All things in moderation. Balance. Small changes over time add up to big improvements. These are all commonly accepted bits wisdom. But do incremental changes really work?
I recently read Penn Jillette’s book Presto! How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear. He’s the Vegas magician that is half the duo known as Penn and Teller. Well he was really more than half the duo…more like three quarters.
Penn was packing around some spare lbs in 2014. He estimated his weight at 330 at his highest, which was when he found himself in the hospital while his doctor told him one of the arteries surrounding his heart was 80% blocked.
He needed to lose weight yesterday. Not a cosmetic amount, more like 50lbs. 100 would be better. Heck, if you can lose 100 you won’t even need any of the medication you’re currently taking, he was shocked to hear his doctor say.
That was when Penn realized he wasn’t taking 5 different medications, as he thought, because he was a big loser in the genetic lottery, but because he was a self-described “fat fuck.” The realization that he was where he was because he ate whatever the hell he wanted didn’t sit well with him. He was disgusted with himself.
It wasn’t as if he hadn’t tried to lose weight in the past. Just as many of us do, he tried limiting portions, cutting back on carbs, fats and sugar. He tried exercising. But any weight lost always came back, and brought friends that led to his continued and consistent weight gain throughout the years.
So Penn tried something different. He tried something drastic that most people would never even entertain. He consciously chose to lose weight not as an adult would, as he put it, but as someone who is willing to do whatever it takes to be successful. More like as a crazy person would.
So he ate only potatoes for 2 entire weeks.
“It’s much easier for me to make a major change than a minor change.” he hypothesized at a recent Google Talks.
What makes a major change easier? Progress. It is often immediate when you make a major change. For example, in Penn’s situation, eating only potatoes for 2 weeks made him lose weight like a crack addict. Going from eating a standard American diet of cheeseburgers and chocolate cake to plain potatoes tends to do that.
Stepping on the scale to a new lower number every day certainly makes whatever method you choose easier to stick to. Positive reinforcement is a lot more encouraging on a daily basis with extreme change than it would be on a weekly or monthly basis with moderation.
While we don’t know if Penn’s weight loss is a permanent one at this point, we do know extreme measures worked much better for him than all his previous attempts at moderation.
Should you go cold turkey? Extreme or gradual change, which is for you? While I don’t exactly endorse eating potatoes for 2 weeks, I do understand and have experienced the benefits of extreme changes. I became vegetarian overnight and then vegan, and also gave up coffee cold. I had been drinking coffee for 30 years every single day, multiple cups. I decided back in 2013 that I wanted to part ways with coffee, an amicable divorce if you will. So I left coffee, walked right out on it.
Sure, I could have weaned myself off, slowly decreasing the amount I drank and then switching to decaf. My thought at the time was this – I knew leaving coffee was going to be a horrible, terrible, no-good experience. I might as well just walk out and be done with it.
So I did. I won’t lie. Giving up coffee (and caffeine) meant that I suffered tremendously for 3 weeks straight. Head-splitting migraines were my constant companion and sloth like energy levels plagued my every day.
As soon as I began to think it would never get better, everything changed. Headaches vanished, energy level came roaring back, and my life returned as if nothing had ever happened. It’s been over 3 years now and I have never once wanted for a cup of coffee or a jolt of caffeine. I wouldn’t change anything about what I did, though it remains one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do.
The point is…and there is a point. Extreme measures can work. They’re not popular because, well, they’re pretty damn hard. Moderation is a much easier sell. Most people simply cannot get their heads around the idea that they suddenly can’t have something.
The upside though, is that if you can handle extreme measures, you’re that much more likely to succeed. Giving up caffeine completely or eating only potatoes for two weeks means most of the hard work is over and done quickly.
Change happens quickly with extreme measures. You body is forced to adapt because it doesn’t really have a choice.
Whatever it is you’re looking to do, whether its becoming vegan, raw vegan, or losing weight, consider making an extreme change rather than moderation. It will be hard, you will suffer, but you’ll also see some immediate progress that might make the changes that much easier to stick to.