A New Way to Think About Weight Loss

The other day I had a funny little backyard conversation with my girlfriend that prompted me to question the way we think about weight loss.

Michelle and I have been working on landscaping my back yard for about six months now. Or, I should say, Michelle has been working on landscaping my back yard while my job has been pretty much to watch and admire its transformation. (FYI the area in the photo below was previously dirt.)

But as time went on, we’d continue to find little imperfections. The special complicated lighting that comes on at night would blow a fuse. Or the dogs would trample one of the delicate succulents in the rock garden. Or a plant would die.

So a couple of days ago, Michelle and I were walking around in the garden, and in a classic “Men are From Mars” type conversation, I bemoaned the fact that the project still wasn’t done because things kept needing replacement or replanting or rewiring. “When the heck is this going to be done?” I asked.

To which Michelle replied: “Who cares? I like doing it”.

Now women reading this won’t probably “get” how spectacularly novel such a statement seems to men, but men will get it immediately. We (men) are almost hard wired to see goals, actions and solutions. (Doubt me? What’s a male’s natural impulse when told of a problem?—he wants to solve it! And one of the great complaints women have in marriages is that sometimes they just want to be listened to, not given an action plan!) So in typical male fashion, I’m looking at the garden as something to be done, solved, finished. And whenever some new challenge popped up I saw it as an annoyance and an encumbrance to the goal of having a finished garden!

But what if the garden is never really “finished”?

What if the whole point isn’t to have a finished garden, but to enjoy the making of the garden?

What if the point weren’t the result, but the process?

Virtually everyone I know who’s ever attempted to lose weight looks at the process as something with a specific goal. Your dream body. Your ideal weight. That singular achievement when you will have lost the weight and be…. Done!

But what if that weren’t the only way to look at it?

See the thing about a garden, I have learned by watching Michelle, is that it’s never really “done”. It’s always evolving. Things die, they grow, seasons change, tastes change, old things get discarded, new things get planted. But for Michelle, that was the point. It wasn’t about necessarily having the perfect garden, it was about making the perfect garden.

What if it were the same with our bodies?

What if—instead of looking at the scale every day and saying “I’m not there yet”—we looked at each decision about what to eat and what not to eat as part of a process which was enjoyable in its own right? I know, I know—it’s radical, but go with me for a moment. What if every meal was an opportunity to affirm life, to consciously choose health, to enjoy the process of choosing wisely? What if it weren’t all about the “final result” but about the process of living in a healthy, life-affirming way?

What if healthy living were it’s own reward?

Look, there’s no real “moral” to this story, other than sometimes it’s a good thing to stop looking at a goal in terms of a “result” and begin to look at the process of working towards that goal. Maybe being in that process is the real reward, one we’re not even paying attention to because we put all our attention on achieving the final product.

When I give seminars I often ask the audience to ask themselves the “Miracle Question”: What if I could wake up tomorrow in the body of my dreams, something realistically attainable, a body I could be proud of and happy with?

What would you do then? I ask.

The answer: You’d have to maintain it. Just like a garden.

You’d have to make—on a daily, even hourly—basis, decisions about what to eat and what to do to keep that new “magic body of your dreams” exactly the way it is. It wouldn’t happen by itself. You’d wind up doing the exact same things that would get you that healthy body in the first place. You certainly couldn’t wake up with the “body of your dreams” and still be able to eat the same way that got you the “body of your nightmares”. Maintaining that healthy body would require you to eat in the exact same way as you would have to eat in order to get the body of your dreams in the first place.

You’d have to do maintenance.

Every single day of your life, forever (or for as long as you cared more about being healthy and vital and alive than you did about being fat, sick, tired and depressed).

So why not make that the point of the whole enterprise?  Starting right now »

Just sayin’.

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  • Stan

    Excellent, (devotional almost) wisdom and inspirational all at once. That enjoy-the journey of self-health practition(ing) is what I forget, too. It seems whether we feel competent because we’ve been self experimenting for decades or days with what works regarding diet, exercise, sleep patterns, stress, etc., our goal setting (man or woman) is like that dangling prize motivated by our vanity or mixed with desperation to (as you point out) maintain the healthy status we’ve thus far achieved.

    Your and GF’s garden is the perfect metaphor for what you suggest about why we do what we do about the choices before us on our plate and in our places.

    Thanks for the reminder that I am a better body and mind than I was last year because I did ask myself the “Miracle Question”

  • Marina

    Hi, i live in Spain, and i didnt not you, but this article about rethinking the way to lose weight…its just ..touch my heart. Thank you.

  • Maria

    Wow! This was really beautifully stated and bottom line true! Whether we have reached that “goal weight” or we are at the beginning of our quest, we all only have one moment, one decision at a time. And if we live on purpose and make choices that affirm our health and our worthiness of a good life, the rest will take care of itself. There is no “done” but we are very blessed if we get the opportunity to create a healthy life each day! Thanks for this uplifting, important message.

  • Debbie

    I am continously amazed at how the universe provides just what I need at just the perfect moment in time. Mr. Bowden, your story is truly the heart and soul of our living experiences here on earth. Today, this very moment, I needed to be reminded of the profound truths you articulate in your simple, yet powerful story. I hope many, many others, can see the truth, can create joyful, peaceful and balanced experiences and enjoy the journey! For the journey truly is the goal! Thank you!

