Sunday, September 12, 2010

Kill the Big Pill: Body Comp Change is Complex, not Single Factor

What does body comp change take to succeed? There's a UK surgeon, Nick Finer, who says it's too hard for seriously fat people to lose weight because we just keep adjusting homeostatically to the weight we're at. Now i've seriously questioned this before (see: set point theory is crap). But Finer's solution for body comp success? Gastric Bypass. One gets the impression that he'd like roaming NHS trucks to pull the overweight over into the vans and gut clamp 'em on the spot.  Cheap fix. Consequences? A few. Enduring effectiveness? Maybe not so much (interesting discussion of this report on obesity discussion). No successful, enduring change it seems, is so simple.  We must, it seems, be willing to get a bit more complex.

Make it as simple as possible, but not simpler
- attributed to Einstein 

Indeed,  as other professionals, like Susan Roberts of Tufts, suggest from actually working with people when they're conscious rather than innert and knocked out on an operating table as so much plumbing, our engagement with food is complex - involving yes homeostatic components (the physiological us), but also hedonic components (the social/psychological us)  - and the multiple factors of the one can and do affect the multiple factors of the other (discussed here in change is pain).
The Instinct Diet: Use Your Five Food Instincts to Lose Weight and Keep it Off
So if we are such complex systems (and we are) how likely is *ANY* single factor solution - whether Pill or Clamp or Diet - to succeed?  As complex systems, the body comp solutions that last and endure and have positive long term effects seem to be the ones that respect this complexity. And they are the ones that take work, and a readiness to engage what it takes to change.

Consider Arnold's advice (yesterday's post) that a champion will want to do "anything it takes" to achieve their vision (or goal). Ok, one might say, great to talk about bodybuilding - the hotbed of drug use. Sure. Let's say that's so. But one still cannot *just* pop a pill and, ta da, succeed. Arnie describes spent five hours in the gym a day, one of which was posing practice, another flexibility work, the rest, working working working. Success takes reps - lots of them - to succeed. And success means also practice on a variety of levels. For arnie, he had a head game, posing, movement, weights work, training plans. All of that took reps. Multi-factor.

And success also takes a willingness to confront failure, learn from mistakes and keep going. Arnie notes it in his video, but so do all the writers on talent of late like the Talent Code and Talent is Overrated: the neurological role of making mistakes and figuring out what went wrong and correcting those errors is a key factor in getting better, improving performance. Enter the Coach to help figure these things out. Pat Summitt, below, is just one example of a great coach who, in her case, helps her athletes succeed as scholars and bball players.

Learning from mistakes,  by the bye, in body comp is we can see very different than so-called yo-yo dieting where one keeps doing the same thing - sticking to a diet, losing weight, and then as soon as off the diet, regaining the weight, so pick another diet - and getting nowhere. That doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results has often been given as the definition of insanity.

So, given that enduring success (a) takes practice, (b) using errors for feedback on refining prcess and (c) in particular is Multi Factor, what are the components of  success in body comp? 

If someone asked me "hey mc, newly precision nutrition level 1 certified person, taking Arnie's Champion attitude, i'll do anything it takes to change my body comp. What does it take? Just tell me," i might be inclined to say:

Ok, it the key factors are time, patience, perseverance,  some ongoing self-love, social support,  and coaching/knowledge (food later: we have to plan for success first).

Strategies for Enduring Change

Time is probably the biggie. Why? well, we can get that one pretty easily: physical change takes time to affect. But more than that,  the biggie about enduring change is behavioural as well as physiological, and that means changing habits. IT takes both time and lots of reps to create new habits; we're rewiring the brain. Literally. Especially if what we're doing around food is often already habituated as a stress response, i'll say again: change is pain on the brain.

How Prep for Time: Once up for this notion of Taking Time, then having strategies to support new practice of change, and having support to persist with these changes is pretty key. Are strategies in place? Is the social support system in place?

The Four-Day Win: End Your Diet War and Achieve Thinner PeaceStrategies for Time Change: Approaches like Precision Nutrition has several strategies for change: the precision nutrition system, overviewed here; their lean eating program with daily support, discussed here, and their certified coaches for one on one support. Martha Beck's Four Day Win has step by step strategies for building up food practice habits and supporting some self-love in the process. Brad Pilon's Eat Stop Eat has very simple strategies: stop eating once a week.

Body comp change does take a pretty constant level of commitment - that's the patience and perseverance - where, as arnie says, his happiness is that every rep was one more leading to his goal. So what are the reps in body comp? In a way we get to count the done and the note done. Here, the reps are often as much what one does do - eat right, exercise - as what one doesn't do - skip the multiple cookies for just one; skip the extra helping.

Prep & Strategies for Committment: Celebrating the Reps of the Done and the Not Done: how about keeping a log as one might for exercising to track not calories, but all the times we've said Yes to the right things, and One Less to the "wrong"? 

Self-Care and Support
It will take some self-love and self-support - to care about and for oneself and be as gentle with oneself as one would with a best friend - to see the scale weight fluctuate up and down, but to trust the trend to be heading down. If it's not heading down after two weeks of New Practice, awesome to have an expert in your corner for guidance and support.

