More than 2 billion people in the world are overweight and approximately 3.4 million die from it every year.
Are people overweight by choice or by accident? Do the benefits of unrestricted eating “outweigh” the benefits of having a healthy body weight? What if people want to be healthy, but don’t know how to change their habits? How can they find help?
Everyone already knows the simple science behind losing weight— to eat fewer calories than you burn. If you eat right and exercise, you’ll reach your natural body weight. The secret is that there’s no secret.
These facts aren’t helpful to those who feel stuck in their weight-loss journey, however. What if the solution is not just physical, but mental and behavioral?
This is a motivational, self-help non-fiction book offered through a fictional story. It discusses the part of weight loss that books often overlook— why to do it and how to do it— how to harness the motivation to change and what steps to take to actually lose weight. The topics discussed include goal setting, mistaken beliefs, associations, self-talk, strategies, habits, morality, and motivational leverage.
The story takes place in the Pacific Northwest where a young man and an older mentor share a series of challenging hiking adventures while discussing motivational strategies for healthy living. The locations described are amazing and wonderful places in real life.
Take a journey with this young man through his trials and transformation. As he accumulates new motivational tools, or “life hacks,” he feels increasingly empowered. He learns to bust the myths used to justify overeating and strives for healthy living. Despite his challenges and setbacks, he never gives up. He sticks with it in pursuit of having a better life.
If he can do it, you can too!
Zak was a bright young man with great potential. Sure, he was overweight and had problems with his health, social anxiety, depression, anger, religious beliefs, school, bullies, family drama, and relationship drama, but who hasn’t?
See, there was something different about Zak… on the inside. He had a spark within. Few people saw it, not even himself. He just needed the right kindling… the right formula to ignite his potential, passion, and purpose.
Perhaps his greatest ability was in self-reflection; he developed a keen and uncanny awareness of his thoughts. Throughout his journey, this special power would help him overcome obstacles he never would have imagined.
Grease hissed, popped, and splattered. Zak stumbled into the kitchen where his mom was sizzling thick cuts of bacon on the stove. The aroma awakened his senses.
He bumped into the trash can and knocked it over, spilling a few Burger King wrappers and stale French fries across the vinyl floor. As he bent to pick it up, his mom noticed the sweat on his forehead.
“The same nightmare?” she asked.
Zak clutched his head and sighed. He dreamt of running down the middle of a dusty country road while a pickup full of his school’s sports jocks chased after him like a human football. When they caught up to him they beat him, stripped off his clothes, and burned cigarettes into his flabby skin. He screamed “Leave me alone!” before he awoke.
“Some things can’t be fixed, honey. You can try to avoid them, but sometimes you just gotta learn to deal with it,” she said.
“That doesn’t help,” Zak said.
Zak’s life was complicated enough; he didn’t want to make it worse by missing his appointment before class. He threw a bag of Cheetos into a worn gray backpack with Calvin Harris stickers, then walked outside to the bus stop. Six other students chatted in a semi-circle while Zak stood alone a few feet away with his earbuds in and buzzing to the sounds of Coldplay. He didn’t feel like listening to music that early, but it lessened the discomfort of feeling excluded.
As the bus arrived, Zak was reminded of how silly he felt being a high school senior and still riding the bus. He imagined the other seventeen-year-olds driving Teslas to school with their skinny cheerleader girlfriends in their ridiculously short miniskirts.
Zak felt like every movement he made was scrutinized. As he grabbed the rail to board the bus, it shook slightly and squeaked. He heard a snicker from the jury of students carefully evaluating his performance. Hold it together, man. Just ignore them, he thought.
He slid into an empty seat and slouched deeply as if trying to disappear. His self-consciousness was on high alert during the bumpy ride while he sensed everyone’s piercing glares. Every indiscernible word muttered must have been about him. Every giggle must have been at him. Even the squeaky bus brakes chirped at him. He felt like an easy target— a big, chunky one.
As the bus approached the school, he looked out the window to see if the jocks were near. Nope. Thank God! He was tired of being bullied, especially by them. They have no soul!
Despite Zak’s stout 5’9” 300-pound stature, he felt like an Oompa Loompa on the inside. He also felt like a soggy waffle left too long in a tub of Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup.
Zak hobbled off the bus and walked to the guidance counselor’s office just a minute late.
“Come on in, Zak,” Mrs. Nelson said. She handed Zak information about his upcoming graduation. “It looks like you’ve met all the requirements…”
While she spoke of dull administrative things, Zak’s mind drifted to all the memories and hardships he had in the last four years. He should’ve been thrilled, excited, proud, happy. But he wasn’t. He felt none of that, but emptiness and fear of the future.
His throat was dry and rough, like he swallowed a bucket of sand. Should I tell her now? Oh boy, here we go…
“Mrs. Nelson, I appreciate your help very much, but I’m…” Zak closed his eyes. “…hurting.” His voice cracked. “I’m overwhelmed and feel near my breaking point.” His palms were sweaty; eyes watery.
“What’s going on? You can tell me,” she said.
“My weight… I have to do something. I’m tired of feeling harassed, but I…” he exhaled, “feel too embarrassed to be seen working out. My family is of no help and I don’t know what to do.” A bead of sweat dripped from his forehead onto her desk. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that. How will she react?
“Zak,” she said. “You’ll get through this. You deserve better for yourself. If you want something bad enough you can accomplish it. That ability is within you. Sometimes it takes a certain level of pain to gain the motivation to change. Would you consider trying something new?”
“That sounds a bit Tony Robbins-ish, but at this point, I guess I’ll try anything… at least once,” Zak said.
“Alright. This may sound strange, but I received something recently that you may find helpful. If I share this with you, will you agree not to tell anyone else that I offered it to you?” she said.
“Sure, Mrs. Nelson.” What is she leading up to?
“Well, here it is...”
She picked up a dark object from behind her desk with both hands, cupping it like a delicate bird as she placed it into Zak’s hands.
Zak saw a black band with a strange rubbery texture that somehow sparkled.
“Is that like an Apple Watch… bracelet-thingee?”
“Not just a bracelet, but a bangle with special abilities.”
“How does a bagel have special powers?”
Mrs. Nelson rolled her eyes.
“The b-a-n-g-l-e will help remind you of your habits, will help keep you accountable, and bring you good luck,” she said.
“How so? Is it smart, or… aware of me?”
“You can think of it that way.”
Zak scratched his head with his long fingernails through his oily and wavy brown hair. Special powers? he thought to himself as he examined it more closely. It doesn’t even have an ‘on’ button. What kind of new-age mumbo-jumbo is this?
He stood up and gave Mrs. Nelson a gentle side hug goodbye and went to his morning classes, unaware of what was about to unfold.
At the noon lunch break, Zak felt the bangle in his pocket as he walked toward the cafeteria, but he didn’t want to be seen with it on. His walk was interrupted by the ring of his cell phone.
“Is this Zak Walker?”
“This is Sam Chavis. I was asked to give you a call. I’m the life coach who organizes team building and educational trips.”
“Okay...” Zak figured Mrs. Nelson arranged his call and was curious what it was about.
“Zak, I’m finishing a horseshoe pit for the local Boys and Girls Club. It will be ready to try out tomorrow and I need someone to help play a test game with me— have you ever played horseshoes before?”
Zak didn’t have much interest in playing horseshoes, especially with this strange man. His initial reaction was to say no. He preferred to stay home and spend his Saturday playing the game Fortnite on his laptop, but he remembered how stuck he felt just a few hours earlier. He knew he needed to try new things and here was someone reaching out to him. Just earlier, he told Mrs. Nelson he wanted more social opportunities, but now that an opportunity arose, he didn’t want it. At least part of him didn’t want it, anyway. He felt conflicted.
It was as though Zak had to summon every ounce of energy in his body to squeak out his three next words:
“I can try.”
“Great, I think you’ll enjoy it. I’m sure you know where the club is— how about stopping by around 9 a.m. tomorrow? I’ll be the tall old guy with the cowboy hat.”
“See you there.”
As Zak hung up the phone, he wondered what he had just gotten himself into. Zak’s social anxiety began instant-messaging frantic alerts to his brain: Who is this old guy? Is he seriously a cowboy? Please tell me he’s not a psycho. Why did I just agree to meet him? Why didn’t Mrs. Nelson tell me about him before?
At home, Zak tried searching the internet for “Sam Chavis,” but found nothing relevant. How risky can going to a Boys and Girls Club really be, though? Zak wondered. Plus, Mrs. Nelson must trust him. I’m practically an adult, but… I’ll see what Mom thinks.
His mom had always taught him not to trust strangers, especially men who looked like “creepos.” After Zak mentioned it to her, she called the club to ask about Sam. They said he had volunteered there for a few years and was one of their most valuable helpers.
“Honey, I think it sounds fine for you to go there. There’s other staff and kids around there too. So just have fun and be smart, okay?” she said.
“Alright, thanks, Ma,” he sighed. Asking his mom backfired because he was looking for reasons to not go.
Zak figured the risk of someone harming him
was low since he “wasn’t small,” but if something did happen he knew he was too
heavy to run away. Maybe I’d pepper-spray him, or… just sit on him! Zak
thought with a smirk.
Zak left the house driving his mom’s gray 2001 Chevrolet Cavalier with a rusty bumper and peeling paint. He wasn’t allowed to drive it to school during the week, but he could use it on the weekends and other occasions to add to its existing 186,300 miles.
As Zak parked and approached the Boys and Girls Club, he nervously fidgeted with his pepper spray nozzle hiding inside his pants pocket. It was so distracting to walk and hold it, however, that he now was more worried about spraying himself. This was a mistake…
“Thanks for coming!” A man appeared with a disarming smile and slight Southern drawl.
Zak and Sam greeted each other with a firm handshake.
Have I met him before? He seems oddly familiar.
Sam appeared weathered and rough, yet clean and well-dressed with warm inviting eyes. His skin was tan, leathery, and cracked. He wore a broad western hat that seemed to compliment his long-sleeved ornamental khaki shirt and pale green hiking pants. He was lanky and almost looked part Native American, but Zak didn’t want to ask.
He must spend a lot of time in the outdoors.
The two exchanged casual pleasantries as they walked to the newly finished sandpit and Sam handed Zak two rusty horseshoes. They clinked the metal horseshoes to knock the sand off then started their game.
It wasn’t long before Zak immersed himself into the game and focused on getting a ringer. On his fifth throw he landed a perfect ringer for three points.
“Yes!” Zak yelled.
It was an excitement he hadn’t felt in a while; his confidence felt a temporary boost. Let’s do that again! He felt oddly comfortable around Sam and relaxed into the moment.
Before Zak realized it he played two games and walked back and forth in the horseshoe pit about 40 times. Zak wasn’t experienced enough to beat Sam, but he had a close game and more fun than expected.
“Zak, do you know we just walked nearly a third of a mile?” Sam said.
“Whoa, I didn’t know I could do that,” Zak said.
Zak had assumed he was too heavy to walk from his car into Wal-Mart, so his walking even farther came as a surprise.
He shunned shopping malls because of the walking distance. He avoided stairs and tried to use motorized carts where possible. I’ll join a gym whenever one opens with a drive-thru, he joked.
In the back of his mind, however, he wondered if he should change his opinion on this. His current plan of avoiding walking and exercise seemed to be sending his health into a downward spiral.
He longed to share his weight predicament with Sam but worried he might sound needy. He enjoyed the opportunity to hang out with someone and didn’t want to jeopardize what little rapport he had— even though they just met.
“Zak, have you ever heard of geocaching?”
“Probably not then,” Sam chuckled. “It’s a treasure hunt game you can play using a geocaching app on your phone or a handheld GPS. There are little treasure boxes buried all over the world and you locate them with clues and GPS coordinates. Sometimes, you have to solve puzzles to find them.”
“That sounds kinda cool.” Zak actually thought it sounded weird, but was trying to be nice. Is this a game freakos use to get kids alone in the woods? Red flag.
“There are a few new ones listed in this area— would you like to help me find some tomorrow?”
Zak wanted to say “no,” but something made him stop short of saying it. The word kept catching in his throat like it didn’t want to come out.
It was an outdoor activity and, yes, it was new and with someone he didn’t really trust yet. But hadn’t he just been thinking about how he wanted to be more active, to meet new people, and live a more active lifestyle? Plus, it was a weekend— no school. He also enjoyed the horseshoe game with Sam more than he expected.
Zak’s internal conflict suddenly seemed to untangle and he felt silly about his jumbled priorities. He decided to challenge himself just once more to try something new again. It felt scary; it might cause him anxiety and discomfort. Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhh! Zak shrieked inside.
Zak’s less-rational internal voice didn’t give up, however: Just say “no,” say “no,” say “no!”
“Ok, I’ll try it,” Zak said.
Oh no, wait, you said the wrong thing! Why did you say that you dingdong! What are you doing to yourself?!
Zak and Sam agreed on a meeting place and parted ways.
Zak’s irrational voice admitted defeat…for now. Stupid thoughts!
At home, Zak microwaved some Kettle Corn and nachos for dinner while his mom sat on the recliner watching Wheel of Fortune.
“How was your horseshoe game, Zachary?” his mom asked.
“Better than I expected, actually.”
Zak grabbed the food and sat on the furry brown couch sprinkled with cat hair. Their tabby cat perched on the end of the sofa and monitored each kernel Zak threw in his mouth.
“Did you meet anyone else there?”
“Just Sam, but he seemed nice.”
“What’s he like?”
“He looked like a tall old cowboy, but seemed kind and friendly. He invited me to try geocaching tomorrow at the park.”
“That’s what I said! Geocaching is like a treasure hunt using a phone app, I guess. Do you think I should go?”
“Being outside is good for you, hon. I could go too, but my stomach hasn’t been feeling well. Just be safe and have fun. You know what to do if you need anything, right?”
His mom rarely wanted to leave the house anymore. She usually came up with a reason to not do something— usually health-related. Since going on disability after her back injury, she seemed to have lost some ambition and interest in life. But it had really begun when his dad had a heart attack five years ago. Things just weren’t the same after he passed, but at least they had the life insurance money to get by on. His mom started trying to live vicariously through others, but Zak was also a homebody and hardly the ideal person for that.
Zak completed his homework, put a retainer in his mouth, and went to bed with an unsettling feeling about tomorrow.
Upon waking, Zak ate a bowl of Cap’n Crunch. He then took a 16 ounce Dr Pepper from the fridge and drove to meet Sam.
Zak and Sam met at the parking lot of a forested park. Sam somehow seemed taller than he remembered. Is he part-tree or something? Good grief.
After exchanging a few kind greetings, Zak and Sam input coordinates into their phone’s GPS apps and began walking along a pathway while tracking the treasure or “geocache.” The path meandered through the grassy field below big trees.
Their GPS apps showed they were getting closer and closer to the first geocache. The number of feet displayed on the app went from 300’ to 200’ then to 100’ then to 63’ then stopped. The tree cover may have obstructed their signal. They decided to look at the clue, which said: “look up.” They noticed several firs in the area. Could it be hidden in one?
Zak and Sam narrowed down their choices to two trees based on whether it had a branch low enough to reach. The first appeared to be a hole and an abandoned bird’s nest, but no cache. Suddenly, a large bird swooped in close to Zak’s head, nearly brushing his hair.
“Whoaaa!” Maybe the nest isn’t abandoned!
“Let’s skip this one,” Sam said.
As they approached the next fir, Zak noticed a dark crevice between the branches just within arm’s reach. Zak reached in and felt something strange. It feels solid, like… a metal box. He fished it out and couldn’t believe he found it! A real geocache— something he never knew existed less than 24 hours ago.
He carefully opened the small latch and opened the lid. What’s this?
Inside was an ace of spades card, a GI-Joe figure, a piece of bubble gum, and a masseuse’s business card. How weird.
“How many of these are hidden in town?” Zak asked.
“The app says about 30 in this area.”
“Whoa, who knew so many little treasures existed?” This is actually sort of fun.
They searched for two more geocaches— one in another park by the Columbia River and the last one they couldn’t find. It had a riddle about Portland microbreweries which neither of them knew much about, so they skipped it.
Zak felt a little more at ease after their fun activities and mustered up the courage to ask Sam a question.
“Sam, do you have any idea how far we walked?”
“According to the GPS tracker, it says we walked about 0.6 miles”
Zak was delighted, but felt compelled to share his burden. Should I tell him?
No, don’t say anything! It’s none of his business, Zak’s irrational voice thought.
“Sometimes, I struggle with my weight and I think this walking was good for me.”
Zak felt weird saying that. He felt as if all the birds stopped chirping and turned to stare at him in silence for the next few seconds. Despite Zak’s sensitivity, he felt strangely relieved as if a portion of his burden was just lifted.
“Have you considered buying a step tracker?” Sam asked.
“Like an app?”
“Yes, you can download free step tracker apps too. But if you want a little more accuracy you can buy a step tracker device or pedometer that you attach to your waistband that tracks how many steps you take. Wal-Mart or Amazon may have some for around $6.”
“That cheap, really?”
“Yes! I recommend it because it will get you thinking about your daily activity. Awareness is sometimes half the battle.”
Zak nodded his head, but privately wondered what he meant by “half the battle.” He then imagined an annoying talking toucan bird screeching in his ear, “half the battle,” squawk, “half the battle.”
That’s not very helpful, Zak thought. Shoo away you dumb thought-bird!
Before leaving the park, Sam turned toward Zak.
“Zak, have you ever played disc golf?”
“Nope. Is that with the metal baskets you throw discs into?”
“That’s it! Would you like to try it next Saturday?”
Zak’s initial thought was again to say “no,” but before he could utter a word, he paused.
It occurred to Zak that his desire for comfort in the short term continued to conflict with his long term goal of being healthy. These two things didn’t jibe.
First, he expected to not like the horseshoe game but did. Next, he wanted to say “no” to geocaching which he enjoyed even more. Maybe this disc golf activity was similar? Would he be missing out if he said “no?” Should he let these old feelings and fears prevent him from trying new things and living life to the fullest? Why would my first reaction be something that limits myself? Zak wondered.
Zak realized it was silly for him to even deliberate over this decision because he desperately wanted progress. He wanted relationships, connections, opportunities, and here was someone inviting him to do exactly that. “If not now,” he thought, “when?” After wrestling with this decision for what felt like an eternity, Zak mustered up the courage to utter the following:
“Ok, I’ll try. Do you have discs?”
Oh no! What are you agreeing to?! Why are you disrupting your safety bubble? Zak’s irrational voice thought.
Shut up you fun-sponge! Zak’s rational voice fought back with the spirit of an MMA fighter.
“Yes, I have a driver and putter disc for each of us,” Sam said.
“Ma, I’m home… Ma?”
He found his mom snoring on the recliner while Law & Order played out a drama scene with the TV volume blasting at 80%. He grabbed the controller to turn it off and got a sticky residue on his hand. Oooo! He leaned in to smell it. Oh, maple syrup!
He noticed mom sleeping during the day more and more. Is she feeling ok?
Zak continued to wrestle with the idea of committing to this disc golf thing. He hoped for an excuse to stay at home and advance in his Fortnite game.
Sedentary, safe, and snug. The three S’s of life, Zak thought with a smile.
But now he felt on the hook. Committed. Vulnerable.
Suddenly, Zak felt the bangle on his wrist. Weird, I don’t remember putting it on! It reminded Zak about his desperate need for change when in Mrs. Nelson’s office. Alright! Maybe I’ll give this stupid disc thing a fair try too. At least I can cross it off my list after I confirm I hate it, right?
Zak crossed his arms and felt like a pouty kid who had his lollipop taken away. The new sheriff in town was starting to become quite a buzzkill. I hope this rational voice knows what he’s doing; I don’t like it!
That night he decided he wanted as much energy as possible for the upcoming activity so he made an enormous pot of spaghetti and meatballs with Prego meat sauce— his favorite. While the dish gave him acid reflux, he considered it worth it and took an antacid pill before bed. He didn’t know whether loading his body with carbohydrates a few days beforehand would be helpful or not.
For the next few days, Zak went to school, played video games, watched the news, ate a lot of candy, and slept a lot. My secrets to success, Zak thought.
Zak and Sam met at the Blue Lake Regional Park and carried their bright orange plastic discs to the starting throw line of “hole one.” The park was busy with dozens of people walking their dogs and it was surprisingly green and well-kept. He noticed how relaxed he felt around Sam. He’s actually a chill peep; why was I so worried before?
Sam demonstrated how to warm up the torso, upper back, and arms prior to the first throw. After a few practices, the two let their discs fly and proceeded around the course. Their discs bounced off trees, broke spider webs, landed in blackberry bushes, and fell into mud puddles. The randomness of it brought a smile to Zak’s face who felt used to living life mostly behind a computer screen. This is kinda dope, actually.
One of Zak’s throws landed in a pile of rocks by a drug needle that appeared shattered with yucky brown goo seeping out. That’s nasty! This reminded him of his druggy uncle in Southern California who had been in and out of jail throughout his life. I never want to end up like that!
Suddenly a gray tree squirrel sprung out from a bush, grabbed the syringe in its mouth, and dragged it up a cedar tree.
“Oh no! Come back! Sam, it took the needle!”
Sam ran over near the tree and made a few clicking sounds to entice the squirrel down. He speaks squirrel?
“Come down little buddy,” Sam said with a calming voice. He reached his gloved hands toward to the squirrel just out of reach. After a couple squeaks it dropped the needle all the way to the ground and scrambled away high into the tree. Sam carefully picked up the needle with a cloth, placed it into a bag and disposed of it. He’s an environmentalist and squirrel whisperer too. Who knew?
The two continued the remainder of the course and Zak grew tired of chasing his disc around. But his last shot on the ninth hole made it worth it. He took a shot from 25 feet away and sank it in the basket. The clink and swishy-swash of metal chains validated his goal.
“Yaaas! I’m killin’ it!” Zak yelled.
“Great shot! You finished strong! Do you realize we walked nearly one mile doing this course?”
“My legs feel it.”
“A little soreness is okay.”
Zak began reflecting. This was more fun
than I thought. Why was I so hesitant to do this? Why do I always assume the
worst before trying new things?
“Listen Zak, next Saturday morning I was planning on leading a group hike to Tunnel Falls, but they just cancelled. I’m wondering if you’d like to go instead?” Sam said.
“Tunnel Falls? …isn’t that hard? As you can see I’m a bit ‘thicc’ and outta shape... I probably can’t,” Zak said.
“Like many other things you would just take one simple and focused step at a time. And you’ll make it— maybe not the first try— but you can do it. It’s beautiful up there,” he said.
Zak didn’t expect this opportunity and felt conflicted again. He heard of this place for many years and it had a certain mystery to it. He often felt that he was missing out on things— missing out on life. He felt tired of feeling that way and Sam was starting to feel like a friend.
Zak looked down at his plump gut and saw it as a heavy boat anchor keeping him from trying new things. He was growing tired of it. He already felt he had limited opportunities and was frustrated that his poor shape was limiting him even further. He didn’t feel in good enough shape to try this, but to get in better shape he thought he’d need to exercise more— exactly what this hike was. What a catch-22!
“Do you really think I’ll make it? Isn’t it far?” Zak asked.
“Yes, it’s 12 miles round trip, but the first waterfall is just 1.5 miles in. It’s simple when you break it down into individual steps,” Sam said.
Wait a minute— think this through, buddy. Let’s not get carried away here. Come on, man…think!… think!… Zak’s irrational voice thought.
“Ok, I would normally say no, but since you think I’ll make it, I’ll try,” Zak said.
Again? You’ve got to be kidding me! You’re unhinged! At least ask him what his motives are. Why does he want to spend time with you? Seriously, what’s the catch? Ask him…. Just do it… ask him!
“Sam…” Zak swallowed. “Why… do you want to go with me?”
Part of Zak couldn’t even believe he just asked that. His skin tightened. His heart thumped. His vision narrowed like a tunnel as if his inner-self wanted no part of this and somehow sank deeper back in his body to distance himself from this situation.
“Zak, you’re a pleasant young man. I appreciate you and can empathize with some of your challenges. It seems like you’re looking for some guidance and I just happen to enjoy offering guidance and mentorship for young men like you. It is my passion and I want to help make the world a better place. The satisfaction I get from giving back is enough benefit in itself and I feel like I’m fulfilling my purpose by doing so. I don’t need or ask for anything in return, either. Maybe someday you’ll get to experience the same satisfaction by paying it forward. But there’s a second reason for offering to hike with you too…”
“Oh yeah?” Oh no, here it comes…
“I’m planning to write a book on hiking in the Pacific Northwest and need to do each of the hikes to double-check the route, mileage, elevation, and trail conditions. Tunnel Falls is one of the hikes.”
I seriously didn’t expect this— a cowboy, life coach, hiker, environmentalist, squirrel-whisperer, and now an author?
“That’s cool, how far along is your book?”
“I’m just now starting, so the timing is ideal to hike with you. I’d enjoy having your company.”
“Ok, I’m down with that.” Wait… am I really?
“How about meeting Saturday at 8 a.m. at Lewis and Clark Park, then,” Sam said.
After they agreed and ended the conversation, Zak wondered what he just got himself into. A flood of anxiety filled his body as if someone sprayed him with a pressure washer. This time the anxiety was less about Sam and more about his physical ability. Is this hike going to kill me? He wasn’t given any instructions on how to prepare for it. He realized what he ate for dinner might influence how much energy or how sluggish he might feel in the morning. But what does that mean? What should I do differently?
He then realized he should maybe eat something semi-healthy with enough nutrition and energy to sustain him through the day. He halfheartedly tried eating differently for dinner by adding a banana. While this seemed healthy, it accompanied fried chicken breast, greasy French fries, and large Coke— one of his staples.
Zak became curious to check his weight before he went to bed: 296 pounds. Wow, that’s a surprise, I’ve hardly done anything to be down 4 pounds! Zak then remembered something he heard on TV. A celebrity doctor said other factors can skew your weight, like the time of day, if wearing clothes/shoes, if before or after a meal, how hydrated, or if you just went to the bathroom. He felt less excited after that realization.
Zak tried to suppress his self-doubt about the upcoming hike, but it lurked in the back of his mind like a thief in a dark alley. He visualized being in one of those “I Shouldn’t Be Alive” TV shows with people who find themselves in an emergency situation way over their heads.
God help me, he thought.
“Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep...”
The alarm went off sooner than Zak was ready for. He hit the snooze button and waited for a miserable five minutes for his grogginess to subside.
Zak felt something crawling on his wrist. He jerked his hand in the air so fast he felt his shoulder pop and imagined a hairy black tarantula flying across the room and splatting on the wall. His other hand, however, slid up to his wrist and felt that it was only the bangle! He didn’t remember putting it on. Zak’s rapid heart nearly pumped out of his chest.
Through his blurred and crusty-eye morning vision, Zak noticed the bangle’s engraving said, “You can. You will.” He wondered why he never noticed that before. Am I blind as a bat?
Zak ate a large bowl of Frosted Flakes and orange juice for breakfast. He then grabbed his old backpack and stuffed it with a full bag of Oreos, Nutter Butters, marshmallows, and a 16oz Coke, then left.
Zak arrived at the Eagle Creek trailhead a few minutes early and he forgot how fresh the air smelled outside along the Columbia River. As he closed his eyes and deep-breathed it in, emotions started flooding his brain about his life choices up to this point. For a split second he felt reconnected to a part of himself he somehow lost a few years ago. It was as though he reemerged from a fog of hibernation. I spend way too much time at home; I’ve been hiding from the world, haven’t I?
Sam interrupted his thoughts with an enthusiastic, “Good morning!”
After a brief chat the two began hiking up the trail. The fresh aroma of wet Douglas fir trees was pungent and the delicate sounds of a distant creek cascading off granite boulders was a sensory buffet. Cute birds sang pretty little songs while perched across various branches. It was as though Zak experienced these sensations for the first time— almost like a blind man suddenly being able to see. He felt bewildered how he forgot about the benefits of being in nature. How did I overlook this? I really need to get out more.
Zak then started feeling the effects of the steep grade. Anything other than flat is too steep for me, he joked to himself.
His legs were working overtime. His heart pounded; his sweat dripped.
“How are you feeling so far?” Sam asked.
“A little winded,” Zak said. He didn’t want to mention the leg pain… yet.
“We’ll take as many breaks as you need.”
Zak focused on every step he took, each one becoming increasingly difficult. His legs began to feel inflated like heavy balloons. Lungs started hyperventilating. Lower back now feeling the strain from the weight of his backpack. Dry mouth. They call this fun? Should I stop? No, I won’t say anything, yet.
It took every ounce of energy for Zak to keep going. He only paused for a few seconds here and there, but otherwise, kept a steady snail pace up the trail’s incline.
He wondered if it would help just focusing on one step at a time. Easy attainable goals. Left foot, Right foot, Left foot, Right foot.
After an hour of hiking, the trail winded along a cliff and grew steeper before reaching an overlook.
“Let’s stop at this viewpoint ahead and talk for a minute.”
Oh, thank you. Can’t take another step, I’m dying here. Medevac!
“Stopping sounds good— I’m not sure I can continue right now.”
“The viewpoint is only 5 minutes away, can you do that?”
“I guess so.” Why did I just say that? Zak!
Zak’s shirt was now damp from sweat. When he wiped his forehead it felt like he submerged his hand into a bowl of stinky locker-room water.
They walked a few minutes, then approached a chain barrier that separated them from a cliff with a sweeping view of the tree-covered mountains and lush green vegetation on the banks of Eagle Creek.
“Wow! That’s lit!”
They took a break at the viewpoint and marinated their senses with the sounds, smells, sight, and feel of the forest ecosystem. The dense forest was composed of large cedar, hemlock, maple, and Douglas fir trees. Thick moss coated a special few of them, suggesting they were the older and wiser members of the forest. Remnants of a past fire enriched the palette of colors in the scene, with shades of brown and orange mixed into the vibrant green surroundings.
While admiring the view Zak’s mind flashed to what he would have been doing otherwise: staying at home in his dark bedroom playing Fortnite.
Sam strolled closer to Zak to ask him a personal question.
“Zak, you indicated before you were hoping to start healthier habits, is that right?”
Great, here we go. Just don’t say anything, ignore the question and move on, Zak’s irrational voice thought.
“Yeah, about that… I want to be healthier, but it seems out of reach. I don’t know how to achieve it.”
Why did you say that? What are you thinking?! Zak’s irrational voice retorted.
“Prior to my call, did you think you would have reached this viewpoint today?”
“Well, no, the thought of doing this didn’t even cross my mind. And if it did, I wouldn’t think I could do it...”
“Exactly,” Sam said. “So, when you don’t try, you’re guaranteed to not accomplish it. But, when you do try, you’re far more likely to accomplish it, right?”
“I guess so.”
That quote reminded Zak of something Yoda said in a Star Wars movie. He then imagined Sam with Yoda’s head and half-snorted before stopping himself; he bit down on his lips and fought the urge to laugh, out of politeness. Weird imagination, have I!
“Our minds can trick us into thinking we’re less capable than we really are. We tend to limit ourselves,” Sam said.
A brief minute of silence passed while that thought marinated in Zak’s young mind.
Sam continued, “Zak, I have information that you might find helpful regarding weight loss and staying healthy. It comes from some years of personal research and training on the subject. Does that sound like something you’d like to hear?”
“Yeah, okay. I’m sorta uncomfortable with the topic, but nothing else has worked. I guess I’m looking for new ideas to try.”
Zak felt a bit of relief after those words left his mouth. That was hard to say, he thought.
“Well, you’re hiking with the right guy then, and I’m happy to help. You may even want to take notes so you don’t forget.”
Zak fished out his iPhone from his backpack and opened his notes app and made his first entry:
“Got it. I’m ready,” Zak said.
“Ok. First, Zak, I’m sure you already know that the secret to having a healthy body, right?”
“Eat right and exercise?”
“That’s right,” Sam said. “Since you already know the formula for losing weight and since you haven’t accomplished it yet, the challenge must not be a physical one, but rather a motivational and behavioral one. Do you agree?”
“I suppose so.” Do I really believe that though? I may need to think this through…
“Since the obstacle in losing weight is your behavior, and since your mind controls your behavior, then we should talk about mental habits. Does that sound logical?”
Zak then imagined Mr. Spock from Star Trek acting logically with robotic arm movements then envisioned Spock’s head on Sam’s body. Zak nearly spewed the water he just drank. He then held his hand to his lips.
Stop it, crazy thoughts! I’m trying to concentrate here! Zak waved his hand as if swooshing away his thoughts like gnats.
“If it’s ok with you, we can spend the majority of the time reviewing your existing thoughts, beliefs, and motivations that lead you to consume more calories than you need. Is that ok?”
“Sure.” As Zak uttered this, he realized he wasn’t that open to this, but was so far just going along with it. While he didn’t feel totally on board, he didn’t want to limit himself either. Fake it until you make it, he thought, reciting a phrase he learned from a high school gym teacher. But he wasn’t sure if it applied in this situation. Hmmm…
During the exchange Zak heard a strange cawing sound in the bushes about 50 feet away. He tried to disregard it to show good listening skills, but the sound became louder, then stopped. What was that? He wondered. What kind of place is this?
The two had taken a fifteen-minute break and despite Zak feeling so exhausted just minutes earlier, the engaging conversation had distracted him from his fatigue. He somehow felt a second wind and strangely felt ready for more hiking.
“So, where’s Tunnel Falls?” Zak asked.
“Another five miles,” Sam said. “And Metlako Falls is another half a mile, but we won’t make it today.”
“Five miles! I thought you said I’ll make it?”
“You will. Just not today. One step at a time.”
“But we haven’t even come close to reaching it! We haven’t seen any waterfalls today. I told a girl in my art class I was going to Tunnel Falls today; what will she think of me now if I tell her I didn’t make it?”
“You made great progress today toward reaching your goal and should feel proud of yourself. There’s no reason to expect that you’d make it the entire distance on the first day without more preparation. Just consider today as training. Plus, it’s best to go at your own pace, one step at a time, and not worry what others may think.”
“Ok, it’s just disappointing.”
“Is it actually disappointing or is that just a feeling of disappointment?”
“What do you mean?”
“You could just as easily interpret your progress today as a massive accomplishment—maybe something you haven’t done in years. You could choose to be proud of yourself for trying something new, seeing beautiful scenery, burning calories while having good conversation. Think of all the people who aren’t able to enjoy something like this today. Think of the health benefits. What if you adjusted your expectations so you were nicer to yourself? If you normally don’t do much physical activity, in the rare times you do something physical, why would you expect such an arbitrarily high level of performance much from yourself? Where do such high expectations come from?”
“I don’t know, honestly. I haven’t thought about that.”
“Many of life’s disappointments can be avoided by simply calibrating your expectations.”
That thought struck Zack as potentially profound, but he didn’t quite have the motivation to type it into his phone.
“How so?” Zak asked.
“Things falling short of our expectations often trigger a feeling of disappointment, but where do our expectations come from in the first place? Next, what is the process for deciding what the expectations should be? Is it a scientific process, or is it based on assumptions, or mere emotion? I believe most people’s expectations for themselves are too high in the short term and too low for the long term,” Sam said.
“People often assume short term projects will be problem-free as well; those aren’t rational expectations. In the long term people often sell themselves short by not investing in their dreams or pursuing their passions. This can happen out of fear of failure or just not believing in themselves. Challenging and calibrating your expectations to be more realistic is very helpful and will prevent you from feeling so easily defeated and disempowered, especially when trying something new. You’ll feel less disappointment and feel more peace in your life.”
“Can you give an example?” This convo is getting almost as heavy as I am!
“Sure, you mentioned you’re disappointed you won’t reach the waterfall today. Given your health status and your history of fitness up to this point, I wonder why you expected to reach it? It takes time to condition your body. It’s remarkable that just a few days ago you walked about 0.3 miles in horseshoes, then 0.6 miles in geocaching, then 1 mile playing disc golf, and now this hike will be 2 miles when we get back. That is amazing progress, like 100% improvement each time! That is a highly accelerated rate that would be too aggressive for most people, but since you’re young, you seem capable of handling it and adapting quickly. Most people of your size would need more transitional days of exercise in-between to more gradually increase the difficulty. But what you’ve done is superb progress. It’s incredible, actually. So, what you interpret as disappointment I interpret as a success.”
“Well, when you put it that way, I guess that isn’t so bad, is it?” Zak raised his head higher.
“Taking small, positive steps steadily over a period of time can yield positive results. Such habits can build up over time and start paying you ever-increasing dividends, like compound interest. Consider the patience of an ant, which takes only one grain of sand at a time. With teamwork and through the adversity of wind, rain, and other animals destroying their work, ants can eventually build a massive tower and tunnel system for their home,” said Sam.
Zak lifted up his iPhone and typed the following note:
Zak shuffled his feet and looked down from his phone just in time to avoid nearly stepping on a long green slug! Whoa! He then tried to push it out of the way with the tip of his shoe, but some whitish goo stuck to it. Oooooo, nasty! He then tried to scrape it off on some soft mulchy dirt. In doing so, a centipede crawled out of a hole near his foot. Yowza! I must get outta here!
Zak and Sam agreed to turn around and start heading back down the trail to the car. Zak liked that it would be downhill and easier going back. Maybe this slope can roll me to the buffet!
As they hiked downhill Sam decided to ask Zak a key question.
“Zak, if you already know how to lose weight and if you want to lose weight, why don’t you?”
“That’s the big question,” Zak said with a brief pause to collect his thoughts.
I love big meals and I cannot lie, you other brothers can’t deny. When I walk in with a very large waist and a donut in my face… Zak thought-rapped to one of his favorite 90s songs. What am I thinking? I should probably give him a real answer as maybe he can help me.
“Honestly, I love food and it’s just hard to stop eating, I suppose. I get cravings for anything sweet, salty, and fatty. I guess my day revolves around it— thinking about it and planning for it. It comforts me. It’s hard to stay motivated to eat healthier. When I feel down I reward myself with a snack and when I feel up I reward myself with a snack. Even on average days I eat snacks. I can’t seem to stop, but is it such a crime to reward myself with a treat?”
“No, if you’re not abusing your body and if that’s what you truly want in your life. From what I hear, however, you sound conflicted on what you want. Maybe part of you also wants to feel good, look good, and live a healthy life too— not just for you, but for your friends and family. Wanting that is not a crime either, right?”
