Sunday, December 18, 2022

What to do with the feedback that your life is giving you

One of the greatest gifts that my family gave me is the gift of the best education they could afford. And one of the greatest gifts that my education has given me is the gift of observation, understanding, and responding to feedback.

Today, I wish to share what I’ve learned about feedback from practice. But before that, I would like to share a story from my childhood that I hope will both illuminate how to identify feedback, how we learn to tune out feedback, and hopefully point the way forward. 

My earliest memory of receiving formal feedback is from primary school. I recall that I borrowed books from the library but I tended not to return them. I must have been careless with my studies in the earlier years too because my teachers recorded that I was a diligent but careless student. This feedback was reported consistently on my report cards. As is obvious, this was feedback that was equal parts positive and negative. 

What to do about this feedback? No one in my world seemed to know the cure for carelessness. Nor what to do with a diligent child. My mother bought me some story books from the University of Ghana bookstore. But I don't think she understood my real appetite for books. A diligent person has great energy. You can channel great energy in a myriad positive ways and reap amazing outcomes. And a few books every few months wasn't going to do it.

Failing to capitalise on positives

My diligence meant I worked harder than average at everything. Including reading. I basically read more. Which meant I got exposed to more ideas. Exposure to more ideas meant I could recognise a unique idea from the also rans. When I would borrow the books from the library, I usually finished them quickly because they were so interesting! Reading so much had many positives. It moved me from being a decent student to being one of the best. When I finished sixth in a class of more than two hundred students, I was so proud because I also recognised that my progress was mostly all my own. No one had helped me prepare for exams, except once when my aunt happened to visit and helped me prepare for social studies. That term I have first in social studies. Amazing! This achievement made me realise that sometimes, positions don't reflect accurately the students own work. No one had helped me with homework and so on. And so it bolstered my confidence. 

But when I failed, there was no one to help me get back up. No one to encourage me to persevere. With no guidance, I missed some of the lessons along the way. I didn't realise until much later that failure is part of the process for example. So for many years, I allowed failures to hold me back. When I failed at things, I gave up on them. I believed that things that are difficult aren't meant to be. My family certainly did their best. What they didn't give me, they didn't have. But thanks to the education they gave me, I am able to have what they did not. Hopefully you do too. Which means we can do even better.

Failing to correct negatives

Not knowing how to pick myself up after failure and get back in the game was not the only drawback of studying without guidance. Even with my studies. I read not carefully, but quickly. I was always eager to know how the story ended. As a child reading alone, it seemed that the only interesting thing was the story. I didn’t know that it was important to pause to look up the meaning of words I didn’t understand. As a result, I didn’t comprehend as well as I could have. With poor comprehension, I could not see how the ideas  I was encountering in the book related to my own life. So I became a passive reader.

Investigating what lies at the root of negative feedback

That I was careless was the truth at one level. What I now believe is the deeper truth is that I was a child who hadn’t yet learned how to say no to sharing what was in my possession. It was a case of poor boundary-setting. The books didn’t actually get missing whilst they were in my care. Not in the sense that I lost them. What was actually happening is that my small initial advantage at selecting interesting books made it such that other kids would in turn ask me to lend the books to them. And because I had not yet learned how to say “no, this is a library book, and if I lend it to you, I will get in trouble, how about I tell you when I have returned it to the library and you can also go borrow it. Afterall we were in the same school”. Any adult could have taught me this. But no one went beyond the feedback to investigate the problem further. Perhaps no one knew how to. I believe they would have if they had.

Missed teachable moments

What happened instead was: I would lend out the book, not really realising what had just happened. I would promptly forget who had even borrowed it. And the library would charge me for the missing book. And my parents would see that their careless child had done it again. But a world that doesn’t know the cure for carelessness isn’t able to respond to feedback telling it that a case of carelessness has occurred. 

Nobody ever asked me how the books got missing or told me how to prevent it next time. I just got blamed all the time. The times when the feedback came constituted teachable moments.  I could have learnt how to solve my carelessness problem. Instead I learned that nothing can be done about feedback. I didn't know what to do. And I didn't know how to find out. So I started to tune it out. Problem solved right? Wrong. Feedback doesn't go away because you tune it out. The problems deepen and the feedback gets louder.

Not only that, listening and responding to feedback is the most powerful way I have now learned to improve my life. 

One pernicious aspect about tuning out feedback is that the mind tunes out both the negative as well as the positive. 

