Commit to a goal.

I’ve signed up to a 5k run.

I’m not a runner. I don’t particularly like it and I find it very hard to get my trainers on and get out there. Which is exactly why I’ve signed up.

Sometimes, it’s important to have a goal – something to stretch you and make you work towards a result. When you’re losing weight, the first few kilos/pounds are easy to lose, because you’re running away from something – from ‘fat me’.

When you’re getting closer to your target, suddenly it’s much harder as you need to change your motivation to run towards something. And that what I’m doing – literally. I’m running towards my first 5k.

Using the NHS’ 5K podcast, I’ve started the 9-week programme, which will culminate with the Color Run, an untimed run which has its first races in the UK this year. I’m running in London. The sense of fun (you’re blasted with paint at kilometre markers, leaving you looking like those fools above) and the lack of competition (my aim is just to run the whole way, rather than to achieve a certain time) gives me enough flexibility to believe that this is an achievable, realistic target.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be running. Perhaps it’s not going up for seconds at a buffet, or being able to skip up the stairs at the shopping centre without running out of puff. But work on something small and build from there.

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Out of sight, out of mind

The Sweetie Cupboard, by UK_Greg

It’s better not to have your ‘trigger foods’ in the house. But what if that’s not possible?

My first piece of advice to anyone who’s starting a new, slimmer lifestyle is to get rid of all the little temptations from the house. Chuck the crisps, banish the baguettes and remove the Rolos. If it’s not in the house, you’re less likely to pull on your shoes to go to the corner shop and pick up a Kit-Kat.

Some people can’t do that, though. Not for themselves, but for other family members. Perhaps the (perfectly-formed) girlfriend isn’t willing to give up her morning cereal. Maybe dear husband would rather move out than not have a cake as part of his Sunday tea.

Now, if it’s the kids who will kick up a fuss, I’d be tempted to put my foot down; a slim lifestyle is good for them too and it would be a great to work together to improve your diet.

But if it’s a full-grown adult who’s too set in their ways, what can you do?

Have a Naughty Cupboard.

All the baddies – the Walkers, the Cadbury’s, the Kellogg’s and whatever your personal nemesis is – go in one cupboard in the kitchen. And you never, never open that cupboard.

You know what’s in there. You know what could happen if you open the door. But by separating this space from your normal routine or your normal life, it gives you a tiny little safeguard against your weaker impulses.

So you make it clear to the rest of the family – they’re more than welcome to put their treats in the Naughty Cupboard, but don’t expect you to fetch something from that cupboard if you’re going into the kitchen, or to join in for that late-night snack.

Quicktip: record your meals before eating them

fooddiary-71b5b7ab80f9fa01ff7b5db171d7f478[1]

If you use a diet planner or a food diary, enter your meals before you eat.

It’s too easy to spoon on another helping of mash potato, only to discover that you’ve gone over your calorie / carb limit for the day.

What a waste – and for such little extra enjoyment.

If you enter your planned meal into your food diary you can see the warnings before you exceed your targets – and take corrective action.

Disaster averted!

Moves – the pedometer meets the iPhone

Moves is a great app to help with tracking and enforcing your everyday physical activity.

If tracking your progress is important to improving (tip: it is) then Moves can help by showing you exactly what you’ve been doing and how that correlates to your aims.

Like a Nike FuelBand, Moves uses accelerometers to track your movement and give you a good understanding of how that relates to the real world, both in terms of number of steps and distance covered.

Where it by far exceeds the FuelBand is that as it uses your iPhone to track you, it also knows your speed and general motion. It transmits your data back to the developers’ servers which can (fairly accurately, in my experience) compare your data to others to decide whether you’ve been walking, running, cycling or even travelling by ‘transport’ – car, bus or train.

It’s also free! I have played with Moves for about a month now and it has shown itself to be far more accurate than my FuelBand for calculating my walking, for example.

It’s not perfect – at the moment, there’s no easy way to export your data, for example – but the biggest problem is that it is hungry.

Having your phone’s sat-nav system active all day drains the battery fast. I have an older phone and so its battery isn’t perfect, but I still found there were many days where the battery wouldn’t last until bedtime.

Ultimately, it was this that made me stop using the app – I found I spent longer worrying about needing to top-up my battery than I did about my activity level. However, I already own a FuelBand. If I didn’t have a personal tracker, I would almost certainly still be using Moves.

Rumour has it it that Apple may be building a smartwatch with personal tracking capabilities. Until then, Moves is the smartest personal tracker out.

New York’s ban on big soft drinks has been derailed

Bloomburg’s personal crusade against oversized soft drinks has been struck down hours before it was to come into force.

600ml Pepsi Max bottleThe Mayor of New York had been pushing hard for a ban on soft drinks over 20 US fl oz. That’s 600ml or 4/5 of a UK pint. This is the same size as Pepsi’s “big gulp” bottles (although as sugar-free drinks they would have been excluded from the ban).

The judge, fantastically named Milton Tingling, said that the city’s board of health cannot “limit or ban a legal item under the guise of ‘controlling chronic disease'”; only the city council had that authority.

The court didn’t bring the health principles of the ban into question, but ruled on the authority of the banner and the arbitrary nature of what was banned. Milkshakes, for example, were exempt, as were drinks bought at corner shops rather than from restaurants.

The ban’s supporters likened it to the way that the sale of tobacco, alcohol, paracetamol and solvents are managed – they aren’t banned substances, but as they are harmful, the amount sold or the age of those sold to are managed by law.

