May 3, 2022

What You Should Focus on to Achieve Results: Example from Nutrition

What You Should Focus on to Achieve Results: Example from Nutrition

What You Should Focus on to Achieve Results: Example from Nutrition

Nathan King

The relationship between personal nutrition and health outcomes illustrates in a universal way the struggle for personal growth in any area of life.

Consider the question: what is the ideal diet that results in a fit physique as well as avoiding disease? A wide array of dietary philosophies, often contradictory with each other, are out there. Low carb acolytes, those that follow Keto (you can read here about my own insightful experiment on the ketogenic diet), the Paleo diet, or Atkins, all claim that the elimination of carbs has incredible health benefits that contribute to longevity. Advocates of the vegan diet claim comparable outcomes, but with contradictory approaches: they eat plenty of carbs, but eschew meat, which the low-carb crowd typically consumes in high quantities.

How can contradictory dietary advice produce the same outcome?

The difficulty to simplify health outcomes to an ideal diet shows up in an interesting health study. A group of scientists examined how different dietary approaches influence the risk for developing cancer. The study found that cancer incidence was lowest for two groups:

  1. Those who consumed the most meat along with fruits and vegetables, and

  2. Those who didn't consume any meat.

Dr. Layne Norton discussed this study in an interview with Dr. Peter Attia, and interpreted the result as a clear indication that "what really matters is lifestyle and overall eating patterns."

Eating patterns matter much more than individual nutrients.

Nutrition as Analogy to Personal Growth

Let's alter the original question (what's the ideal diet with aesthetically pleasing results as well as disease avoidance). What is the eating pattern equivalent for a corporate manager or a medical device sales professional, or an aspiring writer, to achieve outstanding results? Is there a single best set of behaviors for a manager to use that result in promotion? Is there a single writing process for a writer to produce a Best Seller?

There is no "one and only" way to achieve it.

To grow in your career -> You need a pattern that will result in a promotion.

To write a book -> You need a writing pattern that results in pages.

To sell more -> You need a prospecting pattern that produces closed deals.

Note that the requirement is not "THE pattern," but "A pattern."

A pattern can vary in its individual components. To be a worthy pattern, the nutrition example helpfully shows two key drivers:

  1. Intentional choices. Both Team Keto and Team Vegan actively recruit foods known to be healthy. Neither is consuming burgers and fries from the "drive-thru".

  2. Consistency. The dieters implement their choices daily, over time. On this point, Norton concludes,

You could have any diet. You could have any training system. If you’re consistent, you’re going to see results

So where do you get consistency and intentionality? In the same discussion noted above, Attia points to an insight from James Clear's Atomic Habits, a book on behavior change. Clear writes:

True behavior change is identity change. You might start a habit because of motivation, but the only reason you’ll stick with one is that it becomes part of your identity.

To stay with the nutrition metaphor, most of us start a diet because we want to lose weight. We think, "I want to drop 10 pounds." Implicit in that desire is that we want our identity to be a person who is thin (or thinner). But most people don't clarify that for themselves. Instead of revisiting the identity of who they want to become, they think only of the behaviors necessary. The thought process goes something like:

  • "I can't eat dessert."

  • "I can't have a second helping of spaghetti."

  • [If low carb] "No bread for me!"

The diet gets disrupted when Bertha brings a pound cake to the office one day and you eat three slices. Your client said they wanted better rates and you were stressed.

James Clear continues,

You need to know who you want to be. Otherwise, your quest for change is like a boat without a rudder.

Who Are You?

Your identity, then, is crucial to any change you want to achieve. If you were to set aside 10 hours to...

...Design a dietary regime, spend 9 hours on who you are going to be, and 1 hour on selecting the diet. Choosing among keto, the Mediterranean Diet, a vegan diet, or any of the bewildering number of diets matters requires some attention, but you will only be consistent in adhering to it only if you know who you are. For example, "I will not eat three baskets of free chips at the Mexican restaurant because I am a person who weighs 175 pounds."

...Design a career plan, spend 9 hours determining who you want to be in the world, what matters to you, and how you want to show up. Spend the remaining hour selecting the initial people you want to network with and or the employers you want to apply to. For example, "I am the type of person who leads a finance team, who understands market trends and translates them into financial performance benchmarks. Inevitably I will be a CFO in a few years."

...Decide what book to write, spend 9 hours determining the person who is doing the writing, and only one hour selecting the topic. For Example, "I am a fiction writer. I am building a level of output that produces one novel every two years. "

I don't mean to suggest that any of those 3 examples requires only 10 hours of planning, or that the example identities capture the right identity for the goal. That's up to you to wrestle with, draft, refine, and return to. But the bottom line is that if you were to pursue any of them only by stating the outcome without firmly understanding how the outcome relates to your identity, the odds of completion are incredibly low.

Consistency is extremely hard in the course of life, which is inevitably tested and threatened by new opportunities, stressors, blocked efforts, and many other sources of resistance and distraction.

As Dr. Norton pointed out in regards to nutrition,

if you’ve ever lost weight and then regained it, why did it happen? It didn’t happen because you didn’t get your macronutrient ratio perfect or your nutrient timing wasn’t down, it happened because you stopped being consistent with the behaviors that you implemented.

Bottom Line: Consistency and Identity Are Crucial to Achieving Outcomes

Take from this discussion that there are three points to keep in mind:

  1. There is more than one set of behaviors to achieve a given outcome, as illustrated by the impact of different diets.

  2. Intentional choices and consistently making those choices are crucial.

  3. In order for an outcome to happen, understanding and embracing identity is the key.




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