How some tune out negative feedback

One never just wakes up at 100 kilograms in weight. It creeps up on you gradually, because you tune out feedback. One never just wakes up stupider. It creeps up on your gradually because you’ve tuned out feedback. One never just wakes up poorer. It creeps up on you gradually because you’ve tuned out feedback. One never just wakes up a drunkard. It creeps up on you gradually, because you’ve tuned out feedback. One never just wakes up addicted to porn. It creeps up on you gradually because you tune out feedback. One never wakes up surrounded by aimless friends. It creeps up on you gradually as you’re left one by one by your more ambitious friends. One never just wakes up an adulterer, it creeps up on you gradually as you make small compromises that don’t seem to change anything. One never just wakes up and kills someone. It creeps up on you gradually as your supposedly small anger problem is not dealt with.

How some pursue positive feedback

One never just wakes up wealthy. It happens day by day. One never just wakes up a successful entrepreneur. It is the result of years of movement to that destination. One never just wakes up a force for good in society. It is the result of small daily actions done over years. At Wesley Girls High School, I heard the great quote by Henry Longfellow that says “ The heights that great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night”. 

The people who win get there gradually just as those who lose do so gradually. Both are responding to feedback. Just differently. The winners respond to both positive and negative feedback. The losers discount the positive feedback and tune out negative feedback too. 

One way losers do this is by changing circles. When they hear feedback they don’t like, instead of changing their behaviour to deserve more honest positive feedback, they change their friends. Crazy. I did this myself. Because the library was giving me negative feedback and I didn't know how to solve the problem, I changed my source of books rather than changing my behaviour. And the effects of this decision took me in a certain reading direction that I only started to correct about five years ago.

There is no middle ground. So in which direction is your life moving? Are you sleeping or toiling upward in the night? 

Why we tune out feedback

One reason for tuning out feedback is, I suspect, not knowing how to move the feedback in the opposite direction. That was certainly the case for me. The people who are “sleep-walking” through life, to borrow an expression from Oprah Winfrey, are not sleep-walking because they are stupid; 

They are genuinely ignorant of how to solve their problems. Perhaps because they come from cultures that don’t solve problems which is also typically poor cultures. When problems don’t get solved, they don’t go away. They get worse and require even more energy to solve them. A stitch in time as we know saves nine.

How to intelligently respond to negative feedback

Which is why reading is so critical. See my post on how to read more if you need tips to get started.

I’m inspired by kasahorow’s motto which says in akan, nea onnim sua, ohu. Which kasahorow has succinctly phrased: 'learning cures ignorance".  There are books written about every problem under the sun. And reading allows you to meet people who have studied your problem and have solutions to it. But it gets even better than that. If you read /learn for long enough (years), you develop the ability to solve your own problems by paying attention, observing, and responding to feedback. 

Don’t tune out feedback. Feedback is meant to be acted on so do something about it. Pay attention to it. Learn about it. Understand the source of it. Get help. And take action to keep it coming if it’s helping you, and to eliminate it if it’s hurting you. 

So which feedback will you act on in 2023, and which books are you going to read to help you? Share with us in the comments?

Friday, December 09, 2022

5 tips from a year of reading 30 books

A few years ago, I set a goal to read 50 books a year because I was inspired by Bill Gates who is reported to read that much every year. I aspire to become a billionaire so I thought I should start doing some of what billionaires do which is read.  Those of you who already know that I aspired to become a millionaire several years ago will notice that I've upgraded my ambitions. That's because even though the cash is not on hand yet, I have no doubt that it will be within 5 years. So think of the million as the short term goal and the billion as the 20-year goal. 

In 2020, I read 16 books. In 2021, that number declined to 12 books. Noting the dip in performance and being dissatisfied with it, about this time last year, I set a goal to read 24 books in 2022  and supported it with a plan which was that I would read 2 books every month. I am happy to report that I am on my 27th book, and on course to finish 30 books by end of this month. I am happy about this because not only am I now smarter than I was when this year begun, I am also happier thanks to some of the new ideas my reading brought into my life this year. I have experienced achievements which did not satisfy so I am enjoying being in a place where my achievements fill me up. 

My reading goal for 2023 is 50 books, of course. 

So how did I do it? And how can you do it too?

1. Set a goal that is realistic for you

People I know who have failed at this set unrealistic goals. If you read five books this year, you are not likely to suddenly be able to jump to fifty. Sorry. It's just not going to happen. And the reason is that your life is not currently set up to allow you to read that much. And changing your life enough for that outcome to happen will be too drastic a change for you to sustain. It takes time to implement sustainable change. It will be 4 years before I'd have achieved my original goal of 50 books. Do as I do and think of your 50 books as your 5-year goal. But in year one, if you read 0-5 books this year, setting a goal to read 10 books and actually achieving it will be a worthwhile achievement. That's about 1 book a month. Doable wouldn't you say? 

