I’m not talking about the wrong diet, the wrong tips and tricks, or even the wrong form of exercise, but rather the way we think about weight-loss.
When we set a goal weight and focus on reaching it through temporary strategies, we fail to address the reason we got fat in the first place: the way we live our lives. Nor do we learn the necessary long-term behaviors to avoid regaining the weight we lose.
Obesity is a primarily a lifestyle-induced state of affairs; and by following the traditional framework, we treat the effects and ignore the problem itself.
But there is a better way.
THE PROBLEM: GOAL WEIGHT
When many of us begin our weight-loss journeys, we do so with a certain number in mind. Maybe it’s what we weighed when we fit into “that pair of pants”, or what we weighed before we began gaining weight. Whatever the reason, we make the number the goal and search for strategies to reach it.
Diets. Fitness bootcamps. Maybe even something from one of those gimmicky books or “documentaries” that suggest we’re suffering from too many toxins (we’re not) and a lack of green smoothies. (not that either)
Even if we do settle on a seemingly reasonable strategy, it’s doubtful that we’ll sustain it in the long-run. After all, there’s a perception that successful weight-loss is characterized by grit, determination, and a degree of suffering. We buckle down and begrudgingly follow a plan in order to reach that magical number on the scale. Do you want to live like that for the rest of your life?
(And before my bodybuilding friends harass me for including “paleo” on my comic: I understand that many people enjoy following the paleo diet in the long-run—which is great—but the proponents of the diet camps often promote their diets as The Solution For Everyone when that’s clearly not the case)
Some people eventually reach their goal weight, but many never do. Most diets fail. And while some people experience initial success, many regain the weight and fall into a repetitive habit of yo-yo dieting where they lose, gain, lose again, and gain again. It’s enough of a problem that many people have given up and decided that they’re helpless victims of factors outside of their control—things like genetics, environment, and addictive, unhealthy food.
But the trouble isn’t that we’re incapable of losing weight, it’s that we’ve been attempting to do it with a flawed framework. This strategy, which I refer to as goal weight, is based upon a misunderstanding of the problem itself.
Here’s what I mean.
Extra weight isn’t something that “just happens” like when we catch a cold, nor is obesity a disease that’s transmitted through air, fluids, or contact with other obese people.
Obesity is primarily a lifestyle-induced state of affairs. The extra weight we struggle against—even though it may be affected by factors outside of our control—is a side-effect of the way we live our lives. I’m talking about our assumptions, mindsets, and the resulting behaviors. Things that we actually can change. This may require a degree of effort, but only in the sense that habits are stubborn and and honest introspection can be challenging.
Diets and bootcamps don’t fix the problem. They focus on the effects. The goal weight strategy would have us endure a plan until we reach a specific number on the scale, but then what? Are we going to stay on the diet forever? Do the diets and bootcamps teach us what to when we’re finished? Probably not. These plans may deliver weight-loss, but not the behaviors and mindsets needed to maintain it. When finished, we return to a lifestyle which largely resembles the one that made us fat in the first place.
That’s the most significant problem with the goal weight approach, but it’s not the only one.
How do we know that our goal weight is even realistic? How do we know if it’s what’s best for us?
A person might say that his goal weight is 165, but really: what does that even mean? The scale doesn’t measure health. Nor does it tell us about the quality of the life we live. This isn’t to say that there’s difference between 400 and 165, but rather that a person’s goal weight may not be his best weight.
Think about it. Why 165? Why not 170, 180, or even 160 or 155? Is it because 165 reflects an nostalgic time from a few years ago? A favorite pair of pants? Or perhaps it’s just a number that’s considered “acceptable”.
We need to remember that our weight—as I’ve mentioned—is primarily a lifestyle-induced state of affairs. This means that for each of us, different weights will require different day-to-day behaviors.
I could probably squeeze a few large pizzas a week into my life and manage to stay around 180 or 185, but I can’t do that and remain at 160. It just doesn’t work. Likewise, a person may discover that his goal weight requires behaviors that he doesn’t enjoy. Or he might discover that the life he actually enjoys living results in a weight that’s lower—or higher.
The point is that we don’t know. Unless there’s a specific reason why we need to be at a certain weight, the goal weight strategy is based around an abstract number.
We can’t assume that’s what’s best for us.
THE SOLUTION: BEST WEIGHT
Instead of searching for temporary solutions to reach a goal weight, wouldn’t it be better we focused on living the healthiest life we’re comfortable living and accepted whatever number shows up on the scale?
That’s why I propose thinking about weight-management according the best weight framework.
If you want to succeed with long-term weight loss, it’s crucial that you embrace both reality and imperfection.
Remember, too, that your best efforts will vary. Your best when facing a challenging time in life will be different from your best when everything is hunky-dory, just as your best on your birthday, or on a vacation, or at a holiday meal will require indulgence.
The truth is there will come a point where you can’t happily live any better — where you can’t happily eat less and you can’t happily exercise more — and your weight, living with that life, is your best weight. In every other area of our lives we readily accept our best efforts as great, and we need to do that with weight and healthful living too.
This solution gets to the root of the problem rather than attempting to alter the effects. It keeps us focused on what matters: the way we live our lives.
People who use the best weight framework will focus on cultivating healthy, sustainable mindsets and behaviors. That’s because they’re playing the long-game rather than looking for a short-term fix. They also recognize that weight is a side-effect of the way they live their lives, and they can avoid harmful weight-gain my living their lives in a way that doesn’t cause it.
Of course you might be wondering: what if someone’s best actually keeps them overweight?
That’s why I included the flowchart in the above picture. I promote best weight as a cyclical feedback loop that enables us to be adaptable and responsive. If a person honestly believes that he’s living the healthiest life he can live, and his weight plateaus at a level that he’s not comfortable with, then he’s going to reflect on this and reassess the situation. Perhaps he can do better. Perhaps his priorities have now changed and he’ll focus on healthier behaviors than were previously acceptable. Or maybe he’ll just accept that this weight is his best weight.
Regardless of the outcome, a person who’s honest with himself and follows this framework will be in a far better situation than someone who’s always on the lookout for the One True Diet.
And let’s be honest: the people who aren’t struggling with their weight—your friend who runs marathons, or that family member who always raves about healthy living—it’s not that they’ve found the right diet, life-hack, or set of tips and tricks; nor is it that they’ve discovered some elusive secret that nobody else knows.
They live their lives in a way that doesn’t produce serious weight-gain. That’s it. And we can do the same by internalizing the best weight framework.
It works for me, at least. I rarely step on scales, and the goals I set have nothing to do with reaching or maintaining a certain weight. If I achieve my fitness goals, eat a healthy diet that I enjoy, avoid lifestyle-induced illnesses, and feel good about what I see when I look in the mirror, then who cares what the scale says?
Just remember that it takes time. Success in this area is about playing the long-game, reflecting, reassessing, and making continual improvement when possible. Embrace the journey, enjoy being a lifelong learner, and step outside of your comfort zone and embrace new experiences.
Figure out what’s really best for you, and do it.
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