Think of your weight loss journey as an experiment. A scientist does not get mad if her experiment did not go as planned. Instead, she takes the data, analyzes it, comes up with a new strategy, and tries again. If we aren’t successful with our goal or habit, we probably just need a new strategy. This is #2 in The 15 Shifts to Become a Real Loser series.
Why We Need to Experiment
When I was a freshman in college and lived in the dorms, I started gaining my very own Freshman 15. I found out that there was a dietitian at the Student Health Center that I could see. I hoped I had found the answer to my weight gain woes.
I met with the dietitian for 15 minutes. She handed me a one page sheet with a 1200 calorie meal plan and told me to be more active. I dutifully followed that meal plan sheet--even giving a copy to the cafeteria manager to ask for special servings of plain meat. Every day I went to the back of the cafeteria and asked for my special meal and tried to make myself go running at the track. I lost eight pounds, got busy with papers and tests, and then promptly gave up the whole thing after four weeks.
My 1200 calorie diet worked. I lost weight, but I didn’t learn how to keep the weight off. I didn’t learn to sustain the weight loss as a busy college student constantly surrounded by tempting foods and constant willpower challenges.
I was given the one-size-fits-all solution of “Eat Less, Workout More.” But the problem was, I needed to learn how to lose weight and keep it off in my real life. That meal plan started a cycle of skipping meals and overeating later. I gained all the weight back, and of course, blamed myself.
You Get Good at What You Practice
When I got my personal trainer certification, I learned many important things. One of them was “Whatever exercise you do, is what you get good at." If you want to get good at push-ups, practice push-ups. Don’t use the Nautilus machines and think it will get you better at push-ups. Nautilus machines get you good at using Nautilus machines.
The same idea works for weight loss.
If your goal weight is to be 140 pounds, you should lose weight by practicing the habits that would get you there AND keep you there. You need to develop your personal habits and weight loss plan (see Creating Your Own Culture), and then practice it day-in and day-out no matter what life throws at you.
My 1200 calorie meal plan didn’t work long term. I had practiced eating 1200 calories, but hadn’t practiced the habits that would allow me to be 140 pounds and stay there. The dietitian should have helped me by taking into account my physiology, preferences, and lifestyle--not given me that darn meal plan. (I'm totally wishing I had a time machine right now.)
Be a Scientist
Because we all have to come up with our own personal weight loss solution, it’s super helpful to see your weight loss journey as an experiment and view yourself as a scientist. Thus, the second shift to Becoming a Real Loser is to Be a Scientist.
Being a Scientist means that you get to try on new habits for size, see if they work for you, adjust them to work for your life, and then continue with them until they become a habit. The idea of Being a Scientist and trying out habits for size is akin to you “learning to be your goal weight.”
You don't need to stress and worry about getting it perfect the first time. It's supposed to be a process--in fact, this process has a name--The Scientific Method.
To be a true scientist, you need to know how to be a scientist. (It had been a while since I formally reviewed the scientific method, but luckily my third grade daughter had her Science Fair this week;-) How about you? Feeling rusty? Ok, well, let’s review.
Steps of the Scientific Method
Ask a Question
Do Background Research
Construct a Hypothesis
Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment
Analyze Your Data
Draw a Conclusion
Cycle through steps 3-6 until you get the result you want.
1. Ask a Question
This step is where you’re going to phrase whatever problem you are wanting to solve as a question. “How do I ____________?” Our brains are question answering machines. Pose a question to your brain and it’s like an eager 2nd grade know-it-all with her hand in the air yelling, “Oooh! Oooh! Pick me. I know the answer!”
Let’s get your brain revving. Think of what it is you want to accomplish. Then, give your brain the question, “How do I ….?” making sure to phrase it in a positive manner.
2. Do Background Research
What Already Worked
There are two ways to do background research. The first method is what I consider the most important. This is to evaluate what solutions have actually worked for you in the past.
One of the problems with traditional diets, is they start from scratch. They ask you to forget everything you know about yourself and do exactly what they tell you.
Forget all that nonsense. I want you to stop “throwing the baby out with the bath water” (What a horrible idiomatic expression!) when it comes to weight loss. Start by evaluating what you did in the past, why it stopped working for you, and what you could do to make it work for you in the future.
The second way to do background research is to look at what the experts in the nutrition, exercise, and habit change fields recommend. You can do something simple like a search on Pinterest or something way more complex like look for scientific journal articles. You can also just ask me;-) I've pretty much read everything worth reading on the subject since the 1980s, and I'm happy to steer you in the right direction.
3. Construct a Hypothesis/ Make a Habit
Remember from elementary school that a hypothesis is just a fancy word for Educated Guess. You are making an educated guess as to the habit that will help you answer the question that you posed to your brain. You will be conducting an experiment to see if you can achieve the outcome that you are hoping for.
4. Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment
Now it’s time to write your hypothesis/ habit as an, "I will…” statement. This is what you intend to do, when you intend to do it, and where you intend to do it.
(Actually, it’s not really a billion. In this study, writing a plan helped 91% people to exercise vs. about 35%!)
Also, include the date for when you will evaluate the habit. I find that giving a habit change about a two week trial is optimal. The first week takes a lot of reminders and back-up plans. The second weeks seems to go more smoothly. If it doesn’t go more smoothly, you may need a new strategy.
Tracking habits are an important part of the process. Making a check mark or filling in the box is an important reward we give our brains for doing the habit. Think of it like a shiny gold star that you used to crave on your spelling test as kid. Our brains love rewards. It is a form of positive conditioning to encourage the behavior for the future.
Aim to keep your habit chain going and congratulate yourself for every X on your habit tracker.
5. Analyze Your Data
When you make a habit, if it gets easier, more enjoyable, and brings you closer to your goal, then this is a habit worth keeping. It works well with your preferences, lifestyle, and physiology. It flows. Check out the Be a Scientist Action Guide, to help you analyze the data from your habit.
If things haven't gone well, it's important to stay curious. This gives us important information. You need to examine what happened and why-- if you're to learn from the experience. Practice being an impartial, non-judgmental scientist. This whole approach is a learning process. We all need to experiment to determine what is best for each of us. In fact, bad days give us good data.
Most people try to make the wrong habit work when they are trying to lose weight. They ignore the data from the bad days. They decide the habit they want, they summon all their willpower, and continue at it no matter what.
6. Draw a Conclusion
The conclusion is simply stating what you learned.
Are you going to keep the habit as you first tried it, or do you need to go back to step 3 (Construct a Hypothesis) and modify things a bit?
Put on Your Lab Coat
Ready to Be a Scientist? Now it’s your turn. Think of a problem that you are trying to solve with your weight. Use the Be a Scientist Action Guide to guide you through the process.
At first, the process may seem clunky, but the scientific method will become second nature to you. Eventually, the steps will blend and you will do it intuitively.
Put on your lab coat, get hypothesizing, and leave me a comment below if you have any questions.
Until next time,
get the Guide to Losing Weight without Dieting!
What are the secrets of the most successful losers? After coaching hundreds of people, I found these 15 habits and mind shifts in my clients who lose weight and keep it off. Now I'm sharing the guide to losing weight without dieting with you. Get the guide here...
I'm a dietitian, personal trainer, and health coach who started asking all the tough health and weight loss questions-- like how do we get more willpower, why can’t we stay motivated, and why is getting healthy and losing weight so tough?
I discovered that the answer to all these questions is simply--Your Brain.
I help you stop the health and weight loss struggles by understanding your brain and then working with it—instead of against it. Then, I teach you how to put your personalized healthy habits on autopilot for results that last.
I believe that you deserve the health and energy to live your best life.