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Powered By Habits: The 7-Step Bulletproof Guide to End the Global Obesity Epidemic

"It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society." – J. Krishnamurti

Pre-PS: One can also use the below 7-step formula to also get in the best shape of their life. That's what I used to burn over 50lbs of fat and maintain 8-12% body fat for over 7 years without spending a dollar on gym membership and also enjoying the man-made indulgence food-type-substances one in a while.

How to build self awareness

So I've figured out how to end the global obesity epidemic.

Back in August 2014, one day I woke up and decided to do something about the hike in my health insurance premium here in the US. The enemy was obesity, that kept driving the healthcare costs to go higher and higher every year. In fact, it's still doing that today.

As an immigrant in the US which is considered the most powerful country in the world - I'm dumbfounded how America also ranks #1 when it comes to healthcare spending, which tops the GDP of 90 countries.

→ Data from the OECD show that the U.S. spent 17.9 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on health care in 2015. This was almost 32 percent more than the next-highest spender (Switzerland, 11.2% of GDP) and almost double what was spent in the U.K. (9.8% of GDP) [1]. 

→ U.S. spending per person was equivalent to $9,451 (not adjusted for inflation) [2].

And if you are wondering how much is $9,451 around the world - that's greater than the GDP per capita income of more than 65 countries [3].

But see, that's not how you solve the obesity epidemic. Facts and data are good for driving conversations. But if you really want someone to create a lasting change, there's only one heavyweight champion of all time.

It's called the human Emotion.

Emotions drive actions. And actions is what ultimately produces results which in this case is to ending the obesity epidemic once and for all.

Also, driving around from one State to another, doing 50 pushups wherever you go - that's not an effective way to create lasting health changes over a large population struggling with obesity either.

That was my initial strategy that I tested in the US. I horribly failed at it.

But then I spent some more time to analyze the results and findings of the 10,000 hours I had spent on personal research and experiments with my brain and body. 

And I've decoded the mystery. Read on it you're interested on the How.

Below I've described in details, how we can end the global obesity epidemic in 7 steps.

Step #1: Mastering the Inner Psychology of Health & Fitness

Step #2: Automating Health and Fitness related routines by building habits around them

Step #3: Sustainability or failure is evident

Step #4: Tracking and accountability because what gets measured, gets managed

Step #5: Eliminating the (bad) habits that are not serving

Step #6: Rewiring the brain by hacking pain for pleasure

Step #7: Your life-long purpose

__________

7-Steps to End the Global Obesity Epidemic

    Step #1: Mastering the Inner Psychology of Health & Fitness

    WTF does that mean? If that's what your thinking, then let me explain.

    See, you and I both know people/friends who are always in a constant cycle of gaining weight, then losing some, and then gaining it all back again with some extra bonus pounds.

    So why is this so common?

    Here's what my research says. 

    When it comes to losing weight and getting fit (I’m talking burning over 30+lbs of fat), most of the people try to apply new strategies every 7th day.

    Strategies are good. Nothing wrong with them.

    But there is one crucial step that one cannot ignore if they want to create lasting changes in their health and fitness levels.

    One cannot just get a gym membership, start working out and think he’ll out exercise years and for some people decades of crappy eating.

    The #1 step to ending the global obesity epidemic is teaching people how to master their inner psychology of health. 

    See, here’s the thing. Most of us when we try to lose weight, we think we need to change our eating patterns, try different exercises and basically, we focus on changing our behaviors.

    This is an important step and actually comes right next. 

    But one of the key missing components that I found is that before we begin to apply new strategies, that before we start working on changing our behaviors or forming new healthy habits, we first need to be aware of the cause of that behavior.

    It's only through building awareness that people will be able to overcome the stories or doubts that they keep narrating in their head. 

    If I had to give another name to this step, it would be - building a strong and empowering mindset towards health.

    But how does one build awareness when it comes to health and fitness? Here are 3 ways.

    __________

    I] Ask the right questions

    What am I currently doing to keep myself fat? How am I doing fat?

