Friday, January 12, 2007

The goal thing

As I said in my opening post, I've tried most everything. One was NutriSystem. In NutriSystem, they sell you a bag or two of food every week and that's all you're supposed to eat, except for fresh skim milk and maybe salad greens you add as needed. Some people do fine on NutriSystem.

My first two weeks went well, but on the third visit I had a bad weigh-in. "Now what?" I asked the counselor. This was in Maine, and she was one of the Helpful People. In the course of trying to lose weight, I have met many Helpful People. God bless them, they mean well. "Have you tried setting goals for yourself?" she asked. Helpfully.

"Honey," I thought to myself but did not say aloud, "by the time a 38-year-old fat man asks a 24-year-old skinny girl 'Now what?,' he has set thousands of goals for himself. He has a clear and bitter memory of every one of them, and he now questions the value of goal-setting itself."

I wish I had said it aloud, because maybe, against all the odds, she might have known an answer that might have gotten through. She might have said something like this: "Let's set a mini-goal, something so small and so close that you can't possibly miss it. It's a confidence-building measure, as they say in Middle East peace negotiations, a baby step that obviously doesn't come within a million miles of settling the core problem, but which begins to begin to create a positive mood despite years of very discouraging history. So, suppose you lose one pound, just one little pound, by next week." I would have listened to that.

What the Helpful People often don't understand is that the problem has been on my mind for years. I've thought about it, however unsuccessfully, from every obvious and several obscure angles. Attention, Helpful People! I know I eat too much. I may be fat, but I'm not clueless. (Nor am I "in denial," but that belongs in another post.)

So watch me now as I get in touch with my own Inner Helpful Person. I will set one of those teensy-weensy, can't-miss goals described above, something that even Hamas and Hezbollah could agree on, and I try to build my confidence with it. No, I won't tell you what it is, not until I've done it.


  1. I found that I responded far better to a waist-measurement goal than to a scale goal. Supposedly, it's the waist measurement that is key anyway. You want, first of all, the smallest possible waist size. Next, you want the largest possible inverse ratio between chest size and waist size.

    I found scales to be extremely demoralizing. The trusty old belt gives the key information -- waist size -- without the cold disdain of the scale, which may be wrong anyway. When you are counting on the scale to produce evidence of a goal, a few pounds' inaccuracy from the scale can be very seriously demoralizing.

  2. Another factor to consider is the "set point" phenomenon. The distance in pounds between where you are and where you want to be is not equally granular. "Set points" loom ahead. You don't know where they are, exactly. But they'll be there, for certain.

    A "set point" is a given weight at which the body defends itself with special vigor against losing more weight. It's an invisible barrier that stands between you and the next pound you want to lose. Typically, you bounce off a set point, meaning you appear to gain weight. The body has slowed the metabolism and done everything it can to induce you to eat a bit more when the set point is reached.

    If you're not psychologically prepared for this phenomenon, you may conclude that your diet isn't working and become demotivated. Actually, the reverse is true: your diet was working and you triggered a set point. You have to be prepared for a bounceback effect.

    The bouncing ball metaphor appears to describe weight loss well. You will hit a set point, bounce off of it, and your goal is to keep apex of the ascending arc lower than it was before. You may bounce off a set point more than once. Then you will break through the set point, and weight loss will be more rapid, until the next set point is reached.


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