“It doesn’t sound like anyone is oppressing you or forcing you to do one way or the other— but maybe those who care about you would like for you to be happy, healthy, and live life to the fullest. You can actually have both: sweet treats and good health— it’s not a black and white one-or-the-other scenario.”
“You can have both by just not overdoing it. Why not just eat less junk food and more healthy food so you can enjoy the benefits of both good health and occasional sweets?”
“I guess I’m just used to eating it until I’m full.”
“But that can result in bad health. How important is good health to you? If you could have good health by just eating 10% less food, would you do it?”
“Maybe, but I really crave my comfort food and just don’t think about it.” Seriously, isn’t this what everyone does? Why mess with a good thing?
“But if you want to lose weight is it out of the question to eat less of it?” Sam began to think Zak didn’t have so much of an intellectual block, but perhaps an emotional one toward his eating habits. “What I’m suggesting is you can enjoy the freedom to eat comfort food, but with a limit so you don’t become a slave to it. Wouldn’t you rather not feel like a slave?”
“Yeah, but my mom’s side of the family acts overbearing and judgmental. Sometimes they make me want to eat more in spite of how they treat me.”
Zak’s thoughts felt interconnected like spaghetti. He realized for the first time that his eating habits had something to do with his family- he just didn’t know what.
“I know family can be challenging. Not all family members express love in the most productive ways and sometimes their version of offering ‘support’ can be toxic. But if you have some family with genuine, pure, and loving motives, wouldn’t their support be helpful?”
“Well…” Zak paused to think. He sure likes challenging my thoughts, doesn’t he?
“For example, if one of your family members was developing a health problem that was 100% preventable, wouldn’t you want to offer to help them?”
“I see your point. Maybe in my case they’re not the enemy… true… but it hurts when they remind me— it feels like I’m being prodded— it makes me want to do the opposite of what they say.” Should I really be telling him this?
“To get back at them?”
“Yeah, maybe. Does that sound childish?”
“Well, do you really want to get back at them for caring about you and offering to help? I would think if they didn’t care it would be more aggravating, no?”
Zak scratched his bushy goatee as he listened to Sam’s words, but didn’t answer.
“Also, that kind of getting back at them only negatively affects your health and doesn’t negatively affect them at all, so is that really getting back? If someone wanted to actually get back at them, couldn’t that be done by proving them wrong, instead? What if becoming both physically fit and enjoying occasional treats could prove them wrong?”
“Ok, I think I see your point.”
Partway down the trail, the two paused for a minute to rest at one of the same stops they made on the way up. Zak caught his breath and noticed one of his shoes was untied. As he stooped down to tie the lace his legs moaned. Oh, so sore! I’m gonna feel this tomorrow.
Zak glanced at the time on his iPhone. Oh, no. He felt nervous about leaving his mom for so long. He wanted to hurry, but he also didn’t want to die of exhaustion trying to get back to the car. I might be lucky just to make it back in one piece.
“Zak, how about a different question… If all someone has to do to have a healthier body is not eat as much, why do you think there’s a $72 billion dollar industry of weight loss products— all offering more things to eat?” Sam asked.
“I dunno… maybe people hope for a shortcut and want a miracle cure without changing their habits. They want to have their cake and eat it too?” Zak said.
Zak was in the middle of a drink when he laughed and water sprayed out his nose, followed by uncontrollable coughing and snorting.
Sam then cracked a smile revealing a gold tooth.
What? Is this guy a pirate now? Zak was trying not to laugh even harder now. Laughing can sure be hazardous…
Suddenly Zak felt a sudden strain in his abs and gazed down at his plump round belly. How can I have pain in my abs if I don’t have any?!
“You’re a smart young man, Zak,” Sam said. “People keep looking for shortcuts, but there are none. Instead of looking internally at their own habits, people tend to look externally for a cure. They might want a certain pill, a certain trainer, a certain doctor, a certain surgery, a certain miracle healing, a certain prayer answered, despite people already having the free will and knowledge to improve their health. When people say they want to lose weight, but choose not to do anything about it, what are they really deciding?”
“Their future?” Zak asked.
“Yes, they’re in a sense shortchanging themselves, by trading significant long term pleasures for trivial short term pleasures. There are many bad deals people make in this life where people sacrifice their future happiness so they can have instant gratification, but this… this is an especially bad one.”
“It’s similar to buying things on credit at a high-interest rate, or like having an affair, or like taking drugs, alcohol, smoking, or eating junk food. All of these offer instant gratification, but rob you of future gratification. It’s a bad deal for you.”
Zak looked away from Sam to clear his head. It was such a nice day and such a scenic place. He wanted to absorb as much nature as he could before returning to his dark room— his dungeon.
As his eyes followed across the banks of the creek he suddenly felt something was out of place, but what was it?
He stared intently at a group of bushes 100 feet away on the other side of the creek. Something was sticking out of it— some kind of light-colored object laying close to the ground. It definitely wasn’t part of the bush. He walked closer while squinting his eyes. Is that…?
“Oh no, it’s a hand!” Zak shrieked. He sprinted down the trail to the next corner and noticed Sam didn’t move at all. Zak cautiously walked back to where Sam was. His heart was nearly thumbing out of his chest.
“Do you see it?”
“Yes, but I don’t think it’s what you think it is…”
The two quietly stared intently waiting for something to happen.
Suddenly, the hand moved! The hand was connected to a body. Oh no, a body! It was just lying there, but suddenly it moved. Oh no, it’s alive! A man raised up in a sitting position and became visible from behind the bushes. Oh, it’s just some dude. They could see his lips moving, but couldn’t hear over the sound of the creek.
“But why is he talking to himself?” Zak asked.
“Maybe he isn’t.”
Suddenly a woman became visible as she raised up on the other side of him.
“Ok, maybe they’re just camping or relaxing over there? But how did they even climb up there?”
Zak was still a bit startled by his interpretations of that scene as they continued hiking back down the trail. He then began questioning himself. Why was I so surprised by that? I’ve seen plenty of people before. Was it because I didn’t expect to see someone there? But why did I have those expectations?
When they reached a clearing with a flat soft area of soil they stopped. Sam then grabbed a stick and started scratching the dirt. What is he doing? Is he writing something?
Sam continued marking the ground until Zak could finally see a crude chart showing the pros and cons of overeating junk food.
Tastes good for a few
seconds per bite
“Zak, as you can see we currently have only two positives compared to 21 negatives. Can you think of any other decision where it’s wise to choose something with so little upside and so many downsides?”
“Not really.” His jaw tightened. He wanted to be open minded, but still felt annoyed by the question.
“Can you think of any other pros to overeating junk food aside from the reward and temporary pleasure of its taste?” Sam asked.
“Well...” Zak felt caught off guard. His mind drew a blank. Is eating junk food really just about the taste? Are most Americans overweight just because of taste buds?
“I guess binge eating junk food is mostly for the taste or just fulfilling a craving,” Zak said.
“How about the cons or downsides— can you think of any more other than these listed?” Sam asked.
“Maybe inconvenience? If you’re large and in charge you might fill more than your own seat in a car, airplane, ballgame, or concert. They don’t always like the love spilling over. Maybe checking glucose is another hassle? Healthcare costs could be higher?” Zak said.
“With all the downsides you can assume that people usually don’t intentionally become obese. When people make decisions to eat junk food, it’s usually impulsive and not deeply researched, thoughtfully considered, or strategically planned. People don’t normally weigh all the short-term and long-term pros and cons and logically conclude they’re better off becoming obese through junk food.”
“Yeah, but people who struggle probably don’t think that far ahead, right?” Zak said.
“Yes, but they can if it’s important enough to them. If the freedom to eat unlimited quantities of junk food with bad health was truly a superior life to eating in smaller quantities and having good health, then why wouldn’t everyone want that life? If the benefits obesity were truly greater then why wouldn’t those already obese help others to become obese too? Why wouldn’t they help their spouses, their grandparents, their siblings, their kids, or their friends to all become overweight so they can enjoy its benefits together? And if obesity was such an advantage, there would be many groups, programs and products to help people become obese faster and easier. But that doesn’t reflect reality. We instead have the opposite— a very high demand to lose weight that is a multi-billion dollar industry, including weight-loss groups, programs, and products. Most people overweight want to lose weight and some feel quite desperate to do it,” Sam said.
“I guess you’re right. I suppose it doesn’t make sense.”
“Let me ask you, do you carry any money with you currently?”
“Yes, I have a $20 bill,” Zak said.
“How long have you had it?” Sam asked.
“Probably a week. I mowed my neighbor’s lawn.” Zak said.
“Why haven’t you spent it yet?” Sam said.
“I’m saving for a new game coming out next month,” Zak said.
“That shows discipline. In this area of your life, you connected the dots enough to estimate you will have more overall pleasure by waiting instead of buying something now that offers you less pleasure. Right?”
“Now that you mention it, yes,” Zak said.
“That means, if something is important enough, you do have the discipline and motivation to achieve it, right?”
“Yes, I guess so.”
“So, it would seem unfair to tell yourself that you lack any motivation or discipline because you really don’t if something is important to you. As long as you perceive the overeating junk food as a positive thing, you have little incentive to change. However, this thinking fails to consider that you can enjoy both good health and sweet treats. So, if feeling healthy was important enough to you, you’d have that too, right? The real question is, how bad do you want it and what are you willing to do to get it?”
Zak scratched his goatee. He felt lost in the deep conversation while they hiked and arrived back to the parking lot sooner than he thought.
What a relief that’s over! I thought I was gonna die!
“Zak, would you like to do another hike here next Saturday?”
“That’s nice of you, but I don’t want to impose.”
“You wouldn’t. I enjoy our conversations and like helping. I’m just making a genuine offer and you wouldn’t owe me anything in return. For the hike I only ask that you try. Can you do that?” Sam said.
“Ok, I will. I didn’t expect so much activity to happen so soon. I guess I don’t feel ready.”
“You probably never will. Sometimes when opportunities arise that align with your goals it’s good to take it, even if you feel uncertain or afraid. You never know if you’ll have the opportunity again. I take pleasure in helping others and seeing a smile is enough reward for me.”
“Ok, great, thank you!”
“Can I offer you a challenge before we meet again?”
“Sure,” Zak nodded. Why did I say “sure?” I hate “challenges!” Don’t get too over your head, Zachary, his irrational voice thought.
“Would you consider stretching? It can reduce muscle tightness and risk of injury. You gave your body a workout that it hasn’t experienced in a while, so stretching is a way to be kind to your body.”
“Ok, I can try when I get home.” I’m about as flexible as a piece of steel, Zak thought.
“Next time I’d like to share a special strategy with you about weight loss that may come as a surprise.”
“Sure, that sounds good.”
Cloud cover blocked the sun and a cool breeze replaced the spring warmth.
On the drive home Zak craved a huge greasy meal to replace all the calories he burned while hiking the two miles. He stopped by a Wendy’s drive-thru and ordered a double stack “Baconator” burger with large fries, and a large Coke.
Upon arriving at home he noticed his mom had already retreated to her room and closed the door. She sure goes to bed early; I hope she’s feeling ok.
Zak downed the fast food as if he was trying to win a speed contest. He then craved a dessert and raided his freezer which had three containers of chocolate fudge ice cream. He scooped some in a bowl and topped it off with chocolate syrup. Chocolate on chocolate, oh yeah! He plopped on the couch in front of the TV and watched a talk show that said, “Christians have terrorized and killed more than any other group in history.” That’s so despicable!
Zak’s time with Sam made him realize he should start questioning more things in his life. Just to make sure he had the facts, he grabbed his iPhone to fact-check the TV host’s statement. Since he heard Google was biased, he used DuckDuckGo.com and was surprised at the results.
He glanced at the broader history of war before and after the crusades then looked at the history of genocides. Wait, the worst atrocities in the world were actually caused by… atheists? Is this true?
The article said, “60 million killed under Mao Zedong, an atheist; 21 million killed under Hitler, an atheist; 15 million killed under Stalin and Lenin, atheists; 2 million killed under Pol Pot, an atheist.” That’s more than 100+ million killed from atheism!
Alright, I may not agree with all of Christianity, but doesn’t the Bible say “love your neighbor” and “do not kill?” So, if someone violates it, how is that the fault of Christianity? Does the same apply to other religions? Are the same people who say we shouldn’t blame all Muslims for the 9/11 attacks claiming that we should blame all Christians for a regional war that started in the 11th century? Should we then blame all atheists past and present for committing the world’s worst mass murders?
He was surprised how such little research into the facts led him to completely change his opinion. How many other things are said on TV that people just accept as truth without question?
Zak laid in bed, deep in thought while staring at the plain-white spackled ceiling. He wondered if he could ever be as fit as Sam. He figured Sam was in his 60s and probably weighed 180 pounds of healthy bones and muscle. He also wondered what Sam’s secret weight loss strategy was— was it a product, a service, or a technique? Hope he’s not gonna try to sell me Amway products or push some marketing scheme. He smiled then dozed off into a deep sleep.
Suddenly Zak’s calf muscle cramped and became hard as a brick as he awoke. Eeeeoooowwwww!
Zak scrambled to grab lotion and massage the muscle loose. After a few minutes the pain subsided, but he didn’t think to stretch his muscles or to drink more water. He completely forgot about Sam’s challenge. Slightly rattled, he tried to return to sleep.
That night Zak had a dream that a glowing being appeared and walked alongside him through a peaceful garden. The being was too bright to look at directly, but it emanated sheer joy and unconditional love. A voice told Zak he was on the right track and where he was supposed to be. Before Zak could say anything the being seemed to vanish. Wow, that seemed so real! How trippy…
The next few days Zak rested and realized how sore and tight his feet, legs, and back were. He hadn’t worked these muscles in months.
Zak continued to eat fried foods, chips, salty
snacks and had no reservations about eating whatever his flesh desired. As was
his habit, Zak stayed up late watching Netflix; it didn’t occur to him to go to
bed early to give his body more rest to prepare for his upcoming hiking
Morning came sooner than expected. Zak swung his hand to hit the snooze button and inadvertently swept the alarm off the nightstand; it tumbled down and across the floor and its momentum pulled the cord from the wall. That symbolized Zak’s attitude toward another day of hiking.
His legs barely recovered from the previous week’s hike. He wondered if he would survive this one and what kinds of strange things he would learn from Sam this time.
After a breakfast of hash browns, chocolate pudding, and whole milk, Zak’s attitude brightened. He grabbed five candy bars from the kitchen cabinet: Reese’s, PayDay, Butterfinger, M&Ms, and a KitKat and threw them in his tattered backpack along with a 16oz Coke. He then drove to meet Sam at Lewis & Clark Park. He felt more trusting and respectful of Sam and planned to carpool in Sam’s car to the Eagle Creek trailhead to save gas money.
“Good morning! Ready to go?” Sam asked.
“You bet. Let’s do it,” Zak said.
They drove to the trailhead then started hiking up the same forested trail at Eagle Creek like they did the week before, but this time at a slightly faster pace. It didn’t take long before Zak and Sam’s banter delved into deeper subjects.
“Zak, since you already have the discipline to delay gratification, and since you already know that eating right and exercising is the key for greater long term health, and since you say you want good health, why don’t you normally eat right and exercise?”
“Let me think…”
Zak was tempted to give a sarcastic answer, but something reminded him of his cry for help in Mrs. Nelson’s office and that Sam posed no threat to him. Maybe I should cut him some slack, he’s probably just trying to be helpful, he thought. Maybe I’ll just try to answer directly and see what happens.
“I’m afraid, maybe. I don’t want to try again and fail, and I don’t want to be seen failing. I’m just tired of it, feel overwhelmed, and it’s hard to see myself doing this. I would need more help and support,” he said.
Zak felt stunned that he just shared that, as if he just emerged from a hypnotic trance. Is that really how I feel? He would never normally share such things, but somehow he felt comfortable with Sam. Something intangible about him seemed to draw it out.
“Thanks for sharing that— you just revealed several insights there,” Sam said. “Zak, if you are willing, I’d like to untangle and analyze what you just said, because I think you will find it useful. Is that ok?”
“Yeah, sure.” Zak wasn’t keen on the direction this was going but thought that, once again, he’d try to give Sam the benefit of the doubt. I can’t think of the last time someone really wanted to talk to me, especially like this.
“Your explanation appears to have 7 parts,” Sam said.
Afraid (of change)
Afraid of failing
Afraid of what others think
Feel tired (of ineffective strategies)
Can’t see yourself doing it
Need more help and support
“Sometimes thoughts seem less complex and less burdensome if you just write them down as a list,” Sam said.
“Okay…” Zak said, now listening intently.
“First, you said you feel afraid. It’s normal to feel afraid of change— it’s scary, but you can resist allowing that fear to control you. Fear alone has no power over you. Courage is actually doing things despite having fear. If everyone waited until they felt no fear, most everyone would wait forever and never do anything. Also, if you were to make a list of things you’ve done despite being afraid, I’d be willing to bet you could come up with a long list. Showing up on the first day of a new school, for example, is a fear to many. Let me ask you this: would it have been more comfortable to stay home instead of coming on this hike today?” Sam asked.
“Yes, I felt like cancelling, to be honest. But now that I’m here, I’m glad I came.”
“This means, you didn’t let anxiety or fear stop you from experiencing something— you demonstrated the ability to overcome it.”
Zak offered a shy smile while staring down at Sam’s gray hiking boots.
“Second,” Sam continued, “let’s examine the rest of what you said. You said you’re afraid to try and fail again as though failing is a bad thing. Why is failing at something bad?”
“I don’t know. It’s frustrating and embarrassing. We’re taught to avoid it.”
“If a five-year-old boy is learning to ride a bike and falls down several times, should he feel frustrated and embarrassed?”
“Probably not, he’s just a kid. That’s a normal part of learning.”
“True. How about the parents— should the mom and dad watching feel ashamed at their son who has fallen down and ‘failed?’”
“Nah, that might seem a bit overboard. That could discourage him.”
“True. The boy could adopt the fears and negativity from his parents. So, if it’s ok for a kid to fall down when trying something new, why wouldn’t it be ok for an adult?”
“I don’t know... Maybe society has higher expectations for adults? Fear of public ridicule or disapproval? Fear of being humiliated on Twitter or Facebook?” Zak said.
“It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be mindful of what we share and how we conduct ourselves in public. But when people take a risk to try something new like a weight loss program and if they fall short, why can’t they just view it as learning and practicing like the kid on the bike?”
“I suppose that’s possible,” Zak said. I actually never thought of it like that. Maybe it’s ok that I don’t do everything perfectly; I could always try again and learn from my mistakes.
“Trying something new like a diet and not making it initially isn’t such a big deal with the right attitude and a positive outlook. If people just learn from it, keep at it, and build new habits, they’ll eventually succeed at getting what they want, right?”
Zak nodded his head in agreement.
“Persistence is key. Also, failure is not you as a person failing, but just an experiment failing. You are a successful person analyzing the outcome, learning from it, and taking corrective measures— that’s a healthy mindset,” Sam said.
Zak lifted his iPhone and added the following note:
“Third, you expressed concern about what others think. If people avoid trying new things altogether based on fear of what others think, don’t they shortchange themselves? It’s good to listen to and evaluate criticism, but have you noticed that the most negative critics are sometimes the ones suppressed by fear themselves? Sometimes they project their own insecurity by criticizing others.”
Sam continued, “When getting opinions, just know that their information is often limited, especially if it relates to you. How can you truly know what someone else thinks? You really don’t. People assume and are often wrong. People can sometimes give very bad advice. Has anyone ever falsely assumed something about you?” Sam said.
“Yeah, one of my teachers assumed I had ADHD,” Zak said.
“Some live their entire lives based on false assumptions. Even married couples can falsely assume things about each other and not realize it until years later. We generally don’t know what others are thinking, and when we guess, we often guess wrong,” Sam said.
“But hearing criticism is just so embarrassing, especially when others are watching. This is why I don’t go to the gym. I’d rather avoid being seen unless I can first build confidence on my own,” Zak said.
“I’m glad you shared this because that assumes a gym is the complete solution to weight loss, but in reality, it isn’t. Let’s first finish the remaining points and we can discuss this topic next.”
“Fourth, you mentioned feeling tired,” Sam said. “Maybe you feel tired of trying things that don’t work, am I right?”
“Yes, it’s exhausting,” Zak said.
“Doing things that don’t work doesn’t automatically make you exhausted, but your interpretation of it can. Do you feel energized when you do things that do work?”
Zak closed his eyes and shrugged his shoulders.
“Fifth, you said you feel overwhelmed,” Sam said. “This can happen when you only look at something as a whole rather than separate and more manageable parts. Do you remember when I asked on the last hike if you could hike another five minutes?”
“That was a small manageable goal, wasn’t it? But if I asked if you could hike for another five hours, that may have felt overwhelming, right?”
“So the key to not being overwhelmed is to break things down into tiny manageable parts to focus on one step at a time. Sometimes all you can do is just one step, and that’s ok. Sometimes taking that one step changes the perspective enough to allow a further step.”
Zak started to say something but instead grunted then felt self-conscious. What was that about?! he thought.
“If you think back a few minutes ago, are you happy with your answer for why you don’t feel motivated to lose weight?” Sam said.
“Well, I just shared what’s on my mind; it felt jumbled and unclear.” Zak said.
“And how did it feel after we broke it down into smaller parts?” Sam asked.
“I guess it did seem clearer,” Zak said, “It felt like seventy things in my head but actually was just seven.”
Zak lifted his iPhone again and entered:
Zak was impressed how Sam remembered virtually everything he said up until this point and automatically broke it into seven parts. Who does this? Is he a cyborg running an algorithm or something?
“Sixth, you said you couldn’t see yourself doing it,” Sam said. “It’s hard to do things that seem inconsistent with how we view ourselves. So, a key to changing our behavior long term is to change how we see ourselves.”
“But how?” Zak asked.
“Visualization is one way. Start imagining what you’d look like at a certain size and weight. For example, if your goal is to be 180 pounds, then you actually visualize yourself being 180 pounds. At this weight what do you see when you look in the mirror? What does each body part look like? How does it feel? How does it change your interactions with others? How does it affect your self-confidence? What new activities could you do? What new opportunities might you have? Take time to deeply visualize it in extreme detail— to see it as if it’s real.”
Sam continued, “To help you visualize, you can find pictures of bodies you want to look like and put your head on it. You use an app, Photoshop, or scrap pieces of paper from magazines. You can put these images as your phone’s background or desktop computer’s wallpaper or place posters in your bathroom. These reminders will help you visualize yourself being that person. It’s not a one-time thing, either; do it regularly like bathing… bathing your mind. The more you remind yourself of it, the more you think about it, and the more motivation you will create to achieve it.”
“That sounds silly.”
“Is it silly if it works? If it helps you overcome obstacles and accomplish a significant and meaningful goal, is it truly silly?”
“Seventh and lastly, you mentioned you feel a lack of support. I’d like to offer my support to you— how would you like that?” Sam said.
“Yeah, I don’t know what kind of help I need, but I just know that losing weight is hard for me and I can’t do it by myself,” Zak said.
“Well, I’m happy to help. Few people can do such things by themselves; we all need support. Sometimes our own egos or pride can block us from genuinely seeking others’ help or allowing them to help us,” Sam said.
“Zak, if you’re willing, I’d like to invite you to continue hiking with me regularly each Saturday. What do you think?”
“Sure, that sounds great,” Zak said, but he wasn’t completely sure about it. Do I really want to commit every week to this? Ugh, obligations!
Zak heard a big splash in the creek. He turned and saw nothing but ripples. What was that?! A salmon?
“Zak, earlier you mentioned going to gym, but I’d like to share why a gym isn’t necessarily the best solution for weight loss.”
“What do you mean?”
“Experts estimate that 80% of your weight is determined by what you eat and only 20% is determined by exercise. If anyone believes that going to the gym is the primary solution to losing weight, it’s not. It only accounts for 20% of the problem. If you are tackling a problem and have limited motivation, would you rather focus your limited efforts on only 20% of the solution or 80% of the solution?”
“Yeah, obviously I’d do the one that carries more… weight.” Zak smiled.
“Good one! Another thing about gyms… people generally don’t pay much attention to others; they’re usually too busy thinking about themselves. People often have earphones on, are looking in the mirror, focused on their own exercise, and are generally tuned-out from others. If someone is worried about what others think, they can be assured that few people at the gym would pay much attention to you. You would be just one of many people trying to get exercise and everyone is in the same boat.”
“Ok, I’d have to see it for myself then, but I can’t really afford to join a gym right now.”
“You don’t have to go to a gym to exercise. You can do many exercises at home, at work, or nearly anywhere in the world 24/7. You don’t need to pay any money and don’t even need any equipment to exercise. If you don’t believe it, just search YouTube for examples.”
“Lifting weights without any weights? Come on…”
“I didn’t say weights, but exercise. Haven’t you ever done pushups or sit-ups before?”
“Yeah, maybe 100 pounds ago. I can’t do any now, so how does that help me?”
“Ok, so you acknowledge you can exercise without weights and that some are even too hard for you currently. Those are only two examples— there’s countless more that don’t involve any equipment. They can still burn calories, strengthen your muscles, and include walking up or down stairs, twisting, squats, dancing, etc. You can also exercise while being productive like cleaning the house, mowing the lawn, gardening, painting. You can also watch free online videos of instructors leading aerobics, Zumba, or yoga classes that you can participate with. You can even exercise while playing video games. Remember the Nintendo Wii Fit?”
“Kind of, I never tried it. Maybe I’ll check some videos out sometime.”
Zak realized he just said maybe and sometime in the same sentence. That’s not very committing, is it? I already know I won’t do any exercise videos, plus he just said it’s not as effective as my diet, right?
Zak and Sam hiked until they reached a second viewpoint, one they had not stopped at in their previous hike. This one was higher up the mountain and even more spectacular as the first.
Suddenly, there it was! Zak’s eyes widened and his jaw opened. Metlako Falls revealed itself in the distance in all its pristine glory. Whoa! That’s tight, he thought.
Its clear beautiful water plunged 100 feet down into the peaceful Eagle Creek. Mist floated up into the air and made sparkles from the reflecting sunlight. Everything about it was photogenic.
Zak breathed in the sights, sounds, and smells of this mountain paradise. He forgot how beautiful nature was. How could I have overlooked this?
This experience seemed to refill his motivational gas tank. He now almost felt foolish for dreading coming before, realizing that spending time playing games and watching TV paled in comparison.
As they took a break at the viewpoint, Zak clutched the cable at the edge of the cliff overlook with both hands as he closed his eyes. He imagined himself soaring through the air like the scene from Titanic. The only difference was he didn’t dare release his grip of the cable and he didn’t have Leonardo DiCaprio breathing down his neck. Thankfully! He then tried to whistle the Titanic theme song, but butchered it; he blew out a few flat notes followed by soundless hot air through his dry, chapped lips. Sam glanced over at Zak with a funny look.
Suddenly Sam darted away. Where’s he going? Did he see something?
Sam walked ten yards away then stooped down in the bushes as if to pick up something.
He put on gloves and used both hands to carefully pick up something slowly moving. It seemed to be convulsing in his arms. Sam turned to reveal a tired blue jay with an injured wing.
“Oh, how sad!” Zak said. He walked closer for a better look.
The bird’s eyes seemed heavy and were closing and opening frequently; its left wing was slightly extended. Its body appeared to be lightly shivering.
“Let’s see if we can help this tired little bird,” Sam said.
Sam gently held out the wing to pinpoint an injury. He couldn’t find any breaks, but found a spot on the wing that looked like an unnatural sticky glob. Tree sap? He then opened and shuffled around in his first aid kit. He grabbed a cotton ball and dabbed it with water then gently stroked the wing to get the sticky residue off. It slid off! He then warmed the bird with a cloth and gently set it down in a protected area under a bush.
“We’ll check back on you later, buddy,” Sam said.
Zak seemed mesmerized watching this unfold. He really seems to care for animals; he really… loves them.
Zak and Sam continued to relax at the scenic viewpoint for another few minutes before turning back.
“Zak, I’d like to share some info you may find useful for weight loss and more. It’s about our interpretations. A moment ago you mentioned that criticism is ‘embarrassing,’ right?
“The act of hearing criticism doesn’t automatically cause embarrassment. However, our interpretation of the criticism can lead us to a feeling of embarrassment.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“A thing, our interpretation of the thing, and our feeling about the thing are three separate things in three separate steps. This is useful to know, because if you feel stuck with negative feelings, it doesn’t necessarily have to consume and control you. Instead, you can change your feeling by changing your interpretation of the ‘thing.’ Once an interpretation is changed, your feelings will naturally change. It’s also called ‘reframing.’ This can be an empowering, breakthrough realization for people, knowing that they’re not stuck with their negative feelings. This realization can improve your efforts in weight loss or in all aspects of life.”
“I’m still not sure I get the connection…”
“Let’s say someone wanted to lose weight and tried a new diet, but couldn’t sustain it and fell back into old eating habits? Is this a ‘failure’ that should prevent him from ever trying to lose weight again? What if he changed his interpretation from failure and instead viewed it as an educational moment? What if the resulting feeling could instead be the feeling of enlightenment or even excitement? Imagine spending more of your life feeling excited instead of frustrated. Do you remember Thomas Edison’s interpretation of his many failed light bulb attempts? He said, ‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’ The famous painter, Bob Ross, said, ‘We don’t make mistakes, we have happy accidents.’ What if you did the same?” Sam said.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. But that would probably take practice,” Zak said.
He sure says “what if” a lot. Is that his way of looking on the bright side? What if I start using ‘what if’ to imagine more positive things too? Zak amused himself with his own cleverness.
He then added this realization to his iPhone notes…
“It surely does take regular practice. The negative messages we get from the media, TV, and movies can reinforce such negativity, so we have to fight against it. Just like we need to exercise our bodies to stay strong, we need to exercise good mental habits to stay mentally strong,” Sam said.
“Ok, I’ll have to work on that,” Zak said.
Suddenly a hummingbird zoomed in and hovered like a helicopter only a few feet away from Zak’s face. It then shot away before Zak could raise his phone to take a picture. Wow, that little guy was fast!
“Zak, do you remember earlier saying that it was silly to visualize?”
“That’s another example of an interpretation. The thing was the act of visualizing and the interpretation was that it was silly. But it could just as easily have been interpreted as empowering and inspirational, right? We need to beware of making negative interpretations of things as they can work against us.”
“Oh, right,” Zak said, not realizing he did that. Maybe I should be more aware of what I say? “But what do you mean by ‘things?’” Zak said.
“I mean, anything you perceive. A stimulus. Let’s say you get stuck in traffic on the way to school— that’s a thing. How you interpret it is up to you. You can be angry, discouraged, neutral, or even happy.”
“Why would anyone be happy about being stuck in traffic?”
“Haven’t you ever seen people smiling and happy in traffic before? Some sing to music, or enjoy a conversation with a friend, or are feeling proud of an accomplishment they had that day, or are even glad to be stopped so they can check their phone. Maybe someone just wants time to be quiet and think before showing up to work… or home. So, traffic isn’t a negative thing to someone with those interpretations. Plus, you can’t control traffic anyway, so given the choice, why not interpret it positively?”
“Are you serious? I feel I don’t have a choice— traffic is something done to me and I’m the victim. I blame the traffic and the lunatics behind it!”
“I used to feel that way too, but after I realized I could reinterpret it, I felt liberated. Some people hold unhelpful, irrational, or negative interpretations for their whole life, but they don’t have to. It’s totally up to them to craft their own interpretation. Imagine the difference of two people— one who lives his whole life as a victim feeling he has no control of anything, or, one who feels empowered and believes he has control and a choice in many things. Who is more likely to live a positive and peaceful life?”
“Gotcha. Can you give me some other examples of it, then?” Zak’s comprehension of this concept still felt fuzzy. This could be important, though?
“If someone compliments you or if someone calls you a bad name. If someone gives you a gift or if someone cheats you. If someone accuses you of something or rewards you for something. If you lose your job, or start a new one. If your plans change due to the weather, a virus, a relationship, an accident, a financial problem, or some other surprise. If you try something and fail or if you try something and succeed. Basically anything and everything in life we choose our own interpretation of, whether positive, neutral, or negative. Based on our interpretation we have feelings and emotions about it. The ‘thing’ is step 1, our interpretation of it is step 2, then our feelings about it is step 3.”
“So, if we have negative emotions about something we can change our feelings by changing our interpretation of it?”
“Exactly. Have you ever heard someone say, ‘you make me so angry’ or ‘you make me so ____’?”
“My mom used to say that to me!”
“I’m sorry to hear that. That’s an example of falsely conflating the step 1 thing with the step 3 feeling. The fact is that no one makes anyone feel anger or any other emotion. Everyone has a choice of how they want to interpret things. The key is that you can change your feelings by changing your interpretation of things; that’s an empowering and life-changing fact to realize.”
That’s HIS own interpretation, Zak thought to himself, further amusing himself with his wit.
Zak pulled out his iPhone and made the following new entry:
“This one might take a lot of practice.”
“That’s right. Just being aware of it is a good start. Upgrade your radar and start recognizing when you or others conflate things, interpretations, and feelings. You might be shocked how much you hear it.”
“But feeling shocked is a feeling I can change, right?” Zak said with a smile.
“Hey, that was sly, you’re catching on!” Sam said while giving Zak a slow shoulder punch.
“Ok, but wait a minute. How exactly can I change my interpretations?”
“We can talk about that next!”
As Zak and Sam continued to enjoy the viewpoint, a large Tiger-Swallowtail butterfly approached. It fluttered close to Zak, circled around and landed on his head!
“Zak, stay still and take a selfie!”
Zak slowly raised his phone and captured a beautiful but silly shot just before the butterfly flew away.
“What were the odds of that happening?”
“Zak, you asked how to change your interpretations. To do that we must challenge them. We want to put each interpretation under a spotlight and scrutinize it with direct questions. Imagine putting each one on a witness stand in a courtroom and evaluating whether it’s credible or not. If your interpretation is already accurate it can withstand being questioned, if not, it will likely fall apart. I’d suggest 6 questions to challenge your interpretations…”
1. What facts, clues or evidence supports this interpretation?
2. Is this 100% true, always true, and true for everyone?
3. Did I decide this independently or did I inherit this from others? (such as from work, school, or family)
4. Does this affect me positively?
5. What are other possible interpretations? Does it consider all perspectives, including the big picture?
6. How would someone I respect feel about this? (dad, mentor, friend, business leader, celebrity, Jesus)
“Okie doke. You also mentioned a personal ‘radar’ earlier— what do you mean by that?”
“I mean your awareness. If you’re looking for red Teslas on the road, you’re more likely to see them, because red Teslas is what you added to your awareness, or radar. By watching out for this you might notice people saying things like that’s so annoying, or you make me sick, or that’s so cute or this is awful which are all interpretations and not necessarily reality. Unfortunately, some believe their feelings are reality, but that’s a false assumption.”
“What do you mean that our feelings aren’t reality? They’re real to me, so aren’t they my reality?”
“Good question. Have you ever been falsely accused of something or ever heard someone get the wrong idea about you? You said your teacher falsely assumed you had ADHD, right? You probably didn’t like it and maybe even tried to convince him otherwise, but it often doesn’t work, does it? People will continue to believe what they want to believe, even if it’s 100% false. Let’s say your teacher believed you cheated on a test, but you didn’t. He may have made assumptions or seen things he interpreted as evidence of your cheating then decided you were a cheater.”
“Ok, I’ve never cheated on a test, just so you know.”
“I believe you. This is only an example. But let’s say this teacher still had negative feelings that you were a cheater and nothing you said would change his mind. Do you still believe his feelings were reality?”
“Maybe his feelings were real to him, but they were based on a false assumption about what is real. So, maybe feelings aren’t the same as reality then.”
“So, now you understand. False conclusions and misinterpretations are made about others regularly and they often lead to great problems in life. Think of people who have been falsely accused, falsely labeled, even falsely imprisoned. We must be careful with our interpretations and assumptions about things.”
Zak felt a drop of fluid land on his cheek. Is this what I think it is? Zak looked up in the sky and saw two birds flying by. Oh great, just my luck! It figures this would happen to me. These evil birds are trying to punish me… or maybe God is.
Suddenly it occurred to Zak that he just made an interpretation— a negative one! He then experienced negative feelings from his interpretation of the drop on his cheek— the very thing they talked about a few seconds ago! How embarrassing, Zak thought.
Wait! This being ‘embarrassing’ is an interpretation too! Oh no, I’m hopeless! Wait, that’s also an interpretation! Zak felt like his brain was imploding from his conflicting thoughts. His radar seemed like it was on hyperdrive trying to play whack-a-mole with his newly spawning interpretations. I’m so… Zak’s radar then stopped him from making another negative interpretation about his own thoughts.
Wow, I’m gonna have to reinvent my thoughts. Maybe instead of an upgrade I need a fresh reinstall! Zak amused himself with his computer humor. Hey, that thought finally wasn’t negative... Is there hope for me after all?
Zak then felt another drop on the cheek. Not again! Why me? Then Zak realized a few wispy clouds had appeared in the sky without him realizing it. It was actually a raindrop. Wait…was the first drop not bird poop then? Zak then put his phone camera on selfie mode and looked at his cheek. Sure enough, it was only water. Zak then felt silly about having such a flurry of feelings over a false interpretation. Wait, why would I feel silly over this, though, that too is another feeling from an interpretation. Zak then laughed it off to himself. Wow, this “interpretation” business is tough!
All of Zak’s thought drama occurred in only a matter of a minute while Sam was “watering the bushes.” If I can have such bad thoughts so quickly, what if I actually figured this out and improved my thoughts… long term? Couldn’t that make a big difference?
Zak then had a realization. What if most of the problems in the world were caused by distorted or false interpretations? Wouldn’t that be sad?
He then imagined himself having a wife who was critical, judgmental, mean, negative, and abusive to him for a few decades. In contrast, he imagined a wife as a peaceful, loving, non-judgmental, supportive, positive person he could live in harmony with for the rest of his life.
Zak had an epiphany. What if I have a choice of whom I want to live with… in my own head? Either someone mean or someone loving? What if I have the choice in how I talk to myself… in my thoughts. Would I want to live with a mean, abusive person? Who would want that?! I would do anything to get away from a negative person in real life, so why wouldn’t I do everything to get a negative person out of my own mind?
