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Straws on the camel’s back

Fat loss: one of those gender-crossing, depression-causing, joy-killing straws on the proverbial camel’s back. It’s what I typically see clients about. Usually these clients have been unsuccessful with previous attempts. Sometimes those attempts have gone on quite literally throughout their lives. So by the time they get to me they have a set idea in their heads about what the experience of weight loss is going to entail. I like to surprise them.

John, a new client, came to see me recently about his weight. I did an assessment session with him – this is where I go through the client’s daily diet and find those red flags or areas that need some fine-tuning (or complete overhauling, in some cases). The session’s a long one and I draw all sorts of funky pictures to explain how fuel is stored in the body (and how to get rid of the excess stuff). I think having this picture in their heads makes it easier for clients to build healthier habits. Then we chat about some realistic and manageable changes. Generally, we agree on just four or five (some of which are additions to, not subtractions from, the diet).

Straws on the camel’s back

I like to explain the process I work through with clients as “managing straws on the camel’s back”. All of us (camels) are exposed to loads (straws) that may impact negatively on our health and contribute to possible lifestyle diseases. We can’t manage every straw, so we need to choose those we decide to tackle carefully and intelligently. For some if might be poor diet, irregular exercise or lack of sleep; for others it may be too little exposure to sunlight, too much exposure to radiofrequency radiation or a poor breathing pattern; for yet others, it could be a negative mind-set, poor digestive habits or a lack of relaxation time.

While all of these factors (and more) can impact on our health and weight, we may only be able to change some of them. Just choosing one or two of the easiest, or most convenient, ‘straws’ will support the body’s recovery process in a gentle and effective way.

Be realistic

So, as an example of the camel work in progress, let’s get back to John. After we’d spoken about diet he asked me what he should do about exercise. Now, at the start of the session – when my clients tell me all about themselves and why they’ve chosen to visit me – it came to light that although John had membership at a gym, he rarely used it because he couldn’t seem to establish any consistent attendance pattern. This meant he’d go one day and then not for another 2 weeks; or he’d get on a mission and manage 3 times one week and then not at all for the next 3. Sound familiar?

So when he asked me about training, I told him simply not to do it. I had two reasons for this advice. Firstly, it’s the festive season and who the hell, in their right mind, starts an exercise programme in this season? Secondly, making (even small) changes to the diet is frankly enough of a challenge for the next 3-4 weeks. I can’t tell you how relieved he was at being given ‘permission’ to not exercise! In fact, his feedback at the very end of the session was that, “It seems so easy! I expected to walk away feeling like it was going to be really tough, but I feel excited instead.”

Managing straws

That’s music to my ears as I think far too many people assume that the process is a terribly taxing and immensely challenging one. It really doesn’t need to be. It’s true that managing the straws (change) – even one – can be hard, but it’s also true that it’s not impossible and we don’t have to manage all the straws at once!

So, if you take just one thing away from John’s story, it’s this – focus on one straw at a time; get it under your belt until it doesn’t feel like a biggie anymore and then – when you’re ready – look for the next straw.

Tanya Wyatt, Happy Valley pond

Tanya Wyatt

Tanya has written regularly for various health and fitness magazines such as Men’s Health, Marie-Claire, Cosmopolitan and Shape (she also served on the advisory board for Shape), as well as for local South Africa newspaper publications. In 2004, Tanya wrote two internationally released health and fitness-related books, both  published by New Holland. She recently wrote her third book, currently submitted to publishers for consideration.


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2021 Tanya Wyatt / The Happy Body