I Want to be A SIX! And Other Things Dieters Say

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I have been calorie counting consistently for 29 weeks now, on and off for 4 years, and running a motivational online group for 20 weeks. Spending so much time in the weight loss community and now mentoring others who are also trying to loose weight, get healthy, or change their diets has given me a lot of time to hear how we talk about ourselves, our goals and weight loss.

For the most part the language we use around getting fit and healthy is not very conducive to achieving those goals. In fact, I think most of the time it can be a road block.

In the next few posts (weekly check in’s aside) I’d like to talk about things dieters say and how the use of language affects health and fitness goals.

Let’s start with the language of numbers:

One of the exercises I do with my Wagon Jumper group is to talk about setting long term and short term achievable goals.

Inevitably one of our new members will come up with goals that look something like this:

  1. I want to be 150 lbs by Christmas
  2. I want to be a size six by Easter
  3. I want to wear a bikini next summer

If you have tried dieting before I’m sure you’ve set similar goals. I know I have.

There is nothing wrong with these goals on the surface, they may represent a healthy body weight and healthy body size for a given individual. They may be realistic goals given the time frame depending on their current weight, size and fitness level. The problem for me is that they are not in themselves achievable goals.

What do I mean by achievable goals?

An achievable goal is something you have direct control over. For example, I can set a goal of going to the gym today. It is entirely my decision and within my power to go to the gym, or not to. I can set a goal of eating 1,500 calories today and what I put in my mouth will affect if I meet that goal. I can set a goal of doing 100 push-ups during the day and I have complete and direct control over if I achieve that. Doing these things consistently over a long period of time may help me to reach a healthy body weight and size, but it is my actions I have direct control over.

The mainstream of the diet / weight loss community is obsessed with numbers. Pounds, Sizes and BMI rule the world of weight loss. But what does it mean to the dieter? To the person trying to get fit? Trying to stay healthy?

Can you really identify with a number?

The pattern I see over and over again is people setting goals to loose 5, 10, 50 lbs. They get started with little information set a date (which more often that not is unrealistic), then they embark on dieting and exercising as they never have before.

Results? They drop a few pounds quickly in the first week, typically initial weight loss for those of us who are out of shape is water weight. Then the weight loss slows down, they learn that 2 lbs a week is a quick rate of loss… then… they get tired… bored… miss the treats… one week for such a small number seems… crappy… it is demotivating…. “there are 7 … yes, count them! SEVEN days in a week and I’m supposed to be happy with two…. TWO measly pounds!” I hear them cry.

A number is ultimately an abstract concept that cannot in itself motivate life style change. How long can I really expect to stick with a weight loss plan if my only motivation is a number and that number seem further and further away each week?

What About BMI & Body Size?

If the concept of pounds is too abstract then maybe body size and BMI can help us out. I pulled the photo’s below from a Flicker project on Illustrated BMI.

Each of these women pictured above are (in no particular order) representative of body sizes that have BMI’s which are underweight, normal, overweight and obese. I choose these picture because while I can see the differences in the body shapes, if you gave me these photos mixed in with a bunch of others I’d likely put all of these women close to the normal range. I’m not sure I’d class any of them as obese or overweight.

An exaggerated version of this problem exists when we look at models and fashion magazines. Even if we don’t talk about the photo-fixing, it’s still hard to tell without extremes the difference between a size 4, a size 6 and a size 8. Or, a BMI of 20, 22 or 25.

Even with the visuals a dress size or a BMI is representative of an image that we want for ourselves and that is where we need to look for real motivation.

Okay, So, If I Can’t Use Numbers?

It may sound a bit cheesy or cliche to say that you are trying to get fit and stay healthy. Those have become buzz words in themselves. Compare that with I want to be a size ____, or I want to be ____ lbs. I’ll take the first one.

If you start to dig deep into what are the associations you make with a size 6 or 135 lbs you’ll likely come across the reasons.

For me, I’ve ditched the numbers. I saw a girl post a group online today for girls in their 20’s wanting to loose between 5 and 7 lbs. I nearly cried.

There is a freedom in letting go of the number. If I stay fixated on the numbers I know I will be forever glued to, then cursing, the scale, running to the fridge and back on the merry-go-round.

So what are your reasons?

I ditched the numbers when I realized that I didn’t want to be 135 lbs, I wanted to feel comfortable in my own skin. I wanted to think I was beautiful inside and out. I don’t know if I will feel that way at 170 lbs, 150 lbs, or 135 lbs, but I’m not going to worry about the number that I feel it at, I’m going to worry about the feeling.

I want to feel strong, and energetic. My biggest motivation for going to the gym is how bad I feel when I don’t. I got so embarrassed and tired of being out of breath after a flight of stairs. I found myself trying to hide how out of shape I was from everyone around me by trying to ‘wheeze’ quietly (not easy). I began to feel trapped and limited by my body.

Being a size 6 or 150 lbs is nowhere near as important as being able to easily jog up a flight of stairs, start rowing, dance the night away, or race my brother swimming and know I’ve got a chance to beat him.

I don’t talk about size or weight anymore except as asides. Yes, I’ve lose six dress sizes, yes that feels amazing. What feels more amazing is how much energy I have, that I can easily carry my groceries home, that I don’t ‘feel’ like a blob that doesn’t fit into my clothes properly anymore, that I can easily jog half a block to catch up with friends and don’t need a minute to get my breath when I do and much much more.

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