Riddle: What’s the difference between a gourmet and a gourmand?
Answer: About 50 pounds.

Ok, let’s face it: there are more delectable ways to expand your waistline from the end of November through January 1 than any other time of the year. And, for every reason imaginable from pure celebration of the good times, to the indulgences of the veritable artistic masterpieces of chocolates and fine foods that rain upon us nonstop through the holidays, through to the emotional downsides of the holidays so easy to drown in good food and drink.

But hey, (he asks), why not? If, in fact, you don’t have potentially devastating medical downsides such as diabetes or heart disease – eat, drink and be merry. I meant it. For many, good food is their drug of choice, preparing and eating great foods – their best sport. Best of all, it is (almost NFL) sanctioned, sold to us all, and more than a little socially acceptable.

If, in fact you have no difficulties with it – go for it. Undo, whatever you want to undo right there on Jan. 1 – World Absolution Day (WAD – interesting acronym – dontcha think?). Fix those New Year’s resolutions and stick with them. Now I know that in this world, few things are more often broken than New Year’s Resolutions. Though if you have the conviction and motivation to maintain them then go for it. Seriously, enjoy!

However, if you are the type that runs into difficulties undoing what you’ve done to yourself over the holidays, I’d like to talk a little about that over the next few posts. I am not interested in preaching. And for sure there are a million and one how to books and articles at this time of the year on how to survive the holiday eating binge. If you have trouble with weight before, my guess is you probably know more than the author’s of those articles. Nonetheless, I would like to throw in my two cents. I think they may change your way of seeing the issues – a little bit anyway.

If I can, I’d like to help lift some of the burden. As I have said, if food is your main vice and you want to indulge (and can do so without causing permanent damage to yourself) then go for it. However, if you have trouble returning to where you were weight-wise before the holidays, I have a few ideas around changes and choices you may elect to put in place. Just thinking about them is the start of change. And change only happens if it is started.

Now I get food as a top choice of one’s pleasures. Yet it actually hurts me when I hear someone say, “I can’t help it – everyone is overeating” or “that is just what I like – I can’t change that,” or “I will never like to exercise.”

So for today’s little snippet I’d like to deal with those statements.

1. “I can’t help it…” (the dots are there to indicate whatever one might add to follow those first four words.) Anyone I have ever worked with knows me to be a stickler for language. I believe we choose our words very carefully and that they come from places of truth and that they have many subtle effects on us. I personally, defend your right to love food and overindulge as long as it is a choice with which you are comfortable.

“Choice” is the operative word there. To say “I can’t” automatically means it is not a choice (or at least you are choosing to frame it that way.) Unfortunately, the less obvious downside of using “I can’t” is that you are casting yourself as a victim. I have never met anyone who likes being a victim – why choose it? (I will pen more on that in posts to follow.)

Being a victim abdicates all possibilities of changing those results. You can tell me “I won’t pass up that food – I don’t want to” or “I won’t keep my resolutions” or “I won’t make any simple choices and changes because I want to indulge,” those are honest statements, they are choices (for better or worse.) If you are happy with them (for real), or at least willing to live with the consequences – gourmand away, say I.

But don’t say “I can’t.”

If I ask you to jump in the air and stay there, well then you can say, “I can’t.” In future posts I will say more about what I call “psychological accounting.” But that’s not for today.

2. As for “that’s just the way I am,” or “I will never like exercise (or whatever.)” That to me shows the power of history. We take those histories to be proof that we are “that way.” It is as though we were claiming them to be written by the genetics of our soul. It is as if we believe that acting differently is like changing the color of our hair. We may be able to force it for a while but it will never be our natural hair color.

I have always heard people say they wish they could be different and act differently. Good news! – You can (!).

Our customary use of certain behaviors is our “history.” History provides us with the sense of these thoughts, feelings and/or actions are “who and what we are.” And to an extent that is true. It is not true that is written in stone. It is in fact, written in history. And history can be changed starting from now on. The key to this is that thoughts and feelings are behaviors – just as actions are behaviors. As such they can be changed. Every little thought, feeling and/or action behavior done differently starts a new and changed behavioral history.

After their inception, behaviors of all sorts arise from stimuli and are maintained by reinforcement histories. That is true for ALL behaviors including thoughts and feelings. As a result of repetition over a broad range of circumstances and time -the behaviors (actions, thought and/or feelings) become more entrenched. This repeated practice and deeper entrenchment foments these behaviors becoming increasingly powerful. They become predictable. They become a tonic note of our identity. They become so entrenched they feel to be our essence- the spiritual DNA of our soul. Fortunately, there are ways to make new behaviors have increasing meaning and value to you. There are ways to make new behaviors competitive with long entrenched behaviors. There are ways to make going to the gym competitive other behavior such as – not going to the gym. But be forewarned – it takes time. After all to like exercise when you rarely have accidentally fallen into a gym is hardly a fair competition when pitted against the ecstasy of chocolate.

An Example

I knew a woman from my weight loss clinics years after she left the program. She finally had her risk factors get so elevated it became necessary to seek heroic interventions. She chose to brave bariatric surgery when one of the newer procedures first began. Post operative complications were frequent and some people were dying. (As an aside this woman also nearly died post-op.)
Not long afterwards she needed to start exercising. She was experiencing all sorts of resistance to the idea (nevertheless the behavior.)
We would chat and I would tell her if she just tried exercise slowly but kept it up she would eventually learn to love it. She would laugh derisively every time I said it.

Overcoming her resistance, she found a gym that was for heavy people only. And given that it was exercise or risk serious medical complications she continued with it. For about a year she reported still hating exercise. Then after about a year and a half she admitted to starting to want to keep her workouts going despite challenges that in the past would have been great excuses to stop. I teased, that it sounded like she was starting to like it. When the snickering died down there were further protestations that she would never “like exercise.” Finally, about a year later she sheepishly confessed to actually loving it. That was quick – only about 2 -2.5 years. It is actually quick since it defeated personal identifiers with 60 years of history behind them.

Now I realize that the motivation for her to continue exercising long enough to build a new and competitive history of behavior was her absolute fear she would die otherwise. It was a literal “do or die” situation.

Yet, it could have been done without the “gun” to her head. The motivation was missing (as was the knowhow.) Those two ingredients are the keys. Motivations along with an understanding of how behavior change occurs are the necessary pre-conditions. Yet, as the above story shows the belief that it can change – seems to be optional. Helpful, but optional.
More on that in future posts.

In the meantime stuff yourself more than a Thanksgiving Day turkey. If you want to do that and can do so without creating a New Year’s monster waiting for you of Jan.1, 2015. Even if you know you will create that monster there are some simple changes you can put in place along the way that might just help start building a new foundation of behavior that will spin the story towards a different.
So soon to follow …. some old time worn suggestions with a few new tricks so that you can flip the bird and weaken the New Year’s Day Monster…. which in itself is beginning a different process. Hmmm.