Monday, March 28, 2011

Discipline and Losing Weight

Photos from the blog of Henry James, March 31, 2010

Discipline and Losing Weight

The last blog featured the role of external motivation systems for weight loss. This blog demonstrates how intrinsic motivation can be used as a basis for losing weight.

Recently, Harry Chapman of Dallas, Texas was featured in the Times-Picayune, the MoneyWalker’s daily newspaper. Harry, always fitness conscious throughout his 30s, was shocked to realize by his late forties he had a 44 inch waist line. With the stress and responsibilities of his job, he lost time for exercise and was overeating. Moreover, all his life quality indicators were trending in the wrong direction.

First he determined to change his behavior by focusing on health rather than losing pounds. He opted for intrinsic motivation to develop a plan of action. He also sought encouragement from significant others. The plan was to exercise six days a week and follow a calorie restricted diet. Two years later he had lost 100 pounds.

Harry’s advice to is to take action with what you can do. For him it was swimming. He supports small realistic goals. Harry’s first goal was to move from lane 1 to lane 2. Lane 1 of his 50 meter pool was for the really slow swimmers. Harry could just make one length of the 50 meter pool when he started. With discipline and consistency he slowly moved up lanes until he reached lane five, the lane reserved for his club’s fastest swimmers. He now belongs to the Dallas Aquatic Masters Swim Club and competes with other masters. Says Harry, “Find a regiment and stick with it.”

Now the bad news, Harry warns that just because you are running, or walking, going to the gym, or swimming; and you are doing everything right in terms of exercise, there is no guarantee that you will lose weight. It is the “eating aspect” that is the most important, not the exercise he cautions. Harry’s final advice is biting but true: “The battle is at the table.” “You cannot work out enough to overcome overeating.“


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Developing a Motivation System for Weight Loss and Exercise Continuance

Is this you on December 31, “I am going to lose 30 pounds next year and look great for my 25th high school reunion?” January 1, you make the resolution. On February 1 you lose five pounds, but on March 1, you have gained back seven.

If so, you need to examine your motivation system. Motivation to achieve difficult goals usually requires a “system” of reinforcement behaviors rather than just one end-all be-all motivation device. There are two sources of motivation—intrinsic and extrinsic. The drive connected to intrinsic motivation is “to be a better healthier person;” or, “responsible people keep their weight under control so as to look their best and avoid lifestyle diseases that come with being overweight, and I am a responsible person.” Examples of extrinsic drives are money, rewards, recognition, power, and even tokens.

When possible, we want to be motivated by intrinsic (internal rather than external) motivation, but it's not always possible to be internally motivated about everything. This is where extrinsic motivation becomes valuable. Good behaviors are often in competition with bad behavior. I can take my 4 mile walk or I can read on the couch. At the party, I can make healthy food choices or I can overeat foods with high sugar, salt, starch, or fat content. Motivation drives all those choices, both the good ones and bad ones. Also, good and bad motives are in competition for your will.

Motivation to behave a certain way is driven by how past behaviors have been reinforced. The reinforcement to overeat chocolate candy is because it tastes great. The reinforcement to restrict chocolate in your diet might come from wanting to maintain a recently gained weight loss goal. Or, by approving comments made by a significant other.

Motivation systems require a specific goal. The goal must be defined and what behaviors will be used to reach the goal. After the goal is set and the enabling behaviors determined, a series of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation schemes must be determined and linked together or nested. Also, the schemes will range from elaborate to simple. Especially the extrinsic rewards should be definable and tangible.

The MoneyWalker will illustrate how a motivation system works by using his own system as a working example. My new year’s goal was to be within what the American College of Sports Medicine defines as normal weight. My current weight is 173 pounds. For me, a normal weight is between 129 and 169 lbs. This number range was calculated using my height, weight, age, and gender and then placing the data into a Body Mass Index formula (BMI). My recommended BMI is between 19 and 25. Mine was 25.5 just into the “overweight” category. Thus, my specific goal is to lose four pounds.

Now that I have a specific goal, what set of behaviors am I going to use to lose the weight. The answer is to exercise regularly and practice portion control. My exercise of choice is one guaranteed to burn calories, a daily walk of four or five miles. Every mile burns 100 calories. Portion control means to eat smaller amount of foods known to cause fat storage—sugars, starches, and fats. I try to limit myself to 2200 hundred calories daily. With the exercise program, my net calorie for daily metabolism is between 1700 and 1800 calories. I should lose weight with that amount. I also will weight daily and record the weight in a journal. Although weight fluctuation is normal, upward trends aren’t. Daily weighing provides important trend data. Another behavior is to eat breakfast every day.

