I know myself just how draining that is. And lifestyle change seemed so daunting. I mean the very phrase insinuates huge change.
But then one little change fixed everything.Instead of trying to fix my diet, or change my habits overnight, I decided to fix my mindset.
But I didn’t, and still don’t use any willpower to maintain this at all.
And to be honest… it wasn’t really that hard at all.
I’m not trying to sell you shit.
So what did I do?
1) I told myself it would take time.
2) I let myself be human, and cheat or fail every now n then. Well, regularly, to be honest.
3) I took a step back and changed how I looked at food.
4) I challenged the thought processes that made me keep wanting to eat, while I was eating. I challenged these regularly. I rewarded myself regularly with congratulations and self-applause when I made the right choice. If I couldn’t help it, I’d make an excuse, knowing that I was forming neural networks that would solidify in the long run.
5) I SLOWLY – we’re talking 1 pizza slice less per month – reduced my portion sizes.
6) I ATE WHATEVER I WANTED – and let myself be human, knowing, that by reducing my portion sizes slowly over time, my stomach would get smaller and my brain would form neural pathways would make NEW thought processes that would become my habit.
The most important part of this process is STEP NUMBER 3! Repeating step 3 for JUST THREE WEEKS HAS MEANT…
7) I didn’t have to do anything else. I don’t have to do anything else. Ever. Neuoroplasticity has ensured that I never
have to try to diet or lose weight, EVER.
But keep reading to understand WHY step 3 is important, and how you can and should be doing this.
I hope it can help. And email me if you ever wanna talk. Keep reading on and I hope this helps.
Everyone talks about how they can’t stay on a diet and how they can’t find the time to do exercise… They talk about how hard it is to make changes in their life and how they just don’t have the willpower or ability to be healthier people.
But even while on 50mg of prednisone, a corticosteroid (which increases your appetite, screw around with your hormones and energy metabolism, and eat away at muscles) and even while I was still getting some chemotherapy which makes me anaemic for a one or two weeks every month, I didn’t find it hard at all.
All I did to become a healthier person was change my MINDSET.
I made healthy habits and eating less – a habit. The path of least resistance.
Automatic. And you can too.
Doctors all tell us that weight loss requires a lifestyle change, rather than drastic, quick-fix 12-day-detox/Biggest Loser boot camp solutions. And they’re right. You should look to lose weight AND keep it off. It’ll help you with heart problems, lower your chances of diabetes, reduces your risk of cancer and also – a healthy diet can make you feel better, more energetic than ever before.
But the words “lifestyle change” imply that it’s hard, that it requires constant effort and struggle to do, and that’s a big reason why people aren’t willing to make that change.
Eating the right foods, and getting some exercise on a continuous basis IS vital to weight loss. But what’s even more important is if you can maintain that way of living.
In hthis picture, I was sitting at around 106-107kg. I was trying everything to get fit and lose weight. I started juicing, cutting carbs out of my diet and went out, trying to run, get back into my old sprint training and back into the weights. And that was working – as it would for anyone – for a few weeks at a time.
But with my low immunity putting me into hospital with infections every few months, with my treatments lowering my bloodcounts, I kept getting sent back to where I began from over and over again… and it was frustrating as hell.
I yoyo dieted. Like crazy. I calorie counted. Stopped carbs. Intermittent fasted. Got into calorie deficits.
But dieting is hard. Forcing yourself to not eat is unnatural and really hard to do consistently.
I wanted to lose weight and become as fit as I was before cancer… I wanted to see results… but they just weren’t coming.
But after a while of this, I took a step back and saw that I was going through a cycle over and over again. It’s the same cycle a lot of yoyo/fad dieters go through.
I wanted results and I wanted them NOW. But they weren’t coming.
You don’t need huge “willpower” to do it. All it takes are a few small changes in how you view things.
But I’d lost nearly 20kg. It looks like a lot, but really, it was 1kg/week.
The only time I gained weight again after that first burst of weight loss was 5 years ago, when I got a third cancer in my ribs, was in hospital, and when I thought I’d need chemo again. I got back to my normal weight 6 months after that. Without trying.
So how exactly did I get there?