    Because you have to follow a certain kind of diet that involves eating copious amount of refined carbs, sugar, and processed junk. You have to practice a sedentary lifestyle where you don't even give just 75 min of physical exercise to your body per week.

    What is my intrinsic motivation behind losing weight and getting fit?

    People get all pumped up as soon as January hits. Probably, there's so much motivation in the air that one can rub off of the other's motivation. 

    But then life shits along the way and nothing happens long-term.

    People need to start with a deeper, meaningful reason on why they must transform their health. Because that's how the human brain is designed (more of this on step #6).

    On a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 is 'I'm absolutely serious and will do anything to transform my health' and 0 is 'I don't give a crap about my health', how serious am I to transform my physical health and get in my best shape? (strictly speaking in terms of physical health as we're dealing with obesity in this case).

    Change happens only when the pain of staying the same is greater the pain of staying the same.

    Many of you who are reading this essay because you're struggling with your weight, you will continue to struggle because for you, change hasn't become a must yet. 

    Losing weight, getting fit, exercising regularly, eating more whole food - these are all cool things to do for you right now.

    And the results speak for themselves.

    With any attempt at improving your physical health, your goal should be to unlock the full capability of your body at that state without incurring any damages or injuries.

    II] Real Life Tests

    → Waist-t0-Height Ratio test

    We've all heard about BMI i.e. Body Mass Index.

    While it can be an effective predictor of disease than body weight alone, it’s still a bit confusing since bodybuilders can have a larger BMI yet still be perfectly healthy and fit as compared to a normal Joe who’s clocking a BMI of 33.9.

    What does the science tell us?

    Today, it’s generally accepted that health risks can be determined as much by the relative distribution of body fat as by its total amount. What’s the worst kind of fat?

    Abdominal fat — the kind that builds up around your internal organs. Having a potbelly has been found to be a strong predictor of premature death.

    Both the men above have the same BMI but the distribution of weight is different. People with the so-called apple shape, with body fat concentrated in the abdominal region, may have the lowest life expectancy.

    Fortunately, there is an even better tool than BMI that we can use to gauge the health risks of body fat. It’s called Waist-To-Height Ratio, or WHtR.

    Do this if you're struggling to get started with health and fitness -

    — First, go grab a simple measuring tape. If you don’t have one, buy it because it will save your life. If you’re cheap then just go ask for one at a clinic or hospital, they have them for free.

    — Now stand up straight and take a deep breath, exhale, and let your belly hang all out. Measure the circumference of your belly (halfway down the top of your hip bones and the bottom of your rib cage aka your waist) in inches.

    — Now divide it by your height in inches and multiply the number by 100.

    For example — my waist circumference is 29" and I’m 5'10" i.e. 12 x 5 + 10 = 70" tall. So my WHtR percentage comes to 29/70 x 100% = 41.4%.

    What does research say about the ideal ratio?

    You're safe if the ratio is at 50% (ideally should be less) [4].

    What’s your WHtR?

    If you’re WHtR is greater than 0.5 or 50% then you’ll die or at least go through the pain of medical sickness and diseases by the time you hit late 50s and 60s [6].

    Here’s an interesting fact - your body doesn’t discriminate on the basis of caste, color, sex, geography, religion, etc.

    If you’re WHtR is way over 50% and you’re still okay with that then you’re basically okay with dying of heart disease, cancer, cerebrovascular disease, or neurodegenerative disease (the top 4 killing diseases that will kill you after you live on to 40y) by the time you retire at 65.

    This works the same for all - CEOs, employees, doctors, politicians, Hollywood actors, etc.

    The underwear test

    — Take digital photos of yourself from the front, back, and side. Wear either underwear or a bathing suit/bikini. Not eager to ask your roomie for a favor?

    — Use a camera with a timer or a computer webcam. Put the least flattering “before” photo somewhere you will see it often: the refrigerator, your phone screen, bathroom mirror, etc.

    Ask yourself - Do I really look like that in my undies? Am I comfortable sharing this on my FB timeline?

    If you’d not want people to see that pic, I hope you can find a deeper reason why it’s time to start burning those clinging fat.

