Translator: Maurício Kakuei Tanaka Reviewer: Adam Fitzgerald My little brother was very good at a few things from a very young age. The first thing he was really good at was making everybody laugh without trying. Like the one time I told him he should have a little bit of protein after a workout. He got all excited because he thought I said “poutine.”
(Laughter) The second thing he was good at was eating large quantities of food. Come dinner time, it wasn’t uncommon for him to outeat most of the adults at the table. Now, as you may have guessed, as a five-foot-nothing little boy, there is, in fact, a downside to regularly outeating full-grown men.
At just 11 years old, I could already see that, if nothing else changed, my little brother was headed for an adolescent life littered with teasing and unhealthy eating. As his older brother, I wanted to do something about it.
As a nutrition, or kinesiology student, with an intense interest in nutrition, I knew that I had to do something about it. Initially, I wasn’t sure how, but I was determined to find a way. Now, in March of 2013, I broke my leg while I was walking to class, and I slipped on some ice. Yes, that is the whole story. I was walking, there was some ice.
Poof, broken leg. No lives saved. No purses returned. No cool story to tell. Little did I know as I lay there in that quickly melting puddle of ice, waiting for the ambulance to arrive, that this moment would forever change the life of my little brother.
After I had a surgery to attach a small titanium plate and a few screws onto my fibula, I was given two crutches, and told not to put any weight on my leg for two months. This posed a unique problem, as there was still plenty of snow and ice on the ground.
And I still had two months left of class, spread out over one of the largest campuses in the country. So, with that in mind, I made a decision that any hard-working student in my position would do. And I obviously decided to stop going to classes.
(Laughter) Now, with all this free time from studying at home, I had finally figured out how I was going to help my little brother. I knew that what he needed to do was very simple in theory, but very difficult in practice.
What he needed to do was change his eating habits. From experience I knew the things that he needed to change, and the things that he didn’t. The problem was that communicating this through somebody else would most likely just end up like the childhood game of telephone. The message gets passed along, but with little misunderstandings and misinterpretations along the way.
There’s not much left of the original message, and everybody’s just left confused. And my little brother’s eating habits are left unchanged. So, keeping that in mind, I made one of the best decisions of my life, and I decided to move back home for the next two weeks, and make every single meal that my little brother would eat, educating him about proper nutrition along the way.
While I was at home, in the kitchen, I often found myself awkwardly trying to maneuver holding on to two crutches, hot pans, and sharp knives. It wasn’t very easy. I also had to make sure to take little breaks every few minutes to make sure that the swelling in my ankle wouldn’t become unbearable.
Now, after just two weeks, not only were the results phenomenal, but they were as a result of a strategy that anybody can use. The reason we were able to see such dramatic and positive results, which I’m very excited to share with you later, is that we changed his environment to match his goal.
We made his environment work for him, instead of against him. This simply meant replacing all of the bad options with healthy ones. Making this uncomplicated adjustment enabled us to easily transform his nutrition, from the standard American diet, ironically referred to from its acronym SAD, to wholesome and nutritious without a hitch.
Because of the planning this wasn’t the least bit difficult to do. When you remove the unhealthy options, wholesome and nutritious food becomes both plan A, and plan B. The beauty of this solution is that it takes willpower almost completely out of the equation.
Quite simply, if it’s not there, you can’t eat it. An added bonus to this strategy is if there’s no chips on the counter calling your name, it’s likely that you’ll just forget about them, and completely avoid the feeling of deprivation all at once. Little bit of a brain block.
This may sound a little bit too simple to be true, but I assure you it’s not. When you remove the barriers to your success — in my little brother’s case, unhealthy food — and you replace, or you pave the way, barrier-free, the road to success becomes a much smoother ride. So set up your environment so that it works for you, instead of against you.
This works well for any goal. For my little brother, I was the environment. I made all of his food, gave him the right snacks, and answered all of his questions. But what would that have looked like if I wasn’t there, and how can you make this work for you?
Well, to be successful, you have to minimize the difficult decisions being made. Say, for example, you walk into the lobby, and, on the left of those tables, is delicious chocolate chip cookies, squares, and everything you like.
On the right side, is fresh fruit and vegetables, vibrant colors, chopped up nicely, they’re crunchy and juicy. You’ve been sitting in here for two hours, so you’re starving, you have a choice to make. Should you choose option A on the left, or should you choose the wholesome nutritious broccoli on the right?
Given this scenario, I think it would be very hard for most of us to resist the temptation of option A. This is a real-life situation, and it’s one that happens all the time. It’s very important, because of that reason. So when you remove the barriers to your success, it will just become a little bit easier for you to not have to make that hard decision in the first place.
Here’s how you can make this strategy work for yourself. Start off by finding out what your personal trigger foods are, and make a promise to not keep them in your house anymore. So that when the time comes, the decision has already been made for you.
Now, that’s not to say you can never have these foods again. If you really want one, you can always just go to the store, and buy one, or you can keep it so that you’re only having them at special events, such as this. Just don’t keep a stash underneath the cupboard if you know that they’re going to be an issue for you. That’s how you make your environment work for you, instead of against you.
That’s how you make healthy eating the default, and not the exception. So if you have a personal goal of eating better, go home, find all of your junk food, and a neighbor that you’re not particularly fond of, and give it all to them. The basis of this strategy worked for my little 11-year-old brother, and it can certainly work for you too.
Let me just finish off by sharing the final results of my little brother’s lifestyle change. Let me also just point out, that I had one main rule that I wanted to follow with the change. At no point, did I want my 11-year-old brother to feel hungry, or deprived. Here’s how that worked out. After the first seven days, he had lost five pounds.
After the second week, it was eight pounds. But it didn’t just stop there. I went back to write exams, and he kept going. After 20 days, it was ten pounds, and, by 36 days, he had averaged half a pound a day to top it off at 18 pounds lost.
(Applause) [Make your environment work FOR YOU] If everybody had their environment working for them, instead of against them, my little brother’s level of success would be the norm. My hope is that one day it will be. Thank you. (Applause)