2. Set aside a reading time

One of the epiphanies that helped me improve my reading outcomes was that I was reading when I had time to read. If you operate that way, you will never have enough time. I realised that for my outcomes to change, I needed to create time in my life to read. I gave myself 1 hour to read daily on weekdays and I fixed a particular time. The time I fixed was 4-5 pm daily after I  had picked up the kids from school. I then needed to explain to my kids that 4-5 pm is Mummy's reading time and they weren't allowed to interrupt me for any reason. I was actually happy to be teaching them to respect my boundary and also happy that they were learning to patiently wait for the hour to pass before coming to ask me anything. As one of my Bible Study Fellowship friends also brought to my attention, I was also teaching them by example that learning is important, and that making people you love wait is not a bad thing if you get back to them in a reasonable amount of time. And I am always ready to welcome them at 5 pm with a smile so they learned to trust that Mummy really only needs an hour and it goes by quicker than you think.

3. Make a reading plan 

Before I started to consciously read, I was a by-chance-reader. If I came to visit you and you had an interesting book, I might ask to borrow it. But I was not consciously improving my mind. I never asked myself: what do I want to learn more about? What do I need to know more about? What knowledge would improve my life if I acquired it? Once I started to ask myself such questions, I was able to develop reading plans categorised by life dimension. A plan is a list of books you want to read organised by when you will read them.  In January, I read spiritual books. In February, I read marriage books, In March, I read parenting books, In August, I read career-related books, In November, I read for intellectual advancement etc. I will blog later to share some of my breakthrough insights from this year.

4. Listen to audiobooks

A realistic goal, reading time, and a plan is what helped me achieve my goal of reading 24 books this year. But something else happened towards the end of this year. Because my ultimate reading goal is to read 50 books a year, I started to worry about how I would achieve that next year if my current system only got me to 24 books/year. I did a quick google search to see how others had done it. And I found one gem of an advice. Audiobooks! Audiobooks are great because you can listen to them whilst going for a walk or whilst cooking or when you're in the shower. Once I started listening to audiobooks, I was able to exceed this year's goal by 6 books and see that if I had been including audiobooks from the beginning, I would have read even more this year and therefore if I do that next year, I will achieve and sustain my ultimate goal. 

5. Improve your reading/learning skills 

Your reading process can actually be improved to allow you to comprehend the key takeaways without reading every book from cover to cover. That can reduce your reading time, and allow you to get through more books. With this ability improved, suddenly you're reading 50 books a year. Magic! 

Pretty darn exciting!

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

How taking care of your body changes you

  1. Your understanding changes 

Everyone supposedly knows the way to improve their health. Eat healthy and exercise, right? Well, not quite. There is some nuance to it. Take diet. There is the issue of quantities. How much to eat. How to eat. When to eat. What to eat and equally important, what not to eat. There's the issue of training your palate. Like possibly everything else in life, the quality of your understanding will be reflected in the quality of your outcomes. When your understanding improves, so will your outcomes.   

  1. Your beliefs change

    Beliefs are powerful things because they drive behaviour. In Ghana we have this expression: kɛseɛ wɔ ne ho. I have no idea what that even means. Basically, you're prone to being big and there's nothing anyone can do about it. Crazy huh? If you believe that, it will drive the choices you make. 

    Personally, some of the more exciting beliefs that I am in the process of jettisoning  have to do with what is possible for me. I've written sparingly about exercise so far, but there's a lot going on there as well. My challenge has been seeing a move that my Pilates instructor would do and I would believe without even trying that I won't be able to do it because it's too complicated. This negative belief would prevent me from even trying. The other belief that was preventing me from giving my best is the belief that all pain is bad and must be avoided. What my exercise is now teaching me is that some pain can feel good. It's not even pain. It's your muscles stretching to do something new. Something they've never done before. This has enabled me to lean into my stretches and body is doing new and exciting things and this is reflected not only in my outcomes but also spilling over into other areas of my life.

  1. Your desires change

When I first joined a gym, I didn’t know how to stay committed to my vision. There were so many options around me that I kept trying to get bodies similar to shapely women I met at the gym. But the truth is that each of us is beautiful in our own way. And we’re not meant to look like one another. Over time, as I kept up with the exercises, my bum grew, and lifted. My tummy went down and stayed down. It would take another year, before I caught a glimpse of  my own body’s potential. Thank God for gyms with wall to wall mirrors. Over time, my desire became: to build my body into the best it can be. I had come to desire my own best body. What you have to note though, is seeing your body’s potential will only happen after you’ve put in possibly years of work. It took me 3 years of consistent gym to believe that my body could be awesome! And it has taken me several more years since then to love the body that I have, not because it is perfect but because it is mine. It does wonderful things. It has a unique shape. So see, it's been several small shifts. First, I want her body. Then I want my body to look a certain way. Then I want and love the body I have today. And look forward to what it can be, do and look like tomorrow.

