Sunday, March 13, 2011

Weight maintenance and the Art of War. Using competition to keep my discipline on.

I was in Chicago this past Friday to do an interview.  As I usually do, I made my way to the hotel gym in the morning to get my day started.  Normally, exercise on Friday mornings means my fav spin class, but not when I'm on the road.  I walked into the hotel gym, and lo and behold, there stood a bonafide spinning bike.  I was happy that I would be able to do my normal spin class with me as instructor and student.  It was a decent workout, but at the end, I did not find myself heaving and gasping as I usually do in the actual class.  I just couldn't replicate the intensity.  What's up with that?

I have no doubt that there are people out there who are fully self-motivated and have the in-born engine to push themselves without external pressure.  These people irritate me.  Why?  Because I'm frigging envious, that's why.

So on Sunday morning, I was able to fight against Daylight Savings Time and make my 8:30 spin class.  I worked my tail off, and did everything I could to throw myself into cardiac arrest.  So what was the difference?  Throughout the class, I kept looking around to see who was working harder.  Who was sweating more.  Who seemed to be actually using their resistance knob on the bike and not faux turning.  When my awesome neo-fascist spin teacher asked people to bump up their resistance, who was actually doing it.  Who was better than me.

The great thing about a good spin class is that it has more than its fair share of obsessive exercise freaks, mutant cyborgs who seem to have no regard for their own pain and suffering.  People who grimly plow through each hideous workout.  Why is this a great thing?  Because it gives me human benchmarks.   When they push themselves, I push myself.  When they have the resistance so high that they can barely turn their cranks, I try to go to the same place.

In another example, I was flying back from Chicago Friday night.  I was upgraded to the front of the bus (there has to be some perk for travelling incessantly).  The flight attendent started the beverage and meal service.  I immediately found myself looking for the trim, hyper-disciplined looking serious lawyer types who would never deign to accept a glass of wine or a tray of junky airline food.  When the flight attendent got to me, I proudly said "Diet Coke, nothing else thank you!"  Well, I did eat the nuts she gave me (sadly without consideration for their unruly PointsPlus content), but I did say no to the calorie bomb meal service.  Just like that, I was able to be one of those hyper-competitive puritan freaks.  I felt good, responsible, and in control.  

So here is the deal with me.  I work at Weight Watchers, and I fully embrace the concept of group support. There is nothing I wouldn't do to help a fellow member in a meeting.  However, if I'm just being honest, I need a little blood sport with my weight loss/maintenance.  I need a little competition.  I need to surround myself with people who seem to have their act together much more than myself.  When I have it, I work harder, I push myself more, I stay engaged, and I stay focused.
The critical darling of its time...

I remember reading that Michael Jordan used to read the New York press before the Bulls played the Knicks so he could get irritated with the trash talking and then get fired up to play.  I get this implicitly.  I love competition.  It gets my juices going.  I love competition in just about everything I do (I can even beat you at being lazy -- don't test me!).  I love it mostly because I like to be challenged.  I need it to stay focused.

My love of competition does not mean I want to lose more weight than everyone else.  It's just that I can't stand the idea of people being better at it than me.  And believe me, lots of people are better at it, and their mere presence keeps me in the game.

Maintenance can seem like a long time.  I need those stimuli to keep me interested and to keep me engaged.  Sometimes it's the truly superficial (e.g., swim suit season is coming!), and sometimes it's for the right reasons -- I want to live a long time.  Competition is just another little tool in my motivational arsenal that I find pretty consistently helpful.  Applying it to my weight loss process seems a little weird, but it works for me.  I guess it's my inner Ares.

I'm told that the use of competition in weight loss is particularly popular amongst the men folk.  Our inner tribal warrior frequently gets the best of us, so the least we can do is to try to use our beastly tendencies for the good of our health.  Beyond the women are from Venus and men are war mongering freaks stereotypes, I suspect that many of us use competition on some level to keep our motivation going.  

