While training one of my clients the other day, I wanted to find out how he was progressing on his own. We meet once a week for training with the understanding he will work out 1-2 more times on his own and perform 2-4 sessions of cardiovascular activity, like running or the elliptical trainer. I wanted to find out about his diet and preparing his meals in bulk.
Without blame or accusation I open a conversation with a client by asking general questions to find out how they’re doing, to see what patterns may emerge over time through conversation.
He said he wasn’t eating as well this week because he was attending TIFF, The Toronto International Film Festival, and he couldn’t quite bring his meals with him into the theatres. He made decent choices at restaurants and things were going well. His clothes were all fitting more loosely; one of his shirts, which he couldn’t quite button up last year, now fits perfectly.
Working with a client only once per week makes it more difficult for me to find one thing that may be holding him back, or one gem of an idea that may allow him to make positive changes faster. I know he sometimes has good weeks and bad weeks and it’s not that he’s indifferent to improving his health. He’s just as human as you or I and it can be very difficult to change old habits or stop doing the things which make us feel good, but are unhealthy or don’t take us towards our fitness goals.
I suggested he needed to consider a long-term view to better stay on track. He said his weight loss is definitely a result of working out because before he started working with me he wasn’t performing any physical activity. He has seen and felt improvement with changes to how he eats, but staying consistent has proven challenging.
It occurred to me it’s the short-term pleasures that cause most harm. Short-term pleasures feel immediately good. For example, ice cream tastes delicious, but how many of us can eat just a spoonful? I know I can’t. I eat an entire bowl at a sitting. Ice cream is an ephemeral pleasure, but if we enjoy this pleasure too often we’ll gain unwanted weight.
Note: With each taste of ice cream, the experience is so intense, yet fleeting; it’s hard NOT to have another taste. You need another spoonful to prolong the creamy-rich sweetness. One more spoonful. Oh, what the hell, another small bowl won’t hurt me. Like an addiction, the flavor on the taste buds is so overwhelming the brain wants the experience of pleasure to continue. Martin Seligman describes this as the ‘vicious cycle of craving’ in his book, Authentic Happiness. “The emotional pleasure of ice cream is too intense to savour. Rather, it’s a “rapidly repeated indulgence in the same pleasure which does not work.” The problem rests with how the neurons in our brain respond to a stimulus like ice cream. The first taste is always the most intense, the second taste half as good and every other taste thereafter is simply waist-widening.