And how can you do this too?
1) I told myself it would take time.
2) I took a step back and changed how I looked at food.
3) I challenged the thought processes that made me keep wanting to eat, while I was eating. I challenged these regularly. I rewarded myself regularly with congratulations and self-applause when I made the right choice. If I couldn’t help it, I’d make an excuse, knowing that I was forming neural networks that would solidify in the long run.
4) I SLOWLY – we’re talking 1 pizza slice less per month – reduced my portion sizes.
5) I ATE WHATEVER THE DUCK I WANTED – and let myself be human, knowing, that by reducing my portion sizes slowly over time, my stomach would get smaller and my brain would form neural pathways would make NEW thought processes that would become my habit.
6) I didn’t have to do anything else. I don’t have to do anything else. Ever. Neuoroplasticity has ensured that I never
have to try to diet again.
In more detail and for the science, keep reading. If you’d like to read the whole science kinda thing, and check out the papers behind this – check out my 40 page book which summarises all of this (all free, lol, I should monetize this to grow it, but I’ve got no time and really would only monetize it to reach more people).
But yeah. I hope this helps. Email me if it does or if you wanna talk anytime.
# 1 – I Told Myself that it Would Take Time
–> This is one of the most important realisations you’ve gotta make. No matter how much we want it to, results don’t come in a few days. But they do come.
The trick is to not only remind yourself of this – but to keep looking at the big picture, on your entire journey – as this will make maintaining changes easier to accomplish. Instead of falling down in a heap if you can’t resist that desert at a party, you’ll remind yourself that the amount of times you had been good, and that in the long run, you were on the right path.
The science only helped me further believe, hell, it made me KNOW I could do it. But I mean it only made sense… I was only beginning my journey to get healthy – I was starting from scratch. It would take time to get to where I wanted to go. It wouldn’t happen overnight.
But that wasn’t a bad thing. I mean, it’s simple statistics. If I did things generally right, over a long period of time, I’d get to where I wanted to be. And by looking at it this way, I wasn’t forcing myself into doing something I didn’t want to – I was ALLOWING MYSELF TO BE HUMAN. knew I wouldn’t give up, or worry, or hate myself if I had a few slip-ups on the way either.
That’s exactly how you should look at weight loss, or any goal for that matter. It’ll give you the best chance of getting there (and of staying happy on the way too).
#2 – I Took A Step Back, and Made SMALL Changes To How I LOOKED At Food
–> Instead of making huge, drastic changes to my diet, or instead of starving myself, I
- Took a step back, and
- Questioned my current habits, until I saw
- An alternative perspective, or way of looking at things, that would leave me healthiest
A self-distanced perspective is described as that of someone looking at themselves as if they’re a fly on the wall. In the short term, this stops you from reacting emotionally, it reduces blood flow to limbic centres – it makes you more logical – and in the long term, it stops you from ruminating, or lingering over, things you can’t control.
When you do take that step back, your medial pre-frontal cortex, which, when firing, is associated with feelings of negativity, fires less. It’s shown to increase the ability for depressed people to think more broadly, and fixate less. It’s shown to make you more objective – you’re more likely to understand, and be realistic about things like understanding your chances of winning the lottery by doing it. Older adults, demonstrate lower blood flow to emotional centres of the brain and because of this, are what we call wiser – more logical, less likely to react emotionally, and they’re also more likely to be happier too.
You’ll get the person most likely to motivate you on your side –
Motivation works best when it’ comes FROM YOU!
3) I learned about how neuroplasticity worked, and made it MY HABIT to look at food in the most healthy way.
This is the most important step.
Key to this whole process’s success, is reinforcing this. Walking through that thought process over and over.
Neuroplasticity, can basically be broken down to this principle. “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”
Your brain sends signals in coordinated patterns. A thought is merely the combined, coordinated firing of a chain of connected neurons. The connection points are called synapses, junctions, into which pour ‘neurotransmitters’. Neurotransmitters attach to receptors and basically enable electrical signals to pass between two neurons.
