“Another weight loss article.”

That’s what you’re thinking. But keep this tab open for a few seconds.

Ponder on this idea:

PEOPLE SUCCEED AT WEIGHT LOSS FOR A BUNCH OF DIFFERENT REASONS BUT FAIL FOR A FEW VERY OBVIOUS ONES.

If you avoid the reasons why people fail at losing weight, then you will eventually discover a unique combination of tactics that work for you.

That’s what worked for me.

At 15, I was 220 lbs. Folks at school called me “centner” because I was over a hundred kilos. I couldn’t climb three-story stairs without being short of breath.

Eight years later, I’m the guy on the right. Last month, I did a non-stop 100 km bike ride in 3 hours and 40 minutes.

When I started learning behavioral biology, I finally realized why my approach worked.

And it’s much easier than anything else I’ve ever seen.

How I Lost 60 Pounds

I suffered from being overweight since childhood. The pounds crippled slowly, one by one. At 13, the ugly reality hit me like a punch in the face:

“I’M FAT.”

I tried a bunch of things to lose weight.

I remember I’d read somewhere that it’s easier to lose weight by making small changes, so I tried replacing cakes with apples and potatoes with salads. Didn’t work. I couldn’t stick to it for more than a few weeks because I didn’t see any results and I liked palatable foods.

I also tried restrictive dieting, like eating no sweets or carbs. But I felt like shit and didn’t see a future where I eat like that every single day. It was just too much.

Another thing I tried was intense cardio. My problem was that I couldn’t run. After 200 meters on the track, my knees were in agony. I was too heavy.

After two years of trial and failure, nothing worked. But I desperately wanted a change, so I decided to give weight loss one last try. I picked the same low-carb, high protein diet with lots of intense cardio.

The only thing I changed was the time limit; two weeks.

And it was a game-changer.

In all my previous attempts to lose weight, I wanted to build a routine for life. I was running a marathon instead of a sprint. “I’m never gonna eat this crap again” — I was telling myself over and over again after bingeing.

“NEVERS” NEVER WORK.

But this time it was different.

I knew that in two weeks I’ll be back to my regular routine. I gave myself permission to do that. That’s why I thought: “Okay, how can I make myself to push through it for only two weeks?”

I asked mom to buy lots of broccoli and chicken instead of my our regular food for these two weeks. I took home-cooked meals to school instead of buying lunch at a coffee shop, where I usually had cravings or ate something because my friends were eating too. I pre-packed my training clothes every night to help myself get my shit together in the morning and do cardio. I tried to make it as simple as possible for these two weeks.

TWO WEEKS LATER, I WEIGHED MYSELF. -10 LBS. I FELT ON TOP OF THE WORLD.

Suddenly, I wanted to invest more time and energy in weight loss because I knew it was possible. I kind of had known that before, but on the back of my head, I wasn’t sure.

I was also terrified. “I can’t live like that my whole life.” I knew I was hitting my willpower limits, and I almost binged once during these two weeks.

I needed a new approach; a more sustainable one. Now I had real progress under my belt, so I felt like I was ready to start playing long-term.

At that time, I didn’t know much about nutrition. But I had some gut feeling on what’s healthy and what’s not (I believe that most people kind of feel that eating that huge triple burger from McDonald’s is not quite healthy).

So I decided to focus on my daily choices. Picking a salad instead of pasta in a restaurant. Skipping breakfast when I don’t feel like eating. Drinking more water. And, most importantly, not obsessing too much about it.

I thought that if I made each day a bit more healthy, then it’d yield tremendous results in the long run. And it did.

I LOST 60 POUNDS IN 9 MONTHS.

I started exercising. Five years later, I became a pro athlete in rowing, won 3 titles, ran 3 marathons, 2 ultras, and did a bunch of other crazy shit.

But, most importantly, I managed to keep fit. I’m in my best shape now, nine years later losing those 60 pounds. Being overweight is a distant nightmare now.

