Shape Up & Drop 10™

Step 3 — Centering — How to Stay on Target

Ultimately, the responsibility for changing your eating and exercise behavior falls on your own shoulders. Our job is to give you as much solid information as we can to help you make the necessary changes. To guide you, we read the published scientific studies in the field of obesity and weight management, and we pass the best information on to you. But the hard work of changing your behavior gets done by you. You are the one who makes the commitment and stays focused or "centered" on your weight management goals.

What does "Centering" mean? It is what a marksman does to get ready and take aim, before firing. In Shape Up & Drop 10™ it means doing what you have to do to stay calm and committed to your weight loss objectives. It can mean ...

  • taking time for yourself or respecting your own personal needs.
  • pacing yourself.
  • stepping back from your work and doing some deep breathing.
  • counting to ten before you respond or take some action.
  • closing your eyes and visualizing a goal or target before taking steps to achieve it.
  • meditating or praying or doing yoga to renew yourself.
  • calming down or cooling off.

Taken together, "centering" refers to the set of skills and strategies that keep you focused on your weight management goals. Our job is to tell you what works in general, based on scientific studies. But you will find that what works for others may not work for you. You may also discover strategies that work for you, that have never found their way into the scientific literature. So be prepared to be experimental and open-minded.

We're Here for You

This is a reminder that you can contact us by email to ask questions and seek guidance on ways to achieve your weight management goals. We are available during the regular work hours of 9-5 in the eastern and central time zones, Monday through Friday. After hours and on weekends, we do our best to respond to your emails in a timely manner.

What Works

Here are three key practices that studies have shown to be associated with weight loss success:

  • Self Monitoring
  • Rewarding Positive Behaviors
  • Securing Support

In Step 3 we are going to discuss what works and why. We will explain each of the three practices above and suggest tools and strategies that can help you in each area. Frankly, it is a great deal of material and we suggest you focus on only one topic at a time. We recommend you plan to spend at least 30 minutes on each topic so you have plenty of time to read and think about the material and make a few notes about it. You may want to email us with some questions.


Studies of people who have taken off a minimum of 30 pounds (some have taken off more than 100 pounds) and kept it off for five years or longer show that self monitoring is associated with long term weight loss success. Self Monitoring is best accomplished by keeping a journal or diary or any sort of recording or regular tracking of your personal data or statistics (weight, exercise, food intake, etc.) We recommend you purchase a journal or diary if you don't already own one for the purpose of self-monitoring. If you prefer to use the computer for tracking information, you might set up a spreadsheet for recording your personal data.

Because your journal will be your daily companion, take great care to select a journal that pleases you. One year we selected a beautiful silk book with an oriental scene on it. Another year we selected a handsome leather bound book that tied with a small silver closure. When we were a penniless student, we used a composition book that cost less than a dollar. Choosing an inexpensive composition book is a good idea to start with because you can experiment with various ways to set it up without spending very much money.

Self-monitoring includes keeping a record of your vital statistics and updating it from time to time. You may want to update certain things like your food intake or your activity on a daily basis-at least for a while. We recommend you weigh yourself and record your weight once a week or once every two weeks for the entire year ahead. If you have a body fat analyzer, we recommend you measure your percentage body fat no more often than once a month or even less frequently.

Give some careful thought to the organization of your journal so that it supports your self-monitoring objectives. Remember that self-monitoring has been shown to pay off with improved weight loss and improved likelihood of keeping the pounds off for many years. To start off your journal, be sure to record the following statistics about yourself:

  • Date
  • Age
  • Height
  • Weight
  • BMI (BMI is Body Mass Index. Visit the Shape Up America! Body Fat Lab for more information about BMI)
  • Personal daily calorie goal (If you don't know this number, you can calculate it in the Shape Up America! Cyberkitchen)
  • Daily fat gram limit (if you are tracking your fat grams)
  • Percentage Body Fat (if you know it) and the date it was measured
  • Waist Circumference (measured in inches)
  • Hip Circumference (measured in inches)

You should view this information as exactly that — it is just information. It is neutral. It is not an excuse for you to berate yourself or fall into an old trap of self-loathing. Instead, you want to see it as the foundation of an honest effort to monitor yourself in a constructive way, recognizing that this is a technique that has been found to contribute to long-term success. It is not designed to make you miserable. But studies show that tracking this information (self-monitoring) is associated with long term weight loss success.

