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‘Loser’ coach: Get to the root of your over-eating

The world-renowned fitness coach on the hit NBC show "The Biggest Loser" presents his winning approach to lasting weight loss by showing how to get at the root of your overeating problem, followed by a nutritionally savvy diet and unique exercise plan.  An excerpt from "Are You Ready?" by Bob Harper.
/ Source: TODAY

The world-renowned fitness coach on the hit NBC show "The Biggest Loser" presents his winning approach to lasting weight loss by showing how to get at the root of your overeating problem, followed by a nutritionally savvy diet and unique exercise plan. Here's an excerpt from "Are You Ready?" by Bob Harper:

Introduction You are about to take charge of your life, and I am here to give you the inspiration, the encouragement, and the tools to make it happen! The book that you now hold in your hands is the result of more than fifteen years of my passionate mission: to help people get in the best shape possible through an eating and fitness plan that will rewire your brain and reconnect you to your heart so that you never have to diet again. This is my promise to you.

Over the years I have had numerous opportunities to work with many Hollywood stars as well as — and perhaps more important—the everyday women and men, fathers and mothers, who had hundreds of pounds to lose on the hit TV show The Biggest Loser. And now I would like to share all of what I do with you—the millions of viewers of the show and the many of you who write to me and call me.

Over the past twenty years, as I have been crystallizing my approach to diet and fitness, two things have become clear to me: (1) When I work with clients in person, I am able to unlock an essential key that enables them to understand fitness from the inside out, which is a key that guarantees their success; and (2) no plan out there, whether offered by personal trainers or books, has quite figured out the combination to this lock before now. In Are You Ready! I offer this key that gets to the root of your ability to love, respect, and cherish your body. When this transformation happens, the eating and fitness plan are simple, straightforward, and successful. Just wait and see.

Are You Ready! takes all of what I do with clients in person and delivers it in a form that you can truly make your own, on your own. Of course, this book offers a carefully strategized dietary and fitness program, one that is easy to follow and easy to stick to. You will be able to lose weight, whether the ten stubborn pounds that have lingered since childbirth or the one hundred pounds that have slowly but surely crept onto your body, taking hold of your entire existence. My cutting-edge fitness plan will enhance your weight loss and hone your body so your silhouette becomes toned, strong, and naturally suited to your physique.

I’ve witnessed thousands of people lose tens of thousands of pounds utilizing my eating and fitness plan, but the most powerful feature to my approach, the one that separates it from all the other programs, promises, and plans out there, is the Inner Compass. What is the Inner Compass? It’s the mental and emotional dimension of my plan, the key that unlocks how you can once and for all take charge of your body, your mind, and your life so you can find true health, happiness, and peace. For I believe that these three great blessings—health, happiness, and peace—go together and can be achieved together, and are really what is at the root of learning how to take care of ourselves.

Are You Ready! is not only my own personal story of how I got to be where I am today but also the cumulative result of honing and perfecting my one-on-one work with hundreds of women and men over a fifteen-year span. So before I share with you the details of my Inner Compass plan, let me take you a few years back (well, maybe more than a few, but who’s counting?) to when it all began.

I was living in Nashville, Tennessee, in a one-bedroom apartment that was right beside a small gym. I was new to the big city, having grown up on a farm miles from any town, and was trying to figure out what to do with my life. I often watched people walking into the gym stressed and frazzled from their day only to emerge an hour or so later much, much happier. I could literally see a glow on their faces and an almost visible bounce in their step. Something had obviously happened in there, and I figured they had a secret, a secret I wanted to know about. After a few weeks of contemplation, I summoned my courage and walked through the door of the gym. I remember feeling intimidated by all those hard, muscular, fit bodies, but I signed up for an aerobics class (I told you, it was the 1980s) from a teacher who looked like Jamie Lee Curtis in Perfect but who acted like Rambo. She kicked my ass—and I wanted more. I loved the high I got after a fierce workout. I loved the way my body began to feel strong and agile. I loved the way becoming fit made my confidence grow and my aspirations take shape.

I became a regular at the gym, and soon the owner approached me and suggested that I would make a great trainer and instructor. I was stunned. I was also inspired. She saw something in me, the way I connected with people and made them feel at ease. One of the first pieces of advice she gave me was to remember that training people and teaching them about fitness was all about making clients feel good about themselves. I got it. I understood this immediately and instinctively: It was the inside—the heart and the mind — that needed to be awakened in order for someone to really commit to taking care of their bodies.

And it was this first connection—how the mind and heart speak to the body — that became the cornerstone of how I train people to fully utilize diet and fitness to become the best people they can be.  With this inspiration, I began to develop a program that gets to the center of people’s motivation, the place that nine times out of ten stops people from truly being successful at getting fit, losing weight, and keeping it off in a healthy way. Sure, a lot of people can diet for six weeks, six months, sometimes even a year.

They can begin a workout program, see visible results, and actually admire what stares back at them from the mirror. But the more I worked with people, the more I realized that unless I first addressed what I call the Inner Compass, that place within someone that houses the person not visible in the mirror, they would always fall off the wagon, gain back the weight, and, most frustrating of all, never really understand why, yet again, they hadn’t succeeded.

