Ulysses Contract: A Tool For Reaching Goals

This post was spawned by my current interest in cognitive neuroscience. I find it completely fascinating and feel that as I learn more, I will be able to apply much of what I am learning to helping my clients achieve results in fat loss and muscle gain by modifying behaviour more efficiently. Reading about the Ulysses contract in the book Incognito sparked my interest in writing this particular post. I feel that using this method may help a lot of you get to where you want to go in the near future.


Ulysses Contract: A Short History Lesson

Shits about to get real… Yet Ulysses kept on course. So can you.

‘Ulysses, King of Ithica, and hero of the Trojan War, was on a protracted sea voyage after the war to go back to his home island of Ithica. He had a rare opportunity ahead, in that his ship would pass the island where the beautiful Sirens sang melodies so luring that no one had been able to avoid their magnetic pull. When they lured the sailors and their ships toward them, their ships were dashed on the rocks, drowning all aboard.

Ulysses knew that, like everyone else, when he heard the music he would be unable to resist it. But he created a present plan to deal with his future self. In his present rational state, he ordered his men to lash him to the mast of the ship and not untie him no matter how much he begged or pleaded. He then had them fill their ears with beeswax so they would not be seduced by the voices of the Sirens. He made it clear to them that they were not to release him until the ship was well past the Sirens, nor were they to take the beeswax out until then.’ – Dr. Krueger


It got me thinking how this could be used as a tool for weight loss, or for increasing activity levels. I’m not the kind of person who thinks that forcing someone to do something they don’t want to is a good decision. Pretty much everyone knows the decades old mantra of “eat less, move more.” Horse shit, I say!  No one seems to really give a crap, or follow that advice. I’m not saying that a Ulysses contract is THE golden ticket to weight loss either, just an interesting tool that could be used to help individuals reach their goals.


A Quick Example…

An example of a Ulysses contract for weight loss would be something like this: “Joan wants to lose 30 pounds in the next 6 months. She gives her best friend a sum of money, say 500 dollars to keep for her. Her friend is only to give her the money if after the 6 month time period, 30 pounds of weight has been lost.” I think this is a pretty cool idea, and I’d love to try and implement it with some of my clients.


I Recommend This One

Since initial weight loss doesn’t seem to be much of a problem lately, I’d prefer to look on a larger scale. The inability to sustain weightloss from various diets seems to be the major problem that obesity researchers have discovered over the past few decades. For instance, on this study on obese subjects using very low calorie diets for an extended period of time, 73.4% of the weight lost during the intervention period was gained back during the first three years. So maybe a Ulysses contract with this in mind would be an even better idea?

Let’s say Joan wants to lose 30 pounds and keep it off for the next 5 years. She’s super serious about it, and is willing to put up a decent sum of money to help her with her goals. She gives her friend $1500.00 to keep for her. She get’s 500 back after she loses 30 pounds, then gets 1000 back after 4.5 years after the initial weight loss. She also makes it part of the deal that she must stay in a limit of 10 pounds regain over that time period. This might sound complicated, but it could very well work.


But WHY Do They Work?!

  Let’s take a look at why Ulysses contracts work. Let’s take my personal favourite: cheesecake. It’s staring you straight in the eyes, just waiting to be eaten. it’s almost as if it’s literally trying to throw itself onto your fork and into your mouth (insert ‘that’s what she said’). The emotional part of you wants to gobble that mug up, pronto. However, if you are trying to maintain your lean physique, or get leaner, your rational mind will tell you to walk away from that cake and not look back. David Eagleman, the author of Incognito states “freely made decisions that bind you in the future are what philosophers call a Ulysses contract.” So you’re essentially allowing your rational system to gain power over your emotional system by avoiding loss aversion (of cash-money in this case).