    Keep the pics somewhere you see every day. Perhaps the FB profile pic would indeed generate the maximum motivation. What do you think?

    The 'Do I really eat this?' test

    — Use your camera phone to take photographs of everything you eat and drink for 4-5 days, preferably including at least one weekend day.

    — For sizing, put your hand next to each item or plate in the photographs. For maximum effect, post your meal pics on your Instagram page with the title - This is what and how I eat! #selfawareness #poweredbyhabits ;)

    — For sizing, put your hand next to each item or plate in the photographs. For maximum effect, post your meal pics on your Instagram page with the title - This is what and how I eat! #selfawareness #poweredbyhabits ;)

    Once you've started asking yourself the right questions and also taken a few real-life tests to build awareness, you can then go for the next part in mastering your inner psychology of health. 

    III] Raise Your Standards

    Whether your goal is to lose weight, burn belly fat or to get stronger and gain some muscles, you must realize that the current state of your health and fitness is something you will not accept any more.

    It is easy to get complacent about your health when the society sets up such a weak overall standard. 38% of the American population is struggling with obesity [6]. My math says, it's around 125 million of the total population.

    What I mean to say is that your behaviors related to health and fitness are directly correlated to the health and fitness levels of the people around you.

    I moved to the US back in the fall of 2012. Oh boy.. Those first few months in this country were interesting. The following piece by the late comedian George Carlin explains my experience in the best way -

    "Have you seen some of the people in this country? Have you taken a good look at some of these big, fat motherf*ckers walking around? Big fat mother-f*ckers! Oh, my God. Huge piles of redundant protoplasm lumbering through the malls like a fleet of interstate buses.

    The people in this country are immense. Massive bellies, monstrous thighs, and big fat fucking asses. Next time you're in the vicinity of one of these creatures, stand there for a minute and observe. And if you stand there for a minute you'll begin to wonder, "How does this woman take a shit?" How does she shit? And more frightening still, how does she wipe her ass? Can she even locate her asshole? She must require assistance. Are paramedics trained in this field?

    Standing right next to her, of course, with a plateful of nachos and a mouthful of pie is her clueless fucking husband, Joe Six-pack. With his monstrous swollen beer belly hanging dangerously out over his belt buckle, this guy hasn't seen his dick since the Nixon Administration.

    And if you stand there and you watch the two of them as they're stuffing their faces, you begin to wonder, "Do these people f*ck?" Is this man actually capable of f*cking this woman? It doesn't seem structurally possible that these two people could achieve penetration. Maybe they're in that Cirque Du Soleil or something.

    I'm telling you the people in this country -- everyone is at least 50 pounds overweight. They are GARGANTUAN.

    And in the summertime -- God help us -- in the summer time they will all want to wear short pants.

    Jesus Lord, Protector of All That is Good and Holy, deliver us from fat people in short pants. They all got short pants, big bellies, fat thighs and dumb kids. Short pants, big bellies, fat thighs and dumb kids."

    If you’re a fellow American, I’m not offending you because it’s up to you how you interpret this. I’m just sharing my honest and real experience of what I saw through the lenses of my world in America.

    — Take a note of all the people you spend your time with – at your job, your friends circle, the community groups that you’re a part of, your neighborhood, etc.

    What is the body composition type of the people - are they fat, overweight, or skinny & underweight, etc?

    — What are their eating patterns – do they often eat out every day or do they enjoy cooking at home? Where do they eat out when they eat out - McDonald's, Burger King, Domino's, or KFC?

    — Do they walk around sporting their belly fat as if it’s nothing or do they engage in a physical activity 3-5 times a week?

    This is applicable to your family too. If your parents were obese, there’s a high likelihood that you are struggling with weight and the same may happen to your kids unless you decide to step in to create lasting changes in your family's health.

    What you need to realize is that to create lasting changes to your health and fitness levels, you cannot live up to other people’s standards.

    My personal breakthrough moment was when I was lying depressed on my dormitory bed, recovering from a hemorrhoid surgery and asking myself - “Is this the life I signed up for in college?”

    I had just turned 18 and was in enormous physical and emotional pain. Add to that – being 50 lbs (23 kg) overweight and also struggling with immunodeficiency disorder.