  • Doris Abravanel

    I purchased Diet Bootcamp. What’s the difference between what I already purchased and this program?

  • Michele

    Both perspectives can exist simutaneously. I am not a journey or karmic person who perceives life is all about process and learning, frankly I think both reflect male mentality, not woman. I have a weight loss goal…to be and feel healthy. What I do in present moment is to be aware…aware of my body….it is like a garden, if you wish. I dont landscape it out of will, instead I become aware of what is indigenous to its beauty and change with it. Body and mind, not mind over matter. Now that is radical! But it works for me. Thanks for your insight.

  • Christine

    Dr. Jonny: Nice garden!
    Thanks for making an important point that may be hard to digest! You are telling the truth to your followers!
    I am currently aggressively working on my healthcare program to reduce weight and blood sugars. Doing well following Dr. Mark Hyman, and your good advice. In the past, I have always dieted with an end in mind–a number, a certain dress size, etc. Now, I realize being healthy is the goal, and avoiding diabetes complications. I am on a better path and don’t want to spoil my good results by going back to the old ways. I’m down 20 lbs and reduced my blood sugar to 5.7 from 6.3 in two months! My best to all on the journey!

  • OMG , I never fought about it that way ! That looks like the end of war on obesity and the begining of beautiful life . Life full of joy and happiness .

  • As far as I can remember, I had always had the tendency to be overweight but never liked it. And as far as I can remember, I have been on a diet for all my adult life (I am 63).

    What I have in favor is that I never quit, I keep myself in restriction and at the same time I allow myself to escape from my own prison several times a week.

    It has worked for me.

    Best regards.
    Alfredo E.

  • Shelley

    My favorite thought: “What if every meal was an opportunity to affirm life, to consciously choose health, to enjoy the process of choosing wisely?” If the process is worthy, satisfying, and fulfilling (making the garden), the goal will naturally be attained (having the garden). I’m glad this insight came to you and thank you for sharing!

  • Laura

    Yes. It is a journey, but it isn’t even about “weight” loss, or shouldn’t be. I mean, if you want to lose “weight” move to the Moon. Instant “weight” loss. If you want to look sexy and fit into your clothes better then you have to be healthy and fit, which might even be the same “weight” for some people just proportioned on the body differently. For example, if I just want to lose “weight”, I could cut some of my long thick hair and thereby deprive my boyfriend of playing with it. Similarly, depriving oneself of good, healthy, wholesome, natural food just to lose “weight” is missing the point of life, which is to take a bite, with gusto, of the good things of this earth, and turn that bite into beauty, intelligence, productivity, art, strength, movement, and generosity, not “dead weight,” depression, and fatigue.

  • Someone

    This idea isn’t new to everyone, but it’s a good insight for sure. However (as Michele hints at), this binary opposition does NOT map to gender. People jump to such conclusions all the time, but things aren’t even close to that simple.

    For instance, we knitters, who are mostly women, know that we tend to split into both of those camps. Some are about having the project done at the end (in fact, that is MOST of us. It is NOT a man thing), but others are process knitters who often give away projects or actually finish very few of them in the first place. So, yeah, not a gender thing at all.

    Plus, as others also note, we don’t necessarily apply these approaches across the board to everything we deal with. Gardens and our bodies are never “done,” but other things most certainly can be. Mischaracterizing all ongoing processes as single events (or vice versa) is not something anyone is likely to do. Surely you yourself easily see lots of things as processes–just, maybe, you haven’t thought of gardens that way. And your girlfriend certainly doesn’t see everything as a process.

    Wish people didn’t feel a need to label everything, see people in monolithic, essentialist ways, or assign each side of an issue to a gender. We are all individuals.

  • I just came across this post and I can’t thank you enough for it. I have spent too much of my life trying to psych myself up to “go on diet” and dreaming about the day when I will be “done” and have reached my “goal weight.” I am so over that now! My favorite “diet” book of all time is “The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth,” and probably the last one I will ever need. (Although I might find more to add to the list!) The message for me is: here are all these delicious, healthy foods – eat, drink and be merry! I am finally at peace with food, I love every meal, have no cravings or excessive hunger pangs and no fantasies about when the “diet” will be “over”. I am just enjoying the banquet and enjoying life. The general direction with my health and my weight is right and the journey is so pleasant that I am in no hurry to “get there” at all.

    I have gotten over the whole “low fat” thing – phew, what a relief! Not about to go “low carb” though, precisely because I learned the “low fat” lesson so well. What I find a great deal more helpful is your list of incredibly healthy foods to choose from, instead of demonizing or deifying one or other of the macronutrients. “Low carb” might be a good corrective measure against the carb excesses of the last 30 or so years of dietary advice, but I think it is far better to select foods on a case-by-case basis, giving them a fair chance based on their complete nutritional profile, instead of approving or condemning them in advance based on the macronutrient “villain” or “hero” of the day.

    Thank you so much Dr Bowden, for this article and for “The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth” – you have truly changed my life!

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