  1. Your habits change

Learning to enjoy fruits and vegetables so that you choose them consistently over your past favourite foods is a habit. Learning to control your portions is also a habit. Additionally, you may learn to cook differently, learn to snack differently, as well as new habits when you eat out. Then there’s acquiring a repertoire of exercises so that your exercise is effective and enjoyable. Additionally, for most of the exercises that are now my go-to, I did them with bad technique for hundreds of reps before I finally figured out how my body was supposed to be doing them. From there, results were rapid. I don’t think it’s possible to have great form without doing sub-par form for some time. 

Let me emphasise that what you're actually developing is yourself. You're developing the ability to say no to some things and say yes to what you actually want. And the more you choose the things you truly desire (often long-term goals, and dreams) over the things that seem good in the moment, the more your vision becomes a reality.

  1. Your community changes

If you go to the gym consistently, you get to build a community of other consistent people. It takes time to get to know people in a meaningful way. You’ll find that your workout buddies can be a resource for things like where to buy workout gear, and even who does the neatest cornrows in your area. 

One of my workout buddies gave me a Ghanaian food guide to attaining six-pack abs.

I asked another what he eats to attain his abs and he told me abs are as much about what you eat as about what you don't eat. In hindsight, I was not ready then for six-pack abs, but that insight is really deep. Getting the outcomes you desire is about what you do but it is also about what you don't do.

Personally, I find that I need community less now than I did in the beginning. My exercise has evolved from being a social sport to being a solo practice. Well, me and the instructor. And I choose my instructors carefully.

I'm happy for now, but If I find the right new community in the future, I'll be open to it.

  1. Your life changes

Your body will not transform and stay that way until you eat well, and train well, consistently. If you do it in one area of your life, you build the habits that allow you to be consistent in other areas of your life. I don't only eat healthy and train consistently, I also read consistently. And now I write consistently. I work on my goals consistently. A few years of doing this and life itself changes.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Health & Fitness: Lesson 8 - How to eat healthily this Christmas

For a lot of people, Christmas is a time of excess; too much food, too many treats, too many sugary drinks, etc. It was that way for me too, until about two years ago when I had a light-bulb moment. Just because it's been that way in the past doesn't mean it has to continue that way. I could do something about it. 

The main insight is that to eat healthily at Christmas, rather than settle for the default, you have to prepare for it. Without the preparation, if a friend gifts you a cake, then that cake might become your breakfast for several days. How can you prepare? 

For the 1 week of Christmas (25th - 1st Jan), you need a plan. I've never actually written out a menu but I plan to do so this year. Let me know if you're interested in the menu and I'll share in a later post.

Choose special foods 
I've found that what I really want to serve my family at Christmas is something a little out of the ordinary. A meal that conveys I went out of my way to make this for you. So for a family that usually has porridge, cereals, or warm beverages for breakfast, a special breakfast might be pancakes, fruit salad, yogurt and granola, crushed avocado on toast, freshly squeezed juices etc.  High end hotel buffets and a la carte menus are a great place to look for ideas.

Choose healthier substitutes
The next step after you have your ideas is to look for ways to make substitutions that make the dish healthy. 

Making pancakes? Why not substitute white flour with oat flour, sweeten with overripe bananas and honey instead of sugar, and top with crunchy peanut butter instead of syrup? Here is a recipe that I love.  

For a fruit salad, the mere act of slicing up the fruits in a special way, and combining them for your family is what makes it special. And you don't need more than three fruits even. See how Jessica Gavin makes an orange bowl special

Do you want to serve fruit juice? Try a mix of freshly made orange and pineapple juice. So delish! Or watermelon juice on ice - refreshing!  

Use brown bread for your toast and instead of topping with butter or margarine, try crushed avocado. Simply use a fork to smash soft avocado and season with salt and pepper to taste. I usually mix in boiled and sliced eggs. I've tried it with poached eggs and that's pretty good too. Or instead of eggs, you can top your crushed avocado with sautéed mushrooms. 

For yogurt, I recommend Zeno's yogurt  but don't go for the parfait. Buy the plain greek yogurt and top it with your own additions. I like it unsweetened with groundnuts, and cashew nuts. If you must sweeten, try dried unsweetened raisins or cranberries. Even though I enjoy granola, I haven't yet found a truly healthy one that is mindful of portion control. I'll keep looking and will share when I've found one. Please share with me too if you find it first. 

