I’ve been talking with a lot of people lately about weight loss. Everyone has an opinion on what works and that is usually based on what works for them. There are so many different programs out there – how do you know what is going to work for you? Reading about them all can make your head spin and cause even more confusion.
Therefore I have decided to help you by creating my own system, which I am calling the VASSAD Method of behavior change. I think it is important to have an acronym so that people can remember it by what each of the letters mean. Most acronyms form real words, and I know that VASSAD isn’t a real word. But I think this concept makes sense, and I am hoping it will catch on. I’ll know for sure when it’s acceptable on Words with Friends.
Here is how it works: First, set a goal. Most people don’t know what a goal really looks like. “Lose weight” is not a goal. At best it’s a wish. It’s not much different from saying “be healthier”. Without some very specific parameters, you are doomed to fail before you even begin. When I worked in the corporate world, I had to set goals for the people who reported to me. If I told them that their goal was to “work harder”, I think it would have left them very confused and quite unsure as to how to accomplish this. Businesses know this, so they give us little acronyms to help us remember how to do it.
As in business, the acronym SMART helps to create goals that are: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time bound. So to claim you are going to “lose weight” is a little bit vague. However, planning to “Lose 20 pounds in the next 3 months at a rate of 1-2 pounds per week” is a SMART goal since it meets all the parameters. Once you have a meaningful goal, you can employ the VASSAD method, organized here in order of the letters:
When I ask my clients why they want to work out, they generally say that they want to look and feel better. To which I reply, “that’s not SMART”. I ask them to list their top goals along with 10 reasons why they want to reach those goals. This is the most important part of the exercise. Asking the question “why” enough times will usually get people to start visualizing what it will look like when they reach that place. Maybe it’s wearing a special outfit or being able to finish a 5K – regardless of the goal, the visual image of accomplishing it can serve as a daily reminder of why you are taking these steps. Having an actual picture is even better. Hang it on the fridge or use it as your screen saver on your phone or computer. Look at it every day. Most importantly, look at it when you feeling like taking a detour on your plan or when you just feel like giving up. Remember why you started. A picture is worth 1,000 words.
Accountability is Key
When we were kids, we had parents who would constantly harp on us about whether we were doing what we were supposed to do. “Did you clean your room?” “Did you do your homework?” Well no one is doing that for us now, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. As adults, we believe that we know what we’re supposed to be doing. When it comes to our diets, though, that is another story entirely. Ultimately we are all responsible for the choices we make, and the only way to hold ourselves accountable especially in the beginning is to keep a daily food journal. An honest journal, not filled with white lies about how many Reese’s wrappers are in your trash bin. But the actual number. Why? Because if you have to write down honestly what you eat, you might think twice about opening that 3rd or 4th package. If you are ashamed to write it down, most likely that choice is going to take you in the opposite direction of your goal. For added inspiration put that photo of your goal on the cover of the journal.
Spread the Word
Social media has provided individuals with a global platform when it comes to announcing things. Good news or bad, we post it for our friends and family to share in our joy or sadness. We all know someone who posts regularly about their awesome workout or the number of pounds they have lost since starting their new diet. To some, it may seem like bragging, but I view this as the ultimate buddy system and a whole new level of accountability. When you post your goal and then keep your friends informed of your progress, you are allowing people who care to support you every step of the way. Imagine having 300 of your closest friends living in your house, cheering you on as you make changes to your lifestyle. If you don’t have a house big enough for that many people, facebook is the next best thing. Start out by posting “I’m hitting the gym 3 times this week” and then check in at the gym each time by saying “there’s 1 down”, etc. Watch how many of your friends Like the post. Your facebook friends are watching you and for the most part really care about your progress. Embrace it – there is going to be a day when you really need the support, and you will find it in your virtual cheerleading community.
Small Steps Add Up
Lifestyle changes can take a long time to incorporate, and one of the biggest mistakes most people make is trying to change everything at once. Our brains are simply not wired in such a way that allows us to dump everything and start new. It might seem like a good idea in the beginning, but invariably, all the “bad” stuff finds its way back into your kitchen in short order. The simplest solution is to do it in small manageable bites, so to speak. Pick one thing to focus on just for today. For example, start the day by saying, “today I will have veggies at every meal”. Plan your one thing according to what you WILL do rather than what you WON’T do. Positive efforts will help you to feel less deprived and will allow you to congratulate yourself at the end of the day for doing something good, ideally on social media. After Phase One of tackling “one thing per day”, you can move into Phase Two, which is changing “2 things per week”. Same concept just with more days. Easing into your new lifestyle gradually will give you a much better chance of success than the all or nothing approach.
Avoid the Scale
Oh, the love/hate relationship with the scale – we all have it, don’t we? Enough. I’ve probably said this before, but the scale is only one measure of health and progress. If you’re eating well and exercising regularly, you are building more lean body mass and reducing fat. In real terms your body is shrinking even if the scale is telling you otherwise. Measure your success by looking in the mirror, taking photos along the way or trying on a pair of pants that used to be snug. Changing your body composition is going to deliver far bigger health benefits overall than simply dropping pounds. Anyone who has used starvation tactics to lose weight will tell you that being super thin is not the same thing as being healthy. Weigh in every week or 2, but not every day and definitely not multiple times per day. You can make yourself crazy doing that.
Don’t Go On a Diet
I have a big problem with diets that require lots of measuring, counting and weighing of food. I think these diets create a food obsession that is counter to the real goal. I have tried the Weight Watchers diet several times. The whole point-counting thing was exhausting, and it left me constantly thinking about my next bite. That’s not healthy especially for someone who is trying to lose weight. Instead of “going on a diet”, which sounds temporary and negative, try to manage your food in terms of portions and balance. For example, if you have 50% of every meal consist of vegetables, you’re already way ahead of the game. Lean protein, healthy grains and limited healthy fats – you get the idea. Learn to listen to your body. Know when you are really hungry and when you are simply bored. Act accordingly, and make note of your mood in your journal for future reference. Counting points and calories are not long term solutions for creating healthy eating habits. People who are healthy for life eat good food in the right amounts with occasional treats. Change your habits gradually, and you will find a healthy eating program that will last for a good long lifetime.
And that is the VASSAD method. Give it a try and let me know how it works for you!