Cox News Service – Jul 10, 2005 – New diet promotes mental toughness for weight loss – By Jane Daugherty – WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.â€? It dawned on me that if you could focus in a positive way on your health and weight to cultivate a healthy narcissism, it could lead to dietary and exercise choices that make you feel better about yourself.
One of those rude, middle-aged awakenings punched sports psychologist John F. Murray right in the solar plexus.
There he was on network television being interviewed as an expert who resurrects star athletes’ careers. But watching the replay, Murray realized he looked like, well, the Michelin tire man.
From the pain of that moment, the Palm Beach Narcissism Diet was born. Murray, 43, applied the same motivation he used on flagging tennis and football careers to reshaping his own body. He calls it “healthy narcissism,” a focus on loving yourself enough to make lifestyle changes and stick to them because you’ll look and feel better if you’re not fat.
Murray is not alone: An estimated two out of three adult Americans are overweight or obese. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in April released figures attributing more than 100,000 deaths a year to obesity. Being overweight also is blamed for contributing to adult-onset diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, stroke and some forms of cancer.
But with Americans already spending $33 billion annually on weight loss foods, products and services, according to the American Dietetic Association, is another diet needed? Current popular plans include the Atkins Diet, Suzanne Somers’ Get Skinny on Fabulous Food, The Zone Diet, and, of course, the still hot South Beach Diet.
Murray decided none of those diets would work for him in the long run because they lack the mental focus that makes sports psychology successful for star athletes.
“It wasn’t just my food intake that was messed up . . . I was jetting to London to do a seminar, hopping out to California to give a speech, running down to Miami for a coaches meeting,” Murray recalled in his West Palm Beach office.
“I’d grab some ribs for dinner at a great restaurant, eat fast food for lunch in my car, consume way too many calories for breakfast, and the only exercise I got was walking to my car.”
Murray, almost Ken-doll handsome when he is trim at 175 pounds, went from looking like the ex-tennis pro he is to a middle-aged pudge who tipped the scales at 261 in January.
So he stewed, brooded and went through some self-loathing Ã¢â‚¬â€? none of which was productive, Murray says in retrospect.
Then he began to mentally convert some of the principles he included in his book, “Smart Tennis,” to winning his battle with the bulge.
Murray recalled his work with tennis pro Vince Spadea. In the middle of a huge slump, Spadea came to Murray for help. Ranked 19th in the world in 1999, Spadea had lost 21 matches in a row and, by 2001, his ranking had fallen to 229th.
“I had to convince him that as tough as things can get, the mind is tougher,” Murray said, “Spadea was ready to quit tennis. The thrill was gone. He lived for a year and a half in a cellar. He seriously needed to believe in himself again.”
Spadea, 30, won his first ATP tournament last season in Scottsdale, Ariz., beating Andy Roddick in the semifinals. Spadea ended last year ranked 18th in the world.
“In a way, my experience in confronting my weight was similar. I had to finally admit that I was the one who was doing this to myself,” Murray said, “And on some level it was, because I cared about everything else more. My work, my family, my travel arrangements, all were more important than what I was eating and drinking.”
His doctoral work at the University of Florida introduced him to various modern-day pathologies, including narcissistic personality disorder, in which normal development is arrested and a person comes to focus all their efforts on gratifying and aggrandizing their false sense of self.
“It dawned on me that if you could focus in a positive way on your health and weight to cultivate a healthy narcissism, it could lead to dietary and exercise choices that make you feel better about yourself,” Murray said.
He also decided that he had to cut off excuses and escape paths.
“I set a very ambitious goal to lose 2-2.5 pounds a week and posted it on my Web site and sent it to my newsletter audience of over 15,000 people,” he said. “That’s pretty much hanging it out there along with my ‘fat picture.’ If I fail to lose weight, it will be very public. A little fear of failure comes in handy. I post my weight on my Web site every Wednesday Ã¢â‚¬â€? that public exposure helps keep me motivated.”
