Joseph F. McCaffrey MD, FACS


The Power of the
Decision to Change

My son Jon was home for a few days recently. While he was here a couple of his buddies from high school came by to visit and catch up. I had known two of the guys since they were in second grade. They’re now in their early 20s.

I don’t see either of them as often as I did when Jon was growing up, but one I recognized immediately (let’s call him Mike). The second (let’s call him Jim) I wouldn’t have recognized at all if I hadn’t heard his name mentioned.

The reason was the weight he had put on.

Now he was by no means fat, but in high school he was muscular and lean – probably less than 10% body fat. Now it looks like carrying an extra 20 pounds or so and is probably over 20% body fat. It's quite the change.

The other fellow is actually trimmer and more buff than he had been in high school.

Both of them are great guys and I hope they both live long, healthy lives, but even at their young age you can see divergent paths developing.

In high school Jim hadn't had to put any effort into staying lean. He was involved in sports and gaining muscle and staying trim was easy for him.  He never needed to pay attention to what he ate.

Mike was a little heavier in high school. He tended to gain weight pretty readily. He played lacrosse for at least a year or two but even then was what used to be called "pudgy" when I was growing up.

However, in his senior year he committed to making a change. When he did, he turned to my son Jon for advice.

You see, Jon had been overweight in middle school. Then in eighth-grade he decided he'd had enough of that. He changed his diet and started exercising regularly, at first mainly lifting weights.

Combine a healthy diet and regular exercise with puberty kicking in and the results are pretty dramatic. Mike knew enough to find somebody who had gotten the results he wanted and asked them how they did it.

He and Jon worked out together 5 days a week that year. Both of them have made regular exercise a part of their life since then. They also both pay attention to the food they eat, although they still can be pretty liberal about it.

Jim, on the other hand, had been more of a natural athlete. He stayed lean growing up without any effort whatsoever end without having to pay any attention to what he ate.

However he now finds himself in his early 20s losing some of that advantage. He's not as physically active as he used to be and his metabolism has started to slow so the pounds have begun to accumulate.

It's an all too familiar story.

In some ways I think that people like Jon and Mike are fortunate in that they learned early that diet and exercise make a difference. They learned to take responsibility for themselves. They know they can't take things for granted. They made changes and they saw results - great positive reinforcement. They have a base of good habits that they can continue to build on.

Jim is still young and can easily change at this point. He's already feeling a little embarrassed about his weight. Being around his leaner buddies probably didn't help. He commented on his weight himself without any prompting, saying something about "I need to start getting back in shape..."

I hope he does. I hope he realizes that he if doesn't make some changes things are only going to get worse.

The good part is that anyone can make a decision to change at any time. There's great power in that decision. Small changes eventually produce dramatic results.

It's like making a shift in course on the ocean. Change course by a few degrees and the destination you reach after an hour to won't be very different from where you would've wound up on the original course.

However stay on the new course for several days and your final destination will be vastly different.

Imagine making one small, positive, easily doable change in your life and making it a habit. Now imagine making another small, positive change. And another... And again...

The results of cumulative change over time are massive. Use that principle to "live your life as a work of art in progress."

It's also good to remember that we can't always take for granted what comes easily to us. It's important to pay attention and make course corrections early on. Jon and Mike already know it. Jim's finding it out now

Stay well.

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