Here is a list of additional information that you might want to save in your journal:

  • Your Weight Management Goal(s)
  • Your Biggest Challenge (what barrier stands in the way of achieving your goals?)
  • Your Biggest Asset in dealing with that challenge
  • Your Current Thoughts about Weight Management (What is on your mind today?)
  • Your Current Feelings or Emotions about Weight Management (Answer the question, "How do I FEEL about what I am doing)

Set up your journal (or your spreadsheet) so that it will serve you for the entire year ahead. Since you will use your journal for record keeping, figure out how much space you need for recording one year's worth of the following information.

  • Record of your Weight (If you measure it weekly — which is often enough — you will need space for 52 recordings).
  • Record of your Percentage Body Fat (This is an optional measurement because a body fat monitor is a bit expensive. If you monitor your percentage body fat, it should be measured only monthly, or even less often. So if you do keep this record, leave space for no more than 12 recordings)
  • Record of your Food Intake. This may be necessary for a week or two — but you may have to do it several times throughout the year. For example, you may find it useful to record your daily food intake after a vacation or an illness, to help you get back on track) Since recording food intake means writing down absolutely everything you eat (including the amount) and everything you drink for the entire day, we usually reserve one entire page for one day's food intake. Recording two weeks of food intake will require approximately 14 pages of space.
  • Record of your Physical Activity (daily steps or miles or time (minutes) spent exercising -choose whatever measure is easiest or most meaningful to you). We recommend you record your activity every day at least for a week or two, or even longer if you find it is helpful. We have found this useful after an illness or vacation, so leave enough space — usually a few pages will be needed.
  • Record of Pounds Lifted if you do strength training exercises (which we will talk about more in another Step).

There is no right way or wrong way to set up your journal. Whatever way works for you is the right way. The reason a journal is helpful is because it makes you mindful of what you are doing — both what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong. It is important to be as careful as possible to record the information in your journal each day.

Rewarding Positive Behaviors

If you do something right, you can (and should) reinforce that positive behavior by giving yourself a reward. The importance of reinforcing positive behavior is based on research done by Dr. Leonard Epstein, one of the leading American scientists who specialize in the treatment of childhood obesity. He made the interesting discovery that reinforcing the positive behaviors of young people is far more effective than punishing negative behaviors. Furthermore, he found that rewarding positive behavior is strongly associated with long-term weight management success — that is, keeping the weight off ten or more years later.

In adults, rewarding positive behaviors can be useful to change behavior, but typically you will have to reward yourself. So we want you to think about meaningful ways to reward yourself for doing the right thing — eating a healthier diet, for example, or exercising. You can reward small achievements with small rewards. Do not underestimate the value of small achievements. They build on each other over time, and eventually new behaviors become well established.

To get started on learning how to reward yourself, we first want you to make a list of NON-Food rewards that are meaningful to you. Keep that list handy because you are going to need to refer to it many times in the weeks and months and years to come. Your rewards list might include inexpensive treats or more extravagant rewards. Some rewards might be "no cost" rewards such as the company of someone important to you or giving yourself a half hour to do something you enjoy (like read, or knit, or putter in the shop, or in the garden, or make a phone call to a friend, or take a bath, or go for a walk).

Some rewards on your list might be modestly expensive such as going to a movie or buying a CD. If your rewards cost money, we suggest you organize your rewards list according to your budget. Be creative. Think outside the box. But by all means write down everything that you want on your list and we suggest you include some items you cannot currently afford. You should feel free to add to your list as new ideas come to mind. If you are recording your list in a diary or journal, leave plenty of room for new ideas.