For lunch and dinner, grills are always a great idea. I love grilled veggies so I'll be trying of that this Christmas. 

Treat yourself 
Now that you've actually ensured your main meals are healthy, save room for decadent treats. One woman I met in Cape Town when I went for the in-person training as a VV Grow Fellow some years ago would ask about the snacks served at the hotel: is it worth the calories? And she was dead right. If you're going to eat something loaded with calories, the experience must absolutely be worth it. One of the best desserts I've had was a simple cashew nut tart from Kempinski. That pie was worth the calories, and I've been looking for a way to recreate it ever since. Another dessert that I loved that you can try is a chocolate croustade topped with nuts and a pavlova topped with fresh strawberries from the Glasshouse in Kew. If you drink alcohol, for sure try orange juice and vodka. Simple but amazing. 

Stock up on healthy snacks
Stock up on fresh fruits. The first Christmas that I was able to stick to a healthy diet, it was because a friend brought me a basket of fresh fruit. I was so grateful for that basket because it was such a thoughtful gift that saved me from eating lots of fruit cake! The basket was filled with apples, pears, juicy oranges, and clementines. Make yourself a fruit basket so you're more likely to grab those when you need a snack. Seasoned popcorn is also a great low-calorie snack that is special if your usual go to is salt or sugar. Type "seasoned popcorn recipes"  into Pinterest and enjoy! My advice is to choose the savoury options over the sweet.

Go with the tried and tested
The week of Christmas is not the time to experiment. Which is why this post is coming at this time. You have plenty of time to try out bits of the dishes you want to serve on the 25th. This is easy to say and difficult to do but if you really want to serve a special meal, then you do need to test things to ensure they will turn out the way you expect. 

Keep the spirit of Christmas in mind
Remember to keep the spirit of Christmas in mind as you prepare. Getting overly stressed about about this is not necessary. Christmas is a time to reflect on the deep love of God that motivated him to send his son to the earth so that through in Christ, we might be once more reconciled with God. As we reflect on this love, and inspired by the desire to love one another as Christ has loved us, we go out of our way to demonstrate love to those around us, especially our families. 

If your intention is to demonstrate love, it doesn't need to be perfect, so let good enough be good enough and enjoy yourself a little too. 

You also don't need to make all of this stuff from scratch. The reason that sometimes we need to make things is because it's difficult to trust how healthy food prepared elsewhere might be. But the treats tend to be less familiar and you can order them from a trusted bakery or patisserie. You can even skip the cooking altogether and dine out on Christmas Day too. Even so, you're not likely to eat out all week for every meal, so make what you can and  buy the rest. 

Tuesday, November 08, 2022

Health & Fitness: Lesson 7 - How to eat less

In my mind, learning to eat less involves cultivating the right mindset, some knowledge and self-control. I'll cover how to get all three in today's post.

Cultivating the right mindset 
It seems to me that it is after you get the mindset right that the actions follow with ease. Certainly some ways of thinking about food are more helpful than others. Here, I present you with three of the shifts that have helped me eat in moderation. 

The first concerns the question of purpose.  If I may ask you a question, why do you eat? 

Bring awareness to why you're eating

Sometimes I eat to satisfy hunger. Other times I eat for pleasure. Sometimes I even eat to numb pain. Recently, I've found myself using food as a form of exploration - Will I enjoy prunes? What about dried apples? What is my point? My point is that you need to bring awareness  and mindfulness to your eating. For example, when I'm able to identify that I am eating to numb pain, then I am able to turn my attention to what is actually bothering me and focus on solutions for pain which don't involve eating like prayer. You need to be able to notice when you are over-eating, see that it is not normal, pause and ask yourself why, then deal with the real issue. 

Choose foods that are good for you
In addition to being mindful in the moment about why you  are eating, one of the more helpful tips I've recently encountered was through my Bible Study Fellowship.  And this shift concerned how to choose. The BSF notes from the sixth lesson of the Kingdom Divided Study brought to my attention that sometimes the things we enjoy aren't good for us. That gave me cause for pause and reflection. And I found it directly applicable to healthy eating. Once you grasp that what you don't enjoy might be better for you, it can change your relationship with the foods you don't enjoy. You may opt to have an apple because it is good for you, not because it tastes good. You'll eat the apple and find that it wasn't so bad. Then you'll eat another the next day. These small choices will start to reflect on your waist circumference. And that's when you'll slowly start choosing more consistently foods that are good for you. 

