Along comes Jacob Marley, an otherworldly friend, who’s concerned about him. Marley warns his former business partner that he’s headed for disaster. Even during Scrooge’s frightening encounter with his dead friend, he is in denial. He dismisses his disturbing vision as indigestion! Finally, Scrooge realizes he has something unpleasant in store. The visits from three ghosts are inescapable. Even then he bargains. Can’t they visit him all at once, so he can be done with it?
Charles Dickens, understood people. We get caught up in our daily routines. We resist change and the inevitable suffering associated with it. We all like progress, but few of us look forward to the process of the transformation.
A friend who has lost a lot of weight told me that the thing that helped her most was advice from her sister. “In the beginning, dieting is painful.” I’d say that about most change.
In The Four-Day Win, the Harvard trained sociologist, Martha Beck, does not focus on what to eat or on our lack of willpower. Rather, she acknowledges the significance our brains play in the process of weight loss and behavioral change.
When we diet, the inside of our brain look more like the fight scene in the Nutcracker. Our “Dictator,” is enforcing restrictive rules, berating and shaming. Bossy and overbearing, he worries about our survival. Our unhealthy habits scare him.
Our “Wild Child” abhors the rules and control. He resists. He has evolved to struggle against starvation.
"Starvation," you say! I’ve eaten enough homemade cookies to set aside fat stores to last through Valentine’s Day. Your rational self, knows that you’re not really in danger of shrinking and disappearing, but humans are hard-wired to feel anxiety about the remote possibility. The very formula for weight loss, to decrease food and increase energy output, sets our brains into panic mode. Our metabolism actually slows down to preserve our Santa-like bellies.
Beck hasn’t come up with a formula for overnight change, but based on her research she suggests a way to jump-starting a weight loss program by decreasing our calorie intake by only 100, each day for only four days. She acknowledges that there might be a little pain, but says our rational “Observer” self can handle it and will notice positive effects. Beck encourages us to pay attention to "how our rings and watch fit."
No, in four days we don’t lose our adipose tissue, but the effect is a little like letting air out of a balloon. By decreasing our intake by a small amount our fat cells actually shrink. If we resist the urge to pursue the next meal as if our existence depended on it, and we link four days of change together, we are on the road to establishing a habit that we then resist stopping.
You may be about to yell, “Bah hum bug.” Beck’s positive message is getting annoying. You’ve already been visited by The Ghost of Diets Past, The Ghost of Exercise Program Present and The Ghost of Resolutions Future. You’re reacting like Scrooge at the onset of the story. You might think, if I decide to take on any new behaviors, January 2nd or 3rd is plenty soon enough. Making any big demands on myself can wait until the kids are done with vacation and my in-laws get on the plane back.
I understand. So, if you’ve decided your resolutions can wait, may I suggest something else recommended in the book. Sin. Yes, SIN! Substitute Inedible Nourishers.
For a four-day period give yourself non-food pleasures. You choose how. Take a bath or a midday nap. Have a cup of herbal tea. Go to the movies. Listen to some non-holiday music. Give someone special a hug. If you observe that these self-nurturing behaviors feel pleasant, considering belting out a few choruses of Handel’s Hallelujah chorus and have a dance with the Sugarplum Fairy.
All this good stuff could turn into a habit.