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Posted by Molly Walker on Oct 22, 2015 08:00 AM

Sprint 2 of Agile Approach to Behavior Change and Weight Loss

In my professional life, we set a vision for our programs before we start the agile approach to fulfilling the vision. So, I spent some time documenting my goals for this journey to better health and surprised myself. What are my objectives? I immediately wrote down “feel better” and “look better.” I came up with goals, strategies, and measurements to support those objectives and thought—Good for you. You did it. Onward. But these are the same objectives I’ve had for my whole life, and they never carried me through the difficult journey of behavior change. Because—really—they are results. I was reminded of Simon Sinek’s, Start With Why, and the way we approach all of our behavior change campaigns and programs at Brunet-Garcia. We begin with what is the “purpose,” or “why?” Then we can get to the “how” and “what.”  Simon Sinek goes on to explain that when we communicate from the order of “why,” then “how,” then “what,” rather than the opposite order, we communicate first to the part of the brain that directly controls behavior—the limbic brain—then we allow people to rationalize with analytical thought—using the neocortex.

In this case, I’m communicating with myself. When I set goals of feeling better and looking better, there are many barriers to achieving long-term results. For instance, sometimes I feel better after just a few short weeks of changing my behavior—starting to exercise or eating better—then I stop. Goal accomplished. Or sometimes, I come down a size or even two and really look better. Good enough. I’m back to my old behavior, and I’ve gained the weight back plus extra before I know it.

What I believe is simple: I want to live fully. I want to take the gifts I have been given and apply them to the fullest extent in my life. Do you know that feeling you have when you give all of yourself to life? When you truly believe in something and can make a difference? Many “hows” and “whats” may fall out of that, but the “why” is at the center.

So how does the idea of living fully motivate me to change my eating behaviors? It’s such a positive concept that it feels worthy of addressing. It goes beyond my previous goals, which felt selfish and had an end. Some of the most inspiring people I know seem to never stop trying to live fully, and they will do whatever it takes to move aside barriers to achieve this purpose. Feeding our body with nutritious foods and avoiding foods that harm us is a basic behavior that fuels our ability to function to our fullest extent. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 9 of 10 Americans don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. “The kind of food that we eat is the kind that’s most profitable to market, process and produce. Not necessarily the food that’s best for society as a whole,” said Dr. John Ikerd, Agricultural Historian and Economist, University of Missouri-Columbia.

The vast majority of the food I had been eating was pre-packaged convenience food or fast food. It fit my lifestyle but negatively affected the quality of my life in every way imaginable. Over the past sprint, I spent a couple of hours planning meals for the week and found a grocery store that recently opened about 15 minutes from my home, Freshfields Farms. They keep it simple—fresh produce, meats, some dairy, and that’s it.  Once home, I prepped all the vegetables and fruit into individual servings, marinated chicken and froze for later in the week, then prepared salads and two meals for dinners and lunches, along with breakfast egg and veggie cups that would last a few days. This took about three hours. During the week, I could grab food on the go just as I would have in the past—but now the food was wholesome.

My eating wasn’t perfect, but in alignment with the agile approach, progress rather than perfection is the goal. I increased the percentage of my whole food, home-prepared main meals from 17% to 78%. My daily energy level was much higher, and I lost 4.2 pounds. It was a productive couple of weeks, but just like the rest of us struggling with our weight, a couple of weeks of progress for me can be reversed in a heartbeat. I could easily gain back 4 pounds in a weekend.

For my next iteration—Sprint 2—I will focus on mindful eating. According to Weight of the Nation, “Research suggests that taking time to think about what we eat—and why we are eating—can be an effective way to attain and maintain a healthy weight.” I am going to log all of my food and eating behaviors into a food journal app along with continuing to prepare food in advance and improve the nutritional value in the food I consume. According to Dr. David Altshuler, Geneticist and Endocrinologist, Massachusetts General Hospital, “We underestimate how hard it is to change your behavior, not once, not for a week or a month till you’re cured, but to change it every day for the rest of your life.” For me, it’s going to require a sense of purpose to sustain the effort.