Zak felt he was experiencing some mental and motivational breakthroughs, but didn’t yet know what that meant for him and his life. How would I even apply this? He would need time to let these concepts percolate through his brain.
Before leaving to return back to the car, Sam decided to check on the wounded bird. He walked over to the bush, looked around and didn’t see it.
“It must have flown off! That’s nice,” Sam said.
“Oh, that’s great,” Zak said, still surprised by the whole encounter.
Zak and Sam began hiking back along Eagle Creek while admiring the birds chirping in the trees, dragonflies zig zagging in the sunlight, and honeybees buzzing the wildflowers in pursuit of nectar. Sunrays beamed through tree branches and shimmered off the clear mountain stream. A gentle breeze politely swayed the branches to briefly illuminate darker areas of the picturesque forest.
“Zak, would you like to talk about your weight loss goal for a moment?”
“Am I understanding that you’ve already tried everything you’ve already thought of to accomplish your goal of losing weight and it hasn’t worked so far… right?” Sam said.
“Using a logical process of elimination, we know that doing the same thing will not yield different results, but trying something different could yield different results, right?”
“Since you feel you’ve already exhausted all possibilities to lose weight, and since you want to try something new, doesn’t it make sense to look beyond your own judgment and try someone else’s idea?”
“This means that the most likely solution will be something you don’t expect and something you may not think will work, correct?”
“This also means you may have already passed up a solution to your goal if you haven’t necessarily been receptive to trying new things before, correct?”
“If our defenses are too high, it can sabotage our own dreams. Our defenses exist to protect us, but if out of calibration, it can prevent helpful ideas and solutions from reaching us. If they don’t reach us, we remain stuck in the same situation. Perhaps the key is to risk being more open to others’ ideas so that when a possible solution is offered that we dislike, we don’t automatically shoot it down, but give it an honest try.”
Zak reached for his iPhone and entered:
“Does this mean if I really want to lose weight the key might be to get out of my comfort zone to try something new?” Zak said.
“Yes, indeed. Also, if you look at people considered successful in nearly any field— music, science, arts, business, sports— it’s often the extra little bits of preparation and strategy that gives them the necessary advantage to reach their goals,” Sam said.
“Some athletes meditate before competitions, right?”
“Yes, Michael Jordan did. He got into a state of calm and focused awareness and visualized himself as a powerful warrior making perfect shots. Visualizing isn’t just a one-time event, though. It takes regular practice, ideally for at least 5 minutes every day for 30 days until it becomes a new mental habit,” Sam said. “Doing that increases the probability of you reaching your goal. And this is just one of many success habits. For each new success habit you add, you multiply the odds of success in your favor, so why not ‘stack the deck’ and add as many as possible?”
“So, instead of visualizing myself being fat, I should visualize myself as fit?”
“You got it!”
Zak added another entry into his notes app.
“This all sounds nice, but it assumes there is a solution for me to lose weight. I’m still not convinced there is one,” Zak said.
“It doesn’t surprise me you feel that way, because maybe you’re looking at it through a lens of constant frustration, emotional exhaustion, and reinforcing disempowerment. While your feelings tell you it’s impossible, reality tells us it’s absolutely possible.”
“It’s a proven fact that if you burn more calories than you intake that over time you’ll lose weight. Your body is subject to the same laws of science as anyone else, is it not? It’s a fact that millions of people were once overweight and now no longer are. Countless before and after photos, videos, stories, and testimonies prove it. It’s also a fact that you have been motivated to accomplish things before. Therefore, it’s absolutely possible to find the key to your motivation and unlock your potential to reach your goal, if that is what you decide you want. No one is likely force-feeding you, so wouldn’t that make you 100% responsible for what you put in your mouth and 100% responsible for your current weight, do you agree?”
“Yeah, I guess so. Of course I want to lose weight and be healthy— who wouldn’t? But what if my natural body weight just happens to be 300 pounds?”
“That’s not a natural body weight for your body type. Most NFL football players aren’t even 300 pounds.”
“Really? Well it’s normal for my family.”
“Is it possible your interpretation of normal is distorted? If you’d like a measure of how normal your body weight is you can easily check it by searching the internet for BMI calculator.”
“BMI is Body Mass Index; it’s just a calculation of your height and weight. The National Institute of Health says people are underweight if their BMI is less than 18.5, normal if 18.5–24.9, overweight if 25–29.9, and obese if 30 or higher. If their weight is too low or too high their health is at risk. If over 30 BMI, for example, people’s health is at great risk.“
“Ok, maybe I’ll check this later,” Zak said. But I probably won’t.
“Zak, regarding your family, something common in your family doesn’t mean it’s automatically healthy, does it? What if your family members are actually experiencing a hardship over their habits but not sharing that with each other? Your family would surely benefit from adopting healthier habits too, right?”
Zak tilted his head and slightly nodded as if the angle would help his brain’s processing. He imagined the information sliding down like Jell-O into different lobes of his brain. I have a weird mind, he thought.
While they absorbed the scenery, Zak heard the sounds of sparrows chirping all around him while a cool breeze blew through his bushy hair.
Zak knew this hike was farther than he’s ever hiked before and felt uneasy about making it back. Please, don’t get a cramp or sprain… not out here in the middle of nowhere!
“Sam, during the last hike, you mentioned a ‘special strategy’ for weight loss and I have to admit you have me curious…”
“Okay Zak, there’s a few health strategies I’d like to share with you, but what I’m about to tell you is the most important strategy I can share with you. If you only remember one thing in the time we spend together that would be the most valuable, this would be it,” Sam said.
“Ok, I’m listening.” Zak leaned in close. That was a big set-up. What possibly is he gonna say?
“Zak, we already identified that the trick to losing weight is not the science, but your habits. Among the habits are various diet strategies you can choose from to accomplish the same weight-loss goal: like a lower calorie diet, a lower carb diet, a lower sugar or no-sugar diet, a no-white-flour diet, a no-processed-anything diet, a higher natural-fat diet, fasting, exercising, eating pre-portioned prepared meals, and more. All of these options can lead to the same goal, but they all still depend on your own motivation to execute the plan. Of course, eating raw, unprocessed vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds are the healthiest, but to change one’s diet takes substantial effort and motivation. Among all the options there is one that stands out as best-suited for you at this time— would you like to know what it is?”
“Of course!” Zak couldn’t believe Sam’s buildup of this. Come on…tell me already!
“What if I said you could eat whatever you want, not exercise, and still lose weight? Would that sound like a true or false statement?” Sam asked.
“That sounds false. It sounds like a weight loss gimmick,” Zak said. Where’s he going with this?
“Well, it’s actually a true statement, but it’s not for any weight loss products or anything you buy. It’s simple, free, and something you can start doing immediately,” Sam said.
Here we go, it sounds like the beginning of a Weight Watchers ad. For the low, low price of $19.95…
“So, I can eat anything I want?”
“I really don’t have to exercise?”
“And I lose weight?”
“How can that be? Eating whatever sounds nice, but wouldn’t that be like cheating? You’re not talking about diet pills or throwing up, are you?” Zak asked. Is this the part where he reveals the big marketing pyramid scheme? Please tell me I’m wrong…
“Nope, no medication, no special food or diet products, and you keep your food in your system. There’s no catch and it’s not cheating and it is highly likely to reduce your weight. You probably think it sounds too good to be true, right?” Sam said.
“Yes, ok, you got me. I have no clue what it is, so what is it?” Zak said, while imagining the buzz of a drumroll. Brace yourself, buddy, the big ‘catch’ is coming…
“The solution is simple: just gradually limit your eating to a narrow window of time.“
“Huh? What does that mean?”
“Let’s say you currently eat breakfast at 8 a.m. and are done eating dinner by 7 p.m. What you do first is lock in that range so you will only eat between the start time of 8 a.m. and the end time of 7 p.m. No snacks or drinks besides water are allowed outside that time, but we’re only talking about limiting food and non-water drinks here, not medication. Then, you delay your eating window start time by 10 minutes each day,” Sam said.
“How does that really work though?” Zak said.
“Let’s say you’re starting on Sunday and you normally eat between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. The first day, you just don’t eat outside of 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Water is allowed outside the window, though. Then on Monday you start 10 minutes later and eat between 8:10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Then, on Tuesday you eat between 8:20 a.m. and 7 p.m. Wednesday would be from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., and so on. You continue doing this for at least 30 days and beyond if you want to continue losing weight.”
“I can eat anything and everything I want during this window?”
“Yes, you can. Of course, you would make the weight loss much easier on yourself if you also limited junk food, sugar, carbs, and ate more healthy fruit and vegetables, but it’s most important to keep it simple and just get started with an easy goal initially.”
“Does this schedule mean I can start eating dinner at the end time of 7 p.m., or do I have to be done eating by then?”
“At 7 p.m., you have to drop your fork and stop eating. You would need to plan accordingly to start eating earlier to be finished eating by 7 p.m. Each day you just delay eating by 10 additional minutes.”
“How long do you do this for? There’s got to be a limit, right?”
“You narrow the time window by 10 minutes per day until you’re happy with your rate of weight loss, then you can continue with the same limited window until you’re happy with your overall results.”
“How does this cause you to lose weight though? It doesn’t seem like it would change anything.”
“It works, because your stomach is only so big and has a limit for how much food can be processed at a given time before you’re hungry again. By reducing the time window of eating, it will result in consuming fewer calories overall. It will also result in more time for your body to rest before and after the time window. Some experts say there’s health benefits to letting your organs rest for longer periods of time between feedings, like going to sleep on an empty stomach so your body can fully rest instead of processing food through the night.“
“Surely you can’t do this forever, right?”
“You can reduce the window until you’re satisfied with your rate of weight loss, then keep the window the same.”
“But what if I’m not happy with my weight loss until I reduce the window to only 6 p.m. – 7 p.m. and eat only once a day. Am I supposed to continue with that? Is it even healthy to eat only once a day?”
“You would need to monitor your own health up to that point and make sure your body is adapting safely. The 10 minute change per day is so gradual you will likely learn well-before that time if your body is successfully adapting. In the event you were to reduce your window to only 1 hour, you would no longer reduce the window. Most people won’t need to reduce the window near that much, though. From whatever point where you’re happy with your rate of weight loss you would just continue steady with that same window until you’re happy with your results.”
“What about going out to breakfast or lunch with others? Does this mean I can’t ever do that?”
“Good question. If eating breakfast is an important social activity that you prefer to keep in your schedule instead of dinner, then you could instead reduce the eating time from the end at 7pm instead of the start. There are possible health advantages to that as some studies show that it’s healthier eating a big breakfast than a big dinner, but most people have more social obligations for dinner which is why this is first suggested as being more practical. Whichever you choose, it’s important that it fits with your lifestyle and is manageable. If someone can do this schedule, but absolutely must do a couple breakfasts per month for a social commitment, then you could either swap breakfast for dinner that day or you could grant yourself three wildcard days per month for such occasions. It’s best to anticipate any complications in advance so you won’t feel discouraged or disempowered by deviating from your goal.”
“This sounds good, but I’m wondering why you’re not suggesting to exercise or eat better quality food?” Zak said.
“Exercise and food choices definitely have a positive impact, but many health experts feel it does not make as much difference as simply eating less. Also, counting calories, changing a diet, or exercising is harder to accomplish by someone struggling with motivation. When people make a life change, it’s already difficult, so rather than trying to change multiple habits at once and risk complicating it, we target just one. We want to achieve the easiest goal with the biggest result. Remember that I’m only suggesting this based on your specific situation.”
“Eating less, or portion control, is considered an easier way to trim weight than just eating healthy foods. If your body had a tachometer like a car, imagine your body in the red emergency zone ready to blow its engine at any moment. Reducing calories is the fastest way to lower your levels out of the danger zone. Does that make sense?”
“Ok, I think I understand.”
Something about the wording of that spooked Zak. Am I really in the danger zone? I thought what I was doing was normal, but could I really be on the edge of “blowing my engine?”
“Of course many studies show that eating fresh, natural, unprocessed, low sugar, low calorie diets helps for losing weight, but adding complexity adds the risk of taking on too much change and losing your motivation. Instead of monitoring calories and ingredients, we want to start simple with a goal that’s easiest to attain by just limiting the eating window.”
“I get the eating less calories thing, but why not try as hard as you can?” Zak said.
“You can, but it’s best to simplify and set easily-attainable goals. You can still try to eat better quality food and try to exercise more, but it just doesn’t need to be your official goal yet. So, if you try and something goes wrong you won’t as likely interpret it as a failed attempt, because it wasn’t your goal in the first place. It would only be a bonus that could help you achieve your main goal. In the meantime, you can certainly do more off the books to make weight loss easier if you want. Can you eat absolutely anything you want? Yes, but do you really want to? Yes, you can overload on the highest-calorie, highest-sugar substances toxic to your body, but do you really want to? You can also snack between meals to keep your body overloaded with sugar that may convert to fat, but do you truly want to? Is that what your brain wants or what your body needs?”
“So, if I try to do too much at once I risk feeling frustrated and overwhelmed and giving up completely?”
“That’s right. If you forget everything else we discussed, please remember to try ‘window diet.’ It will positively affect your health the most with the least amount of effort. It’s the lowest hanging fruit of everything we discuss. The beauty of it is it’s so easy to start— you do virtually nothing different on the first day and only eat 10 minutes later on the second day. We know it usually takes 30 days to form a new habit and it gets easier after that and doesn’t take long to see amazing results,” Sam said.
“Actually, I have another question… shouldn’t I first ask my doctor about this before I change my diet in case of any health risks?”
“The correct textbook answer is yes, because no one wants liability for someone else’s health. However, let me ask you something: did you get your doctor’s permission to overeat and reach your current weight?”
“Well, no, I didn’t ask.”
“Since you’ve already put your health in jeopardy without your doctor’s permission, why would you need your doctor’s permission to stop harming your health? This could be used as an indirect way of procrastinating, could it not?”
“Um, I don’t know.”
Zak wasn’t sure what to make of that exchange. Do I really use the doctor as an excuse to continue my bad eating habits?
“Sam, let’s say I do this window thing and find the motivation to make a tiny improvement in my diet too. If I were to change one thing about my food choices, what should that be?”
“Avoid sugar. Processed sugar is practically toxic to your body. Most people already get enough glucose from natural sources like whole fruit. Processed sugar like high-fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, or white sugar often overloads your system and turns into fat, promotes diabetes, rots your teeth, and clouds your thinking. Processed sugar is also linked to Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, and depression.“
“Depression? Really?” Zak’s eyes widened. This information hit close to home as he experienced those symptoms through high school and only recently realized what it was. I’ll probably keep this part to myself. Has my love of sweets held me down emotionally too… this whole time?
“Really. Keep in mind that processed sugar is already in most American food, like pasta, bread, snacks, ketchup, sauces, baked beans, popcorn, juice, yogurt, pizza, soup, cereal, tea, and more.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me! That’s basically everything I eat!”
“You’re right, the American diet is chock-full of harmful sugar. It’s so much better to avoid it. If someone absolutely wants to sweeten something, you can use pure honey, stevia, or maple syrup without compromising your health as much.”
Zak suddenly imagined himself in a swimming pool where someone sneaked up behind him and held his head down underwater. He flailed and kicked the water as hard as he could, but couldn’t break free. He gurgled water and was drowning. He called for his best friend to help, but couldn’t see him from his point of view. Where was he? Then he realized his best friend was the one holding him underwater. It was the ultimate betrayal.
He snapped out of his trance-like-state. Whoa, that was intense! Is that what my love of sugar has done to me— held me underwater? Have I been keeping ‘Judas’ as my closest friend?
“Zak, it’s worth noting that the typical American diet is also very acidic. Some even take antacids to mask the symptoms, but it doesn’t solve the actual underlying problem. The actual problem is an acid imbalance in your system from eating too much acidic junk food and not enough alkaline natural food, like leafy green vegetables. Coke, for example, is 10,000 times more acidic than water. Unfortunately, continuing an acidic diet for a long period of time may overload your body and organs. Your body is saying ‘Hey, stop abusing me! Eat more healthy food!’ Your body tries so hard to compensate for your poor choices, but ultimately it will succumb to the punishment you inflict on it. The high acidity and pH imbalance may force your body to take desperate measures to compensate by taking calcium from your bones, or minerals from your muscles. Your bones may become brittle and your muscles weak and atrophied. You may become more susceptible to chronic diseases.“
“That’s a downer… and quite a downside.” Does eating junk food really cause all that damage? But I can’t really see my insides, so how would I know?
“Imagine if you had a car and wanted to save money by putting cheap gas in it… really cheap, low-quality off-brand gas. It might work fine in the meantime, but long-term, you might someday notice a loss of performance and increased maintenance issues. The problems escalate until they become an absolute drain on your time and money. One day you inspect the car parts and discover there’s widespread corrosion. You tried to cut corners by using cheap fuel, but it ultimately cost you far more and ruined your car. Well, the same is true of the fuel you put in your body. You may not notice the damage that junk food causes to your body in the short-term, but long-term, you can develop significant health problems. The only difference is your car can’t heal itself. But your body is resilient and can sometimes repair the damage if you stop hurting it. It’s never too late to change and eat better food for better health and performance.”
“Ok, I’ll give that some thought.” Man, this guy can be intense.
“Zak, let me ask you… if you found out there was a new pill invented as a cure so you no longer had risk of osteoporosis, muscle atrophy, liver problems, heart disease, stroke, or diabetes, would you take it?”
“Of course, who wouldn’t? I’d take it right away…”
“What if I told you this miracle cure already exists? And that it’s free and you can start taking it today… even right now, would you take it?”
“Uh, yeah, I’d be thrilled! I’d definitely take it.”
“Great. Now what if the cure wasn’t in the form of a pill, but in the form of vegetables, would you still take it?”
“Oh… well… I don’t know.”
“If you eat a large quantity and variety of raw and organic vegetables, especially leafy greens like spinach, kale, lettuce, and broccoli too, many experts believe it boosts your immune system enough to overcome most diseases. Americans usually eat less than 10% vegetables, but the aim for this would be to eat 75% vegetables. Not only could it protect you more from harmful sickness and disease, but it would solve the acidity problem.”
“Ugh, I hate vegetables.” Why are the worst-tasting things supposed to be the best for me? Can I take back what I said?
“So, you’d be excited to take it in pill form for the health benefits, but not in vegetable-form for the same amazing health benefits? Why is that?”
“I don’t know. Maybe the taste? Maybe the hassle? I just don’t like them.” Zak wasn’t thrilled about the idea of changing his diet. I’ve never liked vegetables, but I need to do something different.
“Of course, there are ways to make them taste better without losing the nutritional value. You can search this topic online. If you develop a habit of eating fresh, raw, natural vegetables you’ll realize it’s not as inconvenient as you might think and it’s inexpensive. Even if you’re on the go, you can still order vegetables through most fast food drive-thrus by ordering a salad.”
“Ok, maybe I can give it a try.”
“Just remember to keep things simple and make just one change at a time to avoid feeling overwhelmed or bogged down by food choices for now. The easiest way to lose weight is to eat less. And the easiest way to eat less is to gradually limit your eating window.”
Zak decided that was worth adding into his notes app.
“Zak, keep in mind that when you eat less you will feel hungry more. To lose weight, you may need to get accustomed to feeling a slight empty feeling in your stomach for long periods of time; it’s not easy to cope with that. It doesn’t mean you should be starving with hunger pains, but you may feel mild hunger from a mild calorie shortage. If you feel that, it means you’re making progress and on track to burning fat. If you associate the feeling of slight hunger with burning fat and getting leaner, you can even learn to feel good when you’re hungry. There are also strategies you can try to manage the feeling of emptiness or slight hunger in your stomach.”
“The best scenario is if your mind is focused on something else and you don’t notice or care that you’re slightly hungry. Have you ever been so focused on a project that you forgot to eat or even go to the bathroom?”
“Actually, now that you mention it, yes.” I actually have to now, that’s weird that I didn’t think of it until now.
“People have the ability to endure significant discomfort, but may hardly notice it when they’re focused on something else. So, the first strategy is to occupy your mind with activities between meals. Maybe you’re not even at your house and not near food. Maybe you’re walking at a park, fishing, visiting a friend, taking a scenic drive, playing a game, building something in the garage, or watching a movie… as long as it doesn’t involve food. You won’t be as tempted to snack if you’re not reminded of it or even around it.”
“Yeah, that makes sense.” Out of sight, out of mind.
“The next strategy is if you reach a point where you can no longer handle the feeling of mild hunger, then consider eating a carrot. It has high viscous fiber and low calories that can help you stave off hunger. Other foods you can try are: celery, almonds, quinoa, oats, nuts, apples, cabbage, brussel sprouts, lettuce. If you want to give your hands something to do you may consider eating something like raw, shelled, sunflower seeds. It involves effort to crack and de-shell each one and is a lower-calorie alternative to normal snacking.“
Carrots and sunflower seeds? Ugh, how b-o-r-i-n-g!
“Finally, there are things you can do to protect yourself from snacking habits. Watching TV makes someone especially vulnerable to snacking, because of it being sedentary. Commercials often remind you of food. One way to give your mouth something to do is to chew sugar-free gum. Even better is to break the conditioning altogether and occupy yourself instead with puzzles, games, conversation, projects, or exercise while watching TV.”
A zombie apocalypse is more likely to happen than me exercising while watching TV, Zak thought.
“Also, consider brushing and flossing your teeth right after meals. Not only will you enjoy clean teeth, but you’ll be less likely to snack between meals, because the idea of wasting your efforts and dirtying-up your clean teeth is less appealing.”
“Weird, I wouldn’t have thought of that,” Zak said.
The trail flattened out and Zak now could see the fish hatchery in the distance near the trailhead. Thank God we’re almost there! I’m not sure I can handle too many more steps.
He started to feel strange and wondered if he
had overexerted himself.
Zak’s mind felt clouded. He wasn’t sure he understood everything and his brain started shutting down. He slipped into a silly mode to temporarily postpone his burden of future responsibilities. This topic became almost as heavy as I am, Zak snickered to himself.
“Many people try to do too much when aiming for a goal. Doing one small step and succeeding in one thing is far more empowering than shooting for ten big steps, failing at all ten, and giving up. Changing your habits is hard and it typically takes a month to form a new one. If you try to change too many things at once you risk feeling overwhelmed and disempowered. Therefore, we want to keep the strategy simple and choose the lowest hanging fruit.”
“I’d rather just eat the fruit, especially chocolate covered,” Zak said with a chuckle.
“Hey now…” Sam said with a smile.
“When I try to adopt a new habit I should keep it simple and go for easy gains? I don’t mean gaining weight, but losing weight. Gaining by losing,” Zak said. Am I even making sense?
“That’s one way to put it. Some people bite off more than they can chew.”
“I like the sound of that,” Zak said.
Well that joke flopped, Zak thought. I’m in a weird mood.
“Those who don’t succeed at their goal sometimes interpret it as themselves failing. This is a disempowering interpretation, especially if they assign and reinforce all kinds of negative labels to themselves. If people feel bad about themselves, they are more likely to seek food for emotional comfort to the point where they gain even more weight. This can result in being less healthy, drifting farther away from the goal, and feeling less hopeful,” Sam said.
“Is this harder for people who like perfection, then?”
“Yes, perfectionism and having unrealistic expectations for oneself only compounds the problem.”
“Compounds the pounds?”
“You’re on a roll, by the way.”
“You might have a future in standup comedy!”
“Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. I’m ready to continue…” Maybe I should be writing my jokes down instead!
Zak felt a slight pain in his stomach, but tried to ignore it.
“Zak, it’s important you feel successful and feel empowered by setting smaller, easily-achievable goals in the short-term; this helps you feel proud of yourself each small step you make. It’s important to remind yourself of previous accomplishments and be a cheerleader for yourself before tackling each step. It’s part of treating yourself and your body with respect, honor, and dignity.”
“That makes sense.” Respect, honor, and dignity for my body? I’m far beyond that point! Zak glanced down at his soft belly.
“Rather than expecting to meet a certain standard of eating habits and exercise, you can rest knowing that at this point you aren’t worried about it. But if you’re focused on your primary goal and choose to eat healthier food and exercise more along the way, that’s just icing on the cake.”
Mmmm…Cake, Zak thought, but kept it to himself. His thought was interrupted by a sudden feeling of nausea. Something doesn’t feel right.
Does that sound logical?” Sam said.
“Sure, how best can I accomplish…” Zak asked.
Suddenly Zak vomited a large chunky mass through the air like a catapult; it landed near Sam’s feet. He then heaved two more times in a gut wrenching, bent-over motion, with liquid shooting out of him. The smell of the stomach acid was atrocious. The mass looked like a partially digested breakfast.
“Are you okay?”
“Oh…” Zak clenched his belly. He took a minute to compose himself.
“Not really, but I’m glad we’re almost back to the car.”
Zak’s face turned red. Ughhh! Big breakfast… poor choice.
The two finally arrived back at the parking lot. What a relief! That was hard and my stomach’s in a knot, but I feel good otherwise… in a strange, demented way.
“Zak, did you know we just hiked 3 miles? Congratulations! Have you ever done that before?”
“No, never. Before this the farthest I ever hiked was last week, how far was that?”
The two carpooled back to the original parking lot. Before leaving, Sam offered Zak a challenge.
“I’d like to challenge you to 3 things tonight, one of which is new. When you eat this evening how would you feel about starting the first day of the Window Diet by simply not snacking after dinner? Secondly, would you consider weighing yourself so you know where you stand in comparison to your goal? Third, as a new challenge, would you consider taking 5 minutes to quietly visualize how you want to look and feel a year from now? Imagine you have already reached your goal and are at your ideal weight. Consider how your life would be, what would feel different, and what benefits you would experience on a daily basis. Would you be willing to try these challenges?”
“Sure, I’ll try.”
The two parted ways and Zak started his drive home.
At home, Zak microwaved several pieces of Domino’s pizza leftovers from the fridge and sat on the couch watching the local news on TV. He then ate a large bowl of cookie dough ice cream.
He wondered if he should start thinking about eating better. What do I eat though? We don’t have anything healthy here. Maybe we should go shopping for some better options?
He whipped out his iPhone and searched Google for ‘healthy food’ and glanced at the results. He noticed a pattern of the same ‘superfoods’ recommended from multiple sites like broccoli, kale, spinach, walnuts, almonds, blueberries, beans, oats, flaxseed, and quinoa. Gross, I don’t like any of those! If these are toppings on pizza or ice-cream, maybe I could try it, Zak thought half-jokingly.
Zak wanted to share his hiking experience with his mom, but she went to bed already. Why does she go to bed so early? I hardly see her anymore!
While he ate, the TV news interviewed a woman marching for abortion who said it was her body and her choice and that aborted babies were just clumps of cells and not viable people.
He felt annoyed how the news no longer covered just the news, but seemed to sneak in their own moral beliefs. He figured it wasn’t healthy for him to watch. This show makes me mad!
Then, he remembered Sam’s lesson on interpretations. Alright, maybe it’s not the TV show itself that makes me mad, but the way they assume fetuses and babies have no value. My interpretation triggers me to feel upset, but maybe some injustices are ok to feel upset about?
He turned off the TV and held his head down. A tear dripped from his eye. His mind flashed back to last year when his aunt at a family gathering had a couple glasses of wine and told him he “survived an abortion.” He squeezed his eyelids tightly as he remembered later that night holding a handful of painkillers ready to end his life, but eventually deciding to flush them down the toilet, instead. My mom wanted me dead and tried to kill me. If I was killed, these media people would celebrate it. Am I supposed to feel good about that?
He then had another realization— what if I used Sam’s 6 questions to challenge not just my interpretations, but theirs? If what they say is true, it can handle some analysis, right? Zak rubbed together his hands as if trying to build a fire, while trying to focus and summon his recollection of what Sam spoke about earlier.
First, are all babies really the moms’ own bodies? What is the evidence for that? Is this 100% true, always true, and true for everyone? Let’s see…the baby is in the mom’s body, but it is only there temporarily. The baby has his or her own body with a separate heartbeat, separate organs, unique fingerprints, and unique DNA, so scientifically the baby is a separate human being from the mom’s body.
Next, they implied the baby wasn’t a viable “person” under 9 months. So, at 8.9999 months it’s worthless, but a few minutes later, the baby is of high value? According to who? If unborn animals like eagles and turtles have value, then why wouldn’t unborn human beings have value?
Next was the mom’s “choice?” Her choice to do what… kill an innocent baby? Isn’t it wrong to harm or deny others of their rights to life?
Finally, they called babies “clump of cells,” but I’m a clump of cells too; all living things are well-organized and well-designed groups of cells. Does that mean we don’t have value? Maybe the word “‘clump”’ is only used to dehumanize and justify killing defenseless little babies? Didn’t history class say the Nazis dehumanized the Jews in the same way?
Zak scratched his head and wondered why people so often disagreed with what the truth was. How can truth be so hard to uncover? Do some people not want to know the truth? I may not know much, but I know truth can withstand scrutiny. If it can’t, maybe it’s not true.
Isn’t the real reason for abortion just so moms can get out of their parental responsibility? But they can already do that through adoption, so why kill the baby?
He then imagined a 4-year-old child who was done playing with her Barbie doll, but didn’t want her younger sister to play with it either, so she tore it’s limbs off and buried it in a trashcan. Her sister started bawling, because of her cruelty, meanness and selfishness. Zak realized that was what mothers have done instead of letting loving families adopt, love, and support the baby’s right to life.
So, because unborn animals have value, and because unborn babies have their own bodies, and because we all consist of cells, and because we all have a right to life, and because killing is unnecessary, and because there’s an easy alternative, how is abortion not… wrong? How is it not just murder and evil? What if this is the biggest tragedy of the world— worse than the holocaust?
Zak didn’t yet apply all the questions before he saw the pro-abortion argument fall apart. He began to realize the value of questioning assumptions and interpretations not just for weight loss but for everything in life.
He felt mentally tired, unresolved, and annoyed from all his thoughts. He worried he might forget the lessons he learned from Sam that day if he didn’t write it down, but he felt too tired. He also felt a need to shower before bed to rinse off all the sweat and dirt from hiking, but he couldn’t find a towel. He rifled through drawers and paced back and forth in his bathroom then stubbed his toe on a metal cat dish, making a loud clang and sending it tumbling and spilling bits of cat food across his floor.
“Aaaaaaahhhhhh! Stupid thing!”
He plopped down and grabbed his toe then pounded his fist on the floor in anger, which then hurt his wrist.
Now Zak was worried about waking his mom and thought he heard a sound from down the hall. Please stay asleep! I can’t handle anything else right now.
As Zak sat on the floor with a hurt toe and hurt hand, he remembered something Sam said earlier. If you feel overwhelmed, break it down to one thing at a time…
Ok, I’ll just stop for a moment. Zak took a few deep breaths with his eyes closed.
Maybe I should make a new list of all the things on my mind. He lifted his iPhone and opened the notes app. He thought for a moment and added: 1. Take shower, 2. Sleep, 3. Talk to mom, 4. Clean floor, 5. Make grocery list, 6. Start weighing, 7. Review notes? 8. Prepare for a hike next Saturday.
After inputting these items Zak began to relax. His head felt less cluttered now. What seemed like 100 things was only 8. That’s better…
He decided to go to bed. He walked past the bathroom scale, but it was tucked in the corner and unnoticed; out of sight, out of mind.
As he laid in bed, he thought back to the encounter with Sam treating the wounded bird. I wonder if he thinks of me as a wounded bird? Why does he care so much?
Zak’s eyes grew heavy and he was just about to doze off when he realized he forgot to do the 3 challenges. Oh, no! How could I forget? These were the only things I had to remember tonight and I forgot! Why didn’t I write it down or made a reminder? I’m such a dummy!
He then dozed off in a deep sleep.
For the next few days Zak thought about eating healthier, but he only did for some of his meals. He ate a salad a few times, but otherwise, he enjoyed his usual habits and cravings. He didn’t try the window diet, because he just didn’t want to restrict what he already enjoyed. He continued his normal eating to bursting-at-the-seams-full at all hours of the day, but somehow he didn’t enjoy it as much as before. He now had a consciousness lurking over him that seemed to disrupt his liberties. Maybe one of these days I’ll get serious about the diet, he rationalized, but for now, I’ll pass.
The alarm clock’s chirping was annoying to Zak as he woke up earlier than he wanted. Even though he appreciated learning from Sam, he looked forward to this Jedi training being over. He felt jostled like the rope in a lively tug-of-war game. He longed to continue his comfortable, guilt-free, unmonitored and unregulated habits of eating fast food on the couch with Häagen-Dazs, salt and vinegar Pringles, and watching 80s movies on Netflix. His mom shared and enabled some of the same comfort habits, especially, in the years since his dad’s passing.
Zak felt ready to admit defeat. He was just a step away from texting Sam that he couldn’t do any more hikes. He thought it would make it more legitimate if he got sick or injured himself. Well, I stubbed my toe yesterday, so maybe I can hope something else happens today. Zak’s rational voice butted in, did I just ‘hope’ to hurt myself? Isn’t that twisted and wrong?
He realized another failure could be the last blow to his self-confidence that he could handle. If I fail with this much support from Sam, how would I ever succeed in the future? I simply can’t do this anymore.
Even though Zak never officially changed his diet or lifestyle, he already longed to return to his life without restrictions or accountability. He wanted to go back to his normal level of misery, because at least it was comfortable, predictable, and didn’t have the same burdens of responsibility. I’ll get more pleasure out of that than looking fit anyway, he rationalized. These healthy people must be from a different planet. It doesn’t make sense to go to all that effort just to look or feel a certain way. Surely these aren’t normal people with real feelings!
After making those rationalizations, a small, annoying, rational voice in Zak’s head asked, is that really true? Is that really true that you would get ‘more pleasure’ overall by being overweight than a healthy weight? Zak wasn’t sure how to answer his own question.
He looked at the clock and realized he needed to make a decision quickly if he planned to still go hiking. Sam seemed like a disciplined person and Zak didn’t want to upset him by being late. Before leaving, Zak thought to hop on this bathroom scale, since he forgot to weigh previously. He couldn’t believe his eyes! After all the recent exercise the last couple weeks, he was the exact same weight: 296 pounds!
“Unbelievable, what a rip off!” Zak winced and held his head. Nooooo!
He imagined himself tearing into a large bowl of salty waffle-cut French fries to retaliate and get back at his body, at society, at nature, at God, or at least something he could blame externally— anything but himself. Maybe my body is cursed! Zak rationalized.
He wondered if he was rebelling against the rigged system, against life in general, or against his bad genes.
Part of him wanted to be miserable— wanted to feel like a failure. Part of him wanted something tragic to happen to him so he could gain sympathy and carry the banner of “see, I told you so.”
Maybe I don’t belong here… maybe I’m better off no longer existing.
Suddenly he felt an itch on his wrist. He looked down and saw the bangle. Oh, not that shtoooopid thing! He took it off and threw it across the room and into the hall. It bounced off a wall and landed in the cat’s water dish. Water splashed onto the floor.
Too late. The shtoopid bangle had already reminded him of his thoughts. He was now aware of the party he had just thrown— the pity party— with only himself in attendance. Yay.
His flurry of competing thoughts and feelings was interrupted by another realization. He remembered Sam warning him against self-defeating thoughts.
Zak recognized how miserable he felt on the inside— he simply couldn’t keep doing what he was currently doing— it was killing him, maybe literally. This time he had to try something different. He decided he would use Sam’s suggestions in practice and try to disregard his negative thoughts— to not give them power.
The negative thoughts were telling him to give up, telling him to become a victim, telling him he’s a failure, telling him he’s unloved. He didn’t want to give into the lies. “Alright, I’ll fight this,” he said.
He realized that thinking of his weight as a rip off or that his body was cursed was just an interpretation that Sam just warned about. That realization suddenly gave those words less power and less credibility.
What if I just do the dumb hike today and make this the last time? he thought.
He remembered how Sam said the hardest part is in the beginning and it gets easier and easier once your new lifestyle becomes a habit. What if that’s true? What if just around the corner it gets easier? He also remembered how psychologists said it takes 30 days to form a habit. What if I just make it through another week? Maybe that will be a success.
Zak felt like a switch was activated in his mind. He continued to recall things Sam previously said that apply to his present situation.
He recalled how Sam said to lower the bar so goals are more easily achievable; he should not try to do too much at once and set himself up for failure.
Now I just need to take action and apply it, he thought.
He also remembered how change would feel unnatural and uncomfortable; he needed to be willing to do things differently— perhaps even think differently. He realized that if he truly had the answers he would have done it already. He admitted to himself that not having the answers is ok and that it’s ok to look beyond himself for help. Maybe it doesn’t mean I’m inadequate; maybe it’s normal for anyone to need genuine help from time to time?
Zak was entering adulthood with a body he despised and he was tired of it. He realized his pride previously kept him from seeking help. How someone with low self-esteem can still have pride, I have no idea! He remembered previously justifying his condition— that the junk food was worth being overweight for. That’s not even true. I’ve been telling myself these lies just so I don’t have to change, he thought. I’m tired of this nonsense— I can’t do this anymore! Zak was frustrated with himself.
Mentally exhausted from his thoughts, he again thought about cancelling, but time was running out. I have to decide... now. He imagined a devil on his shoulder enticing him to cancel so he could sleep in and then eat a big brunch.
He feared Sam asking him about his current weight and being disappointed. Maybe he doesn’t have to know? I’m planning to lose 5 pounds in the future anyway, so what harm would a little fib do to tell him I lost it now? Maybe it’s like an ‘advanced payment’ for what will come. What he doesn’t know can’t hurt him, right? Zak’s irrational voice thought.
Wait a minute! Zak’s rational voice fought back. That sounds like a lie! It would be cheating and cheating doesn’t “count.” Maybe I’d feel dishonest, guilty, and yucky. It could damage the relationship too; I don’t want to risk that. I don’t like others lying to me, so I don’t want to by a hypocrite and do that to others!
For a moment, Zak put his car keys on the coffee table and sat down on the living room sofa. Then he picked them up again, thought for a second, then set them back down again. He realized he would never change if he didn’t follow through and try new things. The battle raged in his mind and he ultimately picked back up his keys and decided to follow through with his plan and decided to be honest with Sam. He got up and grabbed 2 MilkyWays, a BabyRuth, a 16oz Dr Pepper, and a 12oz bottle of water, threw it in his backpack then left the house.
