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Trying to change your body? Be nicer to yourself.

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While running a weight-loss study, Dr. Gary Foster asked a patient what she thought of the program.

“What I’m most grateful for,” she said, “is teaching me a sense of self-compassion.”

This intrigued Foster because self-compassion was a small part of their work.

The team primarily focused on measurable things, like body composition and metabolic rate. Researchers also tracked levels of hunger and depression.

In progress reports, patients were asked a series of adherence questions, such as how close they came to reaching their weekly goals for intake and activity. They also were asked, “What did you do to be kind to yourself this week?”

“When I had setbacks, I treated myself as I would a friend,” she told Foster. “I wasn’t the enemy. And that’s so critical for weight loss.”

Foster soon began encouraging all his patients to be nicer to themselves. Subsequent studies recommended positive self-talk. Then, just as quickly as it emerged, this theme faded. Not because he lost interest; because the people funding his work wanted him to target other things.

Those studies went so well that Foster continued to explore evidence-based approaches to wellness in the community setting. This passion is what brought him to WW (then known as Weight Watchers) in 2013.

Within a few years, he noticed a recurring theme from WW members. Or, rather, he noticed it again.

“What’s in your head is as important as what’s on your plate,” Foster said. “It’s how you think about yourself and it’s how you think about the journey. It’s those two things together. It’s not particularly novel, but it’s powerfully effective.”

Since rediscovering this key to helping people make healthy changes, Foster has built on it. He’s created a practical, science-based framework to keep anyone on track toward any goal.

This story is mostly about the message. Yet it’s also about the messenger.

It’s the story of a guy who set out to help others … and wound up discovering that the best way to do so is by showing them how to help themselves.

***

Foster remembers exactly when he first learned the joy of directly improving someone else’s life.

It was in high school, while serving food to people who were homeless. The feeling it stirred in him was so profound that he sought more of it.

The pursuit led him to enter the seminary. And to coach youth basketball. It’s even why he left the seminary; prayer time conflicted with other opportunities to directly help people.

“What drove me was more than a cathartic duty to serve,” he said. “I felt a very palpable impact when I helped people. It sort of gave me ‘inspiration juice.’”

Foster went from seminary to Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. He earned a degree in psychology – working in a prison psych ward along the way – but wasn’t sure of what to do next.

A college adviser recommended he work with psychologists while trying to figure it out. That adviser also helped Foster return to his hometown of Philadelphia, landing him interviews at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

Neither job intrigued him much at the time. On a whim, Foster joined the team studying obesity.

Having never needed to lose weight, he wanted to understand what it was like. So he read the book, The Pain of Obesity, which delves into the emotional struggle of trying to shed pounds in the context of pervasive weight-based stigma. Then he began working with patients 1-on-1 and in groups.

He quickly developed deep empathy. Most of all, he found plenty of “inspiration juice.”

***

As it turned out, Foster was in the right place at the right time.

The Penn team studying obesity boasted many leaders in the field, including Dr. Albert Stunkard, author of The Pain of Obesity. These experts became his mentors, collaborators and friends.

Meanwhile, the field was about to take off. Bariatric surgery and other science-based, game-changing treatments were on the way.

The need for it all was about to take off, too.

Obesity rates in the U.S. have skyrocketed from about 12 to 15% when his career began in the early 1990s to beyond 40% today.

***

Dr. Gary Foster (Photo courtesy of WW)

Over the next decade, Foster oversaw many studies and published dozens of papers, establishing himself as a leading voice.

So when that woman raved about the power of self-compassion, something he’d hardly considered as part of the solution, Foster could’ve dismissed it as not fitting his research. Instead, he thought, “Boy, maybe we’re not focused on the things that matter.”

Foster began digging into the mental approach to taming obesity and liked what he found. Then came a new job and new priorities. For many years, his work revolved around crunching cold, hard numbers.

Then Foster got another job, the one at WW.

To immerse himself, he traveled the country, meeting with WW members and coaches.

He was looking for the sweet spot “at the intersection between what people want and what science can deliver.” He found it in the importance of the mind in shaping the body. And as he absorbed this realization, he heard a distant bell clanging for the first time in years.

“It was like, `Oh yeah, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard that,’” Foster said.

Only this time he was in a position to do something about it.