“Freely made decisions that bind you in the future are what philosophers call a Ulysses contract.” – Tweet That Sheeit 

If you have a Ulysses contract, your emotional self will be less concerned with eating calorie dense foods, and more concerned with getting that money back. This is especially true when the deadline is approaching. David Eagleman suggests an altered Ulysses contract in which you would lose a little money each day until your weight loss is achieved. This would force your emotional self to feel the sting of lost money with each passing day that weight is not lost. Although this model is interesting, losing weight fast usually is unsustainable. The methods used for super quick weight loss are too extreme to use continuously. An example of this would be a very-low calorie diet, or a long-term fast.


My recommended choice I feel would benefit an individual who has an appreciable amount of fat to lose and keep off.  If you’re already at 10% bodyfat and you need to lose 5 pounds to get down to 8% (for example) then a Ulysses contract might not be the best way of going about thangs.  In this case a more detailed approach would be what you are in need of.

It is my hope that perhaps one you will try one of these more drastic methods to aid your fat loss. Let me know if you’ve ever made any kind of conscious Ulysses contracts in the comments section  that worked for you!

My Current Frankenstein Diet

As many of you know, I followed a pretty strict 16:8 (fast:feed), Leangains type diet for a while. Although I still use fasting as a large part of my lifestyle I wouldn’t really say I follow any particular “school” of fasting. For those of you who care about what I personally do to keep my lady-like figure (LOL), read on. You may learn a thing or two.

First off, let me tell you what my goals are. I’m pretty much at maintenance right now and am not trying to gain weight. If I do go through with the meet, I will need to weigh in at 205 or under. This is not a weight that I can maintain easily. 215-218 is easy for me to maintain and I prefer to keep it around there. Now that my diet has been strict since getting back from San Diego, my weight will fluctuate downwards to the 210-215 area. The only thing that matters right now is that I don’t gain weight and that I get stronger. The benefit of this is that I’m pretty lean and look awesome, even though that is not what my goal is. I’ll take it.

After reading Bojan Kostevski’s cool experiment with an insanely low calorie diet, I decided to dabble in my own ILCD. For those of you who were too lazy to click the link above I’ll give you the Cliffs notes:
‘If a 500-1000 calorie/day diet for an obese person (who has a low basal metabolic rate) is considered a VERY low calorie diet, then a 650-750/day calorie diet for someone with a maintenance intake of 2750 calories/day is absolutely insane! Thereby inducing the highly scientific term: Insanely Low Calorie Diet (ILCD).’ I use the term ILCD as word to define a certain day in which very low calories are consumed. It isn’t an actual diet, just an aspect (in the prose that I will be covering from here on out) of my current one.

Due to the incredibly low content of calories, the macronutrient of choice is protein. The protein sparing effects of a high protein diet combat the catabolic environment of consuming such a low amount of calories. Bojan did it for a full 6 days. Then loaded up on calories and carbs. He lost 5 pounds and got even more shredded than he was previously.

Since I’d been doing a 16:8, fasting for long periods of time doesn’t really phase me. I’ve gone up to two days straight using the ILCD. My protocols, if you can call them that were a little bit different than what he used. He subtracted 2000 kcal from his resting metabolic rate. I just use 500 calories/ day as my intake for ILCD. I like this arbitrary number beacuse I’m not using ILCD’s on consecutive days. I use this protocol twice a week. This has been working real well for me as well as a few of my clients.

On some of my ILCD days, I’ll half my regular ILCD calorie intake and get in around 250 kcal, again all from protein. This usually happens when I’m busy earlier in the day and then end up hitting the gym in the PM. I will sometimes only end up with one serving of protein pudding instead of the usual two. I honestly don’t feel any difference when I have one serving of protein pudding vs. two during my ILCD days, in terms of subjective hunger. I guess I’m just that awesome at fasting 😉

My 16:8 days have been pretty consisted for the rest of the week. I haven’t been counting my macros like an anal retentive lunatic (not that there is anything wrong with that if you want great results!). Being a Nazi about calories works, I’m just at point where I know the ‘how and what’ of what to put in my body for my off-days. So I don’t bother weighing and measuring each and every meal.

