Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Throwing out the standard approach to diet and excercise Part 2.

Part 1 of this post covered what I think almost all approaches overlook/do poorly - how to implement change regardless of what the change to should be. A lot of research on what type of diet is better, which macro nutrients, which exercises, etc... but in the end if you can't change permanently or effectively the right "formula" is pretty much useless or in my theory detrimental for certain people susceptible to the "failure penalty" spiral I have outlined.

After this initial analysis I needed a direction - something different from the standard approach. So I took a step back and looked at my profession - a professional change agent (continuous improvement engineer/six sigma black belt). I was responsible for making changes and transforming an entire organization - I was effective at this why not use some of the same principles on myself? Why not apply principles I had proven worked in other areas of my life?

 So I examined how I approached my new organization from the start - I was hired to change from one level of efficiency/performance and improve to the next. The problem with a broad mission of improve the organization (or the corollary "get fit") is that it is like trying to boil an ocean it seems overwhelming and at times impossible. In dramatic organizational improvement as the change agent you cannot be in the "this is impossible" camp you need to be leading the charge.

At the start I broke the change into smaller elements that were more easily definable. Not listing them all but it is a technical manufacturer so I had workplace organization, documentation standards, training, lean layouts, data collection systems, data analysis systems, etc...basically all aspects could be improved to get to the desired state. The problem is to make a successful change I cannot bombard the organization with all changes at once - this makes many poor outcomes happen: increased resistance to so much change, diluted results, poor staying power (no buy-in), and an overall "shotgun" perception.

How to change all of these and not overstep? Very simple was to not change everything at once! The end goal stays the same - but you don't need to change everything to make progress towards it. Yes all these are somewhat related but not dependent on each other. So out of all the areas you choose the one with the biggest bang for the buck as it were and plan that out, and then when you lock up a success there you use that buy-in to phase another in, rinse and repeat until over time you have changed all the areas - but at a pace that does not overwhelm the organization.

It requires management take along term approach (I laid out a 2 year plan to get the basics in line) and support it - but in the end the organization has changed without really knowing it and the improved performance is the norm not something they are straining on all fronts to maintain.

Applying this to my miserable state of health I had to divide and conquer - at 415 pounds I already felt overwhelmed so separating out diet and exercise made sense. The next question was which had the bigger bang for the buck? A little research had numbers for diet component ranging from 50% to 95% with the exercise rarely taking the lions share of responsibility for weight loss (now I would say almost 100% to start with some diminishing component as you progress - but more on that in some later post).

The basic argument for why diet is a larger component also made logical sense - it is much easier to over eat nutrients then to exercise them off - regardless of which diet your on (try eating an extra 1000 calories of whichever macro you favor verse walking it off).

So I had my initial cut. I would attack diet first and then when I had success there I would move on to exercise. This left the question of how long was long term? I had no clue - I wished I had a magic wand and could wake up successful but in reality I knew at 415 pounds and with my track record I would be happy to be able to change my eating patterns and be comfortable with it in 6 months to a year.

So to summarize below is a representation of my "acclimation" approach - work on diet and get to a successful/comfortable new baseline point and then phase in the exercise/physical fitness changes:

What I also had in mind, at this point with the longer term goal, is that I didn't have to go from poor diet to perfect diet the first day. I should treat it as I did the entire challenge, breaking it up into manageable phases that could be accomplished before moving on. The same for the Exercise. Break everything down into small changes, lock up the benefits, and then move on.

A benefit of this approach is if you have accomplished a couple of your small goals in the diet phase (say eating a a predominant macro type, and learning to eat only when hungry) and then fail at your next (say going from processed to whole foods) your not so emotionally invested. At worst your only sliding back down to trying to accomplish the same goal because you already have success at the previous ones.

I had no clue at the time if this was going to be successful, but at this point 18 months later I can say it worked for me and I think it can work for others be they overweight all the way up to super-super obese. Especially the heavier folks who are bearing the soul crushing weight of their weight and the weight of their perceived failures.

I have purposefully left out what type of dietary and physical changes I have found to be logical and that worked for me - because I did not want to detract from my message: method is all too often overlooked. If your just starting out - don't aim for ultimate perfection, break it down into manageable steps/goals.

In my next few posts I will get into what dietary changes I set out to make, how I broke them up, and roughly how long I spent conquering each level.

I will try to stay away from all of the research behind my decisions until later after I have finished detailing out my journey (although I may sprinkle it in here and there - if you read through the archives from those on my blog roll there are countless great reviews and discussion of studies and theory if you can't wait).


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