Fitness column: Eating an elephant to lose weight
You’ve probably heard the phrase “How do you eat an elephant?” I think everyone knows the answer by now — one bite at time.
This is how goal setting works. When I schedule a drive of more than 2 hours, I start with my long-term goal, my destination. Nevertheless, as I’m driving I make the trip seem shorter by setting small goals, such as reaching a place 30 miles away. It’s the same when I run more than 5 miles — I don’t focus on my destination, I focus on places that are a mile or so away.
This helps me psychologically. When I achieve one short-term goal, I can focus on the next short-term goal until I get to my destination. Conversely, focusing on my long-term goal makes me feel like I will never get there.
I have learned to apply this concept to many areas of my life. Here is an example: I wanted to make X amount of money so I could hire more people and have more time to do what I love, such as writing, assessing Custom Body Fitness members and opening a nonprofit to help animals.
When I got this idea I knew it could be three years until it was realized. I didn’t focus on my destination, though I did refer to it many times to stay on track. What I did was set small goals to get there. For example, from training 20 members to 40 to 60 to 80 to the 100 that I train now. If I’d thought about training 100 when I was training only 10, that goal would have sounded ridiculous.
Here’s another example: When my goal was to get in shape and build muscle, get my six pack, run 24 miles and hike 12,000-foot mountains, I never started by hiking a 12,000-foot mountain, running 24 miles or lifting the heaviest weight in the weight room. I set small goals that I knew would take time to achieve. I set my long-term goal but focused on the short-term goals.
So let’s say you want to lose weight and tone your body. You need to set your long-term goal, set small goals to achieve the long-term goal, and then forget about the long term so you don’t get desperate and focus on those short-term goals.
If you want to lose 30 pounds, you first determine how much time you’re willing to invest. It may take you from 4-6 months.
For the sake of argument I’ll set the goal to lose 30 pounds in six months. That means that you need to lose 5 pounds a month. Now you can forget about the 30 pounds and focus on the 5 pounds.
To lose 5 pounds a month, you must lose about 1.25 pounds a week. Does 1.25 pounds a week sound like a lot? I think it’s achievable. But you can break it down even further.
Work on specific daily goals that ultimately help you reach your long-term goal. If I plan an 8-mile run yet never take a step, I won’t get to my goal no matter how achievable it seems. In other words, you need to start practicing the right behaviors to be able to achieve your goal. So this is what you focus on: the daily routine.
Set up a weightlifting program that you practice at least three times a week, make cardio training and eating plans, find ways to deal with stress and make backup plans.
This is called eating the elephant one bite at time.
What happens if one month you lose 3 pounds instead of 5? Who cares? At least you lost some weight. What matters is that you are progressing toward your goal. It might take you longer to eat the elephant, but you will finish it.
Simple? I think it is.
Sandro Torres is owner of Custom Body Fitness in Carbondale, author of the book “Lose Weight Permanently” and a Watch Fit columnist. His column appears on the second Tuesday of the month in Body & More.
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