Diets, Weight Loss and the Athlete’s Mindset: Lessons for Sustained Business Improvement

For people who want to lose weight rapidly, there are many diets with names–names like Atkins, Beverly Hills, Slow Carb, Suzanne Somers and Paleo. Despite all the fretting people do over diets, it matters little which one you choose. You will lose weight if you adhere to any of these diets without cheating. All of them work and at the same time, none of them do.

Losing weight is not the problem. Rather it is sustaining the weight loss. Ninety percent of people who lose weight on diets like these regain it later. To compound the problem, much of the weight that is lost initially includes muscle loss and not just fat. So, when you regain the weight, you are at risk of being in a condition worse than when you started.

This reminds me of the many business “diets” I see in the corporate world that promise fast results by following straightforward rules and methods. They have names too–like “lean” and “balanced.” Some have their own qualifying systems with belt colors like in karate. They seem to go in and out of fashion at the same rate as food diets.

Like food diets, these “business” diets all work and at the same time none of them do. A company that adheres to a diet without cheating will experience improvement. However, the improvement is often unsustained, and enthusiasm wanes. Then there is loss of business “muscle,” as people, resources and focus are shifted and performance declines. Have you ever experienced corporate muscle loss through a business diet that was never regained later?

I have been thinking a lot about dieting recently. Some months ago I weighed 210 pounds (95 kilos) and my percent body fat was just north of thirty. I was not just overweight but borderline obese, and on top of that borderline hyper-tensile and at-risk for heart disease. Not so now. I have since lost 40 pounds (18 kilos), my percent body fat is below seventeen, and my other measurements are all well within the healthy range.

While I am happy about these results so far, I am not quite ready to celebrate. You see, there is still the specter of weight regain. I want to make sure I am in the ten percent who sustain, not the ninety percent who regain. This has made me examine what makes the ten-percenters different from the ninety-percenters.

The difference appears to be a shift in mindset. The ten-percenters begin to think and behave like athletes. Weight loss ceases to be an end in itself, but rather a means that enhances performance and pleasure in a sport or multiple sports. Many people who embark on a journey of weight loss find that they begin to enjoy the sports in which they chose to engage initially solely for the purpose of weight loss. Ten-percenters often begin to compete in events, like marathons and other races. Some ten-percenters become champions, like Natascha Badmann who started running, swimming and cycling with a goal to lose weight, but is now a six-time winner of the Hawaii Ironman triathlon.

But what does shifting to an athlete’s mindset mean in business?

A client company of mine had a “fitness” problem in the area of strategy development and management. I put it on a diet with a name. It doesn’t matter which one. There were improvements and some muscle loss–some things took more time than they used to–but ultimately muscle was regained and performance levels improved overall. I then suggested it was time to go to the next level of performance.

“You mean we’re not done? There’s more to do?” huffed one of the company’s deputies.  This is the reaction of a ninety-percenter. You can always improve performance. Athletes know this.

The company’s leader fortunately had developed an athlete’s mindset around strategy capability and enthusiastically took on my suggestions. He liked what the company had achieved so far and wanted to go to the next level. He is a ten-percenter. The company’s performance is now at an even higher level. I don’t think it is coincidence that the leader is also an avid runner and regularly competes in marathons.

And what about me? Well, I’m a ten-percenter too. There will be a half-marathon later this year where I live. I plan to enter. I look forward to my workouts every day, and love being able to go further, endure longer, and go faster. As long as I stay focused on that, I believe my weight will take care of itself.