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You won’t see a lot of advice on this blog like “Figure out your TDEE and BMR, and then figure out how many calories you need to get a modest deficit, taking your workouts into account, and then count all your calories.” People who are ready to do all that probably don’t need help getting started!

I ask people, “What’s holding you back?” And the number-one answer is, “I don’t know the right place to start.” They don’t really know what makes a food healthy. The US dietary guidelines are not great, although MyPlate is better than the Food Pyramid, and they are geared toward maintenance eating, without concrete, specific steps for people who need to eat for weight loss. And definitely without a way to choose the steps that work best with different learning styles and the various constraints of day-to-day life. The confusion around exercise is even greater.

So I focus on simple steps that you can take today to get yourself pointed in the right direction. That involves two things: suggestions of specific actions and information about what tends to make them work (or not). I don’t just want you to eat the way I say you should; I want you to understand enough about food and about why one person eats differently from another so that you can make a confident choice for yourself. In short, I want people to learn skills that help them accumulate better small choices during the day, so they don’t have to rely on brute-force, rote actions, like restrictive diets or exercise regimens they hate.

David Katz, MD, refers to this as skillpower. In essence, he’s saying that having good skills is what puts the power in willpower.

[W]e are built to adapt well to situations that involve consuming few calories and doing lots of exercise. But we have no way to defend ourselves against the effects of caloric excess and the lure of the couch — it’s simply not in our genetic makeup. When eating too much and moving too little are not only possible but easy, they tend to happen, which is how we’ve landed together in the world of epidemic obesity and the chronic diseases that tend to go with it.

It’s a tall order to expect willpower to overcome all this, which is why skillpower matters so much. But the first critical skill is having the will, caring in a way that is truly constructive. Will equals wanting. Willpower is using that desire to to initiate action.

Ultimately, the most powerful formula for getting and staying healthy is to use moderate amounts of willpower with a heaping dose of skillpower…. Willpower can get you started, but it’s skillpower that enables you to stay the course, and cross the finish line.Disease-Proof: The Remarkable Truth About What Makes Us Well

Photo is of Chorizo. I took it when I was working with his — well, in San Francisco, she’s called his legal guardian. You can see more of him at my Flickr stream.

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