Prep for self-love: Do we celebrate the Wins of Change, let's call them? whose your buddy who's there for you? where's your on-call expert to reality check what you're doing?

Strategies for self-love and support: Finding a friend can be hard, since one's current posee might not feel one with a person's committment to change. There are however quite a few diet forums on the web for folks in similar situations to oneself. Again, this is why i dig precision nutrition: the forum is a huge asset since not only experts but folks in exactly the same place as ourselves who have been through it, are going through it, are there. 

A note on Threat Reduction and Diet: In z-health Sustenance, we also talk about change as being percieved as a threat. Being in a threat place is not an optimal place to support performance change. Threat means our nervous system, responsible for all sorts of hormonal interactions, perceives a threat to our very survival.  Interest in shedding calories is the antithesis of being in a threat place. So we need strategies to help support change that lets us reduce the threat response so we can get to a place to work on performance. Without that, how likely are performance oriented strategies like diet change going to be?

Likewise, each stage of change, too, may take slightly different strategies. Finding support/expertise for those changes may be key.

All the Time in the World; With a little (self) Love in Your Heart
The main message here is time, patience, self-love, support and balanced guidance: when engaging in body comp change, that's a long term committment - even if one only has the proverbial five pounds to lose - and that that's ok. It's like a long term relationship - there are the ups and the not so ups. But being in for the long haul with ourselves is ok: we have the rest of our lives.

After all, if something takes months rather than weeks or a year rather than a month, presumably we have a few more years after that to enjoy the fruits of our labours? That so sounds like it kinda sucks that it's not now and today, or "in just 60 days" and it's not that one can't do extreme programs and get some results acceleration (and be exhausted), but our bodies do kind need the long view.

We're cyclical
Another thing i've been learning about is another "well that's obvious" - is that body comp is cyclical, and our own cycles are different from each others' There are times when we have more energy to give to change and maintenance than others. The winter when it's colder we may put on more fat to stay warm, or that may be the time we really peel it off - working out to stay warm. This is another reason to say it takes time to do body comp work: part of the process is learning our cycles, and by learning them we can tune them.

Ever considered an energy log? When do workouts feel great? when is energy more up or more down than usual? does it correlate to anything else in our days? 

I've been finding sleep is a great indicator/corelator of differences, and being lazy about logging it's why i like things like Zeo for logging those subtle differences in quality of sleep, or occasionally monitoring my heart for HRV to see if i'm more pooped than not?

So where's the food in all this? 
In Defense of Food: An Eater's ManifestoIntriguingly, with all this talk of commitment, "getting on a diet" may be less important than heuristics about food and some basic food knowledge. Michael Pollan puts it well in Defence of Food: eat less; mostly plants.

Precision Nutrition has a few more heuristics: eat protein at each feeding; get veggie variety at each feeding; get good fats in during the day; skip useless calories drinks of all kinds like juice and pop; save starchy fast carbs till you deserve them - post workout. Eat Stop Eat says eat less daily, and stop eating once or twice a week for about 24 hours. There's also the "change one thing diet" - commit to one less meal in front of the tv for a week, then maybe two less - it's part of the long haul: pick *one* thing to change, commit to that and build up success from there. As Martha Beck suggests, develop strategies that you believe will be successful, and then make that one even easier. Build successes.

Yes but what about the Food?
Folks like Georgie Fear have created recipe books that make following these heuristics delicious and fun. Hers is called Dig In and it's great. Georgie's site also has TONS of free recipes, too.

Gourmet Nutrition vol. 2 is a lovely book of recipes (hit the free sample download) likewise tested for flavour and sitting well with good eating habits.  And once we know what to look for in good food, we can start to assess food recipes for ourselves. If you find another source you like, please post it in the comments.

Take Home: We need MultiFactor Strategies for the Long View.
Arnie's view of success is that each rep takes the champs closer to their goals. Implicit in each rep is that it's part of a  plan for success, and that plan is multi-factorial, complex (not complicated). Arnie got that winning is not just about lifting big, but moving well, attitude, balance, timing, etc. Why would our own body comp change goals be less complicated?

So how can we help each other to take the long view, and celebrate that anrie-esque joy that each rep is one step closer to the vision we have of ourselves?

Part of that success is getting that taking a single factor approach is likely doomed. I once read that the reason that most small businesses fail is that they don't plan for success. Martha Beck in the Four Day Win concentrates vigerously on planning each action for diet success ahead of time; Precision Nutrition likewise takes pains to emphasis progressive practice of habits before thinking about individualization. Good coaches likewise work with a us based on where we're at with stages of change. But in each case, there's respect for the fact that we're talking about change, and that's a multifactorial thing that requires DYNAMIC multifactorial approaches.

So when considering a new practice - and body comp change is just such a practice - ask: does that thing i'm looking at respect the complexity that is me? does it recognize the physiological, social and psychological parts of the process? Does it have plans to address each of those parts? If not, change that one thing?

If you need a hand, the above are some great starting points. If you'd like some one on one guidance beyond the PN forum for instance, a list of coaches certified in multifactorial nutrition coaching is here.

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