The more these synapses fire, or the more these junctions have neurotransmitters ooze into them, a process called “long term potentiation” occurs. Neurons become more and more likely to fire together, because an increased exposure to neurotransmitters leads to less neurotransmitter being required to mount the same response next time (‘refiring’ lowers the threshold to allow a connection to fire), and also creates a larger impact when a signal is given.
Over time, a group of neurons firing together which underlie a movement, a habit, or a thought process, solidify into a cortical map. This video outlines this in easy to understand principles. If you’re keen – go watch it (remember, the reason why I outline all these things is so that YOU understand, and thence, can SEE how this process will work in you, making YOU more likely to succeed).
When you practice something, be it learning to shoot a basketball, a ditty on the piano, or to create a new habit, it’s hard to even coordinate an action at the beginning. But the more and more you do it, the easier it becomes. At a cellular level, this is because those synapses that create the desired effect – of you getting a shot in, playing the right notes, or remembering to put your keys in that one spot – as you’re trying to do them, become stronger than that of you missing, stuffing up or forgetting.
That’s how your learn.
That’s what neuroplasticity is.
Thinking takes effort. It was suggested that chess grandmasters burn up to 6000 calories per day while playing. Though a gross oversimplification with broad assumptions, it’s very much true.
Neuroplasticity is basically your brain making it easier for you to access a thought you use often. When thinking “Why am I eating this?” for a few weeks (and it only takes 3 – 6 weeks to develop firm neural links that are Harder to break than bad habits), it’ll become so easy it becomes automatic. You’ll find yourself asking yourself “Am I really enjoying that last bite?” and “Am I really valuing the extra $0.005 of rice I’ll throw away here, more than the hundreds of thousands I’ll spend facing coronary events in my 50s or 60s?” ALL THE TIME.
It becomes easier to fork out one less spoon, pick the healthier option, or just enjoy a few chips rather than scoffing down a packet, than it is to do the opposite. Doing the opposite won’t even make sense.
They key to making it through the 2 weeks?
Rewarding yourself, over and over, and allowing yourself to be human too!
Neuroplasticity is the foundation of learning, memory and habit formation.
And it works best when you give yourself a GOAL to accomplish, and get there by reaffirming BEHAVIOURS which eventually solidify into THOUGHT PROCESSES that become your habit.
That’s where reinforcement of the above ‘process’ of
1) Taking a step back and then
2) Breaking down your major obstacles into chunks that you can counter and follow
Is one that you need to practice.
Let’s use muscle memory as an example. Sure, it’s easy enough to visualise a goal of increasing your first serve percentage in tennis. But you have to serve over and over to create connections between your cerebellum and cerebrum (major parts of your brain that are responsible for coordinating movements), and solidify them as an automatic process.
Self rewarding is key to focusing the effects of neuroplasticity. When you pat yourself on the back, you release dopamine which solidifies neocortical maps as they form.
And as stated earlier, not only does self affirming, rewarding yourself when you get closer to your goal with a little “YES,” lead to dopamine firing which focuses neuroplastic map formation, the closer you get to a goal, the more dopamine you fire as you get there. Meaning it actually becomes easier and EASIER to maintain a habit the longer you do it.
It’s why, when you have focused and gotten a few good serves in, the next few become easier. The more and more you practice your serve, the higher and higher your serve percentage goes up.
When you combine this with you not being too hard on yourself… it creates an amazing feedback loop of you continuing to pump yourself up, pick yourself up when you need to, and you relishing as you grow and grow and grow.
So don’t feel too bad if you do eat a little bit more one meal. Because in the LONG run, as long as you make positive decisions, you have no way to go but become healthier and happier.
Neuroplasticity, self-rewarding, and goal setting is key to weight loss.
But what actual “hacks” can you use to get your mind on your side? That’s what the next section is about.
4) How to actually Hack your Stomach, and Your Brain on Food?
i) Reduce your Portion sizes. SLOWLY:
When trying to reduce how much I ate – I realised that, especially with foods I liked, I was just gulping down food down by the spoonful. But in truth… I wasn’t really taking the time to savour them. The first 5, 10, maybe 15 spoonfuls or bites were most enjoyable. The last few… even with my favourite foods, well, to be honest, I was really only trying to finish off what was left.