Zak met with Sam and they carpooled to the Eagle Creek trailhead again. This time they would aim to reach the beautiful Punchbowl Falls— a bit farther than they hiked before.
After beginning the hike, Zak’s morning grouchiness seemed to dissipate; he now felt optimistic to see the big waterfall. What if I actually make it? he thought. That would be really dope.
Zak dreaded Sam asking about him doing his three challenges. He forgot to do them but didn’t want to foul up his unique opportunity.
The two engaged in casual banter about school, family, current news, while they hiked. Then, Zak couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw the first viewpoint. He was shocked they arrived so quickly— it seemed to take less effort— getting there nearly killed him two weeks ago so it didn’t compute how fast his body strengthened to enable him to do this. Maybe there’s hope for me after all, he thought.
The two continued on the trail, not even stopping at the viewpoint this time.
Zak was surprised Sam still hadn’t asked him about his weight. He had so much fear about it that morning and it was now looking like Sam wasn’t even going to ask him about it. Zak then felt silly for all of his anxiety about it over nothing. He then remembered a Zig Ziglar video he saw on YouTube that said FEAR is an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real and that at least 90% of our fears are over things that never happen. I guess that’s what I just did, he thought. I worried and stressed myself out for nothing!
Zak looked up from the trail to the lush green forest that shaded them. Sunbeams penetrated through the fir trees and made quite a magical scene. He was also ready for a magical discussion. I wonder what other health “strategies” he might have today?
As they continued hiking, they delved into a deeper dialog.
“Zak, the last hike I mentioned the time window diet for limiting calorie intake. If you utilize that one strategy you’ll be successful in achieving your goal. However, I think it’s smart to also have more tools in the toolbox. More tools may also help make your weight loss go easier and faster.”
“Sounds good so far…”
“Another strategy I can share with you also involves limiting food portions. The upside is it can be done at any time and can help you enjoy your food more while losing weight. The downside, however, is it takes a little more discipline and is slightly more involved. Would you like to hear it?”
“Sure!” Zak nodded with listening ears.
“The overall strategy is simple: eat only 90% of what you currently eat,” Sam said.
“That’s it?” Zak said. Huh?
“Yep. In other words, eat 10% less food.”
“That’s dumb,” Zak said. “Anyone can do that— how would that change anything?” Oops, did I just say ‘dumb’ out loud?
“If it’s so easy then why aren’t you doing it?” Sam said.
Zak paused to think, but heard toads literally croaking from the nearby creek during the silence. Even nature is taunting me now? Give me a break! Zak thought.
“Eating just to just 90% full will reduce your calorie intake by 10% and should result in weight loss. This assumes you limit your eating to no more than three meals a day and don’t snack between meals. Obviously, if you eat to 90% for a meal, then afterwards snack to make up the remaining 10% it would defeat the purpose!”
“If you wouldn’t have said anything, I probably would have done that!” Zak smiled.
“The key is start with a simple way to reduce calories and eating to 90% is a way to accomplish that without concern about what you’re eating yet. People have even lost weight eating junk food like Twinkies and people have gained weight eating healthy food too. It certainly doesn’t mean you want to continue eating junk food long-term, however, as that would invite all kinds of health problems. It’s just smart to start with simple changes to your diet that have the biggest effect.”
“Ok, I guess that makes sense.”
“Now, hear me out,” Sam said. “While the solution of eating only 90% sounds simple, the hard part is actually doing it— actually changing your behavior. People generally have a hard time being disciplined enough to stop eating before they feel full. That’s why we need strategies and a solid plan to succeed. Does that make sense?” Sam said.
“Strategies?” Zak said.
“Think of them as motivational tools to help you to stop eating before you eat the last 10% of food. There are eight ways to accomplish this and some may come as a surprise. Would you like to hear what they are?” Sam said.
“Ok, I’m ready…”
“First, put less food on your plate and dining table. If you’re serving from a dish at home just put 90% of what you’d normally eat on your plate, not any more. Do not place any extra dishes or portions sitting on the dining table aside from one plate per person. Just dish the 90% portion from the kitchen and set that as your only plate for you on the table. When I say 90% of “normal” that assumes people normally eat until they feel 100% full— not uncomfortably full or sick, just full. The 90% method is to stop early before you’re full. You could potentially eat another 10%, but you choose not to for the sake of a more satisfying future,” Sam said.
“Another way to reduce portion size is to use
smaller plates,” Sam said. “Consider discarding your large dinner plates and
use just medium size lunch plates for all your meals.”
“If you’re eating out at a restaurant that has large portions, split the meal with someone, or if you are alone, you can ask the server to put half in a to-go container upfront and only serve the half-portion. You can also ask the server for a smaller plate. All-you-can-eat buffets should be avoided as the temptation is too strong to overeat,” Sam said.
“Second, drink more water. Consider drinking a tall glass of water before and during your meal— more than you normally would; some aim to drink around 24 ounces. Take more frequent sips of water between bites of food. Sometimes people need hydration but tend to consume more food instead of water. Drinking more water will help keep your intake balanced and will help digestion. Drinking water a half-hour before your meal can help too. Of course if someone had already been drinking fluids prior to dinner and is already hydrated then that person shouldn’t drink as much. Over-hydrating can cause health problems too. If someone needs to frequently urinate and the urine is clear, it’s a sign of being too hydrated, whereas a solid medium yellow or darker is often a sign of dehydration. A pale, semi-transparent, light yellow is the ideal color. Keep in mind that taking vitamin supplements can distort this test, however.”
Who knew today we’d be talking about the color of pee? How lovely, Zak thought. He took out his phone and searched for ‘hydration urine color,’ but he didn’t have a connection. Maybe I’ll check this later, if I remember.
“What about other types of drinks?” Zak asked.
“While water is best, other beverages such as juice, high fructose fruit drinks, soft drinks, sport drinks, sugary iced-tea, or alcohol should be avoided if trying to lose weight. If someone can’t live without it, consider using smaller glasses or cups to reduce the portion to limit your calorie and sugar intake. It’s good to watch out for water sources that remove minerals or electrolytes too, because it can lead to a mineral deficiency. A proper amount of electrolytes in the water can help your body keep its minerals in balance.”
“Third, eat twice as slow as you normally eat. If you take 1 second to eat your food from a spoon, take 2 seconds. If it normally takes you 5 seconds to eat meat from a fork, take 10 seconds. If you rapidly wolf down food, you may eat faster than your stomach has time to communicate to your brain that you’re full. This may result in overeating. By eating slower, you allow your body’s signals to catch up.”
“You can accomplish eating twice as slow by counting and by making all your movements 2x slower, such as picking up food with a fork, lifting it to your mouth, and chewing. Secondly, if you’re savagely attacking your food at a rapid pace, even if you feel full, you may still remain in ‘attack mode’ trying to wipe out your food as if it’s your enemy on a battlefield. Eating slower can interrupt this process. In doing so you can savor and enjoy your food more.”
“Fourth is to buy and use smaller eating utensils. Smaller spoons and forks hold less food at a time, slowing down the rate of consumption,” Sam said. “You may even consider using chopsticks. If you’re not used to them, you’ll likely be uncoordinated initially and may tire from the effort involved, increasing your odds of eating a smaller portion instead of overeating. If you’re eating out at a restaurant, you can maintain this good habit by bringing your small utensils with you.”
“Fifth, smell your food between bites. Believe it or not, your sense of smell is a significant factor in how your brain interprets the taste of food. With your food on your fork, spoon, or chopstick, hold it close to your mouth under your nose and take a deep inhale through your nose between each bite. Through the food’s aroma you will experience richer flavor in your food and enjoy it more. Who wouldn’t want that?”
“Think of it this way— if someone hogs down food rapidly like a pig, he doesn’t get to enjoy the food as much. Eating fast like a wild animal makes eating less enjoyable as he can’t taste the food as much, plus, it shortens the dining experience. Why would someone who loves food want to spend less time eating, less time tasting, less time smelling, less time sharing, and less time actually enjoying the dining experience?”
“Sixth, keep your food in your mouth twice as long. Spend twice as long chewing and tasting your food. If pleasure is derived from your tongue tasting and nose smelling the food then why not keep it there twice as long in your mouth for more enjoyment?”
“Seventh, engage in conversation between bites. If you have the opportunity for others to join you for a meal, take advantage of it and make it social. If you are interacting with someone while you eat, you will be talking periodically between bites and prolonging the dining experience. This is beneficial both physically and socially. However, if you only kept your head down the entire time while shoveling food in your mouth like an excavator, besides being rude and disrespectful to your guest or partner, the overeating is harmful to your body.”
“Eighth and last, remove all extra food from the table and remove all junk food from your house. Don’t put any more food than the 90% you plan to eat on your plate. You’re actually making good behavior convenient, and bad behavior inconvenient.”
Zak and Sam reached Metlako falls— their turnaround spot last time. The falls somehow seemed even more pristine than last time. They paused a moment and gazed at the surrounding tree-covered mountains and heard woodpeckers pecking and bluebirds singing while the 8 Ways marinated in Zak’s mind. They then continued walking along the trail at a slow pace. Zak noticed he had a bit more strength and stamina than before.
“Zak, what do you think of these 8 ways to eat 90%?” Sam asked.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but it seems a bit overboard and maybe a little childish. Do adults really need to treat themselves as children at a dinner table as if they have no control over what they eat?” Zak asked.
“Are you calling something simple and effective as being childish?” Sam asked with a patient smile. “Would it be childish for everyone or just for you? Is the fear of doing something different and uncomfortable a good reason to not accomplish your life goals?”
“Whoa, ok, I’m not sure how to answer that…” Zak already felt regret for dismissing Sam’s 8 Ways so quickly. He obviously spent a lot of time thinking about this and sharing it with me; should I give it a chance?
“Pursuing a goal like losing weight is something to be proud of, not something to be ashamed of. If you truly want something, who is more likely to get it: someone who tries 100% of all the strategies to succeed or someone who only tries 10% and criticizes others for doing more? The more of these tools you utilize, the greater the odds of success. Why not stack the cards in your favor by practicing them all? By this I don’t mean trying to accomplish multiple goals simultaneously, however. It’s best to aim for only one new habit-change or one single goal per 30 day period. But within each goal you can try a variety of motivational strategies to achieve it. Does that make sense?”
“Do you mean that if I try the Window Diet for 30 days that I shouldn’t add the 8 Ways diet until after?”
“Ideally, you just do the Window Diet for 30 days and during that time only if you feel the motivation and don’t feel overwhelmed, then you can try adding the 8 Ways, eating 75% vegetables, or removing sugar, for example, as long as it’s not your official goal. The idea is to keep your main goal simple and focused so you keep empowered. Pursuing one goal is enough of a challenge in itself. People tend to take on too much, get discouraged, then do nothing at all for their health. We want to avoid that scenario.”
“Fair enough,” said Zak. “But how would I remember all this though? It seems impractical and overwhelming. Do you expect me to go to dinner with a large notepad or to mess with a phone app to tell me how to eat?”
“The best way to practice the 8 ways and form a habit is to combine them into an 8-step sequence like this…” Sam handed Zak a sheet of paper showing each step.
Zak nodded his head then noticed Sam hunch over and start writing on a notebook perched on his bent knee. Wait, what is he doing? Sam wrote quickly as if something just inspired him. Is he taking notes? But he’s the one giving me info!
“Uh… what are you writing?”
“I’m just recording some thoughts about the hike for my book…”
Ahhh, his hiking book! I forgot about that.
But I wonder what he’s writing down exactly?
Suddenly, Zak heard a distant rumble. The sound grew louder and louder and sounded like rushing water.
“Is that what I think it is?” Zak said.
“Yes, we’re almost to Punch Bowl falls.”
“I’m gonna make it!” Zak said, before realizing it was the wrong falls. He wanted to see Tunnel Falls.
“How far is Tunnel Falls then?” Zak asked.
“That’s another few miles,” Sam replied.
“Are you serious!?” Zak said.
Zak thought how unfair it was that he had worked so hard to see the waterfall, but it still seemed so out of reach. But his sulking suspended when he turned the next corner of the trail and saw the view.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” Sam said.
“Whoa, more than I imagined!” Zak said. No, seriously, that’s super lit…and super dope! “It looks like a postcard.”
“It literally is on postcards,” Sam added.
A picturesque scene of a bowl of water surrounded by lush green trees and a beautiful 35-foot waterfall plunging down into the middle.
But they weren’t alone.
They noticed someone down below the falls aiming a camera up toward the falls. Suddenly a kayaker appeared above the falls and was floating toward the waterfall. Oh no, I hope he knows what he’s doing!
The kayaker then nosedived off the falls and disappeared into the cloudy mist below. A few seconds passed and the kayaker reemerged above the water.
“Wow! I didn’t expect to see that today!” Zak said.
“Nor did I!” Sam said.
The two found a soft spot to sit for a brief snack break.
Zak realized he needed to re-program his definition of patience and success. Maybe it’s ok to not get something right the first time or even second, third, or maybe even the thirtieth time, right? Why do I set such high expectations for myself and where do these expectations even come from?
He previously didn’t want to try this hike for fear of failure of not making it. As it turned out, however, it was no big deal to just go just part of the way the first time and a little more the second time, and so on. It’s weird how I never even thought of doing that as a possibility. He then felt silly for having such an unrealistic expectation about himself that he wouldn’t even be willing to try something unless he 100% succeeded on some high level. He then remembered Sam’s advice to not beat himself up either, and to beware of perfectionism, so he decided to let his concerns go and be content with his new accomplishment.
While he sat and enjoyed the view, Zak pondered the 8 Ways to Eat 90%, but didn’t feel completely clear on how to go about doing it. He had doubts and thought he’d clarify it with Sam.
“Sam, I’ve been thinking about eating 90% and the 8 Ways, but how will I know what 90% of full is? What if I’m not good at estimating and assume I’m at 80% but I’m actually at 90% so I keep eating until I’m too full? Maybe a small plate or small spoon won’t matter, because I’ll just keep eating the same amount— it just might take longer. Then maybe I reinforce failure to myself again, making me only feel worse and wanting to eat more next time,” Zak said.
Sam laughed and hand-slapped his knee.
“Why is that funny?” Zak asked while tilting his head and folding his arms.
“You’re just as analytical as I am. It’s funny, because I can relate to your thought process. Just know that it will take practice and that’s great that you’re anticipating obstacles before you even start. True champions do that, so kudos to you.”
Sam continued, “There is another strategy you can try to more accurately measure how to eat just 90% of normal, but I don’t recommend it for most people, because it adds even more complexity: weighing your food. Buy a food scale that goes up to 2 pounds or so. Place the 100% portion you would normally eat onto a plate and weight it. Then using a calculator, enter the weight and multiply it by 0.9 to get the new 90% portion. Then remove food from the scale until the scale display matches your calculator. Or, you can just measure out 9 ounces, which is a common portion for frozen meals and take 0.9 ounces away.”
“Ok, good idea, but what if I don’t want to hassle with a scale?” Zak asked.
“You can also dish a 100% normal portion onto a plate in the kitchen, then with a knife divide each food item into 10 pieces, then remove 1 of the 10 pieces, leaving you with a 90% portion,” Sam said.
“But what do I do with the extra 10%, should I eat it?”
“Now you’re just being ornery!”
Zak and Sam laughed as Sam gave Zak a slow punch to the shoulder. Zak realized Sam was becoming a real friend.
The two finished their break near the falls, zipped up their backpacks and proceeded back down toward the trailhead. Partway back to the car the sweet aroma of the forest was suddenly overcome by a foul pungent smell.
“What is that?” Zak said.
“It might be a skunk.”
“Ugh! It’s so rank!”
It smells like it put its odor in a firehose and sprayed the whole forest, Zak thought.
“Sam, what if I don’t feel ready to do the Window Diet or 8 Ways strategy? You previously talked about setting realistic and lower expectations so we’ll bag easier wins. What if I want to make a step toward change, but just don’t want to do it so quickly initially?” Zak said.
“That’s a fair question. The Window Diet actually is very easy already. It’s so easy that initially you hardly even realize you’re on a diet. You literally make no changes the first day at all, but just don’t snack before your first meal or after your last meal,” Sam said.
“Ok, maybe I could do that.”
“Secondly, if you want to force yourself to change in another way that’s simple, consider a ‘chopstick diet’ for 30 days. Just give all your forks, knives, spoons, to a friend to keep for 30 days and to not return it sooner under any circumstance. Then use chopsticks only for 30 days for every meal, however hard it is. Whether you’re eating pizza, burritos, salad, you must use chopsticks, not your hands or anything else. The idea is that you’ll tire of using them and eat more slowly and consume less food. But… if you’re Chinese this may not help much!”
Zak and Sam shared a laugh while realizing they were now just a short distance from the parking lot.
Suddenly Zak walked through a cluster of gnats and swished his hand, but one flew in his mouth. Aahh! He then hacked a few times with no result. He took an extra deep breath and coughed as hard as he could and gnat parts finally dislodged and shot out. Yuck, how annoying.
“Extra protein, perhaps?” Sam said.
“Funny,” Zak said.
“Third, I’ll mention something similar to the Window Diet: skipping meals and fasting intermittently. Health professionals don’t all agree on this subject. For years articles have been written claiming that you should always have three meals a day and that ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day.’ It turns out that some false causations were assumed and some health professionals now believe the opposite is true. Some experience benefits when skipping meals and doing intermittent fasting. Many positive testimonies of weight loss from intermittent fasting are shared online, so we know this strategy helps many people.”
“My health teacher said if we skipped breakfast that we’d gain weight as if more calories would turn to fat. So, this isn’t the case?”
“It depends on who you ask, but many health professionals don’t believe that anymore. But if you have diabetes you should be extra cautious. Have you been tested for it?”
“No, I haven’t. Why, what’s the problem?”
“Missing meals can cause erratic spikes in blood sugar levels for some with diabetes– it’s good to first research it and ask a doctor, but to not use it as an excuse to continue harmful eating habits.” Sam said.
“Ok, so skipping meals is another option in case the others don’t work for me…as long as I don’t have blood sugar issues?” Zak asked.
“Yes, the key is that Hunger is not an emergency. Hunger isn’t a bad thing for most people.”
“Ok, I assumed it was; I ate whatever I could to quickly fix it.” Like fixing a leaky pipe…or a leaky chocolate fountain. He smiled to himself.
“Many people assume hunger is bad without challenging it that idea. Now, you have four strategies to try for reducing calorie intake: the Window Diet, 8 Ways to eat 90%, the chopstick diet, and skipping meals and fasting intermittently. These are tools in your toolbox you can use and see what works best for you. The easiest and most important one to do first is the Window Diet, however.”
Zak grabbed his iPhone from his pocket and entered the following…
“Zak, as we conclude today’s hike, I’d like to challenge you to two things, is that ok?”
“Sure, what is it?”
“First, will you try eating only to 90% and applying the 8 Ways?”
“Ok, I’ll try.” No, why did you agree to that? Zak’s irrational voice thought.
“Secondly, will you weigh yourself before you go to sleep?”
“Easy enough— I’ll do it.” But I don’t want to break the scale! I’m not sure I can count that high, anyway.
“Great! By weighing yourself regularly you’ll start thinking more about your progress. The increased awareness will generate more motivation and desire to reach your goal. I enjoyed hiking with you today, would you like to meet here again next week for another hike?”
“Sure, I can do that. Thanks for the hike and all your advice.” But do I really want to hike again? I’m not sure I do.
The two got into their cars and drove away as the evening sun started to set.
As Zak was driving home he felt famished and longed to replace all the calories he burned. As he gripped the steering wheel he realized this would be a test of his willpower. He felt torn on whether to start implementing these new food portion-limiting strategies now or later. He didn’t feel ready, so he leaned toward postponing the decision so he could fill his stomach at the buffet.
But when will I ever feel ready? his rational voice wondered. He then remembered the lyrics of “Freewill” by one of his favorite bands, Rush. They sang, “If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice.” That lyric penetrated his psyche as if he fell face-first into a cactus.
While Zak badly wanted to gorge at the buffet he also didn’t want to feel guilty from overeating. He felt it could tarnish his feeling of progress and freedom. Even though he hadn’t done anything wrong yet, Zak already started to feel guilty for tentatively deciding to eat just “whatever.” He simply didn’t make a commitment. The choice was clear which was best for him overall. He knew he should do A, but he was currently going down the path of doing B. The question was if he would intervene and stop himself?
Zak felt so conflicted. His internal thoughts felt like a parent and child squabbling with opposing priorities. The child wanted to have fun, be spontaneous, and be free from the oppressive parent. The parent realized he had a bigger responsibility to long term health and well-being, to friends and family, and to God. Would his internal parent let his child rule the house? Would this play out like the movie “Home Alone”… or “Misery?”
Just take the exit for the buffet— you already know you want it and you’ll get it. Why waste time questioning it? his irrational voice thought.
Stop it, numskull! I’ve struggled with my weight my whole life— here’s a guy with a solution— he’s given me the gift of his time and attention and just asks to follow a few rules, is that so hard? He’s my friend and I don’t want to disappoint him!
Zak, why are you so concerned with what Sam thinks? You should do what YOU want to do, not what HE wants to do. You’re not his errand boy or his slave! his irrational voice retorted.
Zak knew he couldn’t continue down the current path leading to health problems and great pain— both physically and mentally. Even though he previously drew a line in the sand and was having this rare opportunity to hike with the wise old man, he really felt weak— his irrational and spoiled-brat-of-an inner-child was winning him over.
Maybe I’m not meant to be a healthy or fit person?
As that thought entered Zak’s mind he realized he didn’t fully buy that rationalization. He started feeling uncomfortable about his newfound awareness and moral guide— almost like an annoying bird perched on his shoulder preparing to squawk orders and cause guilt.
Zak felt like he couldn’t win. He was in mental agony— at war with himself.
What am I to do?
“That’s it! I’m tired of this!” Zak yelled in his car. He pounded his fist on the middle of the steering wheel and honked the horn at himself.
Yes… I knew you’d come around, let’s do this, his irrational voice thought.
Zak swerved to exit the freeway and drove up to the Old Country Buffet. His tires squealed and a transient looked up and glared at him. Zak entered the restaurant and paid $14.99 for an all-you-can-eat adult meal, then proceeded to gorge at unprecedented speed. He filled his plates to the brim and paid no regard to the calories or portions or even anyone there. He kept his head down and became a harvester machine shoveling food in his mouth fast enough to win a speed eating contest. Zak fully gave into his gluttonous craving.
While Zak reveled in rebellious freedom, part of him didn’t feel free. In the back of his mind a quiet consciousness grew; it knew he was harming himself and making life more difficult for his future self. This was an unsettling feeling, but he chose to suppress it.
After consuming four heaping platefuls, Zak’s stomach felt so bloated that he imagined it bursting open with an alien creature popping out and scurrying away. I’m such a freakazoid, he thought. Zak then forced down a chocolate lava cake before waddling to his car like a pregnant penguin.
Zak left and flopped into the car like a beached whale. His abdomen felt so tight that he unbuttoned his fly. He felt his stomach expand to fill the space as if popping open a container of cinnamon rolls. Hope a cop doesn’t pull me over; I’d rather not explain this.
While he drove the remainder of the way home clarity entered his mind like clouds parting and revealing a sunny and clear blue sky. I’m no longer hungry, but I’m not satisfied either. Why did I just eat all that trash? The taste only lasted a few seconds, but how long will the fat be stuck to my body now? Was it really worth it?
At home, he looked in the bathroom mirror and he didn’t like what he saw. He felt deceived and dirty like a prostitute. He felt like he just sold his soul to Emperor Palpatine. Guilt began weighing on his mind and he proceeded to weep.
“I can’t take this anymore!” he cried aloud, as he laid on his bed and held the pillow to his face. His tears soaked into the pillow cover.
Zak’s eyes grew heavy. Suddenly he realized he forgot the two challenges of trying the 8 Ways of eating 90% and weighing himself. Aaggh! I’m such an idiot! I can’t do anything right. What am I going to tell Sam? He felt too lethargic to move. I probably don’t want to see the numbers, anyway, he thought.
Zak’s calm rational voice whispered in his ear: Are you really an idiot? Be respectful. You’re a smart guy and you’ve done many things right.
Zak appreciated his days off hiking to sit on the couch and watch Netflix or play video games. He knew that some rest was good, but he wondered if he was too sedentary.
He wanted to eat a little better, but struggled with what to change. He made no clear plan in advance of what he was allowing himself to eat. When it came time to eat he would easily give into more tempting, less healthy food. He wasn’t eating ice cream or candy quite as much, but grazed on chips and salsa and other snacks. Somehow it wasn’t as enjoyable since he began hiking with Sam. It no longer felt free. He imagined the ghost of a doctor lurking in the living room watching him snack, keeping score and scribbling notes secretly behind a clipboard.
Sometimes Zak wouldn’t get up from the couch for a couple hours— just to go to the bathroom then sit back down again. He wondered if sitting for long periods wasn’t helpful to his back or neck, which was frequently sore. Zak tried to suppress the needs of his body, however, so he could partake in more TV bingeing. While he didn’t feel guilty watching so many hours of TV, he presumed it wasn’t necessarily healthy for his body or his brain. He didn’t want the stress of thinking about it though, he just wanted to relax and conserve energy for his next big hike.
The night before the hike he went to bed feeling loaded up on carbs, but tossed and turned into the night. Anxiety about the hike was a factor.
Morning came too soon and sunrays pierced through Zak’s thin bedroom curtains and illuminated the room. Zak showered, ate a blueberry muffin with coffee. He grabbed his backpack and threw in a tuna sandwich, a package of chocolate peanut butter trail mix and two Red Bulls, then left to meet Sam at the Oneonta trailhead.
Sam and Zak greeted and started up the new trail leading to Triple Falls. It gained elevation right from the start while zig-zagging up the forested hill. At the top of the landing Zak had to catch his breath while admiring a pleasant forest scene covered with ferns. Squirrels scampered below the forest canopy collecting various food.
Sam then asked Zak if he was open to discussing motivational strategies.
“Let’s bring it on…” Zak said.
“Zak, one strategy that works well for a diet goal (or any other goal) is to make good behavior convenient, and bad behavior inconvenient,” Sam said.
That phrase jumped out like a WWF wrestler and slapped Zak flat in the face. Surely, it’s not that simple! Zak thought.
“Do you have some examples?” Zak said.
“You bet. Let’s say someone has a problem eating ice cream at home. You simply don’t keep ice cream in the freezer!” Sam said.
“Well, where do you keep it then?”
“Nowhere!” Sam chuckled. “If you don’t keep any ice cream in your house, you won’t be tempted to eat it, right?”
Zak then remembered the phrase “out of sight, out of mind.” Maybe ‘out of sight’ isn’t far enough away for me; I might need it in another state, or another country!
Zak reflected on his past struggles with this same temptation for so many years without any strategy to overcome it. He wondered how he could be so blind to these simple solutions.
Surely overcoming this temptation isn’t that simple, he wondered. If so, I will feel like the biggest idiot!
“If you don’t keep any ice cream in your house it would be quite inconvenient to drive a few miles to the grocery store to buy ice cream each time you’re tempted, do you agree?” Sam asked.
“Yeah, I guess so,” Zak said. “Is that what you mean by making bad behavior inconvenient?”
“Hey, you’re catching on!” Sam said.
“Well, how would making good behavior convenient apply then?” Zak asked.
“What if you only kept healthy food in your house? Keep fresh, unprocessed food, like fruits and vegetables, whole grains. Specifically: fresh spinach leaves, carrots, bananas, apples, grapes, watermelon, potatoes, whole oats, eggs, etc. So, if you are tempted for a snack and give in at least you will be eating something healthy instead of something unhealthy.”
“Sure, but how will I remember this?” Zak said.
“Take notes!” Sam said.
Zak then lifted his iPhone, opened his notes app and entered in the following note:
“In fact, when people have an emotional drive to binge, these feelings are usually temporary. So by the time you drive all the way to the store, the craving could be gone,” Sam said.
“What about food delivery services? This still lets me binge anytime I want, right?”
“Yes, but by not keeping junk food in your house, car, or at work, you’re making it a bit less convenient and you’re less likely to binge. If you want to make it even less convenient, you can uninstall those food delivery apps on your phone and close your accounts.”
“Ok, but what about workplaces, family gatherings, or social groups that celebrate birthdays with donuts and chocolate cake? How can anyone avoid that, I mean, isn’t it rude not to eat it?”
“This is a common temptation, but remember, you don’t have a right to shove food in others’ mouths, do you?”
“Of course not.”
“Likewise they don’t have a right to shove food in your mouth, either. Are they truly concerned with what you put in your body or that you’re just there to celebrate or honor someone? The main thing people should care about is that you’re there showing you care and are part of the team; it’s not so they can watch you feed your face. Are they really going to care in 1 week, 1 month, or 1 year from then if you ate cake or not that day? Probably not, but your body will remember. So, it’s ok to say ‘no’ and good to practice feeling empowered as a responsible caretaker for your own body. You have no obligation to anyone trying to peer pressure you into eating or drinking something for their own motives.”
“But what if you live with others in the same house and they need the ice cream for their kids or guests?” Zak asked. “Do you really want to deny kids a treat from their grandma?”
“First, that’s a nice use of emotional appeal—as if an artificial, sugar-filled, fat-filled, unhealthy processed substance from a factory is a human right,” Sam said with a smile.
Sam continued, “You can just buy only enough ice cream for the social occasion and ensure there’s none leftover. If you miscalculate and have some left over, then simply ask your guests to take it with them when they leave. If they refuse, then you may leave it out for a pet or just throw it away. Keep in mind that this unnatural ‘food’ won’t be doing any favors to pets or wildlife, though. This strategy of not keeping junk food in your house is like a free insurance policy to prevent you from the temptation which leads you to fail at your goal. If your goal is to lose weight and you keep junk food in the house, you’re basically planning to fail.”
“Ok, I guess that makes sense. It’s strange how the idea of losing weight comes down to these random mental tricks,” Zak said.
“Exactly. The more of these strategies you set up, the more you stack the odds in your favor. Just like you should make good behavior convenient, and bad behavior inconvenient, you also want to reward your good behavior and discourage your bad behavior,” Sam said.
“Example, please?” Zak said. He couldn’t believe how simple these concepts were. His realization felt like he just walked through a car wash and had his face sprayed and mopped by a soapy pressure washer.
“Let’s say your goal was to weigh 200 pounds by January 1st,” Sam said. “To reward yourself for your accomplishment, you could treat yourself to watching a new movie that comes out in that timeframe. Or, maybe you book a vacation starting then, buy a new accessory for your car, buy a nice shirt, or something you wouldn’t normally buy for yourself. Add healthy incentives to motivate you to do the right thing.”
“What about going to a fancy dinner?” Sam said.
“Just make sure your reward doesn’t conflict with your goal. For example, it’s usually unwise to reward less eating with more eating. Binging on a huge chocolate cake may not be a positive reward, for example. Imagine if an alcoholic celebrated one year of sobriety by getting drunk. Wouldn’t that be utterly heartbreaking and disempowering? Likewise, we want our reward to be empowering to our long-term goals, not disempowering,” Sam said.
“So, what are some other rewards then?”
“It would be healthy and empowering if you celebrated achieving your goal with running or walking in a 5k event. If you scheduled a massage or went to a fancy spa or hot springs facility, that would also be healthy. Maybe going out of town and staying at a nice resort for a couple nights. You could go to a lake and feed the ducks. You could sign up for an archery class, a foreign language class, painting class, or woodworking class— just something you’ve been interested in, but haven’t yet tried.”
Zak grabbed his iPhone again and added a pithy note:
“Zak, just having awareness can sometimes be a deterrent for bad behavior in itself. Grazing subconsciously while watching TV is a common pitfall for many people. This may sound unusual, but one way to interrupt that is to begin a habit of calling aloud what you’re eating while reminding yourself of your goals. For example, if you are preparing to eat a piece of chocolate cake you can say to yourself, “Despite my goal of losing weight, I’m picking up a piece of chocolate cake and now putting it in my mouth.” Although this may seem strange initially, it may help you be more aware of your actions. It can help you realize how it impacts your future self and put a spotlight on any inconsistency in your goals.”
If I had to call out all the bad stuff I ate, I’d lose my voice! Zak thought while cracking a smile.
Suddenly a waterfall came into view: Ponytail Falls.
“Whoa, we walk behind it?” Zak asked.
“Yes, sir!” Sam said.
Zak felt entranced as he approached the cavernous grotto behind the falls. A steady stream of cool water rushed off the basalt cliff 75 feet and crashed in the pool below.
Zak and Sam stood experiencing the loud rush of water flow over their heads and down into the creek. I’ve never seen anything like this!
The mist from the falls made Zak’s face damp and feel refreshed like he was in a soft drink commercial. Perhaps too refreshed; the mist dampened his clothes and accumulated on the lens of his iPhone.
They continued hiking along the trail which flattened out and showed scatterings of green ferns in the shade below large, old-growth trees. This place reminded Zak of the movie, Return of the Jedi, where Ewoks hid in the forest and were ready to throw spears and shoot arrows at any intruders.
Suddenly, in the middle of the forest a metal footbridge came into view. This seems out of place. Crossing it revealed a deep and scenic gorge. Wow, that’s tight…
“Zak, what is your favorite food that’s bad for you?” Sam asked.
“Probably all of them!” he laughed. “But if I had to choose one, I’d say chocolate peanut butter ice cream. I don’t dare look at the ingredient label!”
“What positive things do you associate with that ice cream?”
“I’d say fun, pleasure, experiencing the finer things in life; it helps me to cope and forget my troubles. It reminds me of my happy childhood at the fair with my parents.”
“Sounds like you’ve made very positive associations with it. If you intend to change your eating habits, it’s helpful to take inventory of your current associations with the behavior you’re struggling with. This will help you see if your associations are realistic and align with your goals.”
“Do my associations align with my goals?”
“No, quite the opposite, in fact.”
“You just stated how much you love ice cream and how deep your positive associations are with it, right? As long as you feel that way, there’s almost zero chance you’ll want to change your ice cream eating. It would be unrealistic to expect to limit something that part of you loves and feels you benefit from. Doesn’t this conflict with the other part of you that thought you were desperate, worried about your size, worried about your health, worried how people perceived you, and worried about getting a date?”
“I don’t see the problem.”
“Your words seem to be in disagreement for what you want. The potential health benefits don’t seem to mean as much to you as the positives of ice cream. The downsides of eating it just aren’t painful enough to change your behavior. The very positive connotations you have with ice cream will likely result in you continuing to eat it well into the future. Maybe ice cream carries more… weight.”
“Nice. So, if my associations aren’t aligned then what associations should I have?”
“People who are truly sick of junk food causing their poor health can start making negative associations towards it. What if they imagined every spoonful of ice cream as being one step closer to a heart attack… or their death? They might imagine all the artificial man-made chemicals and trash they’re eating which clouds their brain and clogs their heart, taking them closer and closer to a major heart problem. They might imagine growing more obese and disappointing their partner/spouse with each spoonful they lift up to their mouth. For singles, they might associate every bite they take with being rejected once more by someone they’re attracted to. Christians might imagine themselves disobeying God every time they take a bite and harming the body entrusted to them. They might develop an intense hatred towards the artificial garbage food. They may learn to despise the harmful food products and everyone it negatively affects. They may even get angry at the manufacturer for contributing to millions of people’s health decline and death; then they may become an activist against it.”
“Wow, that’s a bit dark. Ok then…” Zak was startled by all that negativity. How can he be so hostile towards the things I love?
“Did any of those examples seem inaccurate?”
“Well…” Zak stopped to think. They sure seemed untrue, but somehow I can’t think of any reasons they aren’t. Maybe it’s a matter of opinion, or interpretation? Hmmm.
“If someone is serious about making a life change then why not make serious effort and make serious steps toward his goals, including making better associations? That gives you a taste test of the level of intensity and detail that can help change your associations.”
Zak decided to leave that pun alone. It wasn’t punny enough, he mused.
He whipped out his iPhone and entered a note…
Zak glanced up from the trail and noticed sun rays beaming through some dark clouds and illuminating part of the lush green forest like a scene from science fiction. Wow, it looks like an alien invasion, he thought.
“Let’s look at another example of associations. Think of a common American fast food meal of hamburger, fries, and a Coke. Do you have a positive, neutral, or negative connotation toward this food?”
“Positive— I like it. Most fast food restaurants have burgers and fries and I eat them quite a bit.”
“You might consider watching the documentary, Super Size Me, which is free on YouTube. It shows what happens when you eat too much fast food. Have you ever thought about how a burger is made?”
“They just throw the patties on a grill, right?”
“In more detail, a cow is killed and its meat is cut into parts. Lower grade beef and beef trimmings are ground up and used for hamburger meat. A restaurant buys it, forms a patty, and throws it on a greasy grill to cook with butter or oil. The grill may contain old charred food scraps which stick to the paddy, which is then served to you. Besides you eating some of the worst cow parts, this may inject grease and other crud into your body which can clog your arteries. With every bite of a heart-clogging, greasy hamburger you increase your chance of a heart attack. If your heart had a voice you can imagine it desperately crying and screaming “help! help!” with each punishing blow you inflict on it.”
“That sounds just lovely.” He just ruined my appetite for a burger; thanks a lot.
“French fries aren’t much better. They start as low-grade potatoes. They’re sliced up and chemical preservatives are added. They’re fried in recycled vegetable oil and smothered with salt and sugar. Imagine drinking oil from a murky, nasty fryer that possibly hasn’t been changed in months. Imagine injecting all that dark, dirty, thick oil into your arteries and overloading your heart trying to pump it through your body. Imagine it clogging your passageways and leaving a greasy residue. It’s like inviting a heart attack. Most people wouldn’t dare put such grime in their car engine, yet somehow people don’t think twice about putting it in their own bodies. Maybe these words will paint a slightly different picture and help you form new associations for these bad foods?”
Yuck, I admit that sounds disgusting when described that way!
“Well, how about Coke? It’s everywhere and is a normal part of meals, so how bad can it be?” Zak asked.
