Written by: J. Christopher Eigel
Sometimes the path in life seems insurmountable. Like Leonidas, the Spartan king, who had to muster his bravest men to defend Greece in the Persian invasion at the famous Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. In one of most famous battles in ancient history Leonidas led three-hundred men to defend Sparta and Athens against two-hundred-thousand invaders. The odds were impossible, the commitment to the cause absolute.
So, what does this have to do with losing some weight or being a little unhealthy? Well, the guys that fought this battle had to be in great shape! —No, that’s not really the point… and of course, it didn’t really work out for them personally in the end since, though they became martyrs and earned fame in history, they were all killed. Bummer. The point is when goals seem too big to achieve, they probably are. Things almost always easier to accomplish in smaller increments, one thing at a time.
We are not Spartans. Losing weight and getting your body healthy does not have to be an all-in, do-or-die scenario. I’ve watched many a friend and family member decide it was time to get healthy, then go on some diet or another they discovered from an infomercial or celebrity endorsement. In almost every case, when they took that path, they came out heavier and less healthy than when they started. Things may have been good in the short-term, but they never lasted.
If you have the discipline of a Spartan and are willing to sacrifice, then you might in fact be able to achieve your health goals with an all-in regimen. But remember, the Battle of Thermopylae only lasted three days. While the commitment of the three hundred was noble, the reality is that we don’t know how long they would have stuck to it since they were all killed.
My brother, who is not a Spartan —I don’t think he’s done a DNA test, but pretty certain he has no Greek lineage— has managed to keep his weight under control for years. He had tried trendy diets in the past, changing everything at once by following a specific plan. And the truth is those approaches didn’t work. And he wasn’t trying to lose a hundred, or even fifty pounds. He was trying to shave off twenty to thirty pounds and keep it off.
You have to start with doing one thing at a time, not revamping your entire life all at once and making a “total commitment”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s noble if you can do it and perhaps you’ll be remembered thousands of years later in history alongside the Spartans, but there is an easier, more logical path.
Here are several simple things you can do to get started.
Start with portion control. I love pasta. But instead of a heaping plate, cut it back. Don’t be all gung-ho and cut your portion in half right off the bat. Then you’ll still be hungry, and go back for that second plate, justified because you only took half in the first place. With me, two halves usually add up to more than the whole. Take a little less —enough to satiate the hunger but not so little you are tempted to go back for more.
Start with drinking less soda. Or have a water between beers. If you’re at a party or relaxing in front of a game on TV, or just hanging out, having a drink in your hand is comfortable. So have a water. Start with little steps, and over time, it will become natural and comfortable. Going cold turkey in anything is never easy. Unless it’s actually cold turkey —that can be pretty good.
Start with filling half your plate with non-starchy vegetables. Little known fact: the Spartans hated their vegetables. Wouldn’t eat them. But they only had three days, so who cared? Be better than a Spartan, eat your vegetables. Ween away from the starch. I love starch, but too much of it is not healthy.
Start by choosing nuts or jerky over chips or cookies as a snack. (Spartan’s loved jerky!) Slowly lower how many sweets you eat at a time or how often you eat them. Unless you’re a woman; don’t get completely away from chocolate. There’s something in chocolate that keeps women from snapping. If you’re a woman, then try one of these other things but do NOT go cold turkey on chocolate. Leonidas consulted the Oracle of Delphi before going into battle against the Persians. The oracle convinced Leonidas he would not survive the Battle of Thermopylae, but what’s not widely known is she was all hopped-up on chocolate. Of course, she was right, but that’s beside the point. Women are always right.
Here’s the real point. Do one thing at time. Start small. Start in moderation. Make the first minor change and build on success. Not every change is going to work for everybody, find what works for you that and then build upon that success. It’s not a last stand against an invading army, it’s making a small change that will last and then building upon it.
Take it slow. Sooner or later you’ll begin to notice changes. And eventually, so will others.
I’m not a doctor, but I played one in my youth.
While this article provides guidance about healthy eating, it’s important to stress that for many people, diet and exercise alone aren’t enough to reach a healthier weight. The good news is that there are safe and effective medical treatments available that can address the biological issues that make sustained weight loss difficult. To find a physician near you who specializes in weight management, click here.