Why You and Your Elephant Haven’t Lost Weight Yet

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Ben George is a MAN v FAT regular on the forums and he’s also a doctor with an interest in the psychological reasons behind weight gain. Here he takes a look at how the mind is the place to start when you want to improve your body.


If you are struggling to lose weight and have tried multiple diets and exercise programs but have not yet achieved your goals, I would say the reason is because you have not trained your elephant to obey your wishes. This sounds ridiculous but it is an analogy I borrow from the book The Happiness Hypothesis. In it the author Jonathan Haidt, describes the mind as a combination of an elephant, (your subconscious mind) being ridden and controlled by a rider, (your conscious mind).$columbia-001

If you didn’t know, elephants are huge and unwieldy animals and unless they have been trained, or even partially-sedated as my wife and I found out on our trip to South Africa, you ride at your own peril. If you happen to be going in the same direction as your untrained elephant that is great, but if you want to lead it in a different direction, it takes a lot of work and energy to educate it. Additional problems in training your elephant are that you don’t necessarily know how to speak elephant and if you push too hard for a change of direction, elephants can get nasty.

But what if you take the time to teach your elephant to move in a different direction? How would you do that? You would make changes that slowly led it to your desired destination. You would give your elephant time to get used to these new changes. You would be kind and gentle with your elephant and understand that it will occasionally go back to doing what it is used to, because an elephant never forgets. However, if you guide it, over time it will always remember this new skill you want.

Here are the eight ground rules you need to help form new habits with regards to a healthy lifestyle and long-term weight loss:

1) Be patient – It takes time but persistent actions yield persistent results. You have tried dieting quickly so many times and it hasn’t worked, so give yourself a chance to succeed.

2) Get started – You can’t change things just by thinking about them, you need to take a first step.

3) Make small changes – There are scientific and psychological reasons why you find it easier to do certain things, than others. If you make it too difficult to make changes, then you will likely not stick to them long term.

4) Don’t quit – You will probably have slip-ups and bad days. Expect them, and when they happen don’t use them as an excuse to stop. You already know what the result is if you don’t change so why not keep going.

5) Forgive yourself and enjoy your mistakes – Being hard on yourself  for slip-ups only makes you feel bad and to make yourself feel better, you will probably want to eat more so when you slip-up, enjoy that dish or binge and then get back to your diet.

6) Learn and Adjust – If your weight loss plateaus, read books from credible sources about losing weight, ask questions on forums, speak to a nutritionist, send me a DM, but don’t give up.

7) Make it Fun – Do it with others, eating food and exercise is usually more fun with others. I personally only eat food I like the taste of so I always enjoy my food, I also like exercising with others depending on what it is….. I jog usually only on my own because it gets too competitive with other people in my experience, and then I stop enjoying it, but I play basketball with others, it really doesn’t matter, just make it fun for you….. even if that means short and sweet to begin with.

8) Be Accountable – You don’t have to tell everyone, but you do have to tell someone. If you are kept accountable you are more likely to stick to your lifestyle change. Tell either friends you trust, or family you love – on MAN v FAT there’s a whole community who are ready to help.

Changing your existing habits and pointing your elephant in a new direction is what long-term weight loss is about. Teaching yourself new skills with regards to food, diet and exercise. New skills that over time become second nature because you take the time you need to create the long-term goals you want. Over time you can do anything you want because you persist and stick with the actions you need so they become a habit. The beauty of habits is that when you have them, you don’t need much energy to keep them going and that’s got to be a good thing.


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