***

Foster began collecting thoughts in need of reframing, then putting them in a new frame.

For instance, consider this paradox: People often say they won’t be happy until they achieve a certain number on a scale. Yet research shows it’s more difficult to reach the number on the scale if they’re unhappy.

Foster’s solution has a bit of a Zen vibe: “At the beginning of the journey, the more you value your body as it is – seeing it as something worth taking care of, something you want to be kind to and to nourish – the easier the journey gets.”

Getting people to buy into such thoughts required debunking long-held myths, such as the notion that tough love shows strength and self-compassion shows weakness.

“Saying harsh things to yourself – things you wouldn’t say out loud, let alone to another person – is demotivating,” he said. “Remember, when you’re saying those harsh things, that’s you you’re talking about! And you are your most important ally.”

He eventually came up with seven pillars for lasting change:

  • Embrace self-compassion
  • Build helpful thinking styles
  • Set goals and form habits
  • Lean into your strengths
  • Value your body
  • Find your people
  • Experience happiness and gratitude

Foster bolsters each pillar with simple, proven techniques. Examples: To increase gratitude, think of three good things in your life. To be more self-compassionate, try talking to yourself as if you were talking to a friend.

Here’s a sample inner-dialogue for someone trying to lose weight when they encounter a day that goes off-script: “Things happen. The key is not to let a big meal or a missed workout lead to a vicious cycle of negative thoughts that in turn lead to more missteps.”

“It’s inevitable that you will encounter setbacks,” Foster said. “If you’re self-critical and you don’t have self-compassion, you won’t do well. This is true everywhere, whether it’s parenting, relationships, or work productivity.”

People hearing Foster present these ideas often asked where they could learn more. So he ended up writing a book about it. The Shift – 7 Powerful Mindset Changes for Lasting Weight Loss was published in late 2021.

***

While working on the manuscript, Foster began taking a closer look at his own mindset. He particularly targeted the connection between his diet and his health.

Since age 6, Foster has managed Type 1 diabetes. Anyone familiar with the condition understands what a chore that is. Hour by hour, year by year, he’s monitored his blood sugar using whatever is the latest technology. Tools may make it easier, yet it remains a constant challenge.

At 40, he developed celiac disease. That meant even more lifestyle modifications and daily accommodations.

Like everyone else, Foster has good days and bad days watching what he eats. But it wasn’t until writing the book that he gave himself credit for having been so successful for so long.

The bigger takeaway was that it gave him a new lens through which he could view those inevitable bad days. He looks at it with the pride of someone with a high winning percentage and the humility to recognize that he can’t win them all. Then he consoles himself with compassionate self-talk.

“Instead of saying, `My blood sugar is over 200 again today – what the heck? I’ve been at this for decades and I still can’t get it right!’ Now it’s like, `Hey, show some self-compassion. Yeah, my prediction was off, but I’m in the game. I can plan better next time.’”

So take it from Dr. Gary Foster, the psychologist and the scientist, and from Gary Foster, the patient: This stuff works.

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Food Is Medicine And What We Eat Is Important

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Your mental state is a critical component of your physical health. And when you’re under a lot of stress, you might not be eating the healthy food that provides nutrients for fighting anxiety and depression. So when we examine what we’ve been eating, most of us discover that the decisions we’ve been making in the name of simplicity, convenience, or saving time have been damaging to our total health – body, mind, and spirit.

A person’s diet is a direct reflection of their health. When a person does not eat the right foods, their body breaks down. This can lead to an overall decrease in quality of life and many other diseases linked to improper nutrition. In North America, our current diet mainly consists of an excess of grain, sugar, fried and fatty foods. As a result, disorders including hypertension, diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s, and certain malignancies are becoming increasingly widespread.

The science of food has always been discussed; however, with recent technological innovations in food processing and agriculture, people have enjoyed more convenient foods that are less expensive than ever before. Unfortunately, with every convenience comes a trade-off. Smart foods are often packed with sugar, salt, and calories, leading to poor health in some individuals. 

To understand what a person is putting into their body, it’s essential to realize that the small molecules in food are responsible for allowing our bodies to function. These small molecules are called nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and enzymes. A nutrient is not a value unless absorbed by the body through a specific pathway. For example, if you absorb calcium without vitamin D, your body will not use that calcium. 

