How can you be an example of what’s possible for your patients on their weight loss journey? I got this question recently in a doctor’s social media group I like. The answer is simpler than you think. As their doctor, you aspire to perfection in your medical care for them, but you can be an example of what’s possible in weight loss as a plain regular human being. Sharing your experience with them, in all its imperfection, can help them shed their own perfectionistic tendencies that don’t serve people on their weight loss journeys. In fact, your patients will likely appreciate the shared experience.
Things will go wrong on a weight loss journey, but habits can win out. I still find myself in a stressful moment, standing in my pantry, reaching toward a box of cereal to buffer away the feeling of squirrels running up and down my torso (my stress experience). I remind myself that my new habit is to get a cup of tea as a break from my writing time. I make the cup of tea and congratulate myself on remembering the tea. A general mindset that encourages a person to just keep going is a great asset. The writings of James Clear in Atomic Habits and BJ Fogg in Tiny Habits give us proven neuroscience-based advice on how to use our brains to make good habits happen and stick.
Get a win. Make it a small, easy one, but then keep going with it. Small things done consistently or even somewhat consistently add powerfully over time. Perhaps you switch to a savory breakfast, which is proven to keep your blood sugar lower for the whole day. This keeps insulin, your fat storage hormone, lower all day as well. Can you see that if you switched to a savory breakfast for most days of the month, how much would that change your physiology naturally toward weight loss? Then keep going with it.
You’re now likely thinking of a small weight loss win that would be very meaningful to you, and I’ll tell you how to get it. Pair it with something else you already do that would make it easy. For example, let’s say you want to prepare a healthy lunch to bring to work at the hospital or clinic. Pack the lunch as you clean up dinner. This can be done while you’re doing dishes or just closing up a take-out container to put in the trash. Leftovers are a terrific lunch, so this is an easy pairing. Or perhaps as you make your kids’ school lunches, you roll up some protein, vegetables, spicy mustard, and cheese in two large romaine lettuce leaves. Do that for a week and see if you like your life better. If yes, keep going. If not, try something else. By stacking the new habit with the one you already have, you use the power of an existing neural network in your brain instead of generating a new one. Then, give yourself a fist pump, or do a happy dance every time you make lunch! Neuroscience research shows that your brain will want to do the new habit again because you made a tiny celebration of the process.
If you mainly eat out, open the menu and ask yourself, “How can I joyfully nourish my body right now?” This question focuses your brain to choose something that sounds delicious (joyful), but also the Fried Bludgeon of Meat may not sound as enticing. Perhaps that dish incorporating vegetables (nourishing) will shimmer off the page or jump off your phone screen as you scroll through take-out options. Punishing yourself with a “healthy choice” from the restaurant definitely won’t feel like a win, so don’t “should” on yourself. You need a win to celebrate, to increase your chances of continuing the habit. Joyfully nourish yourself with something delectable.
Here’s how you translate this into being an example for your patient who has a weight loss goal. Share your new habits and experiences. Let your patients know about the habit you are working on, and ask them what they find meaningful and useful. It’s important to share stories of the bad day when it just didn’t work out, but you went back to your new habit the next time. Normalize that the stumbles are part of the journey and not actually failures. You are a shining example of what’s possible for your patients who want to lose weight by making small changes, doing them imperfectly but consistently, and sharing your vulnerable human experience. Your flawed example will be an inspiration to your patients to just keep going as well. Perfection unnecessary.
Heather Awad is a family physician.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com