Murray’s approach is dramatically different from the high-protein, low-carb Atkins diet, and has a much larger psychological component than the very successful South Beach Diet.
“Contrary to what most other diet programs say, I think you should weigh yourself daily at the same time in the morning,” he said, “By weighing each day you will know how hard to be on yourself each day, which is better than waiting for a whole week to weigh again.”
He advocates enlisting family and friends to support healthy eating and exercise and getting an informal coach who will check on your progress two or three times a week.
“Your family has to be on your side in this Ã¢â‚¬â€? and in the end they benefit, too,” he said.
Diet experts weigh in
The intellectual approach of the Palm Beach Narcissism Diet makes a lot of sense to Barbara J. Moore, Ph.D. and president and CEO of Shape Up America!. Moore heads the national nonprofit initiative designed to raise awareness of the importance of healthy eating and increased physical activity founded by former U.S. Surgeon C. Everett Koop in 1994.
Not much has been written about the psychological areas of successful weight management that Murray is talking about, Moore told The Palm Beach Post, “One, weight management requires the right mind set.
“Attitude is everything . . . Not nearly enough information is available about the right mind set. For example, consider the typical attitude that demands instant gratification: It took years to gain the 30 pounds you are carrying around, but you want to lose it all in 30 days? Accepting that slow weight loss will probably characterize your journey is part of the process of recovery that Murray seems to allude to.”
Moore, a former professor of nutrition at Rutgers University who headed program development for Weight Watchers International, worked at the National Institutes of Health on government weight-loss promotion efforts immediately before joining Shape Up, America!. She said one of the things she likes best about Murray’s approach is toughness.
“Discipline is not a dirty word,” she said, “It is essential for weight management.” Murray likely knows a great deal about that because discipline is essential in sports performance.
“Mental toughness is needed to stay focused and to say no to the distractions that will encourage you to make bad choices . . . Murray gets that.”
The food consumption recommended in Murray’s diet “seems fundamentally sound,” said Dr. Beth Reames, a professor of nutrition at Louisiana State University’s AGCenter. Reames has researched and written extensively on fad diets.
Asked about the key components of the Palm Beach Narcissism Diet, Reames said, “He’s not going for the quick fix, it includes regular exercise and healthy foods in reasonable portions.”
Reames said her research shows that most American adults need an hour of physical activity a day to maintain a healthy weight.
“There’s no easy solution,” she said, “It’s a lifetime commitment and diets that recognize that can be successful.”
Specifically, Murray advocates eating three balanced meals a day with little or no snacking and little or no alcohol consumption. He doesn’t drink, but says for those who do can have an occasional glass of wine with dinner if their weight loss progress is good.
Like South Beach and Atkins diets, Murray regards refined sugar, potatoes and bleached white flour as enemy combatants which can be virtually eliminated from adult diets with no ill effects.
He favors fruit, especially melons, berries and tomatoes, as part of a healthy breakfast with egg white omelets or yogurt for protein. Lunch should usually include plenty of fresh greens in a salad topped with grilled chicken or shrimp. Broiled fish, lean beef or skinless chicken with ample portions of steamed vegetables, especially broccoli and carrots, are his usual dinner.
Use olive oil for cooking, he said, and avoid butter, cream and sauces with high sugar or salt content. Mustard, balsamic vinegar, lime or lemon juice and a little low-sodium soy sauce add flavor without significant calories or salt, he said.
Murray said he also discovered that his weight loss has been hastened by drinking lots of water and dramatically reducing consumption of coffee, tea and soft drinks, which contain caffeine that stimulates appetite.
Does the Palm Beach Narcissism Diet really work? So far, Murray is down to 215 pounds, a loss of more than 45 pounds in less than four months. The real test may come on Sept. 15 when he promises to tip the scales at 185. By Christmas, he wants to be back to his pro tennis-playing weight of 175â€? “that will be my Christmas present to myself,” he said with a narcissistic wink.
Jane Daugherty writes for The Palm Beach Post.
Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.