Eating a balanced diet keeps you healthy, but it helps reduce your stress. For example, eat foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants because they help augment your immune response and prevent toxins from damaging your cells. Vitamins A, C, and E serve as antioxidants that fight off free radicals in the body. Free radicals are toxic products of metabolism that cause damage to your cells. Experts claim that they are responsible for the aging process. Good sources of these vitamins are deeply-colored vegetables- green leafy, yellow, and orange vegetables, such as squash, broccoli, kale, spinach, and carrots.

Iron is one of the most abundant minerals in the body, and it mainly functions to deliver oxygen to your cells. Hence, an iron deficiency, medically termed Iron-deficiency anemia, is associated with weakness, easy fatigability, and pale skin. Tea, coffee, red wine, grapes, and berries are rich in antioxidants that function the same as your vitamins A, C, and E. 
You need a diet that’s healthy and balanced – and one that can fit comfortably into your busy lifestyle.

Here are some of the recommended dietary guidelines.

Eat a diet high in fresh vegetables, vitamins, and minerals. 

Exercise every other day to release endorphins, feel good, get the blood flowing, and reduce stress levels. 

Eat salt only when you need it, but not too much as your body does not need it. Many people with anxiety are hypothyroid or have low magnesium. When your body needs more sodium, it can indicate that you are not producing enough cortisol or are dehydrated. If you experience chronic anxiety, I recommend working with a physician to run tests on cortisol levels and then take salt supplements as needed. Use spices like turmeric, ginger, curry, and aromatic herbs like parsley, rosemary, sage, and basil.
Eat low-fat meals because they will cause a minor spike in blood sugar levels: think lean meats, eggs, vegetables, and nuts; avoid dairy if it makes you feel anxious. 

Drink lots of water — keep hydrated all day — ideally at least half a gallon if possible — your brain needs water to function optimally! 

Avoid foods that you know will make you feel bad, such as dairy, even with low-fat content. You can cut out dairy and not worry about it! 

Avoid sugar, caffeine, processed foods, alcohol, and any other substance that makes you feel bad or increases anxiety levels. Also, avoid coffee — drinking more than one cup a day can cause anxiety in some people. Coffee is also dehydrating and inhibits the absorption of minerals from food/water/supplements — try caffeinated water as a substitute for coffee if you like the caffeine kick. 

Find a natural health professional that you can talk to or work with to quickly get the results you want. 

Healthy foods and nutrition can help you stay fit, but they can also assist you in treating disease. When you nurture your body physically with these nutrient-dense foods, your mental capacities improve, as does your spiritual welfare. Moreover, because your spiritual health is at its best, it will radiate to the exterior world, causing others to notice you’re happier and more relaxed, and your stress levels have decreased dramatically.

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The Points of Light Civic Circle Offers Real Ways You Can Change the World 

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Sixty-six percent of Americans don’t believe they can make a big impact in the world. 

That figure is according to Points of Light’s research on civic engagement. But what if I told you there are actually many ways to drive change? 

Today’s political climate can feel divided or even stagnant, but the truth is, you really can make things better, starting with your own community, one act of kindness at a time. And those aren’t just words. I’m here to share real, practical ways for you to make a difference. 

The Points of Light Civic Circle helps people connect to opportunities and understand that doing good comes in many forms. It is a framework that represents your power to lead, lend support and take action for causes you care about and live your best civic life. 

The Civic Circle provides actionable examples of all the ways you can change your community to reflect the world you want to see around you. In fact, you’re probably doing some of these things already. Are you helping a neighbor by picking up groceries or chaperoning on your child’s class field trip? You’re volunteering. Did you vote in the last election or help others get to the polls so they could vote? Those acts of civic duty illustrate the “vote” element. When you buy a product, do you choose to support companies that reflect your values or advance a social cause? That’s called “purchase power.” There are nine elements of the Civic Circle, and countless ways to bring each one to life. 

This blog is the first in a five-part series that will help you find real and manageable ways to activate the Civic Circle through apps, documentaries, podcasts and books. 

We also offer other resources to help you connect with all the ways you can become empowered to be the change you want to see in the world. Check out our videos that provide an in-depth look at each element of the Civic Circle. And don’t miss Civic Life Today, our digital magazine series. Each issue takes a deep dive and provides materials, ideas and inspiration so that you can become civically engaged.  Get started today, and launch your own civic engagement journey with these tools. 

