May 9, 2023

The Singular Importance of Simplicity

Most Wellspring campers and students have tried to lose weight by following various complicated diets. As you probably have experienced yourself, complex diets are hard to remember and to keep in focus. Decades of research have demonstrated that complex rules are simply harder to follow, especially over an extended period of time.

Equally important, the more complex the rules are, the more excuses you have not to follow them. For example, if you’re trying to follow The Zone diet, which advocates a complex regimen of ensuring that calories from carbs, proteins and fats are balanced at 40:30:30, can you order the double-fudge chocolate cake on the menu (mostly fat)? Sure you can! As long as you have more protein and even more carbs later in the day!

Someone could fill a book with all the crazy food decisions people on diets have made by rationalizing their way through complex diet rules.

One thing all campers, students and parents remark about the Wellspring program: It is amazingly simple.

The three simple, yet profound, directives in the Sierras Solution are:

  • Eat as little fat as possible (goal = 0 grams of fat < 20 grams of fat a day is okay).
  • Exercise and stay as active as possible and wear a pedometer with the goal of at least 10,000 steps per day.
  • Self-monitor (keep a record of key target behaviors) every day or at least 75% of the time.

The simplicity of these ideas strikes most overweight kids and adults as extraordinary. Most serial dieters are used to numerous restrictions about what they can eat, what time of day they can eat, and a variety of often absurdly Byzantine directives.

Why haven’t you heard about this simple plan? Because it’s hard to sell a best-selling diet book by providing simple, scientifically based, clear messages. People who want to sell diet books want a hook that seems new and counter-intuitive. Then, some highly motivated people will try it and lose weight. They start talking about it and if the marketing machine gets behind it, the next thing you know, thousands of people are off on an illusive chase for some complicated, intricate method of weight loss.

Definition of Simple Goals: Action Oriented, Measurable, and Associated with Immediate Feedback

The three goals that form the foundation of the Wellspring program are simple because they do all three things.

First, they all clearly suggest a course of action. The first directive suggests eating very little fat; the second goal suggests staying active and wearing a pedometer; the final goal directs weight controllers to create a daily record about key target behaviors (i.e., eating, activity).

Second, they all provide very clear, easily measured end points.

  • Eating less than 20 grams a day of fat (targeting 0 fat if at all possible), is something that anyone can measure quite easily. It simply involves counting the total number of fat grams consumed each day. If that number is less than 20 at the end of the day, then the goal is achieved. The process of counting fat is made relatively easy these days because foods are labeled and because books like the Calorie King are readily available and inexpensive.
  • Wearing a good pedometer that records only steps costs as little as $10 or $20. The number on the pedometer can be reviewed throughout the day and at the end of the day. If the number comes out to 10,000 or more, then the day’s goal is achieved.
  • Self-monitoring can also be checked at the end of every day. If all food entries for the day are included, then it’s a day that counts as a good self-monitoring day. In some research studies, a day of self-monitoring is counted as any day that includes at least three entries of any kind. This definition of self-monitoring could also be adopted and measured quite readily.

Third, each of the three key behavioral directives has feedback built in. Successful Wellspring alumni look up fat grams as they eat throughout a day, review the number on their pedometer after taking a walk or to check on their progress, and look at their self-monitoring records as they enter new information throughout each day. This feedback process helps connect these critical actions to both short-term and longer term goals. For example, as your teenager eats lunch, he or she will write down the content of the lunch and record fat grams in a self-monitoring journal. Engaging in this process reminds him or her of the short-term daily goals (<20 fat grams; consistent self-monitoring). These short-term goals are directly and inexorably linked to the longer term goal of weight loss.