Eat to satisfy hunger
The third mind-shift concerned when to stop. I used to eat to feel full. That was not helpful to me because sometimes I would eat and eat, and eat some more and I wouldn't feel full. You can imagine that if you need to feel full then you will constantly be eating. Then I learnt in the book "Ikigai: The Japanese secret to a long and happy life" that unlike me, the long-living people in places like Okinawa do not eat to feel full. Instead they eat to not be hungry. That was a paradigm shift for me. 

Could I really survive by eating not to be hungry? When I asked myself that question, my answer was yes. As a student at Wesley Girls High School, breakfast had consisted of two ladles of tom brown porridge. Lunch and dinner were no heftier, yet not only did I survive, as an athlete, I was able to run long-distance (3000 m) races on that diet and win! Wow! This story is relevant because I'm not the only one who has had this experience. Most people who have graduated from an African high school have survived on little food. If you did it then, you can do it again. 

I started to eat the recommended portion sizes for my body-weight and here I am, having lived to tell the tale. 

How do we translate this mindset to your plate? Here is where you need knowledge. 

You need to know how much food your body needs as well as how to give it that food. 

Know how much food your body needs 

First, determine how much food (calories) someone with your weight needs. To know this, be willing to spend money on a visit to the dietitian or fitness coach for advise on how much to eat.  Then use an app like MyFitnessPal to track and adjust how much food you're eating. I also recommend you buy a weighing scale to help you accurately calculate the grams and ounces of foods you eat. This is tedious and time consuming. But it is not forever. After several months, you'll get an idea of how many calories the regular foods you eat contain. You can then stop using both the scale and the app if you wish. 

At that time, you can switch you the simpler method of plating described next. 

Know how to serve yourself a healthy plate

When you are putting food on your plate, half the plate should be vegetables, and the other half of the plate should be divided equally into protein and carb as shown in this image from Institut de Cardiologie de Montreal.

There are few details to note when practicing this method

1. Use a small plate 
2. Do not go above the recommended portion sizes for your weight 
3. Eat slowly. 

A note on eating slowly
This is one of the most underrated advice you'll find. I find that having reduced the quantity of food I eat, I have become more interested in the quality. I want to eat food that is fresh, nourishing, and delicious. I'm cooking less in terms of volume but better. I'm now more interested in finding ways to improve the consistency of the taste. 

Eating slowly and mindfully enables you to taste the food more, and cultivates your taste for food that is better for you.

The final benefit is that when you've developed the self-control to eat less, you also develop the self-control to eat less of everything. If my kids are eating fries and I want a taste, I eat 1, 2, 3 pieces of it and then stop. I got this tip from an article that I read a while ago. Unfortunately, I didn't note which site. But this advice has been so helpful to me. I can have three or four pieces of nuts or a tiny piece of cake to have a taste and then stop there. I don't feel deprived because I have had it, but I also don't derail my health goals because I didn't have enough of it to set me back. 

In addition to mindset shifts, and knowledge, you also need self-control.

You need self-control
Choosing to stop eating even though you are not full requires self-control. Self-control is a fruit of the spirit. The only way I know to get it is from God. I prayed for it, and over time, I see that my prayers are being answered. If you find some other method to develop it, please share with us in the comments. 

All the very best in eating less. Any questions about today's post or anything else,  pop them in the comments and I'll respond individually or through a post.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Health & Fitness: Lesson 6 - How to eat healthier food

We've covered part of the solution already. To recap, by now that you have articulated your vision, and clarified why you want to achieve that vision.  You've also researched other people's transformations and convinced yourself that your vision is not only achievable by others but is achievable by you. You've also measured your starting weight and so know how much work lies ahead of you. And you have  a better understanding of the different elements you can play with you achieve your goals. 

So let's dive a little deeper into the most important element: diet.

In an earlier post, I shared that controlling your weight is 70% diet, 20% exercise, and 10% rest. I also shared that what you eat and how much you eat are the most important aspects under diet, and they are related.

You need to thoroughly examine your current diet that has resulted in your current weight and body shape. To get different outcomes, you have to change your inputs. You do this by changing what you eat, changing how much of it you eat, or both. 

Although you may already know this, it bears repeating because you may know it but are you practicing it properly and consistently?

Eat healthier food 

Entire book chapters have been written about what foods are healthy. The summary is that you need to eat fruits, and veggies, lean proteins, good fats, and whole grains. And don't drink your calories. That means when in doubt, drink water😀

Shop right, and cook right 

The way you translate this into daily actions is that you shop right. If you buy brown bread instead of white bread, then brown bread is what you will end up eating. Same goes for brown rice. 