    While my friends in college were having fun, I was restricted even to go to the bathroom.

    During that period, I had an eye-opening conversation with my neurosurgeon uncle which went something like this -

    “Ankur, it seems like you are so focused on your studies that you are unaware of your eating habits and don’t seem to get time to engage in some physical activity.

    Your grandfather passed away at the age of 51 due to heart disease. Your father had his first heart attack at the age of 37.

    I don’t mean to scare you but only tell the truth – you may have inherited those cardiovascular disease-related genes. And your current health habits don’t look like you’re even aware of this truth.

    But the good thing is that you can counteract gene-related diseases by living a healthy and active lifestyle. Hope once you heal from your surgery, you’ll start to be mindful of what and how you eat and also start exercising regularly.”

    Okay... back then I believed the whole inherited weak genetics theory which is certainly not true [7]. But that conversation had a lasting impression upon me. 

    There I was, with a standard so low that it didn’t even occur to me that I was 50 pounds overweight (with a waist circumference of 36″) and was an emotional eater.

    Then and there I decided to change my standards for health and fitness. The rest is history.

    When I graduated from college, I had lost all those extra pounds of fat and also sported six-pack abs. But the most important thing was that my new standards for health and fitness were now set way higher than it was ever before.

    These are my top 10 current personal standards of health and fitness i.e. what is acceptable to me -

    a] I must not consume alcohol unless it’s a deal breaker in business.

    b] I must never smoke (cigarette or marijuana).

    c] I must not indulge in sugary, refined, processed man-made food for more than 20% of my weekly meals (following the 80-20 Pareto principle) [9].

    d] I must do at least 75 minutes of physical exercise per week.

    e] I must do 1h of strength training with kettlebells per week.

    f] I must get 6-7h of average sleep each day with as much deep sleep as possible.

    g] I must have a sculpted and aesthetically pleasing body that inspires me with confidence, courage, passion, and fuels me with lots of energy

    h] I must continue to share my passion for health and well-being with the world.

    i] I must continuously educate myself on the latest findings in the world of nutrition, behavioral psychology, brain science that affects human health and well-being.

    j] I must fuel my body with the right nutrition to maintain peak performance throughout the waking hours.

    BTW these are just my standards. People get to set their own standards.

    Obesity has become a global epidemic today because the standards have been set by other organizations that care more about their bottom line than the health and well-being of the people.

    But here's the beauty of being born a human and not as an animal is that we get to set our own standards.

    A lion in the zoo cannot say to the zoo-keeper that I want to go run and chase a zebra and kill it and devour its meat.

    But we, as humans, have the power to think and make our own conscious decisions.

    Also, if you noticed something in my list, each of it is a MUST and not a SHOULD or a GOOD TO HAVE kind of thing.

    I have met so many people who go -

    “It’d be cool to loose a few pounds.”

    “I should exercise and eat healthy.”

    “I could get some more sleep.”

    And these are affluent people, some of whom make critical decisions in their work-place.

    See, here’s the thing. If you’ve been operating from a ‘Should’ or a ‘Could’ mindset, then your brain doesn’t help you to take consistent actions.

    Make it a ‘MUST’ and then you’ll see the magic happen.

    I want you to remember some actions you took in the past where you got the results you were looking for.

    Did you get that job offer from the company because you thought it’d be cool to work there or you made it a must and went to all levels to network and to show your real worth to the interviewers?

    Did you end up building strong relationships with your inner circle because it was a good thing to have a group of trusted friends or was it a must for you to have strong ties to a selected few people who share the same values as you?

    In fact, if you’ve gotten your wisdom tooth pulled out, you probably know the pain made it a must for you to do something about it.

    Are you getting what I’m trying to say here?

    If so, then I have few questions for you -

    → Are you satisfied with your current standards of personal health and fitness?

    → Is changing your physical health, a SHOULD or a MUST?

    If you’re still not convinced, here’s another personal example from my life.

