The #1 rule for living a healthy lifestyle

The #1 Rule for Living a Healthy Lifestyle

Several years ago I wrote an article titled The Golden Rule of Strategy, in which I outlined a crucial rule to achieving success.  And that rule is:

Create and compete in an environment you can control


To explain the rule I wrote about the TV show The Biggest Loser and how my golden rule is used on the show to help contestants lose massive amounts of weight.  I’d like to recap the show again and then explain how the golden rule applies to lifestyle.

As you may know, The Biggest Loser is a reality show which pits obese contestants against each other.  The objective?  Lose heaps of weight, with the person losing the most weight winning a big cash prize and other goodies.

Now on the show the weight loss success rate is nigh on 100%.  In other words, almost all contestants lose weight – with some losing as much as 50% of their bodyweight over a 3-4 month period.

Now this is a big achievement because going in to the show, all the contestants are obese, weighing as much as 350 lbs.  Many contestants have had lifelong struggles with their weight and have tried and failed on traditional weight loss regimens.

Why is the success rate so high?  In a nutshell it is because contestants are in a highly controlled environment that allows them to perform.  Let me explain.

At the start of the show contestants come together to The Biggest Loser mansion, and while there their environment is tightly controlled.  There is little in the way of outside distractions, food intake is closely monitored and contestants undertake a rigid exercise program.  Added to that is the peer pressure, competitive aspect and the opportunity to win a large amount of money. No wonder contestants succeed.

Here is further evidence that it’s the environment that determines how successful these contestants become.

Each week on the show the contestants who lose the least amount of weight are eliminated.  And, when contestants are eliminated they return back home to their old, uncontrolled environments.

Now here are two fascinating things about the eliminations.  Firstly, at the end of the series all of the contestants are reunited as part of the show’s finale.  And what do we see in that finale?  In almost all cases, those contestants who were eliminated early – and therefore didn’t benefit greatly from being in a controlled environment – lost the least amount of weight.

Secondly, once the series ends and contestants return back to their old environments, most contestants regain weight.  For instance, the winner of the first ever Biggest Loser weighed 330Ibs at the start of the series, lost 122lbs to win the big prize, but his weight climbed back up to 323lbs within the following 18 months.  Old environment equals old behaviors.

This rule is incredibly powerful and the essence of the rule is this: In any endeavor where you want to achieve a goal – such as growing a business, losing weight or winning a sports contest – the key to success is to create and compete in an environment you can control.

The rule also means this.  If you are stuck, and your current performance sucks…you need to change elements of your existing environment…or change environments altogether.

How to apply the rule apply to the goal of living a healthy lifestyle?   Here are a couple of extreme suggestions.

Move to Okinawa Japan or Sardinia, Italy.  Or, become a Seventh Day Adventist and move to Loma Linda California.


These groups are part of what are known as the Blue Zones, which are areas of the world identified as having the longest-living and healthiest people.  The term Blue Zones was popularized by researcher and author Dan Buettner through his book The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest.


Extreme suggestions for sure, but they highlight the importance of environment as the key factor to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, as well as the reality of what it actually takes to get the environment right.

The reality about health, fitness and longevity

For me what the Blue Zones highlights is that there are a number of factors that lead to improved health metrics, which include:

  • Availability of food
  • Policy
  • Ethnic/cultural traditions around health and fitness
  • Financial means
  • Family culture around health and fitness
  • Immediate physical environment
  • Social group and environment
  • Work group and environment
  • Emotional Intelligence (including capacity to be self-motivated and goal focussed)

What’s more, it is crucial to take a strategic approach to lifestyle change in order for long term success of one’s health to be maintained.  You see, the Blue Zones areas are successful because commitment health and fitness is inter-woven into the culture.  So it’s not about the diet or calorie counting.  It’s about a cultural norm.

Therefore, for you to succeed in your health and fitness efforts you need to create an environment where good eating and regular fitness is your norm.  So you don’t have to move to Okinawa or Sardinia…or become a Seventh Day Adventist. You just need to adjust your environment. Here are a couple of practical tips.

Tip 1. Make changes to your social group

I am firmly of the view that we become who we associate with most often.  So if you hang out with people who frequently eat fast food and consume large amounts of soda, then that behaviour is likely to rub off on you.

Anyway, if you want to live a healthy lifestyle you need to associate more often with people who live a healthy lifestyle. These people could be a part of a sports club, fitness centre, health food group or community group.

In my own life the social groups I’m associated with include the touch rugby, badminton, athletics and gym communities.  And, within these groups are individuals and families my family and I socialize with because of our common interests in healthy living.

For you it doesn’t have to be a sporting group.  It could be an ethnic group or dancing group.  Ultimately, it is all about linking up with people who share an interest in healthy living.

As part of this strategy you need to consider dissociating yourself with those individuals who don’t consider living healthy lifestyle to be that important.  And you need to be especially careful around them on occasions where food and drink is involved. Truth is, they are more likely to be a disruptive – as opposed being a helpful – influence.

My next tip?

Tip 2. Make changes to your physical environment

In New Zealand much has been made in recent years of the health and longevity disparity of our indigenous ethnic group, the Maori, when compared to European New Zealanders and other ethnicities such as Chinese.

Maori and our Pacific Island cousins live less than our fair-skinned counterparts and we also have higher rates of obesity and diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.

Now here is the brutal truth. In general Maori and Pacific Islanders know what they need to do in order to live healthier lives.  I am actively involved in both these communities and all the ones I speak to about health, nutrition and fitness know what’s good and what’s bad.  So it’s not a case of being ignorant or having less understanding than the white folk.

When I go to Gisborne – where I was born – my cousins and brothers, Aunties and Uncles, nephews and nieces know what’s good and not good as far as nutrition is concerned.  But most choose not to follow the healthy guidelines.

So what’s needed?  Whole communities need to change their physical environment, making them more conducive to healthy living.

Let’s get back to the Okinawans for a moment.  The reason why they are healthy by comparison to most others is because their environment shapes how they eat, exercise and socialise.  Indeed, their whole ethos and values system is based around the healthy lifestyle.

On an individual level you can change your environment to reduce or remove the psychological cues or triggers that drive the urge to eat unhealthily. At the same time, you can add cues that will trigger the desire to eat healthily or to exercise more.

Some specific ideas include removing all unhealthy food and food ingredients from the kitchen, buying and eating from smaller plates and eating with smaller utensils, and not taking the kids shopping with you.  Food psychologist Brian Wansink even recommends eating with chopsticks.

But, on a larger more strategic level, you will be much more successful if your entire environment – work, rest, play, social – is geared towards healthy living.  When this environmental change occurs, success is all but guaranteed.

In summary, these tips are based on the premise that:

Environment drives behavior

Therefore, when you control your environment, you control your performance.  Conversely, when you can’t control your environment, performance suffers.  To develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle you must make changes to the environment in which you live.