Finding my Four-Day Win

Like a great many North Americans, I’m carrying a little more weight than I would like. The exact numbers are not important—and not particularly relevant either since no dietician that I’ve ever met has been able to tell me with a 3’7″ tall person with OI should actually weigh. It’s enough to say that I’ve been trying to control my weight for years and it’s done little more than bounce all over the place.

(And no, I’m not turning this into a “diet blog”, but simply continuing the trend of writing things that interest me as I come across them… read on, you’ll see what I mean.)

The past little while I’ve been working my way through Martha Beck’s book, (in both audiobook and paperback form), The Four-Day Win: End Your Diet War and Achieve Thinner Peace. If you haven’t heard of Martha Beck, she’s an author and life coach who has written numerous books on discovering your “authentic life” and is also known for her association with Oprah. I’m not an Oprah fan and had never heard of her until I came across her name in another book I was reading a couple years back on entrepreneurship. Since then I’ve read the vast majority of what Martha’s written, not so much because I agree with every single thing that she believes, but because she has the ability to write with humour, directness, logic and practicality even when speaking on subjects that others might describe as being “new age-y”.

Martha’s “diet book” has all those hallmarks of those other books—right down to the cheesy title that honestly would’ve steered me way if I hadn’t already been familiar with her other work. I put “diet book” in quotes because this is a book that has a lot more to do with the thought-processes and thought-traps around dieting than actually counting calories and dictating how many minutes of exercise a person needs each day.

As she puts it, we all know what’s required to control our weight. Eat less. Move more. So why do we keep packing on the pounds? I know for myself, even when I’m rigorously controlling my food intake, my weight will often shoot up or bounce back seemingly without reason. Obviously when I feeling like I’m already starving myself, these fluctuations can be very frustrating. I call this my “stress weight” since, when I’m stressed, I just put it on and I can’t seem to stop it.

Answer? Obviously become less stressed… or at least, have a different relationship to the whole concept of “dieting” so that it doesn’t stress you out quite so much.

The basic principle behind The Four-Day Win is to essentially train yourself to make very gradual changes to your thoughts around self-image, food intake and exercise so that you don’t freak your body out. This is quite different that most diet books which tend to say “okay, and go! Cut those calories RIGHT NOW! And do that hour-long work-out per day RIGHT NOW!” Oh, and if you can’t hack it? Scream and berate yourself until you get your lazy, flabby butt off the couch! It’s a small wonder your body winds up curling up into a fearful little ball in the corner, all the while plotting how quickly it can make a break for the nearest ice cream parlour.

I’m one of those people who has a strong desire to make changes in my life, but an even stronger anxiety around change. I want to live this great, healthy, authentic life, then wind up clinging desperately to the familiar even if it’s my familiar pounds. The book’s answer to this is to break everything down into four day chunks. It doesn’t ask you to completely alter the structure of your entire life. Just do this one, easy thing and do it for four days. After the four days, you can stop, but odds are that you probably won’t because in just four days it’s already become a habit. That’s the really sneaky part of this book, because it uses our own innate stubbornness against change to actually effect change.

My first Four-Day Win was vitamins. I don’t like taking pills and could never seem to bring myself to take my gigantic multi-vitamin pills on a regular basis. I’d gag my way through a day or two and then forget about them for months. Still, if all it took was four days of taking this one stupid pill… surely could I manage that. Before I knew it, I’d polished off an entire bottle of multivitamins and even felt bizarrely anxious during those days before I bought the new bottle. Even though I still frequently gagged and struggled a bit to take my morning vitamin, it had become enough of a habit that it felt strange to not be taking it.

The other part of the Four-Day Win is that you have to give yourself a small reward everyday that you complete your win and then a bigger reward once you’ve made it through the entire four days. And, (this is very important), you can’t cheat on giving yourself that reward! This means either giving yourself the reward when you haven’t done the task OR not giving yourself your reward when you have.

I know what you are thinking… why would anyone skip these rewards? All I can say is that, for me anyways, it’s more of a problem than you’d think.

For instance, this week’s Four-Day Win for me was to enter my calorie intake into a little iPhone app. I’m not at the stage of trying to control my intake in any great way, shape or form, I just wanted to track it so I have some idea of what it actually looks like at the start of this process. My daily reward for this win was to watch one thing off of Netflix every evening. My big four-day win reward is to go see Snow White and the Huntsman in theatres tomorrow.

It’s out in theatres as of today to rather limp reviews, but for me… sometimes I just want to see a pretty movie and this one does indeed look visually stunning.

And yet, even after earning my Four-Day Win, there was a part of me that was thinking… “I don’t really need to go to the movies this week. I should save my time/money/movie-reward points/etc.”

Worse, when I sat down to try and figure out what my big Four-Day Win reward would be for this week’s challenge I literally came up blank. I didn’t want to do another movie because really there’s not a whole lot out in theatres at the moment I want to see. I didn’t want to do some kind of food reward since I’m supposed to be coming up with other ways to comfort and reward my psyche aside from large amounts of sugar and chocolate. I actually sat on the couch for a good twenty minutes wracking my brain for some reward that seemed like a big enough incentive that wasn’t going to break me in terms of time or finances.

And here… yes right here, ladies and gentlemen… is exactly why I have stress weight. How ironic is that? But, essentially, I have an insanely hard time figuring out ways to truly relax. I actually had this exact same problem when I was doing the exercises in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. That book as well asks that you set aside time for things that it call’s “artist’s dates”, which are basically a couple hours a week of doing something that makes your inner child relaxed and happy. I had no problem with any of the other exercises in that book, but coming up with and keeping my artist dates was always stupidly difficult for me.

This is a different phenomenon I think from procrastination. Let me assure you that I’m a very accomplished procrastinator, but when one is procrastinating there isn’t really an relaxation involved. You might be watching TV or playing video games or whatever, but there’s always that itchy thought in the back of your mind that what you’re doing is wrong… it’s bad… you’re supposed to be doing something else… and so, you never reach that guilt-free state that I think is required for someone to really and truly RELAX and REWARD themselves.

In the end, it was my artsy side that eventually gave me my solution for this week’s Four-Day Win. If I complete my task, I get to pretend I’m an animation student for an afternoon.

I know what you’re thinking… Huh?

For me, the best part of being an animation student was that I could do things like sit in a café with my sketchbook and draw random things and still thinking about it as “work”. Every creative, artsy thing that I did was practice for the future, even if what I was producing in that particular moment was just a doodle. This is in stark contrast to so much of the work I do now, which is either paid work or is supposed to be training for paid work. Worse than that, when I’ve got so much paid work that I’m supposed to be doing or hunting for, I end up pushing aside my own creative projects because I can’t create enough justification for it in my own head.

However by making a couple hours one afternoon a required break as part of my “diet program”… this is something that my brain weirdly accepts. It’s actually a little silly how much I’m counting down the days to my afternoon with my sketchbook. I haven’t decided yet where I’m going to go. I thought maybe drawing people covertly at the Metrotown food court, but depending on the weather I may go further afield. Still, I find myself crazy-motivated by this notion which is exactly what my Four-Day Win reward is supposed to do.

In any case, getting back to the book… if you’re like me and have had troubles with that weight you’d rather not be carrying, give The Four-Day Win a try. I’m hoping I’ll be able to post the results of my Four-Day Win reward outing early next week.