Tuesday, October 2, 2012

How much more weight do I want to lose?

"How much more weight do you want to lose?" is a common question my peers have asked me recently, but to be completely honest, I don't know. Technically, my ideal body weight should be a BMI of 23, which for me at 5'11" would be 163lbs. I weighed myself this morning, and I'm 179.4 with a BMI of 25.2, so I guess I have another 13 lbs to lose... but in all honesty, something doesn't feel right when talking about everything only in terms of weight loss.

In some ways weight loss is a great metric: it is measurable and specific. However, there's several problems with using weight loss as the only goal. Don't get me wrong, I get happy when I step on the scale and have taken off a few more pounds, but I don't use my weight to set weekly goals like, "I want to lose 2 lbs a week," which is odd because that's what we're taught to tell patients. So, why don't I do it for myself? For one, minute changes in weight over short period of time isn't very accurate. I can vary my weight within 2 lbs in a few hours based on what I eat or drink, or even lose it in a day by fasting, which I might be tempted to do if all I wanted to do is peel off 2 lbs for a weigh in, but an extreme strategy like that isn't in line with the sustainable healthy lifestyle towards which I'm striving. Besides weight not being accurate in the short-term, it also just isn't a fun goal. It might just be me, but the numbers on the scale are so impersonal, boring, and move so slowly, that in all honesty, I feel as though if I focused on it too much, I'd just get discouraged by a lack of weight loss without ever being able to feel satisfied for shaving off 1-2 lbs. My brain can interpret a lack of progress as a failure much easier than it can see a 1-2 lbs change as a big achievement. Also, when weight moves so slowly, big changes seem nearly impossible. Even now, just thinking about losing another 13 lbs is so daunting... that's a lot of weight! I'd rather not think about it as the objective I have to strive towards, because slowly getting there 1-2 lbs a week at a time, would likely be as frustrating as watching grass grow. Finally, at some point, I'd like to think that I will reach a healthy weight, and if all I care about is weight loss I might run into one of two traps: I might continue losing weight to a point where it is unhealthy, or I can become complacent because I've achieved my goal and become unhealthy again. So what types of goals are better than weight loss goals?

At the onset of this journey, I wanted to become healthier. For me, being healthier means eating better and exercising. Every week, my goal is to eat very healthy 80% of the time (I allow myself some breaks the other 20%). For exercise, I continue to strive towards improved fitness by setting goals to successfully perform new tasks that I haven't been able to do before, such as lifting more, doing an activity faster, or just doing an activity at all. Every time I achieve a new fitness goal, it gives me more satisfaction than 1-2 lbs, and I feel like I can reliably use my achievements as a proxy that I'm more physically fit, and therefore healthier. For instance, this past weekend I ran my first 5K  (3 mile) run: The Palo Alto Weekly Moonlight Run. I've never run a race before, and honestly didn't think I could. My goal was just to finish. Throughout the entire race, I kept thinking to myself, "Don't stop," and in the end, I finished without stopping at a pace of 10:48/mile. That's a faster mile than I could run in high school even for just 1 mile, let alone 3! Awesome! So what are my next goals? I'd like to work towards participating in a 200-mile relay with friends in May 2013. I want to row 500 meters in less than 2:00 minutes next time. I also want to be able to do an unassisted pull-up sometime in the next 6 months, something I've never been able to do, even as a kid. These are things I'm working towards to improve my fitness level, and these goals are fun, because I can see myself improving towards them, I'm not obsessed with a fluctuating measure that I can't relate to, and when I do achieve a goal, it's a lot of fun to be able to do something completely new, kinda like advancing to a new level on a video game! Doing more of something, doing something faster, or just being able to do something at all is still specific and measurable, so if these types of goals work better for me in this endeavor, maybe they'll work for others too. (If not...by all means, 1-2lbs a week is good too, whatever works!)
My friends and I at the Palo Alto Weekly Moonlight Run & Walk 2012

My results from the Palo Alto Weekly Moonlight Run & Walk 2012
When I worked in public health, I often criticized those that only use process measures instead of outcome measures... and I guess when communicating my progress to others, I still use the outcome measurement of weight. However, day to day, my goals are to achieve process measures of eating healthy and exercising, because that part, I can control. In short, my main goal isn't to lose more weight, but instead, just like when I was running, I'm telling myself: "Don't stop."

Sorry for the length between posts. Had to do residency applications recently, but here are some new recipes as well from a few weeks ago: Paleo Pumpkin Pie Protein Muffins for breakfast, Greek Salad with Marinated Baked Salmon for lunch, and Paleo Chicken Cacciatore for dinner. Next week, I'll talk about more potential barriers that might have held me back from adopting a healthy lifestyle earlier.

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