To change that I made small gradual reductions to my portion sizes. I started savouring my meals and once I realised I was full, I’d just leave it, put it in the fridge or throw it out, and next time take out less.
Over time… the portions got smaller and smaller. When going out… if I didn’t really feel like finishing off my plate, I’d just leave it and ask if anyone else wanted a few bites. I was brought up on the whole “Finish your plate, there are children in Africa who’d KILL to have what you’ve gotten!” sort of mentality… and it’s true. We waste tremendous amounts of food, and do need to respect it more.
But why was I destroying my veins, my health, my vitality to assuage this preconception, when I could instead just take out a few less spoons, order a medium (and in time, a small) meal instead of a large one, and pack away good meals for breakfast or lunch the next day, and feel better for it?
Your stomach usually has a capacity of 200mL, but can stretch to hold up to 1L in most humans, by relaxing smooth muscle cells which comprise most of its wall. Over time, however, if not stretched to larger limits, the stomach loses the number of smooth muscle cells, and pacemaker cells (those which cause coordinated digestive contractions), leading to lowered capacity to relax. Furthermore, levels of neurons which release nitrous oxide, which promotes relaxation of smooth muscles, also reduces in patients who have lost weight recently.
So over a period of a few weeks, slow, sustainable reduction in meal sizes will cause you to lose the ability to eat larger meals over time!
It’s interesting to note that even after a while of this kind of fasting, even after overconsuming, average stomach stretchability did not return back to normal levels, meaning you’ll have the ability to have the occasional splurge without starting back at square 1 again.
But key to all of this working is the neuroplasticity of your mind. It’s widely conceived that you need huge willpower to resist the temptation to continue eating. But the simple changes in the way you think about food described above is what ensures you’ll get to that stage where your stomach adapts.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to form new cortical maps – linkages between series of neurons – in response to various scenarios. ‘Neurons that fire together, wire together,” is the basic principle on which this idea is built – so reminding yourself that
- You like food, but hate that fatty, full feeling afterwards
- You like food, but often shovel in the last few bites just for the sake of it. And that
- You enjoy meals even more when you really take your time to savour the meal
for just a few days in a row, will start forming these cortical maps. In weeks, these cortical maps become so solidified and prolific – they become your automatic response. You won’t have to think these things anymore, you’ll already, subconsciously believe them. And though weeks of resisting temptation seems hard to do, because it
- Is coming from YOU telling yourself these things;
- Because your cortical maps are forming and becoming more and more solid over time, and
- Because you’ve got a long term goal, which causes more dopamine to be released each step you take towards it –
it’s actually quite easy to do. They’re subtle, small changes to how you view food, but combined, they make a HUGE difference. It’s the difference between going into a diet, hating life and having to force exert significant willpower to control yourself, and eating what you want, but slowly, and surely, changing your mindset, and letting your brain lose the weight for you.
Remember, thinking is HARD. We’re lazy, and we don’t wanna work, because your brain consumes oxygen. But if you understand HOW the brain works and learns (pretty much everything we do and get better at relies on this neuroplasticity), and you make changes that make your NORMAL thought process a HEALTHY one that DOESN’T REQUIRE willpower to do… Well being healthy BECOMES the lazy, easy thing to do.
And you know what? It worked. In January this year, I could eat a whole pizza, and I’d go up for second servings when lamb curry was made at home. Now… I can still do a half pizza… maybe more, but only when I feel like it. And I barely finish 3/4 of a plateful of rice and curry (I used to eat 1 – 1.5 lol). That small change in mindset resulted in a huge reduction in my calorie intake per day. And it’s the main reason why I’ve lost so much weight AND KEPT IT OFF without trying.
ii) Making Healthier Choices:
Me – I’m a foodie. I like trying different things, new cuisines. And I like variety in my day to day life. I also like my meat, hate salads on their own (chemo’s changed my taste a lot – I used to love the taste of lettuce… now it tastes like dirt at times) and I like eating carbs like bread or rice with meals. Who doesn’t really?
With these simple changes, I was able to eat all these things and still lose weight.
