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Understanding responsibility, free choice helps advance health goals

Monday, January 7, 2013 - 12:01 am

I was lying on my back on the floor in my home/office. It has big windows, and I was looking up and out. As I was doing reverse ab curls with an exercise ball, I saw a man leaning out the window on the top floor of the building across the street smoking a cigarette. Actually, I think the person was staring at me, too — not sure what he was thinking; maybe it was simply “please, spare me...” (sarcastically). In any event, seeing this guy really made me think. In fact, the first word that came to mind was “choice.”

And I have to say, choice, freedom of choice that is, is probably the concept that helped me the most when I was losing weight, getting in shape and vowing to keep it that way. And, of course, choice is a cousin of responsibility. I've written about responsibility and blame (see: www.dietdetective.com/columns/the-blame-game.aspx) and choice before. One column I'm particularly proud of is about micro choices (see: www.dietdetective.com/column/micro-choices.aspx), the idea that creating healthy behaviors almost always comes down to the hundreds of choices we make in the moment every day. For instance, whether we choose to eat an apple or a slice of apple pie, or whether we bike to work or drive. It's those micro choices that make up our lives.

What the heck does responsibility mean? It's simply this: Control over your life doesn't arise from dodging and avoiding difficulties but from coping with the issues (minor and major) that come your way or that you create. How does understanding responsibility lead to free choice, and how does free choice help you lose weight?

Well, the mere recognition that I had control over my life, knowing that I controlled my own destiny and had the freedom to make choices, released me from “diet jail.” Yes, I was in what I call diet jail. For 30 years, I would go in and out of diet jail. I would get out on parole (read: lose weight), then, just like any repeat offender, I would commit another crime (read: gain weight) and end up back in diet jail. What a nightmare. I'm sure many of you know exactly what I'm talking about. Knowing that I had choices set me free for life. Think about the following:

We are responsible for our lives: We may not be responsible for everything that happens to us, but we are responsible for the way we respond or react to every situation that comes our way. This is where the concept of choice comes into play. We choose our responses. For instance:

Find a reason why you want to lose weight: It helps to know why you actually want to get in shape. For health reasons? Vanity? Think you already know? Make sure. Write it down.

Who's influencing your food life? Keep track of your food influences for one week. See who or what is influencing you to eat the foods that you do. Is it the TV commercials you're watching? The friends you're eating with? Family, co-workers? .

Why experts say “don't diet; make it a lifestyle”: What in the world do they mean? They mean you need to change behaviors (diet and exercise) to lose weight, but to keep the weight off for good you must choose behaviors you can live with forever. You need to consistently question and ask yourself is this “change” I just made (read: exercising at 5 a.m. every morning) something I can do forever? Can I eat celery for breakfast every day? (That's a joke by the way, to highlight the silly things we often do to lose weight.)

Be confident: Feeling confident that you can change a behavior is one of the single biggest predictors that you will be able to change.

Look back: Taking a careful look at your past can help you determine where you want to go in the future, and it helps to make sure that you realize and recognize where you did and did not take responsibility. Think of the strategies that didn't work in your previous attempts to lose weight. By looking at your failures you learn what not to repeat.

Set goals: Goal setting and planning increase the odds of your success.

Be prepared: Think about the difficult choices you face most often, and make sure to figure out the best outcomes before you face them, not during.

Charles Stuart Platkin is a nutrition and public health advocate and founder of DietDetective.com.