By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here
People ask me why mindset and philosophy are such important aspects of health and weight loss. Because they create your behaviors, and your behaviors, in part, create you. The actions you take or don't take, whether it be conscious or unconscious, affect your current self, and it does so in real time. The consequences don't exist only when you step on the scale, they continuously exist.
Your philosophy of life is critical for the same reason there are no good studies on obese people losing weight and keeping it off — what remains unresolved is the human element. (Here is an article from someone pleading for one valid study: "I’m Asking You For A Peer-Reviewed Study Showing That A Typical Fat Person Can Become Sustainably Non-Fat Through Deliberate Weight-Loss." And there are none.) You can get plenty of willing participants for anything related to weight loss; however, the difficulty is in getting people not only to stick with the method but to also be honest with self-assessments. (And it's not that we are being dishonest, it's that we are not always aware. And it's quite the task to get people to be aware of behaviors they never had to be aware of before, and then assume it will happen automatically.)
In practical terms, you are the sum of your behaviors. (There's more to it than that, of course, if we are talking in absolute terms, but the parts that are impractical to mention are the things that are not within our ability to change.) This is not to shame anyone or to say this is intentional or a weakness in character. In fact, much of our life philosophy is unconscious — habits automatically set to speed through life — mindlessly. Imagine consciously making decisions on every minutia; it would not only be draining but also time-consuming. You would get nothing done. Our behaviors are partially determined by our environment, our upbringing, our circumstances, and any trauma. (For some, trauma is the most influential factor.) None of this becomes fully conscious or up for change unless we reflect on them and introspect. We must become aware of ourselves, rather instinctive reactions and automatic responses to stimuli. From mindless to mindful, we must first be aware of what we are doing if we are to change what we are doing. (It's not that we are never turning on our higher functioning mind, it's just busy either with school or making money. And so it has little time to consider the very being of you, or why you are gaining weight the moment it is happening.)
We jump immediately to method without addressing the human element. We aren't machines to be programmed; we have rich lives meant to be lived by rich selves. (Rich in emotion and texture, not necessarily in wealth.) We forget this obvious truth and think like mechanics trying to fix a car that has no soul. Mechanics manually fix cars; and when it can't be fixed, they junk it. Humans cannot be manually be fixed — we are autonomous — we can only be given suggestions, and it is up to us to follow them and fix ourselves. Even in the case of heart surgery, the surgery is only as good as the new life we choose to lead afterward.
We are categorically different from the objects we create; you can study objects and see what materials affect them with high certainty because objects will not leave the study and objects lack free will. An object will sit and let you destroy it. Why, then, does it make sense to objectify ourselves?
Before we can even agree on a method, our psychology, stigmas, and perception of cultural pressures must change — our philosophy of life. It would be more beneficial if society would change but that is more a product of crowd psychology more than our own psychology. However, you are a part of the crowd and if each individual changes, the whole herd will changes. So the best way to change the crowd is to first change yourself.
When it comes to weight loss, what absolutely crushes diet and exercise in terms of effectiveness? Moving to another country. I'm not being facetious, but literal. What does moving do? It completely upends everything about how you live. An existential change. If the country is healthier than the one you came from, you will get healthier. If it's worse in health than the country you came from, you, again, will adapt. But what is in the business of existential change? Philosophy. Because it's not about moving, its about adopting a new conscientious way of thinking (and thinking more often). It's not only when you move — it happens in college, when you join the military, when you find a certain spin class, become a CrossFit cultist — when you find the right sensei, comrades, and dojo. Tribalism also feeds new thinking. It's about immersion, it's about change. Not adding more material interventions but changing the immaterial, ourselves. It's not about adding a class or a shake or some pills and going back to your normal life and usual self, it's you that must change. Psychology, not material methods of diet and exercise, is the top priority. Convince yourself otherwise and the proof will come at the expense of your physical and/ or mental health.
For some, that has meant counseling. (This divides into two subgroups: talk and conditioning therapy, which are rooted in philosophy, in particular, rationality, theory of mind, and philosophy of consciousness. The other subgroup is pharmacology. But they are not mutually exclusive, they are often used in conjunction. Friends and family involvement in helping to facilitate a healthier environment only increases effectiveness.) But for all, it has meant lifestyle change, an introspection of values, defining what it means to be happy, an awareness of where we put our attention and energy, the people we spend time with, reflecting on our habits and triggers, a changing of negative thought patterns, a change in our sleep, including when we sleep and when we rise, cooking for ourselves, social engagements based around activity rather than food, creation of new and helpful routines, walking more, standing more — existential changes, as if your mind has moved to a better place.
It's difficult to change everything around us, so it is we that must change, from the top down. We must take into consideration that it is our personality, our quirks, the things that make us us, is what makes us us. And if you don't like the result of who you are, then change who you are. The compromise isn't in not doing it and expecting new results, it's about how much you want to change relative to the new results desired. That goes counter to typical life advice, and maybe that's part of the problem, typical life advice lead us to typical problems — however, it is part of good philosophy and psychology, which ultimately lead to a healthier material body.
What is a philosophy of life? It's our manual on living. How do you want to live your life? And is the way you are currently living in line with that? Does it reflect who you want to be? Or who you think you really are? Sometimes our perception of ourselves is out of line with what we actually put out in the world. Then changing ourselves and changing how we live is a path to authenticity.
Change the immaterial to change the material. Just trying to change the material, the body, will not affect the immaterial, the thing that makes you you. If you change, your body will change. If you don't change, then ultimately nothing will change for you. Say this out loud, "I didn't change, and I'm in the best health of my life." Does that sound authentic? It's only authentic if you were already in the best health — when nothing needs to change. But to have change without changing, the typical fitness mindset, is the hallmark of bad philosophy. (Which is what creates the need for philosophy.) Not only doing the same, we often double-down on the same and expect new results. It's not that we can't be reasonable, it's just that fitness and weight loss are never expressed in these ways. If they were, more of us with reasonable dispositions would change, and not double-down on what is not working.
Only when healthy habits are in place, can we adjust the dial on effective eating and exercising (followed by 7-9 hours of sleep). Health and weight are byproduct of ontological changes. If you set weight loss as a goal rather than life changes, since weight is a material thing (something that exists in the world), you won't have to change the immaterial (the you that doesn't exist in the world but resides within your body and controls your body). In simpler terms, you won't force yourself to make intrinsic changes if that's not your goal, you will somehow try to lose weight without altering how you think or live.
Set a goal to play the piano exceptionally well without learning how to play the piano. Moreover, do this without any attempt to improve the discipline you would need to even allow you to learn and practice the piano with any competency. And that is why there are no valid studies about sustainable weight loss. It doesn't address the human element that will not follow any method for any meaningful length of time. It's like trying to get scientific results without observation and theory, skipping to method and conclusion. It answers the wrong question. The question isn't "what is the best change?" (so often people will want to know what's the one thing they can change to lose weight) the question is "how do we get ourselves to change?" (Why know a method for something that will not be done?)
You can know one thing or ten thousand things, but can you apply any of them? If not, it's all abstraction that will never affect what exists in the world. Before method, the human element must be improved. To build a home, there must be land to build the home upon. What must first change is our philosophy of life. Only then are we in a place to apply and compare methods. (And only then can we finally get somewhere.)