance to change habits.
You have a better chance of implementing your decision.
Notice I said “chance” because you truly have to change the structure of your life in order to create lasting change. If you have the old structures in place, new behaviors will require more effort and will feel less normal than your old habits. You have to change the structure so the new habits feel more normal than the old habits.
In business a manager comes up with a new program to implement. It sounds great. Everyone agrees to do it. Memos are written, but the new program doesn’t stick. Why? Because there are written policies and unwritten policies, and the unwritten policies are actually followed.
In life, nothing is more ingrained than what we eat. A bagel with cream cheese was my preferred breakfast. Didn’t it contain grain, the base of the food pyramid? The cream cheese was the only thing bad with it. I should have eaten it with jam to reduce the fat. Besides eggs and bacon increase your cholesterol and that is bad.
If you know anything about Atkins, you know why I was ravenous by lunchtime. I had a tapeworm in my stomach! You also know why if I drank a diet Coke, I was still ravenous, but if I drank a regular Coke, I was less ravenous. (At the time I thought that this, of course, was a diabolical plot by Coke to get you drink the cheaper-to-produce sugar drinks versus the more expensive-to-produce diet drinks.)
For those of you who are new to the Atkins way of thinking about nutrition, the bagel hits the bloodstream as pure sugar. Think of your body as a furnace that needs a steady fire to keep the heat going. A refined white bagel with no fiber to slow down the absorption is like an accelerant on the fire. The fire burns hotter and brighter. Your body releases buckets of water (insulin) to try to douse it and put it in its place. For some people, the fire is doused too much. Their water buckets (insulin processes) don’t work properly. The fire is running too low. The body thinks that it needs more accelerant even though there are nice wood logs available to burn over here (fat.) It screams for more accelerant. (I’m hungry! Give me more to eat!) So you give it more accelerant and you eat more calories and the fat (the cream cheese) that you ate with the bagel, those nice wood logs, are now stacked with all of the other fat that your body previously didn’t burn.
Conversely, on a low carb diet, if you don’t eat a lot of refined carbohydrates, you don’t have a lot of accelerant so you can burn the wood logs (fat) that you just ate right away. In addition, if you need more fuel for the furnace, the body makes the transition from burning the fat that you eat to burning the fat that you’ve stored very easily. (I highly recommend that you read Atkins to learn more.)
As to my diabolical plot theory as to Coke, it was pure junk. (This is why we need scientists around.) When I drank Coke, I was getting a drip of accelerant the whole morning. Therefore, the fire never dropped as much as it did when I drank a diet Coke, which provided no accelerant. I was still getting the empty calories, however, and my body wasn’t burning the fat that it could have.
By the way, eating high sugar with highly refined carbohydrates is still being touted today. I almost choked when I heard a health announcement on the radio last month talking about the health hazards of chocolate and advocating an English muffin with jam instead. Can you blame people who know about Atkins from thinking that some nutritionists are pyromaniacs set on sabotaging half the populace?
On a low-fat diet, your head is trying to follow the written policies, but the body can’t help but follow the unwritten policies.
This still leaves us with why people fail with Atkins or other low carb diets long term even if they don’t have to battle hunger.
Why do spas usually work short-term? Because they change the structure of life. “Bad foods” aren’t available. Exercise is mandated. But what happens when you go home? You revert. It is easier to go along with the structure of home that has already been created at home; it takes less effort. You have food in the cabinet already that should be eaten. You know what recipes to make. You know what products to buy. You know it only takes four minutes to get an Egg McMuffin and eat it before you get to work but it takes ten minutes to make eggs and bacon. It takes much more effort to change.
This is why diets that have suggested menu plans for a few weeks work for a time – because they take discretionary thinking out of the equation. The pasta in the cabinet can stay there for two weeks while you shop specifically for two weeks. But, in a moment of weakness, when you don’t have any “good” food available, it can come out of the cupboard and onto the plate– and it does.
In order to achieve structural change, many things have to happen, and it will seem awkward at first. But with time, it can become the new norm. That is what this site is about, helping you achieve the new norm where low carbohydrate eating is comfortable. As we just come off of the holidays, many people probably reverted because the holidays are the time of tradition where the norm includes lots of sugar-filled food. Make your New Year’s Resolution for change.
So we have talked about why the first phase can work. Let’s move on to the second phase and talk about the structural changes that are needed to make this a success.
- Provide the time:
- Take the ten minutes to make your eggs.
- Take another ten minutes to make your lunch and bring it to work or school or eat it at home.
- Take a half hour and scope out a close eatery where you can get a lunch that is suitable at a moment’s notice.
- Provide the materials and expertise:
- Get some low carb cookbooks or look at recipes on this and other sites. Read the recipes so you get the gist of what is required and you feel comfortable that you can make up your own recipe on the fly. You have to become knowledgeable so you can vary your diet and have it be easy to do. Remember, the more you make this the norm, the better your chance of success. And nothing drives someone back to the bad norm than having to decide what to make for dinner on short notice.
- Throw out or give away most high carb highly refined foods in your home. If you have a family and that isn’t possible, take one shelf just for you where all of YOUR foods are available. I will talk more on how to deal with families in a later post.
- Look over the grocery lists on this site and shop for those items! Have them available everywhere! In your office, your purse, your glove compartment.
- Provide the reinforcement and reward (this is very individualized, but I have provided some ideas):
- I thrive on a good debate so I don’t mind listening to people who tell me that this lifestyle is dangerous. (I’ll have future posts describing conversations with my doctor’s nurse to the bread stocker at the supermarket.) Your tolerance may differ. You can avoid them for a while or you can try to defer the debate by telling them that you will be evaluated after three to six months and show them a copy of this study.
- Buy a pair of jeans two sizes smaller and try them on every week.
- Create a new paradigm of reward rather than food. Go to a movie; buy new makeup or a new drill set.
- Visit low carb sites so you know that you aren’t alone.
- Find a friend to do it with you and trade recipes, ideas.
- Clean your entire house/apartment/desk/car out so you start new, but only if this doesn’t stop you from becoming a food expert.
Atkins provides four phases so you create change, make the change the new norm, and then slowly let in problem foods so the problem foods conform to the new norm rather than letting the problem foods retrigger the old norm.
And to further enforce what works, read this Harvard study that showed you can eat more calories but lose more weight on a low-carb diet than you can on a low-fat diet.
(And for those of you who have followed this a while, the above article is part of my fisking of this article by Michael Fumento. Michael fisked Gary Taubes’ excellent New York Times Magazine article (available here) that opened the door to rethinking Atkins in the mainstream press. Gary, not to be outdone in the fisking department, then fisked Michael’s article here.)
What is “to fisk?” According to Eugene Volokh, a blogger and professor of law at UCLA:
The term refers to Robert Fisk, a journalist who wrote some rather foolish anti-war stuff, and who in particular wrote a story in which he (1) recounted how he was beaten by some anti-American Afghan refugees, and (2) thought they were morally right for doing so. Hence many pro-war blogs -- most famously, InstaPundit -- often use the term "Fisking" figuratively to mean a thorough and forceful verbal beating of an anti-war, possibly anti-American, commentator who has richly earned this figurative beating through his words. Good Fisking tends to be (or at least aim to be) quite logical, and often quotes the other article in detail, interspersing criticisms with the original article's text.
O.K. I may be stretching the definition a bit, but I think it has expanded since Eugene wrote the above definition in 2002.