Let’s face it. Poker players are often out of shape. We tend to have lousy diets, we exercise little or not at all, and our favorite activity has us sitting at a poker table for long hours, exercising little more than our wrists. No wonder many of us are so fat!
It’s hard to take off the pounds. No matter our resolve, or our temporary results, we can’t seem to keep off the pounds or stay in shape.
There is a way out. Ironically perhaps, we may find the solution to permanent weight loss and fitness from the very game that causes our bad habits of eating and exercise. I’ve found that there are six ingredients to becoming a better poker player that can be applied to weight loss as well. I list them here for your consideration.
Intentionality is the trait or characteristic of thinking and acting intentionally. It is the opposite of what most casual poker players tend to do – which is to act thoughtlessly, emotionally, or habitually. Anyone can learn the rules of poker and the basic strategy and math of the game. But applying it consistently, through long periods of boredom and in spite of torturous moments of emotional distress – that is the truly hard part of the game that only the best poker players master.
The same is true with losing weight and eating healthfully. Most people know the simple ingredients of a healthy diet and lifestyle. We know, for example, that we will gain weight if we eat too much and exercise too little. In fact, ask anyone who wants to lose weight what to do, and they could probably come up with a pretty good plan. But applying it to themselves consistently, and for the duration? Ah, that’s the problem. We know what we need to do, but we just can’t seem to manage to do it!
One of the keys to both solid play and solid weight loss is to have the intentionality to apply what we know we need to do, without letting emotion, whim, or habit get in the way. It works for poker, and it will work for weight loss as well.
We know that there are certain things at the poker table that tend to set us off. These are our tilt triggers. We should avoid them whenever possible. For example, some players tend to go on tilt when they suffer a bunch of bad beats. The successful player knows that when this happens, they should leave the table for at least a short while, to calm down and regain focus and self-control. Similarly, some of us have people who, because of quirks or traits, put us on tilt. We know to avoid playing with them.
When losing weight and getting in shape, we need to learn to avoid triggers as well. For some of us, it is chocolate, or candy, or baked goods. We need to learn that we should keep them out of our home. Having them available creates a temptation that we can’t resist. And resist it we must if we are to lose weight. Similarly, some people learn that they tend to overindulge when they start drinking, or smoking, or staying up late at night. If they want to lose weight they need to regulate that behavior that surrounds their eating – avoiding those situations that tend to trigger their bad eating behavior.
Adopt Good Practices That Become Habits
In poker, successful players have learned to follow certain practices that help them play their best game. They follow these practices routinely until they become habitual. For example, I always exercise vigorously before a session. I also keep my poker sessions relatively brief so my focus stays strong. I preface each session with at least five minutes of quiet and relaxation. Others meditate, or do some mentally challenging game like a crossword puzzle. Others recite a prayer or an affirmation. Whatever form it takes, it helps to have a routine that gets you in the best frame of mind for thoughtful play.
When losing weight and getting in shape, it is also helpful to follow a routine. Maybe for you, it’s starting the day with 30 minutes of vigorous exercise, showering, and then eating a breakfast heavy in protein and light in carbs. I find that I can start my day with a one-hour walk, but if I wait I just don’t get it done. So that’s what I do. Every day I start with a walk. It’s now a habit. Some make sure to finish their last meal by 7 PM. Whatever you do, it’s important to make it a regular and permanent change – a habit of good health rather than just a temporary burst of activity or a faddish diet.
Discipline and Patience
Playing solid poker requires discipline and patience. Successful players learn to fold repeatedly, for hours if necessary, without getting a playable hand, while resisting the temptation to play wildly or with abandon out of impatience. It’s so easy to lower your range for raising or 3-betting or limping, as you grow bored with folding. Good players don’t do that.
Similarly, successful and permanent weight loss requires enormous discipline, patience, and self-control. Longstanding habits of snacking and overeating are extremely hard to break. It’s so easy to give in at first to the desire to overeat. Some can practically fast for a week. Then, after seeing some weight loss, they can’t pass up the sweets or snacks. But we must learn to control those urges, changing not just temporarily but permanently. Just as it doesn’t help our game to become ultra-tight just for our first hour of play, only to revert to bad habits thereafter; so too does it not help us to lose 25 pounds by practically fasting for 3 months, only to gain it all back with binge eating. We must have the discipline and patience to change the way we are, not just the way we act.
Support and Discussion with Others
I’ve spoken to over 100 professional poker players about what helped them the most as they became successful. All say that one of the keys to their poker ascendance was the regular conversations they had with other similarly motivated poker players.
Similarly, when you are trying to make the tough transition from an unhealthy lifestyle to a healthy one, it helps to have a group of supportive people to talk with during the process. A supportive network of those who have gone through the same experience helps even the most tough-minded of us. Just as there are poker discussion groups, so too are there weight loss support groups (Weight Watchers or Overeaters Anonymous, for example). We can only benefit by being part of these groups.
There Will Be Variance
In poker it helps to know that there are likely to be times when we’ll “run good” and “run bad”. Winning and losing streaks are part of the game. We can’t let that variance knock us off our best game. Rather, when those long losing streaks occur, we must recommit ourselves to playing well. As many a poker pundit has offered, we mustn’t get discouraged by the inevitable downswings in the game.
The same is true for dieters. We will inevitably hit plateaus in our weight loss that might be extremely discouraging. We might find some weeks when we even gain a few pounds. But we must stay strong – and strongly committed to the exercise regime and lifestyle we know will help us lose weight and improve our health in the long run.
Poker is a sedentary game that can contribute to a bad diet and lack of exercise. But there are many techniques and attitudes that can improve our poker game that also apply to living healthfully and losing weight.