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An Agile Approach to Behavior Change and Weight Loss

Posted by Molly Walker on Jul 17, 2015 03:50 PM

First installment of A Professional Journey to Better Health

I’m one of those lucky people who has a great passion for my work. I’ve always loved marketing, advertising, and IT—as crazy as it can be.  After 20 years in the industry, I’ve landed with Brunet-Garcia, a company whose purpose is to create positive social impact. We work with our clients on health and safety behavior change campaigns that can improve and even save lives.

wotn

Weight of the Nation—an Emmy-nominated HBO Documentary Films series on obesity. According to HBO, the project brings together “the nation’s leading research institutions including the Institute of Medicine (IOM), in association with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and in partnership with the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and Kaiser Permanente.” The four-part series discussed the consequences of being overweight or obese, the choices we can make to lose weight and maintain weight loss, the damage obesity is doing to our nation’s children, and challenges and major driving forces of the obesity epidemic.

I watched the series with great intensity as an example of the type of collaborative work our client would love to engage in to create a dialogue about the state of mental health in our nation. It was refreshing to see such an intelligent approach to an emotional subject.

In trying to address my own weight issues, I’ve read dozens of dieting books and hundreds of articles; I’ve joined at least 9 diet programs, and spent thousands of dollars losing weight, just to gain it back again and more.  I’m not alone. According to Weight of the Nation, “People who complete intensive weight-loss programs lose approximately 10% of their body weight. Once they stop the program, people tend to regain the weight they lost—about one-third within a year and almost all of it within 5 years.” The fact is, after years of trying and failing, the motivation I’ve felt on occasion to change my behavior faded quickly. Somehow, I could push it aside and live in my head. After all, I’m valued for my ideas—and rewarded for my ideas. Who wants to admit they are something as horrible sounding as “obese” or worse “morbidly obese?”  I’ll just push that aside and get back to everything else I love about life, thank you very much. 

I woke up one Saturday morning thinking about Weight of the Nation, my professional life, my family, and my health.  I had been very busy with work and eating the most convenient, pre-packaged foods available, while getting no exercise and rarely sleeping. It was a beautiful day to enjoy, and I just felt sick, heavier than ever with a complete lack of energy. I couldn’t help but think—if I can help solve very complex problems in my professional life, why haven’t I been able to do something seemingly as simple as maintaining a healthy weight?

How would I approach this problem in my professional life? I’d utilize quantitative and qualitative research, consider behavior change methodologies, look at success models, identify motivation and barriers to accomplishing the objectives, and rank priorities. I plan every day of my professional life. There is never a day I leave the office without a plan for what I may do the following day. I learn from the successes of the brilliant and talented people and partners by whom I’m lucky to be surrounded. With my technical background, I gravitate to agile management principles.  Just as the word “agile” implies, it allows us to move and adapt flexibly with constant feedback and accountability.

I had just happened to hear a TED talk about Agile Programming for Your Family. It was an example of how a family used agile methods to organize the chaos in their family life. Why not take what I’ve learned from a successful professional life and apply it to change my behavior and improve my health?

The agile approach will include creating a vision of what I want to accomplish, a roadmap to identify and prioritize goals, a timeline, two week sprint—work cycle, or iteration—plans, daily journaling, sprint reviews, and for my sprint retrospectives, I’ll write another blog to discuss how the sprint went and what to improve on the next sprint. For my first sprint, I’ll be planning and preparing healthy food at home for the following few days in advance. I’ve found that if the food is convenient, I’ll eat it. As CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden says, “If you go with the flow in America today, you will end up overweight or obese, as two-thirds of Americans do.” So, here’s to trying something new.