“Soft drinks are advertised as being normal, but they are far from normal or natural. Large companies tricked the masses into buying artificially colored and flavored water with tons of sugar and caffeine at levels that are highly addictive. Even the sugar is low quality and chemically-synthesized from corn, called corn syrup, and the sugar content is sky high.”
Sam continued, “Not everyone in the world considers it ‘normal’ to eat fast food burgers, fries, and Cokes, especially people from a few hundred years ago or earlier. They may think people are crazy for choosing such artificial junk over real natural healthy foods. They might wonder why people would support such a corporation who manufactures and hurts so many people. So, why do you?”
“I never thought about it. It’s convenient, so that’s what I drink.” If these companies hurt people, wouldn’t the real news cover this more?
“If you knew that some Fortune 500 companies made billions of profit by selling addictive, high-fat, high-sugar, high-calorie, unnatural, chemically-laden products that took advantage, hurt, and sometimes killed its buyers, how would that make you feel?”
“When you phrase it that way, it sounds wrong. I’d probably not want to support them.”
“These companies spend millions of dollars in advertising to convince you that it’s normal and good, but isn’t that a lie? It’s very bad for you and if you believe it’s good, then you’ve been conned. Don’t you think everyone would be healthier, happier, and better off if those products never existed?”
“People would need to spend more time in the kitchen then.”
“Healthy food doesn’t necessarily take long to prepare though. Eating fresh vegetables doesn’t take any more time than driving to a fast food restaurant, waiting in line to order, and waiting for your food. Family members helping each other prepare a meal isn’t such a bad thing for relationships either.”
“Maybe we’re just too lazy then?”
“I don’t know the motive, but overeating fast food is a habit that can seriously harm people’s health. People sometimes pay the price for the rest of their lives through health problems. Sometimes they blame it on bad luck or blame it on God instead of their own eating choices.”
Zak nodded and swatted at a mosquito that just landed on his forearm. Great, now I have to watch out for these bloodsuckers.
“People often choose the temporary pleasure of eating artificial trash instead of choosing long-term health. Often people claim they want the benefits of being healthy, but want the benefits of overeating junk food too. The decision of which is better for their lives should be a hands-down easy decision to make. The benefits are ridiculously lopsided, like 99.9% to 0.1%. Despite the benefits stacked highly on one side and an abundance of credible studies confirming one side as the superior choice, people often don’t choose that side. You can have the benefits of both if the junk food is in moderation, but most people don’t want it in moderation. Sometimes these decisions reflect inconsistent values, beliefs, and associations in what they want,” Sam said.
“So if your values conflict, how do you solve it?” Zak asked.
“Analyze them carefully. Put them through various tests to see if they are logical and in line with your overall goals and pursuit of happiness. I will offer an example if you would like…” Sam said.
“People often treat friends and family with more respect than themselves. They are slightly less biased and can see more clearly when dealing with another person. Therefore, instead of asking if junk food is worth the cost to your health, ask if you would recommend junk food to your friends and family. For instance, if you got married, would you hope for your wife to prioritize junk food over her health? Would you want her to be in the habit of pursuing instant gratification through food? And if the habit made her obese, is there any point where her health would be of concern to you?”
“Well, I suppose so,” Zak admitted.
“What if she was willing to eat herself to the point of death, would that pursuit bother you? What if you discovered that your wife was eating to soothe her pain, would that bother you? Would you enable her to eat more and more or would you prefer her to back off and seek emotional comfort through other more healthy means?”
Zak rubbed his chin and looked up.
Sam continued, “What if your wife was pregnant and about to have a baby— do you have any goals on what kind of parent you’d be in regards to your baby’s nutrition? Would you buy low or medium quality food to feed the baby, or would you buy only the highest-quality food for your baby? How would you feel about giving your newborn baby Twinkies and French fries? What level of care will you give your baby: high, medium, or low?”
“I’d want to take care of the baby, so of course I’d get the high-quality food,” Zak said.
“Often people will choose a high standard for those they love, but a low standard for themselves, which reveals inconsistent values. It could also present a lack of credibility as the child grows up and realizes you as a parent are not following your own advice. Would that seem hypocritical as a parent?”
“I suppose it could,” Zak said.
“Would you go to a doctor who you knew was in poor health? Would you put your hope, trust, and confidence in a sickly doctor who didn’t appear to take good care of himself? It doesn’t mean you can’t have great doctors who can still take good care of others, but when they don’t heed their own advice, doesn’t it undermine the credibility?”
“I see your point.” Are parents really partly to blame for their kids’ obesity? Zak wondered. “But what if you just want to reward yourself with a treat? If you keep denying yourself, aren’t you also being mean to yourself?”
“Are you really treating yourself or is it sabotaging yourself? If you harm your future self, are you truly treating yourself with respect, dignity, and honor? Don’t you deserve better? Would you treat your best friend that way? If your friend worked hard to get to a certain point, would you reward him with the very temptation he was struggling to overcome? It’s better to decide what you want and whether a few seconds of comfort is worth living with long-term discomfort. Eating normal portions of healthy food isn’t being mean to oneself, but being kind to oneself. Overeating junk food isn’t being kind to oneself, it’s being mean and abusive to yourself. Remember how we talked about interpretations and how we can change them? We can likewise change our associations of things.” Sam said.
Zak grabbed a handful of trail mix to eat but heard an eerie sound nearby in the bushes. What was that? Zak wondered. Did something just move? He held his breath and peered into the bushes. Oh no, please tell me that’s not a snake!
Zak’s anxiety couldn’t handle not knowing. He had to know. As Zak leaned closer into the dark bush, he saw something lunge and Zak let out a scream while hopping backward.
“What is it?” Sam asked.
“Something… eating a skull?!”
Zak fumbled his words trying to describe the horror he just witnessed.
Please tell me it’s not human, he thought while leaning in and intensely staring into the darkly shaded area.
Sam walked closer and used a large stick to peel back some of the bushes and revealing an ugly large bird, possibly a vulture, pecking at a bony mass.
“It looks like a deer carcass,” Sam said.
“Ok, that’s gross!” Zak said as he put his tuna sandwich back in his plastic zip locked bag.
The two backed away and chose to continue hiking up the trail.
I wish I didn’t just see that, Zak thought.
Despite the horrible distraction, Zak still wrestled with Sam’s last comment. He imagined the voices in his head as an angel and demon physically wrestling each other; he then imagined the demon pinning down the angel’s wings and poking him with a pitchfork. Oh, snap, I’m in trouble if I let him win! I’d better keep a close watch of my thoughts.
“Sam, do you think that eating junk food and being a little overweight really gives someone lifelong pain?” Zak asked.
“Unfortunately, it can and some don’t even realize it,” Sam said.
“How so?” Zak asked.
“First, some who are overweight struggle with self-confidence, self-esteem, and worry about how others perceive them. Life is hard enough already aside from obesity. But when obesity is added, it can only make life more complicated and difficult. Some don’t realize that it affects their self-esteem, but deep down people are usually affected. Sometimes they don’t like what they see in the mirror and that can feel disempowering.”
“Fair enough, I don’t disagree,” Zak said.
“Second, many people in this world respect and care for others, but there are some who use mean words, including negative remarks towards others who look different from them, including someone’s size. Kids can be especially mean, because they don’t have much of a word-filter and sometimes make fun of kids who are overweight. Children who grow up being teased may have scars from verbal abuse and meanness from others. While it’s the fault of the mean kids saying that, and while part of the responsibility is also in the receiver’s own interpretation of such words, wouldn’t it be nice to avoid that situation altogether? Everyone will still likely get made fun of for their looks, behavior, or what they say, but being a slightly smaller target for the bullies could be one less thing to worry about.”
A “smaller target,” Zak snickered to himself. Cute.
“Third, overeating and getting overweight often causes health problems like diabetes. In most cases, this is preventable by eating less. Imagine someone going to frequent doctor appointments, paying thousands of dollars, plus getting prescriptions for insulin and blood testing equipment, plus spending time and hassle to constantly check his blood sugar level. These problems are mostly preventable by not eating as much and returning to a healthy weight. Imagine the feeling of never having to worry about diabetes or the hassle of checking glucose levels— wouldn’t that feel liberating?” Sam said.
Double fudge chocolate cookie dough makes me feel liberated, Zak thought to himself to score quick humor points. He wasn’t sure he believed his own cynicism, though.
“Fourth, there are countless other health problems that occur from being overweight, including circulation problems, increased risk of heart attacks, blood clots, edema, having a suppressed immune system that leads to more sickness, sleeping problems, knee and joint problems from carrying extra weight, among other ailments. So much pain and hardship could be avoided if one would choose to not eat so much— even 10% less— and in time one would feel lighter and healthier. Wouldn’t it be nice to experience life free of these health problems?”
Zak’s distracted mind recalled the Billy Joel song where he sang, “heart attack-ack-ack-ack-ack-ack.” Come on, Zak, focus! he thought.
“But easier said than done, right?” Zak said.
“I’m here to help you take one step at a time, literally and figuratively,” Sam said with a smile.
The two progressed through the forested trail around another hillside and eventually reached the three separate 64’ waterfalls which split from Oneonta Creek.
“Whoa, it’s beautiful!” Zak said.
Birds perched high in the surrounding trees looked down and sang their songs. Butterflies fluttered in the air and danced in the sunlight.
He imagined it would be fun to dive off the top of the falls into the water below, but suspected it would be quite dangerous. There might be only 1” of water at the bottom, as far as I know. I’d probably die trying to just climb over there!
“Zak, you’ve burned a fair amount of calories on this hike and will likely have some choices to make for your dinner tonight. What do you plan to do?”
“Well, I haven’t thought about it yet.”
“I bring this up because you are more likely to achieve your goals if you plan ahead. If you don’t, you may be more inclined to give in to temptations that don’t serve you well long-term.”
Zak remembered his buffet experience last time and could relate more to this than Sam even knew. Maybe he’s right. I should plan this stuff soon. He felt unprepared to decide though.
Zak suddenly reconnected with the pain that led him to this place. He remembered his emotion when sitting in Mrs. Nelson’s office. He remembered his tears. He realized that, yes, he does need to take positive action. He didn’t want to fall into any more traps.
“I’m deciding to get a salad at the grocery store on the way home,” Zak said.
“Good for you,” Sam said. “Will you try the 8 Ways again?”
“I will. I’ll do better this time.”
“Great. I’m pulling for you!”
The two parted ways.
On the drive back, Zak felt fairly sure he was going to follow through with his plan, but still had doubts. Zak was tired of negative thoughts and wanted to kick them to the curb.
He now had no choice, he thought, because he already told Sam what he planned to do. If he didn’t, he would feel awful, especially after how much effort Sam put into helping him. Zak didn’t want to risk lying or dealing with a guilty conscience over this either. Even though eating a salad sounded so bland and boring after burning so many calories, Zak realized he was already committed this time.
Just then Zak had a realization. He realized that the act of both deciding what he was going to do in advance and telling Sam his specific dinner plan made it seem “locked in.” These two small actions changed his motivation. Zak didn’t know he could do that so easily. Before this, Zak’s motivation would have gravitated back towards his normal eating habits, but after these two steps he “tipped the scales” of motivation towards the better choice. The significance of this discovery could be big, Zak thought. He decided to add it as an insight into his phone notes app.
That evening Zak followed through with his plan and honored his commitment. He bought a salad. Hazelnuts and raspberry vinaigrette made it more flavorful and less boring than he expected. He also tried applying the 8 Ways to not overeat, although it failed, because he could only remember four of them. Maybe, I should write these down on a card and put them on the dinner table, he thought. Then he realized he ate half of his meals away from the house at school or fast food restaurants. Maybe I could add them more obviously on my smartphone’s background or write them on an index note card that fits in my front pants pocket to keep with me?
In his bathroom, Zak stepped on the scale and gasped: 291. He lost 5 pounds. It’s working! I can’t believe it! I’m actually making progress.
As Zak lay down on his bed, he felt his sore body sink into the bed. He realized it wasn’t a bad feeling to feel sore. He felt good knowing he worked hard and felt he actually accomplished something today. He wasn’t beating himself up and felt no guilt.
Suddenly, Zak remembered a pithy phrase Sam said, “Make bad behavior convenient and good behavior inconvenient.” Zak pondered for a moment then thought, wait a minute that makes no sense! I want “good” behavior to be convenient, not bad behavior! Maybe I said it wrong. Zak smiled as he sank his head into the pillow and closed his eyes. His active mind didn’t relax quite yet, however.
Sam said this can apply to other things too. I wonder if he means it can help with drinking, smoking, or watching porn? Making sin inconvenient. But how…? Would that mean to not keep beer in my fridge? Maybe don’t have cigarettes around or don’t keep coupons for them? Maybe, I shouldn’t hang out with people who do what I’m trying to avoid, like smoking? How about porn— maybe only use the internet that blocks the bad stuff, like ‘family safe’ internet? Or, could I adjust the web browser settings to be on ‘restricted?’ Maybe I don’t use the computer alone or at all? Or maybe, I shouldn’t look at or buy movies, products, posters, magazines, or anything at all associated with these bad things? Hmmmm…
Zak was baffled by these new connections he was making to overcome previous habits. Suddenly a saying he heard before popped into his head: if something causes you to stumble, chop it off… or something.
Zak then Google-searched those keywords and found that it was actually a Bible verse in Matthew 5:30 and Mark 9:43, “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.”
Maybe that’s talking about the same thing— to make bad behavior inconvenient? Zak realized. But this goes beyond just saying to just make sin inconvenient, but DO ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING NECESSARY TO STOP IT AND AVOID SEVERE CONSEQUENCES, EVEN CHOPPING OFF YOUR HAND! Zak didn’t know before how serious this sounded about avoiding sin and wondered how many Christians actually followed it?
Zak wasn’t sure what he believed about God, Jesus, or the Bible. He went to Catholic mass with his parents a few times when he was younger, but didn’t pay much attention and didn’t remember much. He couldn’t deny some of the wisdom from the Bible and all the people who seemed to be helped by it, though. Maybe I should check it out for myself… one of these days, he thought.
He had no idea what to expect for the next hike, but knew it would likely be father, higher, and harder. Will I be able to make it? Surely, I must have a limit.
Zak grabbed a Reese’s bar, an apple, a muffin, and a 32oz Gatorade and threw it into his backpack. He left to meet Sam at the park and carpooled to the Angel’s Rest trailhead. This would be the longest and steepest hike yet. Zak wasn’t convinced he could make it, but knew Sam believed in him.
It had rained that morning and the sky was overcast. The summit of the hike was supposed to be a viewpoint of the Columbia River. I hope we’ll get to see something if we make it up there, Zak thought.
Zak wondered about the threat of lightning on a cloudy day like this at the top of a mountain. Oh, boy, this can’t be good…
The two started up the steep dirt trail into
the forest and began a deep dialogue.
“Zak, if you’re willing, I’d like to share 5 points of motivational leverage you might find helpful as you strive towards your health goal.”
“First, you can use social leverage as motivation to make it easier to accomplish the goal and harder to not accomplish the goal. For example, if you tell all your friends and family that you’re planning to compete in a triathlon this summer, you may start feeling pressure to succeed. You might otherwise feel embarrassed if people found out you were unprepared and failed to finish. However, if you finished your goal in front of your peers then your victory would seem that much sweeter. You might feel proud and a sense of accomplishment if people cheered you on, watched you complete your goal, and celebrated your victory.”
Upon hearing Sam say “harder to not accomplish the goal,” Zak’s ADD-like mind flashed to the movie Zoolander where he said, “they won’t be looking for... not us.” What a weird flick, he thought.
“Zak, let me ask you this— if you had a friend who was trying hard to lose weight and wanted support, would you want him to tell you?”
“Sure, especially if a close friend. I might feel bad if they didn’t tell me.”
“Ok, and if your friend succeeded in his goal, would you be happy for him and offer your congratulations too?”
“Of course, if I’m his friend.”
“It might make you feel good to know that your friend trusted you enough to share his or her goal with you, right?”
“If that would make you feel good, wouldn’t your friends also feel good if you trusted them with your weight loss goal?”
“And if you didn’t, wouldn’t you be robbing them of an opportunity to be a friend and support you?”
Zak felt a bit startled by this new perspective and tried to make sense of it. Would others really feel this way? It doesn’t seem right, yet, I kind of just admitted to feeling this way myself. Whoa.
A bluebird caught Zak’s eye and swooped down almost making eye contact with him. Birds were chirping and singing in surround sound as the two hiked and resumed their dialog.
“Zak, imagine if someone invited you to join their group for exercising and losing weight together? What if all your neighbors in your community were doing it, would you be encouraged to join? What if people in your school or workplace were doing it and having success, would that motivate you?”
“Well, if everyone else was doing it, I probably would,” Zak thought.
“The good news is many weight loss groups and programs do exist if you look carefully for them. But if you can’t find one convenient for you, what if you were the one to lead and invite people into a group? Think of the motivational leverage you would have to lose weight if you were the organizer and had a group of like-minded and supportive people around you.”
That could be scary! I’ve never done anything like that before. Oh… I guess ‘scary’ is just one possible interpretation, isn’t it?
“You can add social pressure through other means too. If you hired a trainer you consistently met with, you may find more motivation to lose weight due to the trainer’s accountability. You may not want to disappoint the trainer and might feel compelled to do your exercises so you don’t feel embarrassed,” Sam said.
“But this assumes you can afford it. Many people like me just can’t,” Zak said.
“Glad you brought that up. If you paid $100 to get $300 in return, could you ‘afford’ it?”
“Yes, I’d figure out a way.”
“If it cost you $100 for a trainer, but saved you $300 in medical bills and medication, would you do it then?”
“If I knew it would save me money, then yes.”
“The same social leverage can apply by sharing your weight-loss goal with people you trust, whether in school, classes, work, church groups, or interest groups. Remember to share your personal goals with people who have your best interests in mind; you wouldn’t want to share with people who may try to undermine you.”
“I see. Does this mean that social pressure can be good if used to improve ourselves?”
“That’s right. Second, you can use financial leverage as motivation to accomplish your goal. Let’s say someone with a 36” waist wants a 32” waist. He spends $200 on four pairs of 32” blue jeans that are too small to fit into yet. He now has financial pressure to lose enough weight to fit into those jeans so he doesn’t feel bad for wasting money. Using financial investments as motivational leverage further increases the odds of making your goal, as it gives you ‘skin in the game.’”
“I never thought of that before…”
“Someone can easily ratchet up the financial pressure too. Imagine a woman buying a several thousand dollar wedding dress in a certain size that she doesn’t yet fit into. She has a deadline she absolutely must fit into that dress by. She wants her friends, family, and guests to see her look her best, but she knows that if photos show her feeling fat and not fitting into that dress she might regret it for the rest of her life. Her day is so special, so important, and has so much at stake that she might summon a 10 out of 10 on the motivational scale to be able to lose enough weight to wear that dress. And when she meets her goal and slips on that dress for the first time, her victory would feel so much sweeter and so much more meaningful.”
“That’s really going all-in,” Zak said. “But why put so much pressure on yourself?”
“Don’t you owe it to yourself to go all-in when trying to reach your goals?” Sam said. “If you give yourself no choice but to succeed, guess what will happen?”
“You might succeed?”
Zak had to ponder this point. He still wasn’t totally buying it, yet he couldn’t refute it either and needed more time to process. He felt like making more jokes to lighten the mood, but he was already mentally tiring. Maybe I’ll just see what else he has to say and review this stuff later, he thought.
“Zak, another way to use financial leverage is to invest in a month of small group fitness classes in advance, for example. The idea of wasting money sounds awful, so you may feel more pressure and motivation to show up. You can invest in monthly deliveries of your food as well, which are to be healthy and in small portions. If you pay for it in advance and it’s delivered to you, there would be more leverage on you to eat it so it wouldn’t go to waste.”
Zak was keeping an eye on the clouds above. Seeing them swirl around so quickly was making him nervous. He thought he felt a drop of rain, but after what happened last time, he didn’t want to rush to any conclusions. Maybe it’s actually a bird this time? Or maybe it’s a wet bird that few through a raincloud? Or maybe it’s my own sweat?
“Third, consider using visual reminders as leverage to help you visualize your goal and serve as a motivational reminder. Just like a high school student having posters of Michael Jordan on his bedroom wall and visualizing being able to shoot a basketball like him, adults need the same kind of visual aids as reminders of their goals and dreams. The more you see something, the more you think about it. The more you think about it, the more you’ll want to achieve it,” Sam said.
“Visual reminders can include writing goals on a notepad, whiteboard, making a collage of your dreams on a poster board containing drawings or photos of places you want to visit, activities you want to do, things representing what you want to accomplish, or the type of person you wish to become. You could make them yourself or clip pictures from magazines and glue on the board.”
“Zak, have you ever wondered why video games or slot machine games are so addictive?”
“No, why is that?”
“First, they offer immediate rewards when you do something good, like rewarding you with points, exciting graphics and sounds. Next, they display your progress regularly, such as your score, money, level, etc. Then, they offer competition and offer social incentives for winning. Since these elements boost motivation, what if you did the same thing to boost motivation toward your health goal?”
“That would be nice, but how is that possible?”
“You can first check for apps that game-ify your health goal. Fitness trackers, calorie counters, weight-trackers, and other health apps already do this. Phone apps and smart fitness swatches can visually show the benefits of your progress and can remind you of your goals, dreams, and benefits of reaching them. You may also consider making to-do lists, calendars, or charts you can track, monitor, and check-off, both electronically and printed-out. You can save visual reminders as wallpaper for your computer, or a screensaver or background for your smartphone, tablet, TV, or computer. You can put these visuals around your home on walls, doors, on your refrigerator, or in your car, in your locker at school, or anywhere you’ll see them often. If your reward for losing a certain amount of weight is to vacation in Canada, for example, consider putting up a poster on your bedroom door of the Canadian city or national park you plan to visit. If you want to look like Rocky Balboa, then post pictures of him or what you want to look like.”
Ok, not a bad idea. Rocky, though?
“If your goal is truly important enough, then why not absolutely saturate your world with visual reminders? Visually engulf yourself with images that motivate you, inspire you, and visually mark your progress. Make it inescapable. Everywhere you turn you are being reminded of it. You see it when you wake up, when you go to bed, when you’re eating. You see it multiple times every day, every hour. You might even get sick of seeing it and it might start annoying you that you haven’t accomplished the goal yet. You might even want to reach the goal simply so you can take down all the annoying reminders!”
“That’s funny,” Zak smirked. That might actually work, though.
“You may consider a wrist band, rubber band, bangle, ring, necklace, bandana, hat, smartwatch, or any kind of reminder that you associate with your goal that can motivate you to success. Remember that what you see affects what you think about; and what you think about regularly becomes important; and if something is important, it’s much easier to be motivated.”
Just then Zak realized he was wearing the bangle. Its meaning was becoming clearer now. He didn’t even remember putting it on— he never did. How weird!
“Psychologists say they can easily determine the priorities of people by seeing what they spend their time on. Do they spend all their time at work? School? Video games? Do they spend most of it with or thinking of their spouse? If they are Christian, do they spend most of their time seeking God, reading the Bible, and ministering to others? Or do they spend most of their time watching TV, movies, or thinking about their stock investments? Do they spend time trying to accumulate material things or seek accomplishments in order to impress others and feel important? Do they invest most of their time giving and helping others or receiving and taking from others? How people spend their time is a reliable measure of what is most important to them. So, making visual reminders of your goals, and being reminded regularly of them will help solidify them as a priority to you and will leverage your motivation.”
Zak listened quietly and wondered if he should be taking notes on some of this. He was surprised by the intensity and depth of the strategies Sam described.
He looked up at the sky and noticed the clouds were getting darker. He thought he heard a distant rumble. Oh, just great, this is all we need is to get zapped my lightning. Maybe it would shock some sense into me!
“Fourth, you can use personal promises, commitments, and goals as leverage. What’s the biggest promise or commitment you’ve ever made to yourself or another person?”
“Well, I’d have to think about that…”
“When you think of one, ask what the characteristics of that promise were? You can use the same criteria for your weight goal. Some people sign documents of commitment, like a legal document. You could also write a letter to your future self. Explain to yourself why you chose this goal and how important it is to you and commit to take specific actions by a specific deadline. Sign and date the letter and save to read in the future when you feel weak or tempted to violate your goal.”
Sam continued, “It can add leverage if you tie a special event to your goal. For example, you might choose to lose a certain amount of weight before a wedding. Maybe you want to be a certain weight at a graduation ceremony. Maybe you want to get in a certain shape for a vacation.”
“You can also write encouraging notes for yourself and post it on the mirror. Then, as you’re preparing for work or school the next day you have something motivating to read. Let yourself know exactly what you need to hear to stay strong and hold the course. It’s empowering to keep your commitments and disempowering to break them, so include language for how serious you are about your commitment.”
Wow, he thinks of everything, doesn’t he?
“If you have a few trusted friends, you may consider asking them to write you an encouraging and persuasive letter also to open in times of weakness. You can also ask them to incentivize reaching the goal. For example, if you reach your health goal, maybe they will go on a trip with you or throw a party or do something special for you.”
“You can also add encouraging notes to your calendar. You can record audio or a video to watch later when you need the extra motivation and support. You can ask friends to do the same to help support you.”
Maybe I could record some TikTok videos…
“Zak, when you look for a job, whether paid or volunteer, what you choose can create leverage toward your health goal. For example, if you get a manual labor job working outside with tools, such as doing landscaping or building things, it will probably help you stay in physical shape, unlike a desk job. If you passed out flyers in the community for a charity fundraiser you would walk a lot and get exercise. If you washed cars as a fundraiser, or built homes through Habitat for Humanity, or helped kids at the Boys and Girls Club, you’d also get exercise. Each of these can force you into a position where you’re being more active and becoming healthier.”
Ugh, work. I’m not too excited about that…
“Establishing and formalizing a specific goal you set with a deadline is another way to create leverage. When you commit to a goal you probably won’t want to fail, so you will try harder than if you didn’t set a goal. Goals also create clarity. We can talk more about this on our hike today if you’d like.”
“Yeah, sure,” Zak said.
Zak felt a drop on his hand. Ok, I’m 100% sure that was rain. This isn’t looking good…
“Fifth, physical distance can be used as leverage. For example, if you don’t keep junk food in your house, and if you live 100 miles from a store in the middle of a desert, you likely won’t eat much junk food. We can take that to an extreme too— if you were willing to travel to a foreign country for a month to a place with food served in small portions, such as Southeast Asia, then you may lose weight. If you travel to a country where you don’t like the food, you could also lose weight.”
Zak then remembered the movie, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom where they travelled to a palace in India and ate eyeball soup, snake surprise, and monkey brains. I’d be as skinny as a rail if I lived there!
“What’s strange is sometimes inconveniences can actually be convenient… to your goal.”
“For example?” Zak said.
“When going to stores if you park farther away in parking lots it forces yourself to get more exercise. These little decisions can add up. You can also limit how many items you buy at a grocery store so you go back more often. For example, if you only carry a handbasket instead of pushing a cart. This may result in getting out of the house and walking around more, giving you more exercise and burning more calories. Carrying the basket can also give you an arm workout!” Sam said.
“Oh, I never would have thought of that,” Zak said. But I’d probably grow giant Schwarzenegger arms with as much food as I put in the basket.
“Where you choose to live can impact your health too, believe it or not. Imagine that you’re looking for an apartment and you have a choice of one on the ground level with a parking spot directly in front or one on the third-floor only accessible through stairs on the backside of a building. Most people would consider this inconvenient, but imagine the convenience of getting regular exercise going up and down the stairs every day? It would give you no choice but to burn calories, strengthen your legs, and strengthen your cardio, just making you healthier overall. Being healthier means you’ll have a stronger immune system and not get sick as much; it can help you think more clearly and you can look and feel better. It might save money in doctor bills and prescriptions, too.”
If I had a third-floor apartment, I’d probably just install a slip-n-slide to get down or maybe call an Uber drone to carry me up and down to my car! Zak thought.
“If you’re looking for houses, the choice of yard could indirectly affect your health too. Maybe you have a choice between one with a small, flat yard, or one with a big yard on the side of a hill which you would need to maintain. You may have a choice between a house with a mailbox attached to the house, or one a distance away. You may have a choice between a house with nowhere to walk, run, or bike, or one near a park full of trails. All of these decisions can impact your level of health over time.”
Even if I lived above a fitness center I’d still never go! Zak thought.
“If you remove yourself from your normal environment for a period of time that can also provide motivational leverage. For example, if you went to a weight loss camp for a few weeks where everything you ate was monitored and pre-portioned, you’d probably lose weight. It would be hard not to, as you would just be stuck there. You would be incentivized to get your money’s worth and you may also have social pressure— so you don’t stand out for not losing as much weight as the others in the group. You might also have pressure to stay to not look foolish for leaving early. Such a camp would have at least three sources of leverage, which greatly increases your odds of succeeding in your goal. Ideally, you would utilize all 5 motivational strategies.”
I’d be the first person to break out and escape from a weight loss camp! Zak thought. He imagined himself in an action scene with military helicopters chasing him with heavy guns and searchlights while he flees to the nearest Krispy Kreme.
“But don’t even need to go to a camp to get pre-portioned meals. You can already do this by relying on a meal delivery service, like Schwan’s, and just don’t keep any food in the house whatsoever.”
An empty kitchen would be weird.
“But forcing yourself to break habits could also be taken to extreme levels. You could ask a friend to drop you off in a remote area of the woods, or on a remote island with limited food. Maybe you have no way out until your friend comes back a few days later. It’s nearly a 100% certainty you’ll lose weight and won’t overeat. Think of it as the Gilligan’s Island or Castaway weight loss plan,” Sam laughed.
“Yeah, some friend that would be. Some wives might want to just leave their husbands there forever,” Zak said with a big smile.
“Ha, that’s right! Be careful whom you ask. What I’m trying to do is show you the tools to live your life more strategically. Call them life hacks if you will. You have more control over your life than you might think. If you truly want something, you have an arsenal of tools you can use to help accomplish it. There’s a lot we can’t control, but there’s a lot we can. Why not use the gifts you’ve already been given, be a good steward, and take charge of that part of your life? Keep things simple, but be aware, intentional, and strategic.”
As the two hiked up the switchbacks they passed a grove of maples then heard the sound of a waterfall but couldn’t identify where it was. It seemed hidden somewhere behind the dense forest.
Zak wasn’t sure what the weather was going to do. He assumed if a storm began they would need to turn around and go back, right? Maybe we should have discussed this beforehand.
Something suddenly darted across the trail 20 feet in front of them and crashed through the bushes.
“What was that?!” Zak said.
“I couldn’t tell. A big rodent or maybe a bobcat?”
They heard some loud rustling in the bushes, but the sound became more and more distant and faint until it was silent.
Zak scratched the side of his head and thought he’d clarify what Sam just said.
“Sam, if I wanted to apply these 5 points of leverage to my weight loss goal, would that mean that for social leverage I could post my goal to friends on Facebook or Twitter? Maybe share that I plan to be hiking to Tunnel Falls and ask them to wish me luck?”
“Yes, you got it! That’s a good example. You don’t necessarily need to broadcast it to the world, but mainly to those you trust.”
“Ok, then for financial leverage does that mean I could spend money to register for a 5k that I’m not able to do yet? Or buy a small outfit I can’t fit into yet?”
“Yes, that’s right on.”
“Great, so for visual leverage maybe I could put background wallpaper on my phone showing someone fit on top of a mountain? Or maybe put a post-it note of my goal progress on my car dashboard?”
“Yep, that’s it!”
“And for promise leverage, I can send a motivational email or letter to myself to read in emergencies?”
“Yes! One more…”
“Physical distance leverage— literally remove snack temptations far away out of the kitchen, out of the house and out of my life, right?”
“Exactly right, great job!”
“Can you now see how adding motivational leverage can radically increase your odds of achieving your goal?”
“Yeah, I do. If I didn’t do this it would now seem like a half-hearted effort.”
It has been a while since Zak had added to his notes so he whipped out his iPhone and entered the following…
As they continued climbing the hill, a light breeze turned into full-on wind. Clouds continued swirling overhead. Zak realized he didn’t bring a rain jacket and was only wearing a cotton shirt. It had better not rain now or I might be in trouble!
“Zak, what do you think about goal setting?”
“Goals? I guess they’re good, but I don’t think about it much.”
“When you saved money for your video game, you worked towards a goal of buying it, right?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Consider being deliberate about goal setting because the more thought and detail you put into your goal, the more likely you are to reach it. Goals should be a big deal. You are making a promise to yourself to face a new challenge and accomplish something. Naturally, you want to stack the odds in your favor. There are seven things you can do to drastically increase your chance of success. Would you like to know what they are?”
“Sure, I’d like to hear them,” Zak said. Maybe the first one is always bring a waterproof jacket when hiking in Oregon!
Zak didn’t realize he carried a negative association toward setting goals. I’m tired of feeling bad about not reaching them so I’d rather not make them in the first place, he thought. Zak didn’t realize that he made his previous goals too big and unrealistic, however. He would later learn that if he simply made his goals smaller and easier to achieve that after accomplishing them he would feel energized and empowered again. Goals just aren’t for me, he thought.
“These are 7 steps to setting goals…” Sam said.
“First,” Sam said, “…is to decide and declare
what your goal is clearly and succinctly. Write it down or type it into your
phone or computer. Eliminate the clutter and go for the heart of what you
really want. Save it in a visible and easily available location. Also, make
sure it’s truly your goal and not someone else’s.”
“Your goal should also be realistic. Not too hard to achieve or lofty, but at least a slight challenge so you’re not selling yourself short. It needs to be big enough to have a nice reward, but easy enough to achieve so that you aren’t overwhelmed or tempted to compromise or break your commitment. Once someone breaks his commitment it’s not the end of the world, but it can feel disempowering and is best to avoid. When in doubt, it’s better to start small and lean toward easy-to-achieve goals than hard-to-achieve goals. If the goal is too complex, break it down and choose one of its smaller components instead as your goal.”
“Second is to list the rewards for accomplishing the goal. You should list exactly how achieving the goal will improve your life.”
“Third is to determine what kind of preparation you’ll need to reach the goal. This may involve listing people, partnerships, resources, skills, classes, tutoring, training, and knowledge you may need to accomplish the goal. This will aid as your support system to help reach your goal.”
“Fourth is to list the challenges and potential roadblocks you may need to overcome to achieve the goal. It’s smart to prepare in advance for what obstacles you may run up against and how to navigate through them.”
“Fifth is to set a deadline on the overall goal and commit to it. It should be a very specific date and time that you will add to your calendar or schedule. You should estimate realistically and build-in extra time for any unforeseen obstacles. Goals may include milestones— dates that you seek to accomplish each point of your action plan, but if it’s too complex consider just focusing on one at a time. To fully commit to your goal, consider using tools such as the 5 points of motivational leverage.”
“Sixth is to make a detailed step-by-step plan to accomplish the goal. Number each step and describe each action in detail. Each step should be a manageable task. If not, then it should be broken down into more specific component parts. Set an estimated timeframe to accomplish each task by and schedule it on your calendar and declare your task in a visible place, such as on your bathroom mirror or refrigerator. Declare specifically what you plan to do. For example, ‘On March 3 at 8 a.m., I will eat a single banana for breakfast and nothing else until lunch.’ Or, ‘On March 7 at 3 p.m., I will go for a 0.5 mile walk at Mt. Tabor park.’”
“Seventh is to visualize yourself attaining the goal through regular thoughts, prayer, and meditation. Deeply ‘see’ yourself doing each step of your plan. Think of what it will feel like when you accomplish it. Feel your emotions, your joy, and increased confidence when you attain your prize. Through this practice, you will start believing you will achieve it and you can greatly increase your motivation. By thinking of it regularly throughout your day, it can lead to a healthy obsession, where you may develop an insatiable desire to achieve it. You may start wanting this goal so badly you can practically feel it, touch it, taste it, or even salivate at the thought of it.”
“Stop, you’re making me hungry!” Zak said with a smile.
“It’s good to be ‘hungry’ for your goals.”
Zak laughed. That’s so cheesy!
“Zak, you want to be so prepared and confident in achieving your goal that you feel like you’ve practically already accomplished it. When you have already planned in detail, already thought through the obstacles, already committed to it, already visualized it in detail, you may realize much of the heavy lifting is already done. You’ve already cleared the way and paved the path to success. Then, when you do the work toward your goal, you’re simply implementing what you already knew would happen.”
“That sounds intense,” Zak said.
“Intensity isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Think of Olympic athletes— do you think they achieved their top levels of excellence and mastery by one day just casually thinking about it? No, they decided clearly what they wanted, set an exact deadline, had laser focus, made a full commitment, got support, and executed a specifically targeted training routine for achieving that exact goal.”
“Yep, probably so.”
Zak realized he hadn’t taken any notes in a while. He noticed his iPhone was low on its battery but managed to get enough power to type the following:
Then his phone died. Rats!
Zak was starting to feel cold. With the higher altitude and increased wind, he was starting to feel vulnerable. I hope this doesn’t get any worse.
“Zak, something to be aware of is the threat of procrastination. Setting a goal that is too big can lead to a feeling of being overwhelmed, then you’ll be tempted to procrastinate and avoid taking any action toward it. The remedy for this is to first make your goals smaller, make them tiny initially if needed, to build confidence in your success. But even if you have a small goal, the key to making progress is to just start, if for only 5 minutes, or even 1 minute.”
Just start… I can remember that. Maybe I should start lifting weights at home for 1 minute, or even better, 1 second! I don’t want to set the bar too high! Zak joked to himself.
“It can help to schedule a small block time on your calendar in advance to work toward your goal, and working on your goal daily is ideal to develop a habit. At least start and do something for 5 minutes. Often just starting is the hardest part of working toward a goal, and the rest can flow more naturally. Once you start developing a habit, it will take less and less willpower to start and it might even start becoming fun.”
Zak tried to shake out his legs. They felt tight like a cramp was about to come on. The feeling then passed, but his heart was beating unusually fast. Am I having a heart issue? I don’t feel out of breath or too tired yet, so maybe I’ll be ok?
The morning dew still remained on the tips of the fir trees and their brown cones.
The two continued a medium pace leading up the switchbacks up the hill through some rocky talus slopes. I wonder what the summit is like?
Soon the two made a final switchback and reached a large, open plateau with an expansive view of the gorge. Wow!
