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The Importance of Process-Oriented Thinking

“I just want to lose weight.”

This is a common sentiment heard in dietitian offices all over the country (and probably the world). 75-80% of my consults in the six months I’ve spent at RCW have been with clients trying to establish weight-loss goals.

The goal to lose weight can be appropriate in many cases, in particular when an individual is at risk for developing a chronic condition – like diabetes – or is trying to reduce their health complications from such a disease.

But often there’s an implication that losing weight, no matter how it’s done, will automatically benefit health and should be pursued at whatever cost necessary. This is the wrong mindset. There are many ways that people lose weight that are unsustainable, unhealthy, and ultimately counter-productive.

A useful life lesson I gained from my lifelong involvement in the world of athletics is to be a process-oriented thinker. Here’s what I mean:

Imagine you’re a golfer. You’re given the choice between two scenarios. In both, you’re teeing off on a long par-five overlooking a tree-lined fairway (see picture above).

In the first scenario, you don’t hit the ball well at all. It slices away from the fairway and into the trees…only to hit the sturdy trunk of a pine tree and ricochet back towards the fairway. In fact, you end up with a pretty good lie! You have a playable ball and a clear look towards the green for your second shot.

In the second scenario, your swing feels smooth and you hit a great drive. The ball carries down the fairway. In fact, it goes farther than you expected…and lands in a fairway bunker. As you find your ball in the sand, you look up and realize that you can’t even see the green for your second shot and you’re likely headed for a bogey (or worse) once you manage to get out of the sand trap.

As a golfer, which of these scenarios do you prefer? Which is more valuable?

It depends on your perspective. An outcome or result-oriented thinker would choose the first scenario. After all, the ball ended up in a better spot and you’ll likely have a better score on this hole.

A process-oriented thinker might see things differently. Seeing the big picture, they know that – regardless of their score on that particular hole – they hit a great drive and if they can repeat that swing throughout their round it will pay off. Repeating that process will ultimately lead to good results, even if it’s not apparent in the short-term. The other guy? If he keeps missing the fairway with errant shots, it’ll be a long day. Relying on lucky bounces isn’t a sustainable strategy.

It’s valuable to have this perspective in nutrition. For individuals interested in weight loss, there are lots of shortcuts. Going on a rigid diet, trying a detox or cleanse…these can certainly change the number on the scale for a few days, a week, or even a few months, but over time are unlikely to provide lasting results.

Like a good golf swing, find an eating pattern that you can repeat and be consistent with. Find a routine that nourishes your body – that’s the first priority. Don’t set rules that you won’t be able to follow in a few weeks or a few months, because you’ll always be setting yourself up for frustration. Don’t cut out nutrients that your body needs. See the big picture. If what you’re doing isn’t working for you, don’t direct your (negative) mental energy towards the number on the scale. Take a look at your process, your behaviors that you’ve established for your daily life. Those are the factors you can control, and if you take care of them consistently you can count on better health in the long run – whether the number on the scale changes or not.

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