Thinking differently – Which wolf are you feeding?

I recently came across a T Nation article that made reference to the old Cherokee 'tale of two wolves'. This got me thinking, on 'thinking differently'.

A tale of two wolves - thinking differently
A tale of two wolves

I really liked the article which I would recommend you all read. While it applies to gym environment, the idea that we can learn to see obstacles in our life as a challenge or opportunity, is a crucial and transferable one. Importantly, it is also a simple idea that can have a profound influence on our relationship with food. It is an idea that falls under the umbrella I call 'thinking differently'.

What is thinking differently?

Many individuals who have an unhappy relationship with food often fall into the trap of seeing a momentary lapse or distraction from the dietary guidelines to which they are trying to adhere, as a failure. This type of 'all or nothing' thinking  is not helpful when it comes to fostering a sustainable and healthy relationship with food. Any self-perceived failure, can then result in negative thoughts and feelings that spiral into subsequent compensatory behaviours. These compensatory behaviours, such as eating a comfort food without awareness, again breach the guidelines the individual is trying to follow, and so the cycle continues. I talked a little about this cycle here, but one of the best ways to leverage as opposed to fall foul of this scenario is to shift our perspective.

A great way to do this, especially when it comes to food is to adopt the principle that nothing is off limits. This doesn't mean we should seek out junk food of high caloric density and scant nutritional value, but it appreciates variety and 'fancy' are a natural and healthy part of a balanced and sustainable way of eating. If it is not 'disallowed' it removes many of the habitual associations of failure with which many are familiar when attempting to adhere to a dietary protocol.

The author also explores how the tale of two wolves can teach us that we can all practice seeing and thinking about the world around us differently. In my the article linked above, I talk about a lot of the ways in which obese or overweight people tend to think. For many different and varied reasons, these ways of thinking have arisen and then become habitual. This is why I frequently encourage clients who complete a food diary with me to annotate their lapses or self-perceived 'dietary failures' as learning experiences (LE). So engrained are their responses that even recognising opportunities to note down LE can be tricky at first. But if they can habitually learn to seek out improvement as opposed to the self-defeating negative spiral of failure, then they are well on their way to creating a perpetually self-improving way of thinking. We can literally practise our way to a healthier and more sustainable relationship with food, by thinking differently. We just need to feed the right wolf.

Where I would disagree with the article is the author's assertion that those we see who tend not to 'feed the right wolf' are either pathetic and/or annoying. We all have been on our own individual journey to where we are now, and it is crucial that we do not rush to judge so readily anyone's behaviour. Thinking differently is something we can all learn to do, and just because someone isn't there yet, doesn't mean they can never be.

Image of a wolf eating the tale of two wolves helps remind us to think differently
Which wolf are you feeding? The tale of two wolves can be a great reminder about thinking differently

That said, the article, the transferable nature and the imagery of the 'tale of two wolves' is a great one to apply to the gym, our relationship with food, or life in general. Have a read of the T Nation article linked below and of course please do share this article if you enjoyed it. As ever, I'm always keen to hear your thoughts. Tweet me @acbcoaching or email me

‘I just need a diet plan’ – No you don’t!

A frequent and recurring theme I hear from those interested in weight loss is one where the client asks for, or thinks that they 'just need a diet plan'. They say, ‘What I really need is just a diet plan. I mean I know what I need to do, *insert nostalgic mention of when they used to be in shape or similar* but it would just be really helpful if I had it all written down, you know I think that would be all I need'.

diet plan
Although it seems like it, we often my need more than just a diet plan

If you are someone who has lost weight on multiple occasions, and struggled to keep the weight off, this blog is about why I don’t believe that ‘just a diet plan' is really what you need or want. This blog is about how when it comes to weight loss and maintenance of that lower weight ‘just a diet plan’ rarely cuts the mustard.

Its not what they actually want

In any coaching relationship, part of the role of the coach to help the coachee to get from A to B. Many people looking to lose weight will have lost weight before, only to have regained it. Sadly, in the obesogenic environment within which we live, due to the way the body tends to respond, frequently, they might weigh even more now than when they first started! This can understandably be exasperating for the client and is often referred to as ‘yo-yo’ dieting.

If this is the client, then they definitely DON’T need ‘just a plan’. Just losing weight is not their ‘B’. They’ve followed plans before, which if you look at their ‘A’ (where they are now) either didn’t help, or maybe made things worse. They THINK they need a plan because it will help them lose weight. It might. What they likely want is to achieve a healthier and more sustainable relationship with food. I’m not here to tell you what you want, but this is a great ‘B’ for anyone to aim for.  What most people actually want, is to get to a lower weight, and to be able to maintain it. This is not just semantics, saying what you mean and being able to describe exactly what you want are actually two very important skills in developing and maintaining a sustainable and healthy relationship with food.

Its not what they actually need

When the individual has lost weight on several occasions previously, there is more than likely something else going on. The chances are, its not actually just the technicalities of putting an appropriate plate of food together that have led to their current predicament. That is, its not JUST about food. Losing weight and then maintaining a lower weight is a complex problem that requires self-awareness, honesty, problem-solving skills, planning skills, emotional intelligence, and a host of other abilities. In order to respond to the complexities of life and its competing, unpredictable demands, just a short-term plan is rarely suitable for anyone (for very long anyway). We make many decisions around food every single day, in a variety of contexts. We need a flexible, adaptable skill set to deal with multiple eventualities.

What’s worse, is that the longer a client goes on believing it is just about what they eat (with this notion being reinforced by the enthusiastic line of dogmatic nutrition gurus lining up to sell them the next big plan to solve all their problems once and for all), the longer they will be distracted from what is important. I believe that any practitioner who operates in the realm of health & wellbeing has an overarching responsibility to 'do no harm’ to their clients. By ‘just' giving someone a plan, I think certain practitioners might be guilty of contributing to a disempowering environment, which is already challenging enough for the individuals involved. We are complicit in harming those we engage with by giving our clients more of the same, through our inaction to do something different. Practically speaking, anyone who is looking to lose weight and keep it off (especially those who have tried and failed before), must understand that what they need are a host of skills to manage an ongoing process. Not an instruction booklet on what to do, when, forever more.

I implore practitioners and clients alike to buck the trend and start to shift the status quo, seek out something different, and don’t settle for the old dynamic. 'Just a diet plan’ probably isn’t suitable for what you want, or what you need. Any questions, please reach out to me on twitter, or drop me an email