Dear Lauren,

I need to lose weight and get my body back in shape after having mono and being in bed for a whole month straight. The problem is, I just can’t seem to get myself to do it. I need help!

Lauren Roth

Lauren Roth's Answer

First of all, it sounds, from your question, like you are a determined kind of person. You said “I need to lose weight and get my body back in shape.” Lean in to that very positive quality about yourself. That determination, that “grit,” will take you exactly where you put your mind to going.

In fact, “grit” has been found by researchers to be the single most important factor predictive of success in any arena. The definition of “grit” in the studies is “stick-to-it-tiveness.” My kids and I love to watch TED talks together. Here is an exerpt from a TED talk on this topic, given by Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth, a psychology researcher at the University of Pennsylvania:

I started studying kids and adults in all kinds of super challenging settings, and in every study my question was, who is successful here and why? My research team and I went to West Point Military Academy. We tried to predict which cadets would stay in military training and which would drop out. We went to the National Spelling Bee and tried to predict which children would advance farthest in competition. We studied rookie teachers working in really tough neighborhoods, asking which teachers are still going to be here in teaching by the end of the school year, and of those, who will be the most effective at improving learning outcomes for their students? We partnered with private companies, asking, which of these salespeople is going to keep their jobs? And who's going to earn the most money? In all those very different contexts, one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. And it wasn't social intelligence. It wasn't good looks, physical health, and it wasn't I.Q. It was grit.

Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it's a marathon, not a sprint.

Self-discipline, the determination to stay the course until you reach your goals, is what separates the boys from the men, the girls from the women, the champions (in any field of endeavor) from the herd. Being disciplined even when no one is watching. Being disciplined even when you slip up.

I heard about three different people this week who illustrate this self-discipline, “grit” concept—some by embodying it, and some by being the opposite of it.

The first was a 52-year-old man who is the only one in his family to have lived past 45. His father, brothers, uncles, all died young from heart disease because they have a genetic condition which makes their cholesterol sky-high. A new doctor suggested various treatments to improve his health, but this patient had tried them all, and his cholesterol could not be controlled. On further questioning, the doctor asked him: “How’s your blood pressure?” “Good,” came the response. “And your blood sugar?” “Also good.” “Any other risk factors in your life? Do you smoke?” You, my dear readers, will not believe this patient’s response: “Yeah, I really should try to stop.”

WHAT?!? He’s a walking time-bomb, the only person in his family to have lived this long, dangerously high cholesterol, and HE SMOKES? His blasé attitude about engaging in a beyond-risky risk factor is the opposite of “grit.” The opposite of self-discipline. He’s just going to allow himself to die because he can’t control himself enough to keep his LIFE.

On the other hand, I heard about another woman: a Holocaust survivor who lost her entire family in the war, came to America in the 1940’s, remarried, built a new life for herself, raised a family, ran a business, got her bachelor’s degree, and, at age 92, is a vibrant, strong woman. She is a doer, an active participant in her own life, determined and strong. Disciplined and ready to live life fully, even if it’s hard.

And, on the other hand, I heard about another person who was told that he should lose weight to improve his medical condition, and his attitude was summed up in his statement, “Nah. Life’s too short to not enjoy. I drove a beer truck for years! Why? Because I got tons of free beer! That’s the life!” This is not an attitude espoused by Jewish philosophy. That kind of hedonistic, Epicurean approach of “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!” is not the life Talmudic or Torah sources discuss.

I greatly applaud your determined attitude: “I need to….” I find that impressive. Stick with it and do whatever needs to be done to get to your goal. Don’t allow short-term pleasure to interfere with your long-term true and lasting satisfaction.

Of course, since you are a teenager, I must state very firmly what I always tell my teenaged sons, daughters, and any of their teenaged friends who begin dieting and getting physically in shape: “Don’t you DARE acquire an eating disorder!” Don’t you dare become unhealthy in the way you approach food and dieting. You can diet if you want, but keep your parents (or any other sane, rational person in your life who can monitor you) apprised of your goals and progress to make sure that you don’t go too far too fast. Keep your goals realistic and don’t get sucked into the addictive pleasure of losing weight and lose too much. And definitely don’t ever lose weight by binging and/or purging (vomiting). If you find yourself vomiting to keep your weight down, or if you are exercising a crazy amount, or if any of your friends or family members express concern that you are dieting too much or exercising too much, talk to your doctor IMMEDIATELY. In fact, I would recommend talking to your doctor throughout your weight loss/body building process to make sure you’re doing it in an emotionally and physically healthy manner.

Believe it or not, reminding my teenaged kids and their friends “Don’t you DARE get an eating disorder!” helped them: it kept them from being too serious about their weight loss goals, without putting a damper on their self-discipline strategies. It ensured that they would do what they felt they had to do, but in a smart, safe way. I submit the same to you. Have self-discipline and grit to do what you think you should do, but make sure you’re doing it in a smart, safe way: with the guidance of your doctor, with a clear, rational mind, listening to any feedback your family or friends give you (and actually considering the validity of their feedback).

So be smart, be strong, be emotionally and physically healthy. Make rational, safe goals (with your doctor or a nutritionist), then stick to them. Be disciplined so that you can enjoy lasting satisfaction, not just short-term pleasure.