Similarly fruits and veggies are an important part of a healthy diet. One of my big breakthroughs was when I understood that eating fruits and vegetables are not an optional recommendation. They are the way to a healthier life. Once I got that, I made sure that every meal had a fruit and vegetable component. I also started adhering to getting in my "Five a day". If you don't know about "five a day", please google it, and importantly take steps to practice it.

The mistake I made was that in the beginning, I simply added the vegetables to my diet. I did not replace my carbs with them. This move made me gain even more weight. It was when I cut down my carbohydrate component to recommended portion sizes that the weight melted off and my mummy pooch went away. What enabled me to sustain being on a low carb diet, however, was the veggies! 

So yes, buy healthier food. But you can buy healthier food and then load it with calories in the preparation stage which can also derail you. So you also need to cook right. If you are used to fried foods, try boiling, steaming, and grilling. Make your stews with half the oil you're accustomed to. Remove the skins off your chicken before cooking it. Cut the fat off your meats. None of these is the magic bullet. They all matter. Together, they help you achieve a healthier lifestyle.

Train your palate to appreciate healthy food

Now that you have the healthier food on your plate, you have to eat that. It's called training your palate. You need to train your palate to appreciate healthy food. Here, you need to be patient with yourself. Of course it will not taste good to you at first. But you need to keep at it. For some perspective, even though it took me just a few years to be able to eat oatmeal without any sweetener, it has taken seven whole years for my tongue to appreciate the taste of tom brown without sweetener. I'm not suggesting it will take you that long. I share my own journey to encourage you not to give up if you're not able to do after a year or two. If you can't do without sweetener, start with a teaspoon of honey. Stick with that for a few months, then reduce to half a teaspoon. Stay with that for another 3 months, and then eliminate completely. 

This effort is absolutely worth it. It is when you get to the place of being able to eat foods like porridge without sweetener that the journey gets interesting because it dramatically expands your options. You can basically then eat anything you want because you've learned to adjust the foods to your needs. Nothing will be off limits. Not even bofrot. So there's an exciting future ahead. More on that later, but for now, let's stay with how to get started.

Take baby steps

Trying to change your entire diet overnight will for sure fail. What will happen is that you will do it enthusiastically for maybe one to three months, drop a lot of pounds, and then miss your favourite foods, go back to them and gain it all back. What has worked for me is gradual change. Sustainable change is always gradual. It takes big change to see big results but the way you get to big change over time is by taking small steps now. 

My recommendation is to change only one meal at a time. If you start with breakfast, then keep your lunch and dinner the same as they've always been until you've mastered the healthy breakfast before moving on to changing your lunch too. 

This is because a lot more goes into mastering one mealtime than you would think. 

  • You have to experiment with and find at least three different foods that you can eat or train yourself to eat the same thing everyday. Either of these two options takes time to master. I'm of the opinion that having three healthy breakfasts that you enjoy and look forward to eating is wiser than having only one option because if you get tired of eating your one food, you will likely go back to what you know which is whatever you were eating before you started this journey.
  • You have to determine how much of it to eat 
  • You have to determine the calories in the entire meal to be sure that it is indeed putting you on a path to accomplishing your weight loss goals and keeping you healthy. 
  • You have to discipline yourself  to keep going when quitting would be easier 
  • You need the discipline to not derail your great breakfast by going crazy when it's time for your mid-morning snack. It took me a while to learn to enjoy a plain apple. In my previous life, I always had it with peanut butter which increased my calories significantly. 
In my next post, I'll share more on how much to eat and the mindset needed to be able to eat that amount consistently. 

As always, post your questions in the comments if there are any.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Health & Fitness: Lesson 5 - Improve your understanding

Did you know that becoming and staying fit is 70% diet, 20% exercise and 10% rest? Probably. Have you heard that you cannot out-train a bad diet? Probably.  It's one thing to hear and therefore know these things. It's quite another to understand it. Understanding is what matters. Only when you understand what you're doing will you be able to take intelligent action. Understanding also allows you to be creative, and flexible. 

So how about getting some understanding now?

What 70% diet means

If you're disciplined with your eating, you probably eat 3 - 5 times a day. Some people eat more than this although they will not admit this. Every time someone in their household is eating, they will get a craving for that particular food😀. They will pick at your fried yam, then another, and another. Matter o! I didn't say you. Without realising it, those tastings of this then that will probably add up to six or seven meals a day.

But let's assume, Dear Reader that you don't do this and you only eat three times a day plus one plantain chips bought in traffic or is it bofrot? Yours is Judi foods? We hear you. So three meals and I snack. Do you add Fanyogo? So is that 2 snacks or still one? Hmm...

Now you're eating four times a day, everyday - Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday including when you are sick or shall I say especially? So everyday without fail you eat.