As an interesting side point, I'm having a minor cat fight with @JackSht over college basketball while I write this blog.  Duke just won.  And Carolina just lost.  This pleases me greatly.  Now it's Final Four time.  Competition is in the air like a fresh Spring breeze.   Just in time for swimsuit season.

Superficially yours,



  1. So it's not just me! I just started running last fall (not well and not fast, but I do it) with the goal of actually running a 5k this coming fall. I usually run on my treadmill--running outside is still considerably more challenging--and hadn't ever been able to run more than about 2.5 miles. Until our last hotel stay, when I hit the fitness room the first morning of our stay (just about my favorite part of hotel stays--the different fitness equipment!) and was joined about 10 minutes into my run by another guest. I actually ran beyond 5k that morning, and I know that I could've gone even farther than that if my family weren't waiting on me for breakfast. Haven't been able to replicate it back on my own treadmill, though.

    That said, this bodes well for the 5k that I initially intended to walk next month. Something tells me that I might, in the midst of all those other runners, be able to pull off a run this time too!

  2. My mom, brother, and I have all been on and off of Weight Watchers a few times, and I love them dearly, but sometimes it's nice to deny the cookie they couldn't say no to. Without competition, you have nothing to strive to be better than.

  3. It's not just you, and it's not just the guys. I do it too. I do solitary workouts, and as much as I pushed myself on Saturday as the ONLY person in my gym at the time, I almost like it when other people are there....watching, observing, etc. ... because then I'm forced to really work hard and set an example. I'm from a small town, still live there, and so many people know my story.... so I'm trying not to let them down or myself either.

    Of course the down side is always being scrutinized and the fear of making a public slide and having someone say, "You're eating that? Really?" aargh....

  4. Yes, I would disagree that it is a "male" gene as I am a fiercely competitive woman and have excelled in business and in life because of it. And, weight loss is not exception. I belong to a WW yahoo group and there are a handful of us who weighed about the same. So, we started to cheer each other on as we set our sights on "onederland" and it turned into an unofficial competition with no one wanting to be left in the dust and by no one I mean me.

    And, yes, bring on swimsuit season (which will be sooner rather than later here in sunny So CA!).

  5. As we've learned in all the leader trainings I've participated in since I began my career with WW in 2000, and as we addressed again in WL 5, there are different types of people. You said in your post today: "I love competition. It gets my juices going. I love competition in just about everything I do... I love it mostly because I like to be challenged. I need it to stay focused."

    I, on the other hand, DETEST competition! It makes me nervous and self conscious and I run screaming the other way. It brings up all my reminders of when I was a kid and my mom's over criticizing comments to me (the "constructive" ones) and makes me wonder who's looking at ME (and I start to get those negative self-talk kinds of thoughts coming back).

    No. Competition is definitely not for me in any way. I need that supportive loving nurturing environment...

    Thanks for making that "different kinda people" point really clear- again.

    Raleigh, NC

  6. Oh man I am the same way. When I was getting my first degree I needed to have better marks than the people sitting beside me. I use to think that this was a bad thing, but now I let it motivate me to push myself beyond what I thought I could normally accomplish!!

  7. I have to agree with competition as motivator for exercise, but I'm in competition with myself! I run almost everyday, and I always want to either go longer, further or faster (ideally all three, but there are limits) than I did the run before. When I'm at the gym, I know the odds of out bench pressing the dude next to me with no neck are slim, but I can beat what I did the last time, either in weight or reps.

  8. When I run I think about how all people who run aren't any better than me and if they can do it then so can I. I think about other blogs I read about people running and I think about how I am definitely able and if they can do it so can I. So it's a form of mental competition, I think about how they can't beat me and how they aren't better than me and that motivates me to run harder and longer and faster.

  9. I am so with you on this. I just gave a shout-out to this post in my own health and fitness blog, Keep up the good work- I love reading your stories!

  10. Interesting. I'm a little peculiar about competition. I'm competitive, but mostly with myself. I want to do better than I did the last time. I don't care much about the other people around me, but I'd better beat what *I* did last time.

  11. Memo to David: avoid yoga classes.