FAT DADS: WHY BECOMING ONE ISN'T YOUR FAULT, STAYING ONE IS, AND HOW TO LEAVE FAT-DAD-DOM BEHIND FOREVER
Crap. I'm Getting Fat.
The first time I remember feeling old was when I realized I've got shirts I still wear that are old enough to vote. The second time was a bigger slap in the face. My pants started getting tight around the waist. I saw a muffin top on the guy in the mirror. The metabolism slow down I'd heard so much about had finally shown up.
For the first time in my life I was getting fat.
The thing is, if you take the normal path in life and you don't do anything different when you hit middle age, you are probably going to get fat. You don't mean to get fat. No one does. You just do what everyone else is doing. What you are supposed to do. What you are biologically programmed to do. Getting fat just happens as a kind of inevitable by-product.
And if you step back and look at it, it totally makes sense. And it's not your fault. Here's what I mean...
When you were single with no kids, you had lots of really good reasons to be in shape. You had to look good to get girls. You had to keep up with your buddies.
And outside of work, you didn't have many real responsibilities so you came up with things to keep yourself busy. Things like "run a half marathon" or "play flag football" or "bike to work".
And you had so much time. Done work at 5:30? Go work out or go for a hike or go play basketball.
You were in shape. Life was fun. But you weren't happy.
"Dude, I need a girlfriend," you'd complain. Every night out and barbecue and coed rec league volleyball game was also (mostly?) an opportunity to meet girls. You were driven. Of course you were! We all were and still are. It's our biology and our chemistry. Our life force driving us forward.
And so it's not your fault.
Because when you finally win that game and land the girl of your dreams and get over worrying about commitment and only having sex with one person for the rest of your life, and you buy that ring that costs way too much because she's totally worth it and you get down on one knee and ask her to please marry you and she says yes! and it's all so amazing...that's when everything is as it should be.
And you are one huge step closer to getting fat. And it's not your fault.
Because then it starts. Maybe it happens slowly or maybe it's sudden. But one way or another working out with your buddies turns into hanging out with your wife. Soccer after work becomes picking out paint colors. Dinner parties. Shopping. Romantic comedies. Good home-cooked meals. All wonderful stuff, but all conspiring to fatten you up.
But add all of that up, every single bit of it, and it's a nit compared to the freight train that's heading your way. The 10.0 magnitude earthquake, the F5 tornado, the category 5 hurricane that you and your girl start "trying" to bring upon yourselves. And when you finally succeed, life becomes more awesome than you ever imagined it could. Little eyes, looking up at you. Tiny fingers wrapped around one of yours. So amazing. So pure and innocent. Opening a door and pulling you through into a new dimension. Your life is forever changed.
And you are now firmly buckled into your seat on the fast train to Fat Dad Land. And it's not your fault.
Because honestly, there is no way you could have seen all the calories coming. Stuff your kid doesn't eat but you feel bad throwing away so you "finish it up." Cake at kids' birthday parties that you really don't want but..."OK sure, I'll have a piece..." Stuff you eat because it's quick and you have to get the kids to swim lessons in 25 minutes and you don't have time to make something better and you'll make sure you make something ahead of time next week.
And now you REALLY don't have time to work out. You're a grown up and you live a grown up life, which mostly means you sit a lot. You sit on your commute. You sit at work. You commute again and when you get home you sit at dinner and sit after dinner while you watch TV and "decompress".
See how the math is working against you here?
And you get fatter and fatter until one day something happens that gives you a big fat slap across the face. Maybe your clothes get too tight to ignore any longer like mine did. Maybe your kid calls you fat. Or maybe, for the first time in your life, your doctor says something other than, "Everything looks good." Something more like, "Your blood pressure and cholesterol are getting pretty high. You need to make a few changes or we'll have to start you on some medication."
And it's not your fault. But that doesn't matter. You're a Fat Dad and it sucks.
Whaddya Say, Boss?
Now you have to decide. Who do you want to be? Which guy are you going to be next year and five, ten, twenty years from now? Which guy is going to walk your little girl down the aisle? Which guy is going to sit on the beach with your wife the next time you go on vacation? Which guy is going to show your kids how they should live? Because no matter what you say, what you do will speak louder.
And if you're going bald like I am you get to ask an even better question: Which bald guy are you going to be? The fit, energetic, soccer player/triathlete/rock climber looking bald guy or the fat and getting fatter, sit around the house and feel sh!tty bald guy?