And how often do you exercise? Three times a week, and only once on each of those three days. Then let's do some math.

In a month consisting of 30 days, you eat 120 meals, and exercise 12 times! But this ratio is 10 to one. So why do we say 70: 20? Because your exercise is not the only way your body expends energy. Your body uses up energy for all its bodily functions and every time you move, you use some energy. Even so, hopefully these numbers have revealed to you why you need to focus on your meals/diet!

The 70% diet consists of what you eat, quantity, and time (when you eat). 

What you eat

Different foods have different effects on your body. White rice nourishes your body differently from brown rice. Plain greek yogurt is different from a parfait with granola, sweetened fruit and a big dollop of honey. One can be eaten everyday, the other must be eaten as a once-in-a while treat.


A big bowl of fufu and groundnut soup with as much bushmeat as your body can take affects your body differently than 1 piece of boiled green plantain served with nkontomire, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and half of a medium-sized grilled mackerel. These are extremes. You probably don't eat as much meat as your body can take but maybe you drink 4 ladles of groundnut soup when really two is the recommended serving size. Improve your understanding of how much to eat by reading books by African dieticians.


Here, the key thing to remember is not to eat less than 2 hours before your bedtime. But this is not as important as what you eat and how much you eat.

What 20% exercise means

The exercise component follows the FITT principle -  frequency, intensity, time, and type. 


How often you exercise is the most important factor. Getting 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week is more beneficial to your body than a 5 hour keep fit session only on Saturdays.


When you exercise, try to challenge your body. Much of the growth happens when your body is challenged. Here is not the place to do the bare minimum. Here is not the place to give up at the slightest resistance. Try to push your body to do new things. You can get performance ideas from lesson 1


The recommended time is 30 minutes to 1 hour. No matter how badly you want to lose weight, if               you need two hours in the gym to maintain your weight, that is your indicator that you haven't fixed the diet issue. Some people even work out twice a day. That's not necessary unless for example you walk 30 minutes in the morning to the bus station and another 30 minutes back home in the evening but that is considered an hour of walking daily which is really all you need.      


All exercises work if you do them right. If you're walking, walk briskly. Swimming, swim enough laps. Pilates or yoga, get your technique right. Gymming, lift with good form, etc.

What 10% rest means

Take some days off to allow your body to rest, rebuild, and recover. Some people workout 5 days a week and rest on weekends. Others take a mid-week break on Wednesdays as well. Try these and see how your body responds. A tired body will not function as well as a rested body so do enjoy some rest days.

If you don't understand any of what I wrote or have additional or related questions, please leave them in the comments and I'll address it in future posts.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Health & Fitness: Lesson 2 - How to uncover your why

In Lesson 3 - Have a vision for your health, I shared a way to identify what outcomes you want for your health. I focused on health, performance, aesthetics, and fun. 

Now that you know what you want, the next step is to determine why you desire to be stronger or achieve a certain weight goal. You can think of this as your motivation. This post will cover how you might uncover your reason and motivation; the thing that drives you.

A good technique for uncovering your motivation is Taiichi Ohno's five why's technique. Read up on it, understand it, and apply it to yourself to uncover your own motivation. 

Here is an example: You might start like this: 

Why do I want to eat healthy? 

Because I want to lose weight.

Why do I want to lose weight? 

Because the doctor advised it.

Why did the doctor advice it?

Because I'm at risk of getting diabetes.

Why don't I want to get diabetes?

Because if I do, the emotional, physical, and financial cost of that disease will be too much for me to bear.

Aha! You want to eat healthy because the cost of changing your habits now is far lower than you will need to pay if you reap the eventual consequence of continuing on your current trajectory.

Healthy people are motivated by a variety of reasons to pursue a healthy lifestyle. Here are some examples of motivators that you might find helpful:

  • Your God

    1.  To be a good steward of the temple of God.

  • Yourself: 

    1. To enjoy good health. 

    2. To feel confident about and enjoy your appearance every day.

    3. To have the strength to be productive in your career long into your latter years.

  • Your spouse: 

    1. For your spouse to have peace of mind about your health.

    2. To not be a burden.

    3. To have the energy and a physique that enhances intimate relations.

  • Your children:

    a. To be a model for your kids.

    b. To have the energy to play with your future grandkids.

    5. Your extended family:

    a. To improve your chances of outliving your parents so you can care for them.

  • Please share your own motivation with us in the comments when you've been able to uncover it.  Also write it down, and safely guard it. Whenever you feel unmotivated to take the actions that you know you need to take to care for your health, read it to remind yourself why you do what you do. If you have truly found what motivates you, then your written motivation will be a useful tool in helping you stay the course.