    __________

    IV] Assess Your Belief-Systems

    See here’s the thing – even if you’re aware of your current health situation (maybe you’re over the 0.5 WHtR which is a red flag), and even if you raise the standards about what you will accept of your health, but if you don’t really believe you can meet them, you’ve already sabotaged yourself

    You and I both know that health is important. We all want to lose weight, eat healthier, and get in the best shape of our lives.

    But then how come I get an opportunity to write this?

    As it turns out, in order to create mastery in your health and fitness levels, you also have to diagnose your current limiting self-beliefs that have been stopping you from making the changes you want to make.

    What are limiting self-beliefs?

    People have their own beliefs about what is right or wrong for them. Every individual has their own internal belief on what and how they look towards health and fitness.

    For someone struggling with obesity, I bet the person believes that instant gratification is better than exercising regularly.

    As humans, we have a tendency to invest energy into the things we believe will produce the results we seek. But when we believe something is not going to work out – even unconsciously, we sabotage the results by taking half-hearted action.

    Little action equals lousy results. Lousy results equal uncertainty and disheartened beliefs. This becomes a vicious cycle that only ends when you decide to change what you’re putting into it.

    Take a look at the picture below.

    Health and fitness goals. Action. Results. Belief System. By itself, each of these words is self-explanatory. But when we put them together to make the health and fitness success cycle, we dive deeper into understanding the psychology of health and fitness.

    The above diagram outlines the keys to health and fitness success.

    The more resolved beliefs you have about achieving your health and fitness goals, the more empowering actions you’ll end up taking. And when you take repeated actions and enjoy the small rewards and the small results you get, you train your brain to strengthen those habits muscles.

    When you successfully build healthy habits, nobody can stop you from getting the desired levels in your health and fitness levels.

    However, if you’re not careful, the health and fitness success cycle will also backfire in reverse.

    You have negative belief systems and thus don’t get the results you want in your health. That makes you to not take any actions anymore and thus your health and fitness goals remain distant.

    Your belief system has the power to create and the power to destroy.

    But what is a belief, really? It’s a feeling of certainty about what something means.

    The challenge is that most of our health and fitness beliefs were unconsciously created based on our interpretation of painful and pleasurable experiences in our past. But the past does not dictate the present – unless you continue to live there.

    We can find experiences to back up almost any belief, but the key is to make sure that we are consciously aware of the beliefs we are creating.

    Below are the most common limiting beliefs we tell ourselves when it comes to our health and fitness.

    By anticipating – or perhaps acknowledging that you already have them, and changing them, you will be able to create lasting changes in your health and fitness that so many others spend their whole life struggling with it.

    MOST COMMON HEALTH AND FITNESS BELIEFS IN THE UNITED STATES

    A. “I don’t have time.”

    FACT: 26% of people think they do not have enough time to make a lifestyle change. You have the same number of hours in a day as everyone else in the world.

    Why are some people able to capture every moment while others consistently use the lack of time as an excuse?

    Motivation is not what helps these people to build the exercise habit. It’s because for some people, working out is a MUST, and for others, it’s a SHOULD.

    B. “It’s too expensive.”

    FACT: 17% of people think it is too expensive to make a change towards a healthier lifestyle. But when we really look at the facts, the cost of eating healthy meals vs. unhealthy junk food is only $1.5 more per day. The spare change in your pocket can mean the difference in your life.

    The question you want to ask yourself is - how much do you spend on the foods or activities per week that you know are keeping or making you fatter?

    C. “I don’t have the willpower.”

    FACT: 27% Americans don’t think they have enough willpower to make a lifestyle change. First of all, if you are relying on motivation and willpower to achieve your health and fitness goals, you are already sabotaging your success.

    The human brain has a limited supply of willpower at the beginning of each day and it ends up using the willpower reserve throughout the day during decision-making activities – what to eat for breakfast, which clothes to wear to work, which email to reply first, what to eat for lunch, etc.

    But there is still hope when it comes to willpower and motivation. Research tells that you can strengthen your willpower muscles. Similarly, you can increase your intrinsic motivation levels by asking yourself the right questions [11,12].

    D. “I don’t understand.”

    Today we are bombarded by information related to health and fitness in such a way that one has to work hard these days to not know about how to live a healthier lifestyle.

