That Buddha Belly Wasn’t Built In a Day
Most of us gain weight without noticing. We don’t gain weight because we eat birthday cake every day for breakfast. And if we did it would be easy to stop.
Instead we gain weight very slowly over 6, 12, 18, or even 24 months. Then one day we wake up and can’t put on our pants. This happens because most of us gain weight by eating just 150 – 200 more calories a day then we need.
This is what I like to call glacial weight gain. And it’s what happened to me when I quit smoking.
The Post Smoker Five
What most people don’t know about cigarettes is that they act as an appetite suppressant. Back when I was a smoker I’d often mistake hunger for wanting a smoke. So, I’d light up and by the time I was done I wasn’t hungry anymore.
It didn’t have a huge effect on me, which is why smokers don’t starve to death. But it was just enough to reduce my calorie intake. And those few hundred calories kept me slim and trim in my twenties, even though I was pretty sedentary.
But as soon as I quit smoking all of a sudden I felt hungry more often. Not only that, sometimes I’d mistake my nicotine cravings for hunger. Sure enough over the course of three months I gained over five pounds.
I remember weighing myself and being shocked by the scale. I couldn’t figure out how it had happened. I was living at a monastery at the time and the food was supposed to be healthy. But healthy or not, those few hundred calories made all the difference.
I was able to reverse the trend using exercise, but it wasn’t until years later that I discovered the cause, as well as the solution.
The Glacial Weight Loss Protocol
The Glacial Weight Loss Protocol is based on a book by Dr. Brian Wansink called Mindless Eating. In this book, Dr. Wansink explains that the difference between losing or gaining 10 lbs over the course of a year is dependent on what he calls the mindless margin.
This is the margin of 100 – 200 calories that we can eat or not eat without ever noticing. Dr. Wansink did countless experiments and discovered that you can increase or decrease most people’s food intake by 20% and they won’t notice the difference.
He also found that if you went over this line people felt deprived and struggled to stay consistent. Yet this is what most diets ask you to do. They tell you to cut your food intake by as much as 30% – 40%, which according to Dr. Wansink is a recipe for disaster.
At the end of his book Dr. Wansink recommends that people follow a practice of 3 simple eating rules as to stop a reverse glacial weight gain. And he identifies two types of eating rules that are most effective.
Two Rules to Rule Them All
1. The Exchange –
An exchange is a rule that says if I want x I have to do y.
For example, you make a rule that says if you walk for 30 mins you can have a soda with dinner. But if you don’t walk, you have water.
These exchanges work because they change the question from, ‘should I or shouldn’t I,’ to ‘either this or that.’ Because of this shift your mind doesn’t think you are missing out. Instead you start seeing all healthy choices as a series of trade offs.
Examples of Exchanges:
If ½ of my meal is made up of veggies I can have a scoop of ice cream for dessert.
If I do my couch to 5k program, I can have up to 2 beers with dinner.
2. Speed Limits –
Speed limits are rules that give us the space to make better choices. The best thing about speed limits is that you can change them to fit your needs.
If your big problem is snacking during the day you could create the speed limit of only having a snack at three specified times. If your big problem is eating too much at dinner you could create a speed limit of only ordering a cocktail or dessert when you go out.
Examples of Speed Limits
Put serving dishes in the kitchen after your food has been served.
Moving candy from your desk to a filing cabinet a few feet away.
Ask for half your meal to be wrapped up before it’s served when you go out to eat.
The Glacial Weight Loss Plan
Now that you have a basic understanding of the two types of rules it’s time to create your own.
1. Create Your Glacial Weight Loss List –
Open a document on your computer or get out a sheet of paper. Make two columns, one for Exchanges, one for Speed Limits. Then write down 5-6 Rules for each column. Remember the goal is that each rule will cut 100 – 200 calories from you diet, so they don’t have to be extreme. When you’re done, underline the three rules that seem the easiest to do.
Next click on this link to open the spreadsheet in google docs and create a copy OR Click on this link to download it to your computer. You are going to use this spreadsheet to track your progress. Once you’ve got the spread sheet open replace the rules with the ones you created.
For example I put the rule either walk or have a soda in the first column of the spreadsheet to get you started. But you can put any rule you want here.
2. Check In Daily –
Once a day open your spreadsheet and enter how you did. For example if I walked the previous day and I had a soda I would put a Y underneath that habit. If I didn’t walk and I had a soda I would put an N underneath that habit.
It helps if you do this check in at the same time everyday. One way to make this happen is to tie your check in to a trigger or anchor habit. An anchor habit is something you already do everyday like brushing your teeth or checking your email.
For example I might do my checklist right after I write my vows in the morning. To help you remember you might also add a reminder. It can be automated like setting the spreadsheet as your home page or it might be physical like putting a post it note on your desk. Just be creative and try different methods until you find something that works
3. Monthly Tally –
At the end of the month add up your Y’s. If you get 32 Y’s that’s one pound you didn’t gain or possibly one pound you lost. If you got more awesome! that means you are well on your way to creating amazing glacial weight loss habits.
After that it’s up to you how to proceed. You can keep those rules and start the spreadsheet over or you can pick new habits. Just remember that the longer you keep the same habits the easier they will be to maintain.
The key to stopping glacial weight gain is a glacial approach. If you stand next to an iceberg with a blowtorch you aren’t going to get very far. Instead using these small habits you slowly melt away the pounds, like an iceberg floating too far from the arctic.
Remember losing weight isn’t just about having will power, it’s about being clever. Dr. Wansink reminds us that advertisers and restaurants use lots of little tricks to get you to eat more. This is a way to use those same tricks to trim your buddha belly in a sustainable way.
If you want to know more check out his book Mindless Eating
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