I still have my epic cheat days. As I write this article I’m fully anticipating what I will splurge on with my dietary freedom (it’s Sunday). This is a day where I let myself go and just eat whatever I want. I still get in my requisite amount of daily protein, but my sugar and fats are spiked to a much higher degree. Here are a few of my favourite foods I like to consume on my cheat day: cheesecakes, pies, ice cream, chocolate, candy, chips, brownies, nanaimo bars, cinnamon buns, fast food, fried food, and disgusting amounts of sushi. Many of these foods spike my insulin like crazy, and I still don’t have the beetus!

So that is what I’m currently doing. It’s working very well for me. This isn’t some sort of fad diet, it’s just what I’ve come up with to keep me lean, get stronger, and allow me to eat a lot of the foods that I love. What works for me, probably won’t work for you. That’s not to say that you can’t walk away with a few useable ideas to add to your lifestyle. If you have any questions feel free to shoot me an e-mail at kyle@kylegrieve.com.


The ‘Bidness’ of Recovery

This is a subject that I have been fooling around with (not literally of course) since the beginning of this year. I’ve learned a ton about recovery from edu-macating myself as well as seeing it’s effects on myself, my main training partner and a few of my clients. This article should open your eyes to the possibilities of what the body is capable of as well as some methods that you can implement if you are having recovery issues.

I will admit that I am strongly influenced by the high training frequency crowd. Guys like Jamie Lewis and Matt Perryman have been instrumental in my learning processes of training frequently the proper way. Although both have dug into the research surrounding the topic considerably, they both have their own distinct views on the subject.

Jamie Lewis has made a very good point in his book Chaos & Pain: Issuance Of Training Insanity. For one thing, he shits all over popular programs popularized by guys like Mark Rippetoe and Stuart McRoberts. Basically, Jamie Lewis feels they are both pansy’s, and he’s done a good job of making a convert out of me. Both of these guys suggest that training more than 3 times per week will cause you to internally combust and shrivel into a prune. After training nearly everyday for 8 months, I can tell that you this is definitely not the case.

Matt Perryman has gone into detail about how training effects: the CNS, adrenal glands, and other minute (but important and interesting) details. If you really want a great breakdown of how your body reacts to stresses check his site out. Due to much of the research he has done, I have basically come to the conclusion that the body is not as weak as many have made it out to be.

I will say that training everyday works, and it works well. Is it possible to ‘overtrain?’ Possibly, if you’re an athlete who trains for a living. If you are a regular working man (or woman) I don’t see overtraining being in the realm of reality. I don’t see how it’d be possible to train enough to fully become ‘overtrained,’ when one has so many obligations in their day-to-day lift. As Matt Perryman has pointed out, the term ‘staleness’ is probably a better term to use instead of overtrained.

Many strength athletes from decades ago have talked about the subject of staleness. It can be characterized in a few different ways, but the main part of staleness that I’ve noticed is a lack, or regression in progress. This doesn’t mean you are overtrained though!!! People need to understand this. Progression isn’t linear, it occurs in peaks and valleys. Yes you will hit a plateau, no this doesn’t mean you need to go AWOL from the gym in order to kick start your results. If we never reached a point of staleness then you could train forever and never stop getting stronger. This doesn’t happen… At all…

One of my favourite old-time strongmen was Doug Hepburn. His symptoms of staleness were:

1. Loss of appetite.
2. Digestive disturbances.
3. Inability to relax or to sleep.
4. Irritability, worry, etc.
5. Little or no enthusiasm for training.
6. Absence of nervous energy (especially noticeable during training).
7. No increase in training poundages regardless of alterations in the training routine.

His remedy for staleness was to completely take time off for the gym for a period of 4-6 days. I personally don’t feel the need to take any time off from the gym during periods of staleness. Programs such as 5/3/1, have a deload week programmed into it to give your body a break. Still, when I ran cycles of 5/3/1, I’d basically never deloaded and had trained for literally 6-8 months straight before taking it easy for a minimal period of time. I never noticed any differences when taking a deload, except that it took 4 weeks to complete the cycle instead of 3.

