Years ago, when I was a new teacher and struggling with classroom management of 7th grade boys, I went to my principal for advice. He told me, “Just don’t put up with it.”
That “advice” left me worse off. I went from frustrated to be failing at something to ashamed to be failing at something that was apparently simple and obvious!
More explicit instructions are sometimes no better. I’ve made recipes that have failed. I’ve followed programs and not achieved the promised results. I’ve paid for one-on-one instruction that never stuck.
It’s frustrating, yes. Sometimes it’s also bewildering and painful. “Where exactly did I go wrong?” I wonder. “What exactly am I missing?”
So it goes with the basic weight loss instruction to “eat less, move more.” It’s certainly possible to lose weight on that formula. But people don’t want to just lose weight, they want to keep it off permanently. If the basic instruction were enough, people would diet once and be thin the rest of their lives.
That only happens 10 percent of the time. Yes, that means that 90 percent of the time, people regain all their lost weight, often more.
Ugh. Where exactly are we going wrong? What exactly are we missing?
I recently wrote about my intention to lose weight. But as I cannot bear to put myself through another lose-regain-despair experience, I knew I had to look for non-traditional dieting guidance. I turned to my teacher, Dr. Martha Beck, and her book The Four Day Win. From it I have learned two critical pieces of the weight loss maintenance puzzle.
1. The Body Is a Conservative Organism, Not a Mechanism.
If it were a machine, the formula eat less + move more would equal permanent weight loss every time. But an organism that is conservative responds to its environment and fights to preserve the status quo.
When you radically dial down your caloric intake (eat less) and radically dial up your caloric expenditure (move more), the body thinks you’re starving and being chased. It compensates for this life-threatening situation by lowering your metabolism, so you need fewer calories to maintain your body, and sending you hormonal signals to eat all the time, so you make up for the deficit. The body really does work against you – but for your own good, it believes.
Eat Less + Move More = Metabolic Emergency! All Stop!
To be successful, then, any weight loss program must allow for our essential animal nature. The Four Day Win’s answer is to befriend the animal! It emphasizes no sudden moves – you make small changes, slowly – and piling on the positive reinforcement – you cultivate peace constantly and celebrate a lot.
2. You Don’t Just Want a Thin Person’s Body. You Want a Thin Person’s Brain.
Most diets only address the body and leave everything that creates the body – the thinking, the habits, the life – unchanged. The Four Day Win teaches you, in slow, small steps, to think like a thin person, so that you act like one, have the habits of one, the life of one, so that thinness becomes effortless to maintain.
A new formula thus might be:
(Gentleness + Peace + Joy) x New Habits of Mind and Body = Cooperation
The Obstacle Is the Way
In many ways, The Four Day Win is not a diet book. It’s a self-care book, in which – actually – “fat is your ally.” Beck writes:
“If you truly want to be lean, and if you can only achieve this by becoming fundamentally happier, your dissatisfaction with your body will be the goad that won’t stop bothering you until you create your ‘right life’ or realize your best destiny.”
Not only is fat your “ally,” Beck shows you that your previous disappointments and discouragements are your teachers:
“None of your pain has been pointless, and no part of your life has been wasted – not one moment. Every mistake you think you’ve made is part of the foundation on which you can build a life (and a body) that heals, inspires, and delights everyone in your life – especially you.”
I can’t help but wonder what might have been different had my principal applied that insight to my struggles with classroom management! Had he recognized the potential in my problem – seen that, as the Stoics say, “The obstacle is the way” – and coached me on my thinking and classroom habits, I might have learned something important and felt empowered instead of ashamed.
As always happens, life has offered me a new teacher, and I will not miss the lesson this time! This book and its loving approach have totally captured my imagination. If you also are interested in losing weight for good, I recommend it to you. Follow it alone, or – in light of the dismal track record of most diets – as a vital augmentation to a traditional weight loss program.