Thursday, January 29, 2009

What does "Everything in moderation" really mean?

As I have mentioned before, weight management "tips" annoy me. I'm especially annoyed when a tip is repeated so often that it takes on a mantra-like quality. Take "Everything in moderation" for example or even the American Dietetic Association's mantra "All foods can fit". How often have you heard this type of advice? More importantly, how useful has it been for you?

"Everything in moderation" implies that you do not have to give up your favorite foods but you should be careful about how much you eat. The evidence comes from the energy-balance equation: if you take in fewer calories than your body needs then the body dips into its own energy stores (often fat stores) and over time, the scale shows a sustainable weight loss. Therefore, you can eat any food as long as you don't eat more calories than you burn. The evidence is that weight loss follows a reduction in calories, i.e. the tip's evidence is based on physiological rather than behavioral evidence.

However, if by trying to be moderate, you commit to serving yourself just one handful of potato chips AND you can't stop at one handful then you have exposed yourself to more calories than you needed and your weight loss goal just slipped further away. The "Everything in moderation" mantra just backfired: Your behavioral tendencies ruled the day. You may have been better off not trying to be moderate with the potato chips.

Gretchen Rubin, at the Happiness Project blog, talks about the usefulness in knowing whether you are a "moderator" or an "abstainer". According to Gretchen, some people just do better if they go cold turkey when trying to make a key behavior change. For example, an "abstainer" might be more successful by not having any potato chips at all. A "moderator" might feel deprived going without potato chips so just having a 1-handful portion might be a more successful strategy. Knowing whether you are a "moderator" or an "abstainer" might just help you figure out why your calorie reduction strategies haven't worked in the past and develop the right strategy for the future.

Or even better, as an "abstainer" you can smugly feel confident and guilt-free when your "moderator" friend admonishes you with "Everything in moderation".

Monday, January 19, 2009

Evil weight management tips

I feel thwarted by weight management tips! They annoy me. Take the many, many reasons why someone is struggling with their weight and then synthesize it into one action statement. Add a "just" and a few exclamation marks and voila! The tip of your dreams. Just commit to eating breakfast every day! Don't eat when you're angry! Just eat off a salad plate! Just write everything down!

After many years working in the weight management business, I should know better. That one pearl of wisdom about successful weight management can make a difference. People need information. The tip format is a useful way to share pertinent information. My resistance comes from seeing weight-loser wannabes regurgitate all the things that they've been told over the years. With guilt-laden postures and many sighs they tell me "Oh, I know I should be --insert your favorite over-used tip here-- but I just can't, I guess I'm just hopeless". These well-meaning but essentially useless tips can be damaging. All should come with a warning "This tip may not work for you - don't worry, we have many more!".

The tip isn't really the problem here. It is how the tip is used or in many cases over-used. A weight management professional must craft messages well. We must understand our clients' key issues and find a way to give useful information.

Anne Fletcher has mastered the art of weight management tip writing very well. In her best-selling book Thin for Life she lists 10 over-arching tips:

1. Believe that you can become thin for life.

2. Take the reins.

3. Do it your way.

4. Accept the food facts.

5. Nip it in the bud.

6. Learn positive self-talk.

7. Move it or lose it.

8. Face life head-on.

9. Get more out of life.

10. Don't go it alone.

Check out WebMD's book synopis for a more complete overview of these tips and what they mean. One of the crucial aspects of successful weight management is for each person to become more aware of their daily patterns, not just in food intake or activity but also in mindset and mood. It is only when that self-awareness is strengthened that a person can decide exactly how they will start decreasing their food intake and increasing their activity. That's what Anne's tips do - help create better self-awareness around daily patterns. With that knowledge a person can effectively use any of the typical weight management tips. And "effectively using" also means choosing not to use all of the tips that one sees.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Design leadership for active living?

When it comes to dispensing advice about healthy eating and active living, we can all talk the talk. Typically, any expert excels in telling people what to do. Simply do what I say. However, in our heart-of-hearts we know it is much more important to listen to those people who walk the walk (if we can find them). Or in John Maeda's case - jog the jog.

John Maeda is the new president of the Rhode Island School of Design. This new role is undoubtedly more responsibility, more leadership and possibly more burden than his previous role at the Massachusetts' Institute of Technology. He wrote the best seller "The Laws of Simplicity" so this year, as his life became complex, I imagine that he felt like he had a lot to live up to and a little like he was in a fish bowl. Moreover, he is a family man with a wife and 5 daughters. Finding time to be active couldn't possibly have been a high priority for him over the first few months of his new tenure. Publicly he stated that what was most important to him was openness and transparency in his presidency. Being open would mean being accessible and that would put a premium on his time. So his fitness regimen would take a backseat, right?

Wrong! John Maeda places a premium on design and where better to utilize design logic but in one's own life? With a design focus, he was able to turn the complexity of a chaotic president's life into one more simplified yet one that met his ambitions. Jogging with John: Innovation Jog for Creative Entrepreneurs, co founded with his colleague Steve Cronin (CEO of Pawtucket's Mercury Print & Mail), started back in June 2008. Billed as 'a social jog through Providence for those who like a dose of ideas with their morning run' this is not just a running group but also a social network. The 73 members (as of Jan 03, 2009) not only enjoy hanging out with like-minded individuals but also continue developing their relationships and dialog via a social media network. After all, much of the conversation focuses on Web 2.0 leadership as well as other innovative ideas.

For me, the story here is the way being active became part of a solution. No one is telling you that jogging is good for you; that it makes you burn more calories, clears your head, makes you feel better and, if you are doing it with friends, allows you to enjoy camaraderie. It isn't yet another thing that you can feel guilty about not doing. However, you can bet that if I lived in Providence I would make every one of those jogging sessions. I would have a lot of learn from these design gurus, these Web 2.0 leaders, these entrepreneurs, and I would love to be jogging along with them through the streets of Providence. Active living at its best. And leadership at its best too.

Friday, January 2, 2009

In the beginning...

there was a conversation worth having. Brings me great pleasure to start that conversation.