Recapping Week 5 of Kathie J. and Larry’s weight loss journey

This week was all about Larry and Kathie J. taking a closer look at their environment and saying, “What am I going to change to help me in this journey? How am I going to set my environment up so it’s helping me make the healthiest and easiest choices? How do I make healthy the default?”

The Things Around You Predict Your Success

Your physical environment is anything you come in contact with at home, at work, in your car, etc. Many people don’t realize the huge effect our physical environment has on our behaviors. Because they are such a part of your everyday life, you get used to them being there, so you don’t even notice this huge power it has over you.

The truth is, most of the time our environment is pushing us to be unhealthy; usually, the unhealthy option is the easiest option because it’s right there. We end up having to use all our willpower — which is a finite resource — to resist the temptations of our physical environment.

What if we paid more attention to our physical environment? What if we could change it to be healthy so that it inspired us behave in the ways we want, instead of having to spend so much energy pushing against it all the time?

If you’re trying to do a new behavior, like eating differently, getting more physical activity, or having a positive mindset, you will likely have to change your current environment to get to one that helps you.

Because willpower is a finite resource, you never know when you will run out. Changing your environment protects you from this situation.

To help Larry and Kathie J. really learn what this means, I gave them an experiential assignment: keeping a candy baby with them at all times.

The Power of the Candy Baby

In this exercise, we ask participants to fill a clear, plastic bag with their favorite candy that they carry with them everywhere they go for an entire week. At first, people think this is crazy. They say, “Why are you making us do this? Is it to strengthen our willpower?”

It’s actually the opposite. This exercise is all about showing you how your physical environment has power over you and forces you to confront a situation where you don’t have control over your physical environment — or so you might think.

Kathie J. rocked this exercise. The first thing she did was wrap her candy baby in duct tape. She made it really hard to get into the bag so that if she felt tempted, she didn’t have to rely on willpower as much because the candy was not as readily available to her.

How to Change Your Surroundings So you Exercise

In State of Slim, we’re constantly looking at how we can set ourselves up for long-term success by putting certain behaviors in place. When you’re addressing your physical environment, there are so many options:

For example, if you’re trying to get up early and exercise, where are your workout clothes? Are they waiting for you, ready to go, as soon as you open your closet? Or are you digging around in the corner trying to find socks and leggings and sneakers? Which environment would make it more likely that you’ll actually get up and exercise?

To make sure you follow through on your early morning exercise plans, have everything ready to go the night before: what you will wear to exercise, along with everything you need for the day, packed and ready to go. If everything is ready to go, your morning is more likely to run smoothly, and you’re less likely to run into excuses not to work out.

Eat Better with These Environmental Changes

There’s a lot of science that says the size of your plates, cups, and bowls affects your eating behaviors. The bigger your plate, the more food you eat. Science also shows us that people don’t even realize they’re doing it — it’s stealth.

The good news is, we know that if you decrease your plate size, you put less food on it. The portion looks bigger on a smaller plate, so you eat less. If you want to change your eating environment, the first thing to do is study the size of your kitchenware — is it subconsciously encouraging you to eat more? If so, serve your food on smaller plates and in smaller bowls.

Another thing you can change is related to this idea of “out of sight, out of mind.” If you have junk food readily available, maybe even sitting on the kitchen counter, what do you think is going to happen? Since it’s right there, the easy choice is the unhealthy choice. What if, instead, you put the junk food in a very hard-to-reach place that takes energy and effort to dig out? What if you put vegetables and fruits in their place, making the healthy choices readily available? You want to have the things you want to eat — the healthier options — front and center, easy to get to.

Own Your Actions

The other big thing we did in Week 5 was the team challenge. This is something we do in State of Slim all the time. It’s an exercise or activity the whole team has to complete before the next class. This week, I challenged Kathie J. and Larry to do 25,000 meters of rowing. If they had started at the beginning of the week and split it up, that would have been a doable goal (about 1,800 meters a day). But they waited until Sunday to tackle the challenge and by then, it was nearly impossible, so they weren’t able to achieve that goal.

I didn’t give them this challenge because I’m their personal trainer (I’m not). I wanted to see what they would learn from it.

Kathie J. and Larry learned that they have to start these challenges earlier. They learned they have to put in effort every day to achieve their goals — you can’t do everything at the last minute and expect success. This was a huge learning for them, and I was proud to see it.

Your Takeaway:

Make an environmental change. If you’re struggling to do anything — maybe you want to start meditating, you want to go to bed earlier or get up earlier — ask yourself, “Is my environment set up to help me? Or is my environment making it more difficult?” Set up your environment to make it easier on you. Change just one thing and see what happens.

Follow and support Larry and Kathy J

Learn more about the State of Slim at the CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center