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Good Things Come to Those Who “Weight:” Using Behavior Change to Get Healthy

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I’m a believer in the power of positive training to not only transform the lives of the animal in our care, but to transform ourselves as well. The science that underlies the ways behavior change is created applies not just to animals, but to the entire living world. People can harness what they know to make desired changes in themselves. But, most of us don't spend the time figuring out, experimenting with, and applying knowledge and skills in this way.

I decided to do just that and tackled one of the issues lurking in my life. Overweight at the time, I wanted to get to a healthier weight. America has a weight crisis and I was part of that America. Other people I know are, too, and I empathize with them.

Losing weight is HARD for all kinds of reasons, but none of those reasons are the physics of losing weight. My dad, who was a very funny man, told me one day that he had figured out why HE was overweight. “That’s great,” I said. “What’s the reason?”

“I eat too much!” he said. The physics of weight loss and gain are well understood: use more calories than you take in.

What’s hard is achieving that “imbalance.” Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight is hard because the behavioral change that's required to lose weight and keep it off, for most people, is huge. The ONLY effective weight-loss strategies are behavior-based (How to Fix the Obesity Crisis, Scientific American, February 2011) and consider a full range of behavioral techniques customized to meet the varied needs of individuals

Perhaps you saw one of the stories—and there were many of them—circulating in 2016 about how weight loss is not sustainable. There was publicity, for example, surrounding how the winners of The Biggest Loser contest on television regain all or much of weight they lose. Talk about depressing! This story was trending in the middle of my effort.

I’ve since come to the conclusion that studies showing that sustained weight loss is not possible are flawed. Success and failure rest on whether healthy choices become habits. The failures were not personal failures of the Biggest Losers; they were failures of the program they followed.

That being said, I thought I would probably fail in my own weight-loss effort. After all, I had already tried and failed to lose weight and sustain that loss plenty of times before. But, this time turned out differently. I set goal of losing 15% of my weight. I did it in less than 12 months, and have kept the weight off for more than a year. More than 30 pounds! No one was more surprised and delighted than me.

Success or failure would rest on changing deeply wired behaviors.

On this journey, I began to figure out the who, when, what, where, why, and how of what I needed to work for me. I discovered this insight: I was working with a lifetime of wiring to eat a certain way. I needed a complete rewiring. Success or failure would rest on changing deeply wired behaviors. My weight-loss program became my single-subject design experiment in using behavior science to develop and apply principles and practices that could overcome the challenges that make weight loss such a difficult thing to do and maintain.

I experienced these challenges in what could be called “lay” terms, but they each have a scientific corollary. For example, in lay terms, one of the challenges I had was how to eat healthfully while dining out. In behavioral-science terms, the issue is generalizing the behavior (“make healthy choices”) from inside my home to outside the home. It sounds straightforward, but dealing with the challenge in the real world was quite complex. “Outside the home” meant not just one place, but many different environments: when I went to someone’s house for dinner, hanging with friends watching a Patriots game, at a New Year’s Eve party, headed out to eat, headed to a family dinner, or even at Trader Joe’s when they give away samples of cheese puffs and offer a special on “Thin” bars!

I took the different challenges of eating and I made a little acronym for myself. I called it S.U.C eating. Stupid, Unconscious, Context/Cultural eating. My behavior change was aimed directly at this acronym of eating. Attacking stupid eating meant changing the habit of “delusional” healthy eating. Granola may be natural, but it's basically candy. Unconscious eating is mindlessly eating all of the M&M’s in the bowl on the table. Context and Cultural eating is eating because you’re concerned you will offend your host if you don’t have those mashed potatoes. Each of these types of eating can be changed.

The S.U.C. eating wasn’t my first challenge or my last. Each step in the journey had its own challenges that required behavioral adjustment. My willingness to keep tweaking my behavioral change until I experienced success (successive approximations) was the difference between success and failure.

Come to ClickerExpo and see how to apply the lessons of behavior change to the most important resource in your life: you!
Come to ClickerExpo and see how to apply the lessons of behavior change to the most important resource in your life: you! I’ll be teaching The Hunger Games in both Expo 2018 locations. I look forward to seeing you there.

Other course you will like include:

The Learning Planet (New)

Passport to Joyful Training

Ramirez & Friedman: Off the Cuff

Self-Help: How to Be Your Own Coach

Keep Your Candle Burning: Avoiding Professional Burnout


Register today!

Irvine, California (January 19-21)

St. Louis, Missouri (March 16-18)

About the author
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Aaron Clayton is President of Karen Pryor Clicker Training and TAGteach International, and a member of the ClickerExpo Faculty.