Zak noticed the clouds seemed less angry than they did before, which eased his concern about lightning… for now. But he was starting to get quite cold. His shirt was damp from his sweat and the wind was chilling him faster than his body could keep up with. He folded his arms and bounced around to warm himself up.
Zak and Sam walked closer to the edge of the precipice overlooking the Columbia River Gorge. The sunlight glistened off the ripples of the water nearly 1,500’ below. The wind ushered in cool, moist air that chilled their bodies from the arduous climb.
“This is beautiful!” Zak said.
“Yes, it really is!”
The two took a brief break to enjoy the view and eat their packed lunches. Zak felt better about his food choices today; he ate his apple first, then the muffin, then the Reese’s for dessert. Start with the good, end with the bad, he thought.
After fifteen minutes they gathered their belongings and began the hike back down the mountain. By now, Zak was shivering with his teeth chattering. He looked forward to reaching the forest to protect against the wind.
“Zak, on the way down, how about we talk about applying the goal-setting formula?”
“Did you realize you have already taken some of these 7 goal-setting steps in the last few days? Reaching Tunnel Falls is a goal, losing 40 pounds is a goal, and trying the Window diet for 30 days is a goal.”
“Right, that’s good then,” Zak said. But I still haven’t fully tried the Window diet, oops!
“Would you like to try applying the 7 goal steps formula to the goals you’ve already set?”
“Let me get this straight, I would first identify the specific goal, which I already did, right?”
“Hiking to Tunnel Falls and back is my main goal, I guess.”
“What else after identifying it?”
“Write it down or type it into my phone?”
“Just put it where it is highly visible and you can see it regularly.”
Zak squinted his eyes as he tapped his fingers to enter his goal within his calendar phone app called “events.”
Sam smiled with excitement in seeing Zak start to apply the formula.
“For step two, I identify the rewards, right? I would say it can help me get in better shape. I’ve been wanting to see the falls, so I might feel a certain sense of accomplishment seeing it. Maybe I would feel better physically. God forbid, I might even look better.”
“True, when you reach Tunnel Falls you may feel empowered. You would get excellent exercise, see incredible beauty, enjoy time in nature, and enjoy nice conversation.”
“What’s step three again?”
“Preparation and support system.”
“That’s right— for step three I’d say you’re key to help me get there, because you’re motivating me and you know the trails. I don’t have a GPS or any trail maps or anything. I suppose family and friends could be a support too, because if they tempt me to eat junk food that can undermine my efforts to accomplish this. Maybe I can ask them to help me?”
“Yes, good. Keep going…”
“Four was the potential roadblocks, right? I’d say I need to keep hiking and increasing my stamina to be able to accomplish this and if I don’t that could be an obstacle. Also, if I eat a lot of bad food or do a lot of drinking that would probably be an obstacle.”
“Can you think of more?”
“Maybe if my car dies? Or maybe I get sick or have a family emergency? Bad weather? Maybe I twist my ankle?”
“What about something like stubbing your toe on the coffee table? Getting a cramp in your leg? Can you think of anything you can do to reduce the risk of having obstacles?”
“I could just be careful? Maybe stretching and warming up could help prevent cramping or injuring myself.” I haven’t been doing this.
“What about getting proper sleep? Maybe not staying up late and unwinding early to ensure you have the maximum energy. Also, staying hydrated the night before and morning of the hike.” I’ve been doing almost none of these things.
“Yes, that too.”
“What about Olympic athletes when they’re preparing to compete for the Olympic games? Do they just eat whatever they feel like or are they careful to only eat food that maximizes their performance?”
“Yes, they would eat the healthiest food that will give them the most energy, of course.”
“That’s right. It’s good to identify the potential roadblocks so you’re prepared and less surprised when they come up later. Feel free to proceed with your goal plan…”
“Ok, for the fifth step— the deadline— I really want to go to my Senior Prom— a formal dinner and dance. I’d like to invite someone, but I’m afraid of looking like a dork trying to ask a girl out and being rejected. I have one prospect in art class, but I’m not sure she’s noticed me.”
“That sounds like a great goal— so when is your prom?”
“It’s sometime in May— about six weeks away.”
“Great, when you find out the specific day, enter it on your calendar or schedule as the deadline for your goal. But ideally, you can accomplish your Tunnel Falls hike before the Senior Prom. These are two separate goals: training for the hike, and secondly, preparing for your prom.”
Zak opened up the calendar app on his iPhone and entered a tentative appointment on May 16 for 8 a.m., called “Tunnel Falls hike.”
“Sixth was to make an action plan. This might take time, so maybe I can do this later,” Zak said.
“Postponing things for later can be an obstacle in itself. Sometimes, people forget and never complete the 7 steps of planning their goal, so it might be better to do it now. We’re not in any hurry and can do it now, right?”
“Sure, I can do it. Just give me a few minutes to think.”
Zak scratched his goatee and made a few grunting noises as he mentally processed his goal. He knew that to reach Tunnel Falls it would take physical preparation, but what exactly? He thought. Longer hikes than I’m doing now, but shorter and less intense than Tunnel Falls, right? He then wondered how many miles it was to Tunnel Falls and approximately how much effort it might take to get there. If I know that, maybe I can backtrack and figure out easier hikes I can do to build up endurance for it.
“How many miles is Tunnel Falls and what is the elevation?” Zak asked.
“It’s 12 miles round trip and I don’t know the exact elevation, but it’s approximately 1060’ elevation gain from the start of the hike to the falls.”
“Ok, so I would need to do some hikes that are shorter and less intense before that.”
But how many miles? And how steep? I wouldn’t want to underestimate or overestimate. Also, how many hikes in-between today and Tunnel Falls? Zak wondered.
“How many miles is the hike we’re doing now?” Zak asked.
“Angel’s Rest is 4.8 miles round trip with 1450’ gain.”
“Ok, maybe we’ll need to do a few hikes between 4.8 miles and 12 miles round trip, and the gain shouldn’t matter since we’re already doing 1,450’ today and Tunnel Falls is only 2/3 this steep, right?”
“I think we have only added 1 mile at a time, so we might want to do a hike that is 6 miles round trip, 7 miles, 8 miles, 9 miles, 10 miles, 11 miles, and finally Tunnel Falls— so 6 more hikes? And which hikes have those lengths?”
“I like how you are now focusing on specifics of your goal’s action plan. This is where the rubber meets the road— greatly increasing the odds of success. Since I’m a hiking guide and have already done lots of hiking research, how about if I share some hikes that are both scenic and can provide the right mileage for training purposes?”
Zak nodded with anticipation of what Sam was going to say next.
“I suggest four more hikes to prepare for Tunnel Falls. The next hike I recommend is Lava Canyon (5.9 miles), then Cape Horn (7.1 miles), Eagle Creek to the High Bridge + Wahclella Falls (8.4 miles), Trail of Ten Falls/Silver Falls State Park loop + Maple Ridge Loop (9.8 miles). Then, you should be ready for Tunnel Falls (12 miles). These hikes have a fairly aggressive rate of increase and wouldn’t be gradual enough for most people, but since you’re young and working on healthy eating habits in-between I think you will see your stamina and fitness rapidly increase. Each is in the 800’ — 1,400’ gain range, but some have some extra challenges. What do you think of these?”
“Wow, I’m nervous, but excited. This would definitely be a challenge, but would be something to look forward to.”
“Yes, indeed. These are some of the most beautiful places on earth. God spent a little extra time designing these places.” Sam smiled.
I’m guessing he doesn’t believe in evolution then, Zak thought. But maybe I’m not so sure myself.
Zak lifted his iPhone and entered each of the five hikes into his calendar app— one each Saturday for the next five weeks to lead up to his final Tunnel Falls hike.
“I noticed you suggested more than one hike on some of them— is that to get up the mileage?” Zak asked.
“Yes, some are nearby and short, so why not combine with another hike more challenging to get the mileage you want.”
“Right. I wouldn’t have thought of that.”
“Zak, have you noticed that this is the first time we have actually planned hikes ahead of time?”
“No, I haven’t thought about that. I just focused on one at a time, I guess.”
“Initially we took baby steps— like mini-goals— just one activity or hike at a time, or even one section of a hike at a time, even 5 minutes at a time. This is so the change isn’t overwhelming. Sometimes it’s beneficial to just try something or take a little step, even if you aren’t totally sure what the outcome will be.”
“I see, but why plan them now if we didn’t need to before?”
“You are far enough along toward your goal and have gained enough momentum that seeing farther ahead likely won’t discourage you at this point. I believe in you and at this point I don’t think you will quit after all you’ve invested. Since we just talked about goal setting, this is an important skill to develop— to plan your own growth at your own pace so it’s challenging, but be realistic. What do you think?”
“Sure. So, when I’m starting something new I shouldn’t try to bite off more than I can chew and be extra sensitive to my motivation and rate of change I’m comfortable with?” Bite and chew…clever, Zak.
“Exactly. When aiming for a new goal many people try to do too much too soon and end up disempowering themselves. We don’t want that.”
“The last step is visualizing, right? That sounds like something I need to do later by myself, right?”
“Yes, you can certainly visualize accomplishing it now as you’re hiking, but it’s most effective when you have a quiet room to yourself to relax, close your eyes and deeply imagine yourself accomplishing this goal— to feel the sensations of it. However, even if you can’t think as deeply as other times, you will still benefit thinking and visualizing throughout the day.”
“Ok, I’ll do this before I go to bed tonight.”
“Perfect. Zak, you did a great job applying the 7 step goal formula. Make sure you write this down or enter it into your phone for a stronger motivating effect. When you put your goal in writing it crystalizes your intention and formalizes your goal. Seeing your goal in writing is one step closer to becoming reality and it is a clear reminder of what you plan to do. Are you willing to put your plan in writing?”
“Yes, I will. But I have a question…” Zak fidgeted and scratched his arm while thinking how to word his question. These goals seem really involved! I know myself well enough to know I can’t do this every time, I’d go crazy! “Do you use these 7 steps for everything you want to accomplish or just important things?”
“Good question. The 7 steps are most useful for achieving new goals, changing your habits, or starting new ones. Once you adopt a new behavior and continue it for 30 days you likely have already formed a habit. Once a habit is well-established it can become routine and automatic, so you won’t need to be as deliberate or thorough in setting a goal for it each time.”
That’s a relief to hear, Zak thought.
“Remember that the first 30 days of trying to form a habit is especially difficult and using extra strategies can help.”
“Piggybacking a new habit onto an existing habit you have. For example, if your goal is to start walking regularly and if you already have a habit of getting coffee at 7 a.m., consider walking for 15 minutes just before you get your 7 a.m. coffee. Merge the two activities together to make it easier to adopt the new habit.”
“Huh, I wouldn’t have thought of that.”
“As another example, if you want to adopt a habit of weighing yourself, you can piggyback it onto an existing habit like brushing your teeth. If you already brush your teeth before you go to bed, then you can simply start grouping the two activities together to remember to weigh more consistently. If you’re combining habits, but think you might forget to weigh yourself, you can tape a reminder to your toothbrush to weigh yourself. You could also set your toothbrush on your scale, but it might not be too sanitary.”
Zak grinned. I’d probably be the one to try that.
The two arrived back at the original parking lot, completed their hike and said goodbye.
Zak felt that he burned a lot of calories on this hike from all the elevation gain. What a relief that I made it! His legs were sore and his stomach felt empty.
Zak felt like stopping at the pizza buffet on the way home. His craving was intense, but this time he realized his conflict of interest. The idea of feeding his hunger sounded amazing, but he figured the pleasure would end almost immediately after the meal. He would regret it. He remembered a semi-crude question he was supposed to ask himself before feeding his desire: “If I do this would I be sabotaging my future self?” Zak viewed this conundrum more clearly now than previous times of temptation. This time he realized the answer to that question was obvious: Yes, I would be sabotaging my future self, but I’m hungry now!
He then remembered his goal of being more nurturing and gentle with himself— especially his future self. He realized it would be wrong to betray his future self— to deliberately derail his goals just for a few minutes of pleasure. No, I can’t do it, he thought. I refuse to do this to myself any longer— it’s not fair to my future self or my present self.
Oh great, now my future self is Mr. Rogers… boring! Zak’s irrational voice interjected.
He made his decision and deliberately missed the exit to the pizza buffet at the last moment. His swerve triggered a nearby motorcyclist to honk and glare at him as he passed by. He noticed the black leather-clad rider had a holster with a pistol on his belt. Whoa, boy, please move along— I don’t need any road rage today, he thought.
He then stopped at Wal-Mart and picked up a $2.98 cranberry walnut chicken salad which he ate at home guilt-free while applying the 7 ways...or was it 8 ways? This time he remembered and applied at least 7 of them. He dished only 90%, drank lots of water, used a small fork, paused to smell and savor his food, chewed longer. He would have tried to talk with his mom, but she went to bed already. He instead watched TV and listened while eating then discarded the leftovers. Though his sweet tooth longed for more, his stomach was satisfied enough and he felt good knowing he didn’t compromise on his goals. I’m starting to win again, he thought. I’m tired of letting these evil corporations rob me of my freedom and tell me what to eat— I’m taking back control of my life!
Zak wasn’t used to eating less than normal and became aware of his lingering hunger. It wasn’t that strong, but enough to annoy him. The more he thought about it, the more intense the hunger became. He longed for some Sour Cream Pringles. What if I just eat a snack now and just push off the diet stuff to tomorrow? This is harder than I thought!
Suddenly Zak felt the bangle on his wrist. Oh no! Why am I wearing this stupid guilt-machine? It will only make me hate myself more when I eat.
Wait a minute. Didn’t Sam say something about this? Was I supposed to plan ahead of time what to do or something? I don’t remember! Ahhhh, I can’t do this! But I don’t want to mess up my whole plan though. What will Sam think if I tell him that, once again, I failed at the eating 90% thing? Not sure I can bear to tell him, but I don’t want to lie and feel guilty about it either!
Wait a minute, why do I even have Pringles in the house? Isn’t that exactly what Sam said could derail my plan? That’s it, I’m tired of this nonsense!
Zak grabbed the half-full can of Pringles from the kitchen cupboard, took it outside and dumped it in the trash can. Wait a minute! Zak then took the gallon of milk from the fridge that just expired and took it outside and dumped it in the Pringles can, spoiling the chips. There! Now, there’s no chance I’m eating that grossness! I’m gonna move on, forget about it, chew some gum, and watch some YouTube!
After watching a few videos, he saw a commercial of someone snacking on popcorn. Hey, we have popcorn and it’s healthy, right? Maybe I’ll just have a bowl of that and be easy on the salt…
Then he realized that would violate the 90% ‘thing.’ He realized that snacking between meals wasn’t allowed, because it would defeat the purpose; it would no longer be eating ‘less.’ Aaahhhh! How am I going to get through this?
Zak started watching the news and he soon forgot about his craving.
He reflected on the conversation he had with Sam during the hike and got an idea. What if I take a selfie and use an app to make me look slimmer? Maybe that could serve as a motivational reminder?
Zak downloaded a photo editing app from the Play Store called ‘Body Editor’ and proceeded to slim his face and waist. Sweet, that just knocked off 40-50 pounds!
He stared at the new image. Could that be me? Could I look like that? Do I even want to look like that?
He tried to remember the 7 goal steps Sam mentioned earlier. What were they again? He realized that finding a date to his upcoming prom was a goal. What’s something I can do now to get the ball rolling?
Zak had an idea. What if I try a dating app? He searched the Google Play store and found one called ‘Hinge’ which he downloaded and installed. As it came time to add a photo he clicked then noticed it took him to a directory where he had a choice of which photo to use. Then he saw it. The edited photo. Should he use it?
After scratching his goatee for a minute he chose to upload his ‘enhanced’ photo. How would anyone know that’s not my real size? he rationalized. He added a photo of his cat too and completed his profile. He then browsed through profiles and sent brief messages to ten different girls before closing the app.
Zak intended to enter his 7 goal steps into his phone, but forgot and instead watched ‘cat fail’ videos on YouTube. He needed a goal for writing down goals.
Before going to bed, Zak remembered to weigh himself and was surprised at what he saw: 286 pounds! He lost 14 pounds in the last few weeks since doing hikes with Sam and trying to eat slightly better. He felt different already.
Zak had a flurry of information spinning in his mind like an old popcorn machine spinning kernels before they pop. I sure hope my brain doesn’t pop, Zak thought.
Zak was anxious to check Hinge for updates. No messages. What a downer. But wait, there’s a ‘like.’ Who is it?
A girl with the name ‘Hoarse Luvr’ liked his cat photo. Does that mean she likes horses or hoarse voices?
Her profile said she was 16 and into photography. She had shoulder-length blonde hair, looked healthy and cute. Zak tried to think of something clever or witty to write to her but drew a blank. He just wrote “Hey, how’s your day?”
To Zak’s surprise, he got a friendly reply from her and they continued text-chatting over the next few days. They discussed movies, music, school, and photography. He learned her real name was Heidi and she was a junior at a different high school. It was unexpected how quickly it progressed.
Then they talked on the phone; he was impressed and liked how they seemed to hit it off. They then talked about meeting in person for a date. He wanted to go to the upcoming senior Prom and thought that might be an ideal first date.
It seemed like the beginning of a fairy tale relationship, but there was a problem. She only saw his doctored photo and didn’t know what he really looked like. He intended to send a real picture and tell her sooner, but hesitated and didn’t know how exactly to say it. He didn’t expect the possibility of a relationship to develop, especially so soon. He now regretted using the doctored photo and felt stuck. It’s my first relationship and it’s already based on a lie; this can’t be good, he thought.
Then Zak had an idea. What if I lose enough weight to where I match the photo? Maybe if I lose another 26 or so pounds I’ll look close? But the Prom is less than a couple months away, so how would I do it so quickly? Plus, that’s a long time to wait for a first date. Oh boy…
Zak had inadvertently increased his motivation through social leverage. But this is too much social leverage! Now the stakes are too high. Now, he really had to lose the weight.
As he prepared for bed, Zak looked forward to upcoming hike as it sounded like an unusual place. He read on Wikipedia that a 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens caused a massive flood which carved out a canyon and left a series of scenic waterfalls called Lava Canyon. This was where they planned to hike 5.9 miles.
But Sam said some hikes like this will have
extra “challenges.” What did he mean by that? Am I truly ready for this?
Zak stood in his kitchen thinking about what food to put in his backpack for the hike. With these longer hikes, it was becoming increasingly important for his energy to last throughout the day. He didn’t want to have a sugar high early then to have it crash and leave him with no energy mid-hike. What if I get stuck out there? He figured eating more natural foods might help prevent that scenario. It seemed to give him a reason to eat better.
He picked up his backpack and added a banana and a bag of trail mix. This time it consisted of raisins, almonds, sunflower seeds, dried carrots, dried pineapple, and M&Ms sprinkled throughout. He didn’t want to risk getting dehydrated on these longer hikes and figured he should bring more than he actually needed in case of an emergency. He then added two 32oz bottles of Gatorade in his pack.
This hike was different from the others, so Sam and Zak met at a Park & Ride and carpooled up the I-5 freeway into Washington State, then drove east toward Mount St. Helens.
Along the drive, the two admired the otherworldly lava fields with periodic views of the snowcapped Mount St. Helens volcano.
“I hope you’re not too afraid of heights,” Sam said.
“Oh yeah? Maybe a little,” Zak replied.
“Some of the cliffs along the canyon trail are high and exposed enough to get one’s attention, so we need to watch our step!”
After parking and beginning their hike they soon arrived at a hefty suspension bridge spanning over a deep canyon. Zak slowly walked across and imagined he was in a movie scene from Indiana Jones or Cliffhanger as he clung tightly to the cables. In the middle, he paused and looked down 60 feet to the rushing river below with the bridge slowly bouncing and swaying. This gives me the heebie-jeebies!
The two finished crossing the bridge and turned onto the Lava Canyon Trail. Signs warned about the dangerous cliffs ahead and were hardly comforting as they continued on a narrow trail along an exposed ledge. In some places the trail seemed only inches from the sheer cliff.
As the two continued down the canyon the danger mellowed and they began talking about healthy habits.
“Zak, when you commit to a goal, your odds of success are higher if you have accountability. If you would like, I can offer to help you be accountable for your weight loss goal. Would you like that?”
“Sure, but what exactly do you mean by accountability?”
“Accountability involves checking with you regularly and asking questions to ensure you are on-track for accomplishing your goal and aren’t sidetracked or derailed by any counterproductive habits. Also, if you have any obstacles to your goal then two minds are better than one in figuring out a solution.”
Zak was a bit nervous about the topic. He feared embarrassment in revealing his true eating habits. That was previously his well-guarded secret held under lock and key. He wasn’t sure he was ready to reveal this.
“Let’s then start with how much you weighed last night…”
“I forgot to check.” Oops!
“Ok, no sweat. What is something you can do to remind yourself to check next time?”
“Maybe write a note on the bathroom counter, or put a reminder on my phone?”
“Ok, how about if you forget to make a reminder?”
“I can put a reminder on my phone now to make a reminder tonight to weigh myself.”
“A reminder for a reminder. Ok, that’s an example of accountability. This helps you push through an obstacle, since knowing your weight helps you know if you are making progress toward your weight goal.”
“Now, let’s talk about what you ate this morning for breakfast…” Sam continued.
“I had some Cheerios and orange juice,” Zak said.
“Ok, did you have anything else?”
“Nope, that’s it.” Zak also had a Krispy Kreme donut, but was too afraid to say that. Ugh, I hate to fib to Sam though!
“Did you put any toppings or sweetener or anything in your cereal?”
“No… wait, I did put some brown sugar on the Cheerios to make it taste better.”
“Uh-huh, and what is your reason for choosing Cheerios?”
“It’s healthy and good for cholesterol and your heart.”
“Ok, and where does that info come from: a credible source or Cheerios themselves?”
“It says it on the label and I heard someone talking about it.”
“First off, you know that products sometimes exaggerate or lie on their labels, right? For instance, if it says ‘good for your heart,’ ‘low cholesterol,’ etc., those are sometimes puffed up unsubstantiated claims. Eating high-carb processed food is generally not good for your heart or body.”
Sam opened an app on his phone, searched and found something.
“Zak, the Cheerios ingredient label says it contains oats, corn starch, sugar, salt, tripotassium phosphate, and preservatives. Also, their health claims are based on a ‘serving size’ of only 1 cup. Hardly anyone eats only just 1 cup of cereal, so all those measurements of fat, salt, sugar are likely to be double, triple, or more.”
“Huh, I didn’t know that about the serving size. So, the cereal maker makes the serving size smaller than normal to make it seem healthier than it really is?”
“Exactly. They surely could study to determine what the real average serving size is, but they instead use one that’s only 1/3 or less of what average people eat.”
“Wow, that seems a little dishonest.”
“Yeah, that seems unethical to mislead and deceive people, but it’s somehow legal. That’s not the only deception they do, either.”
“For instance, if something contains harmful trans-fat or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, according to the law, if it’s less than 0.5 grams per serving size, like 0.49g, then they can legally claim that it’s zero. The manufacturers are then incentivized to make their serving size small enough so their trans-fat grams are 0.49 or less. Then, they put 0 grams on the ingredient label and brag that it has zero trans-fats.”
“Are you serious? Even though it says 0 trans-fats on the label it may still contain trans fats?”
“How are they allowed to get away with this?”
“It’s somehow legal. Maybe the FDA was bribed? I would like to hear their explanation of this.”
“That seems evil. All this time I thought I was eating healthy food, but they’re lying to us?”
“Yes, processed food is unhealthy. Only unprocessed, natural food is reliably healthy.”
“So what’s the worst that can happen if you eat a lot of trans-fats?”
“Death is the worst outcome. But you will likely get obesity, diabetes, heart problems, and various other health problems first. Food that contains trans-fats is total garbage that can badly damage your body.”
“Wow.” Zak was a bit shocked to hear the death word. He swallowed.
Zak knew the next question he wanted to ask, but part of him didn’t want to ask it. Oh boy, here we go… “So, which foods contain trans-fats?”
“Donuts, crackers, cookies, cakes, pies, croissants, biscuits, cinnamon rolls, snacks, margarine, microwave popcorn, frozen pizza, fried food, fast food, and most food products with a flaky or light texture are examples of food with trans-fats.”
“You just listed everything I like!” I’m doomed!
The two snickered, but Zak’s smile was quickly replaced by a contemplative expression. Is this for real? Is it really worth giving those up?
“Zak, you said you also had orange juice, do you remember the specific brand?”
“Yes, Sunny Delight.”
“Just so you know, that’s not orange juice. The label may have pictures of oranges and lots of natural-looking graphics, but it doesn’t mean it’s from oranges. It’s mostly unnatural artificially flavored sugar water that isn’t healthy for you.”
“Really? But I grew up drinking this stuff.”
“Lots of people do, but that doesn’t mean it’s good. Even though you’re comfortable with the brand and the taste, just know that it’s more artificial trash manufactured in a factory. The ingredients say it contains only 5% juice and is high in sodium and corn syrup and even contains canola oil. It’s far healthier to eat a real orange or drink plain water.”
“Are you serious? Well, if I can’t trust the company, how can I trust the ingredient label?”
“The ingredient label is a bit more reliable because they are subject to legal liability if they put deliberate false information on it. The remaining packaging usually has more exaggerated claims, like the deceiving pictures of fruit.”
“Is there anything else I watch out for, then?” What next?
“Juice. Many juice manufacturers in the US pretend they’re selling grape juice and other juices, but instead are selling mostly apple juice. You might see a label with pictures of big grapes on the front and it says ‘Grape’ in a big, bold font with a ‘100% juice’ subhead. However, this does not mean it’s grape juice. If you read the ingredients you can see what it really contains and it is supposed to show the most prominent ingredients in order by percentage. If it lists apple juice listed first, then you’re drinking mostly apple juice and not grape juice. In many cases, the juice makers put apples in everything because it’s cheaper and most people can’t tell a difference.”
“So, orange juice may not be real orange juice and grape juice may not be real grape juice? That seems dishonest too.”
“Yes, it is— they should be ashamed of themselves for deceiving the public in order to boost their profits. The ingredient label is usually more accurate than their packaging and marketing information though, so one should ignore everything else they claim and just read the ingredient label.”
“Ok, good to know, I’ll do that next time.”
“Keep in mind that even if you buy something with 100% juice it doesn’t mean it’s good for you. They are usually too concentrated for the body, with high fructose levels and high glycemic index. If you eat whole fruit it’s healthy and can lower your risk of diabetes, but if you drink fruit juice, it can increase your risk of diabetes.“
“Increase? Why would that be?”
“It’s too concentrated for the body to process effectively. It needs the fiber from the whole fruit, so it’s best to just eat the fruit raw.”
Zak began to wonder how many other food products in the US were designed to deceive people. He thought back to the countless TV commercials he saw of people promising this or that for your “health.” Are all these people lying? Are they just saying things to get your money?
The two walked along a treacherous, but beautiful cliff trail overlooking a pristine waterfall. While the view was spectacular, the two needed to concentrate on each step to avoid slipping off the tall cliff. This is a little more intense than I expected!
Then, they arrived at a steep metal ladder extending 20’ feet down a cliff. You’ve got to be kidding me! Zak was startled by the height exposure and wasn’t sure he could trust his hand and leg strength to safely carry his body weight down without falling.
“You can do it, just move one limb at a time and keep three points of connection at all times,” Sam said.
Easy for you to say, Mr. Tarzan Ninja Warrior Cowboy, Zak thought.
Zak gulped as walked backwards toward the cliff and placed his feet on the top rungs and began climbing down. After descending a few rungs he realized it was easier than expected and he safely reached the bottom.
What a relief! That was actually kind of dope, Zak thought. I’ve never done anything like that.
As the two continued along the trail, they entered a densely forested area. They hopped over little streams of crystal clear mountain water. The idyllic stream zig-zagged and made trickling sounds under the shade of a lush green forest canopy.
Sam offered “self-talk” as a subject for their next discussion.
“Zak, sometimes we underestimate how much our self-talk has on our self-esteem and confidence. And this is key for us to achieve our goals.”
“What do you mean by self-talk exactly? Do you mean talking to yourself?”
“Actually, it’s anything you say or think to yourself. Not just audibly, but your internal thoughts too. We tend to be happier and more successful if our self-talk is positive and empowering instead of negative and disempowering.”
“What’s an example, then?”
“If we said to ourselves, I’m fat— always have been, always will be, that would be negative self-talk. It’s easy to say self-defeating negative things about ourselves and leave them unchallenged. Over time, we’re likely to start believing such thoughts, even if they’re 100% false. The good news is they can be changed through practice and through challenging our associations as we talked about on our Triple Falls hike.”
“But what if people are just having fun or being sarcastic? Maybe they say “I’m the reason double-doors were made,” or “I’m so fat, my cereal bowl comes with a lifeguard.” You don’t really see that as harmful do you?” Zak smiled and squeezed his lips together to keep from laughing.
“Though it seems like harmless fun, some in the back of their minds will believe those self-deprecating words have a grain of truth; and that’s harmful. This is why I think saying self-deprecating things for humor can be harmful to one’s own self-image, especially over time. Humor is good, but watch out for self-deprecating humor.”
“But what about all the successful comedians who are overweight like Jim Gaffigan or Gabriel Iglesias? They make fun of themselves and their weight all the time.”
“People can be very successful in their career and still not necessarily have positive self-talk or even feel good about themselves. Think about all the millionaire Hollywood celebrities who had depression, hid it, became addicted to drugs and alcohol, and committed suicide. If they felt so good about themselves why would they need drugs or alcohol? Remember Chris Farley and John Belushi?”
“Ok, good point. But, they’re just words, right? What about that phrase, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?’”
“Actually, both are potentially harmful, but one physically and the other emotionally. The emotional ones we have more control over, because we don’t need to automatically accept someone’s criticism as being true or important. Our own interpretation of the criticism determines how it affects us emotionally. Many interpret words of criticism negatively and take it personally. Do you remember a compliment you received when you were growing up, maybe something someone said to you in school? If not, how about something negative someone said to you?”
“Yes, of course. Blimpo, queer boy, I could go on and on, but I suppose that would only make me start thinking about it again.”
“Right. Articles have been written in psychology journals about how we tend to remember negatives more than positives. Some psychologists said it takes around 20 compliments to overcome 1 criticism. Others said it takes 6 positives to counterbalance 1 negative. Whichever it is, the point is to think more about the positives and don’t ruminate on negatives.”
“Ok, but surely horsing around and getting people to laugh at my own expense isn’t bad though? Doesn’t it make me feel good when people laugh with me?
“How do you know if they’re really laughing with you? What if they’re uncomfortable hearing you say self-deprecating things? Maybe they don’t like to hear someone talk bad about a friend of theirs…you. Do you like to hear others talk bad about themselves?”
“Alright, point taken, I don’t know if they would think that. How can we know what someone thinks?”
“You don’t. But just know that words can influence us greatly. If they didn’t, why would advertisers spend more than $5 million on a 30 second Super Bowl ad and call it money well spent?”
“Seems dumb to me.”
“But if advertisers didn’t get anything in return they wouldn’t keep doing it and the cost wouldn’t keep going up. They do it because it makes them money. It works, because that 30-second ad influences people, right?”
“I suppose so.”
“If a 30-second ad influences people that much, imagine how watching a 2-hour movie filled with sex, drugs, violence, profanity, and lies would influence you?”
“Hmm, I haven’t thought of it that way…”
“Many people watch hundreds of hours of movies without any thought about how it affects them. Beyond that, imagine someone with a negative attitude and foul mouth talking to you unfiltered for a third of a million hours, or 16 hours a day, every day for the rest of your life.”
“That would be annoying.”
“You already have someone talking to you that much… yourself. Your own self-talk. Consider the significant influence your words have over yourself long-term. Option A is to just think whatever you want without any filter, or Option B, you can deliberately think and say positive and respectful things to yourself while filtering out the negative. Think of the potentially profound effect this could have long term. For this reason, I don’t believe in saying anything negative towards myself, because there’s always a chance I might internalize and believe it. Practice being kind to yourself by using positive words and thoughts as you would with your best friend or someone you highly admire and respect.”
Zak thought it was time to add a note about self-talk on his iPhone…
As the two continued hiking, Zak heard some branches break in the woods and he stopped. It sounded about 30 feet away behind a few layers of bushes. He tipped his head and looked over his sunglasses to focus on the area, but didn’t see anything. Before Zak and Sam took another step they both heard another twig snap then they saw it… a deer! A full-grown black-tail buck was partially obscured by a layer of bushes with its head sticking out. Now it was looking at them- a full-on staring contest while the deer evaluated the threat.
Zak had grabbed some kettle corn from his plastic bag and threw it toward the deer, which only went 5 feet and landed in the stream, then floated away. That was so helpful! The deer then leaped back and away into the dense forest.
“Wow, that was neat!” Zak said.
“Yes, what a precious animal,” Sam said.
“Zak, sometimes people carry a negativity bias that can undermine their own pursuits in life. Are you familiar with the term?” Sam asked.
“Funny. No, negativity bias,” Sam shared a laugh with Zak.
“Not really,” Zak said.
“It’s similar to viewing a glass half empty most of the time. People who tend to view most things negatively are sometimes labeled a pessimist, wet blanket, party pooper, fuddy-duddy, grinch, grouch, crab, sourpuss, stick-in-the-mud, killjoy, fun sponges, Negative Nancy, or Debbie Downer. Most aren’t thrilled to hang around people carrying such negativity as they can be a negative influence on them. The negativity is contagious just like a disease. They might feel their positive energy sucked away. We all can fall into a negatively biased mindset and not even know it.”
“Have you heard many people cite the term Murphy’s Law?”
“Believing in Murphy’s Law itself is a form of negativity bias. It assumes a mysterious force is always against you and if anything can go wrong, it will. It’s disempowering to believe this and it’s untrue. If someone has a choice in how to interpret things, why not interpret things positively?”
“But, how do you know if you’re being TOO positive by wearing rose colored glasses and ignoring reality?”
“Good question, Zak. Is there such a thing as being too positive? Being positive doesn’t automatically mean someone forgoes reality. Isn’t being too negative just as likely to put someone out of touch with reality? We have a choice of the lens through which we interpret reality- one is empowering and the other is disempowering. One focuses on victory and the other focuses on victimhood. One focuses on success and the other focuses on failure. Which lens would you rather have?”
“Having a positive mindset doesn’t remove any of your responsibilities, either. You can still be proactive, plan, set goals, develop positive habits, and face obstacles head on, while having a positive mindset. It’s certainly a lot more joyful and more productive than having a negative mindset. A negative mindset can turn into worry and be an unproductive cycle. Jesus said in the book of Matthew 6:27, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” Then, a couple verses later in 33-34, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Anxiousness and worry don’t accomplish anything. Each day has enough challenges and we should take things only one step at a time.
“Does that mean we shouldn’t plan ahead for the future then?”
“No, it means don’t worry and don’t worry about the future. The Bible supports planning and take responsibility like in Proverbs 6:6-8 or Matthew 25:14-30.”
Wow, he’s like a walking, talking Bible.
“Ok, maybe I’ll check that later,” I probably won’t though, Zak thought.
Zak began hearing a deep bass sound. What is that?
As they walked closer and closer it became a thunderous roar. Another waterfall was now in view. It sent a large volume of water plunging off the cliff and crashing into the canyon floor below. Its intensity echoed throughout the canyon like a loudspeaker.
“Zak, one healthy way to challenge self-talk is to ask if you would say the same words to your best friend, mom, dad, grandma, close family member, someone you respect, your employer, a world-leader, or Jesus? Evaluate whether the phrase you say is true and respectful. If not, then practice removing such things from your self-talk, because you deserve better. Always treat yourself with respect.”
“To take it further, ask yourself if your friend or family member said that to you, how would you feel? To stop a bad word habit, first, be aware of it. Think about everything you say to yourself and ask whether it’s positive and empowering or negative and disempowering. Challenge the thoughts and ask if they’re rational and true, or irrational and untrue? Second, start removing any critical and judgmental words from your own vocabulary and thoughts one at a time. Be kind to yourself and treat yourself like a valued VIP guest with respect and dignity. Third, limit being around people who are critical of you. Once you get in a habit of treating yourself with respect you will begin feeling better about yourself. In time, it will spill over onto others and they will be more likely to perceive you as a likeable, kind, and respectful person. Do you remember the 6 questions to challenge your interpretations that we talked about on our second hike to Metlako Falls?”
“Yeah, sort of.”
“Those same 6 questions can be applied to challenge your own self-talk.”
“But what if your family member says mean things, should you still use them as a benchmark?” Zak asked. For my aunt, instead of self-talk, it’s more like trash-talk!
“If you’re being demeaned by your family with harsh words, one option is to consider taking a temporary break from family involvement and just focus on yourself for a while. Practice being around positive and supportive people. Practice also being welcoming and accepting of others and not judging others. When you give others a break and cut them lots of lack and show lots of patience, you may in turn give yourself a break. In time, others may take notice and give you more of a break too. Show yourself patience especially when you make mistakes or do something imperfectly, as everyone is imperfect. You might already do things better than you give yourself credit for.”
I stink at self-talk— I’ll never get better at this, Zak thought.
Oops, that’s probably the negative self-talk Sam was talking about! And he said to challenge it, so… Zak took a moment to remember what the 6 questions that challenged the interpretations. Do I REALLY stink at self-talk? Maybe I don’t know since I’ve never really tried to improve it, so how would I know if I’m bad or normal? Maybe everyone starts off bad at it? And why would I ‘never’ get better at it? Who says? Usually when I focus on something I can get better at it, right? Maybe the same would be for self-talk? Is this ‘I’m bad at self-talk’ interpretation a positive belief for me? Hardly. Would others I respect assume I’m bad at self-talk too? Not likely. Hey, I actually thought a few things that weren’t negative. Maybe there’s hope for me after all!
In a few seconds of practice, Zak already transformed from feeling disempowered to empowered through his self-talk. Maybe I can actually get the hang of this!
Zak took a moment to look at his surroundings. Something about this place seemed foreign to Zak. He wasn’t sure he had ever been in such a remote and isolated place. It seemed like a land lost in time, changed only by the wild, raw, forces of nature.
