Friday, May 7, 2010

Sam's guide to weight loss: Part 1, Kindling

"If you want something to happen, begin by creating an environment where it can happen"

Remember that statement, because it's very important. It is the guiding principle of everything I have to teach you in this series.

Example: Imagine how you'd build a fire. You'd gather dry wood, sorting it into light kindling and heavy logs. You'd get some paper to get the flames burning quickly. You'd arrange everything so that the smoke could escape and fresh air could get in. You would, in short, create fire by creating an environment where fire can happen. Only once that environment was prepared would you concern yourself with flame.

Yet when it comes to weight loss, most people spend their time trying to pick a brand of lighter. They read articles and books about this or that diet, they watch news reports about "how to get the most out of your power walking" or worse "why exercise won't help you lose weight." And they're always asking people like me, people who have been through it and lost a significant amount of weight, the same ridiculous question: "What's your secret?"

And the only answer I can give amounts to "stop trying to build a fire in a pool."

-Stop trying to follow an exercise routine that your body isn't ready for
-Stop trying to follow a diet when you've got a bowl of candy on your coffee table
-Stop trying to lose weight without getting enough sleep

Did I throw you with that last one? Then you're my audience. Here is your first lesson, a corollary to my thesis.

"If you're trying to lose weight, start by getting more sleep."

Before you begin a new diet, before you start going to the gym more, do this one thing. Don't skip it. Don't think that you'll work on it along the way. Do it FIRST.


-A well rested person has energy and endurance. If you haven't had enough sleep, you won't have much luck following a workout routine.
-A well rested person has willpower. If you haven't had enough sleep, you don't have the mental energy to resist temptations.
-A well rested person has a more positive outlook. Being tired makes you grouchy, irritable, and negative. When you feel that way, you're more likely to think things like "Screw it, I'm having a cupcake, it'll make me feel better" or "I'm not working out today, it's not like it matters. I'm never going to lose weight." These thoughts are destructive to you and your weight loss. Being rested may not stop the dark thoughts, but it sure makes them quieter.

Adequate sleep, in other words, creates an environment in your mind and body that is conducive to weight loss. It dries out the kindling.

Let me emphasize again that you shouldn't skip this step. I know it's tempting. Our tendency is to read this sort of "health class" advice with a kind of "Yeah, yeah, I know I really should" mentality. You know it's important but you want me to get on to the part about actually losing weight.

And that's the kind of thinking I have to break you of.

This is not a "tip" that will "help" you lose weight. This is how you actually do it. If you are trying anything else without doing this, you are striking matches and dropping them to the ground, hoping to start a fire. They may burn for a bit, may even light a scattered leaf or two. But if you really want to do this, we're going to need good kindling. If you can't manage something as simple as altering your sleep habits, what's the rest of it good for?

You've got a week. I need 56 solid hours of sleep from you. Do whatever you have to (within reason): reduce your caffeine intake, skip out of the party early, miss your favorite show so you have time to shower and brush your teeth.

Do your best, and I'll see you back here next Friday.*

*That is unless you're reading this after the series is finished, and can just read on to the next post. Screw you, future-man!


Lauren said...

Sam, this is a really cool idea-- I am glad you are getting this all down. So far it looks like it will be really helpful, too.

I'm curious, I've heard from many people that you have to "visualize" yourself, or at least have confidence that you can be a skinnier person. Do you think you just kept working and seeing results until you were happy with it, or did you have a goal at the beginning that you "knew" you could achieve?

Sam Cook said...


I can't say that I ever "visualized" my end result, but I think it's a valid technique. Focusing on the future has a way of keeping you positive, and preventing you from getting discouraged because of the present.

Perhaps when I'm done with this, I'll write up my own experience for a post.

scubadivider said...

I like your thinking, sir!

Your note on sleep increasing willpower made me think of (yet another) podcast that I think you'll be interested in. Actually, a podcast and a book.

The podcast is Radiolab: Why Is It So Hard To Do The Right Thing?
and the book is How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer.

Basically Lehrer studied willpower as it relates to what he calls a "cognitive load". In short "A tired brain, preoccupied with its problems, is going to struggle to resist what it wants, even when what it wants isn't what we need."

If nothing else, the chocolate cake & numbers experiment is pretty neat.

Sam Cook said...

Cool, I'll check 'em both out!