The following is a true story.
I’m going to be vague about this conversation because the person I had it with is a private citizen. He’s a medical specialist that I and my family would see on occasion. Nothing serious, but for maintaining his privacy I don’t want to say what he specializes in.
It’s an in-demand speciality and he’s always very busy, running from patient to patient. Back in 2009, as we were finishing up, he said, “So, how is everything else going?”
“It’s good,” I said. “I’m transitioning my career towards being a full-time health and fitness writer.”
“Really?” he said, suddenly interested. Then he grabbed his prodigious belly and said, “Inspire me!”
I thought for moment. We’d left his office and were standing in the hallway. I knew I had about 30 seconds; the time allotted for what they call in business “The elevator pitch,” where you need to give someone the gist quickly to sell them on a concept; it must hit the supreme highlights.
I was new at this business, but had an inkling of the right thing to say. This was the elevator pitch I came up with:
“Do some homework and seek to find an activity you can become passionate about. Throw time and effort and even money into it. Just keep trying to get better. Even let it come to define you as a person so that this new activity becomes a part of who you are.” I stopped, thinking that what I’d said was pretty good, then I realized I’d forgotten the most important part, being that he was interested in weight loss. “Don’t forget to fuel appropriately.”
He thought about it for a moment, then said, “That’s good stuff.”
I didn’t see him again for a year.
In 2010 I was sitting in his office and he was transformed. At least 40 lbs lighter, much fitter, more energized. I could tell he wanted to tell me about his transformation, but was holding back because I was the patient. It was supposed to be my time.
At the end of the appointment I stood up and turned towards the door. On the wall, I saw a photo in a frame hanging there. It was of the doctor, decked out in expensive body armor and riding a fancy mountain bike down a steep grade.
I nodded towards the photo and said, “Nice bike.”
“Thanks!” he said with enthusiasm. Then, a little more somber, he spoke again. “Seriously. Thank you.”
Behavior change is complex. Losing weight cannot be boiled down to a bullshit soundbite like “Eat less, move more.” But I think motivation gets a bit of a bad rap these days. Everyone is all about habit formation and dismisses the role of having the will to change.
Yes, forming healthy habits is important, but there also needs to be a spark or those habits may never be formed to begin with. Passion is not critical to a bodily transformation. I know people who do their “duty” of exercise and eating healthy because they feel they must and good for them for being diligent.
But it seems like the ones who are the most successful, the ones who make the greatest change and sustain those changes, are those who found a way to become passionately inspired.
Weight loss doesn’t have to suck. Sometimes it can be a beneficial by-product of a kick-ass new hobby that you love doing.
So get out there and try to find that love.
James S. Fell, MBA, CSCS, is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada. He also interviews celebrities about their fitness stories for the Los Angeles Times, and is head fitness columnist for AskMen.com and a regular contributor to Men’s Health.