He noticed lava-formed basalt columns along the rushing Muddy River. Thick and moist green moss covered large patches of the forest floor, layered like frosting on a cake. If this forest was edible, I’d totally eat this.
“Zak, when we set out to achieve something difficult it may seem like entering a battle. We will face external obstacles, but one of the biggest obstacles we face is ourselves. Our own thoughts and decisions can sometimes undermine our long term goals. One way to keep ourselves in check is ask penetrating questions that cut to the heart of what we want and what we should do. Sometimes when faced with a decision we get our priorities confused and even contradict ourselves, but direct, specific, penetrating questions can cut through the mixed feelings and give us clarity on what to do. For example…”
“If I do this, will it show dignity, honor, and respect to myself?”
“If I do this will it honor God?”
“If I was a leader, what would I do in this situation?”
“If I went the high road, what would I do?”
“If I had no fear, what would I do?”
“If I deserved better, what would I do?”
“If I loved myself more, what would I do?”
“If I loved myself more, I’d take better care of myself,” Zak muttered to himself.
Oh… Zak just fully realized what he said. I’m surprised that came out. Do I really mean that?
“Next, you can ask what your life could be like in 3 years if you truly cared for yourself?”
“Oh,” Zak didn’t like this question. Why am I afraid of this? But it’s only a question, Zak, what harm can it do?
Maybe this one goes deeper than I thought. He began to wonder if he had a mental block belief that he didn’t deserve to be cared for. He couldn’t even imagine how things could be different; or, maybe he just didn’t want to imagine it. Maybe I should come back to this one later.
But what if I could turn my health around; wouldn’t things be amazing? Zak’s rational voice emerged. Look, I’m already hiking and seeing things I never would have imagined!
“You can also ask, how would you treat yourself differently if you truly were worthy of being cared for?” Sam asked.
It would probably be much different than what I’m doing now, Zak thought. Maybe I should actually give this more thought.
“If in the next 3 years you failed to take care of yourself what downsides could you face?”
“Oh boy…” Zak somehow had no problem imagining the negative. His mind flashed to images of horror, doomsday-type scenarios ranging from him being dead, to losing it mentally, to being disabled and bed-ridden. This is getting dark quickly; I don’t like this.
“Finally, Zak, the next time you’re in a challenging situation, a useful penetrating question is: what is the opportunity in this situation? When you face an insurmountable obstacle, rather than focus on the negative and feeling like a victim, this question can force you to look at positive solutions,” Sam said.
“Ok, I’ll try to remember that,” Zak said, but he didn’t want to spend the energy to type it in his phone.
The two were engrossed in their conversation and unaware of their rigorous pace.
Colorful woodpeckers swooped down nearby and
sang beautiful background theme songs to their discussion.
“Zak, while many people are afraid of failure, have you ever noticed that some are also afraid of success?”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Well, people can have a hard time picturing themselves other than their perceived identity, so when they start changing something, such as their physical appearance, it can feel unfamiliar and scary,” Sam said. “This is why it’s important to reframe your thinking through visualization. If you visualize how you want to look, how you will feel, and how it will improve your life, you may be more emotionally prepared for it to happen.”
“Wow, this is some complicated stuff.”
“Indeed. It’s highly psychological.”
“There’s another dimension you should also be aware of,” Sam said. “There are sometimes hidden benefits to not reaching one’s goal.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Sympathy and compassion, for one. There’s a certain comfort in feeling like a victim. If you take the victim card away and remove one’s excuses or symbolic crutches, some people have difficulty managing themselves. Have you ever met someone angry at the world who blamed everyone else for his problems, except himself?”
“Actually, yeah...” Zak felt mixed feelings about some of this information. Does this apply to me? Am I carrying a victim-card?
“Well, there’s a certain comfort in not taking responsibility, because if you’re not responsible you don’t have to do anything. But if you do take responsibility for your own problems, you may feel miserable in the meantime if you believe you have failed. Yet, there’s also a positive aspect of that...”
“People can develop huge motivation to avoid this pain because no one likes to think of themselves as a failure for very long. Most people would rather do almost anything different than to be stuck feeling that way for very long. Pain can sometimes light a fire of motivation in them to achieve great things. Many people have accomplished incredible things through motivation originating from hardship, failure, or pain.”
“Wow! We’re here already?”
The two had reached a short metal ladder marking a trail ascending onto a free-standing hill known as The Ship. Zak grabbed the rungs and ascended easily, building his confidence for the remaining ascent to the summit.
The two finally reached their destination at the top of The Ship. They had a spectacular view of the 130 feet tall Lower Lava Canyon Falls in its full glory.
“This looks like another postcard,” Zak said.
“It probably is,” Sam said with a smile.
The two paused for a brief snack while absorbing the pristine waterfall view. I’ll never forget this place.
After replenishing themselves, the two safely retraced their steps back to the car, navigated back to the city, and returned back to their respective homes.
Zak decided ahead of time that he would eat a healthy dinner. At home, he made chicken and steamed vegetables. He pre-portioned his food so he wouldn’t overeat and thought he would start trying the Window diet to see what happens. To Zak, this meant that he wouldn’t snack after dinner and would need to just write down the time he stopped eating dinner.
Using the 8 Ways, Zak ate slowly and enjoyed eating his food as he watched TV and caught up with the daily “fake news.” He saw a news reporter talk about a protest in downtown that was “totally peaceful,” but in the background it showed masked thugs with weapons breaking windows and burning cars while screaming and fighting each other. An army of police in riot gear only watched and didn’t intervene. This is really messed up. Are the rioters in black masks, helmets, and weapons really the ‘good guys?’ I’ll never go downtown again— I wouldn’t want to get injured by all the ‘peacefulness.’ His mom already retired to her bedroom for the night and he thought he should do the same.
He was looking forward to talking to Heidi and had been thinking about her throughout the day. He then called and spoke with her for an hour. He felt he was getting to know her on a deeper level, despite not meeting in-person yet. He felt pressure to arrange their first date, but he wanted to lose more weight first. How much longer can I stall?
Zak thought about his long-term goals and remembered he intended to check out some of the Bible verses. Since he was feeling some momentum he decided to take action now. He picked up his phone and navigated to the Google Play store then downloaded an app with a Bible Verse of the Day. Upon opening the app, the first verse appearing was from Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” How timely, Zak thought.
He walked into his bathroom and this time noticed the scale. He stepped onto it and covered his eyes, afraid to look. He peeked and was shocked to see he had lost another 6 pounds! Wow, 276 pounds, I can’t believe it! I’m actually making progress! It’s working!
He laid in bed and thought, how did this happen so quickly? I wasn’t even ready for this change, but now that I’m doing it, I’m starting to like it.
Before his eyes closed he realized the next hike was 7.1 miles. They kept getting harder. Can my body handle this? Surely it has a limit, right?
Sunrays peeked through Zak’s bedroom curtains and awakened him. He realized he hadn’t had any nightmares in a few weeks now. What a relief. He wondered if all the exercise and a little dietary changes had been helping him sleep. I slept so deep this morning.
Zak realized if he wanted to give the Window diet a fair try, he needed to delay breakfast by 10 minutes each day. But the problem was that he was supposed to meet Sam at the parking lot at 9 a.m., but his window for eating wasn’t supposed to start until 9:10 a.m. What do I do? I don’t want to be late! But I need to eat to have enough energy for this hike!
Then, he had an idea. Maybe I’ll just prepare my breakfast and take it with me. Then at the hike I can eat it at the when my eating window starts. I probably shouldn’t eat too much right before exercising though. I don’t want to upchuck, again, Zak rolled his eyes.
How will I keep track of all these shifting times, though? He then remembered the phrase Make Good Behavior Convenient and thought visual reminders could help. He realized he needed a calendar to print out as a reminder– one he put on the refrigerator that clearly showed his eating window for each day. Then, he could check off each day he was ‘good’ and stayed on course.
He looked at the clock and saw he had 5 minutes to spare, so he jumped on the laptop which was connected to a printer and he searched DuckDuckGo.com for ‘printable calendar.’ He found a blank one for his current month and printed it out. Then he took a pen and wrote his current day’s time window: 9:10 a.m. – 7 p.m. He then wrote 9:20 a.m. – 7 p.m. on the next day, 9:30 a.m. – 7 p.m., on the next, and continued until 30 days were filled in. He then checked off the days he already did the Window diet. He taped it to the front of the fridge where he could not miss it.
“There!” Zak stared at the obvious page. “Now it’s 100% clear what I’m supposed to do! That’s making good behavior convenient.” I would have to be a total numskull to miss this now!
Zak was proud of his little ‘life hack’ he just made and enthusiastically put some trail mix, a banana, Clif Bar, and two Gatorades plus a small water bottle in his backpack then left to meet Sam at their usual spot. This time they carpooled across the windy Columbia River into Washington State to a new hiking area. The two stretched lightly, threw on their backpacks, and proceeded up the trail.
As they marched up the path, they gained
altitude then went parallel to a cliff that dropped dramatically down to the
Columbia River. For a trail with exposure to fear of heights, the two seemed
fairly calm. They then began a deep dialog.
“Zak, I know you’re currently single, but there are certain benefits to having a spouse, partner, or close family member besides the normal benefits you’d expect.”
“Those with a close partner can support each other to help reach personal goals in ways you usually can’t do alone as easily. For example, if you had a wife who also valued her health, you could keep each other accountable. Imagine if you were tasked with choosing all of her meals— I assume you’d want the best for her, right? Would you choose healthy food that’s good for her or junk food that’s bad for her?
“I’d want her to be healthy so she can be around for a long time.”
“That’s what most people would want. The catch is that your partner would likewise choose all the food for you too. Can you guess what kind of food she would want you to eat?”
“Yes, healthy food?”
“Of course, because junk food is only for temporary entertainment and has zero long term value. But healthy food is good for you and has a great long term value which will help you have a longer, healthy life.”
“Are you suggesting to have your partner choose all your meals for you? What about when you’re apart from each other at work, school, or out of town?”
“Just ask the partner if she’s willing to support you and choose food for each of your meals for 30 days and you likewise choose food for her. After you agree to that, for the times you’ll be away from each other you simply choose in advance what the other person will eat.”
“How so? If I go to a restaurant I don’t even know what’s on the menu or what I’ll order?”
“Most menus are now online. Most restaurants have websites and they post their menu, so there’s no surprises. Even if they don’t, your partner can decide among a few general categories, like a salad, fruit bowl, fish, rice & beans, etc.”
“Ok, I guess that could work. But if it’s helpful, why haven’t I heard of anyone doing this?”
“I don’t know. Maybe they haven’t thought of it, or maybe they aren’t willing to relinquish that kind of control to their spouses?”
“Should we always assume others have better judgment than ourselves?” Zak asked. What if you just have an argument with your significant other, can you still trust them to choose and prepare all your meals?”
“Funny. They don’t have to prepare them, but just choose. And secondly, no, others don’t always have better judgment, but they probably do for this most of the time. For impulsive decisions that can be self-destructive like overeating junk food, a loved one would tend to make a better decision for you. But people often have double standards. Imagine the outrage on social media if a video showed someone feeding chocolate and French fries to a cute puppy.”
“That would be animal abuse, right?”
“Yes, but the same outraged people may have no problem abusing themselves. A loving partner would probably make food choices that will show more love for you than you do for yourself… as long as you’re both on good terms.”
Zak and Sam shared a chuckle.
“Now imagine that you had a personal nutritionist choose your meals for you. Would that person make better choices than you? Further, imagine if Jesus made your food choices? Do you think He would love you enough to give you what’s best for you or would he appease your short term cravings?” Sam said.
“He’d obviously do what’s best for me because...”
Suddenly an owl swooped in toward Zak’s head; he ducked and the wind of the predator’s wings blew Zak’s hair into a funny formation.
Zak’s weight then shifted off balance. He waved his arms to regain his footing but slid on a pile of Douglas fir cones and slipped off the trail. He began sliding down a 50-degree slope towards a 90-foot-tall cliff.
“Noooooo!” Zak yelled.
Sam lunged to grab Zak’s backpack and stopped his momentum from plunging over the edge. Zak carefully crawled up a few feet using Sam’s body like a rope. He regained his footing enough to climb back onto the trail, then sat down to collect himself.
“Whoa! That happened fast!” Zak shook his head with wide eyes and shaky legs.
“Take a moment,” Sam said. “I’m glad you’re ok.”
“Yeah, thanks for reacting so quickly!”
“I’m there for you buddy.”
Zak realized his friend may have just saved his life. What would have happened if I slid over the edge… Horrifying!
He took a few deep breaths to regain his composure. His hands and legs were jittery from adrenaline.
“Well, at least we got to see an owl,” Zak said, while forcing a smile.
Sam laughed, then Zak joined in.
The two continued their conversation while hiking along the cliff-side trail. It was a welcome distraction from the close-call that just occurred and the continued risk of falling off the narrow trail.
“Zak, one strategy in trying to find the root of a concern is to question all beliefs and ask “why” until you discover a root belief in the form of a fear or concern. People often develop irrational beliefs that can undermine what they’re trying to accomplish in life. The best way to ensure you’re holding rational beliefs is to metaphorically shine a bright light and expose them. If you already hold beliefs that are rational then there’s no risk in exposing them— it would only validate what you already believe. However, if you hold irrational beliefs wouldn’t you prefer to know about it? One of the ways of exposing beliefs is though repeatedly asking ‘why’ to just see where it leads you. It takes courage, but to someone motivated to change, it’s a challenge that’s easily overcome. Would you like to try it?” Sam asked.
“Okay, sure...” I hope I don’t regret this, Zak thought.
“When I ask a question just say the first thing that comes to your mind without overthinking it and try to keep responses short if you can… Let’s start with this question: Zak, why do you really want to lose weight?” Sam asked.
“I guess to feel healthier and look better,” Zak said.
“Why do you want to look better?”
“So I can fit in and not feel like an outcast.”
“Why don’t you want to feel like an outcast?”
“I want to be accepted by friends.”
“Why do you want to be accepted by friends?”
“So I can feel like a normal person.”
“Why do you want to feel like a normal person?”
“So I fit in and don’t struggle with health problems anymore.”
“Why don’t you want to struggle with health problems anymore?”
“It’s stressful, exhausting, depressing and I’m tired of trying.”
“Why are you tired of trying?”
“Because I’ve tried so many things that have failed.”
“Why do you feel many things have failed?”
“My weight limits me and maybe I lack confidence.”
“Why do you lack confidence?”
“I feel I don’t have much self-control.”
“Why don’t you feel you have much self-control?”
“Because I can’t control my weight and it’s affecting my life.”
“Why is it affecting your life?”
“Because I’m afraid of my family or others at school seeing me this way.”
“Why are you afraid of them seeing you this way?”
“Because I feel embarrassed and humiliated.”
“Why do you feel embarrassed and humiliated?”
“Because I want them to see me as the person I truly am, not this shell.”
“Why do you want them to see you as the person you truly are?”
“Because I want them to genuinely accept me.”
“Why do you want them to genuinely accept you?”
“Because I want to belong and feel loved.” Zak closed his eyes and held his forehead.
“Why do you want to feel loved?”
“Because everyone wants to be loved.”
“Do you know why you specifically want to be loved?”
“I don’t know.”
Sam paused for a moment before continuing.
“Zak, could this be the root of your concern? Is it true that part of you wants to lose weight to feel accepted and loved?”
Sam paused while the significance of this thought sank in.
“Do you think your family would love you more if you lost weight?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Doesn’t your family already love you?”
“Yes, they probably do.”
“Is your love toward them conditional or unconditional?”
“If the love you give is unconditional, why do you believe the love you receive is conditional?”
“Is that fair to them that they trust you, but you don’t trust them enough to believe their love is unconditional?”
“Probably not. Maybe I don’t feel secure about it.” Zak swallowed and fidgeted his hands.
“What would make you trust them more?”
“I’m not sure.”
What just happened? Zak thought as he tried to make sense of the surreal conversation. Am I really that insecure? Do I really trust my own family less than they trust me?
Zak felt like a flashlight penetrated into the darkest corner of his soul— an area locked away and quarantined so long he forgot it was a part of himself. He felt strange emotions stemming from the conversation that just occurred and didn’t know how to process it. Maybe this is significant. Maybe I could practice showing more love to my family by trusting them more, he thought. Maybe if that happened they would express their own love more in return?
Under any other circumstance, Zak would feel such questions were inappropriate and beyond his comfort zone, but he really trusted Sam. He somehow felt comfortable like they had known each other for a long time and had a special connection— almost like family.
Zak decided to add a note in his iPhone…
The two stopped at a viewpoint to reflect upon the peaceful, quiet, and natural beauty before continuing. Zak now felt uncomfortable with the silence after such a deep dialog. A sudden gust of wind blew some conifer cones down from the trees and one hit Zak on the head then bounced off. Whoa!
“Nice shot!” Sam said.
“Zak, are you familiar with the concept of the five love languages?”
“I’ve heard of it, but don’t remember what they are.”
“People prefer to receive love in different ways. Some prefer words of affirmation or compliments, some prefer acts of kindness and service, some prefer receiving gifts, some prefer someone spending quality time with someone, and some prefer physical touch and affection.”
Sam continued, “You can take a quiz online to determine which you prefer. The key is that people are different and while you would like for others to guess or automatically know what kind of love you prefer, most don’t know and perhaps have never even thought about it.”
“Zak, I know families can be dysfunctional, and sometimes it’s appropriate to protect yourself from negative forces. However, is it possible that some of your family members do actually love you but just don’t communicate it in a manner you recognize? What do you think?” Sam said.
“Well, I know some have given me gifts, and while that’s nice of them, I don’t normally care about that. I suppose if people love me, I prefer them to spend quality time with me,” Zak said.
“Unless you tell your family and friends that directly, I doubt they will ever know. Wouldn’t it be a shame to live for decades having such a misunderstanding?”
“Yes, it would. I may need to think this through.”
I wonder what Heidi’s love language is? he thought.
That evening Zak made a large salad with spinach leaves, cranberries, walnuts, sunflower seeds, apple slices, and raspberry vinaigrette dressing. He had been cutting down on junk food and it seemed that his taste buds were re-calibrating to normal food, making it taste better. Who would have thought a boring salad could taste so good?
He then remembered his commitment about visualizing his goal and felt overwhelmed. He went into his bedroom, closed the door, and knelt by his bed and prayed for help. He wasn’t sure exactly who or what he was praying to, but he just tried it. The idea of him possibly praying to a “flying spaghetti monster” in the clouds seemed odd to Zak, but he was willing to try anything new at this point.
After asking for divine help he looked down at his hands, arms, feet, legs, and wondered how only his thoughts-alone made them move. That’s so freaky- it doesn’t even make sense. He thought they must have been pre-wired to his brain. Zak thought about how many times he messed up the wiring of the TV and surround sound system at home. That was only 6 wires, so how possibly could we have hundreds of cords wired to our brain… all perfectly placed, but somehow accidental?
Zak then put his hand over his heart and realized how unlikely it seemed that he was even alive. He saw no logic in why his heart was even beating. It’s just a muscle! Nothing even makes it beat or keeps me alive right now! It could stop at any time, but somehow it doesn’t. Would a random explosion design this? Even if billions of years passed, is it any more likely that an accident would design my complex body? Isn’t a rock still a rock whether zillions of years pass or not? Rocks don’t suddenly grow arms and legs and develop heartbeats! Even though Zak believed his body seemed designed, part of him didn’t want to entertain the idea that God made him because he feared he’d then need to start following a bunch of moral “rules.”
Zak realized he needed to be careful with whom he shared his thoughts and questions because people may try to thought-shame him. Schools are supposed to be for learning by thinking and asking questions, but they don’t seem to allow that anymore. As if being bullied isn’t enough, if you don’t automatically embrace their specific beliefs you’ll be shamed and punished. Isn’t that what Nazis did?
In a deeply relaxed state, Zak imagined how his friends would treat him if he were fit— he imagined walking tall… down the hall… to a ball. Kids by their lockers looking at him as he proudly marched by. He imagined seeing beautiful girls noticing him, winking, smiling. He soaked in their admiration and his face radiated with delight. He imagined himself in another scene looking like Crocodile Dundee in a safari outfit in the outback with a machete in one hand, and a whip in the other. He thought of a mountain man with muscular legs and arms bulging through a tattered REI shirt and khaki shorts. A huge black scorpion scurried across his chest and he didn’t care.
Zak snapped out of his visualization and was surprised how deep into it he had gotten. Was the level of detail Sam was talking about? It was so specific, it felt… almost real. Freaky real, he thought. Did I just hypnotize myself?
He then wondered if it’s possible to almost imagine things into reality. Can achieving goals really be this simple?
As Zak lay in bed he realized he forgot to weigh himself. Oh well, I’ll just do it another time, he thought. Wait a sec, isn’t it little compromises like this that derail people from their goals? If I don’t measure it consistently how will I know if I’m on or off track? If I can’t even trust myself to weigh myself consistently how can I trust myself to reach goals like becoming healthy? Arrggg!
Zak got out of his comfortable bed and slogged over to the scale: 273 pounds. Ok, I lost 3 more pounds. Not huge progress, but I’m still on a roll, just not a cinnamon roll. Zak smiled.
As Zak started walking back to his bed he realized a phrase Sam said: Make good behavior convenient. He wondered if that phrase would apply to him forgetting to weigh himself. Maybe I forget to weigh myself because I don’t see the scale since it’s in the corner. What if I drag the scale to the middle of the bathroom floor where I can’t miss it? Wouldn’t that be making “good behavior convenient”? I just need to make it so obvious, but so I don’t trip on it in the night. Zak was tired but realized he connected the dots and was making self-improvement progress.
While lying in bed Zak tried to remember the 5 points of motivational leverage but seemed to have forgotten most but the waist-size one. He realized he needed to buy some smaller jeans he hopefully fit into someday.
He then remembered the poster-reminder suggestion and added a note in his smartphone to look for motivational posters the next time he goes to Wal-Mart. He thought it would be cool to digitally place his face over Jabba the Hutt, but realized it may not have the right desired effect. He smiled as his own twisted humor.
Zak had been thinking of Heidi all day and finally called her on the phone. The more they shared, the more anxiety he felt about what to do next. It was obvious the next step was to meet in person, but he wasn’t ready. What would he tell her? Can I postpone for another couple weeks without her getting suspicious? He decided to make his move.
“Heidi, my prom is coming up in a few weeks and I’m wondering… would you like to go with me?”
“Sure, that sounds fun. Would you like to meet first?”
Oh no. This was the exact question he was dreading.
What excuse do I give her? Maybe that I’m busy taking care of my mom? Car trouble? Out of town? Or I’m in quarantine? Aaaaahhhhhhh!
Each second that passed seemed like an eternity to him. He had to say something. Now.
Forget it, I’ll just come clean and tell her. I can’t believe I’m doing this.
“Well, to be honest, I’m currently a little heavier than the picture shows and I’m on a diet trying to lose the weight. I’d love to meet and have coffee, but I’m feeling a little self-conscious at the moment,” Zak said.
Zak felt a burden lifted off him, but he worried he may have just ended his first relationship possibility.
“Oh, really?” Heidi said, “I’ve been on a diet too, so no worries. But if you’d rather not meet beforehand that’s okay.”
Whoa, I didn’t expect her to say that. “Maybe we can meet at Starbucks next week then?” Maybe in a pitch-dark, corner?
“Sure, that sounds great,” she said.
Wow, I have a date! Oh no, I have a date. Zak was both thrilled and petrified.
After Zak ended the call and hopped back in bed, he checked his phone for new notifications. The Bible Verse of the Day app showed him a verse from Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” That’s nice, I can use all the help I can get.
Tiredness finally overcame Zak’s active mind as he drifted off into a deep sleep. That night he dreamed he was in a Pac-Man game eating marshmallows and avoiding the “ghosts” that represented dieting and exercise. The problem was the marshmallows made him grow bigger and bigger while he became slower and slower until the ghosts caught up and “popped” him. Marshmallow goo went everywhere. Game over.
How do I come up with these weird thoughts and what do they even mean?
Zak woke and realized what he was getting himself into. Sam and he would attempt to reach the High Bridge of Eagle Creek then do a separate hike to Wahclella Falls for a combined total of 8.8 miles. It would be farthest he had ever hiked. Am I crazy for attempting this?
He rested fairly well. His body was starting to transform to adjust to his new healthier habits. Physically, he was transforming, but was he mentally?
He had now been successful in following the Window diet for two weeks. He felt it was easy initially as he didn’t have to change anything about his diet, but just adjust his eating window. He decided to eat better anyway, however, not because he had to, but because he wanted to, at least in the meantime. He thought quality food might give him a little more energy for the hikes and help him reach his goal easier.
But the pain from hunger was starting to get to him. His temptations to snack in the evenings were growing to be almost unbearable, although he hadn’t given in yet. I have to do something about this! He tried to remember Sam’s advice about managing hunger pains, but his recollection was a bit fuzzy. He thought he might need a new hobby in the evenings to keep his mind occupied and take him away from the TV, which he realized he associated with snacking. Maybe I can do some reading and writing in my room or something? I probably should do more school homework too.
To keep himself from cracking under pressure, Zak wondered if he needed more motivational leverage. I might need to raise the stakes! He decided to search the internet for some motivational ideas then found an idea involving putting money in jars to reward good behavior and punish bad behavior. Hey, this is just what I need! What if I put a large glass jar by the refrigerator and put $5 in it every day that I do ‘good’ and watch it build up. If I ever do ‘bad,’ maybe I put $5 in a different jar that I have to give to charity. And after 30 days maybe I can do something fun and beneficial with the money. And when I see the jars each day by the refrigerator alongside the daily goal calendar, it can remind me to stay on course. Plus, my mom will see my progress. This would definitely jazz me up, as I don’t have much money!
With a grin on his face from his new idea, Zak grabbed some trail mix, dried fruit, and a peanut butter and honey sandwich to put in his backpack. For this hike he took 3 liters of water with added electrolytes.
The two drove to the Eagle Creek trailhead where they hiked before. Sam and Zak ventured up the trail alongside the scenic Eagle Creek. Even though they had hiked this same trail previously, the beauty didn’t get old. It was strikingly beautiful and nearly brought a tear to Zak’s eye as it symbolized a transformation he begun in the last few weeks he never thought was possible.
“Whoa boy!” Zak said as he clinched a steel safety cable running parallel to the trail alongside the basalt cliffs overlooking Eagle Creek.
Zak and Sam walked single file along the narrow vertigo-inducing trail with their hands sliding over the cable.
The two passed the narrow section and stopped at a wider plateau to drink some water.
“Zak, when you strive for a goal your chances of attaining it are hugely increased if you have a support system. Reaching any goal requires action and often there are unforeseen obstacles. Sometimes those obstacles may trigger a feeling of being stuck in a rut and feeling blind to the solution. You may feel a mixture of emotions during such trials, not all of which are helpful to you in attaining your goal. Would you like to know the remedy for this?”
“Sure, I’m listening…”
“A support system. It’s best to have one already in place before starting a goal. Why not stack the deck in your favor before you even start, right?” Sam said with a wink.
“How exactly do I stack the deck?”
“There are many types of support available. I’ve offered my support to you already, but support needs to come from more than one source. Websites like Reddit.com have forums on personal improvement and growth where people support each other. TV shows such as The Biggest Loser can be motivational. Dieticians, doctors, health and fitness programs all exist to help you be healthy. Exercise programs like cross training classes help motivate in a group setting. Personal trainers, sports leagues, and active meetup groups also help people get outside exercising. Celebrate Recovery is a free addiction-support program offered at many Christian churches.”
“What if I need help to find help? It seems overwhelming for someone to do this,” Zak said.
“Start small, take one tiny step at a time. Take a risk and ask for help from your friend or family member to whom you’re closest and go from there. Even if they don’t participate in the same goal, they can still remind you of it and help keep you accountable,” Sam said.
“Wow, there it is!” Zak said, seeing the high bridge in view.
The two reached the bridge and walked to the middle looking over the edge that spans a canyon with a rushing creek 120 feet below. This was their goal and turnaround spot.
Zak began fidgeting his hands and scratching his arm.
“Is something on your mind?” Sam asked.
“All this hiking and talking about eating habits is great, but how does this help someone like my mom? She’s overweight too, but it’s not entirely under her control— she has edema and ankle problems where she can’t be on her feet much— she can’t even prepare meals in the kitchen. If she can’t do that, how can she prepare smaller portions or healthier food? She has to be content eating what’s convenient and that’s usually fast food. So, how would any of this information help her?”
“Good question— thanks for sharing that. First off, beware of black and white assumptions. For example, just because someone has foot problems doesn’t automatically mean they can’t eat healthily or exercise.”
“How so? She can’t mow the lawn, she can’t get the mail, can barely even get in the car and if she drives somewhere she can’t walk very far without putting herself at risk. How possibly would she exercise?”
“There are exercises that don’t involve standing or walking— have you tried Google searching for ‘exercises while sitting’?”
“No, I haven’t thought of it.”
“Is there anything that would prevent you from doing that tonight when you get home?”
“No, only if I remember to do so.”
“Is there anything that would prevent you from setting a reminder now?”
“I guess not, I’m just not used to doing that.”
“When you’ve had to remember times and appointments in the past, such as our meeting for our hike, how did you remember?”
“I just set the alarm on my phone.”
“Is there anything preventing you from doing that right now?”
Zak still did not take any action. Sam didn’t understand why and wondered if he wasn’t connecting the dots or was resisting.
“Zak, I’m not sure how else to say this, but you have acknowledged that a very small action will have a potentially great benefit for you and your mom, but you’re not doing it. Can you please explain why?”
“No, I can’t.”
Something had blocked Zak in his tracks. All of Sam’s practice in mentoring, discipling, and counseling didn’t clue him into why Zak would suddenly shut down. Sam wondered if he felt threatened or afraid.
“Zak, the reason I have pressed you on this point is that change is uncomfortable and people often resist it even when they stand to benefit greatly from it. In this case, you care about your mom and perhaps have been under the false impression that she was helpless. Do you agree with any part of that?”
“There are numerous ways to easily prepare healthy food and several strategies in place to limit eating. Many of these you’ve already learned. If you do an internet search, you can find countless exercises one can do at any time also. Many are ideal for someone who never works out— even with pictures and video that show you exactly what to do. Do you believe that?”
“I’ll check it out later.”
The two continued hiking but took a break from speaking for a few minutes. Each second of silence seemed like an eternity after the conversation paused on an uncomfortable note.
As they approached a bend in the trail, Sam broke the silence but had to talk over loudly chirping birds.
“Zak, when you’re focused on finding positive ways you can achieve things, you’ll unlock many more possibilities in life than if you looked for reasons you can’t achieve things. What you focus on is like a rudder that steers the direction you go. Focusing on negative things will naturally bring negative things in your life; focusing on positive things will naturally bring positive things in your life. I’m sure you care deeply about your mom. If you have information that could help her positively but chose not to share it with her, do you think you’d be doing her a favor or a disservice?”
Zak scratched his chin and slowly pulled his iPhone out and set the alarm for this evening. He then opened his notepad application and entered a note to do a Google search for “exercises for sitting down.”
He then entered the following note:
The two returned to the car then proceeded to drive to the nearby Wahclella Falls trailhead. Shortly after beginning their hike they crossed a wooden footbridge with a 35’ waterfall practically within arm’s reach. Cool mist sprayed their faces as they walked by. Whoa, that’s cool.
The trail meandered into a canyon with huge basalt cliffs. Then, the 65 foot Wahclella Falls presented its natural beauty. Spring runoff made for high water flow and a thunderous crash of water. I’m surprised I’ve never heard of this place before. This is pretty amazing!
After concluding their hikes, Sam congratulated Zak on another successful day and they parted ways.
Zak felt annoyed by his growing hunger and was tempted to binge for dinner. He also felt a growing agitation about his mom’s condition. He wished he could share some of Sam’s suggestions with her, but he knew she wouldn’t be receptive to it. She’s about as likely to change as I am to win the lottery. He felt he had a difficult relationship with her and this frustrated him.
As Zak drove down the freeway he saw a sign for the Golden Corral buffet. He imagined the taste of the cinnamon rolls with icing, and the rice crispy treats dipped in the chocolate fountain. You know you want it; you deserve it, his irrational voice tempted.
This triggered Zak’s radar and his rational voice summoned to whisper in his ear: come on, buddy. You’re so close to reaching your goal, why derail it now? Give it another couple weeks.
Zak decided at the last moment to not exit off the freeway to Golden Corral. He jerked the wheel and swerved back onto the freeway when someone driving a blue Tesla honked and flipped him off. Zak’s blood began to boil.
What’s with this flippin’ idiot! I didn’t do anything wrong!
Zak then flashed back to something Sam said— that events don’t cause emotions, but our interpretations do. Well, I interpret this guy as an idiot! Zak amused himself with his wit which then disrupted his feeling of anger.
Oh... somehow that helped. How weird. My joke changed my own mood, which kind of proves that interpretations work. Is changing our emotions seriously that easy? If it is, why isn’t this discovery on the front page of every newspaper in the world? Think of how much conflict could be avoided in this crazy world if others tried this!
Zak continued heading home where he had a Caesar salad ready and waiting for him in the fridge.
After eating, Zak realized the temptations were having less and less power over him. He felt stronger, knowing he didn’t have to give in to every craving and that sometimes the threat was only temporary and more bark than bite. It was as if the devil had become frustrated and moved on to leave him alone. That’s strange, but I’m not complaining, Zak thought.
He ate his salad then proudly walked up to the fridge and with a black marker drew a big checkmark over the day’s date on the calendar. He now had 2 weeks crossed off! He then reached into his wallet and fished out a crisp $5 bill. He placed it in the jar labeled “Success!” which officially started his success and motivational program from that day onward. That felt good.
Zak then weighed himself on the scale: 272 pounds. Zak thought it was an error. He stepped off and weighed again: 272 pounds. What? After all that effort I only lost 1 pound!? What am I going to do about meeting Heidi? I can’t let her see me yet. Am I supposed to wear all-black like a ninja and meet her in a dark alley?
Zak remembered something he heard before… that it’s easier to lose weight initially and gets harder as you go. He also realized that his bodyweight ebbs and flows due to various other factors and that he probably shouldn’t be discouraged. Ok, I’ll try not to get too emotional about these things. I suppose I’m still on the right track… I think.
Zak was curious to check something before he went to bed. Sam had said something about online forums being a source of support. Zak flipped open his laptop and typed reddit.com in the web browser.
Within the website’s search, he typed “weight loss” and the first result was a large forum called fat logic. Weird name- what’s this all about?
He scrolled through various memes and posts until he found one called “The Secret to Weight Loss.” He opened it and it said there is no secret— just hard work of eating right and exercising. Ah, it figures…but what did I expect? He realized that he was still looking for an external “cure” to his problem, rather than looking internally at his own thoughts and behavior.
Zak then found a forum that shows before and after pictures of people’s health progress. This could be useful… He then scrolled through until he found someone who was 300 pounds and after a year now weighed 200 pounds. Wow, that’s where I’d like to be! How did he do it? The post showed how he just stuck with a simple plan of eating healthier with fewer portions and exercising. I guess there are no shortcuts- they’re all the same, but there are so many people doing it. Maybe if they can do it, I can too?
He checked his phone for new notifications. The Bible Verse of the Day app today showed him a verse from Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Eternal life is a free gift? Why would anyone not want a free gift? he wondered.
For his date, he thought about buying and wearing a fat-hiding, body shaper compression shirt. After browsing some online he decided against it. It seemed dishonest. I’ll just come clean, he thought. If she still likes me it will be for who I really am.
His date was already planned, was less than 24 hours away and too late to change it. Maybe I’ll just go with it and see what happens…
The following evening Zak showed up early to Starbucks to find a private table in the corner. He wore a black collared shirt and blue jeans— not entirely ninja-like. He waited at a corner table for a few minutes while unconsciously tapping on it with his cup. Then Heidi appeared. As she opened the door the breeze blew her wavy blonde hair up as if it was a shampoo commercial. She looked even more beautiful in person. She wore black slim-fitting denim jeans and a simple gray top over her lightly tanned skin. Wow!
Her piercing blue eyes were like an ocean he wanted to surf in… And I don’t even surf!
She didn’t wear much makeup. I like that.
The two drank lattes while sharing their school experiences, family life, and hobbies. He told her about Sam and all the amazing hikes he’s done, places he’s seen, and his plan to reach Tunnel Falls.
“That sounds amazing! I’m so happy for you,” she said.
After more than an hour he gave her a hug goodbye. She didn’t seem deterred by his faux pas. Maybe she didn’t notice? That was a close one. He felt great and was pleasantly surprised he pulled this off. The prom was still on!
Zak had been looking forward to this next hike. He saw pictures of Silver Falls through Google Images and thought it looked amazing. He was starting to appreciate Sam more and looked forward to his insight and teachings.
The loop they planned was 9.8 miles— the longest hike yet. Zak tried to psyche himself up for it and slapped his face a couple times as if he was about to walk into a boxing ring to fight for a championship title.
Before leaving, Zak packed an everything bagel with honey, a banana, and 3 liters of water with added electrolytes. He was growing stronger, leaner, and healthier. He felt it, maybe for the first time. But while he got a little taste of the benefits, he still wasn’t sure how long he wanted to continue his current diet and exercise path. I just don’t want to fully commit to anything just yet. Lurking in the back of his mind was the expectation that he would soon return back to his unrestricted eating habits. This part of himself expected a relapse; it waited for him like a drug dealer in a dark alley.
The two carpooled to the state park and began hiking the Trail of Ten Falls. As Zak crested the ridge he was captivated by the immense size of the first waterfall. A large volume of clear rushing water plunged off the cliff and crashed into the rocks below. A deep bass rumble reverberated through the canyon. Mist floated up and irrigated the surrounding blackberry bushes. The trail zig-zagged and circled behind the waterfall into a cavernous grotto. That’s so sick! Everyone needs to see this at least once in their life, Zak thought.
Zak stared in wonder at the waterfall and grew emotional realizing how far he had progressed. I never would have imagined I’d be able to hike like this or see such amazing things. I was missing out! To Zak, this symbolized an achievement in his journey to health as he wiped a tear from his eye. His imagined iron shackles falling off his arms and legs and him walking away from his self-imposed dungeon as a free man.