But I knew I could stand to benefit from eating generally healthy foods… so again, I took a step back, questioned my current habits, and made small changes to my mindset on food, which helped me eat more healthily too, without depriving myself of the pleasures of life.
Carbs… I did like them, but what I liked more was what I was eating with them.
So I changed the portions around, added more fillings or curries, whatever I was eating at the time and reduced the proportion of that to however many slices of bread or spoonfuls of rice I’d eat with them. Again, this happened over weeks, not instantly.
With salads, whose taste I couldn’t stand post chemo, I started drizzling, sometimes dumping tasty dressings based in oils (luckily regular olive oil is good for you), and added things like cottage cheese or olives to make them tastier.
Juicing, though it gets good vitamins and veggies/fruits into you, was too much of a hassle to do regularly, especially cleaning the damn things. So I started looking around for good fruit/vegetable juice mixes with no added sugar or preservatives and came across this brand, which uses pressure instead of preservatives, and doesn’t add sugar to the mix and saves me time too. There’s bound to be something similar in your location!
I liked variety in my diet, and that was good. So I picked cuisines to eat regularly that were easy to prepare, and tasted good and were still healthy for me – things like tacos or stir fries (which have good amounts of veggies, are easy to cook, low in carbs and have good, but not excessive amounts of meat) and I mastered them. They’re like a staple to me now. And I don’t hate eating unlike most people who diet – so I maintain this healthy lifestyle still, to this day.
I couldn’t believe this came from CostCo either when I first tried it. But I highly recommend it – their Kale/Sweet Potato/Quinoa cous cous salad.
iii) Taking out the Junk Food
To be honest, I haven’t taken out all junk food. I probably eat junkfood once a week now, still. But I lost all that weight while eating junkfood every few days.
Still. Junk food is junk… food. How did I reduce the amount of crap I ate?
Well I mean I looked at them, from that step back, and asked why I used to have that crap so often… I mean they do taste good, and they are cheap and easy to prepare… But I hated that “fat”, “oily” feeling I had after eating a packet of chips, some chocolate or a burger or box of chicken from KFC.
I didn’t cut them out entirely, which many people do, instead I only got a few small bits and pieces from fast food places or fish n chip shops, every now and then, and had them alongside other, healthier stuff. KFC – I made sure I had that with these pre-made salads I found in CostCo which complimented it perfectly. With the chocolates, and chips, instead of gulping down a handful or packs of tim-tams at a time and then feeling bad afterwards, I shared them around with other people, or scabbed a few chips or bites from friends instead of buying a full pack and feeling like I had to devour it. Those small changes made me eat healthier (and also saved me money too – sorry guys). I still got to enjoy the taste. But I sidestepped feeling crap!
They are easier to cook, I guess, and many people just don’t have enough time to cook – but those meal suggestions I made above really help with that. Another thing that makes cooking easier for me is marinating meats and eating them with salad or veggies or a good slice of cheese (which acts as a side dish for me – I love block cheese and it’s high in proteins too so it makes you fuller quicker). I marinate a huge amount of meat in tandoori paste, or honey soy dressing – whatever I feel like – leave it over a few days (the longer it marinates, the better it tastes) and cook it in meals with this simple frier/grill which only requires me to flip once and makes meat really tender too and it’s done quickly. It’s quicker than a drive out to the closest McDonalds, and takes only a few flips in total to make it.
These small changes to how I viewed eating, small changes to my mentality, was all it took to improve my diet drastically. I haven’t cut anything out, I’m not hating myself and making myself less likely to succeed by following strict diets and better meals is a MAJOR reason why I’ve lost so much weight and why I’m so healthy right now too!
Improving My Fitness/Exercise Habits:
When I started trying to get fit after my second transplant, a year ago, I told myself I was going to take it slow and build up from there. After my first transplant, I pushed straight into weights and basketball, I didn’t even focus on getting any endurance back before doing so and in the end, it didn’t help me get healthier… It just made me frustrated (because I wasn’t improving much) and probably made me sicker overall too.
