Every year at this time, I publish columns to help people get control of their weight, and I also peruse what others are writing on the issue. This year, I read a few columns telling overweight people to exercise with jumping jacks. One said to “start with something easy, like jumping jacks”. Jumping jacks??!! I almost blew my coffee out my nose. Jumping jacks? Is this guy crazy? He has probably never been obese and probably has never had an obese person he has said this to.
As a formerly obese person, I can tell you that jumping jacks are a very bad idea for an obese person. Not only will it hurt, but you are liable to do damage. In fact, the number one rule for obese people and exercise is to take it easy, go slowly, and don’t overdo it. Use the old show-business principle. Only do so much, and leave ‘em wanting more. If you get to the point where you think you’ve done enough, you’ve probably done too much. The most intense thing you should do at first is walking. Jumping jacks are the worst idea I’ve ever heard of.
I’m a behavior therapist who discovered how to succeed with permanent weight loss. After 25 years of diet and exercise failure, I finally “got it”, lost 140 pounds and I’ve kept it off for 30 years. I went on to teach others, and I wrote a successful book about it, now an audiobook.
In my behavioral approach, we focus on our behavior rather than our weight or our body. Instead of just trying to use “will power”, we use behavioral science to program in the behavior and habits that will create the results we want and program out (extinguish) the behavior that made us overweight. One of the primary mechanisms in behaviorism is conditioning, applying reward to the behavior we want to build, and unpleasant aversives (called “punishment” in the science) to the behavior we want to kill.
So, when we engaged in punishing exercise, we were training ourselves to hate and avoid the exercise that would help us control out weight! Those people saying we should be in pain were all wrong! If you want to create an exercise habit, don’t do anything that hurts, physically or emotionally.
Instead of trying to be tough and making ourselves do something unpleasant, we need to find things that feel good and burn calories at the same time. So, going to the gym surrounded by gawking strangers is out. Doing things that physically hurt is out. You need to be extra sensitive or attuned to your needs and realize that something as simple as feeling embarrassed or having uncomfortable walking shoes is a punishment. You need to find ways to burn calories that are more fun than that and feel good. I was lucky to have a private pool when I started my successful weight loss, and started getting active just by playing in the pool with the kids. I was in such bad shape, I couldn’t even swim a lap. But treading water got me started. It was fun and felt good. Soon I was swimming, and then walking in the cool mornings, but only short strolls at first.
So, forget jumping jacks and the people who tell you to start with them. Read the rest of my work to learn more about my behavioral approach for permanent weight loss. This could be the year you solve your weight problem.
William Anderson is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who specializes in weight loss, eating disorders and addictions. He solved his own long-time weight problem, losing 140 pounds 30 years ago and has kept it off since. He is the author of The Anderson Method.