Lose weight fast by changing your mind (really)!

Updated to Habits on December 19, 2022.

I was in a car the other day with a radiologist and a neurosurgeon talking about hypertension. 

This conversation is actually not as unusual as it might sound. I volunteer for a local society that does trail clearing in a popular hiking and mountain bike park and many of the volunteers happen to be recently retired doctors. 

Back in the car, one of the doctors happened to mention that recently his medical partner, who is in his early 60’s, had a mild stroke. As we wound our way further up the dirt road to our work site my education continued. 

I learned that strokes are the second biggest cause of mortality worldwide and the third most common cause of disability. The scary statistics get worse. As you age your chance of a stroke doubles every 10 years after 55

There’s a checklist of health conditions that make you more susceptible to a stroke, like obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. But the biggest culprit – six times out of ten – is hypertension or high blood pressure. In my books, that’s worth paying attention to.

What’s interesting is that stress, in itself, is not the direct cause of high blood pressure. It’s what we do when under stress that leads to nasty results. We eat too much, drink too much, and move too little. Basically, we deal with stress by making unhealthy choices.

For me, stress starts with worry.

Ngoc Son Temple, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

I’ve had a lot of worries

There is a world of problems you can worry about – take your pick. You can worry that Ukraine will be pummeled into a tiny province of rubble, or that we’ve passed the tipping point with global warming, or the tiny spot on your chin is cancer. 

Or not.

“I’ve had a lot of worries,” quipped Mark Twain “most of which never happened.” Our mind loves a good worry. Like a dog chewing a bone, we want to turn our worry around, looking from all angles, poking and prodding until it swells up into something bigger than it really is.

I used to worry incessantly before every keynote speech. I’d worry I’d miss my flight or wasn’t prepared enough, or I would be greeted by the “audience from hell.” Trust me, when you have 60 minutes to educate, entertain, inspire, motivate, and get laughs from an audience you’ve never met before, any sane person would invent a long list of worries.

It was at one of those events when a fellow speaker opened an exit door for my worries. He suggested that audiences don’t want you to fail – in fact, they want you to succeed. “They want to see you having fun—enjoying yourself. That way,” he explained, “they can enjoy the ride with you.”

When I accepted the long list of what I could never control – my flights, the audience, the speaker before me going overtime – I was free to focus on what I could control.

Enjoying the moment. 

What your life will have been

In her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön tells the story of delighting in the preciousness of every single moment.

A woman is running from lions. She runs and she runs, and the lions are getting closer. She comes to the edge of a cliff. She sees a vine there, so she climbs down and holds onto it. Then she looks down and sees that there are lions below her as well. At the same time, she notices a little mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries emerging from a nearby clump of grass. She looks up, she looks down, and she looks a the mouse. Then she picks a strawberry, pops it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.

Learning what to focus on, and what to ignore, seems to be the ultimate secret to living a healthy, stress-free life. “Whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment,” writes Oliver Burkeman in Four Thousand Weeks (a must-read for anyone over 50), “is simply what your life will have been.”

So, what are you focussing on?

What to focus on

You can learn a lot when you’re the dumbest one in a car full of doctors. I learned that strokes are a silent pandemic. And that hypertension is the leading cause of that pandemic. And I learned the leading cause of hypertension is stress. 

I was also reminded that stress is a choice.

We all have lions and tigers in our life. Maybe even a mouse or two gnawing away at something we value. Meanwhile, we have the moment.

Choosing what to focus on (and what not to) might just be the healthiest choice you can make.

Got this far? You might also like these posts:

Photo of eggs by Nik on Unsplash
Photo of Ngoc Son Temple by author
Photo of tigers by author

I was a chubby kid. No question about it – I was always last on the pick list for team sports. In my twenty’s I took up running, cycling, triathlons, and Ironman competitions.

I burned lots of calories, lost weight, but still had that winter/summer waist belt yo-yo going on. I would lean out in the summer and add pounds in the winter. It was frustrating. Plus, I wanted to learn more about diet, health, and how to create a steady, healthy diet and lifestyle.

Finally it dawned me…I needed to change my mind.