Armed with this insight and an even greater sense of destiny, I realized that if I was really going to make the best possible career out of fitness, I would need to move to the fitness capital of the world — Los Angeles, California. I packed my Toyota Corolla to the gills, drove from my longtime home in Tennessee, and headed West, resolving to quiet the fears that were rumbling in the pit of my stomach.

Now, more than fifteen years later, I have trained some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. I have helped them make beautiful bodies more beautiful, more slender, and more fit. But it wasn’t until my first day of shooting The Biggest Loser that I felt my true calling, deep in my bones. When I saw these big people coming down those stairs, I thought,

Do I have what it takes? All of a sudden it was clear that I wasn’t working with actors who were trying to transform their already toned abs into a six-pack or trying to go from a size six to a size two; I was working with people who wanted to be able to walk their daughters down the aisle. I was working with parents who wanted to be around so they could see their kids have kids. Basically, I was working with people who wanted another chance at life—the stakes were high, and the odds against them were higher.

These participants from The Biggest Loser were from all across America, and their lives were ruled by their weight. They had spent most of their adult lives trying dozens of diets, and nothing had ever truly worked. They had been crushed by failure heaped upon failure. And now they were going to be on a television show trying to lose weight in front of millions of television viewers. It seemed impossible, and it was my job to make it happen!  As I began working with the Biggest Loser participants, I soon realized that I was going to have to take my work as a trainer to whole different level. If I were going to help these women and men lose weight and get in shape, I had to rewire their mind-heart circuitry at a deep enough level that they would never relapse again. I also realized that I had to practice what I preach, and start with my own head and heart. This is when I had an exciting insight into another dimension of my Inner Compass plan.

It’s one thing to teach and another thing entirely to do. I wanted to be a role model, and that meant living the life that these people were aspiring to achieve. I wasn’t going to show people one way and have me live another. Was I out of shape? No. Did I need to lose weight? No. Did I need to connect to my own Inner Compass, that part of me that spoke the truth about how best to take care of myself? Yes.

So the first thing I did was begin keeping a food journal. When I paid this level of attention to what I ate, when I wrote down on the page everything I put in my mouth, it became easier to see and then understand my relationship with food and how it affected my day-to-day life. Yes, I had been a trainer for many years and ate a well-balanced diet, but I soon discovered that, like most people, I use food emotionally. I saw that I would reach for food in times of stress, when I had any negative feeling about myself, or when I was feeling overwhelmed by the daily challenges of life. Instead of feeling my feelings, I ate my feelings. Granted, I wasn’t overeating or binge-eating. But still, I was using food to compensate for emotional issues that I wasn’t willing to deal with, which is exactly what anyone who struggles with weight does. As I began observing and working with the Biggest Loser participants, I realized that their emotional eating was so out of control that they no longer knew why they reached for food, and they couldn’t stop when they did. Keeping my food journal was one of the most important ways I reached this new understanding of how I could help them stop this self-sabotage once and for all.

Every day, my major focus became trying to make the right choices. I created a game plan that was fueled by my knowledge about diet and nutrition, and I began planning my meals in advance. I also made sure to schedule a specific time for my workout, knowing I’d be more motivated to do it if I had an actual appointment with myself. Very quickly, I felt stronger during my workouts because I was now fueling my body properly. I also had more energy and less stress because I wasn’t burning the candle at both ends. And I was getting enough good rest.  At about this time, I was in the midst of shooting the first season finale of The Biggest Loser in Australia when my mother had a fatal heart attack. It was Christmas Eve, and my mom had complained about a slight headache; then suddenly, within hours, my strong, invincible mother had been felled. I had never imagined before that my mother, of all people, could develop heart disease.

At seventy years of age, my mother was mildly overweight, with an extra roll or two around her middle — a telltale sign, I was soon to learn, that she had a propensity for heart disease. And she had high blood pressure, but didn’t everyone past the age of sixty-five? But looking back, it was her lifestyle that was the real reason behind her life coming to an end so drastically: She had never really taken care of herself, having eaten a diet high in dairy and meat fat and never truly exercising.

My mother’s death, painful and heartbreaking as it was, actually triggered an epiphany: I came to the wide-eyed realization that we have to treat our bodies as sacred vessels, something to honor, cherish, and respect. When we treat our bodies with love and care, everything in our life becomes much, much more attainable. And when we don’t, illness and dissatisfaction will be ours.

Cherishing your body and treating it with respect requires a shift in thinking, one in which you stop emotional eating and create an empowering relationship with food. It was this insight and understanding that led me to create the next dimension of my Inner Compass plan.

Most of us can be our own worst enemy. We beat ourselves up and call ourselves the worst names in the world as we go through the day. Just imagine for a second what that barrage of negativity can do to a person’s sense of self-worth, self-esteem, and overall outlook on life. It can be quite grim. The proactive formula of my Inner Compass plan will get you to hear your internal tape recorder from a distance and then acknowledge the patterns or links between that tape recording and your negative behaviors. And eventually you can—and will—change your way of thinking. When you go from being your own worst enemy to your own best friend, not only will the weight fall off but your life will become more manageable, livable, and enjoyable. Suddenly you go from being a passenger in your own life to sitting in the driver’s seat, with the entire landscape ahead of you. It is that sense of self-worth that I want to drive into your brain so that when you encounter stress, obstacles, or just plain weariness, you can fall back on these new, healthy habits of mind. 