Another list we want you to make is a list of things you want to accomplish for the sake of weight management. These are the kinds of things that deserve rewards. For each of us, the list will be different. One list might include the following:

  • going to the gym
  • going for a walk
  • choosing a salad at lunch instead of a fat roast beef sandwich with lots of mayonnaise
  • eating a piece of fruit and a glass of skim milk instead of eating a high calorie snack
  • making a homemade soup or other dish for lunch or dinner that includes plenty of vegetables
  • skipping dessert
  • limiting wine to only one glass
  • doing strength training
  • doing yoga or a stretching exercise
  • meditating

The point of this list is to help you identify the many small steps that must be taken to manage your weight. The list will help you to identify the small changes that you know are needed in your own personal life. Identifying what you need to do and writing it down is the first important step. As you start to make these small changes, one at a time, and reward yourself for making a change, you will start to "lock in" these new behaviors. They will add up over time. If you take the long view and continue to reward yourself in small ways for your accomplishments, you will start to change. Rewarding yourself should become a lifelong practice because the job of weight management is a lifelong job.

Stop Punishing Yourself

The corollary of rewarding yourself for your positive behavior is the need for you to stop punishing yourself for mistakes. That means that overeating or failing to exercise is not an excuse for you to berate yourself or wallow in feelings of self-loathing. The goal here is to stop the harsh self-criticism. Stop the negative thoughts and feelings (which are just ways of punishing yourself) and recognize how unproductive they are. There is no evidence that negative reinforcement is associated with long-term success and plenty of evidence that it sets you up for failure

The negative thoughts can lead to despair or a feeling of futility and an attitude that you may as well give up. You wind up thinking you have "blown it" and you never will achieve your goals. The whole point is to scrap this entire negative apparatus which DOES NOT lead to weight management success and focus instead on rewarding yourself for what you do right — because that has been found to lead to even more positive behavior. You need to think of ways to be kind to yourself and show mercy to yourself when you make a mistake. This may be an issue that belongs on your list of necessary changes. You decide.

If you catch yourself falling into the self-criticism trap — stop and take a deep breath. Remind yourself of Dr. Epstein's discovery and tell yourself that this time you want your weight management efforts to succeed for good. Find something, anything, that you did right recently and focus on that instead. Go write it down immediately and think of a small reward you can give yourself. If you manage to shift your thinking from negative self-criticism to positive behavior reinforcement, that one small step is a major achievement that deserves a reward, however small. So keep your list of rewards handy as you start to develop a personal system of reinforcing your positive behavior.

Seeking Support

One way to stay on target is to seek help and support for your weight management efforts. Again, this strategy has been scientifically demonstrated to be associated with long-term successful weight management. This section on Seeking Support is organized in two sections. The first section focuses on group support and the second section focuses on strategies for individuals who choose to work alone. If you know you prefer to "go it alone" then skip section one and go directly to section two. But keep in mind that there is evidence that group support is associated with long-term success. You may want to read the Group Support section once before making up your mind how you want to seek support. The research of Dr. Deborah Tate shows that contacting professional counselors via email can help you succeed with weight management. So remember you can contact the professionals at Shape Up America! for support.

Group Support

If group support is appealing to you, you may be able to find an existing group to join. Research shows that if you join a group, you should make sure it is convenient to either your home or place of work. Otherwise you are not likely to attend on a regular basis. If there is no group you can join, but you would prefer to work with a group, you can set up your own group.

Identify Others to Join You

You might consider inviting a small group of people of join you on Shape Up & Drop 10™ so that you can support one another and problem solve together. There is an organization called TOPS® — Take Off Pounds Sensibly that specializes in supporting people in their weight management efforts. Maybe you will want to join a TOPS® meeting. Weight Watchers® is another organization offering group support that you may find helpful.