I have found that intrinsic motivation does not provide enough reinforcement to sustain my habit of daily walking. Also, feel-good strategies weren't helpful. Beautiful scenery didn’t work, variety of walks didn’t work, and walking with friends didn’t work--for me it was MoneyWalking. MoneyWalking is my name for finding money and other “valuable” objects while walking. Finding a piece of money on the ground is very powerful reinforcement. It supplies classic behavioral random variable reinforcement schedules. One never knows when, where, or how much money will be found during the walks. Also, MoneyWalking involves learning, the more you walk the more money you find. It is a matter of learning where people lose money.

Thus, MoneyWalking is the base of my motivation system, but many other types of motivation schemes are nested within the system. For example, I name the various types of money finds. My ventral striatum really fires hot and heavy when finding a scatter of pennies that someone just dumped on the ground. I call it a penny dump or a Benjamin dump (my son Benjamin tells me he just dumps his pennies on the curb when they accumulate in the console of his car).

Another technique is to count the money as it is found. My goal for each walk is to find one dollar are more. In the metric system “deci” means 1/10th. As I walk and find money, I keep count of the number of decis that are found. At the end of a walk, if I have found $1.29, I record 12 decis, one for every 1/10 of a dollar. While walking I am very aware of the number of decis and the fraction needed to make the next highest deci. In the above example I require just one more penny to earn another deci. Sometimes, I am tempted to add a few blocks to my walk just trying to close out the next higher deci level. Decis are like intermediate goals and serve as "tokens" I earn along the walk.

As mentioned above, daily weighing and recording the weight is nested into the system. I hate myself when today’s weight is higher than yesterday’s. Daily weighing is a great for self transparency. I weigh every morning, regardless of what splurge might have occurred the day before. A trending upward scale pattern is a grating reminder to cut back on the portions and monitor the choices.

Giving back to society is another form of external motivation nested into my system. I rehab, reuse, or repurpose hundreds of objects found during my walks. Then, ever six months, I conduct a MoneyWalker yard sale with all proceeds going to one of my favorite charities, the Baptist Friendship House for Abused Women and their Children or the University of New Orleans Homer L. Hitt Distinguished Lecture Series. Also, all the money found by the MoneyWalker is divided between these two charitable causes. There is nothing more rewarding than helping a worthy cause (and for some, the recognition that such giving bestows on the donor). “I can’t stop walking now, all those battered women and their children are counting on me.” is powerful self-talk.

In summary, if you are not meeting your weight loss goals, you might need to recalibrate your motivation system. Define your weight loss goal very specifically. Determine what behaviors you need to follow in order to reach your goal. Select a powerful base extrinsic motivation reward system, one that has the passion to sustain your behaviors. Combine your base motivator with secondary motivators to amplify the reinforcement. Be sure to include intrinsic motivation as a critical part of your system. Effective motivation systems are not easy to establish or follow. And worse, there are counterproductive motivation systems operating within you that compete for your willpower. Yet, a well conceived motivation system is a critical part of your weight loss and exercise program.

Remember, a happy walker is a regular walker.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Is Walking A Key To Happiness?

Who knew, the Pope is a walker. Photo taken by Sammy Sabine at 2011 New Orleans Mardi Gras.

Feature Entry: Is Walking A Key To Happiness?

The MoneyWalker, like most bloggers, follows the blogs of others. This morning I tuned into Gretchen Rubin’s award winning “The Happiness Project.” Today she interviewed Piers Steel author of the book, The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done. Steel opines that “procrastination isn't tied to perfectionism or laziness, as many people believe, but rather to impulsivity. Impulsive people have trouble getting themselves to do things they don't want to do.” I suppose I can add impulsivity to initiative disorder as a reason to put off my morning walk.

Steel also promotes walking as a source of happiness. Gretchen asked Steel: “If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost?" Responds Steel: “
My strategy isn’t to pursue happiness as directly as others often do. It doesn’t work, at least for me, quite as well as I would wish. I’m more of an Aldous Huxley adherent, “Happiness is not achieved by the conscious pursuit of happiness; it is generally the by-product of other activities.” So I seek accomplishment and meaning and through these activities I find satisfaction with my life. In a pinch, however, a really vigorous exercise routine dependably burns away gloom; sore muscles reacquaint you with your body and get you out of your head.”
Thus, to use Pers Steel’s strategy to experience happiness we should focus on tasks that involve accomplishment, meaning, satisfaction, and exercise.