But only years later, I realized why my system worked.

It goes back to our brain.

Aug 2019.

How to Change a Behavior

There are two ways to change behavior:

  1. Radical approach.
  2. Small, step-by-step changes.

The first one delivers results quickly but requires titanic willpower.

That’s why “nevers” never work. It’s unsustainable. People who say “I’m never gonna eat sweets again” set themselves up for failure. And look, it’s life. All sorts of things happen, and saying too many “nevers” is just not an enjoyable way to live.

The second approach is more like “take the stairs.” Making small changes every day, which do not require lots of willpower to accomplish. The only problem is that it does not drive immediate results.

Ponder on this idea for a second:

The step-by-step approach is supposed to work because the change is small. In reality, it doesn’t work for most people because they see no visible results, which leads to a lack of motivation to stick to a change, no matter how small it is.

I hear you asking, “But how do you actually approach weight loss then?”

Here’s where my experience comes into play.

The Third Way

I discovered that if you start from short-term radical change and then transition to a long-term, “take the stairs” approach, then healthy habits stick.

Once you accomplish your first results, you feel like a winner. You realize that it’s actually possible. You are proud of yourself and motivated to keep going. That’s where “take the stairs” approach comes into play.

In the US Navy, they have a thing called Hell Week.

This is when future seals train for five days and five nights solid with a maximum total of four hours of sleep. They are constantly in motion; always cold, hungry, and wet. Mud is everywhere; it covers uniforms, hands, and faces. Sand burns eyes and chafes raw skin. Sleep is fleeting.

It’s torturous. But once seals finish the Hell Week, they can overcome much more than before. Every day workouts at 5 am suddenly look wonderful. It’s not that their muscles or endurance doubles in seven days. It’s all in their heads.

How Not to Fail

Tolstoy opens Anna Karenina by observing:

“ALL HAPPY FAMILIES ARE ALIKE; EACH UNHAPPY FAMILY IS UNHAPPY IN ITS OWN WAY.” — LEO TOLSTOY

Wellness is the opposite.

People succeed at weight loss for a bunch of different reasons but fail for a few very obvious ones.

If you avoid the reasons why people fail at losing weight, then you will eventually discover a unique combination of tactics that work for you.

More briefly:

YOU BECOME SUCCESSFUL BY NOT MAKING MISTAKES.

What will work eventually for you might not be the exact combination of two ways, as I described above. If you have enough motivation to start doing small changes and stick to them for years or make a long-term radical change, go for it.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned that make people fail at losing weight:

  1. “I’m never gonna eat sugar again.” Long-term radical change is hard to stick to. Nevers never work. Start from a short-term change and focus on something that will deliver real results (spoiler: not adding sugar to your coffee is not on this list).
  2. “I’m gonna start small and build these healthy habits one by one unless I become fit.” If your primary goal is to lose weight, then you’ll be disappointed after a month or two of not losing a pound. Long-term behavior changes take much much longer to deliver practical, visible results. They will eventually work, but watch out for motivation drop.
  3. “I’m gonna do this radical change for a few days and see how it goes.” Short-term radical change does not mean you’ll lose fifty pounds tomorrow. It means a short, but still significant timeframe (usually 1-4 weeks).
  4. “I’m gonna do this radical thing and eat healthily, but I have no plan how to actually do that.” You need to make this radical change as simple as possible. Cook at home. Get rid of palatable foods. Don’t go to parties for these few weeks. Stick to some diet (less carbs will do). Do something. Anything.
  5. “I’m just gonna work the hell out of it but still eat the same crap.” Only exercising doesn’t work; you need to change your nutrition as well.

And remember: you only need to do it once. Because once you get fit, it becomes much easier to stay that way.

Thank you very much for reading my work.

P.s. feel free to reach out to vasilishynkarenka@gmail.com if you have any questions, need a supportive hand, or just want to chat about your fitness and longevity.