Thing is, it's up to you. It's simply a matter of how you choose to spend your time. What happens from here on out IS your fault.
Which sucks, because it's hard. There's a ton of pressure on us dads that no one really talks about. Crush it at work. Be a superhero to your kids and a romance novel to your wife. And for God's sake, stay in shape.
But as much as I hate to say it, there's no time for a pity party. This is what we've signed up for as guys. As dads. Figure it out. Make it work. Be a man.
So there you are, you Fat Dad. The pressure is on and the ball's in your court. What are you going to do? Which guy are you going to be? Sounds like a tough spot, doesn't it? Luckily, there's some good news about all this. More on that in a minute. But first, here's something else that sounds like it should be the good news, but isn't.
Losing weight and getting in shape (for almost all of us) is simple: Exercise regularly and eat better. Keep doing that for a long time.
Thousands of people around the world change their ways and become healthier, happier, and better looking every day by exercising and eating better, so you can do it too, right? Five minutes of googling and you'll find quick, simple cardio + resistance workouts you can do in very little time without buying a gym membership or any equipment. Five more and you'll find a handful of the most important changes to make to your diet.
Here, I've even gone out and found them for you.
Quick and Easy Exercises for Fat Dads Who Want to Be Fit and Cool Again
The Best, Easiest Ways for Fat Dads to Eat Better So They Can Lose Weight and See Their D!cks In the Shower Again ("What's up little guy! How you been?!")
There you go. Done. Just keep at it and you'll become the fit, energetic guy you want to be and other people will ask how you did it. Your pants will fit. You'll actually look good in a shirt again (and out of one). Your wife will secretly be proud to be seen with you at parties. Your kids will ask why all the other kids' dads are fat. You'll sleep better. Sex will be better.
But wait there's more (Dude, there's so much more)....
Yeah, But What's the Science Behind All of This?
In Charles Duhigg's bestseller The Power of Habit he shares how research has shown over and over again that exercise is a "keystone habit" - a habit that once adopted creates positive effects in other areas of a person's life.
"When people habitually start exercising, even as infrequently as once a week, they start changing other, unrelated patterns in their lives, often unknowingly. Typically, people who exercise start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. It's not completely clear why. But for many people, exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change."
"Exercise spills over," says University of Rhode Island researcher James Prochaska in The Power of Habit, "There's something about it that makes other good habits easier."
Duhigg and Prochaska see a link between exercise and lots of other good stuff, but they seem pretty confused about why. Skeptics will jump up out of their easy chairs and shout, "Correlation, but not causation! Ha! Now, where's the remote?" Fair enough, maybe it wasn't the exercise that made all those people start doing all those other good things after they started exercising consistently. Maybe.
Except there's another voice in the woods yelling pretty much the same thing about exercise and this one says he knows why - and even how - it works. John Ratey, MD's book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain says aerobic exercise helps us learn better, be in a better mood, focus better, relax and feel less stressed.
But how do we know exercise actually causes any of this? Ratey's response: "...exercise unleashes a cascade of neurochemicals and growth factors...physically bolstering the brain's infrastructure...The neurons in the brain connect to one another through "leaves" on treelike branches, and exercise causes those branches to grow and bloom with new buds, thus enhancing brain function at a fundamental level." This is not woo woo stuff. This is straight up science.
So, there. I've given you the silver bullet. Exercise and eat better. Or better yet, forget eating better. Just exercise. Because if you're like most people, once you start exercising regularly you'll start eating better, so that will take care of itself. Easy peasy lemon squeezy, like my kids say.
Except, chances are, none of what I've said here - no matter how good the reasons are, no matter how much sense it makes to you - none of it will make any difference. Because you won't use it. You won't do any of it. You'll keep doing what you're doing and get fatter and fatter until you're that sixty year old guy who can't walk down the block without stopping for a breather.
That's because knowing what to do is the easy part. The real question - the hard part - is how? How do you start exercising and stick with it when you don't exercise now and you don't like exercising. How, when you're busy and tired at the end of the day and you've tried working out before but never stuck with it because you don't have the willpower, and not having the willpower makes you feel like a failure, which makes you want to start exercising even less because you don't want to fail again?
Ready for the good news?
The good news is that we now have a better answer to the question of "How?" than ever before. There's never been a time when it was easier to start and stick with a new habit than right now.