Steel also shares the MoneyWalker’s propensity to repurpose, recycle, and rebuild objects that are broken or discarded. Rubin asked Steel: “What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier? Steel:
“Fixing or building things. I’m the type of guy who likes assembling IKEA furniture. Perhaps it acts as a counterpoint to the writing [one’s regular work] I do, but there is something wonderful about holding something physical in your hands and feeling the steady progress as an object reaches completion. Even better, when my five year old son’s Christmas gift, a train he adored, broke within a few weeks, he held back a tear as he placed his toy confidently in my hands. I’ve fixed so many over-loved toys in the past. A little disassembly, a bolt to keep the piston in place, and “good as new,” as he likes say when he gets it back."

So is walking a source of happiness? It is for the MoneyWalker. He is happy when the scales report a downward trend. He is happy when he experiences the sounds, sights, smells, and social flavors of his Mid-City neighborhood. He is happy by the maintenance of a relatively thin waist line. He is happy when finding loose change or objects discarded that are then repaired and recycled. He is happy when the physician announces glowing and positive results of the latest physical check-up.

But don't take the word of the MoneyWalker, ask the Pope, his photo says it all!


Monday, March 7, 2011

Walking and Barbara Pym--Journal Entries March 2 through March 7, 2011

Photo features Barbara Pym from Goodreads

Walking and Barbara Pym--Journal Entries March 2 through March 7, 2011

: Some time ago, the MoneyWalker’s blogs changed formats so as to seperate "feature entries" from "journal entries." To add interest to the journal entries, I will now add walking quotes from my favorite authors. This one features the late Barbara Pym.

"The small things of life were often so much bigger than the great things . . . the trivial pleasure like cooking, one's home, little poems especially sad ones, solitary walks, funny things seen and overheard." from Less Than Angels


”Dulcie comes to the rescue with smelling salts. Dulcie becomes intrigued by the gorgeous, shaggy Aylwin. She researches him in the library, walks through his neighborhood, and goes so far as to attend a jumble sale at his mother-in-law’s house.” From No Fond Return of Love

March 2: Weight = 172.2 lbs.; Coinage = $2.42, 47 pennies, 8 nickels, 8 dimes, 3 quarters; Glass bottles = 4; Ground Scores = 8.

March 3: Weight = 172.0 lbs.; Coinage = $1.07, 42 pennies, 1 nickel, 6 dimes; Glass bottles = 2; Ground scores = 3.

March 5: Weight = 172.2 lbs.; Coinage = $3.59, 159 pennies, 4 nickels, 8 dimes, 4 quarters; Glass bottles = 3.

March 6: Weight = 172.6 lbs.; Coinage = $4.07, 82 pennies, 12 nickels, 19 dimes, 3 quarters; Glass bottles = 3; Ground scores = 6.

March 7: Weight = 172.8 lbs.; Coinage = $2.02, 97 pennies, 7 nickels, 7 dimes; Glass bottles = 14; Ground scores = 3.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Initiation Impairment

Feature Entry: Initiation Impairment

Surely it is not the lack of motivation or my higher desire for sweet and fattening foods that is keeping me from reaching my Body Mass Index goal of 168 pounds. With great fanfare the MoneyWalker announced to the world on January 1st that he was going to lose 8 pounds and reach the elusive goal of a normal BMI for his height, age, and weight. But after two months, he still has a long way to go. I tell myself that I am adequately motivated to lose those last few pounds, but they won’t go away.

Now I am thinking I might have a medical disorder. While preparing for a blog on my anticipated “nested motivation systems” I found the existence of a new medical condition—initiation impairment. I think that is me. When I begin a carefully conceived intervention plan including the creation of a food journal, practicing portion control, selecting large portions of fruits and vegetables while avoiding starchy, sweet, and fatty foods, exercising daily using American College of Sports Medicine guideline; I just can’t seem to get started. So that must be it, I have Initiation impairment.

It must have happened that day many years ago when I knocked myself unconscious going for a spectacular racquet ball play. Instead, I tripped and suffered a concussion by hitting my head against the concrete wall. It must be a case of delayed onset of TBI or traumatic brain injury that is causing my problem. These days, all the former NFL football players seem to be talking about their TBIs with all their negative consequences. We can't blame them, they have initiation impairment.

Isn’t modern medicine wonderful! Until reading about Initiation impairment, I thought it was just my lazy attitude that was preventing me from reaching my weight loss goal. But not to worry, I am still going to write that blog about how to lose weight using nested motivation systems just as soon as I recover from this dreaded case of initiation impairment.

What excuse are you giving yourself for not keeping your New Year’s resolution to lose weight?

And what was the tip from the photo? Stop using excuses like initiation impairment and start consuming less calories than you are burning. It will cut a little of the belly fat away everyday.