I can understand why detractors were upset with the law – it seemed an almost knee-jerk reaction to an established and long-term problem. But it is clear that this is a problem that has been growing along with the size of the average drink. The graphic below from Slate shows the issue. The McDonald’s large drink has gone from 200ml (about half a modern can) to almost a litre in size.

The history of cola sizesThe history of cola sizes (Source: Slate.com)

Impact on weight loss

I’m a big sinner in this issue. Although I do drink sugar-free versions, I can easily drink 2 litres of cola in a sitting, especially if I’m in a pub environment. Although most scientists debunk it, some still believe artificial sweeteners are unhealthy. Perhaps we need to think of soft drinks as desserts.

Hunger Is Healthy

There’s a reason why when people are suggesting stopping for tea and cake, they usually say “fancy a snack?” rather than “are you hungry?”. Very few of us are hungry when we eat. It seems almost stupid to point this out, but – you should only eat when you’re hungry.

We’ve been trained to think of hunger as something to avoid at all costs – either by snacking or ‘grazing’, or by ignoring the signals because you’re “on a diet”. Some of us have done this for so long that we’ve forgotten what hunger feels like – our brains misinterpret other feelings, like thirst or boredom, as hunger.

Like I say time and time again, it’s only by being mindful – being aware – that you can change something. We’re meant to feel hungry at times. Most of us eat as routine, rather than because we need to at that time. There’s a way to relearn this, though. Paul McKenna suggests using a scale from 1-10 to place a value on your hunger:

Take a few moments right now to look at the hunger scale and tune in to your body. How hungry are you right now? Each person is different, but as a general rule, you want to eat whenever you notice yourself between 3 and 4 on the scale – that is when you are fairly hungry, but before you become ravenous. If you wait until you get down to one or two your body will go into starvation mode and you’ll end up probably eating more than your body needs and storing the excess as fat. Ideally, you’ll want to stop eating at right around 6 or 7 on the hunger scale – when you are feeling pleasantly satisfied or full but not yet stuffed or bloated.

McKenna’s hunger scale

  1. Physically faint
  2. Ravenous
  3. Fairly hungry
  4. Slightly hungry
  5. Neutral
  6. Pleasantly satisfied
  7. Full
  8. Stuffed
  9. Bloated
  10. Nauseous

Try to avoid the red zones altogether. By keeping in tune with your body, you’ll be much less likely to overeat.

Enforcers

Here at LazyFit we look at ways you can engineer your life to help make the right decisions easier. We’ve identified five different techniques these can use- most tools will be a combination. One of these is the Enforcer.

Enforcers are the bad boys of the bunch. Unlike the other five LazyFit techniques, enforcers can make you suffer. They are the ‘stick’ of the ‘carrot and stick’ approach – they punish you for your misbehaving.

How can this work in a positive way? It forces you to set realistic, SMART targets and then live up to them. This is not about punishment – this is about genuine, considered targets and consequences if these are not met.

Economists call these commitment contracts/devices. One of the most well-known is StickK, which allows you to set a commitment and a timeframe. If you don’t hit your target, your money is donated to charity – if you’re particularly cruel, it’s given to a charity against your own belief system.

We don’t believe this is the best route. Personal motivation is stronger when you’re running towards, something, not running away. Rather than just providing a stick, commitment contracts should also provide something to work towards, too. We prefer those that offer personal benefits for hitting your targets and penalties for missing – tools like our own Weight Wins.

More reading:

GymPact; one year on

Long-term – Part of an occasional series that reviews mechanisms after extensive usage

120 workouts. 52 weeks. 2 misses. A lot of excuses invalidated. GymPact is certainly a vital part of my personal suite of enforcers.

GymPact is a service based around a smartphone app (iPhone or Android). You set yourself a challenge to work out a certain number of times per week and put your own money on the line. As long as you prove you’ve worked out you get a small reward – but miss a session and you’re fined.

The app allows you to report your activity either by proving you are at
the gym using your phone’s Sat-Nav tool, by timing a run by locking into
your RunKeeper app or by using the phone’s sensors to ensure you are
moving for more than half an hour within a 90min period.

Just like other enforcers, the system only works if you want it to. There’s no commitment beyond the week – you can always cancel – and the mechanism relies on trust to a certain extent.

It is of course open to scamming, but that’s hardly a real issue. It’s possible to go to the gym and do nothing but drink at the café. However, this is quite a bit of work just to earn 43 cents.

The system’s real value is in giving you a benchmark against which you can measure your excuses. Feeling a little poorly? A mate’s invited you to the pub? Well, great – are they more important to you than the $10 you’ve staked to say you’d go to the gym 3 times this week?

I’ve used GymPact for a full year now. For me, its value is in keeping me thinking in a longer timeframe. My most dangerous points are when I go to the gym early in the week; I somehow fool myself into thinking this gives me a free pass to skip any further exercise throughout the week. GymPact doesn’t forget. To me, this is what makes it so powerful – it nudges me to make the right choices.

If you fancy giving it a go, sign up through this link and you’ll instantly win $5 – which you’ll forfeit if you don’t meet your first targets!

Download here:  

GymPact now lets you work out at home

GymPact, one of my favourite commitment contracts, has updated to allow you to record workouts at home – or anywhere else, for that matter.

Their app update (already available on iTunes and coming soon to Android) has a new option that uses your phone’s accelerometer to check that you’re moving. Move fast enough for 30mins within a 90min period and you’ve counted another workout for the week.

This is a great addition to GymPact’s arsenal of fitness avoidance excuse-busters; Even if you’re not a runner or a gym rat you can log your activity.