My personal opinion of overtrained is in line with that of John Broz. This quote sums up his beliefs and experiences on overtraining:

“If you got a job as a garbage man and had to pick up heavy cans all day long, the first day would probably be very difficult, possibly almost impossible for some to complete. So what do you do, take three days off and possibly lose your job?

No, you’d take your sore, beaten self to work the next day. You’d mope around and be fatigued, much less energetic than the previous day, but you’d make yourself get through it. Then you’d get home, soak in the tub, take aspirin, etc. The next day would be even worse.

But eventually you’d be running down the street tossing cans around and joking with your coworkers. How did this happen? You forced your body to adapt to the job at hand! If you can’t’ squat and lift heavy every day you’re not overtrained, you’re undertrained! Could a random person off the street come to the gym with you and do your exact workout? Probably not, because they’re undertrained. Same goes with most lifters when compared to elite athletes.”

– John Broz 2002

Basically, John Broz thinks there is no such thing as overtraining, only undertrained. Meaning your body can and will adapt to the stresses you place upon it. Even if you ‘over stress’ yourself, you can adapt and walk away stronger and better. I couldn’t agree more. As Dan John always says “if it’s important, do it everyday.” In the world of olympic lifting it’s important, and Broz’s athletes squat everyday.

Now, after going through the length of this article defending a high training frequency, let’s discuss a view curve balls that do occur if you lift heavy shit. Little painful pangs do indeed happen. The trick to training through these is knowing when to push through or when to ease off. I went through a period of about 3 weeks where my low back was killing me. Any compressive forces or lumbar rotation aggravated my back. Yet I still trained everyday. What differences did I do to my training in order to keep my training frequency high? I stopped doing what hurt!

Pretty straight forward, yet it seems people either cease to train, or stupidly (or stubbornly) train through painful joints. I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that a level of muscle soreness is to be expected after training (depending on various factors such as exercise selection, volume, intensity, etc.), but joint pain is not something to screw around with.

This means, if your ankle joint, knee joint, hip joint, lumbo-pelvic joint, scapulothoracic joint, glenohumeral joint, any of your cervical joints are in pain, then don’t do exercises which aggravate them! This is why I screen clients, it shows me what exercises I should or should not be doing with them. Just because you have painful joints doesn’t mean you have to 86 your training program. It means you have to make changes to it to work for you. I’m not going to go over all the changes in exercise selection that can be made because changes vary depending on each individual. As I’ve said many, many times before, two people can have pain in the a joint, yet require two very different corrective exercise programs in order to relieve pain (yes this is out of my scope of practice, but it still holds true).

So if you are having joint pain here are my suggestions:

– Take anti-inflammatories. I don’t care much for supplements or pharmaceuticals, however I’ve gone on about fish oil enough to piss off anyone who reads this blog. So take it. An analgesic like Advil can be used as well, although I rarely use this or suggest it to my clients.

– Take a break from exercises which aggravate the joint. If your elbow hurts when you bench press, this still doesn’t mean that you have to stop benching. You can stop benching all together if you wish, or you could find another variation that is pain free. You really don’t even need to get that creative. Simply changing from a regular bench to a close grip bench might be all you need.

– Delete the exercise from your exercise library. Nearly all my clients have come to me with some sort of previous musculoskeletal injury. Therefore, they have certain exercises that they will never do. For instance I have clients who will never squat (if this happened to me I think I would need Prozac for the rest of my life in order to stave off depression). This client can still hip hinge and do a ton of other lower body exercises. Experience will tell you what exercises work for certain individuals. If you don’t train anyone, then experiment; or ask me.

– Go see a healthcare professional. Physiotherapists, chiropractors, massage therapists can all have a part in rehabbing an ongoing issue. The trick (like finding a good trainer) is to find one who knows his head from his a-hole. Asking friends, and finding someone who actually helped someone with their issue is a great start. If they have you doing external rotation for 4 months, you know you found a dud.

This has been one of my longer posts, but I’ve been slacking too much lately so you deserve it. If you have any other methods of recovery that have worked for you feel free to post in the comments!