Have you ever considered setting up your own group? If you keep it simple — a gathering over a cup of coffee or tea that lasts 45 minutes or so, and if you set up rules that everyone agrees to follow, you can get a lot accomplished. One advantage of setting up your own group is that you can select the people to join you. Another advantage is that you can choose a time and place that is mutually convenient.

There are also disadvantages you may want to consider. If you go to TOPS® or Weight Watchers®, you may be able to maintain a little more privacy or anonymity. If you set up your own group, you lose that privacy and you will also have to do some work to set up the group and keep it going. But the data show that your willingness to do the work and invest in yourself can reinforce you in a positive way and increase your chances of weight management success. In effect, you help yourself manage your weight by helping others and vice versa. That is why, at its best, group support truly is mutual support.

If you form your own group, you could meet together once a week, every two weeks or once a month to discuss the Steps in Shape Up & Drop 10™ and share ideas. Here is how you might put it together.

  • Agree on a regular time and place to meet. Perhaps it will be the first Tuesday of every month. Perhaps it will be every Wednesday at lunch time. Whatever you decide, stick to it so that there is no doubt and no misunderstanding when you will get together.
  • Choose a place that is convenient to all. Perhaps it will be at work. Perhaps you will meet in the living room of someone's home. Perhaps in an activity room at a church or synagogue or community center. You may have to experiment with locations to see what works best.
  • At the first gathering and every meeting thereafter, be sure to start out with a brief discussion of your commitment to each other. Discuss what it means to be supportive. Mutual support needs to be a priority and a shared value.
  • Discuss whether or not you want to continue the group and for how long. Keep in mind that weight management is a life-long challenge. Some people may want to drop out and others may want to join from time to time. Your group should decide in advance how to handle changes in members.
  • Figure out a communications strategy. If you don't all work together, you might set up a call tree so that you can communicate with each other quickly. This may be handy in an emergency — a dangerous storm or a change in location.
  • Focus the discussion — don't let it ramble. Use the Steps in Shape Up & Drop 10™ as the basis of your discussion. Agree in advance which Step you will be discussing at the next meeting so there are no surprises.
  • Encourage people to print out the Step and write down questions and problems in the margins. People can bring these notes to the meeting so that you can discuss them as a group.
  • Take turns leading the discussion. Be sure to go around the circle at least once during the course of the meeting so that each person has a chance to speak.
  • Close the meeting with very brief words of encouragement and mutual support
  • Identify problems or questions at the meeting that you will want to email to Shape Up America! Be sure to write them down and email us.

Individual Support

Whether you use group support or not, it is important to learn the technique of building support from the people around you. Here are three types of scenarios you are going to find yourself in:

  • You may find yourself in a restaurant eating all the bread in the breadbasket before the meal is served. You may see the problem and ask the waiter to remove the basket. This is an example to getting a complete stranger to support you.
  • You may find yourself eating all the leftover food on the dinner table before you can put it away in the refrigerator. You might ask another family member to take care of the leftovers for you so you are not tempted to eat them. Learning how to ask for support from a family member or a close friend can be difficult, but it is a skill you need to cultivate.
  • You may have no one to turn to for help. You may have to learn how to put meals on the table that are so carefully planned, there are no leftovers. This is an example of depending on yourself to support yourself as you identify and solve problems.

Enlisting The Support of Strangers

Many people tell us they are too shy or too nervous to ask for what they need. Somehow asking a waiter or waitress to do something just seems too hard or embarrassing. We want to remind you that you are paying the bill when you eat out and these people are there to serve you. So remember that the money you are spending is your hard earned money and don't be afraid to speak up for what you want. Your waiter or waitress will probably not even notice the request. They are working hard and they want to please you because they hope you will leave them a nice tip. So the system works both ways. You ask for what you want and they get a tip.