There has been a massive increase in research around habit formation over the last decade, both in academia and in the corporate world. What we now know about behavioral psychology, including how habits work, gives us everything we need to create new, lasting habits without relying on willpower and self-discipline like we've always had to.
Now we know how habits work in the brain, how to start new ones and how to change old ones (hint: you can never eliminate a habit, only change it). So how do we use all this to start an exercise habit that doesn't depend on our fair weather friend Willpower?
It's really pretty straight forward.
How Habits Work
Habit is your brain’s power tool
Your brain creates and uses habits to make itself more efficient. To get the same work done with less effort. Scientific studies show that once something becomes a habit it becomes easier and requires less brain power and less willpower to do.
Habits result from consistent repetition over time
This is key. Most people make the critical mistake of focusing on intensity in the beginning to get quick results. They say, "I'm going to start jogging for 30 minutes every day to get in shape." Then they define success as "jogging for 30 minutes every day" and anything less becomes a failure. This is so tempting to do, but it's also completely backward and might be the biggest reason people don't stick with things.
Think of it like this: the habit you're building is a road for your sports car behavior to drive on. Focusing on intensity and results first is like driving your car through the construction zone. You can probably do it for a little while, but it's hard and uncomfortable, and pretty soon you'll get tired of the struggle and quit.
Don't do that. Give yourself a chance and do things in the right order. Build the road first, THEN drive the car. Just be a little patient and trust that you'll get all the results you want once the habit is in place and you turn the intensity up.
Make this your mantra as you start: "Consistency over Intensity. Routine over Results."
But be sure not to confuse consistency with perfection. Consistency is key. Perfection kills. Expecting yourself to be perfect is a great way to set yourself up for failure, guilt, and demotivation. Do everything you can to be consistent, but when you miss - and you're going to miss at some point - recognize it as an opportunity to build confidence by persevering through a challenge.
And know that your attention is like sunshine here. Whatever you shine it on will grow. Stew on a miss and you'll make it a bigger deal than it should be. Instead, focus squarely on keeping your habit going, putting one step in front of the other, and being an awesome role model for your kids as you leave Fat-Dad-Dom in your dust.
Add this to your mantras: "Perseverance over Perfection."
Baby steps are the secret weapon for staying consistent
Motivation and willpower are fleeting. You can't rely on them. Don't beat yourself up over that. Accept it and plan for it by giving yourself a way to win - to stay consistent - that you can actually pull off when you're not motivated and your willpower is nowhere to be found.
Come up with a small, baby steps version of your action, and then - and this is important - truly commit to that, AND NOT your complete action - as your goal every day. Our jogger could set a small, baby steps version like "put on my running clothes and shoes, step outside and take 10 deep breaths."
It sounds kind of silly, but most days if he gets dressed to go jogging and steps outside, he's probably going to actually go for a jog. But on days when he's running late or feeling crappy, he can still do the small version and feel like a champ.
Do more when you have it in you, but when you don't, just do the small version and call it a win. Because that was your goal all along. That way you've stuck with it on a bad day and still hit your goal. You've won. You haven't failed. You've kept exercise in your life and you're motivated to do more next time.
It can be hard to grasp until you try it and see it work, but there is a massive difference between doing a small version of something and not doing anything at all. Here's an example:
I have a morning routine I do that gets my day started off really nicely. It includes exercising, stretching and some meditation. When I have all the time I want, I can stretch it out to 90 minutes pretty easily. But the morning I wrote this I woke up late because I'd forgotten to turn my alarm on the night before. I didn't even have 20 minutes for my routine.
Before I knew how habits work, I would have skipped the routine entirely. But instead, I shortened it and did a small version. Instead of a 40 minute run I stepped outside in the cool morning air and did 30 jumping jacks. Instead of a full body stretch I bent over and touched my toes for 8 breaths. Instead of meditating for 20 minutes I only did 5. The whole thing took 12 minutes.
And you know how I felt? I felt like a person who exercises, stretches and meditates every day. But even more importantly, I was absolutely craving to exercise more, stretch more and meditate longer. I'd given myself a taste and I wanted more. It was still killing me 3 hours later when I wrote this. I honestly couldn't wait for the next morning to come and I made damn sure I got up earlier.
See what happened there? If I'd considered anything short of a full run, stretch and meditation session to be a failure, I would have failed and felt crappy about it. But I'm in this for the long haul. I'm creating my habit. Building my road. Consistency over intensity. Routine over results. Instead of feeling crappy and demotivated because I'd failed, I felt like I'd succeeded and was more motivated than ever to keep it going. That could only happen because I defined success in a really small way.