This time around though, I didn’t have a relapse, and lower blood counts stopping me from improving. What I did have was excuses and laziness and self-consciousness about my abysmal fitness, which made me not train consistently, which made me frustrated that I wasn’t getting fitter, which made me lose the will to get fit – initiating a huge cycle where I’d get motivated and exercise for a week or two and then stop, only to repeat it, again and again.
iv) Taking that First Step.
Well, changing how I looked at things helped me get more consistent in my training. Motivating yourself to get off your bum and start is the hardest thing to do when exercising. But by changing your perspective on exercise, from a thing that is painful and excruciating to do, to something that you can build up on – something that gives you more energy throughout the day – gets you over that initial burden of getting up and doing that first set. Looking at your long term goals becomes really important here. Remembering to focus on the fact that you will get there – in time – as long as you’re doing the right things OVERALL, as opposed to expecting to beat your PB every session, ensures you won’t give up when you face failure – instead, as you’re prepared for these, you’ll be picking yourself up.
It’s when you have a bad, or disappointing workout that this patient thinking really helps. Instead of getting down and sad about it – you’ll be ready to go the next day, because you’ll know for that 1 bad workout, you’ll have 5 other good ones, and you’re still be heading in the right direction.
Another great tip – do something FUN! You’re much more likely to commit, and form good habits, if you make yourself accountable. So get a gym buddy, or join a team! 3/4 adults played sport growing up, but only 1/5 play as adults. Why is that?
Start Easy and Build Up From There
When building up from scratch, which I’ve had to do plenty of times, looking in the long term REALLY helps.
In my case, and that of many other patients who read my blogs, treatments and concurrent infections would bring me back to starting position, walking and body weight exercises were excellent in building me up. I started with push-ups, squats and sit-ups in front of the TV. Those things gave a good burn and made me feel like I did something and gave good, constant improvements when I did them consistently too. I didn’t just like walking for no reason, so I used my mind and my interests to my advantage and started walking down to the river with a rod in hand, looking at the tides, watching the small fish and how they moved, and getting good ideas and experience to improve my fishing. Basketball – my favourite sport – always keeps me motivated, and watching a good basketball video or movie would always get me up and ready to have a shoot around. You can use whatever passions you like. Cycling, rock climbing, diving, whatever you want to motivate you to keep you in the gym or in the pool or on the track.
Make exercise time valuable. I know many students find it hard to sit down and study – so download your lectures and put them onto your music player and go for a walk or run. Same thing goes for podcasts of your favourite radio shows, or just blasting your own music. Makes it easier and even fun to train – in fact, Jana Pittman, a classmate of mine does this to keep up with medicine and still train at an Olympic level.
The power of incidental exercise doesn’t just stop at boosting the calories you burn a day, but also extends to formulating strong, neuroplasticity-moulded, attitudes towards exercise. Each time you pick the stairs – you make yourself more likely to pick them next time!
Don’t Be Shy, Or Worry About What Others Think of You
Taking that first step was hard for me. After chemotherapies, where I’d have to start from scratch, I’d always feel embarrassed and self-conscious at how little I could do, and also about how weird I’d look. You may feel the same way when someone racks up more weight than you can squat on the bench press, or when someone laps you in the pool or when someone blocks you on the basketball or volleyball court. Whenever I wanted to work out, I would always feel the stares of others on me and that stopped me from wanting to go out and get healthy in the first place. When you take a step back and see it in another way though, you’ll see that you’re stopping yourself from being the healthiest and happiest version of yourself because of what other people may be THINKING about you. Read more about how I managed to get past my self consciousness and become the most confident, happiest version of myself here.
Overall – losing weight and getting fit and healthy is NOT something hard. The only thing standing in the way of you getting there is YOU and your mindset. Get your mind on your side and the rest will become easy.
Those fad diets and boot camps can help lose weight and they do work. But they’re not easy to maintain – they’re not for everyone. Using your mind to your advantage is the best thing you can do to help you get healthy.
I wrote this part in April 2016. I went from 97kg in November 2015 (after I gained bout from that third bout of cancer) to about 80kg now. And I’m in that luxurious position of needing to gain weight.
As of Sept 2021, I’m at 74kg. I haven’t ever tried to lose weight.
Feel free to leave any tips of your own down here. To help me and others along on their journey to get fit and healthy.