Let’s try something.

Grab a tennis ball. Go to an area that is heavily populated with foot traffic; say, Disneyland, an outdoor mall of some kind, a convention. Spin around in a circle three times and throw that tennis ball as far as you can!

There’s about a 95% chance you’ll hit someone who wants to lose weight. Or, if not, it will bounce off of him and hit someone who does.

Okay, that’s probably not a very good experiment from a public safety or scientific perspective, but you get the point. Almost everyone in America wants to lose weight.

And the fact is that the overwhelming majority of Americans, from a health perspective, NEED to lose weight. Forget the fact that people want to be unreasonably skinny so they can post hot selfies on Instagram, I’m talking about genuine health.

In many ways, the overweight and obesity epidemic in America isn’t our fault. We are simply not biologically designed to live in our current environment of abundance and technology. This creates an evolutionary mismatch. Being surrounded by high-calorie, grain-based, highly processed foods that are easily acquired isn’t consistent with the environment of scarcity we knew for 99.99% of our existence as a species, and technology has eliminated our need to forage, hunt and perform virtually all domestic and survival tasks physically.

“Progress” is killing us. Our environment is controlling us instead of the other way around.

As a result, we don’t know how to handle ourselves. We’re like kids at a birthday party tasting cake for the first time. Too much engineered food coming in, too little energy going out, too much stress, too little sleep, we’re a mess.

In our desperation we look to quick solutions. CLEANSES! PILLS! SURGERIES! And the big one; DIETS!

But diets don’t work.

When they fail, we chide ourselves for our weakness and try to gut it out using willpower, but that doesn’t work, either.

As Roy Baumeister has said:

If you’re serious about controlling your weight you need the discipline to follow these three rules:
  #1 – Never go on a diet
  #2 – Never vow to give up chocolate or any other food
  #3 – Whether you’re judging yourself or judging others, never equate being overweight with having weak willpower

Follow the science. Dieting doesn’t work because it sends an evolutionary signal to our bodies that a famine is occurring and our biology responds by meeting the expected calorie shortage by slowing down our metabolism.

Vowing to give up coveted foods (and drinks; i.e. wine) doesn’t work because it places too great a demand on our limited willpower, and studies show that trying specifically to avoid certain desired foods utilizing “thought suppression” actually causes you to crave them more.

Willpower is finite. Your brain can be resistant to change. There’s nothing wrong with you, you’re just human.

Per Kelly McGonigle, Ph.D.:

“One thing the science of willpower makes clear is that everyone struggles in some way with temptation, addiction, distraction, and procrastination. These are not individual weaknesses that reveal our personal inadequacies— they are universal experiences and part of the human condition.”

The keys to success, then, are to learn how to:

  • Manage your expectations and understanding of time
  • Establish clearly defined goals using a research-based approach
  • Increase willpower and self-control
  • Craft an environment that is in alignment with your goals
  • Forgive yourself when you stumble

The problem with unrealistic expectations…

Think about something you really want to accomplish. Something you hunger for, that keeps you up at night.

Now, give yourself at least a year to get it done. Or more.

Your blood just froze, didn’t it? A year?

“Wait, I need to get into a (size whatever) dress by November and look hot as hell for my (fill in the blank event), I’ve got, like, 6 weeks!”

“Bro, my brother’s getting married in two months and I have to squeeze into my suit and crush it. There’s a girl there I’ve always wanted to (blah, blah, blah).”

I feel you. I know the feeling, I’ve had the feeling. But here’s the deal…

You can decrease your overall mass in the next 6 to 8 weeks to the extent that the diminished you will be able to wear something smaller for a night. If the panic of needing to do that overrides all logic and reason, nothing can stop you from taking that approach. Go for it.

But here’s the script for what will happen if you go that route:

  1. You’ll smash down into a more compact version of yourself through calorie-restriction, hunger and a white-knuckle resolve to be hot as f*** for a night.
  2. The night of the event you’ll begin to unravel. It will be like letting go of your breath. You’ll be feeling so good that your trial is over that you’ll absolutely destroy the buffet and drink your weight in champagne. It’s go time.
  3. The next day, after a few, “Really? I did that?” phone calls, Newton’s Third Law will begin to play itself out. You will boomerang back to your original behaviors and you will race PAST the weight you were at when you decided to go on the diet.
  4. Your resting metabolic weight will now be lower than it was before the diet and will take time to recover. You will now gain weight faster than before the diet.
  5. You will be demoralized and discouraged. The victory of that night will be long forgotten, as will the feelings of pride and accomplishment.
  6. You’ll say, “Dieting doesn’t work.” And you’ll be right. Congratulations, you just proved a point at the expense of your own goals, self-worth and health.

This path is the one most commonly followed, and it almost always ends in disappointment and a sense of despair. But it’s not that SUSTAINABLE CHANGE isn’t possible, it’s that it has to be properly orchestrated.

Manage your expectations

This is the equivalent to medicine’s “First, do no harm.” If your expectations are out of sync with reality, nothing that follows will lead to success and satisfaction. The first step to achievement, then, is to reasonably assess what you want to accomplish and establish a realistic time horizon.

If you want to go back to school and get your MBA in 12 months, probably not realistic.

If you want to lose 30 pounds in 30 days, not going to happen.

If you want to write the Great American Novel in 12 weeks, you’re fooling yourself.

You have to understand and appreciate the function and importance of time. Things that have value take time, they have to be fought for, they have to be earned. Only when you earn something through sustained effort and commitment do you really value it to the point that you retain it.

Failure to earn a result through sustained commitment is why lottery winners go broke, why a high percentage of people who get surgeries to reduce their weight regain the weight. They didn’t appreciate their results because they didn’t really earn them, and they don’t know how to manage them because they don’t know how they got them. They didn’t have to go through the grind of time, a process that enables you to change and adapt slowly along the way. Going from broke to billionaire overnight is like a hunter-gatherer from 40,000 BC being dropped instantly in 21st Century America; the shock of it will wreck you and you won’t know how to manage the changes because you didn’t create them or adapt into them over time.

If you are wanting to change your body, really CHANGE it from the inside out, so that you LOOK amazing, FEEL amazing and PERFORM amazingly, you need to accept the necessity of time.

Plant a seed in the ground. Take care of it properly by managing the soil, sun and water. Watch it grow.

It takes TIME.

You can yell, scream and plead with it as much as you want, but it won’t expedite growth. The seed has to undergo a physiological process that produces growth. It can’t be forced or cajoled, it happens as it happens.

Your body is the same. If you want to produce a biological effect in your body; reduced body fat, increased lean muscle, improved health, you have to accept the limitations of your biology. You can’t circumvent biology and physiology.

Change takes time. But time is going to pass whether you like it or not. Your choice is to change and adapt positively with it, or to decline and struggle as you fight against it. Which choice do you want to make?

Note: This is Part 3 of a series. To be up to speed, go back and read:

  1. Your diet will never work. Ever.

  2. Never vow to give up chocolate

Up Next:

  • The science of goal setting

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Jonathan Aluzas is co-owner of Arena Fitness, a fitness center that offers group training in Encino as well as personal training in Northridge.