Every year, an Everest-sized pile of books, articles, retreats, conferences, pills, and resources are created to help people lose weight. Throwing my two bits into a crowded fountain of hope puts me on shaky ground. That’s okay – it hasn’t stopped me before!

** You might be asking “Hugh, why the heck are you writing about losing weight in a business blog?” Good question (and if you didn’t ask it, you should have). My goal is to help you, dear reader, be better at the game of life. Some of that involves the hours your invest in our work. And some is about your precious non-work hours. Either way, I believe if you think differently, plan better, and act deliberately you will always get remarkable results.


Your brain is wired to take the path of least resistance following neural pathways carved by past thoughts and actions. images_key 2Just like water running down a new track off the main stream and digging a deeper trench, the more we think a thought, the more it becomes our default thought.

The problem is, if you think you are incapable of changing yourself, any ray of hope gets quickly squashed. So, bad thinking (“I always make goals, and then break them”) begets more bad thinking (“Well, there I go again! Another goal broken.”).

The good news is the reverse is also true: good thinking (“I wanted a cookie, but walked away. Good on me!”) begets more good thinking (“This is progress. Tomorrow I’d do the same thing”).

ACTION: Watch your thoughts. Catch any negative conclusions pointed at yourself and turn that finger to point at curiosity, like this.

When you catch yourself saying: “Why do I always say I’m going to do something, and then procrastinate?”

Turn it into: “I wonder what payoff (reward) I got by procrastinating?” and then “How can I feel rewarded (what reward do I need) by doing what I committed to?”

The faster you flip your self-condemnation into curiosity, the faster you can start to explore new and better actions for next time. At the end of an exhausting three day speaking tour, and on the final flight home, I found myself devouring two cookies I had stashed in my carry-on earlier in the day. No sooner had I nibbled the last crumb, I was already regretting my decision.

Rather than beating myself up, I got curious. “What just happened there?” I asked myself. “Oh yeah, I’ve been going hard since 5:00AM, I’m exhausted, and my defences had tanked.” Now for the curiosity.

“I know this is going to happen again (damn those hotel cookies!) – I wonder how to avoid the binge next time?”


It’s easy to be tempted into an unhealthy diet – just load your shelves with junk. If you are serious about losing weight, feeling better, or simply having more energy, removing temptation is the first step.

In addition to avoiding the 24 pack of diet Pepsi in the grocery story, you can use smaller plates. In one four-month study, people assigned smaller plates lost three more pounds, compared to those assigned larger plates (read more here). In another study, people given large bowls served up 31% more ice cream than those given small bowls. Even using a larger spoon, resulted in 57% larger servings than those with small spoons.

And here’s the kicker – our brain is a terrible judge of past behaviour. In the bowl experiment, both the people with papa-size bowls and those with baby-size bowls estimated they had served up about the same amount of calories.

“If you don’t want to slip, don’t go where it’s slippery.” AA


1) Donate food you know you shouldn’t be eating to charity.

2) Limit bing eating to one day/week.

3) Start using smaller plates and even smaller cutlery.


I learned a little lesson that has served me well at buffet lines, from Dan Beuttner’s book The Blue Zones. Herethe-blue-zones-by-dan-buettner it is: it takes about 20 minutes for our stomach to signal our brain we’ve eaten enough.

Now, imagine you are at a conference. You’ve been sitting on your duff all day, bored silly by PowerPoint. Now, it’s lunch time, your willpower is at half-mast, your brain is calling for blood glucose, and you’ve loaded up at the buffet.

Before your stomach has a chance to raise warning flags, you’re already back in line for a second helping. Bad news is on its way (in about 20 minutes).

ACTION: Create a habit of pausing before you refill. Chat about the latest Duck Dynasty episode and drink water. Chances are pretty good that second helping won’t be looking as attractive. And you’ll thank me in the morning.