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Are you an Amateur or a Pro? 30 Differences to Help You Decide…

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My client, Sebastian, thinks he’s behind on “life”.

He thinks he missed the memo the rest of us received on how to live a happy life.

I know better.

Sebastian hasn’t fallen behind and there is no such memo.

We’re all just trying to figure it out.

Unless we’re not. And there are a lot of people who simply are not trying to figure it out.

My friend and Professional Coach, Elaine Taylor-Klaus, calls them Status quo-ers — as opposed to Growers.

Anyone who makes a serious commitment to working with a Professional Coach is by definition a “Grower” and Sebastian is no exception.

Growers want to know, feel and live more. They push every boundary and sometimes fall off cliffs. They say “yes” to way too many things and often feel overwhelmed and over committed. They have a congenital distaste of the status quo and will sabotage any situation if it feels like “settling” to them. They’re insatiable and often don’t know what exactly will assuage their hunger.

Growers often appear to the world as troubled, frustrated and critical.

Inside they feel unfulfilled and misunderstood.

The truth is that they can’t help but be driven by Oscar Wilde’s belief that,

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people just exist.”

Growers will break every piece in the china shop when they find themselves just existing and not living as they see fit. And they suffer for it.

That is… until they turn pro and transform their life!

Steven Pressfield famously states in his book, Turning Pro

“Becoming a pro, in the end, is nothing grander than growing up.”

Sebastian thinks he’s falling behind because he’s still living life as an amateur at 34.

To put the above into context, I didn’t turn pro till well into my 40’s!

Best move I ever made! 

So what’s the difference between living life as an amateur vs. a pro?

Although there is no one size fits all manifesto on “how to turn pro”, here are thirty distinctions I’ve learned which apply to ANY Grower who is truly committed to living a life of purpose, fulfillment and ease.

  1. Amateurs look for hacks and shortcuts — Pros do the work.
  2. Amateurs speed up — Pros slow down.
  3. Amateurs are busy — Pros are focused.
  4. Amateurs sell first — Pros serve first.
  5. Amateurs think it’s about them — Pros know it’s never personal.
  6. Amateurs think life is short — Pros know life is actually really freakin’ long.
  7. Amateurs are reactive — Pros are responsive.
  8. Amateurs live with constant misunderstandings — Pros take the time to get clear.
  9. Amateurs don’t know what success looks like (to them) — Pros  know their definition of success and aren’t afraid to change it.
  10. Amateurs don’t know their core life values — Pros do.
  11. Amateurs want to feel happy — Pros want to feel alive!
  12. Amateurs play to “not lose” — Pros play to win.
  13. Amateurs are harsh — Pros are fierce.
  14. Amateurs secretly enjoy being in the “Victim Mindset” — Pros are a “Hell No” to that!
  15. Amateurs wonder what people say about them when they leave the room — Pros know.
  16. Amateurs have false and limiting beliefs around money — Pros don’t.
  17. Amateurs are constantly searching for life balance — Pros are living an integrated life.
  18. Amateurs think everything matters — Pros know what few things actually do matter (for them).
  19. Amateurs set boundaries defensively — Pros simply honor their “operating system”.
  20. Amateurs think help is a four letter word — Pros actively seek opportunities to help and be helped.
  21. Amateurs don’t have a relationship with their “Future Self” — Pros are best friends with their “Future Self”.
  22. Amateurs confuse knowing with doing — Pros receive knowledge and apply it (EVERY moment of EVERY day).
  23. Amateurs love information — Pros love insights.
  24. Amateurs have intentions — Pros have commitments.
  25. Amateurs have expectations — Pros have agreements.
  26. Amateurs compare — Pros create.
  27. Amateurs live from probability — Pros live from possibility.
  28. Amateurs are focused only on the “Goal Line” — Pros are focused on both the “Goal Line” and the “Soul Line”.
  29. Amateurs set goals with contingencies — Pros know contingencies are just excuses and NOW is the time!
  30. Amateurs create from the past — Pros create from the future.

Now that you are aware of the 30 differences between an amateur and a pro, where do you see yourself?

And I’d love to know why. Get in touch with your answer.

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