Don’t Listen To The Weight Loss Statisticians

A friend posted a link on Facebook to an article from the Guardian – Why the weight is so hard to shift: guidelines have been wrong all along. I read it and played with the linked “online tool” and it got me thinking.

Somehow, the whole premise seemed wrong. The whole approach to weight loss that it described – guidelines, targets, government scientists, calculations – just didn’t feel right. I could imagine the badly photocopied “diet sheet”. It’s easy to be smug when you’ve already lost a lot of weight and that’s something I try, sometimes unsuccessfully, to avoid, but why are they making it seem so difficult. (As an aside, I’m also an ex-smoker and so can become very self righteous about how easy it is to give up smoking too.) Anyhow, the world described by the article left me feeling quite depressed. It conjured images of hospitals, men in white coats, wagging fingers and pages of charts. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of charts. My entire weight loss programme for the last three years is fully documented in a spreadsheet and logged online. I’m a geek. Spreadsheets and charts make me happy. But I’ve never had any fixed goals saying “I must reach here by then“.

To me, losing weight and getting fit has all been about the journey. And, specifically, about making the journey as enjoyable as possible. Targets are fine. We all need something to aim for, but if the target is too narrow and we miss it too many times, then it’s simply demoralising.

Some of my targets from various points in my journey….

  • Walk to and from work in one day. This seemed unobtainable at one time. The 4½ mile walk to work used to exhaust me. Now I don’t think twice about it and often take the ‘long route’.
  • Get down to 83kg. A completely arbitrary figure that I chose. I weighed 112kg at the time! Again, it felt like an impossible goal at the time, but I got there, bounced 2 or 3kg and am working to get back there (and below) at the moment.
  • To walk 100miles in a month. Another daunting one, but the hardest thing about it now is finding the time!
  • To run to work in under 40 minutes. I’d managed my fastest walk to or from work in about 1hr8m before I started running. My first ever run to work took 52 minutes. As I slowly got below 50 minutes I set myself the target of 40 minutes. But how on earth was I going to run 10 minutes faster? It seemed crazy. Of course, it wasn’t. Treat it right and your body is capable of amazing things (even at my age!). And in July last year I did it. And I haven’t managed it since, but I will…

So, yeah, targets are fine. It’s just they shouldn’t be the be reason for improving your lifestyle. Exercise because of how good it makes you feel. Work harder because of the joy of reaching another milestone. Eat healthy food because you won’t feel bloated, lethargic and guilty. Surely, these are the messages that professionals should be putting across. Teach people how to feel good about themselves. But I suppose that’s quite a hard job. Educating people is never as easy as lecturing to them. It’s the difference between good teachers and bad teachers. Any teacher can throw facts at people and hope that some of them stick, but it takes a good teacher to motivate and truly educate.

So it would seem that the professionals will continue to lecture and wag fingers and, whether they use “incorrect” guidelines or new fancy ones, they will fail to achieve their goals.

Make it fun. Make it enjoyable. Make it about the journey. Sure, set a target, but if you miss it, don’t worry. Just carry on and hit it next month or the month after. The important thing is to stay on the journey. The trouble with targets is they seem like destinations, but they should just be sights we see along the way.

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