“I’m Gonna Make You an Offer You Can’t Refuse!”

If you’re old enough to remember Marlon Brando playing Vito Corleone in the Godfather, then you no doubt remember him uttering this famous phrase on several occasions. Corleone would often strike a bargain with people, offering them something they needed in return for a promise to help him should he ever need it. He would bank these commitments so that, if he ever found himself in a difficult spot, he had friends he could count on to help him out.

Bargaining is a part of life. We “transact” with people all the time. Our relationships are full of daily “transactions”: I do for you, and in return you do for me. In a sense we bargain all the time with each other to accomplish things. The bargain I have with my clients is that I promise to work as hard as possible to help them reach their goals as quickly as possible, and in return they pay me. Emi and I bargain with each other too: I promise to go to Costco to shop and she cleans the washroom. Or vice-versa.

Healthy relationships aren’t about doing things for each other only because the other has done something for us. However, the reality is that – if I’m always the one doing everything – eventually I’m going to get frustrated, resentful and – if I’m healthy and secure – I’m going to speak up. I’ll state what I need: I’ll clarify what the transaction/bargain I’m looking for is.

Today’s blog isn’t about transactions in relationships, however, although that’ll be a subject for the future. It’s about a different kind of bargaining, the kind you find as the third stage in the grief process.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been talking to you about the process of Grief. I mentioned that Elizabeth Kubler-Ross had developed a grief process to help people work through the death of a loved one. “Bargaining” is the third stage of her grief process. The individual who is, for example, dying, bargains with doctors and/or her/his Higher Power for an extended life. They promise money, and/or a reformed lifestyle. The person who is told by a longtime partner that they want to break up tries to hold on to the relationship by asking “Can we still be friends?” The employee who is fired, finds themselves wanting to negotiate with their superiors: they promise to change in order to be kept on.

Bargaining happens when we engage in a process to reform how we eat as well. Past DENIAL, and over the ANGER of the fact that we can no longer just eat anything we want, we now enter the BARGAINING stage. Here’s what it looks like from my side of the desk, when I’m working with a client.

1. I make a list of suggestions (I always suggest, never insist) that I know will work, because I’ve been doing this for a long time. Usually it has to do with a specific food plan, and I also suggest that they record – and send to me via e-mail daily – a record of what they eat.
2. We get together after a few days of their new “regime”, and I discover that – instead of having protein, carbs and fat in the quantities I’ve suggested for breakfast – they’re just “having a bowl of cereal,” or are just “having an egg and toast”.
3. I remind them that it’d help them if they’d report what they’re eating to me and if they’d eat closer to the way I’ve indicated, since my food plan is proven effective
4. They’ll still not report their food, and will usually say things like “It’s too much food,” or “Well I didn’t have to eat that much on Weight Watchers,” or “Well I didn’t like your options so I thought that [food X] would be ok.”

What they’re doing is BARGAINING with me and with my food plan. Now, I never take it personally. I know that my suggestions work, that they’re very effective. But I’ve also learned that each person has to go through their own grief process in order to experience what they need to, so that they can get to where they need to be.

Bargaining is just a part of this process. I find it works much better if I let the individual discover for themselves what they need to do. One client I had said to me right up front “There’s no way in HXXX I am ever going to weigh and measure my food!” First conversation we ever had, almost the first sentence, this is what he told me! He had other trainers before me who insisted on this, and he said he was too busy and didn’t want to have to do it.

To be honest, I think that weighing and measuring is very important, at least in the first 3 months of a new food plan. That’s because for we who struggle with weight loss, WE EAT TOO MUCH!!! We need to learn portion control. It’s also because it forces the individual to eat precisely what’s on my food plan. Oftentimes this new way of eating can be confusing, and the individual THINKS they’re eating according to my plan, but they’re adding foods that aren’t there, or aren’t eating the right kinds of snacks, etc.

Third – and most important – if the person isn’t getting the results that we’re expecting, then I know what to change. I set my food plans up using some very exacting science, based on the person’s age, weight, gender and activity level. I then choose a macronutrient ratio that I believe is best suited to their somatotype (Endomorph, Ectomorph or Mesomorph: more on this in another article – it makes a difference!) If they’re eating exactly according to my plan, weighing and measuring their food and it’s not working as well as we had hoped, then I can figure out what to change to get it working!

So, back to the individual who wasn’t going to weigh and measure. He started with me, was obviously making better food choices because he was losing weight, and was happy. He started out at 208 lbs, and lost weight to about 188 lbs, but couldn’t lose any more, and should have been down to the lower 180s. He looked good, but his abs weren’t showing, and that’s what he was looking for. Up until this point he had been bargaining with me and my food plan. He would do everything except weigh and measure, and truly, because of this, I didn’t know what to do to help him. What should I change in his plan? More protein? Less carbs? More fat? I didn’t know because I didn’t know how much of what he was eating!

Finally he agreed to start writing his food down and weighing/measuring. It soon became apparent that eating wasn’t the issue. He was in fact eating fairly well, he was just fat loss resistant. I put him on a specific exercise routine for burning fat, twice per week, and his waist went from 35” to 33 ½” in a short time, and he dropped to 183 lbs.

Until this point, he had been BARGAINING with me, and it hampered his results, but as soon as he let go of the right to bargain and took my suggestion, I was able to help him. He moved from BARGAINING to ACCEPTANCE (with a short period of DEPRESSION in between because he didn’t want to have to make the effort of measuring), and he began to get results.

If you’re trying to follow a specific diet, food plan, or new way of eating – a lifestyle change – then please, PLEASE, PLEASE take the advice of my old weight loss coach Harvey Brooker: “FOLLOW THE PROGRAM EXACTLY AS WRITTEN FOR BEST RESULTS.” To do otherwise is to bargain with it, and you’re not qualified to do that. If you were, it would be you who would have authored the program, not the other person. Instead, recognize your limitations, recognize that you don’t know the answer to how to lose weight (or you would have done it already – again, Harvey Brooker: “IF YOU COULD DO IT ALONE, YOU WOULD HAVE DONE IT ALREADY”) and follow the program exactly as it’s outlined.

I’m going to close with a bold statement here: anyone who has lost a significant quantity of weight AND has kept it off – remaining at their goal weight – for 5 or more years, is qualified to have an opinion on their own personal weight loss program. Anyone else, well, I’ll say this: I’m skeptical that you should have an opinion on how to do it. I would rather you find yourself a qualified coach to help you, ask them what to do, and – like the good ol’ Nike slogan – JUST DO IT. Don’t ask questions. Don’t bargain. Don’t disagree. Just do it.

Once through the “Bargaining” stage of grief, it gets easier: A LOT easier. We’ll talk about the second-to-last stage next Tuesday, “Depression.” Sounds worse than it really is, so don’t be frightened off.
Until then, remember, if you’re on a weight loss program, familiarize yourself with all the suggestions and JUST DO IT!