For years and years, I knew how to push my body to the limit. But that was just it—to the limit means without respect, without listening to my body, without truly knowing and loving my body. When I really started to respect my body, my body started taking care of me. This is the goal of Are You Ready! and its Inner Compass program—to show you how to listen to your body, learn to love and respect your body, so that your body, in turn, will take care of you.  Although I miss my mother every day of my life, I am forever grateful for the lesson I learned from her: She inspired me to treat my body with care, and perhaps more important, she inspired me to help others learn to treat their bodies with care. I want people to treat their bodies as sacred vessels because I know when this happens, all the years of false starts, yo-yo diets, bad voices in their heads telling them to eat or not to eat, whatever, will come to an end.  “Are you ready?” That’s one of the most important questions I ask any new client. Until you are ready to make these lasting changes, there is nothing I can do. But when you are ready, I will move mountains to help you get what you want. When I work one-on-one with people, I help instill this personal self-respect, and after that seed has been planted in the soul, it will grow and grow. But it needs water, food, and lots and lots of love.

Indeed, my book is for anyone who struggles with getting back in charge of their life. This book can work for someone who wants to lose 10 pounds or for someone who needs to lose 200 pounds. Mostly this book is for the people out there who want to change a behavior that doesn’t work for them anymore. This book is for the person who needs to find the true friend that lives in each and every one of us. This book is for anyone who has decided that today is the day that he can take charge of his life.

Are You Ready! will not only guide you to lose weight and get into the best shape of your life but, most important of all, give you the tools to rewire your brain so that once and for all you understand your relationship with food, tap into tools that can change your self-sabotaging behaviors, and finally assert control over how and when you eat. This is what your Inner Compass is all about. When you begin your Inner Compass journey, in Part 1, you will come to a unique way of understanding what makes you tick, and cultivate the tools and know-how to reinvent your relationship with food. The Inner Compass plan offers a four-step strategy, including “Are You Really Ready?,” “Accept Where You Are and Forgive,” “Love Yourself,” and “Change Your Internal Tape Recorder, Change Yourself.” In each of the four steps, you will gain insight and practical strategies so you can overcome negative thought patterns and bad behaviors, and replace this old system with one that is self-empowering, self-loving, and self-motivating.

In Part 2, “Stepping Up to the Plate: Your Diet,” you will then become familiar with my easy-to-follow eating plan, which is a simple, healthy way to help you lose weight. In the beginning you will be asked to do some calorie counting and portion control, recording what you eat and when you eat in your food journal. But in a matter of a few weeks, you will be so familiar with how much and what types of food to eat, you will be able to eyeball amounts and forget about counting those calories. You will have earned the right to make the best possible choices for yourself.

You will be eating plenty of whole foods that are nutrient dense, clean, and naturally low in calories and high in fiber. One of the keys to this plan is making sure to eat every four hours. This not only offsets hunger, but keeps you away from triggers that cause overeating or unnecessary snacking. Chapters include “It’s an Eating Plan, Not a Diet,” “Your Food Journal,” and “Stress Busters.” Of course, I’ve worked in creative food lists, tips on eating on the run and in restaurants, and ideas about how to navigate travel. You will see how to seamlessly integrate this eating plan into your life in a daily way, lose the weight you desire, and realize you never have to diet again.

Part 3 of the book focuses on my fitness plan, which requires minimal equipment, can be done anywhere, and suits any level of fitness. So whether you haven’t lifted a leg in ten years or are already running twenty miles a week, this fitness program will strengthen you, tone you, and improve your cardiovascular health, which all maximize and enhance your weight loss. The fitness plan is broken down into two phases. In Phase One I ask everyone to begin with four weeks of pure cardio, which enables you to make exercise part of your routine and get your body moving, as you change the way you eat. At the end of this four-week period, you are ready, both physically and mentally, to start Phase Two, which adds circuit training and core challenges to strengthen your upper and lower body and core (the muscles of your abs and back that strengthen and stabilize your spine). The more familiar you become with the strength-training exercises, the more motivated you will be to expand your repertoire of individual workouts.

The more fit you become, the more able and excited you will be to increase the intensity and duration of your workout.  Throughout Part Three, you will also find tips on how to make your workout part of your daily and/or weekly schedule. You’ll feel inspired to stick with your new regime because you will have the confidence and commitment to do so. Taking all that you gained from your Inner Compass work, you will learn a completely new orientation to your body and how to work out so that you will never quit again. And when you see how much clarity of mind and focus you gain by working out, you will be self-motivated to find that time. It may be a cliché that exercise gives you energy, but it’s true nonetheless. Exercising the body sharpens the mind, making you able to get more work done in less time.

So are you ready? You bet you are!

Excerpted from "Are You Ready?" by Bob Harper. Copyright 2008. Reprinted with permission from Broadway Books. All rights reserved.