    There are so many blogs, websites, apps, videos that talk about this, yet surprisingly, according to a study, 52% of Americans believe that it is easier to do their taxes than to figure out how to eat healthfully! With a belief like this, it’s no surprise that many people fail to even get started.

    From my research, I’ve compiled a list of health and fitness limiting beliefs. Spend some time to identify what limiting beliefs are stopping you from achieving your health and fitness goals.

    Rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 for each of the following statements.

     0 = 100% disagreement. 10 = 100% agreement.

    Please be honest when you take this assessment.​

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    1-10

    Belief System

    Health is real wealth.

    I don't have time to exercise.

    Most healthy people probably used a quick formula to lose weight and get fit.

    Being a fitness person will make me lose my friends.

    Living a healthier lifestyle is expensive.

    Getting fit takes too much work and struggle.

    Losing weight and getting fit is a matter of how motivated I am.

    I am not motivated enough to get fit and healthy.

    Realistically, chances are I'll never lose weight and get to my desired body.

    Getting fit isn't for people like me.

    Striving for my health won't allow much time for anything else in life.

    To get fit, you have to spend a lot of money.

    If I get fit and achieve my desired body, everyone will get jealous of me.

    If I lose weight there are certain people in my life who may/will not like it.

    Being obsessed about health and fitness means you're going to irk some people away.

    I don't know the basics of exercise and nutrition.

    If I burn all my fat, I might gain it back again.

    If I really strive for my health and fitness goals and then don't succeed, I'll feel like a failure.

    I have the potential for getting fit; all I need is someone to show/teach me how.

    This just isn't the right time for me to start getting into health and fitness.

    I don't really want to be healthy because it takes too much of a work.

    I'm too old to lose weight and get fit.

    I can never learn how to cook.

    I believe if I begin cooking at home, I will get behind at my work or won't be able to have fun with my friends.

    I don't have the time to workout or to cook.

    I'm young right now and can eat any amount of junk I want.

    I can never gain weight.

    I don't enjoy exercising.

    Living a healthier lifestyle is all about going to the gym regularly and eating strictly.

    I'm too busy to put a lot of time and energy into health & fitness.

    If I lose weight and get fit, that's great. If not, that's fine too.

    I have some resentment towards extremely healthy and fit people.

    Other people's opinions of my body are important.

    It's okay if I'm fat because I cannot do anything to change it.

    I can lose weight on my own. I don't need help from others.

    If I ask for help, people will think I'm weak.

    The fitness and nutrition world is complicated and hard to understand.

    Health isn't really that big of a deal for me.

    Trying to get fit is a hassle and a life-long struggle for me.

    It's difficult to live a healthier lifestyle these days.

    I used to believe that thinking about getting six-pack abs would make me a compulsive narcissist. That was a self-created limiting belief which I was able to overcome and today I can’t be any less proud of my body that inspires me to pursue my goals with energy and passion.

    Don’t let your beliefs prevent you from becoming the healthiest and the fittest version of yourself.

    If you listen to your limiting beliefs, you won’t even try and you’ll be lacking that sense of certainty that allows you to tap into the deepest capacity that’s within you even as you read this.

    Our beliefs are like unquestioned commands, telling us how things are, what’s possible and what’s impossible, what we can and cannot do.

    Your belief system shape every action, every thought, and every feeling you experience related to your health and fitness. As a result, changing your limiting belief systems is central to making any real and lasting change in your health and fitness levels.

    You must develop a sense of certainty that you can and will meet the new standards even before you start taking actions. Just by this one shift in your psychology that you must change and that you can change, you’ll get one step closer to getting the most out of the healthinar.

    Here’s a simple rule that I follow - If your health and fitness beliefs don’t empower you, change them.

    Once you master your inner psychology of health, you're ready to move on to the next step.

    __________

    Step #2: Automating Health and Fitness related routines by building habits around them

    Once you master your inner psychology of health, you're ready to move on to the next step.

    __________

    Oh hey! Since you read all the way till the end, I think you'll also like the following posts.