OK, I've beaten this horse long enough, but I know it can be a tough thing to wrap your head around. And if you don't really get it, your chances of creating a lasting habit will go way down. And that would be a shame.
So if you need to, take a little more time with this bit. I first heard about the baby steps concept from Stanford researcher BJ Fogg and two of his creations: The Fogg Behavior Model and the Tiny Habits Program. You can learn more in an article I wrote about Tiny Habits here. That article has links to BJ's own sites and to a TEDx talk where he explains it all in his own words.
Habits are made up of three components that together are called a Habit Loop
1) A cue or trigger, 2) the behavior itself, and 3) a reward. The cue is what reminds or prompts you to do your behavior. The reward is something positive you get or feel from doing your behavior that tells your brain this is something worth remembering for later.
Most of the work in creating a new habit will go into finding the right cue and reward. It can take some experimenting to get this right, but once it clicks, your brain will start to crave the reward as soon as the cue happens. That craving is what drives the habit loop, and in the end makes the behavior easier and more automatic.
If a few examples of habit loops would be helpful, feel free to download my Reading Notes from The Power of Habit that are out on my Resources page. The appendix to those notes includes 28 examples of habit loops from throughout the book that should give you an idea of the kinds of things that can be good cues and rewards. Some of them (e.g. getting a monkey to pull a lever in a lab experiment) aren't likely to be super useful, but maybe one or two will trigger a new idea or some new understanding for you.
There's more to habits, but those are the basics. Not too tough, right? Commit to consistency. Define success small to weather the rough patches. Experiment a bit to find the cue and reward that work for you. Keep at it until craving kicks in and voila! - you have a habit.
The Only Thing That Matters
The last step is to take this knowledge and actually put it to use. Getting from knowledge to action can be tough. Step by step guidance can make all the difference. Here are the five steps plus one mindset shift I use to help my private coaching clients start new habits that last.
First, shift your mindset from, "Anything that doesn't work is a failure," to, "I'm a scientist experimenting to find a combination of cues, behaviors and rewards that work for me. Anything that doesn't work gives me new information that gets me closer to something that will."
Step 1: Write down exactly what behavior(s) your new exercise habit will consist of. Be as specific as you can, including specific answers to the questions of which exercise(s) will you do, on what day(s) and at what time(s), , where, how frequently, with whom, etc.
Step 2: Get really clear on why exercising consistently is important to you and worth doing. Visualize yourself after having exercised consistently for 10 or 20 years. Look closely at how you look and feel. Then write it all down.
Step 3: Come up with a small version of your exercise habit to do when motivation or time are in short supply. Set your small version as your definition of success.
Step 4: Pick a cue and reward to wrap around your behavior to build a first draft version of your habit loop. Try it out. Experiment, learn, and tweak as needed.
Step 5: Build as many back up cues, rewards and motivators into your new habit as make sense for you. These can include involving other people to work out with or to hold you accountable, visual cues like a calendar on your wall, and tech tools like apps on your phone that remind you to work out and track your progress.
That's it, really. That's the basic framework I've used to successfully start a bunch of new habits myself and to help a few other people I've coached along the way start theirs. I'm confident it will help you too.
A Few Final Words
I think it's important to take a step back here and remember that the point of all of this is to be happy. This entire article rests on the assumption that you'll be happier if you're healthier, more energetic, more fit, etc.
If that's not true for you, I encourage you, with complete sincerity, to pass on this whole exercising thing. Sleep in. Watch TV. Play video games. Whatever brings you real joy and lasting happiness. It's your life. We only get one and it goes quicker than we think.
But if you're tired of being a Fat Dad, then hopefully what I've written here will help you make a real and lasting change. If you've read this far, you understand all the good that consistent exercise will create for you and your family. You have a simple, step-by-step framework for starting and supporting a new exercise habit. And you know where to go to find examples of how I and other people have used those steps to create lasting new habits amid all the busyness and chaos of our real lives.
All that's left to do is to start. But start slowly. Easily. Comfortably. Then turn the intensity up bit by bit as you go, when it feels right. If your goal is to make exercise an important part of the rest of your life, it is infinitely better for you to do too little as you're starting than to do too much. As long as you're doing a little bit every single day.
And remember: Consistency over Intensity. Routine over Results. Perseverance over Perfection.
Like this? Share it. I'd sure appreciate it. Thanks and take care... - Shaun