It took me three years of playing tennis to learn the lesson I’m about to share with you, and another two to realize that it was the perfect metaphor for weight loss.
Let me explain.
(And by the way- you don’t need to know a thing about tennis to get this.)
For years, I’d hit what’s called a “short ball” to my opponent and then watch in frustration as he’d put the ball away. A “short ball” is an easy ball to hit- it lands close to the net and basically puts your opponent in control. I’d sit and watch where my short, easy ball landed, hoping my opponent wouldn’t get to it (they usually did). Then I’d try to anticipate where he was going to put it.
No matter where I thought he was going to go, he went somewhere else, and I’d lose the point.
So picture this: I hit a ball over the net, get ready for it’s return, and no matter what I did, I couldn’t get near the ball when he hit it back to me.
If I was on the left side of the court, he’d go to the right. If I was standing deep near the baseline, he’d hit it shallow. If I was on the right side, he’d hit it on the left.
It drove me nuts.
I complained bitterly to my teacher. “Why can’t I figure out where he’s going to hit my short ball?”, I’d ask in frustration. “No matter where I go, he seems to be able to put it where I’m not and win the point!”
I spent three years trying to learn how to anticipate where my opponent was going to hit my short ball and being mad at myself for not being able to win the point.
Here’s what I learned:
The point was lost long before my opponent even put his racket on the ball.
The point was lost when I hit that easy, short ball. Once I did that, it was all over.
Being mad at myself for not being able to return an impossible shot was a waste of time. Once I had given my opponent that easy short ball, he could do whatever he wanted with it. The real action was in my learning how to avoid hitting a short ball in the first place.
Which brings us to weight loss.
Weight loss coaches see a lot of clients who are deeply frustrated about their late night eating habits. They’re also deeply frustrated about their eating behavior at social events. Or about overeating at business dinners, weddings or buffets. You can fill in the blank with your favorite “trigger” situation, but the point is that there are situations for everyone that are very very difficult to navigate if you’re concerned about your weight. And we spend a heck a lot of time beating ourselves up for not being able to “control” ourselves when those situations arise.
Maybe we’re looking in the wrong place for a solution.
Maybe we need to look at what happens before that difficult situation comes up.
Maybe we need to avoid the difficult situation in the first place or find a way to disempower it.
Example: If you skip breakfast and grab a light high-carb lunch, you’re gonna be a mess when it comes to dinner. By the time dinner comes, it’s probably too late to do anything about you diet- trying to “control” what you do at dinner when you’re starving is like me trying to “control” what my opponent does with the short ball.
How much better would it be if you didn’t arrive at dinner starving in the first place? What if you didn’t create the conditions in which overeating was a natural response?
When we eat foods that are high in sugar and processed carbs, it’s like hitting that short, easy ball to our opponent. We’ve already lost the point. Eating low-fiber foods high in sugar and processed carbs creates the conditions for cravings and overeating and they’re conditions that are remarkably difficult to resist.
The action isn’t in how to control those cravings, it’s in how to prevent them in the first place.
One very effective way to control cravings, hunger and the resultant overeating is to keep your blood sugar in “the zone”. That means choosing higher protein, low-glycemic foods from the beginning of the day. Eggs and oatmeal for breakfast for example, or grilled salmon and salad for lunch. Beans, anytime! These foods create stable blood sugar levels, and prevent the awful blood sugar roller coaster that is so difficult to get off without binging on foods you really don’t want to be eating.
Maybe the real lesson from the tennis court is this: You didn’t lose the point because your opponent put the ball where you weren’t. You lost the point because you gave him the opportunity to do that in the first place.
Don’t give the food devil sitting on your shoulder the ammunition to defeat your weight loss program. Starve his butt. Begin your day with the right food choices- and that means never skipping breakfast, by the way—and you’ll be creating conditions that make it much more difficult for your “opponent” to put the ball away!
My top tips for “keeping the ball away from you opponent” in the weight-loss arena:
1) Don’t arrive hungry. Even a small salad or soup will help you resist the stuff you know you shouldn’t be eating (like the bread in the bread basket)
2) Never skip breakfast. Studies show that breakfast skippers are more likely to be obese, have lower levels of energy, and are more likely to overeat at their next meal.
3) Eat protein at every meal. It keeps you full and stimulates your metabolism
4) Don’t “save up” your calories for a big dinner event. It never works. You wind up eating way too much, and paying the price for it the next day.
5) Drink plenty of water every single day. A lot of perceived hunger is really thirst and many of us are walking around mildly dehydrated.
6) Try to do some stress reduction on a daily basis. Stress is a huge contributor to overeating. So is not sleeping enough.
7) Have a Plan B. When you are going into a trigger situation, don’t go in “unarmed”. Decide in advance what you will and won’t allow yourself to eat. Visualize it and stick to it. Stay away from buffets, and if you have to go to them, fill up a small plate and don’t go back for seconds.
It’s a lot easier to avoid “losing” situations if you don’t set them up in the first place.
Much like it’s a lot easier to win a tennis point if you don’t give your opponent an incredibly easy-to-put-away short ball in the first place!
Dr. Bowden is a board certified nutrition specialist with a focus on nutritional healing, anti-aging secrets, and weight loss coaching. He is also the publisher of Straight Talk Nutrition for the 21st Century. Learn about his wildly successful Summer Diet Boot Camp Challenge at www.dietbootcampsystem.com.