Enlisting The Support of Family Members, Loved Ones and Friends

Things get more difficult if you are in a restaurant with other family or friends, and you hesitate to ask for the breadbasket to be removed because you fear it will deprive others. You are also a bit uncomfortable, perhaps, "announcing" that you are trying to manage your weight. In our experience, people are gentle when you disclose your honest efforts to face a problem. You can choose to speak up about the problem or, without offering an explanation, you can simply ask if anyone minds if you ask to have the breadbasket removed. At this point, most people take a piece of bread if they want one, and they are just as happy to see the basket removed as you are.

Things can be most difficult if you would like to ask a spouse or significant other for support and you are fearful that they will say no, or feel threatened, or ridicule your efforts or hurt your feelings. There are lots of reasons why you might hesitate. So you have to do three things to prepare yourself:

  1. Think about what it is you want and state exactly what you would like your spouse to do for you. It is very important to state it clearly and if you think you may not be able to do that, take the time to practice. Write it down in your journal and keep refining it until it is clearly and simply stated. Don't make the request until you are ready.
  2. Choose the right time and place to make your request. You need to think about when your spouse or significant other is most relaxed and most receptive, and choose that moment to make your request.
  3. Be prepared for different possible responses your spouse might give you. Your spouse may feel threatened to learn you are going to change the way you eat or exercise. Your job is to simply make your request and to give your spouse some time to think about it. Don't expect a response immediately.
  4. Be prepared for the possibility that your spouse does not want to cooperate. In that case, you have to decide if you want to move ahead with your plans anyway. You may want to look elsewhere for support. You may want to reconsider the idea of joining a group or starting your own group. You may want to identify a friend or someone else you trust for support.

Learning How to Support Yourself

It may turn out that at times there is no one to turn to but yourself. If that is the case, and frankly, it usually is the case, it helps to get out your journal and write down when you need support most of all. You can use the following process to identify the problem and develop a strategy for addressing it all by yourself.

  1. Think about what the problem is. Perhaps you find you lose control and overeat when you visit your family or go out to dinner. Perhaps you are feeling too tired to get up and exercise in the morning, but that is the only time in your schedule when you possibly fit it in.
  2. Get out your journal and describe the problem in writing as clearly and completely as you can.
  3. Break the problem down into the smallest possible steps.
  4. Think about each of the steps one at a time so you are not overwhelmed.
  5. Start with the first step and write down possible ways in which you can address it. Maybe you can figure out a way to get to bed a little earlier? Maybe you can visit your family without having a meal? Maybe they can visit you instead at least some of the time? Perhaps you can learn to prepare simple meals at home and eat out less often?
  6. Think of a reward that would be appropriate for yourself if you take that first step successfully.
  7. Now repeat the process with each step you have identified in addressing the problem. Remember to identify a reward for yourself as you work through each step.
  8. Now you are ready to start to put your plan into action, one step at a time.
  9. Record in your journal how you worked out each step and what reward(s) you gave to yourself.
  10. Record what you learned from this experience?


Pulling together all of the key concepts we have introduced in Step 3:

  1. Remove the negative tape — the harsh self criticism — and throw it away. It is NOT associated with long term weight loss success, in fact it is debilitating and counter-productive.
  2. Replace it with a reward system that recognizes and reinforces what you do right. Rewarding your good behavior is strongly associated with long term weight loss success.
  3. Record your personal list of rewards and be prepared to use it every day for the rest of your life to reward your good behavior.
  4. Purchase a journal and record your vital statistics in it. Stay neutral about the data — it is just information.
  5. Monitor yourself by keeping track of your personal data (weight, food, activity, etc.) in your journal. Be as honest as possible and remember to include your thoughts and feelings as well
  6. Seek out support for your weight management efforts wherever you can and develop a support system from strangers, loved ones, family and friends.
  7. Support yourself by anticipating problems, breaking them down into small steps and rewarding yourself as you tackle each step one at a time.
  8. Send us an email if you have any questions.

Proceed to Step 4 of Shape Up & Drop 10™

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