How You Eat is How You Work

From Pam Slim’s blog “Escape from Cubicle Nation


Or so I found out when I had my first call with my dear friend and annoyingly insightful weight loss coach Susan Hyatt.

I talked her into coaching me around health and wellness, because I felt like I was missing a key ingredient in being a well-rounded entrepreneur.

Or more accurately, I had become a well-rounded entrepreneur, especially in the segment of my body that sits on a chair in front of the computer.

And while vanity was a small driver, really, truly, I wanted to figure out why it was so hard for me to get back to what used to be an extremely physically active lifestyle. I adore working out, and feel better physically, mentally and spiritually when I do so. But for the last six years or so (the correlation with the age of my oldest son Josh is not a coincidence), I have not been able to get in a strong, consistent pattern of healthy eating and exercise.

The beginning of the journey: awareness

When you hear “weight loss coach,” you may think of someone who scolds you for failing to exercise, or who gently ‘tsk tsk tsks” you for sneaking in a Snicker bar at 10 o’clock at night.

Susan is not that kind of coach.

Our entire first conversation centered around work — what I was doing, what I was feeling, and how it was working for me.

I quickly realized that while I was extremely fulfilled in what I was doing, I felt overwhelmed. And that no matter how much I accomplished in one day, I always had a nagging feeling that I was neglecting something or someone important when I shut off my computer and closed my office door.

Susan asked:

“What are you afraid of?”

I said:

“Saying no.”

She said:

“Why?”

I said:

“Because I will be disappointing someone, or leaving them behind.”

Whew, here I thought I was going to be talking about eating more broccoli and fewer donuts, when the real issue was my inability to act with backbone.

The business lesson that came from that insight: I need to do fewer things, with more impact. Saying no to some requests means saying yes to bigger things, and taking care of me.

The f’ing food journal

My first homework assignment was to track what I ate in a food journal. As I experienced tremendous resistance filling it out, I lovingly titled it “The f’ing food journal” in my emails to Susan.

In the food journal, Susan uses a tool called the Hunger Scale (originally created by Brooke Castillo in her book If I Am So Smart, Why Can’t I Lose Weight?).

Imagine a scale from -10 to +10.

When you feel -10 on the Hunger Scale, you could eat a herd of donkeys, or would crush a can of refried beans with your bare hands if it meant eating them 10 seconds sooner than getting a can opener.

When you feel +10 on the Hunger Scale, you have just had your fourth helping of Thanksgiving Dinner, after having changed into a Moo-Moo so you can fit in one more piece of pumpkin pie before bursting a button on your jeans.

The trick is to eat when you feel a -2, and stop when you feel a +2.

So in your food journal, you note what you eat, when you eat it, what number you are on the hunger scale when you start, and what number you are when you stop.

Samples from mine look like this:

Friday, July 22

5:30am – coffee and non-fat milk (1/2 and 1/2)

6:00am – 7:00am – 2 refills

7:00am – half of an Oat and Honey granola bar (Rosie’s leftovers)

9:00am – nonfat latte from Starbucks

1:00pm – salad, turkey, small bit of mac and cheese, green beans (was luncheon after my speaking engagement)

5:30pm – spinach and tofu/white rice/pad thai and chicken (-3 to +3 – stopped earlier than usual, and I never eat spinach and tofu, so that was interesting!)

Saturday

5:30am – coffee and non-fat milk (1/2 and 1/2) (-1 to 0)

6:00am – 7:00am – 2 refills

7:00am – cereal (-3 to +2)

12:00 – granola bar (-3 to +1)

1:00 – salad, 2 chicken wings, carrots/broccoli/sweat peas and ranch/cold cuts and chips (-1 to +5 – was at party)

6:00 – leftover spinach/tofu and white rice (-3 to +3)

Sunday

5:30am – coffee and non-fat milk (1/2 and 1/2) (-1 to 0)

6:00am – 7:00am – 2 refills

7:00am – granola bar (-3 to +1)

12:00 – potato chips and iced tea (-4 to +1)

3:00 4 small Bits -o-honey candy (-2 to +1)

5:00 – grilled steak, corn on the cob and salad with ranch, ice cream + hot fudge (-3 to +6 – was eating while cooking, felt stuffed)

As you can see, paying attention to what you eat, and how you feel before and after eating it can be extremely illuminating.

My penchant for multiple cups of coffee in the morning definitely leads to afternoon crashes, which are fueled by sugar. Weekends, with unstructured time can lead to mindless grazing.

After some childish resistance to filling out the food journals, Susan helped me see that they were not one more damned thing to do in the day, but rather insight into what my body needed to feel alert and strong and powerful.

The path to making good choices about what I eat is actually the path to my power.

So I renamed it “The Power Journal.”

I still go through long periods of time without filling it out, but I have started to think very differently about how and why I am eating.

This is how business awareness develops as well.

You may have started your business with a frenetic pace, or with a less than secure sense of direction. This may have created patterns of overwork, underpricing, and lack of strategic focus.

Before you can change your behavior, it is useful to pay attention to what you are doing, and why you are doing it.

Notice things like exactly where your money goes each month, or look at your calendar with a strategic eye to see if the way you are spending your time lines up with what you want to accomplish.

When you know better, you do better.

What’s next?

Susan and I are going to talk about fuel foods and planning, so that it is easier for me to make good choices about food.

We are also going to talk about ways to build on the regular exercise I am getting in my two nights a week mixed martial arts classes, and once a week yoga classes.

Not surprisingly, the more I focus on my overall health, the better business decisions I am making. I am getting more work done. I am getting much more focused and feel an underlying sense of serene power.

Guilt and shame are terrible ways to get healthy for the long-term. They don’t work in business either.

I look forward to updating you with progress, and welcome insight and ideas that you have developed over the years about how to live, work and move in a way that feels good to you.

Have a great weekend!