Part 1: The Hidden Power of Secrets
“The strong people are not those who show strength in front of us, but those who win battles we know nothing about.”
47 Days. That’s how long it was until I told another soul on this earth (besides my wife), that I was attempting to lose weight. Even then, it was through an anonymous post on the internet (hey, shout out to the SomethingAwful forums again). It would be even longer before I confided in those closest to me, my friends and family.
At over 400lbs, I was already an introvert and as antisocial as they come. I had tried and failed so many times, I wasn’t yet ready to tell my friends and family that I was trying to lose weight because I was afraid to fail yet again. Even though as the weeks flew past, and the weight dropped off, and I was falling in love with the process, I was still afraid. Afraid that it wouldn’t last, that this was a dream, and maybe deep down, afraid that I somehow didn’t deserve this. I put my head down, and I did the work.
:: [Start Weight: 3/11/08] 407 lbs
:: [Week 01: 3/15/08] 400 lbs
:: [Week 02: 3/22/08] 395.2 lbs
:: [Week 03: 3/29/08] 392 lbs
:: [Week 04: 4/05/08] 390.2 lbs
:: [Week 05: 4/12/08] 394.4 lbs
:: [Week 06: 4/19/08] 389.8 lbs
:: [Week 07: 4/26/08] 384.2 lbs
:: [Week 08: 5/03/08] 381.4 lbs
:: [Week 09: 5/10/08] 380.8 lbs
Two months. 27lbs. People began to notice, and I struggled to keep the secret, but I kept trying to hold onto my secret. I was still afraid.
By this point, I was intoxicated by the success that I’d seen, but I knew that I could be doing more. My anonymous forum thread about my weight loss was filled with encouragement; however, there was a cacophony of people recommending that I start lifting weights as soon as possible. To get stronger, to ensure that the weight I was losing was fat and not muscle, and to minimize loose skin, as it was almost inevitable that this would be an issue that I didn’t want to fully saddle on the future me. (spoilers: weightlifting did minimize my loose skin so much, that I can’t express my gratitude for those that never relented on convincing me to do it. More on my loose skin in a future article, promise).
At Sunday dinner with my immediate family in mid-June of that year, I broached the topic of my weight loss. At that point, I had been at this for 14 weeks and had up until then avoiding the topic. But in those 14 weeks, I’d already achieved a weight loss of 40 lbs. I had to bring it up, though, as I needed an accountability partner and a workout buddy, and my little brother, Scott, was willing.
Here is what I wrote after that first strength workout on June 23rd, 2008:
“Started ‘Starting Strength’ today. I have never felt more like a fat, weak old man than I did in the weight room. With that said, it was great to get started.”
What am I gaining by keeping it a secret?
As I talked about in my brief story, I didn’t immediately announce it to anyone, other than my wife, for 47 days. Sure, people likely noticed, but at 400lbs, people had long ago given up on asking me about weight loss. Aside from the fear I was feeling, I’d also read that announcing your goals like that to everyone actually robs your goal of its power, as those people around you start to react as if you have already achieved your goal and you feel satisfaction and pride before you have earned it.
I can’t say how I would have reacted if more people had known. Perhaps, I still would have had the same results, but in retrospect, I do feel that keeping this secret from the world was a source of hidden power for me. With each day that I had succeeded, the power of my secret grew and grew until it was finally time to share it with the world. I likened this to the way couples keep the secret of a pregnancy (to ensure it’s a viable pregnancy), but each day of keeping that secret, something beautiful is growing. By keeping your plan a secret you are putting the onus on yourself, and helping to solidify that your reason for committing to the weight loss plan is intrinsic.
The beauty of intrinsic motivation
Intrinsic motivation refers to the behavior that is driven by internal rewards, while extrinsic motivation refers to behavior that is driven by external rewards such as money, fame, praise, etc.
By not telling anyone your goals, you are ensuring that your goals are intrinsic, meaning that you are doing this for yourself rather than having an extrinsic reason like having something to talk about with others or wanting to please someone else. This goes back to finding your why. For me, it was knowing that I needed to be healthier to be the father to my daughter that I wanted to be. Yes, there was an external stimulus,finding out my wife was pregnant, but the intrinsic motivation was the feeling of “absolute clarity that I had to do something about my condition. It was like someone hit me in the back of the head with a baseball bat, full swing.”