We are modern people, living in primitive bodies. One part of your wiring that hasn’t change over millennia is your need to hibernate (sitting, resting, sleeping) and hunt (exercise, physical work, outdoor activity, sports). When you hunt, muscles go Younger next year blog picto work, tissue breaks down, and cells are rebuilt. I talk about this process more “Yes! You can be younger next year”

This cycle is critical for your health, longevity, and energy. But it only happens when you hit your red line. And your red line is 60-65% of your maximum heart rate. (calculation: 220-your age=max heart rate). For me that calculation is: 220-56 = 164…164 X 65% = 107 bpm (beats per minute). For me to get the “hunting” effect of break down/rebuild I need to keep my heart rate at 107 bpm, or higher. That’s easy – it’s like a fast walk.

ACTION: Go for a brisk walk twice a day for at least 20 minutes. Do that consistently and you’re in the top 20% of fitness. Throw in some strength training, and Jillian Michaels will be giving you a call.


Willpower decreases throughout the day. This leads to bad choices later in the day.

It’s a no wonder that tub of Breyers Heavenly Hash (my favourite) looks pretty darn good come 9:00 at night. Kapesh?

The solution is no-fork boundaries.

When I’m at home, I get going at 5:00AM, but I don’t eat until 8:00. By that time I’ve been writing for two hours, and exercising for 45 minutes (read more about “Joining the Morning Club“). Add 15 minutes to make my smoothie and bowl of quinoa and it’s been three hours before I eat. That makes for a great appetite. 

In the evening I stop eating by 9:00. That’s means no food is going into my system for the hour before I go to bed (I talk more about this “Make your bed and 12 more great habits for the super busy”). That makes for a great nights sleep and my body Blog_images-make_your_bed_key-2isn’t trying to process food while I’m sleeping. 

ACTION: Create your own no-fork zone in the AM and PM when eating is banned. Try it for a week. And then experiment with timing until your new routine feels natural and rewarding (as opposed to a sacrifice).


You don’t do anything without a reward. Don’t believe me? Why did you stay late at work last week? Why did you run all those errands (in rush hour no less) for your family? Why did you procrastinate and skip that workout yesterday?

You got rewards.

Rewards make the world go around. Sometimes we confuse rewards with duty, commitment, goals, and responsibility. But behind it are rewards. 

Want to lose weight? Create a new routine and reward it.

I drink a full glass of water every morning. Why? Because I know I’ll feel better around 10:00 AM.

I don’t eat gluten. Why? Because I know I won’t get sleepy in the afternoon and I don’t gain weight (I think I’ll live longer as well).

I don’t drink coffee. Why? Because years ago (it’s been 17 years) I calculated the pre-tax cost of my coffee habit and decided to invest that money instead. My daughter’s education fund has grown nicely off “coffee money” over the last 10 years.

I could go on and on, but the point is all new routines need new rewards. And your rewards have to be bigger, sexier, and better then whatever reward you got from the old routine.

ACTION: Get creative. How could you reward your new habits? It could be feeling better is enough reward. Or, maybe you need to track your progress. In one study, people who simply recorded everything they ate over a two week period, lost weight, smoked less, drank less alcohol, and slept better (even though they were asked to do any of those things). The reward was journalling. The willpower boost they enjoyed in other areas was a bonus.

In this post, I wanted to share how I work at Thinking, Planning, and Acting to enjoy great health. You maybe doing great already – wonderful! Or, you know better is possible. That’s great as well. The trick, as you might have guessed, is to take one of these actions, practice it, and reward it.

“Life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get.” (to quote the philosopher F. Gump). And you won’t know unless you open the box, take a risk, and see what happens.

Here’s a quick summary:

  1. Catch those negative thoughts about past behaviour and get curious. Life is throwing lessons at us every day – we just need to catch them.
  2. Remove temptations. If you drive a Porsche you’ll get speeding tickets. If you buy junk food you’ll eat it. Fix that first.
  3. Wait 20 minutes before thinking about eating more. This one habit could add years to your life.
  4. Go on a “hunt” in your “red zone” for at least 20 minutes a day (twice a day is better). Your body wants to rebuild – make it happen.
  5. Create no-fork boundaries (morning and night) when your body can digest, recuperate, and rebuild.
  6. Reward your new habits and make them sticky. Small changes, over time, are the secret to long-lasting success.

Now, over to you. What are you doing to enjoy your best health ever? Tell me in the comments below – I want to know.