Through experiencing such natural beauty Zak also felt like he was reuniting with a lost part of himself. He felt like he was reclaiming part of what it meant to be human. This feels good. I’m in the right place! But was Zak on the firm foundation he thought he was?
Sam and Zak continued hiking around the loop trail passing waterfall after waterfall— a cornucopia of raw power, beauty, and tranquility that touched the senses.
As they hiked, Zak scratched his goatee and felt a question weighing on his mind.
“Sam, why is it such a big deal if I want to eat a lot of sweets, snacks, and enjoy the finer things in life? It’s my own decision and it’s not hurting anyone, so what’s the problem?”
“Good question, Zak. Yes, it is your own decision. But didn’t you also say you wanted good health? If so, are you truly getting what you want? If you want both you can have both…by eating in moderation. You can actually have a little cake and eat it too.”
“Mmmm, I like the sound of that,” Zak smiled.
“Plenty of healthy people enjoy sweets occasionally and are they really suffering with their good health benefits by just not maxing out on the junk food every day?”
“Like the glass half full analogy, rather than thinking of the food you can’t enjoy, think of the healthy food you can. Think of how valuable the nutrients of healthy food are to your body. Would you really want to rob your body of its nutrition and risk being malnourished? Those who eat junk food regularly are malnourished. Their bodies are crying out for help. If they had a voice it would be weeping and wailing over being neglected and abused. Also, if you eat treats all the time it’s no longer special. Instead of a reward isn’t this actually a curse?”
Well, maybe having sweets less often isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe, it would help keep it special? If I have them every day, that’s just a habit. If I reward myself with sweets every day what am I truly rewarding myself for? And what have I done to deserve rewards that make me fatter? Maybe I’m just trying to fulfill a temporary emotional craving- just for the first taste. What if my taste buds need more time in between to rest and appreciate that first taste again? Zak thought.
“Zak, as far as the not hurting anyone idea, I have a different opinion that can challenge that idea. Would you like to hear it?”
“Ok, yes, go ahead.”
“Zak, do you truly believe your health doesn’t affect others?”
“Yes, I do. It’s my body, not theirs.”
“What if it wasn’t your body?”
“Uh… what do you mean?”
“I know you’re questioning what you believe and that’s a healthy process— to challenge and logically process everything. So, I’d like to offer something to consider. Did you know that roughly two-thirds of people on Earth believe in God?”
“No, I mean yeah, sort of. I know it’s a lot.”
“Approximately two-thirds believe a creator made our bodies and lets our soul take residence in it. By chance do you know what the most popular book in world history is?”
“Harry Potter?” Zak smiled.
“Not exactly,” Sam chuckled. “It’s the Bible. It’s the most sold, read, discussed, given away, believed, translated, and quoted book in the history of the world and has impacted the lives of billions. Its words of wisdom are worth reading, hearing, and considering. Would you be interested in what the Bible has to say about your body?”
Sam pulled out his own phone and opened up his notes…
“I’ll share a few Bible verses and ask a few questions about its application. Please allow me a few minutes to read them all…”
“The book of Psalms chapter 24:1 says God made everything and owns everything. Do you agree or disagree with this?”
“I’m not sure, but didn’t God give people freewill to do whatever they’d like? Didn’t he say to eat, drink, and be merry?” Zak felt proud of himself for suddenly remembering that phrase.
“Yes, the book of Ecclesiastes in 8:15 says that as well as other verses, but it’s important to not take it out of context. It doesn’t say to abuse, harm, or sin against your body. Just a few verses before, Solomon said things are better for those who are reverent before God. Is gluttony reverent?”
“Point taken, but this doesn’t say me enjoying food harms others though.”
“Let me ask this…while growing up did you ever feel that someone you didn’t know very well cared for you unconditionally?”
“I’d say my fourth-grade teacher— she gave me special attention and cared about my life outside of school. I miss her.”
“Nice example. If you heard something tragic happened to her, how would that make you feel?”
“Well, that would be depressing. I wouldn’t want to hear that.”
“How would you feel if you learned that she was sad and ate for emotional comfort, but that it grew into an addiction?”
“I would feel concerned. I would maybe offer to help somehow.” I may not be the best influence though.
“How would you feel if she then became obese, developed serious health problems, and passed away from a heart attack?”
“I’d feel sad,” Zak said. Seriously? That would be so depressing! “I’d feel horrible that no one was able to reach her while she was struggling. She’d deserve better. I’d also wonder why she wouldn’t reach out or try harder?”
“Fair question. It sounds like that would bother you quite a bit. Well, now you know how it would feel if you did that to others, right?”
Huh? That comment caught Zak off-guard. He didn’t know how to respond and softly muttered something nonsensical in response.
“Zak, how do you think your friends, family, or even acquaintances might feel if you harmed yourself by overeating? Do you think it could cause them some stress and anxiety?”
“Well… If they feel stress that’s their own choice. I can handle myself and don’t need their supervision or approval.”
“But if something happened to someone you cared about, you said you’d feel bad and wish you could help, right?”
“Yeah, I guess so, but it’s different.”
“How is it different exactly?”
“I don’t know, but it is.” Zak folded his arms.
“What if it’s not different? What if they care about you just as much or more than you care about them? Maybe they would get super upset and have a very difficult time coping if something physically happened to you, especially if it was preventable. Maybe it would give them anxiety, sleepless nights, depression, challenge their faith, or traumatize them. Can you agree that they might be affected by your actions or at least that you can’t prove they wouldn’t be affected?”
“Ok, I agree that I wouldn’t know 100% for sure if they would be affected or not.”
“Now, how about if you develop a close relationship with someone, and start dating and even get married. Do you feel it would be ok if your spouse developed an eating disorder and became obese?”
“Well, that would never happen.”
“Why wouldn’t it happen? This happens often in relationships where one or both partners stop caring for themselves as they did when they were dating. Some feel it’s unfair to the other partner and it puts a strain on the relationship.”
“I might not be attracted to someone who doesn’t take care of themselves in the first place.”
“Ok. It sounds like you’re acknowledging that you wouldn’t be as attracted to a spouse if she wasn’t at a healthy body weight, but what if she started out in shape and didn’t gain weight until later? Would you still accept her as she is?”
“Well, yeah, but it wouldn’t be ideal.”
“Ok, just to be clear, it sounds like you’re saying that if you had a spouse who became unhealthy it would affect you, then?” Sam smiled patiently.
“Sure, I guess,” Zak’s eyebrows raised as he slightly shrugged his shoulders.
“That means that your own future spouse, likewise, could be affected by your health and lose physical attraction toward you too, right?”
Whoa! Where do these questions come from? I don’t need to think about this now, do I?
A rational voice inside Zak fought to be heard amidst the noise, as if shoving his way through a crowd. What if he’s just trying to teach me difficult things that I might face in the future? Maybe I shouldn’t shut him out yet? Remember how I’m supposed to be open-minded to things I don’t think will work?
“Zak, imagine if your future wife developed an eating disorder that weakened her health. Imagine the stress and anxiety if you had to constantly worry if you’d come home to find her potentially unconscious. Or maybe you worry about suddenly receiving a phone call that she had an accident from having a seizure or heart attack, stemming from poor long term eating choices. You might also feel pressure 24/7 as you take her to doctor appointments, specialists, dieticians, and others who are trying to help her,” Sam said.
Zak scratched his ear while listening and looking down at his feet.
“If you were having sleepless nights worrying and praying over a preventable problem like overeating and yet your wife made no effort to help herself, how would that make you feel? Would that frustrate you? Would you feel let down? Would you feel that your partner didn’t care enough about the marriage to seek help? If this wouldn’t be ok, then why would it be ok for you to do that to her?” Sam said.
Zak wrinkled his forehead and didn’t know what to say. Would my overeating really affect others? What if he’s right?
“A Bible verse related to this is in Mark 10:8. It says, ‘…the two will become one flesh…’ In 1 Corinthians 7:3-7 it says that a husband and wife should not deprive each other. Each has a responsibility to each other, including physically. So, if one fails to take care of him or herself physically, couldn’t that undermine the relationship?”
“Huh, I haven’t heard that one before.”
Zak scratched his head; his brain was starting to feel squishy like Jell-O.
As the two continued down the path Zak’s mind felt muddied with both information and concerns that he didn’t know what to make of.
Suddenly a large squirrel sprinted across the trail carrying a Douglas fir cone in its mouth and Zak nearly stepped on him. Oh! That was close!
The two crossed several footbridges that travelled over scenic creeks as they approached another set of waterfalls.
The weight of the conversation felt like a thick rug on Zak’s shoulders. Yet, simultaneously he was walking through this dreamlike place that felt like a distant land. What a surreal experience.
They hiked past Lower North Falls, Double Falls, Drake Falls, and Middle North Falls. He couldn’t believe such a beautiful place existed. Why doesn’t everyone come to see this? I don’t get it, it’s spectacular. Zak then realized that until this day he too lived nearby but had never seen the falls. Not long ago he didn’t have the ambition nor the physical ability to get close to them. What a change.
“Zak, while we’re talking about challenging topics you might find it useful to talk about addictions. I wouldn’t normally bring up such topics unless someone asked my help, as you have. You understand that, right?”
“First, do you know what the definition of an addict is?”
“Uh, I can check online…”
Zak lifted his iPhone and searched Google for “addict” which led to two Merriam-Webster definitions.
“‘One exhibiting a compulsive, chronic, physiological or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, behavior, or activity.’ Also, ‘one strongly inclined to do, use, or indulge in something repeatedly.’ It lists chocolate addicts as an example,” Zak said.
“At what point do you think someone lets food or junk food become an addiction?” Sam asked.
“Maybe when it starts taking over his life? Maybe when it hurts him?”
Thank God I don’t have an addiction! But I feel bad for people who struggle with them, Zak thought.
“Would you say that an addict puts his addiction first, before family, friends, and God?”
“Do you know where in the Bible it says to not do that?”
“The greatest commandment?”
“Yes, good memory! It says to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Can someone with an addiction truly do that if he’s putting something else above God?”
“Uh, maybe not.”
“Also, the second part of that verse, love your neighbor as yourself means you also need to love yourself. Do you think someone feeding an addiction is genuinely loving themselves?”
“Maybe not…if he’s harming himself.”
“So, if addictions take a more important role above God, and since the first of the Ten Commandments is to not have any other gods before Him, how is feeding an eating addiction not a violation of this command?”
“Maybe because God gives us freewill to choose?”
“Does God want us to use our freewill to sin or hurt ourselves though?”
“Ok, no then.”
“If addictions like alcoholism, drugs, pornography, sex, gambling, phones, computers, games, social media, shopping, work, accomplishments, can all become idols placed above God, then is it reasonable to believe that an eating addiction can become an idol too?”
“So, if someone develops an eating addiction, wouldn’t that violate God’s first commandment?”
“I don’t know.”
That question now seemed more threatening to Zak; it had credibility and it had teeth. He took a few moments to breathe. His defense mechanism was telling him to retreat and hide. Yet, it was only a question that his friend Sam asked. How threatening can a collection of words be? Zak reasoned. And why am I having such an emotional response to this? It’s not like I have an addiction or anything, so this shouldn’t apply to me. Sure I like eating, but for me it’s a choice. I don’t think it’s taken over my life, has it? I could probably tone it down if I needed, but do I really need to?
Suddenly Zak remembered what Mrs. Nelson once told him: “emotions are indicators.” Maybe my emotions are triggered because there’s something important about this question, Zak thought. If I’m 100% secure in what I believe then why would I be afraid of such a question? Is it possible I could learn something from this?”
Zak talked himself out of retreating and decided to try keeping an open mind this time. I should have nothing to be afraid of, right? What do I have to lose other than pride? Zak’s rational voice thought.
“What was the question again?” Zak sheepishly asked, trying to mask his huge thought-detour.
“If other addictions are idolatry and if a food addiction can be idolatry, then isn’t that breaking God’s first commandment?” Sam asked.
“Maybe so,” Zak swallowed. Oh boy, that was hard to say.
“According to the Bible, some people made their appetite a false god that they worshipped. The Bible calls them ‘enemies of the cross of Christ.’ ‘For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.’ Philippians 3:18-19. Zak, have you heard this verse before and what do you think of it?”
“No, I haven’t. No comment,” Zak said as he began to analyze himself.
This doesn’t apply to me, right? I’m not an enemy of the cross. I don’t worship or idolize food so how could I be an idolater? Sure, maybe I eat a lot of sweets and maybe I get a little too full here and there, but that doesn’t mean I’m putting food before God, right? I’m carrying a little extra around the waist, but who isn’t? Don’t church pastors and ministers usually carry a little extra too? If it’s against God why don’t I hear them condemning it first?
Zak felt unsettled. The walls of his security developed large cracks. He wondered if he metaphorically “built his house on sand” by looking to food for emotional comfort, safety, and hope. Facing this reality, however, seemed overwhelming and threatening to him. The thought of making a life-change was scary. He swallowed.
He wanted more time to think, but he knew more thinking probably wouldn’t help. His mind felt like a jumbled mess. He felt stuck in a weird emotional state.
Even though Sam was asking some tough questions, part of him still felt safe. He knew that changing his eating habits would be challenging and he willingly chose this. He couldn’t imagine a more beautiful and peaceful setting, either. Walking around in the fresh air was good for him and he really didn’t want to be anywhere else.
Before the two continued their hike toward Twin Falls and North Falls, they decided to take a brief rest on a bench overlooking the pristine river. Birds were singing and splashing like little children in a shallow pool of water alongside the river.
“Zak, what I’m about to share is one of the most challenging subjects: whether overeating is right or wrong… if moral or immoral,” Sam said.
Hmmm… I’ve never thought about that, Zak thought.
“Feelings of guilt or remorse can be a useful indicator if we’re ever off track, because it can cue us to steer back on track. Some may not find motivation to change any other way but through examining their own actions as to whether they’re morally right or wrong,” Sam said.
“If we’re genuinely doing something wrong,” Sam continued, “we should accept full responsibility for our actions and feel the appropriate feelings, but not to the point where we beat ourselves up. We need to love ourselves and it’s counterproductive to ruminate about past mistakes. Not forgiving oneself for the past may foster self-doubt and can hurt one’s self-esteem, creating another problem that can become even bigger than the first one. But for those not doing anything wrong, they should have nothing to worry about by examining themselves.”
“Since I haven’t done anything wrong there’s nothing to worry about then,” Zak said. He swallowed and felt a lump growing in his throat.
“If you’re open to it I can share 5 realities about how we treat our bodies that have some challenging moral questions associated with them. It will take a few minutes to share these. How does that sound?” Sam asked.
“Okay, I think I can handle it. Let’s hear
what you have to say,” Zak said while leaning forward. Surely it can’t get
any worse than what we’ve already talked about.
1. Your body is priceless.
“Zak, the first reality is that you only have one body and its market value alone is worth billions. This is not an exaggeration. Your body is extremely valuable,” Sam said.
Did he say billions? I can use that money; can I cash myself in? Zak smiled.
“Consider a rich, blind man who would gladly trade all his wealth for the ability to see. Consider a woman with no hearing— if she could afford to pay a billion dollars to hear again she would. People with non-working arms or legs would pay practically anything to get their functionality back. And these are only a few body parts— there’s so many more.”
“The minimum cost of body parts can also be estimated by the price a hospital bills for replacement. For example, a kidney transplant may cost $415,000, and that may assume there is a donor giving it away for free. A heart may cost $1.4 million to transplant and that isn’t even the full value as the heart is usually donated. An intestinal transplant may cost $1.1 million.“
Wow, those parts do add up a big bill. Do
they pay by the pound, because I might be sitting on a goldmine! Zak enjoyed his humorous thoughts.
“You can see that the human body is made up of extremely expensive parts. It’s an amazingly complex and brilliantly designed body that works wonderfully well as a cohesive system. It has amazing advanced features such as the ability to heal itself and the ability to recreate your own unique fingerprints. You can sense temperature, taste, talk, sing, learn, see 3D video at high resolution, and sense surround sound. Your body has features to manage salt levels and pH balance. You have anti-drowning features many people aren’t even aware of. With all the parts and features added together your body is easily valued in the billions of dollars. It’s a miracle you even exist and that your heart beats, your blood circulates, and your lungs expand and contract involuntarily. The body in which you reside is priceless.”
Hmmm, I guess it is pretty complex.
“However, most people abuse their bodies and treat their health like worthless garbage. Sometimes people don’t appreciate what they have until it’s gone. The obvious question is: if our bodies are of such high value why do people treat them like they are of little or no value?”
I don’t know. Zak
sat with his chin resting on his fist. He thought about taking notes, but
decided he’d just try to listen and absorb all he could.
2. People sometimes treat animals
better than their own bodies.
“Zak, sometimes people see their pets as deserving better treatment than they feel they deserve themselves. Is a pet truly more valuable than a person? A pet is a valuable treasure, but it has only has a fraction of the abilities of a human being. A person has a soul and is made in the image of God.”
“Imagine if a friend before going on vacation asked you to take care of his million-dollar thoroughbred racehorse. How much care would you give it? If you were a good friend you would probably keep to its special exercise regimen and feeding schedule and take extremely good care of it. You would probably give it the premium quality food for top performance. You might even spend time researching articles online and watching videos for how best to care for it. You might also show love, kindness, and affection to the animal as this impacts its health and performance.“
“Imagine, however, if the owner returned and caught you feeding the horse with potato chips, greasy burgers, and fries, beer, cigarettes, marijuana, chocolate and candy, while verbally abusing it and confining it to your house without exercise. The owner would likely be furious, accuse you of neglect, and perhaps even seek legal damages for gross negligence of his precious animal.”
Yeah, that would be a big mistake, alright, Zak thought.
“The same person, however, may have no problem treating his own multi-billion-dollar body that way. He may force poison into his body from drugs and alcohol. He might consume mass-amounts of artificially processed chemical food products. This is done while sitting all day, getting no exercise, watching negative TV shows and movies, and saying abusive things towards himself. Does this reflect a healthy self-image and love for oneself or does seem like a double standard?”
That’s a good point, I have to say.
“Animal cruelty laws punish people from abusing, neglecting, or malnourishing an animal. You can be fined for feeding snacks to wild animals in parks, because the unnatural substances can harm or kill them. People can go to jail for abusing an animal, but if people abuse themselves, they don’t. But abusing oneself can be just as cruel, disturbing, and unethical. If you witnessed someone abusing themselves would you feel comfortable with that?”
“No, I wouldn’t,” Zak slowly shook his head. He wasn’t sure what to do with this information yet, but he did agree that many people do have double standards. Surely not me, though.
3. People sometimes treat material
possessions better than their own bodies.
“Zak, what if a close friend loaned you his brand new shiny red Ferrari for a week? To prove your high respect for this friendship, would you take the utmost care of it, using the best quality fuel, checking the engine fluids regularly to make sure it’s in premium condition? Would you keep it clean, shiny, and waxed while under shelter and protected from anything that would damage its appearance?”
“Yeah, I would.” I’d definitely show it off to the ladies at school. I’d be cruisin’ in it every night.
“But why would someone take such good care of a car, then neglect his own multi-billion-dollar priceless body? We don’t live in cars or take them with us everywhere we go, but we do live 24/7 in our priceless bodies. So, why wouldn’t we take better care of them?”
Zak squirmed and twiddled his fingers. I suppose I would treat a Ferrari better than my own body, but why would I?
“And if someone wouldn’t expect good performance from a car using bad fuel, why would that person expect good performance from his body using bad fuel?”
“I really don’t know.”
“Imagine if you let your car sit outside unused for a few years… Would it be hard to start? If you managed to get it started would you expect immediate best performance right away?”
“Probably not,” Zak remembered all the oil changes and preventative maintenance he did on his mom’s car to keep it running well. Do I really treat a car better than my own body?
“Our bodies are designed to move, to walk, run, jump, hop, climb, swim, twist, stretch, crawl, and to do all kinds of motion regularly, but some hardly use this ability. And in the rare times people use it they often still expect full physical strength and flexibility, then hurt themselves. When they hurt themselves, they may act surprised and falsely conclude they have a bad body part or that it’s bad to exercise. Then, they tend to do even less physically, despite movement and exercise being exactly what they needed. But all of this can be avoided if the body is just nurtured and used at lower levels of intensity initially to avoid injury while slowly working up to optimum performance. Then, once you get your body back in shape, use it regularly to keep it in running well, just like a car. Use it or lose it.”
4. People sometimes treat other people
better than their own bodies.
“Zak, imagine that someone you loved became ill and needed your in-home care. Would you not do everything imaginable to bring them to health? Would you give them the healthiest food, help them rehabilitate, and say supportive and encouraging words? Imagine if the one who needed help was your mom, dad, your pastor, a celebrity, or even Jesus. Would you treat them any differently than you treat yourself?”
“Now imagine that someone famous who you highly respect was able to loan you his body so you would live in his shoes for a week, like Billy Graham, Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington, or Jesus. Would your love for this person motivate you to treat this body with the utmost respect, honor, and dignity? Maybe you would eat only the best quality food and maybe you would exercise the body daily so as to not neglect it, to keep the body clean, hydrated, and groomed to the highest level? You surely wouldn’t want to be accused of neglect when you return the body to its owner, right? How would you treat his body differently than you treat your own?”
Maybe it’s human nature…to value others more than ourselves? Zak wondered. He was now curious what Sam would say for his last point.
5. Your body is a precious gift you’re
“Zak, the Bible has wisdom about how to treat our bodies that is worth considering…”
“1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, ‘Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.’”
“Are you treating your body like a temple? Are you glorifying God with your body? Are you treating God’s property with respect and honor or are you desecrating it? Will God be proud of you for how you’ve treated His body? Have you passed or failed God’s test?”
Ok, I don’t remember that verse. Sure, I
have indulged, but I don’t do it every day. Yes, I’ve gained weight, but it
doesn’t mean I’ve ruined God’s temple… does it? Zak rationalized.
“Romans 8:5-6 says, ‘For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.’”
“Zak, if you give into cravings and become overweight, are you setting your mind on the ‘things of the Spirit’ or ‘things of flesh’?”
Hmmm, that’s a tough one. Does it really
say that in the Bible? Zak wondered.
“1 Corinthians 10:31 says, ‘So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.’”
“Is overeating, binging, or gluttony for the ‘glory of God’?”
I’m not sure what to think about this. Zak scratched his chin.
“1 Corinthians 9:27 says, ‘But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.’”
“Does overeating and obesity show ‘discipline’ and keeping it under ‘control’?”
Zak’s palms and forehead began sweating. His
heart started beating faster and faster like the beginning of a drum solo.
“Proverbs 28:7 says, ‘The one who keeps the law is a son with understanding, but a companion of gluttons shames his father.’”
“Zak, this Proverb acknowledges that our habits affect others. Whether someone has a living father or not, does gluttony honor his father? Would his father likely feel proud or disappointed by it? What about his heavenly father?”
This verse stunned Zak. He didn’t know it said
that in the Bible. The thought of his late father watching him from above while
he binged at the buffets frightened him. He felt the moral justifications for
his actions were slipping away. He now felt bare and exposed. Is this stuff
really from the Bible? I can’t believe it.
“Galatians 5:16 says, ‘So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.’”
“Zak, if someone overeats and develops an eating addiction disorder is he truly walking by the Spirit or carrying out desires of the flesh?”
“Christians are also called to be a light to the world and a good example for others to follow. If one regularly binges and fails to take care of his body entrusted to him, is he being a good example for the world to see?” Sam asked.
Zak looked at Sam wide eyed and didn’t know what to say.
“Zak, now that you’ve heard these 5 realities and heard the Bible verses about protecting our bodies and not giving in to fleshly desires, how is overeating and obesity not a sin?”
“I don’t have an answer for that right now,” Zak said while twitching in his seat. Surely, I hadn’t REALLY been overeating though, right? Maybe just a little extra here and there on occasion. Doesn’t everyone do that? He looked down at his belly.
“Sam, at what point does overeating become a sin, though? If someone happens to get full or accidentally eats too much, that’s surely not a sin, right?”
“Good question, Zak. You can ask God that directly through prayer. It’s not always easy to determine where the exact line is that crosses into sin, like the sin of gluttony or idolatry. But we don’t necessarily have an exact line for all other sins either, like drunkenness, lust, pride, envy, sloth, or anger. As we discussed before, one of the indications is if we put other things before God. Our heart and conscience is another indicator of whether we have crossed a line, as said in 1 John 3:21. So, what does your heart tell you? Remember that Jesus didn’t push the line back to allow people to sin more. If anything, it was the opposite, as discussed in Matthew 5.”
Sam continued, “Zak, perhaps the best question is why someone is asking where the line is? Is the goal to get as close to sin as possible without crossing over? If so, the motives are in question for whether the desire is to obey God’s commandments or follow the desires of the flesh.”
Do I need to choose just one? What are my motives? …I don’t know.
“So, if one reads all these Bible verses, but ignores them and still chooses to overeat and desecrate his body, isn’t that the same as rejecting God and figuratively slapping Jesus in the face?” Sam asked.
Zak slumped his head into his hands and shook his head. Oh no…
“The verse we previously read in 1 Corinthians 6:20 said, ‘for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.’ Jesus died for you and gave you a huge gift. So, if someone’s way of honoring His gift is to abuse his body, isn’t that the same as vandalizing God’s property? Do you think God is happy when someone chooses to dishonor or desecrate his property?”
Zak still had his head down and closed his eyes. The burden of these realities seemed to grow heavier and heavier with each new question.
“The Bible gives us the truth of right and wrong, but we can still be deceived. We can believe some things are ok when they aren’t ok. If we violate God’s commandments should we not feel convicted, remorseful, and repentant? Asking these moral questions and checking our conscience may be a needed step for some of us to break the cycle of sin. If we’ve done wrong, we can find peace again if we confess our sin, ask for forgiveness, ask for wisdom, and reunite with God,” Sam said.
“You’re so mean!”
Zak broke down and started sobbing. The wisdom of the scriptures pierced his heart like a jouster then ran him over like a cement truck. He never realized he was violating the words of God by indulging in his cravings. He had tried every possible rationalization to justify it and realized he even deceived himself. Now he knew he placed his own fleshly desires over God’s commands. He knew his pride got in the way, making him feel entitled to binge on man-made artificial substances he wasn’t entitled to. He realized he damaged God’s holy gift to him. He now felt that he had failed God.
“Are you ok?” Sam asked.
“I can’t do this anymore, leave me alone!” Zak snapped as he ran away through some thick bushes and into solitude.
Zak reached a small grassy clearing and knelt down with his eyes closed and wept. He tried to process his conflicting feelings. Is this really happening? Was I really sinning this whole time? How did I get so off course?
Zak realized that binging on junk food had become his refuge and security blanket to hide from his pain, but it unknowingly became a stronghold. It drove a wedge between him and God, but he rationalized it and didn’t want to let it go. Does God really want me to trust Him with this too?
He knew he now had to pick one: his food, or God. Which will I trust? Which will I serve? Which will I worship? The thought of him losing his only security blanket was terrifying. Who will catch me when I fall? Do I trust God enough for that? Do I really need to surrender absolutely everything to Him?
Zak felt like a cat clinging to a thick bath mat turned upside down as he felt the force of gravity pulling him out of his comfort zone and down into a new frightening reality.
He felt dizzy and knelt on the ground then fell forward face down on the grassy weeds with his hands outstretched.
“Oh God! I surrender! I’m done! I can’t… I messed up. Please forgive me. I feel so disgusted… with myself. Please forgive my sin… of gluttony. I feel sick to my stomach just thinking about it. I feel so foolish for making this about me and feeding my own desires. I’ve let down my family, friends, myself, and most of all, you, God. I believed that I wasn’t hurting anybody. Maybe I was deceived. I’m so sorry for disrespecting your holy temple. Will you… please… forgive… me?” Zak whimpered as his tears irrigated the dandelions.
“God, I want to believe in you. I choose to believe in you, but please forgive me for my lack of faith. I need help! I accept that Jesus is Lord and died for me and I want to follow you, but I don’t know how. Please heal my heart. I was careless and damaged this body you entrusted me with. God, can you do a miracle and heal this body and return it to good health? I can’t do this without you. Amen? P.S. – God, help me to know how to pray as I have no idea what I’m doing!”
Zak wiped the tears away, but in doing so spread dirt on his face. He felt a giant weight lifted off him and he even laughed. Something healed in his heart. He felt different. What an emotional roller coaster of the last few days!
Zak reemerged from behind the bushes with dirt around his eyes like a raccoon. Sam was quietly praying but glanced up and looked puzzled. He kept his silence and offered Zak a hug, which he accepted. It was a long, compassionate, heartfelt hug, triggering him to cry more, but this time with tears of joy.
“I prayed for help. I admit I’ve messed up, but what now? Am I supposed to feel bad about myself? I can’t just erase everything and start over!”
“You should feel great about yourself, Zak! You love yourself enough to admit you’ve made a mistake and are willing to move on and improve your future. We all make mistakes and it’s never too late to make a change, even if people say otherwise. Even if we’ve carried a bad habit our entire lives, it’s never too late to make a fresh start. You’ve gone through a lot already and you’re surely stronger as a result. God loves you, wants you to feel loved, and wants you to love and forgive yourself too! I believe you have many things to be thankful and grateful for. We should be kind and easy on ourselves even when we realize we’ve gone off course. The past is the past. It’s already done, but you can move forward to improve your future by taking just one little step of faith at a time.”
“I take responsibility; I will try my best to take care of God’s property from now on.”
“It seems you’ve found your motivation, Zak. I’m proud of you. I believe 100% you’ll do it,” Sam said.
“But how do I do it exactly?”
“You already know how, Zak. You start with a decision. Choose the kind of life you want to live. Once you have made a choice, you commit to it, start living accordingly, and don’t look back. To lose weight, you already have the tools you need and you’ve been practicing them in the several weeks we’ve spent together. Arm yourself with all the motivational tools, but start small and take one step at a time with one goal at a time. For example, you can continue the Window diet for 30 days. From that point you re-evaluate and can continue or start a new goal or challenge. With each challenge you conquer and positive habit you develop, you will increase your confidence and start seeing exponential benefits. I believe in you, Zak.”
Zak still felt unresolved with what Sam said earlier, however. He shouldn’t have come on that strong.
The two continued their circuit of waterfalls and stopped at Winter Falls. They enjoyed the fresh breeze and misty air while birds frolicked in the water below.
After a moment of silence and clearing his head, Zak felt this was an opportunity to share some good news with Sam.
“Sam, my Senior Prom is coming in a few weeks, and the girl I invited said yes.”
“Hey! Congratulations! I’m so happy for you!”
“Since I’ve already lost 28 pounds I’m now wondering if I could lose another 12 pounds by then? That would sure give me a confidence boost. Does that sound like a realistic goal?”
“Yes, it does. It sounds like you’re losing 3 pounds a week which is fairly aggressive, but you’ve been doing it. I believe in you,” Sam said.
“I feel so uncomfortable about this whole thing though. If I take her to the prom it might seem too good to be true and maybe I’ll say the wrong thing or act weird? Am I just thinking crazy right now?”
“Not at all. It’s normal to feel strong emotions when you make a big change. Just take things one step at a time and don’t worry or dwell about the future. You’re starting to feel empowered and realize you can take control of your life. You already have that power to change how you live and what kind of person you want to be. I sense you’re going to follow through with the prom, aren’t you?”
“Yes!” Zak said.
That word sounded so foreign to Zak. He hasn’t said yes to something so confidently in so long. It felt as though he was an alien in outer space. His life was taking on new meaning and new directions in front of his eyes. It was so frightening, but so exciting at the same time. He previously felt dead inside for some years, feeling unable to control his own life experience. Now things have changed. The new Zak 2.0. This doesn’t feel real yet; I don’t even feel real myself. Yet, somehow another part of me feels more real than ever— really real. Maybe now I’m more true-to-myself? Zak felt as though scales had fallen from his eyes and he was seeing for the first time.
“Zak, it’s been such a privilege to spend this time with you. I’m sure you know that I won’t be around forever, but I’m here for this short time to help you get on your feet. I want to let you know I will be leaving town soon.”
“Oh, no, really?” Zak was surprised. What does he mean by that?
“I want you to be prepared with a support system in place for when I leave. Can I trust you to do that?”
“Sure, I’ll start looking,” Zak said. He wondered when he was leaving, though, and where?
“You may be surprised how many groups exist that can be a support. Here are a few ideas: community sports teams, softball, tennis, golf, soccer, etc. Fitness gyms and sports centers: weight trainers, classes, leagues, etc. Community exercise classes: swimming, yoga, aerobics, racquetball. Volunteer activities: helping kids with sports activities, Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Churches often have volunteering, walking, sports or health groups. Online support through life coaches or anonymous forums like Reddit. You may even have a local library that offers classes, or local college that offers community education classes, even for dieting and weight loss groups. Your odds of meeting like-minded people and finding support are high when you pursue such activities. A support system takes effort to build, but it will help you continue good habits of eating healthy and keeping an active lifestyle.”
“That sounds great and all, but what about people who, like me, have shyness, social anxiety and phobias? These blanket suggestions sound simple, but for many it isn’t so easy. This ‘finding support’ sounds terrifying,” Zak asked.
“Trying new things without knowing anyone can be a challenge for everyone initially, whether introverted or extroverted, with anxieties or not.”
“Alright…” Zak realized he was really asking for himself; he was afraid of being the ‘new guy’ in the room.
“If you just show up consistently in time you’ll meet and get to know people. Just show up, even if you don’t feel like it. Get out of the house and drag yourself there if you have to— commit to trying something new for 30 days, then re-evaluate. The long term reward of having support is usually worth that short term cost. After committing to a group over a period of time, one day you may be the experienced veteran and the one to welcome newcomers and help them feel comfortable.”
The two parted ways and Zak reflected about his journey so far and couldn’t believe things were already nearing an end with his hiking adventures with Sam. Zak now felt prepared for the final Tunnel Falls hike— something he never imagined would happen.
As Zak drove home he wasn’t even tempted by the pizza buffet sign beside the road— he didn’t even look. He already decided he would not compromise his nutrition after what he just went through. He already had a chicken and cranberry salad in the fridge he planned to eat.
Zak hoped to share his experience with his mom as it was a significant day for him. Upon arriving, he found that she already went to bed again. She left the TV on loud in the living room. I wonder what makes her do this?
After eating the salad he walked up to the fridge and used his marker to check off another day of following his Window diet and eating ‘good.’ He saw that he now had 3 weeks checked off. Wow, the hardest part is almost over and this is becoming a habit!
He then opened his wallet and grabbed a $5 bill and put it in the success jar. It now had $40 on it, just teasing him like a carrot at the end of a stick. Money at the end of the stick works too! Think of how many cheesecakes I can buy with this when I’m done! he joked.
He then walked into his bathroom and stubbed his toe on the scale in the middle of the room. Oww! Maybe this ‘good behavior’ is a bit too convenient! Zak cringed.
He stepped on the scale and it read 267 pounds. Wow! 5 pounds lost this week! That’s great! He then wondered if he would have even greater motivational leverage if he started writing his weight on the calendar too. I like that idea. He felt like he was beginning to crack his own motivational code, like a robber breaking into a bank vault. For me, this is like breaking into Fort Knox!
As Zak lay in bed he couldn’t believe this was his new life. He felt lighter, he felt healthier, he felt more motivated, he felt closer to God. It felt strange and surreal, but it felt so invigorating. He was starting to love his new direction in life and was learning to love himself more too.
But he felt bad how he snapped at Sam earlier. Maybe I overreacted; I’ll apologize on our next hike.
Zak knew all his preparation had come down to this moment. Tunnel Falls was next. It would be 12 miles and 22% farther than their last hike. He realized how committing it would be if something went wrong 6 miles deep within the forest wilderness. Stakes were high. I can’t believe I’ve made it this far. I’m actually going to make it, aren’t I?
But something unexpected was around the
corner; something Zak never would have imagined.
Zak filled a 3-liter hydration pack that he bought from Amazon.com with electrolyte water and inserted it into his backpack. He added trail mix and dry fruit to one of the backpack’s pouches then drove to meet Sam.
He arrived at their normal parking lot and thought it was unusual that he arrived before him. Sam was always early. Maybe he’s in traffic, he thought.
It was abnormally windy, like a storm was coming. Dark clouds were replacing the light clouds. Zak watched wind gusts blow leaves clear across the width of the Sandy River. All the birds were eerily absent from the sky and nowhere to be seen.
He looked at his phone— 7:10 a.m. He’s ten minutes late, he thought. That’s weird, I didn’t see much traffic on the way here. What could have held him up?
His thoughts gave him no relief. Anxiety grew each passing minute that Sam wasn’t there. Zak texted, “On your way?” and checked his phone for new text messages every few seconds. Something’s not right.
7:20 a.m. He tried calling Sam. Each ring felt like an eternity. In the silence between the rings Zak could almost hear his heart beat pounding in his chest. After four rings, there was no answer, only voice mail. After the beep, he mustered as much calmness as he could.
“Hey Sam, I’m here at the parking lot just… wondering where you are— give me a call or text when you get this. Thanks you.”
‘Thanks you?’ How embarrassing.
Wait, something being “embarrassing” is my own interpretation, but whatever… maybe now’s not the time to be analytical.
7:30 a.m. He couldn’t believe he wasn’t there. Something is seriously wrong. Was he pulled over for speeding? Flat tire? Traffic accident? Please tell me nothing happened to him.
Zak decided he would need to leave at some point. I can’t wait here all day wondering. He thought he would give him another ten minutes.
7:40 a.m. He was now very concerned for Sam. Zak got in his car and drove home.
8:00 a.m. At home, he turned on the TV to check the local news. Nothing would prepare him for what he was about to experience.
We hope you have enjoyed your free sample of The Health Trail!
To continue your adventure, please purchase the full Book or Ebook at: thehealthtrail.org.
Curious what happens next in Zak’s adventure? Your purchase includes nine final and most crucial chapters, bonus Appendix resources to help with your own weight loss journey, access to “Zak’s Notes,” and is available in all ebook formats (Kindle KDP file, Epub, PDF, and HTML compatible for all devices), and more. Proceeds help support online Bible ministries. May God bless you!
Health Trail (Physical Book) ISBN: 978-0-9992360-4-8
The Health Trail (Ebook) ISBN: 978-0-9992360-5-5
Pure Truth Publications
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