For you, you might not have some external stimulus that immediately rings true with clarity, but you still must have the same feeling of clarity in regard to why you are committing to your weight loss plan. The old adage “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” fits well here. You can have all of the information. You can have a plan for counting calories, you can even have a membership to a gym, but if you aren’t committed with a sense of clarity and purpose, you will likely meet failure head on. This is is why it’s important to explore your “why,” your internal, intrinsic motivation, before being re-caught in the grinding wheel of yo-yo dieting.
Avoiding Opinion Roadblocks
Another reason to consider keeping your weight loss a secret at first it to avoid the risk of letting anyone else’s opinions get in your way. Most people are going to put their nose into your business because they are genuinely curious out of a place of concern. Shows like Dr. Oz or The Doctors, present all of the latest weight loss fads, yet these shows rarely provide sound nutritional advice, and this is where most people tend to start their research on a healthy lifestyle. If you tell someone that you are eating more vegetables, counting calories with the end goal of being more aware of portion sizes, and making more healthful choices, you might be bombarded with everyone’s opinion that actually contradicts the evidence and experience behind what works, and it could start to sway you away from your plan. The truth is that:
“All diets work. You will get transformation pics from any diet from Jenny Craig to Paleo to Clean Eating to Meal Replacement Shakes. What transformation pics show is that that particular person was accurate, consistent and compliant with whatever diet they were on.” – Diana Kidd, Nutrition and Strength Coach
Additionally, your weight loss may cause others around you to fear how the changes you are making will affect them. People fear change, and as a result, when one person begins to lose weight we may see those around them exhibiting feelings of jealousy. The jealousy could be directed at the time you are spending on your weight loss goals or even directed at you because the other person now feels inadequate in the relationship because of your positive changes. This can cause people to subconsciously want to sabotage you! Or maybe they see you making progress, and are either consciously or subconsciously realizing that they should also try to make more healthful choices, and they don’t know how to deal with that, so are lashing out at you with negative criticism.
By keeping your weight loss a secret at first, you are allowing yourself time to acclimate to what you are doing and why you are doing it before you start having to talk to others about it.
So When Do You Tell Others You Are Losing Weight?
Obviously, you can’t keep it entirely secret because eating is a social part of our culture. That means eventually you are going to have to talk about it.
Have a plan for when you want to talk about your weight loss journey and with whom you want to talk. What do you want them to know? Be ready to explain what you are doing (counting calories, macros, etc.) and why you are doing it. Most people respond well to hearing that you want to be healthier. Who is really going to look you in the eyes and tell you being healthy is not important?
Also, be prepared that your closest family and friends may ask you before you are ready to talk. Like I mentioned earlier, this is usually out of concern for us. So it is better to be prepared with your answers to the above paragraph early on so that if you feel comfortable answering, you aren’t trying to put your thoughts in order on the fly. It is also perfectly okay to tell them that, yes, you are making changes, but that you are not comfortable talking about it just yet. A smile and a positive reassurance from you, that you will share when you are ready, is often all it takes to put our loved ones at ease and allows you the peace of keeping your full secret just a little longer.
If you are keeping your weight loss a secret to your family and friends, I would still highly recommend that you rely on a community of others going through the same thing. That support and connection to the community should help provide a push in the direction of your goals, and to provide you with some accountability. Even as a coach, I still find the community aspect vital. Many times, it’s easier to accept advice and help from a perceived peer, than from someone coming from a position of “authority.” This is why that even for my 1 on 1 clients, I have a members-only community where we can share our struggles, our successes, and support each other through each step of the journey. If that interests you, I’d love to work with you.
BITE SIZED TIPS
Find your inner reason “why” for wanting to lose weight. By having a secure intrinsic motivator in place first, you’ll be able to better resist outside forces trying to change your mind. Plus, your positively oriented reason why can be used to renew your motivation at times when it’s low.
Initially, consider keeping your weight loss journey a secret. This may actually make you commit to your goals with more authenticity. There is no fear that other may judge you for your missteps. There is no outside pressure as to whether or not you will fail. There are no expectations placed on you for what you may be ordering from a restaurant if you go out with family or friends. Keeping the secret puts you in complete control without others imposing their views on you. Do this until you feel that you have made some progress on making these lifestyle changes into habits.
Be prepared to be asked if/when someone notices your progress before you are ready. Be OK with telling them you aren’t ready to discuss it.
Do get support from a community of others going through the same journey. Others in your life may not fully understand; therefore, this additional support is vital for long-term success.
When you do decide to tell others, tell them exactly what you are doing. Be prepared for the fact that they may have questions, or that unfortunately they may try to sabotage you.